They ran down the narrow hallway and though the sound of their footsteps echoed noisily, neither of them made any effort to soften it. There was hardly any point to do so for what seemed like the whole contingent of jail guards had been roused and whoever who had not been alerted to the intruders were in the process of being alerted. Knocking yet another guard down, Yoko rushed forward. She trusted Jinhaku would take down any others; those that did not, found themselves tripping over the shadows and falling flat onto their faces.
"This way," Hankyo quietly called. The route to Sekki was winding. The deeper she went, the more it felt like the light was being snuffed. There were no windows in these cells. She made a mental note to inspect all the jails in the provinces when she returned. Surely the guards were not so barbaric as to ill-treat prisoners.
She sidestepped a frontal swing, swirling around to tap lightly onto the back of the guard's head. The guard slid to the ground, unconscious. She had to admit that it was difficult to fight a man that was out to kill you while attempting not to kill him. One man, Yes; a whole company? Probably not. She could feel her exhaustion growing.
"How much further?" she asked urgently as she ducked another head blow.
Feinting a left, she skidded under the two remaining guards and arrived at a dark, dank cell. Sekki's appearance did not surprise her. She had seen him through her Suiguutou, however it did not prepare her for the smell.
The boy that looked back at her was hardly the boy she remembered. Tall and muscled from the training that his brother had ingrained in him, she had looked sorrowfully into the bright brown eyes. She knew exactly what he was being sent into and he knew that too.
She slashed the bars open, her sword cutting through the metal as though it was mere wax. Mere cast iron metal would hardly stop the sacred treasure of Kei.
The motionless figure looked up.
She hushed him before he could finish his greeting. He stood there chained or rather he snagged against the chains that held him up by his arms. Blood, new and old, streaked down his arms. He took a swaying step away as Yoko hacked the chains off. Then wordlessly, he collapsed against Yoko. He was conscious, but barely. Had Yoko waited any longer, they might have decided that they weren't getting out of him and decided to do off with him. She held him. Her heart filled with guilt and fear. Dried blood cracked down his face. Even without examining him, she could see the red welds down his ragged back.
How dare they. How dare they torture a man in the Kingdom of Kei!
She looked up. The sounds of noise grew louder. There would be time to weep and time for apologies, but now was not the time. She gulped audibly, forcing the hot unshed tears back.
"Clear the way," she muttered to nothing in particular.
Hoisting him over her back, she began to make her way back out, all the time following the sound of the voice that no one but her could hear.
Shinzou saw everything from his vantage point. He saw the man that had been spying on Jinhaku and Yoko fall to the ground all of a sudden. Of course the man had not seen him. Shinzou, unlike Jinhaku and Rishou was the master of shadowy things. People just did not see him unless he wanted them to. In Tatso-ou's time, he had spent most of his time in the shadows. The four of them had different specialities; that was why they were assembled compared to everyone else. They were all able to do most of what each other could do, just that they were better in certain things. He knew that Rishou was a master of stealth killing and infiltration despite his build. Although he was not sure what Jinhaku and Youtashi was. Among all the others in the organization, he did not get along with Youtashi very well.
Youtashi was a silent boy. He was only fourteen when he became part of the organization. Perhaps he was a master of deception. Shinzou could only guess. He had seen Youtashi change personalities the way people changed mask. One moment he was that servile boy that got up early to sweep the doorway of the inn, the next moment he was would be that sly street rat.
The division of work was divided between the three of them, naturally since Jinhaku was the leader of the mission. Shinzou and Rishou took turns to guard the Jinhaku and Yoko while Youtashi - Shinzou was not sure.
As they entered the city, he saw Jinhaku pull up to Youtashi and whispered to him. Since then Shinzou had not seen even the shadow of him.
They were on the move. Shinzou pulled himself back from the recollection. Watching them skulk from shadow to shadow. Why was he not surprised that Yoko could actually skulk? It seemed that she was good at doing everything. There must be something that she was not good at.
He hopped from tree to tree, noiselessly and unnoticed by those who walked below. It seemed that Yoko knew exactly where she was going. Did she do prior scouting? He had not seen her do such. Yet she moved with such precision it almost felt like someone was guiding her. He almost laughed at that thought. Jinhaku glanced behind. Was that the signal?
Two hoots. Two hoots again. That was the signal he was waiting for.
He spun around and made his way back to the inn. Time for him to work.
"This way." Jinhaku grabbed Sekki from her shoulders and surged ahead.
Would they be able to return to the inn to grab their things? There was still a ton of paperwork that she wanted to keep.
They dashed through the buildings, uncaring of the noise they made or who saw them. Hazarding a look backwards, she could see the guards far behind. Hankyo must have been keeping them at bay. Yoko was not so sure where Jinhaku was leading her, but he was not heading towards the inn. They rounded another building, twisting and turning through the alleys. She picked up her pace to catch up with Jinhaku.
"We lost them for the moment. Where are you planning to go?"
Jinhaku said nothing, his eyes scanning the streets as they struggled to hide themselves in the slow sunrise.
"Here." They came to a stop at an old tree surrounded by three buildings. It was one of those places that if you did not know about it, you probably would not have found out. Seemingly secluded from the rest of the world, their two mounts with probably their baggage in the packs on the mounts stood waiting for them. She raised her eyes, just in time to see Shinzou leap away. There was no time to ask, she would have to wait.
Putting Sekki in front of her, they kicked off. They rode hard and fast into the mountains. It was only just before noon that they finally stopped for a break.
"How did Shinzou know?" She took large gulps before replacing her water container below the waterfall.
He watched her bathe Sekki's wounds. Jinhaku had, in a way, guessed that they were going to retrieve a person. When Yoko had mentioned that they might land in jail, he assumed that they were going to infiltrate a jail by getting caught then retrieving that whatever. Her methods were rather rough and her inexperience shone through. There were better ways to do these kind of things, but it was not his place to discuss them. Had she asked for his opinion, he would have given it. However seeing that she had not, he decided to not volunteer information unasked.
The clear water turning into a muddy red as it flowed its way down. Yoko placed the Hekisoujo into Sekki's hands before bandaging it to hold it there. "What is that?" Jinhaku asked. He dropped a small bag of ointments before her with a quizzical look.
It would be difficult to explain its properties away without giving her status away. "It's a charm to get better," she replied at length. With Jinhaku's help, they peeled Sekki's clothes away, bathing more of his wounds before applying ointments. The wounds were red and blistering, a good sign she guessed. At least they were not festering. The older wounds seemed to heal fairly well too. Had they given him medication? It did not seem likely to Yoko. The accounts of these people were ruthless and methodical. It reminded her strongly of Gahou and Seikyou.
Is it possible that it was them?
"What is our next move?"
She looked up from her pooling thoughts. "We covered Bakushou and Hokyuu, so I guess the next would be Tougoku."
"What about him? He nodded towards Sekki. They couldn't leave him here and couldn't transport him anyway safe either; they would lose too much time.
"Don't worry, I sent for someone."
"When and how?" he raised an eyebrow.
"Secret code." She smiled faintly at him. "We must hurry though."
"Where's Shouryu?" Rokuta asked Mousen as he entered the stables. Shouryu's favourite suugu was noticeably missing.
Mousen just shook his head. Rokuta had hardly expected him to know. Shouryu was always vague in where he was going. Stifling a sigh, he turned his mount around and leapt out.
"Ahhh! Taihou! Where are you going? The Chousai was looking for you!"
Rokuta could hear Mousen yelling in the background, but he had to find Shouryu. Hakutaku would just have to wait. They were used to waiting anyway, a little longer wouldn't kill – at least not literally.