“If the Hunters had not provided us a route out of Kongokaku, we might not be here to argue about them,” Ayame went on. “Ask your people if they know anything about the routes beyond Kongokaku. We have to consider not only our supplies, but whether we might meet another Hayajiro thrown off of their own schedule.”
Kajika shivered. She hadn’t even thought of that. There weren’t that many Hayajiro traveling between stations, and everyone knew the schedule they were supposed to keep. More or less.
Hayatani Station fell, so the Koutetsujou reached us before the Fusojou. If they hadn’t….
She wasn’t going to think about it. The Koutetsujou had reached Aragane first, they were on it and moving, and they had enough disasters to deal with already.
“The signals should tell us if another Hayajiro enters our right of way,” Elder Dogen declared. “If so, whistle exchanges should-”
“If so, we will retreat to the nearest wye or pull-off at all speed, and let it go by,” Ayame declared. “The Fusojou used their whistle, too.”
Kajika saw Kongokaku nobles blanch, and felt sorry for them. From what the seamstresses and other women she talked with had overheard, the shogun had lied to them. Told them they weren’t in danger from the Kabane clawing at their walls. Told them their great city would never fall.
It wasn’t the Kabane that killed Kongokaku. It was Biba. How can anyone get that crazy? Bringing the Kabane in your own Hayajiro–
Elder Dogen was staring at her.
No, anyone but him, I’m not that brave!
Kibito stepped between them, casual as if the burly bushi were just moving out of the way of departing Elders. “Did you have something for Lady Ayame?”
Throat dry, Kajika shook her head. “It’s for the bushi. It’s some… salvage….”
Kibito raised a brow at the size and bulk, and nodded once, easily plucking the bundle up one-handed. His free hand patted her shoulder, gently but firmly escorting her past the last of Dogen’s bushi toward their lady. “Well, let’s have a look together. It’s always good for a steamsmith to know what’s worth salvaging.”
Kajika kept moving, even when she wanted to squint at him and ask what he was thinking. Kurusu still fussed a little about propriety, at least when he and Ikoma hadn’t glared enough at each other lately, but Kibito knew her….
Kongokaku bushi wouldn’t know steamsmiths. Not the way we do.
It was a good thing the kids weren’t here, then. They’d be rolling their eyes at adults being too silly to be believed.