Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Word of a Samurai ( Chapter 45 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: "In the midst of death, we are in life." This whole series of scenes were probably some of my favorite from the entire series. And this whole chapter is about the choices that the samurai must now make. But what do you do when there is no right choice?
After this, there is no going back anymore.
The music for "The Word of a Samurai," oddly enough, came about after I chose the title for the chapter. When searching for music that conveyed that sense of inevitability, even while it had longing and romantic undertones, I turned back to one of the most underrated movies of all time - the track "Emma" from DARK CITY.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Five: The Word of a Samurai
“How long do you intend to keep me here?” Nasami rose to her feet from where she had been kneeling on the floor of the room assigned to her since Ukyo's reinstatement of her samurai rank. While she made a point of bowing politely, her demeanor was one of wariness when Ukyo ordered Tessai to remain outside while he spoke to the samuraiko alone.
Ukyo shrugged casually, but his eyes were intent on Nasami, who was once again wearing her armor as affirmation of her samurai rank. He was also well aware that she wore it to set herself aside from the courtiers and envoys, appearing as a warrior instead of a courtier. However, in deferment of the Emperor's status, Nasami did not wear her swords at her waist; instead, they were carefully placed on a stand beside her bed. “Well, we are headed to Kanna Village. You may as well come with us. After all, I would hate for you to… lose your way.”
Nasami's mouth twisted in a bitter smirk. “I have travelled from one end of this Empire to the other on numerous occasions, my lord. Finding my way to Kanna Village will not be a problem, I assure you.”
“Even when your mission is to behead the man you love?” Ukyo asked her silkily, but Nasami ignored the flash of pain in her heart to keep her eyes fixed on the Emperor's.
“Even then,” she answered evenly.
Ukyo leaned against the door of her quarters. “I would have thought that having grown up in a place like this, you would much rather be in the Capital than a remote farming village. Or have you lost your taste for luxury, living as a wandering samurai for so long?”
Nasami shrugged. “Oh, I still enjoy the finer things in life, Amanushi. But a room that one cannot leave is a cell, no matter how luxurious it is.”
“You'll be released when we arrive in Kanna Village, and not before,” he told her firmly, turning to leave. “You should be grateful, however. At least you're not still in that jail cell.”
Nasami wisely kept silent, but then Ukyo crossed the room to stand directly before her, lifting her chin so that he could look her in the face.
“How will it feel, do you think?” he asked her softly, and Nasami could not help backing away from the malicious curiosity in the young man's eyes. But even as she stepped backward, Ukyo moved forward until her back was against the wall. “Will you tell him what you intend to do before you kill him? Or will you just strike from behind, so that he doesn't have to see the look in your eyes before you cut him down?”
Nasami closed her eyes and turned her face away, her heart dying inside of her at the thought of killing Kambei just for Ukyo's sadistic pleasure. “Why do you hate him so much?” she whispered. “If I am to kill him, at least tell me why.”
“I don't hate him,” Ukyo said simply, and Nasami opened her eyes to look at him, startled. “After all, it's because of him that I am where I am now.”
“Then… why?” she asked, and Ukyo leaned even closer to her so that his breath caressed her cheek.
“Because I want to destroy him utterly, and those that follow him,” Ukyo murmured. “Kill Kambei, and the rest will fall into disarray. Their morale will be shattered, especially once they see that even a woman who loves him will kill him because her Emperor commands it. It will cement my power once and for all, even among the samurai.” He smiled at the horror in her eyes. “Especially the samurai.”
“No,” Nasami breathed, dismay filling her being like few things in the world had ever inspired. Ukyo smiled, and lifted one hand to touch her cheek.
“And then, who knows? Perhaps it will be time to recall you to your duties at the court, where I can… keep an eye on you.” He laughed as the color drained from her face, then he turned to go. “We should be arriving in Kanna Village the day after tomorrow. Pleasant dreams, Nasami.” Then he left.
Alone in her room, Nasami sat on her bed with her back to the wall, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs. Try as she might, she could not banish from her mind the image of Ukyo's smug smile, nor could she banish the thought of Kambei dying by her sword. As desperately as she wished to restore her honor, the idea of killing the man she loved in order to do it was absolutely abhorrent to her.
With a weary sigh, she rested her head on her knees. Ukyo had known full well that Nasami would have willingly chosen death if she had known what he wanted from her, but it was too late now to back down. The samuraiko had already given her word before the entire court that she would do as he asked.
