Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Once More Unto the Breach ( Chapter 44 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: I absolutely love the whole idea of the last-ditch desperate charge against hopeless odds. As Nasami would say, "Do not be wary of men who take risks with titles and lands; be wary of men who have nothing to lose." At this point, Kambei believes that Nasami is dead, while Nasami has been ordered to kill Kambei. But along with the pain they both feel, they both also share a single desire - to see the Capital destroyed, and then, perhaps, to be united in death.
Despite the despair that haunts them both, the music for this chapter is surprisingly uplifting... I chose it for a number of reasons. Because of the reunion of Honoka and Mizuki, because of Katsushiro's determination to honor his promise to Nasami, and because that same unflagging strength that has carried both Kambei and Nasami so far will now carry them both into battle to avenge the one they love. So the music for "Once More Unto the Breach" is the sweeping piece "Blade Fire!" from SIN: THE MOVIE.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Four: Once More Unto the Breach
Kambei, Heihachi, Kyuzo, and Kikuchiyo had just finished loading up the boat when Kirara and Komachi came running up with cheerful smiles.
"I think Rikichi's feeling better now," Kirara said quietly, turning to look at Rikichi, who was staring down at the dock.
"Great samurai," he began slowly, sinking into a low bow. "I have a request."
Kambei waited patiently for Rikichi to gather his courage, and saw the farmer's hands clench into fists.
"I beg you... make the Capital pay for what they've done," Rikichi said, his voice quiet but firm, and Kambei knelt down to rest a hand on his shoulder. More than the young famer could ever realize, Kambei understood how he felt - that need to lash out and hurt something when the one you love has been hurt.
"No need to ask... it's already been decided."
"Yeah, just leave it to us!" Kikuchiyo said confidently, climbing up out of the boat to stand behind Kambei.
"The Capital is on its way to Kanna Village," Kambei told the others, his voice somber, but in typical fashion, Kikuchiyo completely missed the atmosphere.
"That rat Ukyo, we're gonna knock him back to the fields where he belongs!" he laughed, while Komachi cheered. Then another voice cut in.
"Not so fast..."
Everyone turned to see Masamune, Mizuki, Shichiroji, Yukino, Sanae, Koharu, and Chiaki approaching, followed by Ayamoro.
"What's up, old man?" Kikuchiyo asked, his attention caught by the crossbow that the mechanic was holding. Masamune held it up and handed it to Kambei.
"I threw this together for you - it should launch anything you can fit in it. My treat."
"Thank you," Kambei said quietly, accepting the crossbow and handing it to Heihachi, who was eagerly studying the weapon.
"When this is over, I want to sharpen that sword again. You get me?" Masamune raised an eyebrow and grinned at Kambei, who smiled back and nodded in understanding.
The older samurai lifted his head and gazed at the group, wishing with all his heart that Nasami were here beside him to see all of them cheerful and ready to face what was coming, then turned toward the boat before anyone else could see the look in his eyes.
"Time to go."
"Whatever you say," Shichiroji said cheerfully, making to follow, but he stopped when he saw Yukino strike a piece of flint behind him twice in the ancient geisha tradition.
"Good luck now," she said sweetly, and Shichiroji gave her an exasperated look.
"Oh, come on... I just got back, and that's the most passionate send-off you can give?"
Yukino turned away so that he wouldn't see her grinning. "Well, maybe if Momotaro had brought some treasure like he was supposed to..."
"Yowch, that hurts," Shichiroji winced, rubbing the back of his head, but when Yukino turned back around, he swept her into his arms and gave her a kiss that nearly had her reeling. When she finally got her breath back, she stared at him wide-eyed and gasped, "Okay, Momotaro, you're forgiven!"
"Oooh, look at the lovebirds going at it!" Kikuchiyo catcalled, while Komachi wolf-whistled and the others burst out laughing. Yukino blushed scarlet, but Shichiroji just turned back to the others and flashed a wide smile and a victory sign before scrambling into the boat.
Then Yukino caught sight of Kirara watching her and Shichiroji with a sad and wistful expression, and she moved past the younger girl, whispering, "Be true to your heart, Kirara."
Kirara blushed as well, immediately covering her dowsing crystal with her hand, and just bowed her thanks to the geisha before following Komachi and the others into the boat, while Mizuki was making her own goodbyes to Chiaki and Koharu, who were both sniffling.
Rikichi took Sanae's hand and held it reassuringly. "We'll be back in Kanna real soon," he said softly, and she nodded with a faint smile, then they stepped into the boat after Mizuki.
