Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Absolute Power ( Chapter 37 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: Ah, now we're back to my favorite scheming bastard. It's funny… when the series first started, I mentally wrote off Ukyo as this kind of nancy-boy prat, but my God, he's scary by the end of the series! (And kudos to Anthony Bowling, the FUNimation voice actor for Ukyo, for running the gamut from foppish to frightening so well.)
For a while, I was really stuck on what music to use for this chapter. Inspiration seemed lacking, and I just sat and fretted for the longest time until I finally got up and went looking through my movies to watch something else to get me out of the mental rut I was in. What did I end up choosing? Another great `scheming bastard' movie… THE USUAL SUSPECTS. And I must say, the opening track, called “The Water,” worked beautifully for this chapter.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Absolute Power
Ukyo was seated in the main audience chamber of the Magistrate's palace, reading through the latest missive sent from the Capital, when he became aware of a knocking at the door.
“I am sorry to disturb you, my lord, but you asked to see me,” he heard.
“Ah, Tessai, do come in.”
The door slid open and Tessai entered the room, bowing.
“Huh… it says here that the Envoy's assassin has been arrested,” he announced as the other man approached. “That's nice… I wonder what he's like.”
“`He?'” Tessai repeated. “I don't understand, my lord. I thought… Hyogo had sent you a message that a woman had killed the Envoy.”
“And so he did,” the young man replied without looking up. “Some samuraiko named Nasami, if I remember correctly. And then poor Hyogo turned up dead, and she vanished off the face of the earth. To tell you the truth, I hadn't given her a second thought until now.”
“And yet… someone else has now been accused and arrested?” Tessai frowned, not liking this complication at all. Although he would never say it aloud, Tessai seriously doubted that his young master had forgotten about Hyogo's letter accusing the samuraiko Nasami of murder. Over the last several days, he had begun to realize that he had seriously underestimated the Magistrate's son, both in terms of personality and ambition.
“So it would seem,” Ukyo said with relish. “It means that either Hyogo was lying, this man they've captured is lying, or this man Kambei and that woman Nasami were in on it together. I wonder which is true. Of course, we can hardly ask Hyogo about this, now can we?”
“Do you believe that the man they're holding at the Capital is the one who killed Hyogo as well?”
“Who knows? But you did say that the leader of those ragtag ronin my lovely Kirara had hired was named Kambei. Do you suppose it's the same man? Wouldn't that just be a coincidence… and it would place him in Kougakyo the night that the Envoy was killed.”
“What do you wish to do?” Tessai asked, his tone respectful and cautious.
“He's a terrorist who incited panic throughout my city. I want to look this man in the eyes… while they're still attached to his body, that is.” Ukyo's eyes met Tessai's over the top of the parchment. “Perhaps the time has finally come for me to be reunited with my father.”
He tossed the paper aside and got to his feet. “Prepare suitable transportation, we'll leave as soon as we can. But first send a message to the Capital, and request that they delay the execution. I want to see this man before he dies.”
“Yes, my lord.” Tessai bowed and left the room, leaving Ukyo looking thoughtful.
The samurai opened his eyes to see the Imperial Minister standing just outside his cell, flanked by two armed guards.
“I bring a decision from the Emperor Amanushi,” the Minister declared when he saw that Kambei was awake and paying attention. “This decree is final.”
Kambei waited to hear his fate, on the outside calm and composed, while on the inside wondering exactly what the Emperor had planned for him.
“You are sentenced to death. In five days' time, you will be beheaded.”
For a moment, the samurai closed his eyes and prayed for strength, hoping that he could still somehow save Nasami from the same fate.
“I threatened to kill the Emperor,” he said aloud, his tone defiant. “That's a serious charge. Why don't they kill me now and be done with it?”
“Are you that eager to die?” the Minister asked.
“My reasons are my own.” Five days was too long to wait to find out exactly what was going on in the outside world… too long to wait to learn if Nasami would live or die…
As though aware of the train of Kambei's thoughts, the Imperial Minister smiled coldly.
“There was a request for delay. Ukyo has asked that your sentence be carried out in Kougakyo.”
