Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Return to Kougakyo ( Chapter 36 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: After the tension of the last chapter, things get a `brief' breather in this one. To all of you who sent me reviews for “No Matter the Cost,” I am glad you all enjoyed having the crap scared out of you! But fear not, Nasami is not going to die just yet… but things are going to get ugly from here on out...
For the LiveJournal readers who are enjoying my story, please do spread the word, and don't be afraid to leave reviews on my LJ if you'd rather not leave them on here! (I just like being able to send thank-yous to the reviewers... I know, it's silly, but true. If you're gonna take the time to offer an opinion, the least I can do is take the time to say thanks.)
The music for this chapter is from a soundtrack I sought for years, and then was delighted to find as a double CD on eBay - the gentle “Shetahn to Casablanca” from THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-Six: Return to Kougakyo
“Out of the question! You are a peasant, not a warrior!”
Kirara tried to make the older woman understand. “I understand that, Grandmother, but I…”
Tetsu cut her off. “No! I do not think you do!”
“But why shouldn't I be allowed to go with them?” Kirara pleaded.
“Because these men are going off into battle, my dear. What purpose would a water priestess serve in the midst of war?”
Kirara's eyes were somber, remembering a day of rain and sorrows and death.
“You volunteered to find samurai to defend Kanna Village. You went to Kougakyo looking for samurai. You offered them rice, hired them to kill the Nobuseri for you, led them here to Kanna, all because you were too cowardly to fight for your village, your rice, and your lives.”
The samuraiko's words rang through Kirara's mind as clearly as they had the day she had spoken them, just as they had for the past several nights as she had lain awake thinking about what to do now. No matter what Nasami believed about her, Kirara had not forgotten what the older woman had said, but it was much, much harder to understand and accept than she had initially believed.
“I have a responsibility as the one who brought the samurai here,” she said at last. “And I intend to see this war through to its finish.”
Tetsu studied Kirara intently, and saw how she was only barely hanging onto her composure. "You do not need to prove yourself as a samurai, Kirara. I know what Nasami-sama said to you that day, and while in many aspects, she is right..."
"No, Grandmother," Kirara interrupted. "She was completely right, and I will prove to her that I do understand what I have done by bringing this war to Kanna Village." She clenched her fists. "But I will not be able to do that until I have earned back her respect."
Her grandmother, however, was not convinced. “You speak with the maturity of an adult… however, I fear that you do not yet understand your own feelings.”
The young woman swallowed hard. “I think the real problem is I understand my feelings too well.” She looked down at her hands where they rested in her lap… and at the bandage she had carried with her since the day the samurai had rescued her from the Nobuseri ship.
"I'm not blind, Kirara. I can see how much you admire Kambei-san, and he is certainly appealing in his own way. Between that and the fact that he saved your life, the attraction is understandable."
"We've been working closely for some time... now, I find my gaze lingering on him." Her words came hesitantly, painfully brought to the surface by her memories of the talk she and Nasami had shared by the lake in the Guardians' caverns. "I've done my best to deny these feelings, but instead, all I feel is shame."
Tetsu's voice softened as she finally began to understand her granddaughter's motivations. "And the samurai?"
"He hasn't noticed."
The old woman sighed, knowing full well that even if the samurai in question returned Kirara's affections, the chances of such a relationship surviving the gap in class were slim. "Can you conceal these feelings?"
A hint of the old pride came back into Kirara's eyes as she straightened up. "I am a water priestess. I will do whatever is best for our people."
"It will be difficult;" Tetsu warned her, but Kirara shook her head and smiled sadly, and Tetsu sighed once more. "Well, you're stronger than I was." And at last, she nodded. "Very well... if the samurai will allow you to accompany them, then you may go. All I can do is remind you to be careful."
"So you really intend to go after Kambei-san?" Nasami asked Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo as they sat beside Gorobei's grave.
"Yes," Katsushiro replied, his eyes on the swords he and Kikuchiyo had placed there as a mark of respect to the dead. "Kikuchiyo-dono and I can do little here, and the purpose of a samurai is to protect."
