The Hunter huffed a breath. “Our deal was, you let us on board for a way out of Kongokaku. We’re out. And a lot of your bushi aren’t happy with us. What do we need to do to earn our keep to the next station?”
Mumei blinked. The way Uryuu was shifting on his feet, more than he needed for wind or rail-vibration-
He thinks the Koutetsujou would throw them off. Alone. Wounded. Without any help.
Two weeks ago, she would have thought that too. What use was a Hunter, or a Kabaneri, who couldn’t fight?
The Koutetsujou is different.
“There are limits to what we can do for your men.” Ayame was watching the Hunter, intent as Kurusu about to deliver a never-seen-before strike. “We were able to restock supplies at Iwato Station so everything would look normal, but with the refugees from Kongokaku…. We can probably refill water at a tower or river. Other supplies will be tight. We have some medicine, and we have people who’ve learned to treat wounds.” Violet eyes met hazel-gold. “But if you have any of the virus and poisons Biba’s men used on the shogun’s audience, they need to be destroyed.”
“Lousy way to die,” Uryuu muttered, after a long stare. “I had anyone carrying that junk ditch it before we drove for the station. Last thing we needed was someone cutting themselves by accident.” He straightened. “If you want our weapons, I want my men protected-”
“We’ll check your weapons,” Ayame cut him off. “Once we’re sure they’re clear, you get them back.”
That stopped him again. Mumei leaned on the rail, interested. This was a fight like Kajika in the market; words and intent, not bullets.
Ayame’s stronger than she looks.
“Most of your men are injured, but some of them can still shoot,” Ayame went on. “We can’t isolate and protect any of the cars, there are too many people on the Hayajiro. We need steam rifles in every car, and people who know how to use them. If you want to stay in a car away from those of Kongokaku, then help defend it.”
From the way Uryuu’s eyes widened, Ayame had pinned him in a very nasty hold. Interesting. What had he been expecting? The Hunters were trained, the Koutetsujou needed every steam rifle they had, it wasn’t like they were idiot townsfolk who’d cheer the Hunters one day and shut the gates the next-
The Koutetsujou… aren’t townsfolk anymore.
Mumei hugged herself in Ikoma’s cloak, feeling oddly adrift. But if they’re not townsfolk, and not Hunters – what are they?
Well. They were hers. And if Uryuu crossed them, he’d find that out the hard way.