Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Cost of Pride ( Chapter 41 )

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

* * * * * * * * * *
Note: I had the title of this chapter almost as soon as I saw the two episodes this takes place between. Samurai pride is, after all, a formidable thing. The ironic thing is, who is it referring to?
For the last several chapters, Nasami's story has been relegated to the background, but now it's time to shift the story's focus once again - a task made much easier by the fact that the samurai are congregating once more (with the exception of Katsushiro - more on him later)! And of course, now that Nasami's on the road again... once again, two stories intersect... (You're welcome, Motokonobaka!)
The music for "The Cost of Pride" is "Ship of Fools," from TSUBASA RESERVOIR CHRONICLES (thanks shadow-wind auror for the suggestion)!
* * * * * * * * * *
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-One: The Cost of Pride
Fuming to himself, Katsushiro stalked through the Village of Respite, wanting nothing more than to get away from everybody around him - the samurai, the peasants, the residents of the Village of Respite, and most of all, Kirara. But even in the midst of his anger and hurt, a small part of his mind was trying to get his attention.
"I don't need her to protect me," he muttered to himself as he walked. "And I can fight battles on my own, without the rest."
Then abruptly he stopped walking.
He was being followed.
Resting his hand on his katana, Katsushiro turned to look back over his shoulder, and saw Kyuzo standing there, with the chubby figure of Ayamoro cowering behind him.
Katsushiro's eyes went wide. "Kyuzo-dono!"
"Where are you going?"
"Anywhere but here," the young samurai said defiantly, and turned to start walking away again.
"Where is Kambei?"
"Find him yourself," Katsushiro hissed, not even wanting to think about the man that until recently he had called sensei.
"Then where is Nasami?"
The red-clad assassin's words stopped Katsushiro once more, and he looked back at Kyuzo. "What...? She's in Kanna Village... or at least she was, the last time I saw her. Why?" As he looked closer at the other samurai, he saw that Kyuzo was tense, as though expecting trouble at any moment, and not just from some unseen enemy. Setting his anger aside for a few moments, he forced himself to be calm and talk to the other samurai civilly. "You know something... what is it?"
Kyuzo's eyes never stopped moving, constantly assessing the area around him. "Ukyo has sent assassin teams. One is after Kambei... the other, after Nasami."
"What? That bastard!" Katsushiro clenched his fists. "I just knew that crap he was spouting in Kougakyo was a pack of lies! Well, I won't let him get away with that. I'll find Nasami myself and warn her."
"What about your... sensei?"
"I don't give a damn about him!" The young samurai's anger returned in a hot rush, and he spat out the words. "Like I said, if you want to help him, find him yourself!"
Kyuzo's eyes narrowed, taking in the way that Katsushiro was favoring his left shoulder, and the red welt on his cheek, and he briefly wondered exactly what had happened between Katsushiro and Kambei to cause such a rift.
"Fine. I'll tell Kambei where you're going."
"No!" Katsushiro took a step backward, glaring at Kyuzo. "You don't need to tell him anything. I'll find Nasami, I'll warn her about the assassin team. Leave Kambei out of it. I don't need his help. I don't need anyone's help!"
With that, he turned on his heel and vanished into the crowd, leaving Kyuzo staring after him thoughtfully. Then the red-clad samurai shrugged, and set off in the direction of the Firefly House. But he only got a few steps when he suddenly lifted his head, as though scenting something on the wind.
Then he began to run.

The samuraiko lifted one hand to shade her eyes as she peered up at the setting sun, judging its position in the sky and how far she still had to travel before reaching the Village of Respite. So far, she had made good time, but in the interest of self-protection, she travelled a different route than the one she had used to travel to Kanna in the first place. On this trip, she passed through a small village not unlike Kanna itself. Pausing only long enough to refill her waterskin and rest her aching knees, Nasami set out once more.
"It can't be... it is!"
Nasami heard a young woman's voice behind her and turned to look. Leaning on a boken was the same teenager she had met several weeks earlier on her journey to Kanna Village.
"I remember you," she said quietly. "Ran, isn't it?"
"Yes, Nasami-sama!" the girl said excitedly, hurrying over to her and bowing, her basket hat almost falling off as she did so. "Wow, I didn't think I'd ever meet you again! And you remembered me! This is wonderful!"
"How could I forget someone who tried to attack me?" The samuraiko smiled at the girl's enthusiasm. "But I am glad to see you're well."
"Oh, yeah, I'm great! And I'm so glad I got to see you again!" Ran bowed again, this time her face serious. "Thanks to you, you reminded me what it means to be a samurai, and not just some training-hall smasher. It was a hard lesson, but I did want to say thank you, great samurai."
