Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Rise from the Ashes ( Chapter 34 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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Note: I generally hate flashback episodes, because there's not much original material for me to use as a reference, but thankfully Episode 17 ("The Remembrance") does have some nice scenes... and I still laugh at how I unintentionally alluded to things I had no way of knowing, such as Kikuchiyo's rant to Katsushiro when trying to persuade him to go chasing after Kambei.
I was also stunned at how well received the last chapter ("Never Forget What You Are") was received. I was CERTAIN that everyone would hate it for what happened between Nasami and Kirara! Goes to show how much I know...
The music for this chapter was a surprise find - while delving into my more, um, unusual music tastes, I came up with the track "Laundry" from THE MUSIC OF RED SHOE DIARIES. (Hey, I'm old enough to watch it...)
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-Four: Rise from the Ashes
"Tending season, bending ears, it's time for harvest rice...
Sharpen reapers, sever stalks for better yields tonight...
Wrung in bundles, hung in rows, and ripened by the sun,
Kanna needs our honored prayers and so until it's done
The farmers' voices rose in song as they knelt among the rice, sickles moving in time to their words while they harvested. Nearby, the Elder stood and watched as Shichiroji approached.
"Finally harvest time," the blond samurai said in satisfaction, and the Elder nodded.
"Yes, and as it should be."
A sudden outburst of laughter caught their attention, and they glanced over to see Kikuchiyo sprawled flat on the ground, a sickle in his hand while several village children stood giggling at him.
In mock outrage, Kikuchiyo leapt to his feet, brandishing the sickle. "Hey, what are you runts laughing at?"
"You're just not cut out for harvesting work, Kiku!" Komachi announced.
"Excuse me, I may look like this now, but in my farming days, they called me 'swift god of the rice field workers!'" Kikuchiyo declaimed loudly.
This pronouncement got blank stares from most of the children.
"Really?" Okara drawled after a long, embarrassing pause.
"Long name!" Komachi said brightly, and Kikuchiyo groaned. "Don't you think?"
"Look, it sounded better when they sang it, okay?" He stood up and waved his arms in frustration. "It's not my fault, these sickles are too small! It's like I'm cutting rice with a toothpick!"
"They're not too small, you're just too big!" Komachi teased.
"Or too clumsy," Okara chimed in.
Eventually a few of the village women came over and tactfully pointed out that Kikuchiyo's mechanical body was no longer suited for farming, and Kikuchiyo relented with a dejected, "Fine..." and wandered off. After aimlessly roaming around Kanna Village for a while, he found himself up at the hilltop where Gorobei's grave was, and he plunked himself down with a loud sigh.
"Hey there, Goro! You enjoying the sun today?" For a few moments, he studied the grave, as though half-expecting to hear Gorobei's familiar laugh in reply. When no answer was forthcoming, he rested his chin in his hands and grunted in frustration.
"Huh, damn these farmers. Apparently I'm useless now, just a heap of metal in the way. I'm restless!" Then he realized that being restless was a lot better off than being dead. "I'm sure you understand, being stuck just lying there..." he said hastily.
He looked up at the sky, watching the clouds drift lazily across the sun.
"They're acting like farmers again, worrying about weather and rice! They've forgotten all about us already!" Kikuchiyo heaved another loud sigh, and his shoulders slumped. "I don't know... maybe you died in vain."
"That's for Gorobei-sama to decide, don't you think?" he heard from behind him, and the big machine samurai turned to see Heihachi standing there, cheerfully munching on a long strand of grass.
"Oh, it's all just too much!" Kikuchiyo turned back to look at the grave, and then noticed Nasami walking among the farmers, her laughter drifting up to where he sat.
"And it didn't help that he just left you here. You deserve better than that. You deserve better than him."
"He didn't just leave me here, Kikuchiyo... I knew he was leaving, and I let him go."
"You still deserve better..."
"And what the hell's the deal with Kambei, huh?" he went on, ranting once again as he remembered the barely restrained frustration and helplessness in the samuraiko's voice after Gorobei's funeral. "Bastard up and left, and didn't even take the time to light a single piece of incense, the coward! He and the farmers, they're all just a bunch of cowards!"
"He will be back, Kikuchiyo," Heihachi assured him softly. "Both for us... and for her."