Climbing down from her bed, Nasami knelt before the window where she could barely see the sun through the swirling dust that always seemed to surround the Capital. Then she bowed so that her forehead touched the floor.
“Blessed Amaterasu, my heart is uneasy within me… I know that it is for this very reason that samurai should not love, because of the choice between loyalty to my lord and loyalty to my heart. But… but I cannot kill him in cold blood, even if my Emperor commands it. I can only pray that your light will illuminate my path, and guide me toward the truth.”
The words seemed to echo in Nasami's soul, and she bit back angry tears. “I beg your forgiveness, blessed Lady Sun, but I cannot see how I can be true to what I believe, if I must fulfill the Emperor's command.”
A thin, weak shaft of sunlight shone through the window, so that Nasami knelt in the light of a sunbeam, and once again, her words rang through her mind.
Fulfill the Emperor's command…
“The price of your freedom, your sword, and your status as a samurai… is the head of Shimada Kambei.”
Abruptly, Nasami froze, barely able to breathe as the certainty of what she must do hit her with the force of a blow. Then she bowed once more.
“Thank you, Amaterasu,” she whispered joyfully. “I understand now what I must do.”
Then she became aware of the knocking that announced the entrance of the guard with her food.
“Enter,” she called out, not turning around, and the door opened. In came two of the guards, one holding open the door as the other carried a tray. For a moment, they paused when they saw the samuraiko kneeling on the floor.
“Your dinner, my lady,” he said politely, and Nasami nodded, still not looking at them as they approached and flanked her on either side.
“Thank you. I must finish my prayers before I may eat, however. I would ask that you please wait a moment, for I have a message for the Amanushi.”
“Of course,” the guards replied, unaware that Nasami's hand was stealing toward her sword. And before either guard realized what was happening, she had straightened up, snatched her katana and its saya from the stand, and knocked both of them senseless.
She bent down just long enough to take the food from the tray. It would be the only food she would have on her way to Kanna Village, but it would have to do. Swiftly, she gathered her wakizashi and her tanto, replacing them both at her waist beside Mamorimasu, pausing just long enough to look back at the sunlight through the window.
Then she was gone.
Also making their way to Kanna Village were Kambei and the others, riding in the transport that the Shikimoribito had provided. As they travelled, they first encountered a group of ronin samurai who explained about Ukyo giving each of them an assignment to protect the villages. Then they ended up making an unexpected stop when Kikuchiyo discovered a huge patch of durian plants, which he began scarfing down with great enthusiasm. The others, however, kept a healthy distance away due to the absolutely rank odor that the plants gave off, Komachi going so far as to hold her nose and hide behind her sister.
Kyuzo, however, suddenly became aware of a different smell beneath the foul stench of the durian plants, and began sprinting toward it, with Kambei, Shichiroji, and Heihachi behind him. No sooner did they reach the top of a sand dune, however, when the four samurai stopped in disbelief at the sight of mechanical wreckage as far as they could see.
“Wait… is that…?” Shichiroji gasped, taking a closer look when he thought he saw part of the face plate of a Raiden. The four skidded down the dune toward the wreckage, and the blond samurai pulled another fragment free and held it up for Kambei to see. “What do you think? Remnants of a battle between samurai and Nobuseri?”
Kambei shook his head as he took the fragment from Shichiroji. “These aren't sword cuts,” he murmured, glancing over at Kyuzo who was running his hand along the edge of another fragment.
“Whoa, you're right!” Heihachi exclaimed from where he was peering through a huge hole that had been somehow melted right through a chest plate. “I think a cannon did this!”
“An awful way to go,” Kambei said quietly, setting down the fragment he held as Kikuchiyo came up, munching on a durian plant.
“Man, look at this mess!” he exclaimed, while Shichiroji beat a hasty retreat from the stench. Kambei ignored him, however, and looked over at Heihachi.
“Heihachi, is there anything here we can use?” he called out, and the mechanic peered around with a professional eye.
Then a shout from Kikuchiyo drew their attention. “How about this thing?”
He was standing beside a half-buried Nobuseri sword, which Heihachi recognized as a Zankanto swordship. “You want one of these big ones, right?” With that, he turned and heaved the entire thing out of the sand, but as it landed on the ground, it began to vibrate, sending dust flying in every direction and knocking Kikuchiyo off his feet.
“What is it?” Komachi asked, coughing from the dust.
“Heap of junk, apparently,” Kikuchiyo said, shaking his head to clear the sand out of his helmet.
“He's probably right, it's no good,” Shichiroji said in disappointment, but Kambei rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“I'm not sure.”
