Darkest Days

Escape from Kiyosu

Beyond the walls of the Sekihara house the sun was just beginning its long trek down the western sky when Kaoru slipped from the room where Ayame and Suzume were napping. Silently she padded to the stairs leading down to the first level.

With a soft sigh, she dropped down to sit on the top step to wait for the girls to awaken. A faint twinge pinched her chest as she began to relax and she adjusted herself until the pain vanished again. Three days and that was all that was left of the injuries she had sustained. Megumi’s miracle salve had worked wonders. The bruises she had sported upon waking were now all but gone and her ribs were nothing more than a slight aggravation when she settled into a position they didn’t like or twisted too suddenly. At this rate even that would be gone in another day or two.

She smiled at the thought and leaned against the wall. It was a good thing too because being trapped within Tae-san and Sae-san’s small, two story house was starting to wear on her nerves. Deep down she knew it was for the best that she, Misao and the girls stay hidden from prying eyes but that still didn’t silence the part of her that just wanted to get out for a little while. She had never been one to sit idle like this, injured or not.

A sardonic smirk curled the edge of her lips. Misao, the little sneak, had managed to wheedle a job out of Tae in the Akabeko kitchen to keep from going crazy. Which left Kaoru with nothing to do but entertain the girls and when that wasn’t necessary, twiddle her thumbs. So far it had made for a very long three days but now that she was nearly healed they should be able to finally make plans to get the girls out of Kiyosu and to the manor where they would be safe.

Even if there had been no word from Tomoe-sama and the others yet.

Kaoru frowned as a small knot of worry materialized in her chest again. Misao said she’d sent a message to them days ago about what had happened but so far there had been no reply which scared Kaoru more than she liked to admit. It had been almost a week since the attack, they should have heard something by now.

Last night Sae-san had tried to alleviate her fears by saying that the message had most likely been intercepted by Kanryuu but that still didn’t explain why Besshi or Azrael hadn’t come bearing some kind of missive yet. There was no way Tomoe-sama hadn’t heard about the attack. Something must have happened.

Kaoru’s chest tightened at the thought and she winced as her ribs protested the unexpected tension. Taking a slow, cautious breath, she forced herself to calm down again. Either way they still needed to get out of Kiyosu as soon as they could because according to Himura-san and Shinomori-san the city was crawling with a dozen or more mages and mercenaries Kanryuu had left in his wake. And they were both sure Kanryuu himself was still nearby waiting from for them to leave. Thankfully it seemed none of Takeda’s lackey’s had found their hiding place yet, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. There were only so many places one could hide for as long as they had. It wouldn’t be long before one of them, if not Kanryuu himself, figured out just where they were. They needed to get out of here before that happened.

Feeling another twinge, Kaoru moved to lean her back against the wall to get more comfortable. The sooner they got out of Kiyosu the better. Empty or not the manor was still far safer than here. The shield surrounding it had been created years ago by Tomoe’s great-grandmother to keep out the steadily rising tide of black mages and was still, to this day the, strongest piece of magic in existence. There was no way Kanryuu would get through that.

Exhaling softly, she dropped her head against the wall. And maybe, once they were free of Kiyosu she’d finally get a chance to have a real conversation with Himura-san like she had hoped to days ago. Thanks to Takeda's men he and Shinomori-san spent most of their time in the city keeping tabs on the watchers and setting false trails when one or more got too close to discovery. The only time the two men were anywhere near the house or the Akabeko was for meals and even then for only a few minutes in the morning and again just before the eatery closed.

That wasn’t to say she hadn’t learned anything about him. During the elusive meal times she had managed to squeeze in the questions she’d asked the first time they’d met, and had found out that Tomoe-sama had indeed been the one to send him here. He’d even produced the letter her mentor had sent to him when she'd remained skeptical. But that was all she’d been able to glean from him so far except for the fact that he and Tomoe had been childhood friends. It was frustrating to say the least but unfortunately there was really very little she could do about it.

A small, rueful smile lifted Kaoru's lips and she shook her head. She supposed right now really wasn’t the best time to be worrying about their lack of conversation anyway. Her thirst for knowledge would just have to go unquenched until either they had the time or they went their separate ways and she questioned Tomoe-sama instead.

A faint scuffling sound drew her attention and Kaoru set the thoughts aside as she glanced back towards the room where she'd left the girls. She smiled when she caught sight of Suzume popping her head out from the room, one little fist rubbing sleep scratchy eyes.


