Sorry but this chapter is still in editing! If you find mistakes they should be fixed in the next day or two.
I do not own Highschool of the DEAD or its characters.
It had been almost a year since the Takagi group took shelter in Kōfu Castle. It was rare they saw an Oni in the castle town nowadays because of their slow methodical killing of the undead. Other living people were found hiding in the town, and still others arrived running from other communities. More walls had been built so that now a large portion of the town itself was now surrounded with them. All told there were around two thousand people now.
It was an early summer day when the lookout on the town gates saw a rider trotting towards them. They were stunned at first, but quickly recovered as they realized he was holding up a red banner, the sign of a government courier.
As they checked him for bites, one of the guardsmen ran to the lord's audience room.
"Reporting!" he declared as he took a knee in the door. "A government courier has arrived from Edo my Lord!"
The men in the room stared stunned as another man stepped into the door. Pausing for a moment, he came forward and knelt down, bowing low to Souichirou.
"Greetings Lord Takagi from the Shogun in Edo, I am pleased to find you alive and well!"
Souichirou smiled broadly as he nodded, "We are also pleased to see a courier from the Shogun. What is your name samurai?"
"Inoue Daichi my lord."
"Well then Inoue-san, what word do you have of Edo?"
The man removed several scrolls from his pouch. He passed them to an attendant who took them to Souichirou.
"I would first tell you the Shogun Iesada is alive and well. He, his wife and most of the Tokugawa made it through the Oni troubles safely," he said. He paused slightly before continuing on, "Edo itself has not fared so well. A great earthquake struck on November Eleventh of last year. Several thousand living people are known to have died; fifty thousand buildings and over fifty temples were destroyed. There was also a small tsunami afterwards that damaged a large section of the harbor."
Inoue pulled a map out of his bag and laid it out for all to see. Before he could speak there was a rustling of clothing at the door and Lady Takagi arrived along with Kiriko and the rest.
Yuriko and Kiriko sat down near Ginzo, while Rika, Tajima and Shizuka knelt near the doorway. Takashi and Saeko settled to the right of Kage, slightly behind him. Saya and Kohta took a spot next to them.
The last to enter was Rei. She was dressed in armor and had Hisashi's short sword at her waist. She knelt next to her father and bowed low to Lord Takagi.
"Ah, one minute Inoue-san, I need to hear this report and then we will make introductions," Souichirou said.
"Hai my lord," the young man replied with a bow of his head as his eyes wandered to Rei's face.
Souichirou nodded and Rei sat up straighter, "Reporting my lord! I have just returned from patrol with three squads. We found no Oni and no survivors in our patrol area."
"Very good Rei-san," Souichirou replied. "You can give a more detailed report later. I think what the Shogun's courier has to say take's precedence at this time."
"Hai," she replied and settled lower on her hips.
Since Hisashi's death Rei had changed greatly. For the first couple of months she was a wreck, but with Saeko and Saya's help she slowly pulled out of it. Two months afterwards she had been watching Saeko practice with Yuriko and her mother when she picked up a spear and started training again.
Now she was a force to be reckoned with. There were very few, if any, in the castle that could match her with spear, naginata or bow. She could even shoot muskets and pistols thanks to Kohta's training. Saeko had offered to work with her on sword, but the girl politely refused anything but basics, keeping the wakizashi by her side more in remembrance of her lost husband. She regularly went out leading patrols in the hunt for the undead and more survivors.
"You may continue Inoue-san," the lord said after everyone was introduced.
"Hai. This is a map of Edo marked to show what has changed," he told them as he waved his hand over the paper. "Areas shaded in red were destroyed by fires after the earthquake."
Saya's head came up fast and her mouth opened to ask a question, but Kohta touched her hand with his, a sign to wait and be patient. She blushed and nodded as she gripped his hand with her's.
"The parts in blue were destroyed by the tsunami, red and blue mixed were hit by fire and water. The last section in brown was earthquake destruction and damage by itself." He sat back slightly and glanced around the room at the listeners, not wanting to exclude any of the lord's family in rudeness.
"The quake struck in the Hour of the Pig*," he said. "One thing it did do is kill as many, or more, of the Oni than the defending forces had already. Our estimate is somewhere in the range of fifteen to twenty-five thousand."
"I am glad to say we have not faced enemy forces of that size," Souichirou told the man. "How many people had survived before the quake?"
"Around twelve thousand my lord, Edo Castle had been warned of the attack ahead of time and the Shogun had barricades prepared and ready. We layered our defenses like a series of walls and fell back to the next one when it was decided the one being defended was lost. This kept the loss of fighters down and the civilians that heeded the warnings and came inside the barricades survived and even helped in its defense."
He sighed slightly, "Unfortunately many thousands would not listen, or would not believe the reports of the Oni. They paid for their foolishness with their lives which added to the Oni's forces. Because of the earthquake, tsunami and fire though, the original area covered by Edo is now clear of undead."