"How can you be sure?" Even the woodcutter could hear the almost desperate need for reassurance in the big machine samurai's voice, and he smiled.
"He'll be back... he is a samurai, after all."
With that, Heihachi turned to wander off again, quietly humming to himself. As he left, he heard Kikuchiyo turn and ask, "Hey... what is a samurai, anyway?"
"Look in the mirror," Heihachi replied without turning around as he headed into the woods. "You'll see one staring back."

"And... HEAVE!"
The farmers not currently harvesting in the fields were busy working on rebuilding the village - reconstructing homes, thatching new roofs, and clearing away debris. Heihachi and Shichiroji moved among the men, providing the same organization and guidance that they had during the preparation of Kanna's defense.
As Shichiroji and the Elder cheerfully discussed the rebuilding, both men became aware of a slim figure standing nearby, and turned to see Nasami watching the reconstruction intently.
"Nasami-dono!" Shichiroji called, waving her over. "How are things coming along in the fields?"
"They're making good time," she replied, nodding politely to the Elder. "Not having to worry that the bandits are going to descend at any time is a huge burden off their shoulders, and it shows. How's the rebuilding going?"
"I was just telling the Elder that we've probably doubled their efficiency," Shichiroji said, looking a little smug. "We'll have Kanna rebuilt in no time."
Nasami looked out over the construction and smiled, then glanced back shyly at Shichiroji. "Actually... do you mind if I make one recommendation? It's more of a request, really."
"Sure, what is it?"
"Would you mind asking the farmers to carve and raise a torii?" She pointed off toward where a team of farmers under Heihachi's guidance was rebuilding the bridge. "Over near there?"
"A purification arch?" the Elder asked in surprise, and the samuraiko nodded. "Interesting... may I ask why?"
Nasami looked slightly self-conscious. "Well... call it religious inclination if you like, but after everything that's happened here... I would just hate to see the farmers of Kanna Village carrying a burden on their souls for it." She waved her hands in frustration. "Oh, I don't know... maybe it's just me being foolish."
The Elder gave her an understanding smile. "Not at all, Nasami-sama. It's an excellent idea." To her surprise, he bowed in respect. "In fact, we are fortunate to have a samurai protector who safeguards more than our lives, our homes, and our rice. Perhaps we might ask that once the arch has been raised, if you would teach us more about this."
"Of course, I'd be glad to." Nasami smiled in relief. "So, anything that I can help with? I'm not much of an engineer, and I certainly can't farm rice..."
"Well..." Shichiroji rubbed the back of his head and considered. "Unfortunately, I can't really think of much. With all the farmers currently working in the fields or rebuilding, there's no time for weapons training. Although... now that I think of it, if you wouldn't mind doing another assessment of Kanna Village and making a few recommendations for permanent defenses, it would be a big help."
"That I can do," she agreed. "Do you mind if I borrow Katsushiro? Maybe I can teach him a few things during the process."
The blond samurai nodded slowly. "You're worried about him, too, huh? He's been acting really uneasy since the battle, and having Kambei-sama leave didn't help matters any, I think. But I'll leave him to you."
"Any idea where he is?"
"I think I saw him over at Kirara's house."

As the samuraiko approached the Mikumari home, she became aware of voices from within.
"And now here I am, a man without purpose... a samurai, in an age of merchants."
Instinctively, Nasami quieted her footsteps and approached on almost silent feet as she had been taught by her sensei until she was standing just out of sight near the doorway.
"Why did you show that book to me?" she heard Katsushiro ask.
"I've read it a hundred times," came Kirara's reply. "I know the tragedy of the samurai, the impossible feelings it creates, yet I did it to you anyway. I'm so ashamed."
But underneath Kirara's words, Nasami couldn't help but sense that somehow, the water priestess' words rang false. It wasn't that she was deliberately being obtuse, or that she wanted to hurt the young samurai, but there were just some things one could never learn from a book, no matter how many times one read it. She had hoped that her earlier outburst might have made Kirara understand things more clearly, but with a resigned sigh, Nasami was forced to admit that even that had failed to make much of an impression on the water priestess.
"You can't think that way," Katsushiro protested. "I chose to walk the path of the samurai of my own free will."