Kaoru pushed up from her perch and said, "I'm right here, honey."

At the sound of her voice Suzume turned towards her and grinned. “Kaoru-nee!”

Before she had a chance to reply Ayame popped her head out too, effectively signaling the end of quiet time. With a smile Kaoru padded back down the hall to their room and knelt down before them, “Are you two ready to make cranes now?”

Both Ayame and Suzume’s eyes lit up as their faces broke into wide grins and they nodded excitedly. She had promised to try to teach them how to fold cranes and other animals before their nap.

“Well then I suppose we better head downstairs and get started!” she said smiling, with a clap of her hands. If it was possible, Ayame and Suzume’s grins grew even wider and they squealed in delight as they sped past her down the stairs, any remaining sleepiness thoroughly wiped away.

Grinning to herself, Kaoru followed in their footsteps. These were the times when her confinement wasn't quite so wearing. Once they left the safety of Tae and Sae’s house the girls would no longer have the chance to be just ordinary kids, so they had to take advantage of the time while they could because she was sure it wasn’t going to last much longer.

And sadly later that day Kaoru found out just how true that thought was.

Night had long since fallen over Kiyosu by the time Kaoru and Misao finally managed to coax Ayame and Suzume to sleep. Both girls had been antsy the entire evening, neither wanting to let her and Misao out of their sight. It had taken them nearly an hour and half to assure the girls that everything was alright and it was safe to go to sleep. No easy feat when both she and Misao already knew different.

With an inaudible sigh, Kaoru glanced to her best friend with a tired look and slowly rose from her seat beside Ayame while Misao did the same on the other side of the futon where Suzume lay curled up next to her sister. On silent feet they both made their way across the tatami and out the door before they somehow accidentally woke one of them up again.

"I swear they know something's up." Misao grumbled softly as she slid the door closed behind her with a quiet click.

Kaoru smiled humorlessly and headed for the stairs. "After what's happened to them so far, I'd be surprised if they didn't," she murmured as she descended to the first floor. A faint sound of agreement came from Misao as they continued on, making their way into the common room of the Sekihara house where the meeting was to take place. All the doors and windows in the room had been locked up tight, the small area lit by a lone lantern strategically placed at the far side of the room against the outer wall so no silhouettes would be cast against the opaque screens sheltering the meeting.

Tae, Sae, Kenshin and Aoshi were already there, seated in a semi-circle around a small knee high table in the center of the room waiting for them.

Smiling wearily as four sets of eyes turned their way, Kaoru settled into the empty space beside Kenshin while Misao took the one beside Aoshi.

"They're asleep, but I don't know for how long."

Tae smiled in understanding. “It will be long enough.”

Kaoru wasn’t sure if she believed that but right now wasn’t the time to be worrying about it. Dropping all pretense of calm she fixed the man beside her with the same searching look he’d been giving her the last three days, “Does Kanryuu really know where we are?”

For a long moment Kenshin simply stared at her as if he was weighing something before he finally sighed and nodded. “Yes. Aoshi-san overheard one of Takeda's men tell the mage lurking in this area that he'd seen you and Suzume in the Akabeko this afternoon. I expect Takeda will know our whereabouts by morning.”

Kaoru felt the blood drain from her face. It had been by pure accident that she’d let Suzume get away from her this afternoon while they were folding cranes. She had managed to catch the toddler just beyond the entryway leading into the Akabeko and pulled her back into the safety of the kitchen before anyone had seen them. At least she thought she had, obviously she hadn't and now, thanks to that one slipup, their only advantage was gone.

A wave of nausea struck Kaoru like a fist and she shook her head. “But… we haven't heard from Tomoe-sama yet. There’s no way the four of us can take on Kanryuu and his mages alone! We- ”

Kenshin held up his hand to stop her tirade. “Takeda is powerless right now” he explained soothingly, “which only leaves a handful of rogue mages. Both Aoshi-san and I have dealt with and defeated rogues before. We can do this if we plan right.”

“But Kanryuu’s not powerless anymore!“ Kaoru snarled, slamming her palm on the worn table.

The stunned silence that followed her statement was like a slap in the face and Kaoru suddenly realized that she’d forgotten to tell them that little piece of information when she’d awoken. The adrenalin surging through her body instantly vanished and she wilted under the weight of their stares. With a sigh she dropped her attention to the table and was just about to attempt an explanation when she found herself being wrenched around.

“What do you mean he has his power back?!” Misao demanded shrilly, eyes bright with wildness.

