Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Do Not Go Gently ( Chapter 49 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: This was by far the hardest chapter of them all to write. I had to keep getting up from the computer and walking away to clear my mind, then come back and keep writing. I was shaking, sweating, my hands hurt, my heart was pounding, but I wrote it. And when I was done, I went back and re-read it... and freaked out all over again. Then I went into my bedroom, curled up on my bed, and just lay there, staring into the dark.
It's only fitting the longest chapter has the longest track of music. I owe the music for "Do Not Go Gently" to John. After all, he was the one who introduced me to the inspiration for this chapter... For anyone who has ever watched BABYLON 5, the piece "Z'ha'dum" was everything I could have hoped for while writing this chapter, and more. Christopher Franke's superlative scoring just grabs you by the throat and does not let go. I can only hope that I conveyed some of that quality in this chapter...
(For maximum impact, try to start the third section - "The guards immediately began firing" - just as the music hits 5:13, and the last section of the chapter - "Nasami stared at the Capital" - just as the music hits 10:25.)
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Nine: Do Not Go Gently
Up in the gallery above the main engine room, Katsushiro was fighting a wearying battle against a seemingly endless stream of guards while Heihachi made his way back and forth across the gallery, mining the floor with explosives. The young samurai turned to look over his shoulder after cutting down yet another guard. "Heihachi-dono, are you ready?"
"Just hold them off a little bit longer..." the mechanic shouted back as he looped another strand of the explosives around a support pillar, but while Katsushiro's back was turned, one of the guards opened fire with a machine gun straight at Heihachi's back. In a flash, Katsushiro whirled around and decapitated the guard, but as he looked over at Heihachi, he could see that the woodcutter was moving with ominous slowness.
And leaving a trail of blood along the floor.
Heihachi, however, refused to give in to the pain and the fogginess that was clouding his vision. Forcing his body one step at a time, he continued to lay the explosives out in a spread that would maximize the blast, ensuring that the entire engine subsection would be blasted clear of the main airship. "If I get out of here alive, I'm gonna eat so much rice..." he whispered, already imagining the taste of an entire bushel of Kanna rice all for himself. Prepared just so, left to simmer, the perfect sweet aftertaste...
"Heihachi-dono!" Katsushiro's yell of concern was abruptly drowned out by the unexpected arrival of a Nobuseri drone, who came sweeping into the gallery between Heihachi and Katsushiro.
"Trespassers!" he bellowed, drawing back his sword to attack the seemingly-defenseless samurai making his way across the gallery, but the bandit got a rude surprise when Heihachi pulled out the crossbow and blasted his arm off with a series of well-aimed explosive charges fired straight into the joint of his shoulder.
The force of the explosion, however, was enough to make him release his sword, the momentum sending the weapon sliding across the gallery floor straight into Heihachi and slamming him against one of the support pillars with such force that the pillar cracked.
"I'll get you out!" Katsushiro shouted, but another guard slashed at his back, and he was forced to turn and keep fighting. "Just hold on!"
"There's no time!" Heihachi called weakly, trying in vain to pull himself out from where he was trapped between the pillar and the sword. No matter how he struggled, he could not get free, so he finally managed to slide his arm down into his pocket and pull forth the trigger that would remotely detonate all the explosives he had laid out along the gallery. "GO!"
Katsushiro stared down at him in horror, unwilling to leave the mechanic behind to die, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that there was no way that even the two of them could shift the huge Zankanto so Heihachi could get free. "There has to be some other way!" he cried, taking an unconscious step down the stairs into the gallery.
"I knew what I was getting into here..." Heihachi said, a faint smile coming to his face.
"Hey, we are the rice kami! Gotta protect it, too!"
He'd lived for rice, fought for rice, bled for rice, even killed for rice. Dying for it wasn't really such a bad thing, now that he thought about it, and with that, he pressed the trigger.
The entire gallery exploded, and the shockwave lifted Katsushiro and flung him back up the stairs and into the railing, which he only barely managed to grab before plummeting toward the floor. The detonation caused the ceiling and pillars to give way, collapsing most of the gallery down into the engine room, burying the engines in tons of debris, and eventually the weight forced the whole engine room subsection to fall free of the main ship.
