Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Into the Jaws of Death ( Chapter 47 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: Oh, this chapter was FUN to write! (Took longer than average because I was trying to get everything RIGHT, but boy was it worth it!) And after the build-up from "Seven Against an Empire," the only way to describe "Into the Jaws of Death" would be 'complete and utter chaos'... my favorite kind of scene to try and convey. (And I got to watch Episode 25 over and over and over, trying to get everything in there, including all the stuff that was happening 'off camera', ie everything with Nasami!)
Yet again, a nod to hubby mine for the music. While neither one of us ever saw the film STEALTH, the score is seriously cool... and the track "Henry's Death" will completely blow you away.
Get out your headphones, pull up the playlist, crank up the volume, and follow me into hell...
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Seven: Into the Jaws of Death
As the Zankanto zoomed across the open fields directly at the Capital, Kikuchiyo was laughing in open delight as he watched the hordes of Nobuseri swarming around the Capital. Not since the Great War had he seen a force like this. "Look how outnumbered we are! They'll tell stories about us for years!"
Up in the Capital's audience chamber, however, Ukyo was watching the swordship's approach, his eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out exactly what Kambei's strategy might be. The samurai had already proven to work more effectively as part of a larger group, and given his alliance with Nasami, the possibility of additional reinforcements was a legitimate one. There was also the information he'd requested about the last battle fought between the Nobuseri and the peasants of Kanna, and the stories of the samuraiko's saboteur tactics had Ukyo on his guard.
"Everybody, listen up!" he called out. "Kambei is far too cunning to risk everything on a frontal assault, so be on the lookout for a secondary force!"
"Yes, lord!" the drones responded in unison.
"Now move out!" he ordered, and with yells, the Nobuseri turned as one and charged directly at the samurai flying toward them like a malevolent dark cloud of war.
Standing on top of the Zankanto's hull, Kambei didn't even flinch at the sight of the mob of Nobuseri moving toward them.
"Stay on course, Shichiroji! Dead ahead!" he shouted over the wind so that the blond samurai could hear him.
"So you were really serious about no plan, huh?" Shichiroji replied with a laugh, and Kambei turned look back over his shoulder.
"Of course I was! Do you think I would lie about that?" the white-clad samurai asked in surprise, as though amazed that Shichiroji even had to ask such a ridiculous question.
"Hey, you never know," Shichiroji replied with a shrug and a grin. "Guys will say the funniest things to impress a girl!"
Kambei turned back around, but his eyes were not on the approaching Nobuseri forces. Instead, he was remembering a moonlit desert, and the conflicting feelings of hope and despair filling his soul...
"Time to head out!" Heihachi had announced, closing the last panel with a flourish and leaping down from the Zankanto to head for the Yakan shell he had claimed as his own.
"Good luck, all of you," Rikichi said quietly, bowing to them. "And be careful."
The five samurai had bowed in return, then turned to go, Heihachi clambering into his Yakan shell, while Kikuchiyo, Shichiroji, Kambei, and Kyuzo strode toward the Zankanto.
Kirara watched them go, her teeth sinking into her lower lip as she tried to hold back the words, but abruptly she tore the dowsing crystal from her wrist and cried out, "Kambei, wait!"
The four samurai stopped, but only Kikuchiyo turned around. "What, we forgetting something?" he asked. But Shichiroji and Kyuzo, suspecting that they knew what Kirara was about to say, both kept their eyes on Kambei, wondering what the other samurai would say or do in response.
Shichiroji wondered if Kambei would accept the young water priestess as a substitute for the woman he had loved and lost.
Kyuzo wondered if Kambei could find the courage within him to accept that Nasami might still be alive.
Behind them, Kirara struggled to hang onto her composure, uncertain if she should speak, uncertain if she should remain silent, but then all at once, she could not hold back anymore.