Kaoru swore as her ribs and ears protested the abuse and she extricated herself from her friend's iron grip. “I don’t know how it happened but Kanryuu has his power back.” she exhaled sharply before continuing. “I saw him use it on the mage that.. I… killed.”

Misao turned deathly pale as she sat back, shaking her head as if she couldn‘t believe what she was hearing. Kaoru experienced a surge of empathy for her friend; she knew exactly how that felt. She hadn’t believed at first either, but there had been no denying it when she’d seen the second strike against the mercenary.

“How is that possible?” Sae asked softly, breaking the tense silence. “He shouldn’t be able to touch any of his power while Ayame and Suzume are still alive.”

Kaoru stiffened and swung her attention to the elder Sekihara. “What did you just say?!”

A surprised look flew across both Tae and Sae’s face before Sae asked softly, “Tomoe-san didn’t tell you two?”

“Tell us what?!” Misao demanded, clearly at the end of her rope.

For a brief moment Sae was visibly taken aback, then seemingly gathered herself and straightened. “The reason Takeda Kanryuu wants Ayame and Suzume is because he is trying to break open the jewel imprisoning his power. He can only accomplish that by removing all four members of the Takeshi family… permanently.”

“But we’re not going to let that happen.” Kenshin said, in an attempt to diffuse the growing tension.

Shaking off her initial shock, Kaoru was just about to agree with him when Misao beat her to it, “Damn right we’re not! I‘ll see him dead first!”

“We all will,” Aoshi spoke up softly from the other side of her, “but battle plans are needed for us to succeed in removing the children to safety, and killing Kanryuu should the opportunity present itself.”

Misao huffed at the stoic man’s gentle reprimanding and settled down as everyone shifted their attention to Kenshin hoping he had some brilliant plan to get them out of this mess.

The thoughtful looking redhead accepted their scrutiny with ease and shrugged, “As far as I see it the only choice we have now is to split up. He can’t follow all of us.”

A chill raced through Kaoru’s body at his words. Trying to shake it off, she evenly asked, “How will we split?“ She wasn’t sure she wanted to go it alone again. Last time had almost killed her and this time it would kill Ayame if she failed.

Kenshin glanced her way with a look that made her belly plummet to her feet.

“We will go in pairs with a child. That way we will have a better chance of keeping at least one of them out of his hands.”

Kaoru stiffened. “No! We are not going to sacrifice one to save the other!”

“We can’t do that to them!” Misao exclaimed just as loudly.

“It’s the only way”, Kenshin sighed. His expression was firm, but understanding filled his calm eyes. “If we go together we will stand to lose them both because none of us here are strong enough to face Kanryuu now that he has the use of his power.”

Kaoru and Misao both scowled blackly but held their tongues. As much as they hated to admit it, he was right. Even together they couldn’t beat Kanryuu and they both knew it.

Kaoru wilted under the undeniable truth and wearily rubbed her temple. There had to be another way to do this, she absolutely refused to let anything happen to either one of those girls.

“Do either one of you know how to create illusions?” Tae asked curiously into the thick silence.

Kaoru started at the question and glanced to Misao before she shook her head. “Not yet. Why?”

Tae sighed softly and gave her a sad smile, “Because, if one of you did then you could have made it look like one of you was leaving with the girls. While the other waited here until Kanryuu gave chase and left for the manor with Ayame and Suzume.”

Kaoru’s mouth dropped open in a silent ‘oh’ as Kenshin murmured, “A decoy.”

Tae dipped her head, “Yes.”

“Y’know…” Misao mused with a smirk, “that could still work.” Glancing to Kaoru, she smiled excitedly. “Did you bring your dolls with you?”

Surprised by the question, Kaoru quirked an eyebrow, “Yeah, wh-” And then it hit her what Misao was getting at. And her best friend was right. If they used her dolls they could make Tae’s plan work.

“What are you two talking about?” Sae inquired with a pointed look at Misao.

A wide grin split Kaoru’s face. "You'll see," she murmured as she jumped up and took off for the stairs. A couple of minutes later she returned with the two miniature, lifelike dolls Misao was talking about and settled in beside Kenshin again. Gently laying them on the table she trailed a loving finger over the smooth wood, Tomoe's mother had crafted the pair for her years ago when she had first been taken into their home. They were the most precious gift she'd ever received.

A soft inhalation of breath came from beside her and she glanced to Kenshin with a smile, “Have you seen something like these before?” In truth she really didn't need to ask, Tomoe also had a set which she was sure he must have seen at least once over the years.