A chill settled into Kambei's stomach as the Imperial Minister gave him a slightly mocking bow and then departed. If he had needed any proof that Hyogo's letter had fallen into Ukyo's hands, the request for the delay of his execution was all he needed, and internally he damned himself yet again for causing the whole mess by stopping Nasami from saving the Envoy. And now that he was locked in a cell, his chances of sparing her from the machinations of the court were slim to none.
Giving in to a momentary rush of anger, Kambei drove his fist into one of the bars of his cell. “Damn him… and damn me as well,” he whispered as he rested his forehead against the bars. Looking down at his fist, he saw where blood had welled up on his knuckles, and with a heavy sigh, he traced a single line on the floor of his cell where it wouldn't be easily seen.
“Five days to go…”
“Presenting Lord Magistrate Ukyo, of the Kougakyo district!”
Everyone in the Emperor's main audience chamber turned to look at the young man who entered, trailed by Tessai. Enjoying every minute of the attention, Ukyo sauntered down the aisle toward the Emperor's dais. “No, please, don't get up!” he said mockingly as the courtiers watched and whispered while he passed.
Then Ukyo's eyes rested on Ayamoro, who was watching his son pass by without a single word of acknowledgement. With a single glance, he took in his father's concerned expression, but ignored the man and continued forward. As he approached the dais, his gaze met that of the Imperial Minister, whose mouth curved into a faint smile of recognition. The Minister nodded at him almost imperceptibly, and Ukyo grinned and nodded back.
He was brought up short by the Emperor's command.
"That's far enough."
Slowly the screen began to rise, and Ukyo lifted his eyes to see the Emperor in his support tank, Sanae sitting quietly beside him.
The Emperor studied Ukyo intently, and was about to ask him his business at the Capital when his attention was caught by a flashing display from within his support tank. Intrigued, he sent the mental command for more information, and the sensor equipment zoomed in on Ukyo's face, and then on his retinal patterns. And within the tank, the Emperor smiled.
The young man blatantly returned the Emperor's stare, and Ayamoro called out in horror, "On your knees, Ukyo! Show respect!" The guards accompanying Ukyo grabbed him by the arms and were about to force him to kneel when he began to thrash.
"Hey, let go! Tell these machines to get off of me!"
"So you are Ukyo, successor to Ayamoro," the Emperor observed, studying the young man, who glared up angrily at him.
"None may speak with the Emperor directly," the Imperial Minister began, but the Emperor cut him off.
"It is all right, I will allow it."
"Yes, my lord."
The guards led Ukyo up the stairs until he was standing only a few feet away from the Emperor's tank, but the young man froze in horror when he saw a long tube with a syringe at the end come snaking out of the tank.
"This may... sting."
"DON'T!" Ukyo shouted, panicking and trying frantically to break free, but the guards held him fast, and the syringe plunged into his upper arm. He gave a cry of pain, watching in horror as it drew some of his blood.
"Just bear with me for a moment."
Immediately information began to flash across the internal surface of the containment tank, studying DNA sequences, genetic information, and biochemical signatures faster than most human eyes could follow. A series of checklists were ran through, information cross-referenced and double-checked until finally a number flashed up on a display.
Down at the foot of the stairs, Ayamoro was staring open-mouthed. "Ukyo... could he really be...?" he gasped.
"Ukyo, you are without question flesh of my flesh... my forty-ninth clone."
As the syringe was withdrawn, the two guards on either side of Ukyo released him and stepped back, leaving him rubbing his arm and glaring resentfully at them.
"My lord, is this true?" Tessai hissed to Ayamoro in disbelief. "Is Master Ukyo a clone?"
"Ayamoro, I thank you for taking my clone into your home. You have honored me well."
"Emperor, I apologize a thousand times, but I deserve no credit," Ayamoro protested. "When I took him in, I believed he was a mere peasant. I had no idea he was yours."
At Ayamoro's words, the entire court erupted in whispers and speculation, causing the Imperial Minister to shout for silence.
"Forgive my ignorance, Emperor, but why so many clones? Is this not a dilution of the bloodline?" Ayamoro asked hesitantly, clearly reluctant to question divine judgment.
