Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Kanna's Last Defender ( Chapter 48 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: The tide of battle shifts once again as the samurai take the fight to the Emperor and the Nobuseri. But while all hell breaks loose in the Capital, and Katsushiro and Heihachi leave to join the other four samurai, I wanted to focus once again on the battle for Kanna itself. And who better to take up the role as "Kanna's Last Defender" than Nasami and Mamorimasu?
I couldn't find exactly what I wanted for this chapter, so I fell back on a favored tactic of mine - CREATE it. With the help of my favorite music editing software, and the inimitable score for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by Patrick Doyle, I created a unique remix just for "Kanna's Last Defender." Enjoy...
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Eight: Kanna's Last Defender
Katsushiro was the first one to notice the approaching horde of Nobuseri drones, and his face went ashen. Leaping onto the back of his battle turtle, he spurred the turtle toward the center of the village, shouting for Nasami.
A few moments later, Nasami came striding out of the forest where she had been helping Shino and some of the other villagers move some of the wounded away from the worst of the fighting. "What is it?" she called to him, and he pointed toward the distance. She pulled the binoculars from where they hung at her side to study the approaching swarm of bandits. At first she seemed almost puzzled, but then her eyes widened with dismay as she studied their approach, how they were deployed, and where they seemed to be focusing their attacks.
"Damn him... he's learning," she whispered.
"What do you mean?" Katsushiro asked her, turning to look back at the bandits.
"That's not an attack formation, that's an entrapment formation," she spat, pointing her katana at the Nobuseri as they started fanning out. "Ukyo's realized that a head-on assault against Kanna isn't going to do him any good, so he's planning to encircle the village. My guess is that he's either going to use Kanna as a shield, so that the samurai can't attack without doing collateral damage to the village, or else he's planning on taking hostages. The cowardly bastard."
The samuraiko whirled around and lifted her voice in a commanding shout.
"Anyone not tending the wounded, take up your weapons and get into defensive positions! NOW!"
The farmers leapt to obey.
Both Nasami and Katsushiro turned as one of the younger farmers came running up and bowed hurriedly. "Gozaku and Yohei asked me to tell you that the ballista is aimed and ready to fire! What are your orders?"
Without hesitation, Katsushiro turned to Nasami, deferring to the samuraiko's judgment now that she was here to help with Kanna's defenses. "What do you recommend?"
Nasami considered for a moment, thinking fast about how to deploy what resources they still had, then she glanced at the young samurai. "Katsushiro, go with him and handle the ballista. Once it's fired, don't bother wasting time reloading the thing, there's no time for that. I want the ballista crew divided into three groups - one team to protect the wounded, one team to serve as runners, the third team to return with you to join the others defending the village. I'm going to stay here and keep the rest of the peasants organized. Understood?"
"Yes, Nasami-dono," Katsushiro replied, nodding and turning away.
"I'm counting on you, Katsushiro!" she called after him, and he stopped and looked back at her.
"I know," he said quietly, then he swung himself onto the back of his battle turtle and dashed off into the trees toward the ridge where the ballista was positioned.
Nasami turned to the villagers surrounding her, waiting for orders. Her mouth set into a grim line, she met their gazes one by one, then raised her voice. "Shino, take eleven women armed with bows and position yourselves atop the sentry towers, three in each." Her eyes met that of her student. "Your team will take the western sentry tower, facing the Capital."
She looked at the other farmers as Shino bowed, selected eleven other women, and headed off toward the towers. "All other women to take up their bows and form ranks at the palisades, staggered formation, arrows at the ready. I want the men to take up the firearms and position yourselves at the edge of the canyon. Women, aim your fire at the approaching Nobuseri; men, aim your attacks at the Capital itself. If you find yourself under fire, abandon the post and take all the wounded to the nearest sentry tower."
The farmers bowed as one, but then one of the younger boys approached. "What about us, great samurai? We want to fight, too!"
The samuraiko shook her head. "No... war is ugly enough without the involvement of children, too."
