Chapter 1: Gun/Smoke
It wasn't outright said out loud, but after the botched take-over of the Orte Empire's capitol city Verlina which had resulted in the death of nearly a hundred soldiers (not to mention failure to cripple the city could they not conquer it) was implication enough to Hijikata that the Black King was disappointed with the outcome.
From the first encounter with the Drifters, he had assumed it was a fluke considering the young French woman was an amateur when it came to the battlefield. She was
literally too hot-headed that she had relied on her explosive flames to burn the enemies until they were but ash with no bones to leave behind in the inferno, not at all taking account that her opponent had quickly pin-pointed a few weak spots while utilizing the magic that the Octobrist Organization offered to the Drifters as a way to counteract with the End's abilities. So, it wasn't much of a surprise to most that Jeanne was sent back to them with merely a few bruises and a concussion to the head, leaving her bedridden for a few days (before she would rise and start spouting retribution while explicitly going into detail how she was going to maim that one barbarian bastard).
(They were also down one End)
It was a one-time thing that most were sure would not repeat a second time.
However, much to Hijikata's chagrin, this happened;
Rasputin had been quite violently cut off from his puppets of Orte's noble council, taken off-guard and left seething from Oda Nobunaga's taunts and unpleasant smiles when the Russian sorcerer had been so close to securing the fear of the council into surrendering (and leading themselves further into annihilation). Hijikata was left to march the company onward, but was forced to quickly backpedal when the soldiers of some nobleman were mostly armed with musket rifles. It only got much more worrisome when a small group of short hairy men with armor and axes came blazing in, beheading and fiercely cutting down the startled Orcs. Not waiting for another volley to decimate most of his company, the former Vice Commander of the Shinsengumi ordered that the Orc soldiers disperse, sabotage the streets, and make for the main building holding the councilmen whilst he dealt with the enemy.
And that's when he saw with his own eyes the accursed visage of the Shimazu crest imprinted on the cloth and armor of the man wearing it.
From then on, all he saw was complete red.
The brat's words, his shimmering eyes, and his split lips that produced a victorious grin made the blood and heart of Hijikata scream of death and devastation, demanding that he erase the existence of the man whose descendants had been nothing but hell to him and his people. The Shimazu attitude had brought death not just the Orc soldiers, but Hijikata's own soldiers from a time not too long ago.
Then it all went to hell when the building holding the councilmen exploded, burning alive the soldiers he had sent to capture and execute the people hold up inside. Trapped like rats the creatures were, scrambling wildly to escape their fiery death, only to find themselves at the end of a barrel waiting outside for them.
Next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back and exchanging fists and blows with the young and outrageous samurai that demanded Hijikata's head. Yelling obscenities and anger, they rolled around the cobblestone streets whilst their allies watched from a safe distance like they were a spectacle to behold.
The Black King had enough.
Humiliation was something all too new to the former Demon Vice Commander, like an infestation of a tiny thing that grew and grew the more it ate away at his unshakable pride, their teeth mauling and claws grabbing all that was left until they were found climbing up to the back of his throat. His memories tormented him of the scene, his anger running amok and ruining what chance of victory the Black King could have accomplished had Hijikata not been so dead set on the Shimazu bastard.
So, like a dog that had been sent to the kennels, Hijikata did not fight against his change of duty from being a commander to a simple patrolman.
The night was quiet and cool with only the bright full moon to illuminate and a few fireflies to flicker in the darkness as they floated over the shallow river bank. It was a beautiful scene to take in, something that resembled a little of home.
Leading a platoon, Hijikata was in charge of patrol and possible recruitment (albeit with much discretion) to the Black King's cause, left to his own devices with orders to keep close to the Northern territory. The landscape that was once bloody and barren was slowly turning into a farmland thanks to the work of the robust Kabolds.
So he lead them out a little further, keeping in mind to remain in territory (which made him feel like a child novice at the dojo that he had to calmly breath and count to ten) while looking for anything that was out of place. Unsurprisingly, everyone had high-tailed it when the Ends and their leader's massive army had marched their way towards the giant walls, leaving small villages empty and unoccupied when they heard their war drums and earth-shaking entrance.
Well, at least there was somewhere for them to camp without the hassle of pulling up tents and looking for dry wood.
Taking a small hut for himself, Hijikata carefully unwrapped the belts of his swords (but was mindful to keep them close for just in case), shrugged his long coat off his shoulders, and sat on the bed made of poor and scratchy material. It was a bit concerning to sleep in a stranger's bed, but there had been worse places he had slept that made the small home look like a piece of paradise. He looked over to the small window, the darkness illuminated by the fire the Orcs created. Despite easy access of empty homes, the creatures took opportunity to make small celebratory feasts for their victories while honoring the dead that had fallen in the name of the Black King.
Funny how such grotesque things turned out to be more human than the ones they were fighting against.
It was those little things that made Hijikata close his eyes and look back to the old Shinsengumi.
And those moments of peaceful camaraderie were few and far in between the line of duty.