"And what if the Nobuseri return?"
"Well, we've seen just how well you can handle the bandits!" Kikuchiyo said cheerfully. "Who was it again who took out a whole platoon of Nobuseri reinforcements by herself?"
"I didn't do it by myself," Nasami reminded him impatiently, "the peasants did a lot of it, but now they're busy harvesting, and their thoughts have turned from war. They're not as prepared as they were a week ago."
Neither Katsushiro nor Kikuchiyo said anything, and finally Nasami gave up. "Fine, it's not like you need my permission to go off after him." She sank down into a cross-legged position to Kikuchiyo's left, her chin in her hands.
"Why not come with us?" Kikuchiyo asked her. "You don't have to just sit around here and sulk. Come on, you know you want to go..."
The samuraiko shook her head. "I can't, Kikuchiyo. "
"Oh, stop being so proud, for crying out loud!"
"It has nothing to do with pride!" she said angrily, glaring at him. "It has to do with honor... mine, as well as his. And furthermore, I won't go chasing after him like some lovestruck child."
"You mean like Lady Kirara."
Startled, both Nasami and Kikuchiyo turned to look at Katsushiro, who was sitting with his eyes closed as though in meditation. Without looking at either of them, he sighed and bowed his head.
"That's what you were going to say, isn't it, Nasami-dono?"
Nasami's cheeks went slightly red, and Katsushiro finally turned to look at her.
"That's why you don't want us to go. If we leave, Lady Kirara would most likely insist on coming with us."
"Yes," Nasami said softly. "I'm sorry, Katsushiro."
He went back to staring morosely at Gorobei's grave, while Kikuchiyo turned around at the sound of footsteps and saw Heihachi and Shichiroji climbing up the hill.
"Hey, what are you goats doing up here?"
"Now is that any way to speak to fellow samurai?" Heihachi teased, and Kikuchiyo turned around in a huff.
"Oh, sorry, goat-dono!" Kikuchiyo said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "Look, I'm pissed at you guys! How come you didn't tell us you were planning a rescue mission too! We're part of this team, and so is Nasami, and you didn't even ask her, either!"
"Sorry, big guy, we weren't trying to exclude you," Heihachi said apologetically. "Or Nasami-dono, for that matter."
"Last time we were on the road, Katsushiro got injured, you let the Nobuseri kidnap you, and Nasami was hiding out after being accused of murder," Shichiroji reminded the machine samurai with a grin. "Not the best of records!"
"Ah, excuses, excuses!" Kikuchiyo bellowed over him. "Just because you're older than us doesn't mean we're children!" He glanced over at Nasami. "Well, maybe Nasami's not young, too, but..."
She arched an eyebrow at him, and Kikuchiyo hurriedly glanced over at Katsushiro, who was once again sitting with his eyes closed.
"Come on, Katsu, help me out here!" When Katsushiro ignored him, he leaned closer and raised his voice. "Helloooo?"
Finally, Katsushiro turned and looked at the other two samurai standing behind him, his face resolute. "My place is with sensei, fighting at his side."
Shichiroji studied him thoughtfully. "Because you think rebuilding a village is somehow beneath you as a samurai?"
Katsushiro suddenly realized how his comment must have sounded and looked away in embarrassment. "No, that's not what I meant at all," he stammered.
The fair-haired samurai sighed and glanced over at Nasami, who shrugged as if to say, 'Don't look at me,' and then he looked back over at Katsushiro. "Have you taken a moment to think about why Kambei-sama might have left you behind this time?"
Katsushiro opened his mouth to argue, and then closed it again, looking confused. "I... I don't..."
Nasami's sigh was faint, but all four samurai turned to look at her. "Do you honestly believe Kambei would have deliberately left you here so if he hadn't trusted you along with the others to protect Kanna from any reprisals?"
"Trusted... me?" Katsushiro's eyes were wide, but Kikuchiyo burst out laughing.
"Oh, get real, Nasami, that bastard doesn't trust anyone but himself."