"Please?" one of the other boys wheedled. "We're strong, we can do it!"
"This has nothing to do with strength," Nasami said, her voice low. "The only purpose you could possibly serve would be to get yourselves killed, and that I will not allow." She strode forward, her sword drawn, and she levelled it at them. "I order you, and all other children under the age of fifteen, to go to the camp where the wounded are being tended. You will assist the farmers who are in charge of matters there. You will find every child in this village and make certain they go with you."
Her mouth hardened as she saw them open their mouths in protest, and her voice became icy cold. "You know the penalty for disobeying the command of a samurai."
The children's faces went white, as did many of the farmers. They knew exactly what she meant - by the ancient tradition of kirisutegomen, a samurai could kill a member of any lower caste with impunity. And judging by the look in her eyes, not a single villager doubted that the samuraiko would invoke that right and kill them where they stood if they disobeyed. Without another word of protest, the children bowed and sprinted off toward the woods, dragging their smaller siblings behind them.
The samuraiko turned to face the villagers, several of whom were staring at her with something approaching disbelief in their eyes. But as her eyes met theirs once again, they lowered their gaze.
"I know that my words sound harsh," Nasami said softly, "but I will not let your children come to harm. And neither will you."
At that, the farmers' heads came up, their eyes shining with pride, and the samuraiko nodded in satisfaction.
"Man your stations."
A few minutes later, up by the ballista where Yohei and Gozaku were making last-minute adjustments, Okara turned at the sound of approaching turtle footsteps and announced slyly, "Katsu's here!"
"Great samurai!" Yohei called out, waving the younger man over as he leapt from the back of the turtle and strode over to them. Katsushiro looked up at the ballista and saw that the cord had been pulled taut, the winch was ready and locked into position, and the engineering team once again stood ready with sledgehammers to help drive the bolt with falling boulders.
"Are we ready to launch?" he asked, and Gozaku nodded.
"The ballista is loaded, great samurai, and I've aimed it like you asked. According to my abacus and the formula Heihachi gave us, it should hit somewhere along the front deck."
"Excellent." Katsushiro raised his voice so that the entire ballista crew could hear him. "Everyone, listen up! Once the ballista has been launched, I want the engineering team to head back into the village to protect the wounded, and the loading team to head to the checkpoints around the village, then bring status updates to Nasami-dono! Everyone else, join Nasami-dono down in the village to reinforce the defenders down there! Are we clear on that?"
"Yes, great samurai," came a chorus of responses, and he nodded in approval.
Just then, Mosuke came up, holding a barrel to his chest.
"I thought we'd set the front on fire, like the arrows!" he announced, and Katsushiro saw that the barrel contained some of the flammable material that Nasami and Shichiroji had created during the last battle with the bandits.
"Good idea. But I've got one minor change."
And he grinned.
As two of the other farmers quickly coated the point of the ballista bolt with the oily powder, then lit it with torches, Katsushiro clambered up along the support beams, and climbed onto the bolt, driving his katana into the wood to brace himself.
"Just like we planned! Straight at the capital!" he shouted down to the farmers.
"But what about you?" Gozaku yelped, staring at the young samurai with wide eyes.
"I'm a samurai," Katsushiro replied quietly. "I'll be fine."
"But if you go to the Capital, who will defend us?" Yohei called up to him, his voice quavering, and Katsushiro looked down at him.
"Nasami-dono will not let any of you come to harm. She can help you far better than I could ever hope to."
"Great samurai, are you certain about this?" Manzo asked, and Katsushiro nodded. Then he glanced back at the farmer standing beside the winch. "FIRE!" he bellowed.
With that, the peasant nodded and brought the sledgehammer down with all of his strength, knocking the clasp free and setting the enormous bolt in motion.
As the bolt soared into the sky, Nasami glanced up and saw what Katsushiro was doing. Her eyes went wide in absolute disbelief, and she shouted up at the sky as the bolt swept overhead.
