Kim, Ron, and Yori easily got on what they believed to be the tracks of the fugitives. It was becoming clear that they were more than likely not going to catch their prey before they made it to Senior’s castle, but they pressed on. There was always the chance that they might catch the group; after all, all sorts of things could happen that could delay the getaway, like a horse could be injured, a person could get ill, or any number of things. So, they pressed on.
Kim was silently praying that “yojimbo-san” was not involved with everything, even though it was his party that had been broken out of prison. She felt like she had saved the green-skinned bodyguard before by keeping him from being involved in the criminal roundup, but he had only re-signed his death warrant if he had anything to do with the breakout. Why would he throw his life away like that? Well, she guessed that it was because he was loyal to the man that he was supposed to protect. She guessed that she could understand that, but she wished that he would have taken the chance to run and continue to be free. After all, his master’s situation was practically hopeless, or so she thought. She had not banked on “yojimbo-san” being able actually infiltrate the castle and then exit with a large amount of prisoners without being seen. But, who could calculate such a factor in if that was what happened? She did not want that to be the case. She did not want him to die, so she hoped that there was some other explanation for the escape.
“Hey, can we stop for lunch?” Ron requested and then his stomach growled loudly.
“Eat while you ride. We need to catch these guys,” Kim replied.
“Eat while I ride? What if I drop the food?” the blonde boy asked in a panic.
“What if we lose this trail?” the redhead countered.
“We’re going to lose this trail? A blind man could follow this trail!” Ron shouted in disbelief.
“Uh-huh, blind,” Rufus concurred while crawling out of Ron’s haori (1) sleeve and looking down at the trail.
“We’ve only got a limited amount of time. Senior’s castle isn’t that far. If they make it there, they can make a stand. If they have guns, it could be a bloody battle. We have to try our best to catch them before they hit that castle,” Kim informed the blonde boy.
“She’s right, anata (2),” Yori said, using the term of endearment to hopefully calm her husband down and it worked.
Ron sighed, but he did not say anything else. He guessed that making sure a senseless, bloody battle did not happen was more important than lunch. Maybe; he could not be totally sure. After all, lunch was lunch. Food was just about the most important thing to him outside of his family, his wife, and his friends.
He did glance down at the packet that held his lunch. He was tempted to just eat while they rode, which his wife and best friend did. He was nervous that he might drop his food, though. It was actually unlikely that he would drop his meal, but he always thought of the “what if.” What if he did drop it? He would be crushed.
Still, he noticed Kim and Yori eating their food, small rice balls. He decided that he was going to have to risk possibly dropping his food because he was hungry. He pulled out his own lunch and was about to take a bite when his horse suddenly tripped.
Ron and Rufus yelped as they went tumbling. The horse hit the ground along with its rider and pet. The blonde young man and Rufus tumbled a few yard while the ladies he was with gasped when they noticed what happened. They pulled their horses to a halt and fell to Ron’s side.
“Anata, are you all right?” Yori begged to know in a frantic tone. They had all bore witness to some serious injuries of people falling from their horses and she hoped that Ron was not on that list now.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” Ron answered with a groan. He sat up and looked around. “Oh, no. Where’s Rufus? Rufus!” he called.
“Calm down, Ron-kun,” Yori said, going back to her usual public phrase for Ron since he was not injured.
“Do you see Rufus? Rufus!” Ron hollered in a panic while checking his sleeves for his little bald buddy.
“Hey, Ron-kun, do like Yori-chan says. Calm down,” Kim said.
“I can’t. Rufus!” Ron screamed.
“Hey!” Rufus squeaked as he poked out of Kim’s red mane. Apparently, he had been flung much further from the crash than Ron.
“Rufus, buddy!” Ron grinned as the mole rat charged over to him. The pair embraced each other.
“You get the feeling you’ll always be second in his heart?” Kim teased Yori.
“Well, Rufus was there first, so I suppose it will be my honor to be second,” Yori answered with a bit of a laugh.
Kim chuckled a bit herself and then went to go inspect Ron’s horse. The horse was climbing to its feet, but it seemed to be having some trouble. She watched it try to walk and though the horse appeared fine, she was willing to bet that it would not be able to carry Ron’s weight for a while. She then went to see if something in the road might have caused the horse to fall.