"Don't say a word!" Kambei said harshly, his voice cutting across hers like the crack of a whip, and Kirara froze, her breath catching in her throat. She reached out one hand to him, but he did not turn around. While he was glad that the girl had finally found her courage to speak, it gave him no pleasure to destroy the hope she had nourished in her heart for so long. But in fairness to Kirara, to himself, and to Nasami if she still lived, he did not hold back the truth from her.
"A flower needs water to survive. Use your skills, priestess... you'll see my heart dried up long ago. Do not wait for me."
With that, he began walking away once more, leaving Kirara and the others behind. He knew that in a way, his words were a lie. His heart still beat, still hoped and yearned and longed as did the hearts of other men, but his now belonged to someone else. And even if Kyuzo were wrong, and Nasami was truly dead, he would rather mourn her the rest of his life than give his love to another.
And even though he could still hear Kirara's faint sobs, his mind was filled with a single, perfect memory of Nasami, standing beside him atop the falls, the moonlight turning her tear-filled eyes to silver.
It was the only thing that gave him the strength to keep walking forward.
"You're a real heartbreaker," he heard Shichiroji say, dragging his thoughts back to the present. "Of course, you always have been. You should have told the poor girl from the start she didn't have a chance, and especially after you and Nasami-dono-"
"Did I ever tell you that you talk too much?" Kambei said conversationally, cutting off Shichiroji's words, and Shichiroji gave a mocking harumph and went back to his controls.
Kikuchiyio turned around and looked at them. "What are you two gossiping about? You do realize we have a few thousand bandits to kill!" He turned around and pointed his sword at the oncoming Nobuseri forces.
In front of him on the hull, Kyuzo narrowed his eyes, drew his swords, and took up his stance, just as the bandits opened fire. His swords moving in a blur, the red-clad samurai deflected shot after shot, his entire being focused on each blast. The two katanas never stopped moving, nor did Kyuzo's body as he twisted and turned every which way, catching blasts over and over again on the blades and sending them back at the Nobuseri in a deadly onslaught. When the occasional stray shot made it past him, Kikuchiyo and Kambei were there to block them, sending volley after volley back at the approaching bandits and obliterating them with their own attacks. In the cockpit, Shichiroji growled at the controls, doing everything he could to coax the last ounce of speed and maneuverability from the Zankanto, dodging as much of the incoming fire as he could while driving straight at the Capital.
On the ground in Kanna, Katsushiro was watching the approach of the Zankanto with the mixed feelings of excitement, resentment, disbelief, and hope. But his momentary introspection was cut off when he became aware of an approaching Yakan combat shell, and he whirled around, sword drawn and ready to strike.
"I was worried I wouldn't find you in time," he heard, and Katsushiro lowered his katana in confusion as he recognized the voice.
The Yakan's lid popped open, revealing the red-headed mechanic's cheerful face. "You know, Kambei-dono's been worried about you too!" He lowered the Yakan to the ground so Katsushiro could climb on. "Come on!"
"Sensei? Really?" For a moment, the young samurai's heart lifted at the idea that he hadn't completely wrecked his relationship with the other samurai after their fight at the Firefly House a few days past. But then Katsushiro's expression hardened, and he looked away from Heihachi before he said something he might regret. "Well, you can tell him I'm doing just fine on my own. I don't need his help - Nasami-dono and I-"
"Nasami?" Heihachi blurted out in surprise, nearly falling out of the Yakan shell. "She's alive?"
"Yes, and she's here," Katsushiro said tersely. Just then another explosion rang out, and dimly heard beneath it was the samuraiko's laughter. "As you can tell."
"Thank the heavens for that," was Heihachi's heartfelt reply. "My God, we all thought she was dead."
"Well, she's not. And if all you came here to do was tell me that sensei was worried about me, you needn't bother."
With that, he moved away and began issuing orders to the villagers. "Those who can move, help carry the wounded back to the village!"
"HEY!" Heihachi called after him in frustration, but Katsushiro didn't look back. "One of these days, that guy's gotta learn how to relax!"