Kenshin confirmed her surmise with a simple nod as he continued to eye the expertly painted faces of the posable dolls. And that's what made them so special, with just a touch of power the dolls could be set into a position yet would still flex and move somewhat as if they were actually human. But what made them even more special to them now was the fact that Kaoru could make them grow to be any size she wanted with the earth magic Tomoe had banned her to use or speak of.

A faint twinge of apprehension swam through her chest but she stomped it down. She had no choice, she had to use it and besides, none of them would have any idea what she was doing anyway. All she had to do was tell them what Tomoe-sama had told Misao when she had first seen it. That the rowan wood used to make the dolls was already imbued with the ability and attuned to Kaoru herself, all she had to do was activate it. A lie, but a plausible one.

“So what is it you plan to do with those, Kamiya-san?” Kenshin asked.

With a sly smile Kaoru glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and, instead of answering, she placed her index finger on a torso and reached out for the forbidden magic. Within moments, she felt a warm flood of power dance over her flesh, the earth’s life force rising eagerly to her call. Kaoru’s eyes dropped closed as a faint smile played along her lips and a for a brief moment she simply reveled in the sensation, it had been so long since the last time she’d been held in the earth’s loving embrace.

But then, with a contented sigh, she finally set to work pushing the power into the wood; stimulating the dormant but still living molecules of the rowan wood. Almost immediately Kaoru felt the doll begin to expand and grow, her eyes opened to determine the right size. She almost smiled as sounds of surprise came from all around her, but instead she focused on feeding the wood until the doll was approximately the size of Suzume.

Once she reached the target size, she released the power and smiled triumphantly, “There, we now have a replica of Suzume… almost.”

Tae was the first to recover and exclaimed, “How did you do that?!”

Kaoru shrugged, “I can man-”

“It’s magic!“ Misao cut in excitedly. With a start Kaoru realized that she’d almost blurted out the truth. An icy wave of fear spilled through her veins, that had been close… too close.

“Kaoru activated the spell in the wood that makes them grow like that,” Misao continued, oblivious to Kaoru’s near mistake.

“Oh,” Tae murmured then glanced to Kaoru, “Then you can make the second one as big as Ayame?”

Kaoru nodded with a grin, “I can make them as big or as small as I want.”

“I don’t remember Tomoe’s having that ability.” Kenshin mentioned softly, but Kaoru could hear the underlying question and if she wasn’t mistaken, disbelief in his tone. Swallowing nervously she slid a glance his way and felt her cheeks redden slightly at the direct look he had fixed on her.

“I don‘t think hers did,” Kaoru answered cautiously. Kenshin continued to watch her with a look that said he knew she wasn’t telling him the truth. Then he finally grinned and glanced back to those around the table. “That must be it.”

Kaoru eyed him askance a moment longer wondering just how much Tomoe had already told him about her. But if her mentor hadn’t told him about her family name, why would she tell him about her abilities? That didn’t make sense.

“Now that we have stand-ins for the children how shall we proceed?” Aoshi asked bringing the conversation back around to the original topic.

Kenshin’s entire attention finally shifted off of her and Kaoru breathed a silent sigh of relief. She would really like to have that talk with him, maybe then she wouldn’t feel like she was the one in the dark all the time.

“We will split into two groups, one with the dolls and the other with the girls.” Kenshin explained then he glanced to Kaoru and Misao, “Is there any way to hide the girls’ presence?”

Kaoru shrugged and shook her head then looked to Misao. At first the green-eyed mage simply shook her head but then her eyes flew wide and she said, “What about the cloaks?”

“Oh! That’s right!” Kaoru agreed, swinging her attention back to Kenshin she explained, “Misao and I both have cloaks that when activated can make us basically disappear from sight. We could wrap the girls in those!”

Kenshin smiled in relief and dipped his head. “That’s it then, Aoshi-san and Misao-dono will be the decoys and Kamiya-san and I will head for the manor with Ayame and Suzume.”

“Wait!” Kaoru exclaimed. “Won’t Kanryuu be expecting Misao and I to be the ones running with the girls? There’s no way Shinomori-san can pass for me, he’s too tall.“ Eying Kenshin for a second she said, “But you and I are about the same size so you could pass for me. Maybe you should go with Misao instead.”

A dark look passed over Kenshin’s face before he shook his head and glanced to his silent companion, “Aoshi-san, would you escort Misao-dono and the girls to the manor instead?”