"If he were that concerned about you being able to handle things, he would have insisted on taking you with him. He trusts you enough to leave you and Katsushiro here to defend Kanna and the farmers while Heihachi and Shichiroji focused their attention on rebuilding." She got to her feet and her eyes met his - even seated, Kikuchiyo was nearly as tall as Nasami was while standing. "But I'm not going to waste my breath trying to change your minds. If anyone knows how formidable samurai pride is, it's me."
Bowing to the four samurai, and then to Gorobei's grave, she walked off into the forest.
"I'm thinking that could have been handled better," Shichiroji said after several moments, and he shot a glance over at Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro.
"What's that look for?" Kikuchiyo said defensively, glaring back at Shichiroji, who groaned and rubbed the back of his head.
"It's hard enough that she let him leave, rubbing salt in the wound is hardly going to help."
"But we weren't-" Katsushiro began, but Heihachi stopped him by holding up a small bundle.
"Let's just leave it at that for now. Here, take some rice for your trip. Kanna grows the best in the world, you know."
Katsushiro recognized the rice as the peace offering and the hint to drop the subject that it was, and took it with a faint nod. "Thank you, Heihachi."
With a loud creaking and a puff of steam, Kikuchiyo got to his feet and yanked the remnant of his sword from the ground. "All right, Katsu, let's move!"
Heihachi took one look at the broken sword and started to laugh. "That sword's not going to do you much good, is it?"
Kikuchiyo shrugged and propped the sword on his shoulder. "Well, I'll get Masamune to fix it up for me!"
That sparked an idea for Katsushiro, who looked up at the big machine samurai. "Masamune seems pretty well-travelled... I'd be willing to bet he can tell us where we can find the capital."
"Why not just ask Nasami?" Kikuchiyo asked matter-of-factly, but Katsushiro shook his head.
"No, I don't think she'll tell us... not if she wouldn't tell sensei. We'll just have to hope that Masamune can point us in the right direction."
As they prepared to leave, however, they saw Rikichi come hobbling up the hill, supported by Gozaku.
"Rikichi!" Kikuchiyo said in surprise, and Heihachi and Shichiroji also looked over their shoulders to see the farmer approaching, a determined glint in his eyes.
"Please... I want to go with you."
"I'm afraid you're in no condition to go to war," Katsushiro said seriously. "But I swear to you, we will bring your wife back."
Rikichi looked downhearted, but there was no arguing with Katsushiro's logic... the bandages he still wore wrapped around his ribs and the crutch at his side were proof of it.
However, as Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro were crossing the rebuilt bridge out of Kanna, they were brought up short by cries from behind them.
The two samurai turned and saw Kirara and Komachi sprinting after them, and the two girls came skidding to a halt, panting.
"What is it, sprout?" Kikuchiyo asked, peering down at the child.
"Please, you've got to take us with you!" Kirara pleaded.
"Yeah, you've gotta!" Komachi chimed in, but Kikuchiyo shook his head.
"You know we're not going off to play," he said seriously, but Kirara clenched her fists, looking defiant.
"We understand the risk involved, and we're prepared for whatever comes! Please, we can help!"
"Help us how?" Kikuchiyo protested. "This is war we're talking about!"
Komachi, however, would not be dissuaded, either. "But if you go without me, I'll be worried sick about you! And you don't want that!"
"No, of course not," the big machine samurai laughed, and Komachi giggled up at him.
Katsushiro, however, was clearly reluctant to bring Kirara and Komachi along... not only because of the risks, but because he could also hear Nasami's comments from earlier about the real reasons for Kirara's insistence.
"I can't expose you to any more danger," he said at last, turning to face Kirara, and immediately regretted it when he saw the plea in her eyes.
Kikuchiyo didn't help matters any when after a few moments, he remarked, "You know... Kirara is pretty good at finding things with that crystal of hers..."
Now facing three-to-one odds, Katsushiro gave up, knowing that he would never be able to tell the girls to stay behind, and that given Kirara's stubborn streak, she and Komachi might well have ended up choosing to follow them anyway.