Many deserted after the Shinsengumi's control came to Kondo's hands, moreso after Hijikata had enforced restricting rules that would often times result in death for breaking any of the said decrees. The region grew more fearful of the police force, men ducking their heads if they so much as made eye contact while mothers kept their children away from even kind-hearted Okita who was simply making a trek down the streets to play some games. He was harsh, he knew, becoming the "Demon" that many people (even his own) would come to know him as, but being nice never got anyone far in the gamble that was life.
For long as they were fighting away the corruption that plagued the streets of Kyoto, then whatever names they called him wouldn't deter Hijikata.
But it was from this reflection that he looked to the Black King.
It was most awe inspiring for a haggard-looking fellow in dirty and torn robes to turn a group of savage and mindless beasts into a reformed and loyal army. No death penalties needed to gain loyalties when the hooded uncrowned king offered to heal their crippled bodies and lead them to salvation, no strict disciplining needed when all they wanted to do was follow their savior in content ease of rebuilding the ugly world that had rejected and exiled their kind. They all, after the miracles bestowed upon them by the mysterious figure in dirty robes, were more than eager enough to form en masse to commit their trust into the Black King who would erase their pain while erasing the existence of mankind.
With mad men no longer in the helm, they could begin anew.
(All of them)
With a calm breath, Hijikata closed his eyes as his back leant back against the wall the bed was pressed against. While he was used to long hours of travel by foot, it was good to now and then take a break from constantly being on the move, a patience he had to learn from the calm Kondo when the older man told the Vice Commander to be at ease and to not get so restless. Being wired up to much didn't do much good for one's health, only made one lose sleep and some sense that they would get distracted.
And it was quiet, too. Traveling in groups was well since it meant you had someone to look after you from behind, but it sometimes bordered on being invasive when kept together for too long. Affording the luxury of privacy was a small price in his position, so it was a pleasant change for Hijikata to take shelter for himself (for the night of course, they had to move on the next day).
Although, Hijikata slowly opened his eyes and stared at the wall on the other side of the small home, it seemed a little too quiet.
Some of the creatures, the Orcs included, were not exactly the most stealthiest creatures, and when they were feasting and celebrating, they made sure to loudly proclaim praises that they would surely reach Hijikata's ears through the muffled walls.
'So why is it quiet?' he looked to the window, still seeing the illumination of the fire going on. 'They couldn't have gone to sleep so early. They aren't careless to leave fire—'
Red flags blaring, the Shinsengumi Vice Commander quickly dived for his swords, barely avoiding the wall that he had been leaning against suddenly forming to encase the spot he had previously occupied. Armed, he didn't bother for the door and instead rammed himself into the nearest window, hearing and feeling glass shattering while cutting into the fabric of his clothes. He landed and rolled before shooting to his feet, the absence of sound now blaring like a typhoon, and he looked to find the Orcs being cut down by a larger force of armed men that outnumbered the startled beasts.
And how the bloody hell did he not notice this happening?!
"I reckon' you must be wonderin'..." drawled a new voice, the accent thick and rolling off the tongue while leaving words not truly finished. "'How the hell did I not notice a fuckin' stampede runnin' through my tiny shit shack-of-a-house?!' "
Aware that he was dealing with someone from a different caliber than the humans slaughtering the Orcs, Hijikata slowly turned to look at his foes.
"Well, see here my samurai pal o' mine," the man talking had wild dark hair and he was accompanied by a taller man wearing a Western-style hat. "Them Octobrists have mighty fine charms! Some of 'em can make stone walls, some of 'em can make people talk from great distance, kinda like the telegraphs from back home ya know?—"
"Butch," the taller man in the hat gave the shorter one an exasperated look. "Yer ramblin'."
"—and some of 'em," the Drifter tossed the End a toothy grin that only incensed him, the action uncannily similar to the one the Shimazu dog had given to Hijikata. "Some of 'em can make you not hear even a tornado whirling around yer house!"
Spotting the paper charms plastered on the walls of the small hut he had occupied, he quickly suspected that some Octobrists charms had been carefully planted in order for the ambush to succeed without the interference of an End, thus cutting down whatever chances he and the soldiers had of fighting off the forces. Teeth digging into his bottom lip, Hijikata's ire grew from having the rug swept out from beneath his feet.
(And for the second time, no less!)
"You...!" he hissed at the Drifters.
"As much as I like to keep standin' here and listenin' to ya'll talk," the taller one stepped forward while brandishing a double set of pistols (the likes far advanced than the ones he had seen from Oda and his own time). "Yer comin' with us, Mr. Shogun."
"Over my dead body," the End snarled, quickly jumping into action while summoning his mist of warriors.
"Don'tchya know ya don't bring a damn sword to a gun fight, son?!" cackled the dark-haired fool.
That little shit was going to die a slow and painful death.
Sending a wave, the fog swirled to life and took shake as former comrades, their haunted images somewhat starling the duo. Just as the crowd was upon them, the two began a rapid explosion of gunfire, the blasts of the bullets from their barrels somewhat scattering the smoke that had almost been upon them.