"KATSUSHIRO, IF YOU SURVIVE THIS ONE, I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU MYSELF!"
Nasami was not the only one watching Katsushiro's flight on the back of the bolt. At the edge of the forest, Heihachi also saw Katsushiro's reckless act and shook his head. "Unbelievable... that's as sloppy as it gets." But it only took the engineer a matter of seconds to realize the implications of what Katsushiro was doing, and he pulled down the lid of the Yakan and accelerated after the young samurai.
"He's not going to make it!" Gozaku cried anxiously as he and the other villagers watched the bolt's flight across the canyon, and Okara looked at them all as if they were all complete idiots for missing the obvious.
"That's what sets him apart from the rest," she said cheerfully. "He has no idea what he's doing."
On the bolt, the same thought had suddenly occurred to Katsushiro. With his weight on the wood, the bolt would not be able to rotate fast enough to maintain the speed necessary for its flight, and would end up falling short of the Capital's deck. While he might take out a few of the bandits when the bolt came down, its momentum would not be sufficient to reach the Capital itself.
"Can't give up," he whispered. "But I've got to jump!" All he could do now was pray that he'd be able to reach the deck of the airship on his own. With that, he wrenched his katana free, but just as he sprang from the bolt, several bandits opened fire on him, blowing the beam out from underneath him and sending him careening toward the ground in an uncontrolled freefall...
... only to be snatched up by Heihachi in the Yakan combat shell.
"This is why I wanted you to come with me," he chided, and once Katsushiro got his breath back, he realized who it was.
"You do realize that Nasami-dono is going to kill you for pulling a stunt like that," the mechanic said cheerfully, and Katsushiro turned away in a huff until he heard Heihachi continue, "Of course, knowing Nasami, she would probably have done something similar. Just better planned."
"Yeah, yeah, rub it in," Katsushiro grumbled, and Heihachi laughed at him.
On the deck of the Capital, Kyuzo saw the approach of Heihachi and Katsushiro at the same time that he noticed several bandits break off from the main force to block their approach. Leaping from the deck in a single fluid motion, he moved from Nobuseri to Nobuseri, scything through them in a trail of death. With each kill, he moved closer and closer to the two other samurai, clearing a path for them through the bandits that remained between them and the Capital while splitting the bandits' forces in two and throwing them into chaos. On the one hand, they had been ordered to take the villagers of Kanna prisoner, but on the other hand, they could not ignore the samurai in their midst who was decimating their ranks from the inside out.
Several of the villagers were watching the battle surrounding the Capital, but with trepidation and anxiety.
"They're getting closer!" Gozaku said, his voice trembling as he watched through the binoculars Nasami had lent him, but the Elder's firm voice cut him off.
"Stand your ground, men."
Gozaku and several of the others turned toward the Elder, but the old man never once took his eyes off Nasami where she was constantly moving back and forth at the front lines of the fighting, shouting at the peasants to continue firing, bolstering their flagging morale even while taking out one Nobuseri after another.
"I assure you the bandits will not reach the village. They will be stopped by the samurai."
On the ground, Nasami was watching Kyuzo's attacks with mingled admiration and envy. And although she would never admit it to anyone, including herself, mixed in with those feelings was a painful rush of memory when she herself had been able to perform such feats of skill... and when she had fought at the side of another who was even better than she. But as she watched several of the bandits break ranks and start converging on the samurai, she realized in horror that they were planning to ambush him.
"No!" she gasped, and with a last flurry of orders to the peasants to keep firing at the bandits, the samuraiko began to run.
Racing toward the Capital, Heihachi and Katsushiro were watching Kyuzo's heroics with amazement, and Heihachi increased his speed to send them zooming up toward the underside of the Capital where the engine room lay.
"All right, Katsushiro, hang on tight!" he shouted, and with a few quick evasions around the last of the bandits, they came to a skidding halt in the lower observation gallery, just above the engines.