Heihachi turned to Kambei in curiosity, and caught the gleam of an idea in the older samurai's eyes. “Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?” he asked, and Kambei met his gaze.
Heihachi grinned. “I'll take that as a yes.” With that, he scrambled up on top of the Zankanto and began pulling off panels.
In Kanna Village, Katsushiro knelt before Gorobei's grave once more, hardly able to believe it had been only a few days since he had left, so sure in his purpose of rescuing Kambei. Now, the whole world seemed to have been turned upside down. First, there was the discovery of Ukyo as Emperor, then Kambei's escape from execution, the discovery of Sanae, the assassination team attacking Nasami… and all Katsushiro could do was wonder when everything had become so complicated.
“Gorobei-dono, I realize now you led me back here because they needed my help.”
“Ah,” Tetsu said, where she stood beside Shino. “The spirits guided you back.”
He lifted his eyes to the sword that he had placed on Gorobei's grave as a mark of respect, gleaming in the light of the setting sun. Then he turned and got to his feet. “After I saw a vision of him, I thought I should come here one last time. A final goodbye before joining the battle. But the Capital's henchmen were already here. I must have been guided by Gorobei.”
Not only by Gorobei, he thought he heard, and abruptly he turned around, staring at the grave.
Standing beside the grave was the ghostly figure of Gorobei, as he had appeared in the woods to Katsushiro.
“Gorobei-dono,” he whispered.
You are almost out of time, Katsushiro.
“But the others…”
You must be prepared to fight alone, Gorobei replied, but then came another voice.
No, Gorobei-san, not alone.
Katsushiro's jaw dropped as a second figure appeared beside the first.
“Nasami-dono? Oh, God… no… please don't tell me…”
Do not worry about me... when the time comes, you will not be alone, Katsushiro. But you must prepare the villagers, or they will be slaughtered without mercy. Do it for me, Katsushiro...
Slowly the two figures faded away, leaving only her words ringing in Katsushiro's mind.
Do it for me...
Katsushiro bowed his head, then he turned and walked away. As he passed Tetsu, however, the old woman asked him, "Great samurai, where is Kirara?"
He paused for a moment, but did not turn around. "She's with sensei," he said softly, then he left to prepare Kanna for battle.
Tetsu stood there, bemused, as did Shino beside her. "Hmm... and all this time, I assumed my granddaughter went off with those samurai to be with that young man."
Shino looked down at Tetsu in surprise. "Kirara did what?"
"You're slow, old woman!" they heard, and turned to see that Okara had snuck on them and was openly grinning.
"Okara!" Shino said, startled, and then she peered more closely at the girl. "You know something, don't you?"
"You got her reasons for leaving right, but you got the wrong samurai?"
"Then who...?" Shino's voice trailed off as it suddenly dawned on her exactly which samurai Kirara had set her sights on. Okara was right... it wasn't Katsushiro.
It was Kambei.
"But... oh... no, Kirara doesn't know that..." Shino looked away into the distance, and both Tetsu and Okara frowned at her.
"But what, Shino?" Tetsu asked gently.
"Kirara doesn't know that Kambei-sama loves sensei."
Okara blinked, surprised that Shino knew gossip that she didn't. "You mean Nasami-sama? Kambei's in love with her?"
"No wonder Kirara never had a chance," Okara proclaimed. "I was wondering why he never really paid much attention to her."
The elderly woman sighed deeply. "Then it is as I thought. I tried to warn Kirara about her feelings, but she wouldn't listen."
"That's Kirara, all right," the child agreed.
Kyuzo stood looking out over the desert as Shichiroji wandered over to him, only his eyes moving to indicate his awareness of the other samurai. With a sigh, Shichiroji walked over toward Kambei, who was looking up at Heihachi on top of the Zankanto.
"How's it look?" the white-clad samurai asked when Heihachi pulled his head out of the wiring of the ship.
"I think she'll fly for us!"
"Good! As soon as the repairs are done, we'll head for the Capital."
"All right!" Heihachi disappeared into the cables and panels again.
"Well, it might not be much of a warship, but it certainly is faster than that old wagon," Shichiroji admitted. "It's too bad we don't have time to find something with defenses."
"The Capital isn't going to wait for us," Kambei reminded him.
"So we're finally going to strike?" Kikuchiyo asked eagerly from atop the Zankanto where he stood beside Heihachi, and Kambei nodded.
"How many years has it been since we've taken on one of those airships?" Shichiroji mused. "I'd say I'm nervous, but I keep thinking of what Gorobei-san would say if he were here."