Shichiroji started up the engines, and everyone else began waving to the five who remained on the dock. "Goodbye, everyone!" Mizuki called, just before they disappeared into the darkness of the Guardians' caverns.
"And away they go," Masamune said softly.
Alone in the woods, Katsushiro was dozing against a tree, his sword held to his chest, when he became aware of a voice, faint and just at the edge of his hearing... almost like a memory.
"Hey there! You boy! That's right, I'm talking to you!"
Katsushiro came wide awake in an instant, searching wildly for the source of the voice. For a moment, he would have sworn he was back in Kougakyo, trudging through the streets, lost in his thoughts until distracted by a cheerful street performer.
Then he froze, for hovering over the stream that trickled past him was Gorobei, watching him with that startlingly intense gaze.
"Gorobei-dono," Katsushiro whispered in a strangled gasp, instinctively falling forward in a bow, but unable to tear his eyes away from the shade before him.
"What's wrong? Come, boy, you look gloomy," the spirit remarked, just as Gorobei had that day in Kougakyo.
And just as he had asked that day, Katsushiro growled, "What do you want from me?"
"I see you here like this, and I have to ask... where are you going?"
"To Kanna, as I promised Nasami-dono," the young samurai replied. "She... she begged me to go there and defend the village for her."
"I see... and what will you do when that war is over?" Gorobei asked him in that same dream-like voice.
Katsushiro looked away, his hand tightening on his sword. "I'll go anywhere I find a battle." But the spirit was obviously not convinced.
"In your current state, boy, you don't stand a chance."
Katsushiro tore his katana from his saya and lunged to his feet. "Hold your tongue!" he screamed, charging into the stream and swinging wildly at the ghost. "I will not be defeated!" But the spirit simply faded back toward the trees until it disappeared completely, leaving Katsushiro standing alone in the stream with his sword in his hand and his breath coming in tortured sobs.
Shaken to the core of his soul, Katsushiro knelt by the stream, splashing water on his face. For a long time, he knelt there, gazing into the water and staring at his own reflection, wondering when his eyes had become so haunted. But as he stared at his image on the stream, the image seemed to blur until he saw a girl with long brown hair and a dowsing crystal.
"Don't run away from me!"
"SHUT UP!" he shouted, lashing out at the water to dispel the reflection there, but as the water stilled, he saw that the image had changed. Where he had seen Kirara before, now he saw a woman with long white hair and a sword in her hand.
"Nasami-dono," he whispered, hiding his face in his hands. Then he got to his feet and walked over to where the battle turtle he had purchased off a passing traveller was calmly munching on the grass. He swung himself up onto its back, pausing only long enough to glance back at the water. But there was no sign of the ghost, no hint of either woman's face in the shimmering water.
"Let's go," he said dully, heading toward Kanna Village once more.
In the Guardians' caverns, Heihachi peered up at the Shikimoribito, who as usual were hanging placidly from the ceiling as always, watching them pass.
"Don't these guys ever get a head rush, hanging around like that all the time?" he muttered, and Komachi giggled nervously. Kambei, however, was searching the shoreline, looking for the peasants' encampment.
"You say my sister is... here?" Mizuki asked, glancing around her with no small amount of trepidation, but Kambei smiled at her reassuringly.
"Yes... bring us ashore," he told Shichiroji.
"You got it."
Shichiroji expertly steered the boat up to the shoreline, and Mizuki leapt out of the boat to sprint up the path where she had seen several people working beside the bizarre trees that grew here and there in the caverns.
Then she came to an abrupt halt as she recognized Honoka, and eagerly called out, "SISTER!"
Honoka turned, confused, until she saw Mizuki running up the path toward her, and she dropped the satchel that she had been fastening to the tree with a loud gasp.
"Sister, it's me!" Mizuki cried, holding out her hands to Honoka.
"Sister!" The two women eagerly embraced, until Honoka moved the girl back far enough to stare into her face, hardly daring to believe that Mizuki was actually there before her, alive and well.
"Is it really you?"
Mizuki turned to point toward the shoreline where the others were just now stepping onto the sand. "Those brave samurai over there rescued me from the Capital."
Honoka followed her sister's gaze, and recognized Kambei as he and the others approached.
"Great Kambei!" she whispered, then she bowed. "Thank you so much for saving her!"
"You've got it backwards," Kambei said in amusement. "She's the one who saved me."
Honoka looked at Mizuki in confusion, but the teenager just grinned and stuck her tongue out at Kambei.
"I'm so happy for you, Mizuki," Sanae said, looking more cheerful than she had since her rescue, and Mizuki turned to her with a beaming smile.
