Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Execution ( Chapter 38 )

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

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Note: I first started writing this chapter long before I had seen the actual episode (I took an educated guess at what was going to happen), and had at first intended to have Nasami show up and save him. But as I watched the series, and saw how my own story was unfolding, I realized that Nasami had to be the one person who would not be at the Capital to save Kambei. Personally, I prefer the actual canon version of events.
Before I forget, absolute kudos to R Bruce Elliott for sending CHILLS down my spine with Kambei's last words at the end of Episode 20!
I finally get to use one of my favorite pieces of music! Ever since I had heard that the Nightwish song “Ghost Love Score” was available as an instrumental piece, I knocked myself out to find it. And I did! Go me! (Additional useless piece of trivia… the whole dream sequence Kambei had at the beginning of Chapter Thirty-Five about Nasami's execution was originally written to this as well…)
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Execution
“Look, sister, there it is!” Komachi called out to the others as they crested the hill behind her. In the distance, they could see Kogo Valley. With that, she dashed down the hill shouting, “Last one there's a loser!”
The attention of the other three, however, was not on the city of Kougakyo itself. Instead, their eyes were drawn to the enormous airship that was slowly making its way toward the city.
“What's that?” Kikuchiyo said in surprise, and Katsushiro shaded his eyes against the sun to see better, then his eyes widened when he saw the transports that were escorting it.
“That airship must be the Capital,” Kirara realized with a gasp, and Kikuchiyo turned to look down at her.
“How do you know?”
“Remember what the Nobuseri leader said? All women and rice are taken to the Capital! The Nobuseri would have a strong presence there to maintain trade. What other airship city would so many bandits swarm around?”
“I thought the Capital was an actual place,” Kikuchiyo protested. “You know, some place… real. Like Kougakyo is.”
“It makes sense, though,” Katsushiro said, his voice thoughtful. “If the merchants wanted to ensure that they remained `above' everyone else in this new age of prosperity, the psychological advantage of having an airship as their Capital is a very good one. Not to mention very defendable if necessary. The only group they'd have to worry about is the Nobuseri, and the bandits are already on their side.”
“Well, it doesn't matter.” Kirara lifted her chin defiantly. “That's where we'll find Sanae and the others.”
“Yes,” Katsushiro agreed grimly as they set off toward Kougakyo. “And sensei must be there, too.”

Kambei stared down at the floor, where five red lines had been meticulously marked on the floor of his cell. Each time Mizuki had arrived to bring him food, he had seen her initial enthusiasm and determination slowly fade away, until her hope finally gave way to despair.
Watching her faith dwindling was an almost painful process for the samurai, but Kambei continued to bide his time until the day of his execution finallly arrived. All he could do now was quietly face death as a samurai should, and draw strength from the hope that Nasami might yet still evade Ukyo's machinations.
As though summoned by his thoughts, a contigent of guards arrived, coming to a halt just outside of his cell.
“The execution will take place at six p.m.,” the head of the guards announced. “Your body will be on display until midnight.”
Kambei lifted his eyes to meet the guard's directly. “I ask that you grant a dying samurai one final request.”
The guard's eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Go ahead.”
“I would like to die as a warrior. Allow me to honor the ritual of cleansing, and to commit seppuku.”
“Denied,” the guard said flatly, and turned to leave.
“Why?” Kambei demanded.
The guard turned back to face him once again. “Your request for ritual cleansing is granted; however, you will not be given the use of any weapon until the time of your execution.”
The samurai managed to hang onto his temper, realizing that provoking the guard would get him nowhere, but he was still angry at being denied what was fundamentally his right as a samurai warrior. “By whose order?” he asked, his voice low.
“Who else?” the guard said with a smug and unpleasant smile. “Our new Emperor, of course.”

"Look, they finally caught the guy!"
"About time!"
Katsushiro and the others watched several of Kougakyo's residents hurry over to one of the enormous message displays that were scattered throughout the city.
"What do you think is going on?" Kirara asked, staring as another group ran past.
"Got me, maybe we should follow them and find out," Kikuchiyo suggested, so the four of them made their way toward the nearest sign, where they could see a message scrolling past.
Komachi, however, was much shorter than the other three, and no matter how high she tried to jump, she couldn't see. "Oh, man, I can't see anything!" she complained.
Kikuchiyo glanced down and scooped her up so that she could sit on his shoulders. The four of them looked up at the sign, but Komachi frowned. "Hey, Kiku, what does that thing say, anyway?"