Yuriko leaned forward and looked at the map closely before sitting back and sighing.
"Something is troubling you my wife?" Souichirou asked.
"I am sorry to interrupt my lord husband. I notice the sight of our Edo mansion is shown to have been destroyed by the fire. It is not the house I was concerned with, but the people we left behind," she said.
Inoue spoke up, "I do not have any information about the people from that area my lady, but when I get back I will make inquiries to see if anyone survived and have that information for you on my next trip."
"When are you supposed to return?" Kage asked.
"My schedule is flexible Busujima-sensei. Since finding all of you here safe I think it would be best to go straight back and inform the Shogun you are alive."
"And if you had not found us?" Tadashi said.
"I would have continued on the Kōshū Kaidō until I reached Kyoto, or judged I had vital information to return."
"When will you start back?" Kage asked.
"With the lord's permission a couple of days," the courier replied.
"You are of course quite welcome to stay as long as you need to Inoue-san. We will provide you with anything you need," Souichirou said. He glanced over where he could see Saya squirming in her seat. He spoke up again with a smirk on his face, "I will warn you now young man, my daughter is somewhat of a scholar and I can see she is trying her best to hold back in assaulting you with questions. Be prepared! You are about to be the focus of her attention! You may speak now Saya."
The courier chuckled slightly as he turned toward the pink-haired young woman. "I am at your disposal Mistress Takagi," he said.
Saya smiled as Kohta and the others chuckled. "First of all Inoue-san, I would like to know how you got here. I'm sure there are not many if any roadside inns left by now."
The man nodded, "Twenty of us started out mistress. We did lose a few to the Oni at first, but learned quickly. As we came to different turning points on the route some branched off to try and reach places like Niigata or Shizuoka. By the time we reached Otsuki, there were only three of us left. I continued on to here while the others started south towards Mount Fuji."
"How did you survive by yourself with the Oni everywhere is another question," she asked.
"As you might know, the Oni are attracted to animals, horses and the like, but do not attack them. When we stopped for the night we tie our mounts, who are trained to be quiet unless in direct danger, to trees or bushes a distance away from where we are going to sleep. Then we pick a tree we can climb and string a hammock to sleep in. When morning comes we can easily see how many Oni are in the area before we climb down."
"What is there are a lot hanging around?" Kohta asked.
Inoue smiled, "We all carry short bows and are trained archers. It does not take much to eliminate them from fifteen feet in the air."
Saya nodded, "Very smart Inoue-san. There are many other things I would like to know, but it can wait till later."
"What's this? Saya-san not bombarding someone with questions, when she wants to know something?" Rika said from the back of the room. "Shizuka, I think you need to check her to see if she's sick!"
Everyone laughed as Saya glared at the thief-taker.
"For now you can rest in safety Inoue-san," Souichirou said. "I will have documents and letters for you when you begin you're return trip. For now, eat and rest until you are ready to return."
"Hai, my lord," the man said as he once again bowed low.
The next day Inoue watched from the top of one of the enclosure walls as Saeko and Takashi left the castle with a troop on patrol. Hearing movement beside him he turned to find Rei standing nearby.
"You see something that interests you Inoue-san?" the ginger-haired girl asked.
His eyes took her in as she came closer. She was dressed in a peach colored kimono with birds on it and was carrying a fan in her hand. At her waist was the short sword he noticed the day before.
He shook his head, "Just watching Lady Busujima and her husband leaving with a troop of men. May I ask where she is going?"
Rei smiled slightly, "It is no secret. They will be patrolling the northern section today. I covered the western one yesterday. Tomorrow I will concentrate on the eastern approach." She paused for a moment before speaking again, "Do you find it strange that women are leading troops and patrols Inoue-san?"
He thought a minute before replying, "Maybe a little. It is no secret there have been strong onna-bugeisha before, but I just did not expect to find so many in one place. When I think about it though, I can see where it is a great advantage to Lord Takagi's clan. I don't know of anyone in Edo that does not know the name of Busujima Saeko after the incidents of early last year."
Rei nodded, "Yes she has a way of leaving an impression on people. She left one on me which is why I am the way I am now."
"What do you mean Lady Miyamoto?" he asked.
"Please, Lady Miyamoto is my mother," the girl said with a smile. "Simply call me Miyamoto-san, or if you wish, Rei. We are all far too close to be worried over honorifics and propriety very much."
He watched that smile as if in-traced. Shivering slightly he lowered his head and asked, "I know how Lady Busujima came to her position, but how did you become onna-bugeisha…Rei-san?"