But as Katsushiro turned around to get his bearings, he saw several of the bandits move away from the Capital to bring their weapons around on Kyuzo, who was now making his way back up toward the main deck. As they opened fire, the red-clad assassin landed on the ground to escape their blasts, but one of the other bandits anticipated his response and fired directly at him.
And Kyuzo had barely enough time to register the attack before he disappeared in an explosion of smoke and fire.
Katsushiro watched in horrified disbelief, his heart stopping his chest, then he threw his head back and screamed in rage.
Heihachi was in the middle of clambering out of the Yakan when he heard the younger samurai's cry of grief and fury, but he paused for only a moment before collecting the materials needed to fulfill his mission.
"My God..." Katsushiro whispered, eyes closed to shut out the sight of the crater in the ground where the assassin had been standing. "They got Kyuzo..."
"This is war, get used to it," Heihachi snapped, and Katsushiro's eyes opened in shock. "We don't have time to mourn him. My job is to separate the main engines from the rest of the hull, and I need your help to do it." Then his tone brightened, and he held up several explosive cartridges. "But check out what the Guardians gave me! This should be fun!" With his other hand, he hefted the crossbow that Masamune had forged him. "And from Masamune, fires any-"
His cheerful words were cut off by gunfire as several of the mechanical guards arrived, having witnessed the Yakan's approach from the main deck. Immediately, Heihachi and Katsushiro ducked behind the Yakan to escape the shots being fired at them, but when a couple of the guards got too close, Katsushiro cut them down.
"You stay focused on your mission," he said resolutely, lifting the katana to a defensive stance. "I'll take care of the guards."
Kyuzo opened his eyes and quickly glanced around him, his mind taking stock of his surroundings. He was lying in a trench, covered in blood, his right arm feeling numb, countless cuts and abrasions covering his body.
But he was alive.
Then he became aware of a weight pressing him down into the earth, and ignoring the painful protests of his body, he lifted his head and saw Nasami lying on top of him, breathing hard as though she had run miles. And as foolish as the idea was, he was oddly gratified to know that he had been right, and Kambei wrong, about the samuraiko having survived being captured.
As though aware of his gaze, she raised her head and shook it to clear her vision, and then she looked at him, a crooked grin lighting up her face. "I'm thinking we're even now, wouldn't you say?"
"So you're still alive," he said as she rolled off of him to lie on her back, pulling air into her lungs with a relieved sigh.
"Yeah, for now. Although truth be told, I've been better." She ran her hands over her face, leaving it even dirtier than before, then she got weakly to her feet. But as she turned to help him up, her eyes went to his right arm, and her breath hissed through her teeth in horror. "Kyuzo-sama... your arm..."
He shrugged, but then immediately regretted it as it sent a wave of fire down his arm and he bit back a cry of pain. Nasami crouched down behind him, bracing her arm across his shoulders to help him sit up. For once, he didn't pull away from her, but welcomed the help.
"Don't mention it," she said quietly, not looking at him, her eyes instead on his injuries. "Like I said, we're even now." Her face grim, the samuraiko began tearing strips of cloth from her own leggings and started binding the wounds on his arm. But Kyuzo stopped her by putting his left hand over the injury on his right arm, and she looked up at him in confusion.
"What's wrong?" she asked, and he shook his head.
"Don't be an idiot, Kyuzo-sama," she snapped at him. "Stop being stubborn and just let me-"
"I can't feel my hand." Her voice died in mid-protest as her dark blue eyes went wide and dropped to his right hand, covered in blood where it had trickled down his arm. She let the bandages fall into her lap and began pulling away the remnants of his sleeve, but one glance told her that the other samurai was right - the damage to his right arm was irreparable. Not even surgery would be able to save the limb, and her eyes filled with tears.
"No..." she whispered, gently laying her small hands on his arm, but then she felt Kyuzo's left hand resting on her own, and her eyes flashed up to meet his.
"Save your strength, you'll need it yourself." At the startled expression on her face, Kyuzo knew he'd been right in suspecting that she would have once again requested the blessing of Amaterasu and surrendered her strength to him so that he could continue fighting.