"Heihachi-dono..." Katsushiro groaned, watching the floor of the airship fall away, Heihachi's body trapped beneath the Zankanto, but amazingly, the woodcutter smiled and pulled his cap from his head, tossing it defiantly to the winds as his hair blew around his face.
"I'LL BE IN THE RICE!" Heihachi cried out as the engine room, the gallery, and all of the wreckage crashed down into the fields, sending up wave after wave of dust and smoke, but the explosion was still not loud enough to drown out Katsushiro's scream of horror and grief.
While all of this had been going on, Kambei, Shichiroji, and Kikuchiyo had split up to search the Capital for Ukyo. Kambei had not been surprised in the least when he'd infiltrated the inner chambers and found the Emperor cowering behind his courtesans, shaking and quivering in a state of near-panic. Grimly he marched the trembling young man to the main audience chamber, where he had agreed to meet the other two, then settled in to wait.
"Hey, Kambei... I think we have a problem," came Shichiroji's voice, and Kambei turned around to see Shichiroji emerge from behind the throne... dragging the Emperor with him.
"Hey, look what I found!" Kikuchiyo announced a moment later, striding into the audience chamber, and the two other samurai saw that Kikuchiyo was carrying the Emperor trussed up and hanging from his katana like a sack.
"Wha...?" Kikuchiyo stared at the other two young men that Shichiroji and Kambei had brought with them in patent disbelief. "What's going on?"
"They're body doubles," Shichiroji said in disgust, herding the three Emperors into a group on the floor.
"Or clones," Kambei murmured, remembering what Mizuki had told him during his period of captivity in the Capital.
"It's certainly possible," Shichiroji admitted, glancing at the other samurai. "I recall Ayamoro saying something about the Emperor sending clones to surrounding villages."
"Well, that's great!" Kikuchiyo shouted in frustration. "I say we just kill them all, that'll solve it!" With that, he levelled his giant katana at the three clones, who panicked and tried to scramble away.
"Kikuchiyo!" Kambei scolded, but Shichiroji just smirked and shot Kambei a sidelong glance.
"He's been hanging around you too long..."
Kambei glared at him, but abruptly Kikuchiyo was kneeling down beside the clones, sniffing at the air around them. Then he grabbed one by the wrist and hauled him up, sniffing at him, then dropping him dismissively. "He's nothing but a common farmer. He was working in the fields no more than three days ago, I can tell by his smell!" He checked the other two and discovered the same thing, and when they realized that the clones couldn't tell them anything useful, Kambei dismissed them.
... only to have them cut down after taking less than a dozen steps, and the three samurai whirled around to see Tessai standing there, sword drawn and the bodies of the clones at his feet.
"Who would have thought their poor bathing habits would expose our little ruse?" he murmured, stepping over the bodies to advance slowly on the samurai.
"Who do you think you are?" Kikuchiyo raged. "They were just farmers! You had no right to do that!"
Shichiroji and Kambei knew better, however, and they knew that Kikuchiyo did as well. There was one group who did have the authority to kill peasants at will.
"Are you... samurai?" Kambei asked quietly, and Tessai shrugged.
"Once, long ago. But now I serve the Amanushi as his guardian and protector."
"He's gonna need a lot more than you to protect him now!" Kikuchiyo bellowed, charging, but faster than any of them would have given him credit for, Tessai swung his sword and sliced Kikuchiyo's arm off at the elbow, sending his forearm and his sword flying.
Kambei and Shichiroji attacked as well, but Tessai dodged Kambei's blade to come up behind Shichiroji while the blond samurai had his naginata in the air, preparing to swing, then shoved his saya up beneath the younger man's chin, poised to smash his throat.
"Move and he's dead," Tessai hissed, and Kambei and Kikuchiyo stopped. "I'd hate to have to scatter the body parts of such skilled warriors."
"You were never a samurai, you couldn't have been!" Kikuchiyo spat in disgust, unknowningly echoing Nasami's own sentiments on Tessai from weeks earlier when she and Gorobei had been spying on Ayamoro. "You're just an overfed lapdog! A samurai would never serve a coward like Ukyo?"
"Why not? A samurai's duty is to serve his master, regardless of the kind of man he is... just like that samuraiko that once travelled with you!"
"What?" Kikuchiyo was startled, staring at Tessai, momentarily distracted.
Tessai's gaze went to Kambei, whose face had gone as white as his robes. The samurai was shaking his head in denial, hardly able to breathe.