"In order to produce the finest possible heir, several women were implanted with the divine ruler's genetic copy," the Imperial Minister replied after a glance at the Emperor. "After many failed attempts, a farm woman was chosen, finally yielding successful results. The clone was named Ukyo, and through the divine grace of the Amanushi, his identity was hidden among the peasantry, for the only way to establish an heir worthy of the Emperor's name was to ensure that the heir had knowledge of all social classes."
"Come on, enough already!" Ukyo called out, cutting across the Minister's words. "Why should it matter to you what I am? I was born from the Emperor's seed. I have his blood in my veins. I was raised as a peasant, and my adoptive father taught me all about trade. So what am I really? Am I... an heir? Am I a peasant? Or am I a merchant?"
"I will decide what you are," the Emperor said coldly, and Ukyo turned to him, startled. "Begin immediate preparations for... the Test."
Kambei lay on the floor of his cell, staring up at the ceiling. It had been three days since he had let himself fall into the hands of the Emperor. Three long days of doing nothing but thinking, planning... and waiting.
He idly wondered what time it was, wondered what was going on in the world around him...
Wondered if Nasami was all right.
He sighed and shifted on the floor, trying to get comfortable. He doubted she would ever forgive him for this, but from the moment he had learned of Hyogo's accusation, he had been plotting how to save her from the dark-haired assassin's duplicity and vengeance. And as painfully humiliating as it was to admit, since that moment, he had been regretting not letting Nasami save the Envoy. As troublesome and problematic as it might have been, the events it could have prevented... the lives it might have saved...
"So how is Kirara these days... Kambei Shimada?"
Kambei looked over and saw Ukyo lounging against the door of his cell, a smug grin on his face, and his heart sank within him. He had heard that the young Magistrate had arrived, and from Mizuki, he had heard the gossip that Ukyo might actually be the Emperor's heir, but Mizuki had not yet brought his evening meal, so he'd had no idea if Ukyo had passed the Emperor's test.
Clearly, he had.
"I know you didn't kill the Envoy, by the way," Ukyo said, his voice filled with a malicious amusement. "The Emperor says you did, but I just can't quite believe it for some reason."
"And why would you say that?" Kambei asked, dreading the answer.
"Oh, just something that a little bird told me," Ukyo replied blithely. "So tell me, what does it feel like... waiting to be executed?"
"What is it you're trying to do here?" the samurai asked, trying but not quite succeeding to keep the accusation out of his voice so as not to betray his frustration.
"Why, conquer the world, of course!" Ukyo looked at him in surprise, as though astonished that he even had to ask. Then he leaned even closer and lowered his voice. "By the way... the true murderer is right here in this room."
Kambei leaned his head back against the bars and barely managed to stifle a groan. Deep inside, he had been somehow hoping that Nasami might still be able to discover who had truly killed the Envoy, but even if he could have gotten word to her in time, and even as high-ranking a samurai as she was, her word would never be enough to be taken seriously against a merchant Magistrate in this day and age. And if Ukyo was now the Emperor's true heir, she would be at his mercy if she were ever caught.
"And why would you assassinate the Imperial Envoy?" he finally asked, not exactly certain he wanted to know the answer.
"I only did it because I was asked to," Ukyo admitted. "You see, I was in a position to do someone a favor." He tilted his head and studied the samurai. "But I must admit, I'm curious about one thing."
"And that is?"
"Is the samuraiko Nasami still in Kanna Village?"
Kambei's eyes went wide for just a moment, but that moment was all Ukyo needed, and his grin became even wider. "I'll take that as a yes. Anyway, I have a lot to do, so I'll just let you rest for a while. Pleasant dreams... Kambei Shimada."
With that, Ukyo walked out, leaving Kambei with only a sickening feeling in his heart for company. If Ukyo knew where Nasami really was, then saving the samuraiko might now truly be impossible.
As if in response to his thoughts, he once again heard Nasami admonishing both him and the peasants the last time they had doubted her.
"From this moment on, the word 'impossible' will not be uttered in my hearing."
"Oh, Nasami," he whispered into the darkness. "I only wish I could have told you..."
Kambei sighed again and closed his eyes.
He fell into a light sleep, even as his mind wandered.
"Will you just lie there and wait to die?" came a soft voice, and Kambei turned his head to see a shadowy figure on the other side of the bars of his cell.
As silently as a ghost, the figure stopped outside the cage and carefully knelt.