A sudden shout drew his attention, and Heihachi turned, then immediately ducked as a Raiden came sweeping past him, but just as the bandit raised his sword, Nasami was there, disarming him and then killing him in two rapid strokes. As she landed on the ground, she turned and saw the mechanic watching her, his mouth open.
"Heihachi-san!" she shouted in greeting. "So, come to join the fun?"
"This is your idea of fun?" he asked her with a grin.
"Of course!" she laughed aloud, whirling and taking out yet another bandit before landing easily on her feet once more.
"We all thought you were dead!" Heihachi told her, and her face became somber.
"For a while, so did I," she admitted.
"What happened? All Kambei would say that was Kirara had seen something while dowsing with that crystal thing of hers..."
Quickly the samuraiko filled Heihachi in on what had happened from the time of her departure from Kanna Village up through her escape from the Capital, and the woodcutter's mouth fell open.
"You must lead a charmed life," he told her enviously, and she smiled slightly.
"I am a Crane," she reminded him, and he chuckled.
"At any rate, keep an eye on Katsushiro, would you?" Heihachi asked her.
"He hardly needs me to do that." Nasami gestured behind her at Kanna Village. "He's been doing a remarkable job in getting the farmers organized - all I've been doing since I got here is buying the villagers the breathing room they need to stay organized." She smiled, but it was not her usual wry smile; it was more gentle, but with pride. "He really does have potential, Heihachi... I tried to make Kambei understand that, but..."
"I know," the mechanic said with a faint sigh. "But I should take a quick look around, see if any of the villagers need my help while I'm down here." He reached up to pull down the lid of the shell, but Nasami stopped him.
"Be careful, all right?"
He popped his head back out long enough to smile at her. "I always am!"
As Nasami's eyes met his, she suddenly felt a chill down her back as though a ghostly hand had been laid on her shoulder, and as she watched him fly off, she wrapped her arms around herself.
As the Nobuseri forces came closer to the ship, Kyuzo leapt off the deck, springing lightly from one bandit to the next, leaving a string of explosions and death in his wake as he cleared a path for Shichiroji to fly through. Although he would never admit it, a part of him was glorying in the feeling of flight as he leapt from one Nobuseri to another, his arms spread wide, his trench coat flattened against him as he moved. It had been so long, so very long since he had felt this... free.
"Nice move, Kyuzo my man!" Kikuchiyo bellowed as he bounced back yet another salvo from the bandits, and Kyuzo landed gracefully on the hull once more and began deflecting shots again without missing a beat.
Ukyo, however, was in no mood to appreciate Kyuzo's skills as he glared at the display screens in frustration, growling to himself.
"I don't understand that samurai!" he hissed, referring to Kambei as he leaned forward on his throne. "He escaped death with a hairpin! Where are his clever tricks? What can he hope to accomplish by attacking us head-on? Where's the strategy there - any idiot with an airship could do that!"
Just then another deflected blast slammed into the Capital's hull, and Ukyo switched off all of the display screens with a muttered curse.
"Sensei!" Shino called, sprinting over to the ballista where Nasami was helping Gozaku do sums on his abacus to calculate the bolt's trajectory. "Sensei, the other samurai..."
Nasami turned to look at the girl. "What is it?"
Gasping, Shino pointed toward the Capital, and Nasami pulled out a set of binoculars and lifted them to her eyes. Through the smoke and the firefight, she could see the Zankanto rapidly closing the distance between itself and the Capital, saw the faint flashes of light where the blasts were being deflected back by the samurai on the hull.
"They're taking on a Citadel with a Zankanto?" With a sigh, Nasami lowered the binoculars and shook her head. "Kambei's either brilliant, or an absolute idiot." She tilted her head to the side and considered that for a moment. "I take it back. Kambei is both."
"Great samurai?" Gozaku asked, looking up at her in confusion.
Abruptly the samuraiko started to laugh.
"'The art of war is turning obstacle to advantage,'" she quoted, and she waved toward the ship-to-ship battle that raged on in the distance.
