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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: Fic: Duty

  • Apr. 10th, 2019 at 5:07 PM
Title: Duty
Author: [personal profile] jordannamorgan
Fandom: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Characters: Young Kurusu and his father.
Setting: General.
Rating: G.
Length: 1,694 words.
Summary: Kurusu learned his duty from a young age.

On a summer night when Kurusu was six years old, his father gently awakened him before the dawn.

“Come with me, son. There’s something I want you to see before the sun rises.”

The tall, strong bushi’s voice was very grave. Puzzled but too well-raised to question, Kurusu rose and dressed, and quietly followed him from their family quarters on the estate of their master, Lord Yomogawa. But for crickets singing in the garden and the bark of a distant dog, Aragane Station was night-silent all around.

A horse stood waiting in the courtyard. Father set Kurusu on the saddle and mounted behind him, and they set off to the east at a quick but steady pace.

Through the sleeping streets of the town they traveled, and even farther, past the moon-silvered fields that surrounded it. They rode for what felt to Kurusu like a long time. Father did not rein the horse to a halt until they reached the base of the great wall that rose on all sides of the station. As its looming shadow swallowed them up in a blacker darkness than the night, Kurusu shivered… but not because he was cold. In all his young life, never before had he come so near to that wall.

The wall that stood between their home and the monsters—the dread Kabane, the risen dead—that roamed the outside world.

Father felt that shiver, for his powerful arms gave an extra squeeze as he lifted Kurusu from the horse’s back. He set the boy on his feet, took him by the hand, and guided him to a long flight of wooden stairs that ran up the side of the wall. Together they ascended it, climbing to a much greater height than Kurusu had ever been at before; but then Father paused on the last step before the broad battlement at the top of the wall.

“A large horde of Kabane was reported passing by the wall tonight,” he announced softly. “I think you’re old enough now to see them.”

Kurusu gave a start, his heartbeat instantly quickening with fear.

Only a year old when the Kabane first appeared, Kurusu could not remember a time when he hadn’t known of them. It seemed to him that he had simply always lived under the fearful shadow of their threat; and yet he had never seen one. Until now, the world of his childhood had been the comfortable safety of the Yomogawa estate, playing games and studying early lessons… and more recently, peeking in shyly at the tiny pink wonder that was Lord Yomogawa’s baby daughter. Although the consciousness of a lurking danger was always present, it was somehow an abstract and ethereal concern, far less tangible than the peaceful normalcy of the everyday.

If he actually laid eyes a Kabane firsthand… then he knew the danger would be real to him in an entirely new way, and his life would never again be what it was now.

“Don’t be afraid.” Father bent down, seeking Kurusu’s eyes. “We’re safe. The Kabane on the other side of this wall can’t do anything to reach us now. But I want you to look at them, so you can understand why the world is the way it is… and what a great responsibility we carry as bushi.”

There were many emotions in Father’s voice. This was important to him. Although Kurusu was still frightened, he swallowed and nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Then come,” Father said, and stepped up onto the battlement. Gripping Kurusu’s hand tightly, he led his son toward the parapet that rimmed the outer edge of the battlement.

Kurusu halted a step from that parapet, just shy of being able to see over it at his small size, and instead looked down the length of the battlement that stretched into the distance on both sides. Guardposts stood at regular intervals all along the perimeter, marked by glimmers of light from the lanterns of men who kept watch at all hours. Knowing nothing himself but the familiar confines of the town and farmlands the wall sheltered, Kurusu couldn’t imagine spending every day at such a job, gazing out across the empty vastness of the beyond for hours on end.

Despite his fear, a nibbling curiosity stirred about what those men might see that wasn’t Kabane. He wondered what the unwalled world really looked like. People said that apart from the Kabane, it was still as green and living as their own station’s fields; but when he thought of those monsters, all he could imagine was that their very presence must have poisoned it all into a dead, withered wasteland to match themselves.

Father leaned against the parapet, looking down toward the ground far below. After a few moments he tugged gently at Kurusu’s hand, urging him closer. “Come and see. Just as I was told—they’re here.”

Reluctant but obedient, Kurusu edged forward. Father bent to pick him up, and with a firm promise to hold him tight, he lifted up his child to look over the edge.