"Well that was kind of a let dow—"
The tallest of the two, who had wisely enough kept an eye out for the missing End, had grabbed his partner by the scruff of his neck and yanked him away in time avoid having his head sliced clean off his shoulders from a sword arc that came from the side.
"Oh, fuck me!" Butch cried as he scrambled away from the charging man in the scary black trench coat.
"Ya see that, ya little turd?! Now ya gone an' pissed 'im off!" the tall cowboy snapped at his partner, pulling up his guns to fire at the incoming End.
"Aw, shut up, Kid!" Butch shot back, mimicking his friend and blasting away.
Hijikata has previously used the mist to grab the attention of the two Drifters, hoping to at least get one (more specifically, the short one) before they caught on to what was happening. Unlike his trigger-happy companion, the taller had quickly reacted to his plan and saved his partner from his demise. Driven away by bullets, the former Vice Commander threw another wave of mist. As much useful as it was to blast away the incoming fog, they two men were forced to slowly back away while keeping a careful eye on the End who kept out of the line of fire. It honestly frustrated the two Westerners.
"Goddamn mist an' shit..." Kid cursed as he paused to quickly reload, pulling up in time to avoid getting a sword in the face by the fog.
"That shit ain't gonna work, asshole!" the shorter of the duo cried while backing away.
"That's what you think."
Taken aback, both Drifters quickly took in their surroundings and noticed they had their backs to the wall, quite literally.
"Aw, fuck me sideways!"
Whatever chance they had, the mist quickly circled around where they were both pushed against. Hijikata calmly made his way, watching the two men struggle to keep their death at bay in a fruitless attempt to stay alive a little longer. Pathetic, like lambs to the slaughter.
"This is the end for you, trash." Hijikata declared, the hand of his sword high in the air while the sharp edge was aimed towards the Drifters. Summoning up the surge of power and control of the wispy fog, his Shinsengumi prepared to bring the onslaught of death to the two fools (and the humans that followed them) that crossed his path.
"Ya hear that? Game's up for us, Kid!" laughed the shorter man.
"Kafet! A little help here!"
Hijikata only had time to whip his head back to find a man, wearing a white attire that was said to be uniform of the Octobrists, slamming his hand on the ground with a force. Light exploded, a lilac-color that quickly spread across the ground he stood on, and it was then he quickly found himself encircled inside a trap that had escaped his notice
Sucked into a unseen situation, Hijikata had not counted on the duo getting an upper hand. While armed, they were not exactly combat efficient, simply using the ruckus and their advanced weaponry to get them far, but that had been it... Or so Hijikata had previously assumed. It was honestly ridiculous how Drifters, no matter who, seemed to come up with a common trend of surprising their enemies.
Such as becoming decoy monkeys while the third man laid a trap out for him.
"That's checkmate for ya, Mr. Shogun." the tall Drifter tipped his hat with amusement glittering from his eyes.
Before Hijikata could spew curses that would make long-dead corpses roll in their graves, the light flashed and all he saw was dark red cloth being wrapped around him, tangling his hands and legs before his body could no longer move.
All Drifters deserved a painful and most excruciating death, right behind that Shimazu rat.
He could not see, could not hear, could not smell, and could not speak—merely feel the shaky sensation that he was being carried away on the back of a horse-drawn carriage.
The mystical cloth wrapped around him was tight and constricting moreso than a snake was that he was only barely able to perform small twitching movement, and for those actions he was meet with a warning tap against his forehead. The small cylinder shape pressing into his skin beyond the cloth illustrated a picture in his head that one of the Drifter's (most likely the manic-looking one) had a barrel of their weapon aimed at him, daring
pleading for the swordsman to try something.
Another thing he had quickly noticed after he had been immobilized by the enemy: they hadn't killed him
It was an old tactic, something he himself had used on several occasions, to gather information from an enemy they captured. Interrogation and torture was on the horizon for Hijikata, and he knew that the Octobrists would do everything and anything within their power to get him to talk about whatever plans the Black King and his Ends would utilize against humanity.
Unfortunate for them, he was not going to babble his mouth (unlike that foolish French woman).
To be honest, this was not how Hijikata envisioned his death to be; he had wanted it to be on the battlefield beside his comrades, he had wanted to hear the roar of the encroaching enemies as they drew their swords to clash with the Shinsengumi, and above all else, he had also wanted to—
'None of that!'
The glory faded away, his drive grew lethargic, and his desires existed no longer. That Hijikata had died from a single bullet to his gut, killing away what little chance he had of achieving his goal; a goal that no longer tugged on his interests.
All that was left now was the mission, and nothing else mattered to him.
Suddenly everything stopped moving.
'Have we arrived?'
His answer came when he was yanked up from his position on the floor of the carriage, releasing a small muffled grunt when his stomach roughly came in contact with a shoulder, and he burned with indignation to be treated like a sack of potatoes (or worse, a woman) hanging off of someone. As much as he would have loved to give an opportunity to give the fool a good kick, he was still subdued by the damned cloth wrapped around him. It was even more problematic that he couldn't summon his legion of Shinsengumi, and he wondered if this was also a part of the enchantment of the cloth trapping him.