The redhead spotted a hole that was probably dug into the road. Was that a subtle trap? Little did she know, but yes, it was. Shego had stopped and put a few holes in the roads to hopefully slow up anyone after her and her group. It seemed to have worked. Kim now knew that they had to be extremely cautious on the road or their healthy horses could suffer the same accidents.
“How’s my horse?” Ron called to his best friend. He hoped that the animal was better than his lunch. He did not even know where his meal landed. He knew that he should have just waited until they stopped to eat, but no, he had to tempt fate.
“Just as good as you more than likely,” Kim answered. “We have to be careful because there could be traps along the road,” she warned her companions.
Ron was not sure how to take the response that his horse was as good as he was. He was not too hurt up, but he had just been thrown from a horse. He had a few cuts and he was a little hurt now, but he was not sure what that translated into for his horse. He decided to go and see and found out.
He climbed onto his horse and tried to follow behind the ladies again, but it was now clear how his injures could relate to his horse. The horse was not moving as quickly as it could. Ron was not looking to hurt his horse anymore than it already was and so, he climbed off of his saddle.
“Ron-kun, ride with me,” Yori suggested.
“All right. Kim, maybe you should ride ahead of us. You might still be able to catch them,” Ron pointed out.
“Okay, I’ll wait for you guys by the castle if I don’t catch them,” the redheaded samurai informed them.
The couple agreed and Kim took off without them. Ron climbed onto Yori’s horse. She let him sit in front and then she did something that touched his heart. She offered him the rest of her lunch.
“Thanks, koibito (3),” he said as if she had given himself extremely precious.
“Don’t mention it,” she replied and she cuddled up to his shoulder. Inappropriate for the time, yes, but she did not care. She was happy to be near him again after so much time away from him. So, she was going to revel in being close to him, even if it was not the best time for such a thing.
The horse that the couple rode on trotted slowly. They kept pace with Ron’s injured steed. The horse was not so hurt that they were just going to let it out of their sight or anything. It just would not have been able to keep up with them if they continued to go after the fugitives. They hoped Kim caught up with them, but also did not get into too much trouble since it was just her.
Kim was riding hard, actually hoping to catch the fugitives even if they were many and she was alone. She was still hoping that “yojimbo-san” was not among them; the wish was in her to a degree that she could not even comprehend it. She was also being alert and cautious about anymore holes that might be in the road, in case that had been a trap that Ron’s horse had hit.
Her whole being was taut like a rope being pulled on both ends in opposite directions. She had a determination in her eyes that was unlike any look that she ever carried during a mission, but she was unaware of it. She could not explain her rigid body language, but she knew that it had something to do with her anxiety that the bodyguard would be with the fugitives.
Shego, Drakken, and the Seniors arrived at the Seniors’ castle and only two of them began preparing for the onslaught that they knew was going to come. Drakken and Junior seemed to think that they were safe now that they were in the castle and had the nerve to start relaxing.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Shego asked Drakken as he started to walk off after Senior told his guests where they could stay.
“I was going to get some sleep. We’ve been riding for a long time and my butt’s sore,” he answered.
Whoa, talk about too much information, Shego thought. “Okay, first of all, never, ever mention your butt to me again,” she told him. “Next, we don’t have time to sleep. You just broke out of jail after being arrested for more than likely your whole plot to overthrow the government and everything, so believe it or not, the Shogun is going to be sending people after us!” she hollered into his ear, causing Drakken to jump back.
“There’s no need to shout!” Drakken said while sticking his finger in his ear to relieve the pain.
“There’s a need to shout if you’re going to act like a moron! We need to start setting up defenses. We need to stockpile food in here in case they try to starve us out. We need to get men together. We need to do shit,” Shego pointed out.
“She’s right. We’ve got to be prepared for an attack by the Shogun. This is no time for sleep,” Senior stated.
“But, Father, I’m tired,” Junior whined.
“Well, if we don’t get this place ready, you’ll be sleeping for a long time,” Shego remarked. “About until you’re reincarnated,” she stated.
“We really do need to get this place ready for a big fight,” Senior concurred.