"Yeah!" Kikuchiyo agreed. "He'd say, 'Nervous? You've got to be kidding! Get out there and die with honor, man!'"
Abruptly he was cut off by a loud wailing from Komachi.
"Komachi, what's the matter with you?" Kirara asked in alarm.
"I don't want Kiku to die with honor!" Komachi sobbed, completely distraught at the thought of losing her friend, and immediately Kikuchiyo leapt down from the ship to land in front of Komachi. It never ceased to amuse Kambei and the others how the big, blustering machine samurai could be reduced to mush by a few tears from the little girl.
"Oh, well, listen, I-I was just... you know, that's just... that's just tough guy talk!" He bent down to look at Komachi. "Who could ever die and leave you behind, sprout?"
Slowly she stopped crying and peered up at him. "Really? Promise?"
"Here, I'll tell you what," he said reassuringly, reaching inside his coat and pulling out his treasured family scroll. "I want you to hang onto this for me. It's my proof that I'm a samurai!"
"The scroll you stole?" Komachi said, puzzled.
"I didn't steal it, I found-" The big machine samurai stopped short. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. You were the first person who ever accepted me as a samurai... who believed in me. So I want you to have my most valuable possession. Keep it safe for me, and I'll be back for it. I promise."
"It's a deal!" Komachi said brightly, reaching out for the scroll and hugging it to her chest. Then she looked up at Kikuchiyo, her face somber. "But... you have to promise me something even more important!"
"All right, lay it on me," he agreed.
"Okay, don't laugh..." she warned. "But when I grow up, I want you to be my husband!"
Kirara let out a gasp of surprise, Kikuchiyo nearly fell over in shock, and Shichiroji started laughing quietly.
"In this heap of metal?" Kikuchiyo asked in disbelief, caught absolutely flatfooted by Komachi's proposal. "I can't even farm rice!"
"Well, I love you just the way you are, Kiku!" Komachi declared cheerfully, beaming up at him. "I'll even cook for you!"
From atop the swordship, Heihachi was watching with a huge grin on his face, and at Komachi's declaration, he chuckled.
To everyone's astonishment, Kikuchiyo burst into tears. "Oh, I'm... I'm so happy! Are you sure about this, sprout?" The hope and plea in his voice was almost heartbreaking.
"I'm sure!" Komachi announced, and Kikuchiyo straightened up and gave a mighty triumphant shout from the very depths of his soul.
"Oh, hurry up and get older, little Komachi!" he bellowed joyfully, swinging the girl up into his arms and settling her on his shoulder. "I'm gonna be your husband!" With that, he began dashing around, Komachi hanging on for dear life and laughing in delight. "Oh, do you know how happy you've made me? Oh, I'm the luckiest guy in the world!"
"I'm the lucky one!" Komachi shouted to the sky as they raced past Kirara, who was watching them both with a tender and wistful smile on her face.
Then she turned to Kambei, and was stunned to see that he was also watching Kikuchiyo and Komachi, but with a troubled and sorrowful look in his eyes that was almost painful to see.
Later that night, the samurai were having a council of war near the Zankanto while Heihachi worked by lamplight. Kambei and Shichiroji were studying a map of the Capital, while Kyuzo kept a watchful eye on the desert around them.
"Have you ever been to the Capital before?" Kambei asked Kyuzo, who nodded without turning around.
"Once, with my former lord."
"Are the defenses the same as during the War?"
"Hmmm..." Kambei rubbed his chin and studied the map, trying to formulate the best plan of attack. While the Zankanto was certainly more maneuverable than the enormous Capital airship, he also knew that they were sorely outgunned. "What do we do about the main engines?"
"I say we disconnect them," Heihachi replied from the top of the swordship, pausing to look at the landscape around them. "If they're still running when it crashes, all this beautiful farmland will be destroyed."
"You mean 'all this beautiful farmland that's used to grow the rice you love,'" Shichiroji called up to him mockingly, and Heihachi grinned.
"Hey, we are the rice kami. Gotta protect it, too!"
Shichiroji nodded. "All right, we'll leave cutting off the main engines to him. So it's our move, Kambei-sama. I assume you have a plan."
All of the other samurai turned to look at him, as well as the peasants, but Kambei's expression did not change.
"Really..." Shichiroji murmured. "None at all?"
"Tomorrow, death awaits," Kambei said somberly, staring morosely into the flames. In a way, he was almost looking forward to it. A life without Nasami was too painful to contemplate.