He grunted when he was swiftly pushed off from the shoulder and let out a muffled "oof!" when he landed painfully on the hard ground below. Hijikata growled, wanting nothing more than to escape and execute the asshole who did it.
Instead, the cloth immobilizing him suddenly unwrapped itself from him—and proceeded to tie his arms and legs together to keep him from attacking, moving, and/or summoning his Shinsengumi. Partially unbound by the cloth, Hijikata came face-to-face with one of the many high-profiled targets the Black King wanted dead and gone from this world, standing only a few scant feet away from him.
"Abe no Seimei," the End glared at the leader of the Octobrists.
How this man before him, whose legend came across Hijikata's ears as a child, had become an otherworldly magician was something that piqued his curiosity but he quickly brushed it off in favor of focusing on the main issue.
"Hijikata Toshizou, former Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi," the man clad in white boldly stepped forward, arms crossed and eyes striking into Hijikata's own. "Quite the viscous wolf, aren't you?"
Hijikata said nothing, not that he needed to because then Abe was tugged into a headlock from out of nowhere by one of the two Drifters that had orchestrated his capture. The wild-haired Westerner gave a mad laugh, rudely pointing a thumb towards the former Vice-Commander, who was still left in a sprawl on the dirty floor against the wall of the small room, while his companion took a seat at a nearby table to prop his feet on.
"No kiddin'! This bastard really tried to fuckin' bite my head off, ya shoulda seen 'im!" Butch laughed, his obnoxiousness beginning to grate on Hijikata's nerves again.
"Jesus, Butch..." Kid sighed from behind them, pulling off his hat to use it as a fan, cooling himself.
Abe untangled himself from the Westerner who's arm looked like it was choking the man, putting a couple of spaces between him and rowdy cowboy. Fixing his impeccable and immaculate uniform, Abe looked like he was in great pain from the lack of order Hijikata was witnessing first-hand. Honestly, if something like that ever happened between him and one of his men, treating their commander in such a familiar and disrespecting way, Hijikata would have personally beaten them back into perfect decorum. There was little room for such blatantly obnoxious behavior in the Shinsengumi; even Souji had better standards than to act like a complete imbecile in front of high-ranking officers or important political figures visiting their headquarters.
It just rubbed more salt in the wound to know that he lost a fight against a bunch of idiots.
"Now then," Abe returned his focus back to him. "Shall we get started?"
"I won't talk." Hijikata growled, glaring up at them. "You and your Drifters will only waste time."
"Ah, yes, I wouldn't want to take up anymore of your time with your master beckoning his precious wolf back to its rightful place at his heel." the man snorted.
"Funny you should say such a thing when you have your own lap dogs standing not too far from you." Hijikata retorted, shifting his glare towards the two men sitting at the table. "Does it make you feel safe? Does it make you feel like you'll be untouchable with those fools?"
"Does havin' nothin' but a bunch of smoke make ya feel almighty, friend?" Kid returned, a fake smile plastered on his face.
"Yeah, talkin' trash 'bout us but he's got all those spooky ghosts hangin' around him." Butch cackled. "Yer a creepy fucker, aren'tchya?"
Before any further exchanges of insults between Hijikata and the manic Drifter could occur, there was a loud commotion that made all heads in the room pause and look towards the direction of the source. Abe let out a long sigh after a moment when no one came bursting in with frantic news of an enemy attack, so he walked towards the closed door and opened it, and like a river the noise flooded in before it quickly silenced after the Octobrist leader stepped out and slammed the entrance shut behind him ominously. There was a moment of awkward silence that left Hijikata a little on edge, the two Drifters just standing and sitting there while trying to mind their own business when obviously all three of them were curious about the uproar from outside.
It didn't seem too dire, the former Shinsengumi officer thought after a moment when his eyes trailed towards the door, it was probably some increase of manpower behind the Drifter's army. With the Black King decimating nearby towns, people were fleeing into one direction until every single one of these vermins were pinned into a corner where there was no escape from their demise, thus putting an end to humanity.
"So..." Butch turned to Hijikata, playing the role of interrogator as Abe left them to themselves. Had it just been this Drifter alone, Hijikata probably would goaded him into a trap to set himself free, but under the hawk-like gaze of the other man, the chances of that happening were slim. "Hiji-gata, was it?"
There was twitch in the corner of his brow, but he said nothing.
"Hahaha~! Hiji-gata! Did your parents name you after a cat or somethin'?" Butch laughed, rocking on the heels of his chair.
'First target aquired,' was all the End could think of when glaring holes at the chuckling Drifter.
The door slammed open, the wooden gate nearly missing Kid as he ducked away in time from getting a bloody nose. So startled they were, the two men scrambled up with hands to their guns while the End could do nothing but watch with wide eyes at who exactly was standing in the doorway where the light flooded inside the dim room, casting a mysterious shadow to the faceless silhouette. The former Vice-Commander squinted his orbs, trying to adjust to the brightness after it had burned his retinas, and slowly he grew accustomed to it while the figure in the doorway strode inside, giving a clear picture for all occupants in the room to see.