"You're welcome," Nasami said gently, lightly touching the younger woman's shoulder. "As long as you continue to honor that ideal, I could ask for no greater thanks."
"Anyway, I gather you're on your way to meet the Emperor and ask him to assign you to a village, huh?"
Nasami frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, didn't you hear? I guess not, if you've been in Kanna Village the whole time," Ran replied, idly twisting her long black hair around her fingers. "Do you know Ukyo? The Magistrate of Kougakyo? Well, he's Emperor now. And he's called for all of the samurai to take up their swords again and defend the villages."
During this whole recitation, Nasami's eyes had narrowed. "Let me get this straight. First Ukyo becomes Magistrate of Kougakyo, and now he's the Emperor? What happened to the former Amanushi? And to Ayamoro, the Magistrate?"
Ran shook her head, her black foxtail swaying from side to side. "Well, as far as the whole thing with Ayamoro goes, rumor had it he got his title taken away for never finding out who murdered that Envoy in Kougakyo. As for the Amanushi, I don't know... but Ukyo is the Emperor now. So he's asked all samurai to remember their duty to protect and assigning each of them to a village to serve as its protector."
"Really?" Nasami said thoughtfully, and Ran nodded.
"Yeah, but I don't believe him. I mean, I know that all samurai are supposed to serve the Emperor," she went on hurriedly, "but after all this time, why would the Emperor care? I don't buy it. I'd rather be ronin than serve under someone like Ukyo."
The samuraiko's voice was quiet but firm, and Ran blinked in surprise.
"No? B-but why?"
"Do you know what the word 'samurai' means, Ran? It means 'servant...' One who serves." Slowly Nasami's mouth curved into a smile. "So serve the empire, not the Emperor."
Ran's dark eyes were wide. "You're serious?"
"Of course," Nasami replied. Then she smirked. "Even if you serve for the wrong reasons."
"Yeah," Ran breathed. "You're right. After all, I am a samurai." Then her face fell. "But how will I know where to go?"
Nasami looked skyward once more, and smiled as the sunlight warmed her face. "You will find yourself where you need to be."
Ran bowed once more. "Thank you, Nasami-sama. I won't forget, and I'll do as you suggest." Then she grinned. "Unless you have any other sage advice for me?"
The samuraiko looked toward the horizon, her eyes distant.
"'The Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but does not possess, acts but does not expect. When her work is done she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.'"
Ran frowned slightly. "I don't understand..."
Nasami just smiled and bowed, and began walking away once more, leaving the teenager standing in the middle of the road, watching her go.
"You will, Ran..." Her voice drifted back, and lingered in Ran's mind long after the samuraiko was gone. "You will... someday..."

Five dark shapes surged up out of the canal that ran past the Firefly House, landing hard and moving quickly to form a line only a stone's throw away from the building. The inn's garish lights reflected on their metal bodies, and on the enormous swords that formed their left hands.
"Light 'em up!" came a harsh, mechanical voice, and the five Shionameki raised their right arms, where flamethrowers replaced their right hands, and five hissing gouts of flame blazed into existence as they advanced forward with the intention of burning the Firefly House to the ground, and killing anyone who tried to escape.
But then a gleam came brighter than even the firestarters' flames, and with only a faint humming as warning, the Shionameki's right hands were sliced viciously away from their arms as Kyuzo landed in their midst, swords drawn and his eyes alight.
The Shionameki howled in pain and cursed, and Kyuzo took up a defensive stance, katanas at the ready.
"Kyuzo..." the leader spat. "That was a big mistake..." The red-clad assassin turned to him, shifting his grip on his swords, almost daring them to come closer.
Four of the Shionameki took up the challenge and charged him, while the leader, recognizing the assassin, belatedly shouted, "Wait, hold it!"
As the four assassins closed in, Kyuzo whirled gracefully, his swords shimmering in the light of the Firefly House, and with a clatter, four bodies fell to the ground.
"KYUZO!" the leader shouted in fury, but got no farther than that when Kyuzo's blade cleanly sliced him in half, sending his body to the ground besides those of his companions.
A sudden bellowing behind him drew Kyuzo's attention, and he turned to see Kambei standing nearby, and Kikuchiyo charging toward him with sword drawn.
"Have no fear! Kikuchiyo has arrived... oh..." His voice trailed off when he realized that the battle was already over.
"Looks like we missed all the fun," Kambei said dryly.
As Kikuchiyo got closer, he recognized Kyuzo standing in the middle of the wreckage. "Hey, it's you! I was wondering where you had wandered off to!"
