“They can’t trust us.” Tomio straightened his headgear, as if he were getting ready for a combat ride. “They’re station folk. They saw what happened to Iwato. And Kongokaku.”
Yeah, Uryuu knew. And wasn’t that the rock they were all trying to swallow? One thing to know people who lived in stations were cowards, hiding behind their walls and bushi lives. But having to shoot a kid who’d been bitten, because kami damn it, there was nothing else you could do….
He must have been quiet too long. They were all looking at him. “Boss?” Masahide asked.
“Aragane Station died before they ever ran into us.” Uryuu touched his harness, glad for the reassuring weight of steel against his back. Much better than that weird itchy feeling that the bushi princess meant it: on the Koutetsujou, they were safe. “Yashiro, too. The stations we led Kabane into – they weren’t their stations. The Koutetsujou lost people because of us, but… not like the Kongokaku did.” He grimaced. “Now, those are station folk. Don’t turn your back on them.”
Nariaki ran his fingers over his steam rifle, apparently not quite sure he’d triple-checked it enough since the Koutetsujou had given them back. “Boss. They’re all station folk.”
“Oh yeah?” Uryuu jerked his head toward the rifles standing guard on the steel ring of the Hayajiro around them. “What’s that look like to you?”
Because he knew exactly what those guards looked like. Station bushi would all be facing outward, sure the walls would keep any Kabane from biting their backs. Station bushi wouldn’t be watching the ground, the gaps between cars, stray lumps and bumps of terrain that might dislodge a slumbering Kabane that’d suddenly scented prey. Station bushi wouldn’t always have one guy keeping a friendly eye on the Kabaneri, waiting for the twitch that was the first warning of incoming horde.
Most damning of all – station bushi would be up there with the rifles. Right now? About a third of the Koutetsujou’s armed guards were steamsmiths.
“The princess’ people may hate our guts, but they know they need to survive out here,” Uryuu declared. “That’s what we wanted. Make the station folk face what’s out there. Make them fight the Kabane. No walls. No excuses.” He sucked a breath through his teeth. “Well, they’re fighting.”
A/N: Yes, I had to make up everyone’s name here except Uryuu. Canon doesn’t name the other Hunters that made it onto the Koutetsujou.