As Nasami watched, she saw Katsushiro lift his hand and gently stroke Kirara's hair, half in reassurance and sympathy, half a caress.
"It's only natural that the path ahead of me would be rocky sometimes," he whispered, and the samuraiko winced and turned away.
"If you only knew how much, Katsushiro," Nasami murmured as she moved deeper into the shadows. "If you only knew..."
Oblivious to the woman standing nearby, Katsushiro and Kirara stepped outside and walked over to where Kirara had hung the Kanna battle flag outside her home. The young man stared up at it, watching it flutter in the breeze, remembering how proud he had felt the first time had seen it, had felt accepted by the farmers as a samurai like the others...
... remembering how it felt to be struck by Kambei after killing the bandit, remembering how it felt to take up his sword after taking his first life...
... remembering how it felt to weep in Nasami's arms that night in the river.
"I want to be able to feel proud that I chose to become a samurai," he said aloud, staring up at the flag. "This uneasiness I feel... I think now I'm finally beginning to understand what Kyuzo-dono meant when he said that he wanted to live."
"Oh, Katsushiro," Kirara said helplessly, but then came another voice.
"'If only we could so easily leave behind those parts of ourselves that pain us.'"
Both Katsushiro and Kirara jumped, and the young samurai whirled, hand instinctively going to his sword before he saw the samuraiko standing in the shadows.
"Nasami-dono! What are you doing here?" he asked, embarrassed that he had walked straight past her without ever noticing she was there.
"I came looking for you," she replied, stepping down off the porch and walking toward them. "Shichiroji has asked me to give him some recommendations on more permanent fortifications for Kanna, and I'd like you to come with me."
"Of course," he said hastily, bowing quickly to Kirara and stepping to Nasami's side, and together they walked off into the forest. As they moved toward the first of the outposts they had created prior the bandits' attack, Katsushiro kept glancing at the samuraiko as though about to speak, but then changed his mind.
"Come on, out with it already," she said at last, startling him.
"I'm sorry, it's just... how long were you standing there before?"
"Long enough to realize that you are both still so very naive, despite your circumstances," Nasami said wearily. "But I can't fault either of you for it. Innocence is a rare thing in the world, Katsushiro, and part of me wishes that you had time to savor it and enjoy it as you should. But innocence is often one of the first casualties on the path to becoming a samurai."
She looked over at him. "So tell me... what do you think Kyuzo-sama meant when he said that he wanted to live?"
Katsushiro blushed slightly. "Well... although Kyuzo-dono acts very stoic and reserved, the way a samurai should, I just... keep getting the feeling that there's so much he keeps hidden away, as though he's afraid to let go." His blush intensified at the idea of calling the other samurai afraid, but to his surprise, Nasami nodded.
"Very perceptive, Katsushiro. You're right... it's something that all samurai learn to do. Intense emotion is like a thief, stealing away that which a samurai treasures - serenity, loyalty, focus, discipline. But when one does it too much, one has become too focused on the notion of survival, instead of on living. To survive is not enough. One must remember to live, while still keeping life in balance."
Katsushiro stopped in the middle of the path, and as Nasami stopped as well, she turned and saw a great sorrow in his face. "You mean... like Gorobei-dono."
"Yes," Nasami agreed softly, her voice shaking slightly. "Like Gorobei."
They turned and kept walking.

The next day, in a determined effort to cheer up Kikuchiyo, Komachi and Okara invited him fishing. But while the two girls were busy trying to catch fish, the machine samurai remained just as morose as before, often staring off at nothing.
Both girls were concerned at seeing their 'sidekick' so down and depressed.
"Hey, sidekick, what's wrong?" Okara asked finally. "I've never seen you this quiet."
Katsushiro, who was leaning over the water and staring moodily at his own reflection, didn't look up. "What do you think a samurai is?" he asked, wondering if maybe the girls had an answer to his questions.
"Somebody like you, you big goof," Okara replied, not entirely certain why Kikuchiyo was asking in the first place.
"Huh?" That obviously wasn't the answer he'd been expecting, because Kikuchiyo turned to look at her in surprise.
"Kiku's feeling kinda lonely now," Komachi whispered to Okara.
"How come?"
"Because Kambei's isn't here."