"If you're going to condemn a samurai for serving someone like the Emperor, then I suggest you start with her. Like myself, she places her loyalty to the Emperor above all... even when ordered by the Amanushi to bring back your head."
"You're lying," Kambei whispered.
"It appears that you have forgotten that, living as ronin for so long. Samurai exist only to serve, and I serve my master well!"
Shichiroji, however, took advantage of the distraction to slam his head backward, knocking Tessai off balance, then lunging out of the way. But the samurai's advantage was fleeting, for a moment later a dozen guards arrived and opened fire. Kambei tried unsuccessfully to dodge the incoming gunfire, and shouting in fury, Shichiroji lunged forward to defend him, ignoring the shots to sweep his naginata around and haul up some of the deck plating for defense.
Kikuchiyo charged at the guards to try and distract them, but all of them concentrated their fire on him, eventually dropping the machine samurai in his tracks.
"KIKUCHIYO!" Kambei shouted, but that only brought the guards' attention back to him and Shichiroji, and they were forced to duck down once again.
Tessai held up one hand to stop the guards. "Gentlemen, you are all true samurai. You may be the last great men of honor left in this world, and for that, I envy you. Therefore I will allow you one final honor - death at the blade of my sword."
But as he took a single step toward Kambei and Shichiroji, the entire room began to vibrate, and then the floor exploded beneath them. In absolute astonishment, Tessai, Kambei, Shichiroji, Kikuchiyo, and the guards watched as the edge of a Zankanto swordship carved its way through the hull into the main audience chamber, with Kyuzo in the cockpit, his eyes on Tessai.
"Kyuzo-dono!" Kambei said in amazement.
"What's he doing here?" Tessai gasped, staring up at his former subordinate in profound disbelief. The guards opened fire on the cockpit, but Kyuzo was already out of the ship and moving, one sword held in his good left hand, which he promptly buried in Tessai's ribcage as he landed beside him.
"I alone will have the honor of his death," the fair-haired assassin hissed, and Tessai gave one last shudder, dead before he even hit the floor.
The guards immediately began firing again, but the samurai were moving, disarming them or killing them outright as they advanced back across the chamber. A loud war cry made Kambei and the others look up, and they saw Katsushiro charging into the room, yelling in fury as he swept in among the guards.
Kambei glanced back at Kyuzo, abruptly realizing what was wrong. The other samurai was only wielding one sword, while his right arm hung slackly down at his side.
"Kyuzo, your arm! You've been injured!" Kambei said in alarm, but Kyuzo shrugged.
"I still have use of the left." And as though proving that point, he went on the attack once more.
Katsushiro attacked another of the guards, but taking better aim than his companions, the guard aimed his fire not at the young samurai, but at his blade, and the gunfire shattered the sword in two. Then he knocked Katsushiro off his feet and took aim at him before Katsushiro could recover.
"KATSUSHIRO!" Kambei shouted, hurling his own katana and burying it between the guard's shoulderblades, dropping him to the floor. His gun clattered to land beside Katsushiro, but Katsushiro barely noticed it when his attention was caught by another guard lifting his machine pistol to take point-blank aim at Kambei's back. Instinctively Kambei sensed the danger he was in, but now that he was weaponless, all he could do was turn to look behind him in horror as the guard's finger tightened on the trigger.
Katsushiro's hands seemed to move of their own volition, snatching up the machine gun the guard had dropped earlier, swinging it around, and firing wildly, yelling in incoherent rage as he emptied the clip into the guard before he could fire on Kambei. The hail of bullets tore through the mechanical guard's torso with relentless precision...
... and into Kyuzo, who was standing directly behind him.
The guard gave a choked gasp and collapsed to the floor, and Katsushiro nearly vomited at the sight of Kyuzo standing behind where the guard had been, his eyes wide in horror, blood trickling from his mouth even as it streamed from the numerous gunshot wounds on his body.
"Kyuzo-dono!" Katsushiro shrieked.
Kyuzo tried to speak, not even certain what he was going to say. Then his eyes drifted shut and he collapsed to the floor.
Kambei caught him as he fell, his face pale, unable to believe what he was seeing. "Kyuzo-dono!" he called out to him, but as his eyes swept over Kyuzo's body, his heart sank within him. There was no way that the fair-haired samurai had more than a few moments of life left in him, and with each beat of his heart, his life was draining away.