"Consider the situation."
She pointed the binoculars toward the Capital. "The Capital is a Citadel-class airship - stronger armor, greater size, greater firepower. However, it's hardly maneuverable, and the samurai have already shown that using the main cannon is an almost unacceptable risk. Sure, the Nobuseri are attacking in force, but they can't help but have to stagger their fire and their forces or risk blowing up their own allies."
Then she pointed toward the Zankanto. "The samurai, on the other hand, are outgunned and outnumbered, and yet those two factors are proving to be a help, not a hindrance. And Kambei knows it. It's why he's driving the swordship toward the Capital at maximum speed. It's a harder target to hit, and the samurai are using the bandits' own attacks against them. It doesn't matter what kind of firepower the Zankanto has - all the bandits are doing is getting themselves killed by attacking the samurai head-on."
She glanced over and saw Katsushiro take out another three Nobuseri that had gotten inside the perimeter of Kanna's defenses. "Ukyo is also making a mistake in splitting his forces. The wisest course of action would be to focus his efforts on either completely destroying the samurai, leaving Kanna relatively undefended, or obliterating Kanna itself and then turning his attention to the samurai. If he were to devote all of his attention to one or the other, he would be far more successful in his efforts. But now, no matter what he might believe, Ukyo is not the one in charge of this battle... Kambei is. And Ukyo is doing exactly what Kambei wants him to do."
"And that is?" Shino asked, fascinated despite herself and the situation.
"Instead of acting, he is reacting." The samuraiko's eyes were gleaming with an almost feral light that sent shivers down Shino's spine. "And it will cost him."
As Kyuzo, Kikuchiyo and Kambei continued wiping out bandits, it suddenly dawned on the samurai what was wrong with their opponents. They had come into this fight expecting a much more difficult battle, but they were winning far more easily than they had figured. All of them had fought bandits before, but this time, there was a distinct lack of strategy, of variation...
"They're not fighting like Nobuseri," Kyuzo realized aloud when he was able to successfully feint and send a volley of shots that should have been anticipated back at a group of bandits.
Kambei agreed as he blocked another shot. "They're fighting without intuition... without souls!"
"As poor as their aim is, you won't hear me complaining!" Shichiroji remarked from the cockpit as he dodged another blast.
"That's why this is so easy?" Kikuchiyo asked, catching a particularly concentrated blast on his enormous katana and reflecting it back.
"Yes," Kambei replied. "They're all being controlled, and I think we can all guess by whom. Ukyo hasn't the same sense of strategy as a samurai; he's acting with brute force, rather than carefully applied tactics."
"So what's your next brilliant idea?" Shichiroji called out.
"Shichiroji, keep this heading!" Kambei ordered, and the blond samurai nodded.
"You're the boss!"
Ukyo was pacing back and forth in the audience chamber, trying to figure out what the problem was.
"If it takes a samurai to kill a samurai, what's the deal? These machines are useless!"
Tessai stepped forward. "As you said, lord. These bandits are still just machines."
Ukyo frowned, but then he smiled brightly. "Oh, well. Guess we'll have to use the cannon!"
"That's a risk we cannot take!" Tessai reminded him urgently. "What if one of the samurai deflects the beam back at us again?" The young samurai in Kanna Village had reacted more by instinct than by planning; if one of the more experienced samurai were to aim the deflected blast back at the Capital, he could do far greater damage.
Ukyo, however, was in no mood to be argued with. "Then pray you're lucky," he said coldly.
"Your Excellency, our own allies would be killed as well!" the Imperial Minister protested, and the Emperor turned to him, eyes wide with surprise.
"Allies? Whoever do you mean?"
The Imperial Minister faltered. "Why, the bandits, my lord."
"Oh, them." Ukyo shrugged dismissively. "These empty shells are hardly the bandits I know. They'll make excellent shields. Forget them." He turned away, and his voice became hard and commanding. "Fire the main cannon."
