Hand on the first rungs up the locomotive’s ladder, Dogen Makino tried not to sputter. He was a hardened samurai, an Elder of Kongokaku who’d survived years of war before the Kabane appeared, and all the long bloody years after. He’d kept his head in artillery barrages, horde swarms, and Biba Amatori’s own insane assassination of his father and shogun. He did not flinch at mere words.
But what little he knew of Kibito had shown him a very steady, plain-spoken young samurai, not prone to wild flights of fancy. If Kibito had said that – had suggested deliberately hunting Kabane – and no one was laughing….
Loudly clearing his throat, Dogen climbed the rest of the way, exiting into the sunlight to face wary and worried gazes. “As the surviving Elder of Kongokaku, I would prefer not to bring my people near any more Kabane. Even if you are confident in these jet bullets.”
“Don’t worry.” The young brunette wrapped in tattered red hemp looked at him as if she were deciding how fast she could take him down. “The Kabane will find us.”
Cold-blooded youngster. How had his niece picked this girl up?
Though for the moment, there were more important things to discuss.
“Elder of Kongokaku?”
And Ayame had hit on one of them straight off. Good. “This is a good spot to talk,” Dogen mused. “Everyone below can see us, but not hear us… Ayame. I know as well as you do that the Koutetsujou follows your command. But we both know my people look at your age, and your lack of rank as heir to a fallen station, and wonder why I haven’t taken the master key yet.”
Not that he had any intention of trying. Even if it hadn’t already been a bad idea, the amount of lethal intent currently staring at him might have rocked a Kabane back on its heels. Child to bushi, those atop this locomotive meant to protect Ayame with their lives.
Which was incredibly odd. Bushi were trained to be that fierce. But the look he was getting from the pale young man with a blue sling, an odd green ribbon at his neck, and what had to be a townsman’s borrowed shirt… where had a steamsmith learned to project lethal intent?
A/N: Poor, poor Dogen. I feel for Ayame’s uncle, I really do. He’s had a bad couple of days, and it’s about to get worse.