Ikoma started, blinking away a daze as Kibito stood, gently setting his borrowed youngster back on the deck. “I need to trade off watches,” the bushi declared. “You kids look after our steamsmith for me.”
“I do not need looking after,” Ikoma muttered.
Oh great, there went Kajika’s folded arms of disbelief, echoed by at least four mini-terrors and Mumei. What’d he done to deserve this-?
It was the silence of the vibration that caught his attention. The Koutetsujou was too massive to shudder when it was still, even if a howling windstorm had been bearing down. But he knew steel was moving, ever so slightly, as someone or something climbed the stairs.
Someone, Ikoma told himself, trying not to reach for a gun that wasn’t there. Kabane aren’t that graceful. And I’d have felt them.
Kurusu climbed over the edge of the top hatch, silent as a shadow.
Kajika started, then breathed a sigh of relief. “Lady Ayame?”
“Most of the rites are done. Kibito can guard her for the rest.”
Ikoma watched that bushi deadpan, and wondered when Kurusu had become so easy to read. “Couldn’t stand them anymore?”
A twitch of indigo eyes told him he was right. “The lines are drawn harder than they were for us, even in Aragane.” Kurusu sat on steel beside them, sword propped at his shoulder. “Bushi. Steamsmith. Townsman. Those from Kongokaku….”
“They’re being silly,” Kajika said firmly. “If maintaining your guns doesn’t damage a bushi’s honor, how can maintaining a Hayajiro do worse? You need that to fight, too!”
“Brother said they were stupid.” Mumei reddened. “I mean….”
“It takes time.” Kurusu’s glance was level, serious as if he addressed one of his bushi. “When you find out part of what you always knew was wrong.”
Not an apology, Ikoma thought, oddly warmed anyway as Mumei relaxed. You can’t know what you don’t know. Not until you have proof.