Katsushiro was still kneeling on the floor, his hands trembling so badly that the gun was rattling in his grasp, then he flung it away from him in horror, cowering.
"Come on, stay with me," Kambei urged, even as he felt the blood flowing across his arm where it supported Kyuzo's shoulders.
"Go on... you still have a job to finish," Kyuzo said weakly, opening his eyes and staring up at the other samurai, even as they gathered around him in horror.
Kambei bowed his head, and Kyuzo's eyes narrowed when he saw the weariness and despair on Kambei's face. Although he could feel his life fading, he summoned the strength to speak.
"You cannot... give up now. Nasami is... still alive."
"What? How do you-?" Kikuchiyo asked, moving closer, but Kambei cut him off.
"Where is she?"
"In Kanna... She escaped from the Capital... and was helping him... protect the peasants." His eyes went to Katsushiro, who was still in shock. "Then she saved my life... and helped me return here."
He turned his eyes to Kambei and met the other's gaze directly.
"I know... you love her. She deserves the truth..." Kambei's eyes widened, but Kyuzo did not look away, his eyes intense even as he lay dying in Kambei's arms. "Take care of her..."
Finally, Kambei nodded.
"I will... you have my word."
Kyuzo's mouth quirked into a faint and sardonic smile. "But... do not forget... we still have a... score to settle..."
"I will never forget," Kambei whispered.
"I'll be waiting... in Kanna..."
And with that, the light left Kyuzo's eyes forever.
For a moment, Kambei stared down at the other man, wishing with all of his heart that they could have traded places, but there was no time for regrets. He brought his other hand to his mouth and yanked his glove off with his teeth, then gently closed Kyuzo's eyes and laid him down on the floor.
"Soon, my friend, I will follow the same path."
"What have I done? What have I done?" Katsushiro was shaking so hard that he could hardly speak, tears in his eyes and his hands trembling.
"I'm glad you've come back," Kambei said quietly, his voice sincere.
The younger samurai looked up at him, appalled. "Why? I killed Kyuzo-dono with my own two hands!"
"In order to save me."
"But how am I supposed to live with myself, knowing I've done this?" Katsushiro fell forward onto his hands and knees, his whole body shaking. "I took his life, so I should give mine."
"It's not a matter of who dies..." Kambei reminded him. "... but who dies first." Katsushiro stared up at him in shock, but Kambei went on. "I need you to keep living, Katsushiro, until this job's done."
Shichiroji picked up one of the guards' katanas, then came over to stand beside Katsushiro, who was still staring numbly at Kyuzo. "How did you get here?" he asked, and Katsushiro blinked, then focused his gaze on him.
"Heihachi came and got me."
"And where is Heihachi now?" Shichiroji, like everyone else on board, had felt the rumbling and explosion when the engines had gone, and he prayed that somehow the woodcutter had survived his mission.
But his prayers were not to be answered, for Katsushiro looked away once more, his eyes closed tight against the memory of Heihachi's body, falling away toward the ground. "He... didn't make it. He... went down with the main engines."
"What do you mean, 'he didn't make it?'" Kikuchiyo said in horrified disbelief. "You mean he's dead, too? This can't be happening!" His voice broke and he barely managed to choke back a sob for the young man who had accepted him as a samurai since the beginning.
"This is war," Kambei said with finality. "None of us should expect to live to see the sunset." But then Kambei looked down at the young samurai, who was still staring at Kyuzo's body in guilt and sorrow.
"But... did Kyuzo speak the truth, Katsushiro? Is Nasami still alive?"
The young samurai nodded, grateful that he could be the bearer of at least some good news, no matter how small. "Yes..."
Kambei looked down at the body of the fair-haired assassin. "You were right... damn you, Kyuzo, you were right. But I will tell her. I swear it."
The change in Kambei's eyes was almost frightening as he looked back at the others. "Now which of us is going to take Ukyo's head?"
In Kanna Village, the villagers were doing everything they could to stop the Capital's approach, but they could barely slow it down, let alone stop it entirely. Once she'd established that the bandits were no longer attacking now that communications to the Capital were down, she'd ordered every last farmer to grab the heavy artillery and bring it to the near side of the canyon. She then had them fire salvo after salvo in a desperate attempt to break the Capital's inertia or at least break up the airship enough to scatter it, but all to no avail.