Kaoru frowned in confusion but said nothing as the icy-eyed man dipped his head in acceptance. “I would prefer that. There is something I would like to speak with Yukishiro-san about.”

Kenshin smiled, “Then it’s settled. I will pose as Misao-dono and at dawn Kamiya-san and I will head due west as if we are heading for the manor then veer off towards Gifu once we have Kanryuu on our trail. Aoshi-san and Misao-dono will leave tomorrow afternoon with the farmers returning home and head directly for the manor.”

Shifting his entire attention to the two he continued, “By then we should have Kanryuu’s attention but be careful and don’t stop for anything until you are within the safety of the manor’s shield. If we’re lucky Tomoe-dono will be able to assist you when you get closer.”

At Misao and Aoshi‘s nod of understanding, Sae rose from the table. “Tae and I will prepare food for you then. Is there anything else you will need?”

“Cloaks and clothes for the dolls.” Kaoru said as she rose too and grabbed the dolls. She was still a little confused as to why Himura-san seemed to think he had to stay with her, but right now she didn’t have time to worry about it. There was still too much to do.

“I will return soon,” Kenshin said as he gained his feet. “I have an errand to run.”

And without another word he was gone. Kaoru shook her head, be careful what you wish for huh? It looked like she’d have ample time in the redhead’s company now. Well that was if they managed to evade Kanryuu and stay alive. Neither of which was very likely.

A faint twinge of nausea curled through her belly at the thought and she stomped it down as she headed for the stairs. As long as Ayame and Suzume lived she would be happy.

“What’s with Himura?” Misao muttered as she came up behind her. “Did he think Aoshi-sama was going to eat you or something?”

Kaoru scoffed. “I have no idea but at least this way you get ‘Aoshi-sama’ all to yourself.“

Misao snorted, “Yeah, a lot of good that’s going to do me when we’re running for our lives.”

Kaoru sighed as she reached the landing on the second floor and tiptoed down the hall towards her room. “If Himura-san and I do our job right, you won’t be.”

Misao remained silent at that and patted her shoulder reassuringly before she slipped into the room where Ayame and Suzume still slept to keep watch and catch a cat nap.

Kaoru tried to smile but came up short as she entered her own room to enlarge the second doll and try to nap for a little while herself before all this began. The next couple of days were going to put her skills to the ultimate test, hopefully she was up for the challenge.

The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky when Kenshin and Kaoru said their goodbyes and left the safety of the Sekihara house with their makeshift charges. Slowly making their way into the empty streets of Kiyosu astride the horses the two mages had ridden in on, Kenshin kept a keen eye out for any sign that they were being watched.

A faint movement caught his attention as they turned onto the road that would lead them to the gate and he pulled the cowl of his cloak a little further over his face to keep his bright hair hidden. Good. That one would tell his partners who in turn would tell Kanryuu if they were lucky.

A quick glance to Kaoru showed she had seen the mage too. Kenshin almost smiled at the tense set of her shoulders, the grip she had on the doll in front of her turning her knuckles white. But any humor was washed away by the fact that he would much rather she was the one heading to the safety of the manor. He’d almost given in and brought Misao with him instead but Kaoru’s safety was his task not Shinomori’s. And one he loathed to pass on to another even if it did put Kaoru within Kanryuu’s reach.

Had he known Aoshi a little better he may have allowed the icy-eyed man to accompany Kaoru to the manor but he’d only known the man for a couple of months. And the one thing he did know about the swordsman was the fact that he worked for the shogun which made him even more leery of leaving Kaoru in Aoshi’s hands. It was common knowledge that the regents were actively searching for ways to strengthen the bakufu. What better way than to gain magic long thought dead. They would be just as bad as Kanryuu himself.

Before he knew it the front gate loomed up before them and Kenshin set aside his misgivings as he pulled his horse to a stop just outside the guardhouse. For good or ill they couldn’t turn back now. Kaoru was with him and that was how it would stay.

“Who goes there?“ A guard called out as he strolled into the empty yard. Kenshin waited until the portly man he’d spoken to the night before came up beside his stallion before he lifted his hood enough for the guard to see. Recognition lit the man’s eyes and he immediately dipped his head and without a word strode to the gate. Within moments the right side swung open enough to allow their horses to pass and Kenshin led Kaoru beyond the walls of Kiyosu into the steadily brightening morning.