The big machine samurai was too embarrassed that he couldn't read beyond recognizing a few characters here and there. "It says, uh... little girls shouldn't read what's on this board."
Kirara and Katsushiro, however, were both literate, and as the sign's message continuing scrollilng past, both gave loud gasps of dismay.
"It's about... sensei!"
"It is?" Kikuchiyo and Komachi looked down at the other two, who were reading the announcement of Kambei's capture and forthcoming execution in absolute horror. Suddenly, however, the four were distracted by someone tapping on Kikuchiyo's back to get his attention. Thinking it was someone who just wanted to move, Kikuchiyo turned to glare, until he saw Masamune standing behind him with a cheerful smirk and a wave.
"Hey, what's up, old man?" Kikuchiyo said enthusiastically, glad to see the mechanic.
"What do you know, you're still in one piece!" Masamume nodded to each of the others as a hello, while Katsushiro and Kirara both bowed slightly.
"Masamune-dono, it's been a while," the young man said.
"Yep, that it has. Where's everyone else?"
Kirara's face fell, and she turned away slightly. "Gorobei-sama... is dead. The other samurai - Heihachi, Nasami, and Shichiroji... they're still in Kanna Village."
"And of course I don't have to ask what Kambei's up to," the mechanic said dryly, stepping closer to them so he could also see the board. "Besides being accused of the Envoy's murder, he made an attempt on the Emperor's life."
"An attempt?" Kikuchiyo asked in disbelief. "What the hell was he thinking, pulling a stunt like that?"
Komachi looked confused.
"What's going on?"
Katsushiro growled and clenched his fists. "Sensei failed... and now he's in trouble. I knew it... he never should have tried to rescue them on his own."
"Then you'd better come with me," Masamune advised, his eyes on one of the patrols that was making its way past. "At least that way you won't draw as much attention to yourselves."
Reluctantly the group trailed behind Masamune back to his workshop, where Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo both handed over their swords to the weaponsmith for repair.
Masamune held up Katsushiro's sword and studied it. Somewhere along the way, the young man had obviously learned how to care for his sword properly, but with all of the fighting recently, it would require some additional work.
"I see you're finally getting some use out of this baby," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Katsushiro. "Well, that makes sense. You are a samurai, now."
Katsushiro looked away in obvious discomfort. For the young samurai, as much as his spirit craved battle, he still had a difficult time dealling with the emotional aftermath of death.
Masamune then lifted the remnant of Kikuchiyo's sword and glared over at the big machine samurai. "But this thing is useless! I'll have to reforge it for you." Without another word, he tossed the oversized hilt near his forge, and began rummaging through his supplies for the necessary materials.
Kikuchiyo, on the other hand, was going through Masamune's stockpile of swords that he had available for sale. "We'll just borrow these until you're done!" He turned around and tossed one of the katanas to Katsushiro. "Here!"
Katsushiro caught it and placed it in the harness he wore at his hip. It didn't feel quite the same as his usual sword, but it was better than going into battle completely unarmed.
"We're going to the Capital," he told Masamune coldly as he got to his feet.
"And what do you think that'll accomplish?" the mechanic asked dryly.
"Saving everyone, of course!" Kikuchiyo announced, and Katsushiro nodded.
"We can't just leave them to die!"
But Kirara caught the concern in Masamune's expression, and she looked up at Katsushiro. "Maybe we should wait..." she began, but Katsushiro cut her off.
"Kambei isn't the type of man who would let himself be executed without putting up a fight," Kirara protested.
"Yes, but how?" Katsushiro asked in derision. "How can he rescue anybody from his jail cell?"
Kirara lowered her head and sighed, for she had been wondering the exact same thing, even as she tried to believe that the older samurai knew what he was doing. "I don't know... but still, I don't think we should interfere with whatever plan he might have."
"So you think we should do nothing?" Katsushiro asked, tightening one hand on his sword.
"For now," Kirara replied, but Katsushiro shook his head.
"For a samurai, the failure to act is a path of eternal shame."
"And how do you justify that statement when three samurai made a deliberate choice to remain behind in Kanna Village?" Masamune asked without turning around. "Would you accuse them of cowardice as well?" Bitterly reminded of Nasami's own attempts at dissuading them from coming to Kougakyo, Katsushiro's mouth tightened and he deliberately ignored Masamune's question.
"And won't it be shaming Kambei if we refuse to trust him now?" Kirara went on.