"Nothing's working, the Capital won't stop!" Manzo wailed, even as he fired again.
"There's got to be some way to slow it down," Gozaku gasped, helping Yohei reload one of the heavier cannons they'd taken off the bandits. "It's going to wipe out our entire village!"
"I won't let that happen!" Nasami shouted, her voice barely audible over the gunfire. The peasants paused to glance over at her where she was standing on top of the stone wall, sighting firing distances and bellowing orders to the villagers. "As Amaterasu as my witness, that Capital is not crossing the ravine, not as long as even one of us samurai still lives!"
For a moment, none of the peasants spoke, but then the Elder turned to look at them. "What are you all doing? Do you intend to let her down, or will we continue to fight?" he called in his raspy voice.
With ragged yells of determination, the peasants redoubled their efforts.
Ukyo, however, got a rude shock when he, the Imperial Minister, and their entourage of guards entered the hangar with the escape ship, only to find the ship in ruins, and Katsushiro, Shichiroji, and Kikuchiyo waiting in ambush. The samurai made fast work of the Imperial Minister and the guards, but Kikuchiyo advanced on Ukyo with his sword pointed directly at the young Emperor. Then he sniffed the air around Ukyo, and stepped back in satisfaction. "Oh yeah, smells pretty girly!"
"If he smells like court ladies, he must be real! They wouldn't waste perfume on a fake," Shichiroji said calmly, his naginata in his hand.
Ukyo tried desperately to convince them that he was also a farmer, first with grovelling, then with pleading, then logic, but Kikuchiyo wasn't buying it.
"Kambei taught me a long time ago... when samurai raise their swords, they don't hesitate to bring them down!" And he brought his giant katana straight down at Ukyo, who howled in terror and cowered against the bulkhead, but just at that instant, the Capital gave a violent shudder, throwing off the big machine samurai's aim just enough to miss Ukyo, who dove out of the way and snatched up one of the guards' machine pistols. With a shriek, he fired at Kikuchiyo again and again, while the guards took the attack as their cue to start shooting at the samurai, wounding both Katsushiro and Shichiroji. Ukyo emptied the clip into Kikuchiyo, then began slamming the gun into Kikuchiyo's faceplate again and again, screaming in fury.
"I hate machine samurai! I hate them, I hate them, I hate them! Treating me like a filthy insect! And the old Emperor, I hate him, too! Making me a peasant to be bullied by you machines! All for his stupid plan I never asked to be a part of! Merchants, peasants, samurai, machines, I hate you all! I'll turn this world upside down, treat you all like bugs!" Finally his rage wound down, and he tossed his long hair back and turned to face his guards, who had Katsushiro and Shichiroji trapped on the floor.
"Anyway, we should be going," he said calmly, and ordered one of the guards to summon some of the Nobuseri drones to carry them to safety. With that, he picked up a pistol with a fresh clip, planted his heel on Katsushiro's throat, and pointing the muzzle at his face.
"Tell me where Kambei is," he said, his voice quiet yet menacing.
"I don't know," Katsushiro gasped, but Ukyo's eyes narrowed.
"Huh... is that so?" Without a word, he turned, walked over to Shichiroji, and ground his foot into the gunshot wound the blond samurai had taken in his leg, and Shichiroji howled in pain.
"STOP!" Katsushiro yelled, but Ukyo and the guards fired a quick blast at him and he barely managed to roll aside.
"I won't ask again."
Just then, the outer doors of the hangar began to open so that the Nobuseri could enter and lift the escape ship free, but Ukyo ignored the bandits waiting outside to keep his gun trained on Katsushiro.
"Your Excellency, please board the escape ship!" one of the guards reminded him.
"By the way, how is my Kirara?" Ukyo asked as an afterthought. "Considering the Capital here is going to wipe out her entire village, I need to know where she is so I can rescue her."
Katsushiro's eyes were not on Ukyo, however, but on the doors of the docking bay, and he smirked. Puzzled, Ukyo wondered what exactly Katsushiro was laughing at, and he turned to look back over his shoulder...
... to see Kambei standing in the door of the docking bay, a sword in each hand, blood on his clothes, and murder in his eyes.
Ukyo let out a scream of absolute terror.