"Thanks, Sanae, and I know you and Rikichi will work everything out!"
Ignoring the slightly uncomfortable looks she got from both Rikichi and Sanae, Mizuki turned back to the other samurai. "Thank you for all your help. I'm going to be fine here with my sister, so I guess this is goodbye, then."
"So it is," Kambei agreed. "Take care of that momento."
Mizuki's hand momentarily went to her hair, feeling for her hairpin, and then she grinned and winked at Kambei. "Well, it should be easy without you around, Kambei the thief."
For a moment, he smiled back at her, but behind him, Heihachi was sitting with his chin in his hands and rolling his eyes.
"Oh, Kambei, it's all thanks to you," he said, imitating Mizuki's higher-pitched voice before dropping his voice back down to his regular tenor. "Little do they know he never won so much as a coin toss before he met up with us!"
"Yeah, but he still had the stink of battle!" Komachi piped up, and Heihachi turned to her in confusion.
"What do you mean by that?"
"He smells pretty darn scary to me," she said melodramatically, but Kirara went red and covered her dowsing crystal so that Heihachi and the others wouldn't see its faint glow, still remembering her earlier humiliation in the rain by Nasami.
Heihachi saw her blush, however, and looked down at her. "Did I miss something, Kirara? Why What are you blushing for?"
"N-nothing," she stammered, but was interrupted by several Guardians abruptly dropping from the ceiling and surrounding them.
Komachi let out a yelp and nearly fell over Kikuchiyo, who had fallen over backward in surprise.
"Hey, why are they staring at us?" the big machine samurai asked nervously, until Komachi let out a gasp of horror.
"I completely forgot!"
"Forgot what, sprout?"
Komachi turned to him in utter dismay. "We left their scary suits at the Capital and we didn't untie their friends, either!"
Kirara went absolutely white, remembering Katsushiro's ploy to get them inside the Capital by ambushing three Shikimoribito as they had arrived with energy cells as tribute for the Emperor. In order to sneak inside, they had knocked out the Guardians, tied them up, hidden them away, and stolen their uniforms.
"We're so sorry!" she gasped, but the Guardians said nothing.
Ukyo was up on the deck of the Capital ship playing croquet when one of the guards approached and bowed.
"We've received a report from our recon team," the guard said politely, but Ukyo didn't turn around, focusing instead on his next shot.
"Go on, I don't have all day."
"They've lost visual on Kambei Shimada's position."
Ukyo aimed a careful stroke at the ball. "Oh? Where?"
"He and his group were last seen entering the cave of the Guardians."
The Emperor sighed in disgust. "I knew they'd hide in there. Any sign of my... father?"
The guard nodded. "He's doing menial labor in a teahouse."
Ukyo threw his head back and burst out laughing until he was nearly gasping for breath. "Menial labor! That's great, I love it! What better punishment is there for a man who so blatantly abused his status?" He turned back to the guard. "I don't really care about him anymore. Let's just leave him to that fate."
"What about Kambei Shimada?" the guard asked.
Ukyo leaned on the croquet mallet and appeared to give the idea of attacking the Guardians' caverns some thought, when Tessai spoke.
"My lord, please. You mustn't forget our arrangement with the Shikimoribito."
"Oh, I haven't forgotten," Ukyo said blithely as the Imperial Minister arrived and bowed.
"Pardon me, Amanushi. We'll be arriving at Ushioda Village soon."
Ukyo nodded absently, then turned back to his game. Then he looked back over his shoulder at the guard, who still knelt, waiting patiently.
"Find Kambei and his team of samurai," Ukyo said flatly. "I believe we need to make an example out of them."
"Yes, my lord."
Ukyo looked over at the Imperial Minister. "How long until we arrive at Kanna Village?"
"Ushioda Village is the last stop before Kanna, my lord," the Minister replied. "We should be arriving at Kanna the day after tomorrow."
"Excellent." Ukyo turned back to his game.
"One more thing, Amanushi," the Minister went on. "The samuraiko Nasami... what should we do with her?"
"She will accompany us to Kanna Village," Ukyo said without turning around. "After all, I would hate for her to get lost along the way, and the last thing I want is for another samurai to join those peasants in revolt. She's far too capable a warrior to let her stand against us. We'll take care of Kanna first, then we'll set her on Kambei."
In the Guardians' caverns, Kikuchiyo was grovelling on his hands and knees before the Guardians, along with Kirara, while Komachi scrambled onto his back so she could bow and still see.
"We're sorry, we're so very sorry!" he said. "If it makes you feel any better, you can kick my ass! Hard! I mean it!"