"Thank you for your help," Kambei said to Kyuzo, who was cleaning off his swords.
"These men were sent here to kill you, so I killed them instead."
"Awww, thanks a lot, you big softie!" Kikuchiyo teased as he approached. "You know, you act all dark and stuff, but deep down, you really care!"
Kambei grinned, but Kyuzo just glared over his shoulder at the big machine samurai.
"Don't misunderstand. I'm just waiting for what was promised me."
"Hey, why do you always gotta be like that?" Kikuchiyo said in frustration, but Kyuzo's eyes went to Kambei.
"Watch yourselves. These were Ukyo's men. He won't stop sending them until you're dead." For a moment, he paused as though about to continue speaking, but then turned away once again and resheathed his swords, and Kambei wondered what the fair-haired samurai had been about to say. But his attention was drawn away when Kikuchiyo noticed Ayamoro hiding behind a slender ornamental tree.
"Hey, piggie!" Kikuchiyo shouted derisively in Ayamoro's direction. "If you wanted to hide from us, you should have picked a bigger tree!"
Ayamoro shrank away from Kikuchiyo, remembering their last encounter in the Capital's warehouse.

Kambei, Kikuchiyo, Ayamoro, and Kyuzo returned to the Firefly House, where Kyuzo immediately took up his usual post near the door of the room where the others gathered to hear Ayamoro's tale. Honoring the usual rules of respect toward a guest, Yukino brought Ayamoro a sumptuous tray of food, which he eagerly tucked into with great decorum.
Kikuchiyo watched all this with disgust, and finally remarked, "Come on, I know cows that can chew cud faster than you eat! By the time you finish your breakfast, it'll be time for lunch! Look, maybe if you stopped now, you wouldn't be so fat! Try to take a cue from the farmers!"
Ayamoro gently patted his lips with a clean cloth and glared disdainfully at the big machine samurai. "Fool, a meal has been given to me. The dignified course of action is to savor every bite, and to continue eating once my hunger has been sated."
That was the wrong thing to say, for Kikuchiyo then leaned forward and snatched the tray of food out from in front of Ayamoro. "That's enough, pig... I'm kicking your trough!"
"Kikuchiyo, stop it!" Kambei ordered, and Kikuchiyo looked at him in resentful confusion.
"But he... argh!"
The white-clad samurai ignored him and moved to kneel in front of Ayamoro where he could look the Magistrate in the eyes. "Do you have any idea what Ukyo's planning?"
Ayamoro returned Kambei's gaze calmly, confident that he was dealing with a samurai who at least understood the rules of courtesy and civility. "The elaborate performance in front of the commoners after your halted execution, freeing those women from the Emperor's harem... it's all part of Ukyo's plan to manipulate us and take control of the world."
"Take control?" Kambei asked warily, and Ayamoro nodded.
"Of course. He will influence all facets of trade, legitimate markets and black markets alike. And worse, his lies will be indistinguishable from the truth. Ukyo will appear to work for the people, but in reality, he will crush all who stand against him. Whatever he told you is a lie!"
"Kambei and I know all about lying!" Kikuchiyo remarked from where he sat, glaring at the other samurai. "Sometimes you gotta make stuff up to win in the end! It's how you learn to be strong!"
Kambei caught the not-so-subtle barb in Kikuchiyo's statement, not only about how they had first met, but how Kambei was lying to himself about more than a few things in order to act as necessary.
Ayamoro's words echoed his thoughts. "'If it advances your cause, then lying is all right.' That was the first lesson I ever taught Ukyo."
"You must be so proud of your boy, following in your footsteps like that," Masamune said mockingly, sarcasm practically dripping from each word. "In public, he's a gracious Emperor who doles out rice..."
"Yeah, until he gets the bandits to stomp on the people and take the rice back!" Kikuchiyo finished in scorn.
"We still have work to do," Kyuzo said quietly from the doorway, not turning around, and Kambei sighed to himself.
"So it seems. You'll have to wait longer. I apologize." And he meant it. Kyuzo caught the sincerity in his words and turned to look at him. Once again, he seemed ready to speak, but then looked away once more and remained silent.

As Nasami wearily rounded the last bend of the mountain path, she could see the lights of the Village of Respite glimmering below her, nestled as it was in the small valley, and she smiled. Pausing for a moment to stretch out aching muscles, she set out down the winding road that led to the city gates, remembering what had happened the last time she had passed this way...
... her struggle with Kyuzo.
As she walked, she wondered where the fair-haired assassin was, and if he was all right. Since she had told him how to find the Capital, she constantly found herself both hoping and dreading that he had found Kambei - hoping that he would so that he would protect the other samurai, dreading that he had... and that he had killed him.