In that moment of distraction, Shichiroji and Katsushiro were on their feet, scything through Ukyo's guards so that the only ones left to protect him were outside the docking bay, unable to get in past the samurai.
Katsushiro nodded a greeting to Kambei, who was looking over at the other three samurai to make sure they were all right. "Sensei, the bandits are mine."
Kambei nodded in agreement, then lifted one katana and slowly began to advance on Ukyo.
"W-wait, it was the former Emperor who made deals with the Nobuseri, stealing rice and women! I wasn't even here!" he yelped, backing away in terror.
"But you are the Emperor now, Ukyo," Kambei said, his voice low and filled with menace, continuing to walk toward the Emperor.
"No, it was him, the prime minister, he was the one in control!" Ukyo protested, continuing to back away. "He came to me in Kougakyo, said he needed someone killed, and if I helped him, he'd let me make the world better! But he tricked me! I just wanted to give everyone's lives more pleasure! But he said sacrifices had to be made! He said we had to destroy Kanna! I didn't want to!"
"But you did want me dead," Kambei reminded him, never stopping his advance. "You ordered my execution, ordered Nasami's assassination, and then took advantage of her honor to try and destroy us both! For that reason alone, I'll kill you where you stand!"
"You can't kill an Emperor! You'll be a traitor to your people!"
"So be it," Kambei hissed, and realizing that nothing he said or did would dissuade the samurai from his goal, Ukyo panicked and began firing. But Kambei deflected away each shot as he charged, and with one vicious stroke, cut Ukyo down.
"Katsushiro, take care of the rest of the Nobuseri!" he ordered.
Katsushiro went after the bandits, taking them apart one after another, while Shichiroji ran to help Kambei.
"Kambei-sama, you're hurt pretty bad," he said in concern, but Kambei waved him away.
"Don't worry about me... we have to stop the Capital from crossing the ravine!"
He got no farther before Ukyo managed to sit up, holding in his guts with one hand and a machine gun in the other. But as he opened fire, Kikuchiyo dove at him, and together they rolled one over the other and right over the side of the deck toward the ground below.
While Ukyo was caught by one of the Nobuseri as he fell, Kikuchiyo landed with a crash directly on top of the transport that Rikichi had been steering toward Kanna, scaring the life out of the four peasants. Komachi cried out when she saw the state her intended husband was in, but there was no time for panicking, for Ukyo landed on the deck of the transport beside them. Kikuchiyo, however, wasn't done flattening him yet, and knocked the young man over the side with one massive mechanical fist as Rikichi got them out of there as fast as he could, not stopping until they reached the bridge leading into Kanna.
"Kikuchiyo!" Kirara cried in horror as she got her first good look at Kikuchiyo's injuries, while Komachi barely could hold back tears.
"Kiku, you're hurt!" But Kikuchiyo waved her away.
"There's no time... for pain now! We've got to... stop that thing!"
"Rikichi!" Sanae called out, and the farmer, the two girls, and Kikuchiyo looked where she was pointing. "Who is that?"
Standing on the far side of the Kanna bridge was a lone figure, sword in hand, breathing hard and standing amid a wreckage of Nobuseri. The figure raised its sword in challenge, but Kirara gave a joyful cry of recognition.
"Nasami-sama!" she cried out in relief. "Thank the water spirits, you're alive!"
The samuraiko approached and vaulted up into the transport, staring in horror at Kikuchiyo. "Blessed Amaterasu," she gasped. "Kikuchiyo, what the-"
"I'm going to kill... that little bastard..." the big machine samurai gasped. Then he weakly sat up with Komachi and Sanae's help. "Nasami... we have to stop the Capital..."
"I know," she said grimly, watching it as it slid toward them. "The speed of its inertia is such that it can cross the canyon and destroy Kanna completely. The villagers are doing everything they can to shoot it down, but we've had no luck."
"Well, now there's... two of us," he said defiantly, tapping into power cells that were strictly for emergency, and wishing with all his heart that Masamune were there for some last-second jury-rigging. "Rikichi... take us right in front of the Capital."
"What?" the young farmer said in disbelief.
"Just do it, Rikichi," Nasami said quietly, her eyes on Kikuchiyo.
"Yes, great samurai," he whispered, and he steered the transport back away from the canyon until it was directly in the path of the Capital, and a good distance away from the bridge.