"You..." Kambei whispered in awe. "But... how?"
"Did you think I would let you die here alone?"
"I said before that I have no intention of dying," Kambei murmured. "But if I must wait, I must wait."
"If not for death, then for what?" came the voice again.
"For a samurai, it is not always what you do, but when you do it, that decides the outcome of a battle."
"And is this a battle?"
"Mmmm," the samurai said quietly. "Indeed. A battle for honor."
There was the faintest hint of amusement in the voice. "I thought you once said that every battle you'd ever fought in, you have lost. Will this be the one battle you win?"
"Yes. But as in all battles, there will be casualties."
Slowly, the figure moved, and the dim light of the room glinted off pale hair.
"And as in all battles, there must be sacrifices?"
For a long time, there was only silence as the figure continued its deliberate pacing around his cell. Kambei's eyes followed the movement around the shadowed room.
"Why are you here?" he said at last.
"We share a bond, you and I," came the voice. "As long as we both live, neither of us is ever truly alone."
The samurai closed his eyes again. That was certainly true... while rare, it was believed that sometimes there existed between two souls a kharmic bond that neither time nor distance could ever diminish. "I find that thought comforting. But even if I die, you won't be alone."
"You had this planned all along," the voice said softly. "You never had any intention of saving yourself... only of rescuing the women and restoring my honor."
"'Sometimes we only see clearly through a lens of pain,'" Kambei said drowsily, remembering his words to Katsushiro so long ago. "Other times, through a lens of impending death. If not our own, then someone we care for."
There was a slight pause. "Or love?"
"Yes," he replied without a moment's hesitation, shocked to realize that it was true. He had never spoken the words aloud before... never even dared to let himself even think the words, but now they came easily to his lips. "Or love."
"I won't let you die," came the anguished whisper. "I can't."
"That isn't your choice to make."
For a long time, there was silence, but then Kambei heard a soft sound, so faint he was unsure he had even heard it... like a choked sob. Opening his eyes again, he could see dark blue eyes on the other side of the bars, shining with tears.
"Why are you crying?" he asked softly.
"Damn you, Shimada Kambei... I should never have let you go alone."
"You had no choice, remember?"
"But maybe... maybe if I had told you... you would not have left me behind."
That got his attention. "Told me what?"
"It... it does not matter anymore. You have given up... on yourself... and on us."
"Never, anata," he whispered, reaching through the bars to brush her tears away. But when his fingers would have touched her skin, she disappeared, and Kambei's eyes opened wide.
And suddenly he was awake.
"It was a dream..." he murmured, but then he glanced down at his hand.
His fingertips were damp with tears.
"Nasami?" he whispered, staring into the darkness, but there was no reply.
Far away, in Kanna Village, the only sound that disturbed the stillness of the night was that of a woman weeping.
He was standing on the battlefield, wounded and bleeding, but fearlessly staring up at the five enormous mechanized samurai looming over him. The leader of the Benigumo samurai had already killed Kaminari, and even as he watched, Iruko was cut down before his eyes. Kori was weaving in and out of the battle, using his naginata to stay out of the Benigumo's range while cutting them down like sheaves of wheat, while Hiryu was dragging the wounded off the field and doing what he could to either save their lives or commend their souls to the afterlife.
Ignoring the arrow she had already taken through her shoulder, Nasami was valiantly struggling to keep three Raiden divisions at bay singlehandedly while defending Ujiro, the magistrate she had been charged with protecting, but blow after blow rained down on the samuraiko.
All of them were weakening, bloodied, and exhausted, but none of them would yield. In fact, two monumental efforts earlier from Kaminari and Nasami had already managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Even as he looked at his companions, Kori's wakizashi took out another Tobito, while the samuraiko's laughter echoed across the battlefield as she cut down yet another Raiden.
But the arrival of the five Benigumo and their support divisions would turn the tide of the battle once again, and this time, the samurai would lose.
'If you are in reach of your enemy, he is in reach of you.
If your enemy is in reach of you, you are in reach of your enemy.'
If your enemy is in reach of you, you are in reach of your enemy.'
He shifted his grip on his katana and wakizashi, then started running straight at the five Benigumo samurai, summoning all of his strength into a powerful yell. It might cost him his life, but he was going to take them with him straight to Jigoku...
