Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Seven Against an Empire ( Chapter 46 )

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

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Note: My absolutely FAVORITE part of this whole chapter is, ironically, the LAST part of it. To this day, every time I see that last scene of Episode 24 when the Zankanto comes racing over the hills, with Kambei, Kyuzo, and Kikuchiyo standing on the hull, it just takes my breath away. While I desperately wanted to have Nasami on the ship with them (especially in light of the story I wrote called "Brave Words, Braver Deeds"), her place, at this point in time at least, is elsewhere...
I was torn on the music for "Seven Against an Empire", I really, really was. At first, I had originally intended to use the track "The Way of the Sword" from Hans Zimmer's superlative score to THE LAST SAMURAI. (To really understand why, hit YouTube and do a search for the keywords 'last samurai final'). But I wanted something a bit more frantic, a bit more chaotic... and found it in the track "Teahouse" from the score to MATRIX: RELOADED.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Six: Seven Against an Empire
"Nasami... Nasami, wake up..."
The samuraiko opened her eyes from where she rested against a tree, having allowed herself a brief respite to sleep before resuming her journey to Kanna Village.
And froze.
Standing before her were three figures, hazy and indistinct in the pre-dawn light.
The first samurai wore an elegant kimono, his hair pulled back in the traditional samurai topknot, his katana in his hand.
The second samurai was huge, unshaven with long, slightly shaggy hair, wearing battered armor and a helmet, an enormous tetsubo slung casually over his shoulder.
The third samurai was slender, and also wore well-worn armor, his head shaved save for the samurai topknot, his face scarred, and carried a katana in his right hand and a wakizashi in his left, with a long no-dachi slung across his back.
Her eyes flashed from one face to the other, and she could hardly speak as she unsteadily got to her feet.
"Yoshio," she whispered, holding out her hands to the first as she recognized her older brother, but then she turned her gaze to the other samurai, who bowed to her in greeting.
"Kaminari-sama?" Her voice broke as she bowed to him in return.
"It's been a long time, Nasami-san." That it had - the last time Nasami had seen him, he had been fighting a Benigumo one-on-one, first with his tetsubo, then his sword, then even his bare hands, singlehandedly breaking the Nobuseri's charge before succumbing to his injuries at the Battle of Shinomen Mori five years ago. The two had survived many a battle together, and it was in defense of Kaminari's life that Nasami had suffered most of her worst injuries. But the big samurai had never forgotten the samuraiko's valour, and it was Kaminari that Nasami had served for the better part of three years as yojimbo, before his later promotion to an Imperial Magistrate.
Then the samuraiko's eyes filled with tears as she turned to face the third samurai.
For a long time, neither of them spoke, but then she bowed to the third samurai, her tears spilling over. "Kuroshin..."
"Nasami," he murmured, his voice barely louder than a sigh.
"Why... why have you come?" she asked as she straightened, her hand automatically going to her katana.
"You face death today, Nasami-san," Kuroshin told her.
Abruptly Nasami laughed aloud. "I have faced death many times, Kuroshin-sama, why is now any different?"
"This battle will be like none you have ever fought. This time, you intend to fight the Emperor," Yoshio replied, his face serious as he studied his younger sister.
Nasami shook her head, her foxtail swaying back and forth. "I intend to protect the Empire."
"One woman against the Capital," Kaminari rumbled, shifting the tetsubo on his shoulder. "You may be one of the finest swordsmen in the Empire, Nasami-san, but even you can't take on the Capital by yourself."
"I do not fight alone, Kaminari-sama," she reminded him.. "I will join the other samurai, those few of us left who still remember what it means to be samurai."
The big samurai abruptly grinned. "You never did know when to quit, Nasami."
Nasami smiled back. "Why give up when I know I can win?"
"But what will you lose in doing so?" Kuroshin asked her, his dark eyes somber, and she turned to face him, her face pale but resolute.
"My life, perhaps, but better than that my honor or my soul." Her hand tightened on the katana. "I will not abandon them, Kuroshin. You know that... maybe better than anyone."
Kuroshin nodded. Of all her companions, the dark samurai was the only one who understood just how much honor meant to Nasami. Time and again, he had seen her risk everything in the name of honor, including her life. She had bled for it, killed for it, nearly died for it.