Just as night was falling, she crossed the bridge and entered the Village of Respite, noting with amusement that one of the great doors still bore a gauged-out space where one of Kyuzo's swords had been plunged into the wood.
In the distance, she could just make out the bright lights of the Firefly House, and she set off toward it, only to be brought up short by someone yelling her name.
The samuraiko whirled around in surprise, her hand instinctively going for her katana, when she saw someone pushing and shoving his way through the crowd of people directly toward her.
"Katsushiro!" she called back with a smile, recognizing the younger samurai, until she saw the look of concern and urgency on his face, and then her own smile faded. "What's wrong?"
Gasping, he reached her side. It was only by chance that he had seen her white hair, barely visible beneath the hood of her cloak. "You have to... get out of here... Kyuzo-dono... warned me... assassin team... on its way here... for you..."
"What?" Nasami said in alarm. "What are you talking about?"
"He's talking about us," came a voice from the shadows, and both samurai whirled around to see several figures emerge from the darkness. In a flash, Nasami's katana was in her hand, Katsushiro was holding his as well, and the two stood back to back, keeping a cautious eye on the assassins that encircled them.
"What do you want with me?" she said in a low voice, slowly moving into a low stance, her katana at the ready.
None of them answered her, and the samuraiko's eyes narrowed angrily.
"Cowards," she spat. "Common thugs and assassins... you're barely worth dirtying my blade with."
"Shut your mouth, you little slut," one of them hissed back at her, lifting a chain whip in his hand. Snaking it along the ground, he whisked it back and then forward with an expert touch, but Nasami was faster, and with a deft twist of her sword, she snagged the chain whip around the blade and yanked it out of his hand, sending it flying.
"I think I'm insulted," she laughed mockingly, "if you're the best that can be sent after me."
With angry roars, the rest of them charged her and Katsushiro. Two of them lunged at Nasami with mancatcher spears, while another advanced with a chain whip, three others attacked with swords. Katsushiro growled and slashed at the legs of one of her assailants, then skewered him on his katana on the way down before yanking the blade free and attacking another. While Katsushiro's back was turned, another assassin came at him with a pair of sais, but Nasami got there first, neatly sliding her katana between the prongs and ripping them out of his hands, kicking them away, and taking his head off in one clean stroke.
Moving in tandem, the two samurai weaved effortlessly among their attackers, cutting them down easily.
Too easily, Nasami realized uncomfortably, watching Katsushiro slice through yet another one of their assailants. In fact, she could have probably taken all of them out on her own...
"HAH!" Katsushiro shouted as his blade carved through the last one, sending the assassin falling heavily to the ground. "And they call that an assassination team! I can't believe that Kyuzo-dono was worried."
Nasami, however, was not convinced. "I'm not that certain." Uneasily, she looked around her, keeping her sword at the ready as she peered into the shadows.
Katsushiro turned to her, his eyes bright with the thrill of battle. "Oh, relax, Nasami-dono, I'm sure that there's nothing to-"
His words were cut off abruptly as an object suddenly hissed through the air and struck the samuraiko in the side of her neck. In horror, he watched her whole body go rigid as she brushed her hand against her neck and pulled free a hypodermic dart.
"Nasami-dono, are you-?" Springing forward, Katsushiro barely had time to try and catch her as she fell.
"Bastards..." she whispered, staring at it even as the poison raced through her system, bringing her to her knees. "Cowardly bastards..."
"Nasami-dono!" Katsushiro cried, trying to pull her to her feet, but the sound of footsteps made him stop and turn around. In horror, he saw another group emerging from the darkness, and with a snarl, he let Nasami go and lifted his sword to protect her.
To his astonishment, he heard her say from behind him, "Katsushiro... run..."
"Get back to Kanna... protect them for me..." she gasped.
"I am not leaving you!" he said angrily, refusing to move. "For a samurai to run is dishonorable!"
"Please... do it for me... I beg you..."
Katsushiro turned at that, and saw the pleading expression in her eyes, saw how hard it was for her to ask this.
"I would have gladly given my life trying to save theirs."
"With your skills, you would have died in vain."
"The thought of dying doesn't scare me."
"Nasami..." His sword in his hand, he took a single step toward her, then cursed, shoved his katana back into his saya, and bolted.
Nasami watched him go through her hazy vision. "Thank you... Katsu... shi... ro..."
Then she collapsed to the ground, surrendering to the darkness at last.
"What do we do about him?" one of the assassins asked.
"Let him go," said another as they closed in around the fallen woman. "We got what we came here for."
To be continued...