Okara thought about that one for a moment, and realized that the other girl was right. With all the rebuilding and such, she had noticed that Kambei had left, and that some of the other samurai were less than happy with his decision. "Oh, yeah. That makes sense."
"Shut up!" Kikuchiyo said defensively. Of all the emotions he'd felt when the other samurai had left, he'd hardly have expected loneliness to be one of them.
Komachi, however, was eager to prove she was right. "Kiku acts like he doesn't like him, but he's followed Kambei from the start!"
"But Kambei's fighting a one-man war now," Okara said thoughtfully. "He's not letting the other samurai help."
"Yeah," Komachi agreed. "Momotaro and Heihachi are busy rebuilding stuff, but everyone else is just bored."
"Everyone else has other interests, at least," Okara said meaningfully, leering at Komachi. "But farming's the only other thing Kiku knows, but he's no good at it now."
"Still, they shouldn't just replace him!" Komachi said, defending her hero, when she was suddenly startled by a yank on her pole. "Yah! What are you doing, you dumb fish?"
"OH, ENOUGH ALREADY, OKAY?" Kikuchiyo shouted, sitting up. "I'm a samurai, damn it! Now it's time for me to start acting like one!"
And with that, he clambered to his feet, and stalked off toward the village with a new purpose.

Kirara and Katsushiro were visiting with Rikichi, the young farmer still laid up by the broken ribs he'd sustained during the battle with the Nobuseri. The two were filling him in on what had been going on in the village in the meantime, but Katsushiro's mind kept going back to the fact that Kambei had left all of them behind. Although he agreed with Shichiroji's suggestion that Kambei's relationship with Nasami remain secret, he was still struggling with the notion that his sensei had gone off without him.
"But why would he just leave like this, without asking for our help?" he said aloud. "Especially if he's gone to the Capital like we think? He won't be able to get past their defenses alone."
"Kambei has more wisdom than us all," Kirara reminded him. "He wouldn't do anything unless he had a good plan."
"The priestess is right about that," Rikichi agreed. "And Kyuzo must have had a plan of his own, because he's disappeared as well."
"I'm not surprised," Katsushiro sighed. "The whole reason he came here was to battle sensei after we won. With sensei gone, there's no challenge, and no reason to stay."
"That does sound like Kyuzo," Kirara said ruefully.
Katsushiro looked pensive. "The rice is safe, but the seven kami protecting it have been separated."
"Kami?" Kirara asked, startled, but Rikichi gave a faint smile as he remembered Heihachi cheerfully expounding on the spiritual value of rice.
"Oh, yeah... I'd almost forgotten that. Although in theory, there would be eight, if we included Nasami-sama."
"Personally, I think she's more a representation of Lady Sun than rice," Katsushiro said, smiling, when they suddenly heard Kikuchiyo's voice bellowing from outside.
The big machine samurai stuck his head through the doorway. "I'm getting out of here! Can't let that mule Kambei hog all the glory!"
"What are you talking about?" Rikichi asked, puzzled, but Katsushiro frowned.
"Wait a minute, you're going off to help rescue Sanae? But sensei left us here for a reason! We need to help protect the village!" He got no farther than that when Kikuchiyo grabbed him by the front of his jacket and lifted him bodily up off the floor.
"Decision time, kid! Samurai or sheep, which are you?" The challenge in Kikuchiyo's voice rang loud and clear.
Nasami grinned. “After all, one should `be more afraid of an army of sheep led by a wolf than an army of wolves led by a sheep.'”
“So the peasants of Kanna are sheep?” Rikichi said to Nasami in disbelief.
“Actually, in that outfit, I don't know
what to call you, Rikichi…”
Katsushiro's eyes narrowed. "I'm samurai," he replied, his voice soft but firm.
"That's right!" Kikuchiyo crowed. "And it's time to step up! Kambei may treat us like children, but you know in your heart what a true samurai would do! We have an opportunity... no, an obligation to find Rikichi's wife! We can do it! And we can show up that crusty old jerk while we're at it! Come on, I know you're itching for a good fight!"
The call of the battlefield... the song of the sword... the pounding of blood through his veins... all of it flashed through Katsushiro's mind in a single instant.
And he nodded to Kikuchiyo.
Without another word, the two samurai turned and left Rikichi's house to prepare for their departure.
To be continued...