Kirara, on the other hand, was stunned by the samurai's quiet acceptance of almost certain death, and bit back helpless tears. She carefully placed a cup of tea beside him, trying very hard to keep her composure.
As Kambei picked up the cup and sipped his tea, he glanced over at her. "It's late, you should get some rest."
"Oh... don't worry about me. Just call me if any of you need anything." She bowed, then got to her feet and walked away.
Shichiroji watched her go, his eyes slightly sad. "She's a great girl..."
"Guess we should give Ukyo some credit," Heihachi said from on top of the Zankanto. "At least for his great taste in women."
Kambei, however, ignored them both. As hard as he had tried to resist, he had already surrendered his heart, but not to the young water priestess. Instead, he had fallen in love with a warrior, a woman who had willingly gone to her own death to protect him and his friends. First the Great War had claimed the life of Shiori, the woman he had loved in his youth, and now this battle had cost him Nasami. The sheer unfairness of it all was enough to make him choke.
"I should have known better..." he muttered, clutching his cup tighter, and Shichiroji glanced over at him.
"What do you mean?"
"I should have made Nasami leave while she still had the chance, but she insisted on staying with us, and it cost her her life. If only I had made her turn back..."
"You couldn't have known, Kambei-sama. And I doubt any of us could have really stopped Nasami." Shichiroji sighed heavily. "We all underestimated Ukyo... including Nasami-dono. But she wouldn't want you to give up... she would keep going, even if the situation were reversed and she had lost you... if for no other reason than to make the Capital pay."
"I thought we samurai were supposed to be beyond such a thing as revenge."
The blond samurai shrugged. "Maybe so... but if we're all going to die anyway, does it really matter?"
Kambei looked away. "It's almost laughable... that a spoiled young man like Ukyo should be able to wreak such havoc on the lives of everyone around him."
"It's hard to tell who the enemy is these days," Shichiroji admitted. "During the war, it was easy - you just killed anything that held a sword."
Kambei winced. "Perhaps the days of fighting battles with swords are no more." He turned to Rikichi, where the young farmer sat watching the wagon where Sanae was sleeping. "Rikichi!"
The young man turned. "Yes?"
"We won't wait for sunrise. As soon as the repairs are completed, we're heading out. We leave the women in your care... make sure they get home safely. That's your job. We're counting on you."
Rikichi nodded solemnly, recognizing the trust that Kambei was placing in him. "Right."
With that, Kambei got up and walked over to stand beside Kyuzo where he sat staring out over the desert.
"We will not wait for sunrise to leave," Kambei murmured. "When Heihachi has completed the repairs, we will leave for the capital."
Kyuzo nodded to show he understood, and Kambei turned to go.
Until faster than even his eyes could follow, Kyuzo had out one of his swords and was blocking his way, and all without ever taking his eyes off the desert.
Kambei said nothing, but just stared down at the gleaming katana that was barring his path.
"Just so you understand..." Kyuzo murmured, staring off into the distance. "We still have a score to settle."
"I have not forgotten," Kambei replied, still not moving, and Kyuzo turned his eyes toward the other samurai.
"But there is something you should know."
"And what is that?"
"When we fight, if I kill you..."
Kyuzo turned to Kambei, his eyes almost glowing with anticipation.
"I will fight Nasami-dono next."
Kambei's eyes went wide. "What are you talking about?"
"After you left, I made her a promise. If you die by my swords... I would fight her."
"What for?" the other samurai whispered.
Kyuzo shrugged. "To avenge you, maybe. After all, she and I both know I can defeat you." He looked away once more. "But her... I am not so certain."
"Nasami is dead, Kyuzo." Kambei bit the words out one by one, feeling each one like a stab wound through his heart.
"Is that what you believe?" the fair-haired assassin asked softly.
"Kirara saw her when she used the dowsing crystal. Nasami was struck down from behind, taken by Ukyo's men, and even after he set me free, we know Ukyo tried to assassinate me more than once. He has no reason to spare her life, and every reason to kill her." Kambei shook his head. "No, Kyuzo-dono. Nasami is most likely dead. And soon, we will be joining her."
Kyuzo shook his head. "It's not important what you believe in here." He lifted the point of his sword so that it was almost touching Kambei's temple.
"I don't understand."
With the firelight reflected in his eyes, Kyuzo turned his gaze directly to Kambei's. "What's important is what you believe... in here."
Never taking his eyes from the other samurai's, Kyuzo lowered the sword to point directly at Kambei's heart.
To be continued...