“Do you have any weapons here?” the pale woman asked.
“I do, or I hope anyway. I had some of the weapons shipped here when Drakken started delivering them to the manor in Edo. I’ll check to see if they’re here,” Senior replied.
“Okay, you do that. Junior, easy job for you, go out and gather as much food as you can,” Shego ordered.
“I’m not taking orders from an oni (4),” Junior declared.
Shego growled and she grabbed him by the folds of his kimono. She yanked him down to her level and held up a flexed, clawed hand in his face. He got a view of some very low toned plasma dancing along her fingertips. She scowled at him.
“If you want to die so badly, how about I do it now to save the samurai coming to have our heads the trouble!” Shego suggested and Junior whimpered.
“Shego!” Drakken sort of scolded her.
“Ojousan (5), unhand my son!” Senior ordered while waving his walking stick at the green-skinned female in a threatening manner.
Shego turned to the other two men and stared at them with anger flaring in her eyes like her plasma would from her hands. She hated being ordered around and decided to show them that it would be a good idea for them to stop doing it. She took Junior and tossed him over her shoulder. He yelled until he hit the ground, but Shego did not even pay him any mind once he was out of her sight.
“Fine, you all want to die this week. I won’t stop you, but I won’t stick around for it either. If you’re so eager to die, you should’ve stayed in the dungeon instead wasting my time,” Shego informed them.
“We’re not looking to die,” Senior told her.
“Then you need to act like it, ojiisan (6),” she replied, calling him that because he had referred to her as “ojousan” instead of using her name.
“You need to calm down,” Senior told the emerald-eyed female.
“Don’t tell me what I need to do. Go do what you have to do. We need to start this thing immediately. The Shogun’s forces are probably right on our tails. We don’t have much time,” she pointed out.
Senior nodded; they did not have time to argue amongst themselves, but he did make a mental note. He was going to make sure that Shego paid for treating his son as if he was beneath her and for talking to him such a familiar and rude manner. She needed to know her place as a bodyguard for a status-less inventor. He then went to collect his son.
Junior frowned as he began picking himself up off of the floor with the help of his father. He watched the back of the woman that just disrespected him as she exited the large room. He consciously decided that he hated that woman more than he did anyone else on the planet and he was going to get her back later on. There was no way that he would forgive her for such horrible trespasses against him. He liked Drakken’s other bodyguard much more; he had not figured out that Shego was the same “skinny chap” that he had so merrily offered Akako to back at the teahouse.
“Come on, my son. We have many preparations to make and not much time to do it,” Senior said to his only child.
“Did you see that, Father?” Junior asked, as if it was possible for someone that had been standing right there to have missed it. It was not like he was small person, after all.
“I saw,” the elder man affirmed.
“Are you just going to let her get away with that?” the younger Senior inquired.
“Of course not, but for the moment, she has a point. We have to get ready for the Shogun’s reaction to our escape. That’s the important thing because we need to stay alive,” Senior replied.
Junior nodded to show that he understood, but all he really understood was that they needed to stay alive. He still wanted his revenge immediately if not sooner against that demon woman. He was not going to allow her to just treat him as if he was some regular person. He was the son of a daimyo. He was going to inherit the title. He was even engaged to the sister of the Shogun himself, which showed just how powerful his status was. She was beneath him and she needed to know that now.
The pair went off to pair for a long stand against the Shogun. They did not think that it was possible for them to fall now that they made it to the castle. They would store up some food and gather some men and they would make a stand against the Shogun and whatever dogs that he threw at them. With the weapons that they had, Senior was confident for them to be able to hold off the Shogun by crushing any hopeless degenerates that attacked his home.
He considered that the battle could work to his favor. If he was able to hold off the Shogun, other lords might come to his side. With combined forces, they could take on the Shogun and then he would still be able to take over the government. Maybe he would be able to have the Emperor declare him the new shogun.
His scheme might seem a bit odd, maybe even overdone to those that knew his son was actually supposed to be married to the Shogun’s sister. It was an arrangement that had taken place when the previous Shogun was still alive and perhaps he would have settled for just being in the Shogun’s family if only he did not see the chance of gaining more for himself and for his son. He thought that the Shogun was weak compared to his father and he should seize the chance when he had it to take over, despite other arrangements.