"But you're injured, and I'm in better shape than you are right now," she argued. "They need you up there, Kyuzo."
"And they need you down here," he replied quietly, not moving his hand away. "You're the only one left to defend Kanna." Moving slowly, he got to his feet with Nasami's help, ignoring the twinges of pain that shot through him. His eyes were on the crater a few feet away where the shot had blown a hole in the ground. Nasami had dived directly at him just before the explosion and together they had rolled into one of the trenches left behind by an earlier stray blast. Then he turned to face her, his eyes taking in the blood and dirt on her face, the exhaustion and pain in her eyes.
Since the first time they had met, outside the Village of Respite, he had wondered at the strength of this woman, wondered how far she would go before giving in, if ever.
Wondered why Kambei had ever believed that Nasami was dead.
Wondered at what might have been, had things been different.
Self-conscious beneath his stare, she lowered her eyes to the ground, and Kyuzo abruptly realized that there was no more time for wondering.
"I need your help," he said at last, looking away and searching the battlefield. "I must return to the Capital."
Knowing better than to argue with him, although very much curious at to what he had been thinking just now, Nasami nodded, her eyes sweeping across the battlefield as well. "Unfortunately, Heihachi's already gone with that Yakan shell of his. Unless..." Her gaze rested on another Zankanto that one of the bandits had dropped earlier. She turned to face him, and saw that he was thinking the same thing. "Can you fly one of these things?"
"Good, let's go." She strode over to the swordship and clambered up toward the cockpit. "You stay down there for a few minutes, get your breath back while I check her out. I'm hardly the mechanic that Heihachi is, so I can't make any promises on how well she'll fly, but hell, you could always just slam this thing into the underside of the Capital."
Wearily, he leaned against the hull of the ship, watching the Capital as it continued its approach toward Kanna. Then he looked up at the samuraiko.
"Why what?" she called back as she tested the controls.
"Why did you leave Kanna to help me?"
Her hands went still, and for a long moment, she didn't answer him. Then a shadow fell across her, and she realized that Kyuzo had climbed up onto the Zankanto and was sitting beside the cockpit, looking in at her.
"I..." She sighed. "I couldn't just stand aside and do nothing and watch someone else die... not when I had a chance to save him. Not again."
"Because you couldn't save Kuroshin?" he asked her quietly, and Nasami's face went pale, but she nodded, and went back to her work.
"I wasn't aware that you knew," she said, her voice low.
"I knew," was all he said.
"Back in Kanna..." she said at last. "The night before the bandits attacked, you said... do you really think that Kuroshin would be proud of me?" Her eyes met his, and the fair-haired samurai could see how much his answer meant to her.
"Yes," he said simply and without hesitation, and she nodded to herself and went back to her work. She made a few quick adjustments, and the engines began to hum.
"There," she said in satisfaction, pulling herself out of the cockpit to stand beside Kyuzo on the hull. "Unfortunately, the maneuverability is shot to hell, and with only one hand, you won't really be able to steer worth a damn anyway. But she'll fly."
"Thank you," he said quietly, but he didn't move from where he stood. Instead, he stood beside the samuraiko and just stared down at her. But then he gave her the shock of her life by lifting his left hand and gently touching her cheek, then he moved his hand to let the strands of her hair slide through his fingers. In astonishment, she turned to him, but before she could speak, he placed his fingers over her lips.
"Kambei thinks you're dead," he murmured. "When I see him again, I will let him know that you still live."
With that, he swung himself into the cockpit and fully started up the engines.
"Kyuzo!" she shouted over the sudden roar, and he looked up at her. She started to speak, but then closed her mouth again and settled for kneeling beside the cockpit, holding out one hand to him. He lifted his left hand and clasped her hand in his. Neither spoke, but a world of understanding seemed to pass between the two of them. Then Nasami leapt down from the hull and watched as the Zankanto lifted from the ground and raced toward the Capital.
"Good luck, my friend," she whispered.
To be continued...