Blood streaming down her face and arm, Nasami deflected away an attack from Ujiro, and turned at the fierce kiai shout that echoed all around her.
She saw him lunge straight at the five machine samurai.
She saw him carve through the chest of the first, behead the second, split the third in half, decapitate the fourth, but as he swung at the leader, the enormous samurai let out a vengeful shout of his own.
And even as his katana and wakizashi took the Benigumo apart, she saw the enormous samurai's sword slice him in half...
Her horrified scream was drowned out by a deafening explosion as the five Benigumo and the samurai were consumed in a blinding flash of light.
She viciously scythed through her attackers, Mamorimasu suddenly blazing with the light of Amaterasu herself, rallying the remaining samurai to her side, yelling at the top of her voice, screaming his name to the heavens as her battle cry.
Screaming, Nasami came awake, her eyes enormous, her heart pounding. As she stared sightlessly in front of her, the other two samurai had already drawn their weapons against attack, until they realized that they were alone in the house.
Heihachi resheathed his sword and looked over at the samuraiko, who was still staring at nothing, tears streaming down her face. "Nasami-dono?" he said softly, carefully moving to sit beside her and rest a hand on her shoulder.
Nasami blinked, then she turned to look at Heihachi, and then at Shichiroji. "I-I'm sorry," she whispered. "It was just a dream..."
"About the last battle of the Great War," Shichiroji said quietly. "Am I right?"
Nasami nodded slowly, wiping away her tears as Heihachi looked over at the other samurai, puzzled.
"You mean the Battle of Shinomen Mori?"
"That's one name for it." The samuraiko's voice was almost hollow. "The other name, the one given by those who were there, was the Night of Dark Fire." She buried her face in her hands and gave a single shuddering sob. "I haven't dreamt of that night in over five years... why now?"
"Perhaps because of your connection to Kambei-sama... much like the one you had with..." The blond samurai's voice was deceptively casual, and Nasami flinched. "You and Kambei-sama do share a strong bond, Nasami."
"So what do you think this dream of hers means?" Heihachi asked, getting up and beginning preparations to make Nasami some tea to calm her nerves.
Shichiroji didn't take his eyes off Nasami, whose dark blue eyes were still haunted. "I don't know. I wish I did. But the question now is..." He leaned closer to her. "What are you going to do about it?"
"The ceremony will take place soon. For now, you must become accustomed to life in the Capital."
"May I ask you a question now?" Ukyo asked as he sat quietly inking a letter in the Emperor's private chamber.
"Anything you wish."
Setting down the brush, Ukyo picked up a beautiful jade figurine of a two-headed dragon and held it up where the Emperor could see it. "You see, a long time ago, there was a great and powerful dragon with two heads. One said it wanted to live in the south and dive for big, juicy fish." Ukyo moved the figurine from one side to another as though telling a story to a child. "But the other wanted to live in the north and search the skies for tasty little birds."
Abruptly he opened his hands and let the statue fall to the floor.
"And do you know what happened to that beautiful dragon? Starved to death."
Ukyo got to his feet and moved to crouch down next to the Emperor's life support tank. "Now, my question, Emperor... do you really it's wise for a nation to have two rulers?"
"It is entirely unnecessary," the Emperor replied, and Ukyo grinned malevolently at him.
"I so agree."
With a vicious yank, he wrenched several wires and tubes from the tank's support system. In horror, the Emperor thrashed, gasping in pain as the fluids and air he needed to stay alive were cut off.
"Our forebearers have known it for untold years," Ukyo said calmly, placidly watching the Emperor in his death throes. "Even in the greatest of civilizations, crippling imperfections will appear. The government must be willing to change with the times, and after so much struggle, surely you've grown... tired."
Ukyo leaned even closer. "But don't you worry about a thing. I will help ease your burden. After all, I am you and you are me."
The Emperor's movements became slower and slower as the support systems shut down one by one, lights flickering out even as the life ebbed from his body.
"Good night, Emperor," Ukyo said softly as the light faded from the Emperor's eyes and the life support system shut down entirely. With that, he got to his feet and leaned on the tank in supreme self-satisfaction.
"Ah yes, he is me... but I... am so much more."
To be continued...