“Mumei said something about Hunter bullets.” Kajika looked over all of the surviving Hunters. “That you could use them in gunpowder guns to kill Kabane, when steam rifles need jet bullets. O’Neill’s people have gunpowder guns.”
Uryuu blinked. The other Hunters started. Eishun looked like someone had cold-cocked him one.
Ikoma eyed Hunter steamsmith and Hunter leader alike. “So how do your bullets work?”
“Or do you want to bargain for that with Lady Ayame?” Kajika said, hard on his heels. “Because information isn’t free. But we’ll all get a better bargain if Lady Ayame makes one deal with O’Neill, instead of letting him make us undercut each other.”
“O…kay?” Uryuu straightened, and shrugged. “Not sure what I know is anything to bargain with-”
Letting go, Kajika clapped her hands together and headed for the front hatch. “Good, let’s go!”
“Don’t worry,” Ikoma advised the suddenly wary Hunter. “Kajika won’t let you get skinned. Lady Ayame gave her word. You’re on the Koutetsujou, you’re one of us.”
That yanked the scowl back onto Uryuu’s face. “Eh. Rather let the princess handle those strangers anyway.” He threw his shoulders back, and swaggered forward. “Sure. Let’s go talk.”
The railing at the top of the stairs down to the conductor’s area was solid. Familiar. Ayame’s hands gripped it, and wouldn’t let go.
Breathe. In. And out. I can’t cry yet. Not here.
Her people would understand. She knew that. But that was why she couldn’t cry.
I may be young, and lacking. But I will give them all I have.
Tears were for later, in her bunk. Where Yukina and her attendant Miyako might notice, but would never betray her.
The redheaded conductor stood at the foot of the stairs, jacket loosened against the summer heat. Yukina eyed her a moment more, then looked past to Kurusu and Kibito. “Trouble?”
Ayame took one more long breath, and made her fingers unclench. She didn’t look at how ridged steel had dented her palms. So long as the skin was unbroken, it didn’t matter. “No trouble on the tracks. We’ve just encountered some possibly interesting information that may be critical later.”
Yukina looked her up and down as Ayame descended. Nodded, heading back toward the controls. “The kind of interesting that needs a cannon.”