"What the fuck?" Butch gawked, eyes wide and uncertain what to do.
Kid looked just as flabbergasted as his friend was.
The person came near enough until they were standing close to Hijikata's feet, and he couldn't help himself in staring openly.
A man... A very pretty man. His face painted exaggeratedly like a kabuki* actor back in Kyoto. A foreign-looking onnagata*, hair as light as the wheat fields with masses of luscious curls, eyes like the rolling seas below ships, and standing probably just as tall as Hijikata if the End had been allowed to stand to his full height. There was blush on the mysterious man's prominent cheeks, giving him a sort of aristocratic look, the blue shade swept over his eyes, and dark red painted across his lips. And the attire was almost like a dress, professional stitching patterns adorned all over it, with several jewelry worn by the person.
It was so ridiculous.
Had the world finally lost it?
But as bizarre and comical as the feminine man appeared, something about the way those imperative eyes stared into Hijikata's own made him draw his guard up. Eyes like that reminded him a bit of Rasputin, despite how little time he spent with the Russian spy master, the way they looked at every angle while mentally playing out every scenario should they proceed with whatever approach to get a correct response.
"Hey, twinky! Who the hell are you?!" Butch demanded, cutting off the quiet in the air. Kid stood behind his friend, a hand resting over his shoulder that Hijikata saw was preparation to yank the smaller man away should trouble come their way.
"Count St. Germi!" Abe rushed through the open door, followed by the one Octobrist that assisted in Hijikata's capture. Kafet, if he recalled the name correctly. "I wasn't aware that you would be joining us!"
"And I was not made aware you caught an End." the fair-haired male returned without missing a beat, eyes still gazing down at Hijikata speculatively.
Another familiar name in their network of spies, another target that needed to be assassinated as well. This St. Germi had played a part in infiltrating the Orte capitol city by using his seat in the Council to give an opening to the Drifters, costing the Ends their victory over the city. The invisible hackles rose, and the former Vice-Commander snarled up at the crossdresser. The Count finally eased the stoicism from his beautiful features and rose a brow, the corner of his painted lips curling in amusement. The Count then finally turned to Abe, arms cross behind his back while addressing the magician and his cohorts.
"You've all been very busy," St. Germi remarked. "I'm disappointed you didn't invite me."
"We just barely detained him last night." Abe's companion, Kafet, answered. "He was alone with only a platoon, guarding the outskirts of the Wall."
"How did you even get word of this?" Abe demanded.
The news of his capture was incredibly quick, Hijikata thought as he listened in on the entire thing. It could only mean there was most likely a spy in their midst, which meant they would have to be guarding him closely. The spy from the Ends will have to figure a way to—
"That little idiot of yours, Olminipples or something, caught word of it from your network through the communication spheres."
"Olminipples?" Butch mouthed to Kid. "They talkin' about that little lady with the big tits?"
"Ugh...!" the sorcerer grumbled, a palm sliding over his face.
This was treated more like a gossip mill than an information leak, Hijikata thought with a scowl. You would think after being taken as a prison of war there would be an air of doom and uncertainty, but instead there was this squabbling like women washing and drying their laundry near the well. It was like being back home, watching the elder women bicker among each other about their daughters or grandchildren, and his sister-in-law catching his hand to make him keep up with her to prepare lunch for his—
"Hold on," Abe ceased the babbling and looked at the Count nervously. "When Olmine relayed the information... she told you? Just you only, correct?"
The crossdresser raised a brow. "Of course she told me! Like I would be an idiot and let such a thing spread! Why do you think I hurried over to this bumpkin country you holed yourself up in?!"
There was a small round of collective sighs, and Hijikata was left out of the loop of why Abe looked so relieved.
"It was dreadful, you know!" the Count continued to complain with an air of haughtiness. "My attendants had to play as entertainers to those Drifters on the way here! I hope you lot have some sort of special ingredient for tea concerning trying to get the remains of a headache out of—"
"WHAT?!" Abe shot up, the relief from earlier thrown out the open doorway as he cuts off the Count's complaining, a look of horror written across the sorcerer's face. "You brought them here?!"
"Why yes, I did." the Count raised a fist to his jutting hip. "If I left them there alone in the capitol, they would have no doubt left it in a state of pandemonium."
Like some sort of cue, there was a thunder of running feet heading straight towards them. There was also shouting, so many voices blended altogether that the End couldn't make heads or tails of it. He cast a wary look to the sorcerer who appeared to be choking on thin air from how blue in the face he had gone, but then the man whirled towards his companion when the noise came closer, pointing at the door.
"SHUT THAT DOOR, RIGHT NOW!"
But before Kafet, Kid, or Butch could make a move, there was a howl. A howl that sent a shudder through Hijikata's bones and echoed in his heart. He had heard of this howl, like the whirlwind that swept into his line of sight the moment he took a step inside the battlefield on the streets of the capitol.
