Ikoma’s not gone, Kajika told herself. He’s right here! He hasn’t changed, he’s still the same crazy steamsmith….
A crazy steamsmith who now fought alongside bushi. Who’d charge into a horde of Kabane, because he could, just on the chance he could save someone else from that awful bite. Who’d killed – not just Kabane, but humans – to save the bright-eyed little fighting girl staring at her now.
Her best friend had a Kabane’s heart beating in his chest. And it had changed him.
“Kajika,” Ikoma whispered.
She could see her own fear reflected in Ikoma’s glasses. What do I do? What do I say? “I-”
“Your attention, everyone!” Ayame’s voice over the speaking tubes, excited and joyous. “We’ve cleared the water-tower with no casualties!”
Kajika’s breath caught. She almost didn’t dare to believe it. We didn’t lose anyone?
“I want to thank everyone who made a calm, orderly departure possible-”
Hozumi wasn’t the only one who gave the tubes a look askance. “Not Kongokaku.”
“-We will be offering rifle instruction to anyone physically capable as we travel. Our current best route is under discussion. We should be able to give you details tomorrow. Well done!”
Ikoma stared at Kajika in the ringing silence, curled in his bunk as if he expected a physical blow.
I hurt him. I didn’t mean to, it’s just – that heart – and Ikoma said he didn’t want Takumi to take that bullet–
Hozumi straightened, reaching out to touch Ikoma’s hand. “Sahari was using a gunpowder gun.”
Kajika shook her head, confused. “I know, but-”
“They’re not like steam rifles,” the Kabaneri girl went on. “We need jet bullets to pierce the heart cage. A gunpowder gun doesn’t. Just Hunter bullets. Takumi moved Ikoma. If he’d just gotten between them… they both would have been shot.”