“No station,” Dogen said deliberately, “will take in two half-Kabane.”
Mumei tensed, as if the girl wanted something to fight. Kajika reached out to her, the youngsters echoing her move until the Kabaneri was surrounded by defiant eyes.
Dogen nodded slightly, grimly satisfied. Perhaps now his niece would see what she risked. “And if word should travel that you carried them among you – no station would let you enter, any of you.” He raised an open hand, all too aware that Ikoma and the two bushi watched his every twitch. “So I will do my best to quell the rumors, for my own people’s sake. I agree; those of Kongokaku should certainly leave this Hayajiro. Before it becomes a deathtrap for you all.”
Credit to Ayame’s training; she hid most of her flinch, though that had to be a blow to the heart. “The Koutetsujou has kept us all alive!”
“And how long can that last?” Dogen said gravely. Somewhere near the base of the tower he heard a yelp, but what the steamsmiths might be up to was nowhere near as important as making Ayame listen. “Kongokaku has fallen, and other stations; all the schedules are cast awry. Even if you can keep them hidden, fewer and fewer stations will risk supplying hungry strangers. Your engineer carries no cargo, you have nothing they want-”
Ikoma blinked, head jerking toward the water-tower, and suddenly Dogen knew he’d lost them.
“Kabane?” Kurusu asked swiftly.
Ikoma shook his head, but kept staring, puzzled. “Something… moving?”
“Small. Yellow. A lot of them.” Mumei frowned, peering toward the bottom of the metal tank, and then the agitated group of steamsmiths backing away from the foot of it, as an odd droning hum whispered through the air. “Are those-?”
“Lady Ayame!” A blond steamsmith hit the ladder, climbing halfway up before shaking out one of his hands with a vicious curse. Dogen could see a red welt blooming on skin even from the top of the locomotive. “We’ve got a problem!”