Kaminari looked down at the samuraiko. "We wish you luck, Nasami-san." He lifted the tetsubo from his shoulder and raised to her, and a powerful thunderclap sounded, startling the birds from the trees and making the earth shake. "May your own soul strike with thunder." Then he faded back into the forest and disappeared.
"May Amaterasu guide your steps and your soul, my sister," Yoshio said softly, saluting her with Sememasu, then he followed Kaminari.
Only Kuroshin was left, but when Nasami was about to speak, he held up one hand to stop her.
"I know, Nasami... I always knew," he told her, and she looked away, embarrassed. "But... I thank you."
"I'm sorry, Kuroshin-sama," she whispered.
"Do not be sorry," he replied, moving closer to her, and sheathing his katana and wakizashi before resting a ghostly hand on her shoulder. "But do not mourn for that which was not meant to be. Not when we both know that there is another for you."
He stepped back, bowed deeply to her, and drew the no-dachi Kiga from its saya, holding it up before him in salute. Nasami blinked back her tears, and drew Mamorimasu. Then, slowly, they brought the blades together until they touched.
"'You need no armor, you need no sword...'" Kuroshin quoted softly.
"'... you need only to know that you cannot be defeated,'" Nasami finished in a whisper.
And with that, Kuroshin was gone, leaving the samuraiko alone.

Komachi slowly opened her eyes, then abruptly realized that it was already sunrise, and that she was on the transport. Confused, she sat up, realizing that she had been resting in Sanae's lap, while Rikichi was steering the transport toward Kanna Village, and Kirara was sitting nearby.
And the samurai were nowhere to be seen.
In horror, Komachi turned to Sanae, who was watching her with a somber and sad expression on her face. "Where's Kiku?"
"He's gone, Komachi," Sanae replied softly.
"But he... can't be! I didn't get to say goodbye to him!" Komachi wailed, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Your sister thought it would be less painful for you this way," Sanae answered, lifting her eyes to look at Kirara, and Komachi turned to follow Sanae's gaze.
Kirara was sitting by herself, her head bowed, as though completely withdrawing into herself, oblivious to what was going on around her. Deep inside, she felt cold and sorrow and a world of pain within her. Somewhere inside of her mind, she had suspected, had dreaded the truth, but now, there was nowhere left to hide from it, and it hurt much worse than she had ever dreamed it would.
Komachi crawled over to Kirara and shook her arm to get her attention. "Sister, why didn't you let me say goodbye to Kiku?" she sobbed, hurt that Kirara would have done such a thing to her, even if it was the best thing to do. But Kirara didn't look at her, instead keeping her eyes downcast and her voice level so that Komachi wouldn't see the pain, and even worse, the jealousy in her eyes.
"We can't worry about such petty things, Komachi, not when the war is about to begin. We need to be grown-ups, okay?"
But Sanae wasn't fooled by the calm exterior Kirara was trying so hard to maintain. She had seen what had happened the night before, just before the samurai had left for the Capital. To her, the younger woman's pain and heartache were as clear as the sunrise, no matter how much she tried to hide it.
"Water priestess..." she said softly, her tone gentle, and Kirara finally lifted her head to meet Sanae's eyes directly.
"I promised them that I would be strong, but I feel like I'm breaking," the water priestess admitted, her voice breaking slightly at the admission of weakness, but Sanae understood.
"Take it from someone who has been broken. When your heart opens a new window, there is no gain in hiding your eyes from the light."
Kirara's fragile control cracked, and she turned her head away in shame as the tears finally spilled over. "But if I allow myself to admit it, then I won't be able to keep from telling him the truth... that I want him, body and soul." She clutched her dowsing crystal tightly in one fist, and Komachi suddenly realized that the cord that bound it to her sister's wrist had been snapped in two.
And as she watched the tears flowing down her sister's face, Komachi realized what must have happened, and she began to weep her own tears. But then she lifted her head and tightened her grip on Kirara's arm.
"Then we just have to pray as hard as we can that they'll come back! If we pray with all our strength, we'll be fine, right? We're a water priestess family, it's our job to pray, so we just have to do our job!" she cried defiantly.
Kirara turned to her younger sister, astonishment at Komachi's strength of will breaking through her misery, and then she gathered the girl into her arms and hugged her tightly. "You're exactly right, my darling... I love you."