And like a demon bursting through the flames, a familiar warrior clad in red armor leapt inside the room, skidding to a halt right before him. The anger and violence within the ex Vice-Commander grew to new heights, and he strained against the tangles of his bindings, wanting to stand and face his eternal foe.
A head rose and Hijikata was face-to-face with that mad smile and gleaming eyes that screamed for battle and blood.
"It seems fortune smiles upon me," the Shimazu dog exclaimed with an enthusiastic smile on his face. "I get to finally return the favor in our long overdue battle! Get up, Hijikata! Get up on your feet and fight me again!"
Several people ran inside the room, making it more crowded than it needed to be. There was the older man with long hair and an eye-patch, Oda; the skilled archer in blue, Yoichi; a girl wearing a scandalous garb that did nothing to cover her long and pale legs, not to mention eye-popping breasts, another Octobrist agent. Behind the three were a small group of men with hair as fair the Count and long, pointed ears, one of them carrying an old mumbling man on their back. Said old man seemed to be munching on what looked to be berries.
What a crew.
"You idiot!" the Count chastised the Shimazu brat. "Why do you always come in howling about like some sort of demented monkey. Stop it, it's unbecoming!"
"He's from Satsuma, they're all practically beasts." Oda scoffed at the Count before his eyes fell on Hijikata. "Oh my. How did you fellows manage to catch this one in your web?"
"Him an' his pals were havin' a good ol' campfire gatherin', we wanted to join in but they said no, so I killed his pals and had this fella strung up in those magic ropes. He was bitchin' the whole way back here."
Oda, the Count, and Abe stared at the short cowboy. Hijikata could only understand half the jargon coming out of the idiot's mouth, the rest not making a lick of sense to him, it was like trying to crack codes and translate them to fit the lettering.
"Real nice, Butch." Kid sighed.
"What?" the man huffed. "He's here, ain't he?"
"And he's mine!" Shimazu lunged forward, but he was yanked back from pouncing Hijikata when the archer in blue grabbed the samurai by the collar of his shirt and threw him back on his rear.
"Don't be so hasty, neh, Toyo-san?"
"Yes, Toyohisa," the Count agreed as he returned to Hijikata, face falling back to the blank state that made Hijikata bite his bottom lip in frustration of what the crossdresser was trying to see. "Please refrain from attacking our sole prisoner. After all, there's a lot of questions I'd like to ask him."
And so it begins.
Kabuki - Japanese dance-drama theater
Onnagata - They're the kabuki male actors who play women roles.
Chapter 3: The Pretty One
St. Germi likes to know stuff, thank you very much~!
"This is going to be so much fun~!" the Count gushed, voice saccharine sweet it was sickening. "All alone with such a handsome one, too!"
No reaction, no outburst, not even a twitch: nothing.
With the magic cloth still keeping him bound together, Hijikata was placed on a chair rather than left on the floor at the Count's insistence on not wanting to develop an ache on his neck for having to spend his interrogation looking down on the silent End. The Octobrists, while irritated at the order, did so as requested by the nobleman (?) and proceeded to drag the barking Toyohisa out the door when the bastard continued to try and challenge the seething ex Vice-Commander.
The rest were ordered out of the room, and the leader of the Octobrists gave one last look to the Count before closing the door after him, leaving both Hijikata and Count St. Germi alone.
"So quiet," St. Germi huffed a small laugh, crossing his legs from beneath the long and flowy dress, gloved fingers interlacing from on top the pointed knee. "Where did all that talk of promising the Drifters and their allies annihilation go? Hmm?"
The other man just stared at him with a blank look in his steel orbs, not budging.
"There must be something you want to say~" the Count pouted, leaning back in his cushioned chair. "I really don't care what."
A shout from outside made the Count scowl, wanting to go out and discipline the idiot who hailed from Satsuma (considered to be a backwater country according to Yoichi and Oda). Honestly if it wasn't for sneak attacks being categorized as a strategy in battle, Toyohisa wouldn't know the meaning of silence even if his life depended on it. Someone desperately needed to teach the idiot how to use his inner voice because all that racket was just grating St. Germi's poor ears. It didn't help that the American, Butch—or was it Robert?—encouraged the howling going on outside.
Unintentionally, Hijikata gave a slow blink and trailed his eyes to some dark corner of the room near the door. It was small and almost overlooked, but the Count caught it. There was just a brief moment of quiet reprieve to quickly think of a new approach, and within the next moment, St. Germi found one.
The fight between Hijikata and Toyohisa was well known to everyone (considering it was all Toyohisa ever talked about during his recovery). Yoichi, the dear, had to be the one dragging the samurai back to the medical ward, threatening to
mummify tie him down should he continue to try and escape. Being the bloody-thirsty impudent brat that he was, all St. Germi ever heard from through Toyohisa's bemoaning was of that End in the dark cloak, who also hailed from the Land of the Rising Sun, abruptly leaving their battle without warning.