He turned on his heel and continued crossing the bridge. "Don't leave my side."
"I won't," Kirara said softly, wondering what had upset the young samurai so much.
Komachi, on the other hand, cheerfully scrambled up onto Kikuchiyo's shoulder with the declaration, "And don't you leave mine, sidekick!"
"I couldn't if I tried," Kikuchiyo said ruefully.
As the four of them set out, they were unaware that Tetsu and the Elder were watching them leave.
"A thing such as this would never have been allowed in older times," the Elder remarked quietly.
"Perhaps our Kirara is simply not meant to be a water priestess any longer," Tetsu replied, watching her granddaughters head off into the world once more.
"Only she and the waters can decide that," the Elder corrected her, until a soft voice spoke from behind them.
"'The elements are not the means to an end… they are the beginning and the end.'"
Turning, the two elderly peasants saw Nasami standing nearby, also watching the four on the bridge leave.
"Great samurai, forgive us, we did not know you were there," Tetsu said, bowing, but Nasami shook her head, her eyes on Kirara.
"The world is changing, Tetsu-san... and your granddaughter is changing with it." She shrugged. "What Kirara will become, however... that is up to Kirara."
Far away from Kanna, in the airship that was the Capital, Kambei sat pensively in his cell, awaiting his fate and quietly damning himself for his hesitation in the throne room earlier. Locked in a jail cell, there was little he would be able to do to save Nasami, and even worse, if Ukyo were to somehow make the truth known about Hyogo's accusation, the samuraiko was still facing a potential death sentence.
And right now, he missed her more than he cared to admit.
"Damn," he said aloud.
Suddenly he heard the mechanical clank indicating that the door was opening to the larger room in which his cell was situated.
"Hello, I've brought dinner for you, and for the prisoner as well," he heard a young female voice say cheerfully. Then the door clanked shut again, and he saw a young woman approach holding a tray. Narrowing his eyes to peer at her more closely, he saw that it was the teenager he had seen earlier in the Emperor's main audience chamber, the one who had been escorting Sanae.
The door closed behind her as she crossed the room, and he tilted his head back to lean against the bars, his eyes closed once more.
"Let me guess, great samurai," he heard, and he opened them again to look at her as she crouched down near the bars to slide his food into his cell. "You're wondering what happened to Sanae... how she could show such affection for the man who plucked her from her home, but it's more complicated than that."
Kambei glanced down at the tray, and saw that she had taken care to bring him a proper meal instead of just meager prison fare. The gesture was appreciated, but right now, however, Kambei was more interested in information than in food, and he turned to look at the girl.
"Did the Emperor speak the truth about Sanae? Is she with child?"
"Yes," the girl said softly, and Kambei frowned.
"I see." For a moment, he wondered if Sanae's pregnancy had been a willing one or not, but the young woman's next statement answered his question as though she were reading his mind.
"But it's not what you think. She only did it for our sake. She told us that as long as the Emperor favored her, he would leave the other girls alone. It was just for show, but now I think she's starting to believe her own act." She leaned closer to look into his cell, her eyes pleading. "Please... you have to do something!"
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm about to be executed," Kambei said sardonically. "I'd like nothing more than to help her, but I'm in no position to do so."
Kambei was so surprised that he met the girl's gaze directly.
She smirked at him. "Yeah, you've got something planned. That's why you went through so much trouble to get caught... because you have a plan to rescue all of us. The good news is, I can help you."
He suddenly became aware that the young woman was much brighter and more determined than he had first given her credit for. If that were the case, the girl could potentially be a very valuable ally. In fact, she almost reminded him of someone...
"How many women are there in total?" he asked her, trying to figure out the resemblance.
"About ten, including me."
"By any chance, do you know if one of them has an older sister named Honoka?"
The girl started. "Yeah... I do."
"You don't say..." he purred. Things might be looking up for him already...
"My name is Mizuki," the girl said with a smile. "Pleasure to meet you, Kambei Shimada."
Kambei's grin in the shadows of his cell was almost feral.
To be continued...