Once beyond the gate Kenshin could no longer see the eyes watching them but he could still feel them as he turned west and he nudged his horse into a steady trot down the dirt road with Kaoru following behind. He was sure it wouldn’t take long for Takeda to catch wind of their departure. He only hoped the black mage wouldn’t catch up to them until they were closer to the stretch of forest he was aiming for fifteen miles away. Once within that untamed wood it would be easy to lure Kanryuu away from Aoshi and Misao’s route. He himself had gotten lost in there once in his younger days and he had since explored and mentally mapped it out to keep from losing his way again.

Kenshin smiled and kicked his horse up to a canter. It was a handy stretch of land when one needed to avoid detection or in this case, needed to confuse others.

However, by midmorning he was beginning to doubt his plan when there was still no sign of pursuit by either Kanryuu or his lackeys. They were now well within range of the forest but without Kanryuu it really didn‘t matter. What could be taking the black mage so long? Unless… their plan been discovered.

A knot formed in Kenshin’s gut at the thought and he was just about to wheel his horse around to check their backtrail when Kaoru rode up alongside him close enough to lean over and whispered, “They’re coming.”

Caught off guard by the information, Kenshin glanced her way and was surprised by the unadulterated fear darkening her bright green eyes. “Are you sure?”

Kaoru visibly swallowed and nodded weakly as she gripped the reins tightly, “He’s coming, I can feel it.”

Kenshin didn’t bother to ask how she knew and simply nodded in return. “It’s going to be fine. We’re almost where we want to be when he catches up to us.”

Kaoru gave him a weak smile and turned back to the road. On impulse Kenshin reached over and squeezed her white knuckled fist in reassurance before nudging his horse up to a gallop. Kaoru immediately fell in behind him and they took off headlong down the road. He could just barely make out the leading edge of the wood, a little less than a mile away yet. And then much to his relief he heard what he’d hoped for, several sets of hooves pounding against the hard packed dirt of the road behind them.

Hazarding a glance over his shoulder, he almost swore when he saw the band of horses coming up fast behind them. There were more of them than he’d originally thought. With his knees he urged his horse into an all out sprint, hoping they would reach the forest before Takeda reached them.

A bolt of lightning sped past his head as they closed the distance but Kenshin ignored it and drove into the trees, the small animal track he’d caught sight of barely wide enough for their horses to slip through.

Shouts of anger exploded from the mages behind them and Kenshin smiled as several hastily formed fireballs erratically chased them down the heavily shadowed track. A heartbeat later a hiss of pain came from behind him, wiping the smile from his face. Kenshin swung his attention to Kaoru who was clutching her shoulder; the thin trail of smoke coming from between her fingers proof that she’d been hit. He was just about to ask if she was alright when she waved her hand at him, silently telling him she was fine.

Kenshin frowned not sure if he believed that but turned his attention back to the front anyway and pushed on. If memory served, there was a small area up ahead where they could dismount and send the horses back at their pursuers. He would check her shoulder then while they had a chance.

A half mile later, the tiny glade came into view and Kenshin quickly led Kaoru off the track. Hauling the horse to a stop, he jumped from the stallion’s back with the doll in his arms and removed his two small packs and blade. Within moments Kaoru followed suit and Kenshin turned both horses back down the lane, slapping them soundly on the rump to get them moving again. An angry cry broke from the two stallions as they reared then took off down the track in a panicked gallop.

There, that would scatter Kanryuu and his men long enough for him and Kaoru to get a head start towards Gifu. But first he needed to check his companion. Turning to Kaoru he reached for her shoulder and wasn’t surprised when she shied away from him.

“What are you doing!?” She screeched in surprise.

Kenshin smiled and held up a hand in peace, “I simply wanted to check your wound. We still have a long way to go.”

Kaoru shook her head and backed away even further, “It’s nothing. Just a little singed skin.” Then before he could say anything else, she set the doll at her feet and quickly belted on her packs and wakizashi. “Shouldn’t we go before Kanryuu gets here?” She asked with a pointed look as she collected her doll again.

Kenshin smirked to himself and gave up. According to Tomoe, Kaoru could be stubborn when she wanted to be and he had a feeling right now was going to be one of those times. With a silent sigh, he strapped his own blade and packs on then waved for her to follow as he took off into the thick underbrush, breaking a trail Takeda would be able to find and follow.

Now all he could hope was that they’d be lucky enough to reach Gifu before Takeda got within striking distance because even together he and Kaoru wouldn’t stand a chance against Kanryuu and his mages.

And unfortunately they would soon find that fact put to the test…

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