She looked out over the town for a moment, her eyes sad, "My husband died the day we arrived here. I was broken and distraught for several months afterwards, but one day was watching Saeko and the others at weapons practice and suddenly wondered what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I picked up my spear and began to train again and have never stopped." She paused and lightly touched the sword at her side, "This is all I have left of him now, this and a lock of his hair tied in his headband."
"I am sorry for your loss," he said.
"We have all lost many things since this started," she replied. She looked at him closer and asked, "If it is not rude of me, how old are you Inoue-san?"
"I am nineteen. About to turn twenty in a month," he replied. "And please Rei-san; please call me Daichi if you would."
She smiled and nodded, "Of course Daichi-san, I would be happy to. How did you become a courier?"
"The army was looking for young single men and I was available. I started training right after the Oni attack and have been out on several missions, but this is my first long range one. I am very glad it will be considered a successful one. Now that we know you are here I'm sure the Shogunate will want regular contact."
"So that means you will be coming back and staying with us again correct?" she asked.
He cleared his throat, "Umm, yes, I'm sure there will be several couriers assigned this route. We should be coming at least once a month and maybe even more in the future."
"That is good," she said. "It would please me to see a new friend on a regular basis."
The young man smiled broadly as they watched the troop depart from the gate.
Six months later in December:
It was early in the morning, before sunrise. The snow was piled high, but work still had to be done.
Saeko and Takashi were up and dressed in their armor for the daily patrol. They padded quietly down the corridor to turn a corner and find a figure in a dark kimono with a rag over its head tied under its nose. It was standing by the door to Rei's room. They all froze as they watched to see what the other would do.
Takashi squinted and leaned forward as he realized who it was. "Daichi-san?" he said quietly.
The figure motioned for him to come closer. Once Takashi did, they whispered together for a minute before the man in the dark clothing went around them and scurried away.
Takashi turned back to Saeko with a smirk on his face.
"And now we have ninja roaming the hallways?" Saeko asked quietly, one eyebrow rising on her forehead.
Takashi broke into a grin, "More like a man being caught leaving his lovers room."
Saeko's other eyebrow went up as she looked toward Rei's door. "Inoue-san and Rei!?" she asked.
"I'm sure we will learn more later," he said. "For now let's get to breakfast."
She nodded and followed him, but had to look back at the door one more time, wondering how Rei was faring.
"That's an old tradition from back in the Heian period. It's called yobai which means 'night crawling'," Saya said when they were sitting together later in the evening. "I heard about it in a book called The Tale of Genji, but I am sure there are other references. Supposedly the man and woman trade poetry for a while and then when the time is right he slips into her quarters to see if she is willing to be intimate with him. He is supposed to leave before daybreak and write a poem to her and see if she responds favorably. It is also said if he spends three nights with her he should stay till after daybreak the third day and they are married that day."
Saeko snorted and shook her head, "The more I learn about the affairs of men and women the more I am amazed."
"Sounds kind of sweet in a way," Kohta said. Smiling at his wife he asked, "What would you have done if I had snuck into your bedchamber back then Saya-chan?"
"Punched you in the face more than likely," she said with a laugh.
"What are we talking about?" Rei asked as she came in and knelt down.
"Ninja roaming the hallways before dawn," Saeko said with a smirk.
Rei froze for a moment before smiling and speaking, "Ah…so I guess you know now…"
"We ran into him as we were leaving for patrol this morning," Saeko said. "How are you Rei? Is this alright?"
The young woman smiled and nodded, "Yes, it has been long enough. The winter is cold and I get lonely at night. He is a good man and I am sure he cares about me. We were going to tell everyone in a few days anyway."
Saeko took her hand, "As long as you are sure we will support you. You deserve to be happy like the rest of us."
Rei nodded and squeezed Saeko's hand in return as Daichi walked in and looked at the group.
"Did I miss something?" he asked.
Later in the evening Saeko and Takashi were standing on uppermost wall looking at the moon and stars in the clear cold winter night. He was holding her from behind and she rested her head on his shoulder.
"What are you thinking of?" he asked as she smiled.
"I guess Rei and Daichi's story has inspired me to compose a haiku," she said.
"Oh? What is it?" he asked.
She smiled and quoted:
"That's nice," he said as he hugged her closer. "It fits our lives now."
She turned to him and kissed him deeply before pulling back, "Let's go in my love. I suddenly feel the need to be closer to you."
He smiled, wondering how he got so lucky to have her as she led him to their room.
A/N: With that I give you the last chapter of Broken Blades. This has been a fun project for me and I have learned tons of things about Edo culture with the research I did. I don't know if I will revisit this era or not, it will have to see if I come up with another story idea.
I would like to thank everyone for their support and as always thank my editors, the Four Horsemen of the DEAD. Due to all of you, Broken Blades is currently number 56 on the most Favorite list of the HotD archive.
Thank you for reading and as always: Please Favorite and Review!
Hour of the Pig – between ten and twelve at night.