A stray shot got past Kyuzo while Kikuchiyo was finishing off another bandit, and it sent him sprawling off the deck. Only by quickly shoving his katana through the side of the hull was Kikuchiyo able to keep from tumbling to the ground far below.
"Hey, Kambei!" he bellowed up at the other samurai. "Got a minute? I could use a hand!"
Kambei grinned, looking over the side at Kikuchiyo. "I thought you were a samurai! You should be able to handle it on your own!" he called back as he skewered another Nobuseri.
"I can't help it, I've got bad wind resistance!" Kikuchiyo shouted at him in frustration, trying without success to clamber back onto the deck.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a brilliant blue beam shot from the Capital's main cannon, blasting aside hundreds of the Nobuseri as it travelled toward the Zankanto.
"It's the main cannon!" Kyuzo called, straightening up and turning toward the Capital.
"They're taking out half the Nobuseri, too!" Shichiroji announced as he swerved around another explosion.
"Take us to full speed!" Kambei ordered, his mind doing some lightning-fast calculations about how long it would take the beam to reach them and the damage it could do if it struck them head-on.
"Come on, it's me!" Shichiroji said mockingly, increasing the speed even further.
"What are you doing?" Kikuchiyo hollered. "Get us out of the way!"
With the lightning-fast reflexes he'd honed during the war, Shichiroji swung the Zankanto just past the edge of the cannon's blast.
"Shichiroji, get us on that beam!" Kambei shouted, and the blond samurai yanked hard on the control stick, sending the swordship veering skyward until it was riding the blast from the cannon while hundreds of Nobuseri were blown to pieces beneath them. Then Shichiroji set the controls on automatic, shoved open the cockpit and hatch, and clambered out just as the Zankanto was blown out from underneath the samurai.
"YES! Direct hit!" Ukyo crowed, clapping his hands and laughing aloud as he saw the Zankanto explode in a ball of fire. But as Tessai peered closer at the screen, he frowned.
"Sorry, my lord, but it's not over just yet," he warned, and Ukyo stopped laughing, looking at him in confusion.
Out of the billowing smoke leapt Kambei, Shichiroji, and Kyuzo, all of whom landed easily on the main deck of the Capital airship with weapons drawn. Kikuchiyo, however, was plummeting toward the ground, thrashing his arms and yelling until Shichiroji nonchalantly snagged him with his grappling hand, lassoing him around the neck. Turning around casually, he hauled the big machine samurai up onto the deck to drop him in an undignified heap.
"Thank you... Momotaro," Kikuchiyo said weakly, and the blond samurai smirked and flashed him a thumbs-up.
Abruptly several guards and Nobuseri drones came rushing out onto the deck to surround the samurai, all of whom blatantly ignored the weapons being brandished at them while they took stock of their surroundings and their opponents.
Ukyo simply could not believe what he was seeing.
"You machines just don't get it!" he shouted in absolute frustration, stomping his foot and bellowing at the guards and bandits. "You weren't supposed to let them on board!"
The Imperial Minister turned to Ukyo in dismay. "What should we do, Emperor?"
Ukyo stood still for a moment, his mind racing.
"What do studies matter, after all, when you are faced with an immediate decision and must rely on instinct?"
His own words to the previous Amanushi at the end of his Test as heir came back to him, and he focused his attention on the four samurai standing on the hull of the Capital. Shichiroji and Kikuchiyo were unknown elements, Kyuzo had no loyalties or motivations with which he could be swayed, but Kambei...
Ukyo turned to the Minister, his voice raised in command.
"Everyone, listen closely! I want you to go into Kanna and take the farmers hostage! Then Kambei will do whatever we want!"
"As you wish," the Nobuseri drones rumbled in unison, turning to head toward the farming village.
"No farmers are to be killed until I give the word!" Ukyo ordered them, and they nodded.
"Understood." With that, they made an about-face and began swarming toward Kanna Village.
To be continued...