Nasami leapt over the side, and Kikuchiyo jumped down after her.
"Now get out of here!" he ordered them, and Komachi waved from the deck of the transport.
"You can do it, Kiku! I know it!"
"You're the greatest, sprout!"
"Please be careful, you two!" Kirara called out, and Rikichi gunned the engines on the transport.
"You can count on us," Kikuchiyo said quietly, turning to Nasami, and together they stood watching the inexorable approach of the Capital.
"I'm going to turn the Capital away from Kanna Village, divert it even a bit off course!" Kikuchiyo shouted.
"Great idea! How do you plan to do that?" she shouted back.
Kikuchiyo walked over to a discarded Zankanto and lifted it into a defensive position.
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?" she screamed.
"When a samurai says something, he makes damned sure he follows through!" He looked back over his shoulder at her. "You taught me that, remember? And I'm a samurai, damn it! And I'm saying that airship is not making it to Kanna, no matter what!"
"Go on, get out of here! I'll slow it down and divert it, buy you some time, but you'll have to find a way to stop it once and for all! And if you have any other miracles you can produce, I'm counting on you to pull them off!"
Nasami could only shake her head, staring at the big machine samurai.
"Go on, damn you! And you tell Komachi that I love her, okay? Promise me that!"
"I promise," she whispered.
"Now get out of here! We're running out of time!" When Nasami still hesitated, he turned to her and bellowed, "GO!"
Nasami turned and ran.
Kikuchiyo watched her go, a grim pride filling him.
"Kambei, you bastard!" he shouted toward the sky, turning back to the Capital. "You'd better make it, and marry that woman!"
With that, he started up the Zankanto's engines, and stared defiantly at the approaching airship.
Howling in fury, he braced the Zankanto against the ground and took the full brunt of the Capital against the swordship, but he refused to yield. His body sparked as system after system began to short out, his whole frame began to tremble, smoke poured from his joints, but he still didn't go down.
"You're not making it to Kanna, you Capital piece of crap! You've got a full-fledged samurai making sure of it!"
Nasami stared at the Capital as it slid relentlessly toward the ravine, her hands clutching the pommel of Mamorimasu so tightly that her fingers felt as though they were going numb.
Behind her, she was dimly aware that all of the peasants, every single one of them, were lined up along the rock wall, watching Kikuchiyo lift the swordship to stop the Capital, watching her standing there just on the other side of the bridge, watching and praying for a miracle.
As was Nasami herself.
As she watched, praying with all of her strength, Kikuchiyo slowly diverted the airship away from its dead-on course toward Kanna.
Directly toward her.
"He did it," she said softly, tears streaming down her face. "He really did it... Kikuchiyo... oh, God..."
Closing her eyes, Nasami took a deep breath and lifted the katana so that its blade rested against her cheek.
"Blessed Amaterasu... my life does not matter. But if ever I deserved your blessing, I implore you now... help me save them."
As if in response, a single shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds so that she was standing in a sunbeam, and oddly enough in that moment, a poem came to mind, and she smiled as she felt the warmth of the sunlight.
"Sunlight on the rice..." she whispered, raising the sword over her head so that its blade caught the light, her voice growing progressively louder.
"The wind blows free through Kanna..."
Mamorimasu's blade shone brighter than the sun, gleaming with a light all its own. Then she opened her eyes and stared straight into the sun, her voice reaching a deafening shout that could be heard even above the roar of the approaching airship.
"Even kami die..."
Just as the Capital reached her, Nasami brought the katana down and drove it straight into the ground with all of her might.
And an earthquake hit like the wrath of God.
The ground shook like a snapped carpet, and dust and debris were hurled several feet into the air. The peasants on the other side of the ravine staggered and swayed, many of them dropped their weapons as they slipped and fell. Several cried out in horror, but none louder than Shino, for as though struck by a divine fist, the far side of the canyon cracked and shuddered, then collapsed, widening the ravine to at least two times its original size...
... sending the Capital airship plunging down to the canyon floor, and Nasami along with it.
"SENSEI!" Shino screamed, clawing desperately to get free as Gozaku and Yohei grabbed her, restraining her from lunging forward after Nasami, her anguished cry lost in the roar of the explosion as the Capital airship and the samuraiko vanished in a white-hot ball of flame. "SENSEI, NOOOOOOOO!"
To be continued...