In Kanna Village, Katsushiro was making one last round on turtleback to check on the guards he had posted. Alerted by the faintest rumbling of the ground, he had spotted the massive form of the Capital airship in the distance, making its way toward Kanna. As he rode, he marvelled once again at how Nasami, Shichiroji, and Heihachi had fortified the little farming village - palisades, sentry towers, even weapons caches had been created in strategic points around Kanna. But by far, the most useful innovation was the strings of clappers that hung all over the place. When the ropes were tugged, the wooden pieces that hung from them would begin clattering against one another, a device that would spread a warning signal far faster than any villager could run or even ride in the same amount of time.
To his dismay, however, almost all of them were asleep, exhausted by their efforts of frantically trying to get ready for their defense against the Capital. Katsushiro looked up at the sentry post and saw that Mosuke had also dozed off, and with a growl to himself, the young samurai bellowed, "MOSUKE, WAKE UP!"
With a start, the farmer came awake, leaping up and nearly falling over, and as he reached out a hand to steady himself, he grabbed hold of the rope on which the clappers hung. At the weight, immediately the wooden clappers began clacking until the racket had woken up all of the farmers, and alerted villagers from one end of Kanna Village to the other of the Capital's imminent arrival.
As the farmers began gathering in the open clearing in the village's center, several of them saw the Elder also making his way there. As they turned to him with questioning and uncertain eyes, he lifted his head proudly and announced, "It is time."
As though the words were a signal, the villagers turned, snatched up their weapons, and dashed toward their assigned positions.
Katsushiro dismounted from the turtle and sent it racing off into the woods. Taking a deep breath, he felt the cool breeze filling his lungs, and as he exhaled, he calmed his mind as Nasami had taught him that long-ago day at Masamune's workshop. Then he slowly drew his katana, each motion precise and perfect.
"Concentrate on the katana in your hand... Feel the weight of the steel. The silk of the wrapping on the pommel. The cold of the tsuba... The katana trembles in your grasp, singing its song of battle and honor. Its steel gleams in the sun, or glimmers in the moonlight. It whispers as it slices through the air, or screams as it cuts down your enemies. Every inch of it resonates with what it means to be samurai."
Katsushiro lifted his katana to a guard position, aware of the faint ringing sound emanating from the blade as he focused all of his attention on the sword.
"Bushido is embodied in the blade, waiting to be demonstrated in the hands of its bearer. When it parries, it leaps to your defense; when it attacks, it draws you into battle; in meditation, it is a path to satori, that single instant of clarity for which the samurai lives and dies. The katana is an extension of your awareness. With the sword in your hand, there is no threat that you cannot anticipate, no danger from which you cannot defend yourself, no attack…"
Out of nowhere, a brilliant blue light shot directly toward him, and without thought, he raised his katana to take the enormous blast directly against the blade. Then with a mighty shout, he brought the sword forward and deflected the blast back where it had come from, sending it slamming straight into the hull of the Capital.
"... that will ever catch you off guard."
Katsushiro stood staring in absolute and total astonishment at what he had done, his arms trembling from the effort he had exerted, his breath coming fast and his heart pounding within him. All he could do was stare at his katana, which seemed to shimmer with its own glow, as if it had absorbed some of the light of the blast it had deflected back.
"She was right," he whispered, his soul filling not with the red haze of bloodlust, but a glorious song of battle. "Nasami-dono was right..."

Inside the Capital, the envoys and courtiers looked around in dismay as the blast against the hull made the deck tremble beneath their feet.
"Silence!" the Imperial Minister called, stilling their startled whispers. "Do not be frightened! This is the Capital!"
Tessai, however, had been watching the display screens, and frowned when he saw what had happened. "It appears the main cannon was deflected. My lord, only the sword of a true samurai is capable of accomplishing that!"
"Samurai?" Ukyo said in surprise. "You don't suppose..."
He called up another viewscreen, and focused on the figure he saw holding a katana in defensive stance.
"I knew it," Tessai growled.
"At least it's not Nasami," Ukyo said consolingly, and Tessai shot him a glare.
"It may be too risky to use the cannon again," the Imperial Minister said delicately, and Ukyo pouted.