From what the idiot girl had said, the young general refused to pull back from his fight with the End even after he had successfully distracted Hijikata long enough for everyone else to wipe out the Orc troops that had accompanied him.
So when Olmiboobs (or something) reported to the Count about the capture of the very warrior who clashed against them back in Verlina, Toyohisa, who had done nothing but moped around in the capitol's streets, had practically jumped inside the carriage alongside the disgruntled Count. The attendants went into a frenzy, threatening bodily harm to the samurai for his crassness. The Drifter refused to budge from his seat, arms crossed and head held high in a manner of unflinching endurance to refuse being thrown out. Toyohisa claimed that even if they threw him out, he would only just latch himself on the side of their carriage like a leech, determined to follow the Count to where Abe and the others were keeping the End.
And not wanting to draw much more attention to his beautiful mode of transportation than its flamboyancy already provided, the Count grudgingly agreed. Of course several of the others invited themselves along, crowding the carriage where it was about as stuffy as it was like when they had to be slipped inside the capitol without arousing suspicion.
Then the moment came where End and Drifter met again, a spark instantly igniting between the two men. Like a flintlock sizzling to life, crawling its way towards the destruction and noise.
And if St. Germi was correct on his assumption that Toyohisa was deeply affected by Hijikata, then the same should be said about the End in return. And he put that little hypothesis to the test.
"Ah well, what can anyone expect from a lowly foot soldier?" the Count shrugged nonchalantly. "I guess it does not matter talking to you. Thank you for wasting my charitable time, Hijikata-san. If you're just as easy to take down with little to no effort on our part, then the Black King won't be much of a hassle to deal with as we originally thought."
With that snubbing, the Count stood from the chair and made to go for the door. Just as he was unlocked the door and prepared to pull the handle open, the Count paused at the glowering voice coming from behind him. A slow and poisonous smile stretched itself across St. Germi's lips.
'Hook, line, and sinker.'
"You think that we are weak?"
"I don't think; I know you are." the Count replied easily, returning his gaze on the bound warrior.
"You'll rue this moment for underestimating my Lord and companions from your arrogance."
"You don't say?" St. Germi snorted. "Your lordship is down two Ends, what does that say to you?"
"That says our sacrifices will not be in vain for our Lord. For even if you take my life in the next instance, the Black King will return the favor tenfold upon you miserable humans." Hijikata sneered at the Count. "Look at you; hiding in the far corners of your kingdoms, people driven out of their countries, your noble soldiers dying and leaving the land blood soaked. What does that say to you?"
"That just says we need to go about fighting your army of hideous creatures with better tactics," Count St. Germi retorted haughtily with a taunting smile. "As I believe the saying from our cowboy friends goes: never bring a knife to a gun fight."
Even as the Black King was gathering more and more monsters in his great army of vicious beasts from on land and of that in the air, the Octobrists and their Drifters (along with a few demihumans races) were working in putting together their knowledge of technology, battle strategies, and resources to create a higher form of war. Quality over quantity was the key in succeeding a war against the Black King and his Ends.
Three Drifters were somewhere well off from being found, but the reports said that one of the Drifters brought along with him a great vessel made for naval warfare, stocked with giant cannons with much greater fire power, and Hijikata's hidden implication that the Black King was pushing everyone to the corner to deliver the final blow was one thing the Count could get from their small banter of insults. The problem was that Orte was still at odds with Gubinnen, a great merchant city stationed across an archipelago off the coast of Orte's empire. With Gubinnen constantly threatening to cut off trade for the mainland, and mainland being the only barrier between the Black King and their merchant city, the two countries stood at a stand still.
However, there was the rifle production to draw the eyes of the stupid
beautiful 8th generation ruler of Gubinnen: Banzel Mashin.
But as much as the Count wanted to believe that the Shairock heir would keep his word in providing assistance (as they were only good for naval warfare with their numerous ships but were completely useless on land, another reason why they couldn't attack Orte), St. Germi knew it would be stupid of him not to keep an eye on that conniving pretty face of the young Secretary. They didn't call him talented for nothing as he was the great Merchant of the Bank Guild in Gubinnen (not to mention the Admiral of the United Gubinnen's Marine Fleet). Naizel Brigante, Supreme Visor of the United Gubinnen's Marines and the Secretary's right hand man was just as cunning as his superior.
They all needed to keep their guns and guards up around each other, especially should the situation arise that the Black King does push their forces of the mainland towards the edges of the sea, and there was no telling what desperation would lead to for cornered men. So as much as it irritated the hell out of him to be playing nice with that brat, the Count had to create a front to the End that he was on good terms with Gubinnen's Secretary.
Back to Hijikata, the man curled his mouth and glared with all the hatred he could muster at the Count. St. Germi replied with a smug look, amused that a few words riled the devilishly handsome warrior from a few references with his fights from the two Westerners and the young general. Before the Count could say something extra witty to just see the other man bite his lip in utter frustrated that it would bleed (and stir desire from St. Germi's loins), the door behind the Count bursted open with such a force that it slammed into his back.