"When a samurai makes a mistake, he pays for it with his life," Kikuchiyo said forcefully, stepping up beside Katsushiro. "Katsu and I aren't going to let that happen to Kambei. We're going to save him, and show him what samurai can do."
Just then, as if in defiance of Kikuchiyo's words, a rumble began to fill the air, until even the ground was trembling beneath their feet. The five of them headed outside, where they could see the Capital coming in for a landing alongside Kougakyo.
"WHOA, IT'S HUGE!" Komachi shouted over the roar of the airship's engines and the rushing wind as it flew past. Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo looked more than a little daunted at the sight of the Capital up close, but neither one was willing to admit it.
Masamune, however, saw the expression on their faces, and sardonically called over the noise, "So, you still think this is such a good idea?"

Under the watchful eyes of his captors, Kambei sat quietly in his cell, honoring the ancient ritual of cleansing. As access to full-sized baths was not available to him in a jail cell, three buckets of water - two hot, one cold - had been brought to him instead. It was not unlike what most samurai did while on the road or just after a battle, and after stripping down to the loincloth that all samurai wore beneath their clothes, he bent his head over one of the buckets of hot water, carefully washing his long brown hair, scrubbing forcefully at it and wondering when silver strands had begun appearing among the brown.
As he washed his hair, though he tried to focus on the task at hand, he could not help thinking of Nasami, and remembering the surreal experience from the other night when he had dreamt that she had somehow come to him, hearing his heart call to her from miles away. For a moment, he glanced down at his hand, remembering the feeling of her tears on his fingertips, but then he clenched his hand into a fist and banished the memory from his thoughts.
Once he was satisified, he sponged himself down using the other bucket of water, imagining all impurities washed away with each stroke of the sponge, repeating the process over and over until at last he felt clean in both spirit and body. Next, he took a clean cloth, soaked it in the cold water, and ran it over his body, raising goosebumps all over himself from the chill of the water. Finally, he picked up a clean dry cloth and towelled himself off, and then slipped on the white robe that had been brought to him, along with a pair of sandals, and flicked away the last drops of water that clung to his hair.
A few minutes later, Mizuki arrived carrying a tray with his last meal. She bravely tried to hold back her tears, but her voice still trembled.
"Your final meal, great samurai." She placed the tray down before him and bowed her head to hide her tears from him.
Kambei saw them, however, and his voice was gentle. "Don't cry, Mizuki."
Her head came up at that. "I can't help it," she said defensively. "If you won't cry for yourself, then I'll cry for you."
"No one's fate is certain, least of all mine," he replied. "I appreciate the thought, but save your tears until after I'm dead."
"But there's nothing that I can do!" she cried. "How can you just sit there so quietly like nothing is happening?"
"The most difficult act in the world is to sit still,'" Kambei replied, thinking of Nasami and her penchant for quoting, and Mizuki blinked.
"Nothing... just thinking of what a friend of mine would say right now."
Mizuki sat back, her shoulders slumped in despair. "I just wish you would have let me bring you something other than a riceball for your final meal."
The samurai shook his head, and picked up the riceball. "No... after all, it was rice like this that hired me. I will not eat anything else until that job is complete." With that, he resolutely began to eat.
"But you can't save any of us if you're dead." Mizuki's voice was faint as she watched him eat his rice, still unable to believe that he would just calmly wait for his own execution.
Kambei stopped chewing his rice long enough to meet her eyes. "You think not? I know a woman who might say otherwise. My life may not be able to save yours, or hers for that matter, but my death..."
Mizuki stared wide-eyed at him for a few moments, and then she moved forward on her hands and knees and bowed before him, quietly sobbing. For a moment, Kambei was startled that a girl who barely knew him would weep for him, maybe even mourn his death, and he was so touched that he lifted a hand and gently stroked the girl's hair as he would a child's.
And as he did so, he carefully palmed the long hairpin that held Mizuki's hair back from her face.
And he smiled.
For a long time, Mizuki sat in his cell with him while he ate, and then with tears on her face and a heavy heart, she took his empty tray and left. Once she was gone, the guards returned and stood before his cell.
"It is time."
Kambei nodded, and the leader of the guards opened the cell door. While two of them kept their weapons trained on him, two others bound his hands, and then encircled his neck with mancatcher snares, forcing his head back to avoid the painful spikes on the inside of the snares.