"I don't blame you for being upset, what we did was inexcusable" Kirara said hurriedly.
"Yeah, I'm really sorry too!" Komachi wailed.
Shichiroji stepped forward, his hands raised placatingly. "Come on, can't we just... put aside our differences and settle this peaceably... huh?"
Honoka also came forward to plead for them. "Please find it in your hearts to forgive these people. If it weren't for them, I would never have been reunited with my sister!"
"We never said we would not forgive them," one of the Guardians said at last, and Kikuchiyo sat up so abruptly that he sent Komachi tumbling off his back with a splat.
"You mean you're not going to slaughter us?"
"Until the Capital has been defeated, you shall remain indebted to us," the Shikimoribito replied calmly.
"Indebted?" Kikuchiyo asked in confusion, while the other samurai looked at one another, puzzled.
"Indeed. You may prepare for your war here."
"I... thought you guys had a treaty with the Capital," Heihachi said hesitantly, and the Guardian turned to look at him.
"We do, but this is an opportunity to break free of the Capital... one we cannot let pass us by."
The samurai and the peasants spent an evening in the caverns with the Guardians, collecting additional supplies, gaining more information, and then to their surprise, the Shikimoribito presented them with a transport like the ones they used to move the energy cells to the Capital. Far faster than travelling by foot, it would cut their travel time down significantly and allow them to bring additional supplies along for themselves and Kanna Village.
"Why are you loaning us this?" Kikuchiyo asked them at one point, and one of the Guardians looked at him more closely.
"You intend to take on the Capital, and presumably save Kanna Village in the process. Therefore, it behooves you to reach Kanna before the Capital does. The only way to do that is by transport. The sooner you arrive, the more time you have to prepare."
"How long before the Capital arrives in Kanna Village?" Kambei asked from where he was conferring with Shichiroji and Heihachi.
"The Capital will arrive the day after tomorrow, based on its current schedule and stopover rate. After it departs from Ushioda Village, Kanna is next."
"Then how come we're hanging around here?" Kikuchiyo bellowed, clambering to his feet. "We need to get going!"
"Charging off into battle half-prepared is the surest way to lose," one of the Guardians said calmly. "Better you take the additional time now to spare you the trouble later due to a failure to plan."
"You sound like Nasami," Kikuchiyo grumbled, and the others' faces fell at the samuraiko's name.
"You mean the samuraiko who was with you earlier," the Guardian replied. "Yes, we heard that she had been taken by the Capital. We offer our condolences for the loss of your companion."
"Thank you." Kambei's response was so quiet that the others were not even certain he had spoken. "But Kikuchiyo is correct - time is of the essence here."
By dawn the following day, the transport was loaded and ready to go. As Kambei and the others approached, they saw that the symbols from Kanna's battle flag had been painted on one side of the transport, and a quick glance at a blushing Komachi told them who was responsible. Shortly thereafter, they were racing through the caverns heading for the exit that faced Kanna Village.
"Oh, now this is the way to travel!" Kikuchiyo exclaimed, watching the caverns walls zoom by. "Those Guardians are okay! I can't believe they let us borrow this thing!"
Beside him, standing on one of the railings, Komachi was thrilled by the feeling of her first ride. "Wow, I'm even higher up than when I ride around on Kiku's shoulders!" she said gleefully.
The big machine samurai immediately scooped her up and set her on his shoulders so that she sat higher than any other point on the transport. "Yeah? Well how about this? Now you're a Capital airship!" With that, he began running back and forth, making the transport tilt this way and that like a seesaw, to Komachi's laughing delight.
"So who exactly are the Guardians?" Heihachi wanted to know.
"Former samurai," Kyuzo responded, and Kambei nodded.
"Rather than becoming bandits or ronin, they chose to lay down their swords."
"Right! I should have guessed!" Heihachi laughed. "No wonder they have so many of these old ships from the War lying around!"
"And they're surprisingly easy to bargain with," Shichiroji called out from the helm. "I guess all their dealings with the merchants have rubbed off on them!"
"Now all we need to do is get to Kanna before the Capital does," Kambei stated, and the other samurai nodded.
Katsushiro paused at the bridge leading over the ravine to Kanna just before nightfall. Along the way, he passed Shino, barely aware of the farm girl kneeling by the side of the road, but she recognized him, and saw the deadly purpose in his eyes. Without pausing to think, she dashed into her house and snatched up her bow and naginata, then raced after him.