Twisting his small fingers into Father’s shirt, his heart pounding in his ears, Kurusu leaned forward ever so slightly… and found himself only looking down into predawn blackness.

But not complete blackness. Here and there glimmered slowly moving points of light: a little bit like the lanterns of the watchmen, but somehow darker and redder. They looked small from the height where Kurusu and his father stood, but there were more of them than the boy could count, scattered into the unseen distance.

…Kabane hearts.

Kurusu knew the hearts of Kabane glowed like furnaces. Some of his elders said they were furnaces, forging the iron armor of heart cages from molten metal that flowed through their veins. When he was very small, those stories had given him nightmares about Kabane that breathed fire like a steamsmith’s blowtorch.

Of course they didn’t breathe fire, not really. But their horrors that adults confirmed to be true, fangs and brute strength and a corrupting curse that doomed all who suffered the smallest bite, were terrifying enough… and now Kurusu was staring down at the telltale heart-glows of those very creatures, as they lumbered aimlessly a mere few yards beyond the wall that protected everything he had ever known.

Seized with sudden terror, Kurusu buried his face against Father’s shoulder, his arms clinging fiercely around the powerful bushi’s neck.

Father did not scold him for looking away. He merely held Kurusu tighter, stroking his hair, and whispered patient, soothing words that it was alright; that they were safe. He assured him that so long as the wall was properly cared for, the Kabane could neither climb its straight steepness, nor break through its massive density of stone and brick.

“…So the Kabane will never be able to reach us?” Kurusu murmured against Father’s chest.

The hesitation before Father’s reply was slight, but it came with a quiet sigh that made Kurusu’s heart sink.

“The Kabane themselves can’t breach the wall—but that doesn’t mean there is no danger. Although the gates that allow trains to come and go are necessary for our survival, they’re also the weak point in our defenses. An accident could damage one of them. Or a steamsmith could unknowingly be tainted with the curse through Kabane blood carried in by a train. The inspectors might even miss a bite on a visiting traveler. These are all things that can be avoided if people are careful, and I pray that we always will be… but still, the longer we live with the reality of the Kabane, the more complacent I fear we’ll become.”

Father paused gravely then, and drew his son back just a little, to look into his face.

“That is why we bushi must always be ready, Kurusu. If the worst should ever happen, it’s our duty to protect Lord Yomogawa, his family, and all of our people from the Kabane. I know that thought is frightening… but if you learn to understand and accept this burden from a young age, I think it will be easier for you to bear.” Father almost chuckled, but the sound was sad and even a little uneasy. “…Unlike my own generation, who have spent their lives training for war against mere men instead of monsters.”

Kurusu swallowed, breathed deep. “But… can we fight them and not die?”

“Not all of us. If the station fell, we would lose many lives; not only bushi, but even brave townfolk who would choose to stand between their escaping families and the Kabane. But as long as some remnant of our people could reach safety, something of Aragane will survive… and then our duty would be fulfilled, and those lives not lost in vain.”

The assessment seemed frighteningly bleak. For a long moment Kurusu was silent and somber, digesting those heavy words… but then Father smoothed his hair and gave him a faint smile.

“In any case, all of this is only based on the knowledge and capabilities we have now. Five years has hardly been enough time to adjust to living with the Kabane threat, much less find ways to fight them effectively.” He looked out at the ominous red-gold lights that dotted the darkened landscape, his expression hardening. “In time, men who are clever as well as brave will learn more about the Kabane. They’ll discover their weaknesses, and use that information to create new weapons that can kill them. I’m sure of that.”

“…Do you think I could have weapons like that when I’m old enough to fight?” Kurusu asked faintly.

Father’s arms tightened around him, as if in an involuntary flinch.

“I hope you never have to fight at all,” he whispered, laying his cheek against the top of Kurusu’s head. “I hope this wall protects Aragane Station for centuries after you and I are both gone—or even that someone can find a way to destroy the Kabane forever, so the wall won’t be needed anymore. But if the day does come…” The boy heard Father swallow, felt the twitch of his cheek in a pained smile. “I know you’ll be ready.”

2019 Jordanna Morgan


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