"I should remind you that during the Great War, samurai were the only ones who could ever bring down a ship like this," Tessai said, his voice respectful but insistent.
Ukyo thought that one over. "So, they're looking for a fight, are they? That leaves us no choice..." He turned his eyes toward the Imperial Minister. "Call out my new soldiers."
Deep in the bowels of the airship, the activation signal was sent to the numerous drones that hung in their support bays.
"Good morning, everyone," came Ukyo's cheerful greeting, and the Nobuseri lifted their heads in recognition of their master's voice.
"All drones, launch!" The command went out, and the soldiers began making their way toward the launch bays on either side of the Capital.
"And they'll really do whatever I tell them to, no matter what?" Ukyo asked eagerly, watching the drones swarming out en masse from the Capital, and the Imperial Minister waved a hand at the display screens.
"Give it a try, your Excellency."
"If you insist." Ukyo raised his voice to be heard by the command relay system. "ABOUT FACE!"
As one, the Nobuseri stopped and turned to face the Capital, waiting obediently for their next order.
Ukyo's laughter rang out across the audience chamber as he leaned back against his throne. "Did you see that?" he gasped as he got his breath back. "They're mindless! Just obedient heaps of metal!"
The courtiers broke out in polite applause.
"Very impressive, your Excellency," the Imperial Minister said smoothly.
Ukyo turned to him in wonder and amusement. "When I was a peasant, I despised them so! Their mere presence made me sick." He tapped one of the display screens with his foot. "But they're kind of cute like this, don't you think?"
Tessai, on the other hand, was openly wondering why the entire drone force had to be unleashed all at once. "We're attacking one measly farming village. There's no need for such numbers."
"We can't go easy on them," Ukyo reminded him. "One thing I learned as a merchant is that any compromise leads to a lack of respect. Think of it as ridding ourselves of a failed business partner, Tessai. Nothing more." He turned his gaze toward his chief attendant, glittering with malice. "Just like I did with that Envoy."
Tessai gasped and took a step backward. In all this time, with everything that had happened, he had never once considered the idea that Ukyo himself had been behind the Imperial Envoy's assassination, but at the look in the Emperor's eyes, the only thing he could think was to wonder how he had not seen it before.
With that, Ukyo turned away and lifted his voice once again. "Listen up, all of you. Destroy Kanna... leave nothing left of it!"
"UNIT ONE, ATTACK!" came the command, and as one, the Nobuseri turned with mechanical yells and raced toward Kanna Village.

Mosuke, Yohei, Gozaku, and the others were preparing their weapons when Katsushiro came charging up. Leaping off the back of the turtle, he took up a defensive stance beside him. Although the peasants were doing their best to keep their panic under control, the sight of the Capital and its army bearing down on them was an intimidating sight.
"Keep it together!" he shouted encouragingly when he saw Mosuke's hands shaking while he tried to load the gun he held.
"Yeah, sorry!" Mosuke replied, bending down to pick up the cartridges he'd dropped.
Katsushiro looked at the others, who were all watching him, waiting for him to lead them. "Take all the fury you've buried inside and release it on them!" he called out, and the peasants nodded, each of them taking up their positions.
"Get ready, they're here!" Mosuke whispered, aiming at the approaching Nobuseri forces, and the others went pale, but none fell back.
"Don't think about the fear!" Katsushiro told them. "Courage isn't about not being afraid... it's about being afraid and doing what must be done anyway!"
"You sound like Nasami-sama," Gozaku said with a weak laugh, and several of the other farmers chuckled, while Katsushiro grinned.
"I appreciate the compliment." Then he turned back toward the Capital and lifted his katana. "Let's kill them with the very weapons we stole from them!"
He lowered his katana in the signal to attack, and the peasants let loose a volley of shots that tore through the Nobuseri forces that were flying at them, sending several of them reeling and destroying several others. As the other outposts saw Katsushiro's group firing, they let loose their own salvos, striking at the second wave that was following on the heels of the first.
Mosuke and the others stared in astonishment, and then the peasants lifted their weapons and cheered.
"Let's stay sharp! Hurry and get the second round loaded!" Katsushiro shouted above the noise, but no sooner were the words out of his mouth than the Nobuseri's return fire slammed into their position, knocking several of the villagers off their feet, destroying the sentry tower, and scattering the farmers.