For a moment, the young samurai stopped on the far side of the bridge to catch his breath, until his eyes were caught by the flicker of firelight just at the edge of the woods. Realizing in horror that one of the Shionameki had gotten there first, he spurred the turtle with a sharp jab of his heels, charging across the bridge and killing the mechanical assassin with a single stroke. To keep anyone from discovering the body, he hauled it onto the back of the turtle, then rode toward the center of the village...
... only to discover four of Ukyo's assassins already there, and Manzo, Yohei, Gozaku, and Mosuke on their kneels before them.
All of them turned in surprise as Katsushiro rode up and shoved the Shionameki's body off the back of the turtle, then dismounted.
"Katsushiro, you're back!" Yohei cried in relief, but Katsushiro never took his eyes off the four assassins.
"Retreat to safer ground, all of you," he ordered, his voice calm but commnding, and the farmers scrambled to obey.
"Hiya, kid, you come looking for a rematch?" the leader of the assassins smirked, and Katsushiro's eyes narrowed in recognition. The last time they had met was when he and Kikuchiyo had gone after Kirara after Ukyo had abducted the water priestess in Kougakyo.
"What are you filth doing in Kanna?" the young samurai hissed, drawing his sword and taking his stance.
"Last time we met, it only took one hit to put an end to your heroics. Sure you wanna try again?"
"I'm the one asking the questions," Katsushiro replied, making an effort to calm his breathing and focus as he had been taught, rather than being distracted by the assassin's taunts.
"Don't cop an attitude with me, boy. I've been given exclusive privileges by the divine Emperor himself. You might say that my word is his word, so show a little damned respect!"
Katsushiro ignored the threat, as Nasami had taught him. "What business do you have here? Why were your sentries trying to start a fire?"
"Sure you're not just seeing things?"
"Don't toy with me!" Katsushiro shouted, and charged them.
The leader seemed to vanish, while another assassin appeared in his place, but Katsushiro didn't even hesitate. Two quick swipes, and the assassin was cut in half. Two of the mechanical assassins came at him, but they were cut down just as easily, and Katsushiro landed on his feet, searching for the leader...
... who was standing directly behind him.
Before Katsushiro could react, the leader grabbed him by the throat and flung him to the ground, then charged in for the kill. But Katsushiro snatched up a stone and flung it with deadly accuracy straight at the assassin's eyes, shattering his eyepiece and halting him in mid-stride. Then, just as Nasami had taught him, his katana flashed three times with surgical precision, and as he sheathed it calmly as he had been taught, the assassin fell over backward, mortally wounded with just enough life left in him to answer questions.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Katsushiro was marvelling at what he had done. There had been no hesitation, no fear, no doubt, no rage - only himself and the sword and the death.
Nasami had been right.
But there was no time for that right now. The assassin's life was bleeding away, and he needed answers, and fast.
"Why did you come to this village?" Katsushiro asked softly, not bothering to turn around.
"Why do you think?" the assassin rasped weakly. "To destroy it..."
"What?" Katsushiro said, startled, turning around to look down at the assassin.
"We will burn this village to the ground, and the flames will serve... to herald the arrival of the Young Master! They're here... surrounding the village... the firestarters..."
With that, he gasped and fell silent, the life leaving his body at last. For a moment, Katsushiro stood stunned, hardly daring to think about the implications of what the assassin had said, but there was no time to worry. There was only time to act. Suddenly he became aware of two things simultaneously.
The first was that several of the Shionameki had arrived and were forming a circle around him.
The second was that all of the able-bodied villagers, men and women alike, had taken advantage of the distraction of Katsushiro's arrival to fetch their weapons, and now all stood with bows nocked - some on the rooftops, others on the street.
Their arrows were all trained on the Shionameki surrounding him.
The young samurai could hardly believe what he was seeing. These were not the terrified villagers who had stood with bows and arrows along the rock wall when the bandits had first attacked. The farmers carried themselves with pride, and handled their weapons with greater confidence than before.
Katsushiro stared, recognizing Shino at the edge of the buildings with several other women, her head held high and her bow held in steady hands, a mark of Nasami's training. He looked up at the villagers, and saw determination in their eyes. They might go down, but they would go down fighting.
In that instant, Katsushiro was both inspired and humbled. While he had gone chasing after Kambei, Nasami had remained behind and trained the villagers to a level he would never have expected. It was to this that she had expected to return, to lead the villagers in battle once more against the Nobuseri and the Capital. But now that she was gone, it was up to him to lead the small force she had left behind.
He turned back to the Shionameki and lifted his sword. With a howling war cry, he charged.
"YOU WILL FALL!"
To be continued...