"Oh, dear." Ukyo's voice drifted into the cell block and Kambei's eyes went to the door of the cell. The young Emperor was lounging in the doorway, studying him intently, and then he sadly shook his head. "That look is no good for you."
Kambei did not bother dignifying Ukyo's comment with a response.
"You know, I don't hate you," Ukyo admitted, his voice almost thoughtful. "I thought I would, but it's because of you that I've become what I have, so I wanted to come down here and bid you farewell."
That thought alone was more rankling than almost anything Kambei could have imagined. The fact that Ukyo's ascension to Emperor was something he had anything to do with was enough to turn his stomach.
Ukyo casually sauntered into the cell and approached Kambei. "I'm sorry you won't be afforded a samurai death." He smirked, twisting the blade in a little further. "You must feel shame, being unable to commit seppuku, especially since you won't be able to save her once you're dead. What would you warriors call that? A losing battle?"
"And is this a battle?"
Indeed. A battle for honor."
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."
And as in all battles, there must be sacrifices?"
The memory of his dream once again ran through his mind, and Kambei shuddered. What he had told Nasami was the truth - he would win this battle, this war for honor, no matter what the cost might be. No price was too high to keep her out of Ukyo's hands.
His eyes focused coldly on Ukyo's. "I suggest you be careful until you actually cut my head off."
"That is adorable, you're still going!" Ukyo said in delight, laughing at the samurai's defiance while Tessai smirked near the door.
The young man stood directly before Kambei and lightly chucked him beneath the chin. "You will be dead soon, Kambei, and then Nasami and Kanna Village are next!"

Thanks to some quick thinking on Katsushiro's part, he, Kirara, and Kikuchiyo had successfully ambushed a group of Shikimoribito who had arrived in Kougakyo bearing energy cells as a gift for the new Emperor. Knocking them out and stealing their uniforms, the three had sent Komachi off with Masamune, and managed to get past the guards and enter the Capital virtually undetected.
"Good plan, Katsushiro," Kikuchiyo congratulated him. "Guess you learned a few things hanging around with Nasami, huh?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Katsushiro asked, briefly glancing back over his shoulder from where he was piloting the transport.
"This whole being devious and sneaking in thing, it sounds a lot like what Nasami did in Kanna when she and the farmers raided that Nobuseri ship. Oh, is she going to be jealous when she finds out we actually raided the Capital, ha ha!" Kikuchiyo crowed.
"You can brag all you want once we're actually out of here," Katsushiro replied, carefully steering the transport through a long passageway. "Getting in is easy."
Then they all stopped short as they entered the Capital's main storage facility.
"What is this place?" Kikuchiyo whispered. The big machine samurai was staring in absolute disbelief at the bales of rice that were piled as high and as far as the eye could see. This went far beyond what the Capital might need to sustain itself... it went beyond what might even be used in cases of emergency or for disaster relief.
This was greed, pure and simple, and it made Kikuchiyo's guts wrench like nothing he'd ever seen before.
"Blessed spirits," Kirara whispered, her eyes nearly filling with tears behind the hood she wore. "Oh, this is... I knew it was bad... but this..."
"Welcome to the Capital!" they heard, and they looked down from the transport to see Ayamoro approaching, flanked by two guards. "It's your old friend, Ayamoro! I have been assigned to the post of warehouse manager. It is my job to assess the trade value of your gifts in bales of rice."
"Do you Capital types really eat this much rice?" Kikuchiyo asked, and Ayamoro's eyes narrowed.
"An odd question. You are a Guardian, I would expect you would know the answer to that."
"OH SHUT UP, YOU BASTARD!" Kikuchiyo thundered, leaping down from the transport and killing both of Ayamoro's guards in an instant. The portly Magistrate whimpered and fell back in horror as he stared down the length of Kikuchiyo's sword.
"Kikuchiyo, what are you thinking?" Katsushiro shouted, leaping down after the big machine samurai.
"This is just wrong!" Kikuchiyo bellowed. "What makes all this rice so damned important?"
"Who are you people?" Ayamoro gasped, and then he shrank back as Kikuchiyo leaned closer.
"I'll ask the questions! You've been taking this rice for a long time! Have you even eaten any of it?"
"No, please, of course not!" the Magistrate babbled. "It's all used to purchase energy cells, to trade!"
"What?" Kikuchiyo could hardly believe what he was hearing.
"The Nobuseri take the rice from the farmers... we then trade the rice to the Shikimoribito in exchange for energy cells! That is the arrangement devised by the Capital to ensure its prosperity! It's the only way!"