Shaking his head to clear it, Katsushiro quickly took stock of the situation. Most of the farmers were still on their feet, but several had been injured in the blast. "Get all the wounded out of here!" he yelled, and Gozaku, Yohei, and Mosuke leapt to obey.
When Katsushiro looked up again, he saw four Raiden bearing down on him, and he took up his stance once again, snarling in barely contained defiance. The four bandits powered up their defensive shields and moved into position to attack.
Watching him on the display screens, Ukyo smirked. "This won't take long..."
"We can't do it!" Mosuke sobbed, clutching the gun to his chest. "There's no way we can win against something like that!"
"The word 'impossible' will not be uttered in my hearing!" Katsushiro bellowed back at them, and the peasants recoiled in surprise, remembering when Nasami had said the same thing during their archery practice.
And with a kiai shout that made even the Raiden pause, Katsushiro charged. Moving faster than even he had thought possible, he sprang forward, leaping into the air to aim precise strokes at the first Raiden, neatly carving him to pieces before the bandit could even lift a weapon. The moment his feet touched the ground, he was moving again, yelling as he swung his katana once again, slicing through the second bandit with hardly any effort at all. Then he was falling through the air in a carefully controlled arc, scything through a third Raiden, even while the fourth one opened fire on him. Katsushiro twisted his body as he carved his way down the bandit, but was abruptly thrown clear as the Nobuseri exploded, and he instinctively wrenched himself around to land on his feet, sliding backward several yards before regaining his balance.
"Katsushiro, behind you! Look out!" Mosuke cried, and Katsushiro had barely an instant to look over his shoulder before the Nobuseri came bearing down on him, sword raised to cut him in half...
... until a single stroke from a gleaming blade sliced the Raiden cleanly in two, and the Nobuseri disintegrated in an explosion of smoke and flame.
When the smoke cleared, Katsushiro and the farmers were astonished to see a slender figure standing amongst the wreckage between them and the Capital, katana at the ready.
The figure turned to look back at him.
Do not worry about me... when the time comes, you will not be alone, Katsushiro.
"Nasami?" Katsushiro whispered in disbelief.
And she smiled, a wild grin full of life.
"I told you that you wouldn't fight alone, remember?" she called out to him, lifting her katana in salute to the cheering Kanna villagers.
"I... I thought you were dead!" the young samurai cried.
Nasami laughed aloud, turned around, and carved through another approaching Raiden with barely a thought. "Do I look dead to you?"
Then she whirled around and leapt into the fray, scything her way through the mechanical soldiers in a blur of movement. For an instant, Katsushiro remained where he was, just staring after her, until he heard her shout back at him, "Come on, Katsushiro, move it! We've got a village to defend!"
Get back to Kanna...
Prepare the villagers...
Do it for me...
"Right behind you, Nasami-dono!" he bellowed, and with a hoarse yell, Katsushiro got a tighter grip on his katana and charged after her.

As ecstatic as the Kanna villagers were to see the samuraiko alive, well, and fighting at their side, far above them in the Capital's audience chamber, at least three people were less than thrilled to learn that Nasami had joined the battle on the side of Kanna.
"Well... I suppose that on the bright side, at least now we know where Nasami's gotten to," Ukyo said, swinging one foot idly back and forth as he, the Imperial Minister, and Tessai were watching the battle on the displays. "If it's just those two, they still won't be enough to stop us."
Abruptly one of the guards came sprinting into the main audience chamber, skidding to a halt at the base of the stairs and kneeling in hurried respect. "Emperor, there's a lone attack ship approaching from the rear!"
"Attack ship?" Ukyo said in idle curiosity, as he, Tessai, and the Imperial Minister turned to one of the hologram display screens and magnified the image. "Is that so?"
On the screen, they could see a cloud of dust rapidly approaching, and then out from behind the sand dunes of the desert shot a single Zankanto swordship, heading directly toward the Capital.
And Ukyo's eyes went wide with disbelief.
Standing on the hull, implacably facing forward, were Kyuzo, Kikuchiyo, and Kambei.
As the Zankanto raced headlong toward the Capital airship, Kikuchiyo lifted his katana over his head, swinging it wildly and shouting in unbridled defiance and enthusiasm.
To be continued...