St. Germi fell forward in a clumsy fall, and instantly he was raging mad at the lunatic who forced their way in. And he didn't even have to see to know the culprit behind the door slamming.
Said samurai clad in crimson jumped over the fallen Count and ran straight for the still tied Hijikata who hissed at the general. Toyohisa then slammed his ass on the luxurious seat in front of Hijikata's own chair, crossed his arms, inhaled sharply before letting out a howling laugh in the man's face.
"My princess~!" Alestor, one his attendants, fell to his 'lady's' side and proceeded to glare at the maniacal Drifter who was angering their POW further. "You fool! What the devil are you laughing about?! And especially after you trampled over the princess so carelessly!"
From outside, Flemi, the second attendant of the Count, gave an outrageous cry that promised vengeance in the name of their fallen princess.
"What the hell are you laughing at, Shimazu?!" Hijikata roared, struggling and straining against the enchanted cloth as the barking mad dog before him continued with his mocking laughter. "Do you feel powerful sitting there, like you've won?! You haven't won, you wretch!"
Toyohisa cackled as he wiped away at the corner of his, looking at Hijikata with genuine amusement rather than the haughty kind.
"Butch told me how you came charging at him like a maniac!" Toyohisa laughed. "Said that it was crazy how you were just diving out of the way when they fired their guns, how you came close to cleaving his head clean off his shoulders!"
The way the young man spoke was starting to sound like admiration towards his enemy, the Count and his attendant blanched. Oda and Yoichi stood at the doorway, along with Butch and Kid as well as Abe, the others meanwhile were keeping Hannibal entertained by feeding the elder more berries the elves collected.
"And then he told me that if hadn't been for Kafet and his charms, you would have killed them right there!" Toyohisa exclaimed, an excited smile on his bright face like a child. "You really are something, aren't you Hijikata?"
"Silence!" Hijikata snapped from his seat, and the Count caught an uneasy look on the warrior's face. "Unbind me so that I may kill you, Shimazu! You wanted a fight, I'll gladly give you one!"
The eager look on the samurai's face made the others immediately charge inside to prevent their idiot general from unleashing the End.
The cowboys had to keep Hijikata still from accidentally tipping his chair over while Abe stood to the side with a charm sticking out between his gloved fingers while Alestor and Yoichi worked to prevent Toyohisa from coming closer to Hijikata with his fingers reached for the enchanted cloth keeping the End's dark abilities in check. The Count let out a long and tired sigh, knowing that if this continued on that the effort in weeding out bits and pieces of information from the ex Vice-Commander would be a slow process if he ended up being interrupted by the zealous samurai.
"So I guess he's sticking around?" Oda asked from beside St. Germi, scratching at his beard while eyeing the entire spectacle with his sole orb.
"We're going to need someone to keep the End company while trying to prevent Toyohisa from coming near him." the Count muttered under his breath, eye brow twitching in frustration. "I should probably commission the dwarves to create a great cage to wheel around with me, the key thrown away so Toyohisa doesn't steal it and force the door open."
"You would like that, wouldn't you?" the former Daimyou snorted.
"Wouldn't you want to carry something so pretty next to you?" the nobleman coyly smirked at the other, teasing him for a reaction.
"Hmmm..." Oda hummed as he stared at Hijikata. "I think you should just leave him with a bodyguard or two and keep him company while he freely walks about."
"What?!" the Count hissed, staring at Oda with bewilderment. "You want to let him walk around free?!"
"He's not going to be armed, you stupid okama."
"That doesn't make him any less dangerous, you one-eyed freak!" the Count hissed. "Besides, why would you allow that?! What kind of a plan is that?!"
"It's a slow and gratuitous plan to brainwash our friend here." Oda replied, keeping his voice low, but thankfully they were largely ignored by the commotion the others were creating.
"That's impossible. You can't bring a man like that to fall completely under our control." the Count huffed, crossing his arms.
"I don't mean we want to turn him to our side," grunted the Daimyou. "I mean to slowly collapse his defenses, ease him a little..."
"Lure him to a false sense so that he may share a thing or two with us." St. Germi finished, eyes slowly lighting up with interest. But the Count scowled, glaring at the End. "I might be able to catch some of his words, but I believe we need to put him with someone who is able to lull him into a sense of intimate privacy."
"Mm," Oda nodded. "Can't be someone who's a fighter or menacing-looking."
"Yes, yes," the Count agreed. "It has to be someone weak, but they need to be capable enough to bring him down should he try to pull the wool over them."
They both shared a glance with each other, wondering just who the world would fit the bill of their description. A cry from behind them, outside the room they were in, made both of them turn to see what was going on outside of the spectacle happening inside the room.
Two of the young elves, Marsha and Mark, were teasing the pig-tailed girl as they tossed her glasses back and forth over her flustered head. Olmimelons was indignantly demanding the returned of her glasses, threatening to tell their older brother of the grief they were causing her.
The Count and Daimyou locked eyes.
'Good luck, Olmiboobs!'