"That's NOT the only way!" Kikuchiyo shouted in righteous fury. "I've seen it for myself! All it takes is just one single person to change things, that's what Nasami taught me! So I'm changing things right here and now! You can grow your own damned rice, and give the farmers what they deserve!" He had thought he was angry when while in Kanna, he had seen the rice Nasami and the farmers had looted back from the Nobuseri transport, but this was theft and oppression on a scale that was almost revolting. "They're all breaking their backs suffering, while you sit around getting fat!"
In a single instant, Kikuchiyo finally understood what had motivated the samuraiko to leave behind her life at the Capital and pursue the life of a wandering warrior. An arrangement like this would have been anathema to her personality, and it was small wonder she had taken such glee at stealing back the rice from the bandits as she had.
"That poor wasted rice... I feel sorry for it!" Kikuchiyo was nearly in tears, and he leapt down from the walkway to start slashing at the bales of rice, releasing all of his pent-up rage.
"KIKUCHIYO-DONO!" Katsushiro yelled, but the machine samurai was beyond hearing him.
"Stop, I beg you, you'll destroy the arrangement!" Ayamoro shrieked, his voice pleading, but Kikuchiyo kept going.
"Screw you! I don't care!"
Katsushiro pulled the hood of his uniform off and drew his own sword. "Kikuchiyo, stop it!" he ordered. "Have you forgotten what we came for? We're here to save Rikichi's wife!"
Kikuchiyo was too angry to care. "You're on your own! I'm done!" He stabbed his sword viciously into another nearby bale of rice and sat down amidst the chaos he had created.
Katsushiro growled and pointed his katana at Ayamoro. "We're looking for the women the Emperor kidnapped, all of them!" He lowered his voice. "You know where they are..."
Ayamoro nodded and swallowed hard.
"Take us there... now!"
"Katsushiro!" Kirara was frightened by what she had seen in Kikuchiyo, and more than a little overwhelmed at exactly what she had gotten herself into, but Katsushiro would not give her the chance to give in to her fears.
"Do me a favor, keep an eye on Kikuchiyo. I'm going after sensei."

Outside the Capital, a large platform had been erected where the populace would be able to watch the execution. Kambei stood quietly, ignoring the staring and pointing, as well as the guards who stood on either side of him. At a signal from their leader, the guards forced Kambei to his knees and bent his head forward so that it rested in a space in the stocks, then his hands were released and placed on either side of his head. Then the top of the stocks was fitting into place, and the padlock snapped shut. Through it all, Kambei remained silent, his eyes moving this way and that, taking in what was going on around him, all of his senses alert.
People also came flocking from all levels of Kougakyo to see the Emperor and the enormous airship that had accompanied him, and Masamune and Komachi had to fight to get a space near the railing where they could see what was going on.
Their mouths fell open when Ukyo came down the stairs and took a seat on the throne that had been set up for him. "Hello, good to see you!" he called out to the people, who immediately began chattering and talking.
"That's Ukyo!"
"He's the new Emperor?"
"That's it, it's the end of the world..."
"This is not good at all," Masamune muttered to Komachi, who was staring wide-eyed at the young man who had been so ardently pursuing her sister.
The Imperial Minister stepped forward holding a megaphone. "Attention all citizens of Kougakyo!" His voice boomed over the noise of the crowd, drawing all eyes to the platform where he stood beside Ukyo. "It is my honor to present your new divine ruler, Emperor Ukyo! Many of you may recognize him as a former resident and the current Magistrate of your city. He offers his greetings to you, and his appreciation of your support. He has made this journey today to witness the execution of Kambei Shimada, the man who assassinated an Imperial Envoy, and threatened the life of the former Amanushi!"
While the Minister went on with his speech, Kambei turned his attention away from him and glanced up at the enormous man who was serving as executioner, a black hood covering his head, a gigantic axe in his hands. He looked the man directly in the eyes and with a soft voice full of challenge, murmured, "Aren't you brave enough to kill without hiding your face?"
The executioner's eyes went wide behind the hood at the insult, but he bit back his words, so all Kambei could see was the tightening of his hands on the haft of his axe.
Kambei smirked, and as best as he could, moved his head and shrugged so that his thick mane of hair fell to one side, baring his neck. "So be it. Here you are."
Then he smiled, and the look in his eyes was a terrible thing to see.
"Don't miss now..."
To be continued...