Shego sat up in her room that night. She was in the doorway that opened to a garden. She stared off into the sky and sort of hated that she was thinking about Akako. It seemed to suggest that she was concerned or worried for someone that she wished that she was not close to in the first place. She wondered what was going on with the girl, if she had successfully made an escape or if she had been caught and returned to the teahouse. She decided that it would probably be best for her to either consider that the girl escaped successfully or just not think of the redhead at all or she might do something stupid, like go back to Edo to find the petite musician again.
She would have loved to hear Akako playing the shamisen again. She did play it well and Shego enjoyed the sound. It made her relax and made her wish that she could play the instrument. But, since she could not play the shamisen, she felt that she had the next best thing, someone who could and did play it for her.
There was also no one to talk to now that Akako was not around. There was no one to playfully tease; everyone that she teased now was done to be mean to them because they were irksome to her. There was nothing for her to do if she just felt like lying around, not that she had time to do that anyway.
They were going to be under siege soon, after all. She did not think that she was going to die, but she did consider it. It had to be a possibility, she told herself. Nothing was guaranteed, so her life might be gone soon and she would never speak with Akako again. Maybe she would be able to live as a ghost around the girl, if only for the shamisen music, but then again, Akako did not like playing the instrument, so she probably would not play it without being ordered to and Shego did not want to be around if someone else was commanding the redhead to play. Well, it would seem that she was just going to have to die and leave it at that.
Shego wondered why she kept thinking of the petite redhead. She was not thinking of anyone else, like she tended to do when she was on the move. Sometimes, when she was sitting alone, she would think of people from the past that had been in her life, but she was only thinking of one person now and no one else. She hardly thought about her living family when she did think about other people, probably because she hated them. Well, she wanted to believe that she hated them.
Her family, they had been the one that took her freedom and that was why she loathed them. Well, actually, she had never had real freedom because of her family. She could not do anything that she wanted when she wanted in her opinion and that was why she left them and never looked back. She rarely thought about them now and it had been that way since she left.
She did not make any real friends since she had left her family and her home. Akako was the only person that she had really taken to recently and in such a thought consuming manner. She was not sure how, when, or why it happened, but it had happened. She did not have anything against making friends, especially one that saw her desire to be free as a reality and not a joke.
She was not sure why she had not really made friends before Akako. She knew that she was not friendly or anything like that, which was probably the reason, she told herself. She disliked being bothered and it was so easy to bug her that she guessed it was extremely hard for people to get near her. She was also cranky and mean, which was why people did not want to be around her too.
Perhaps, she should have stolen Akako that night before running away to see what those fools were up to and finding out that they were arrested. She could have put the girl somewhere safe and then she could have come along. At least she would have someone around that showed signs of intelligence. But then again, she also would have been putting Akako in harms’ way and a huge part of her detested that. It would have been selfish and dangerous to bring a maiko with her to a place that she knew was going to be a battlefield. As far as she could tell, things went the way that they should have. Perhaps, Akako was some place safe and warm and enjoying her freedom, like everyone should have been able to in Shego’s opinion.
Shego continued sitting there for a moment and then decided that she needed to get some sleep, in case the Shogun caught up with them faster than she expected his forces to. She closed her door and laid down on her futon. She preferred a comfortable place to rest than leaning against the wall, like some warriors might do.
She remained alert, even though she was supposed to be going to sleep. She could hear movement going on outside of her room and she could only wonder what she was about to have to put up with. She just assumed that it was going to be annoying.
“Why me?” Shego wondered as her room was invaded by a bunch of men.
The men went straight at her since she was lying down in the bed. She was about to show them that just because she was lying down did not mean that she was an easy win. As soon as they were close enough for her to strike, she went at them with a fury that they did not expect.
She did not ignite her hands for them. She did not see the point in it. She took down the group of men with ease as far as she was concern. She did draw blood, which was her intent. Her fingernails were like claws and she used them like a wildcat to scratch faces, but she also used them to grab into flesh, like a fishhook.
She also had some rather strong kicks, but she did not use them often. Her style was more about hand movement because of her powers and her claws. She did take the six fellows down without being touched. And then she turned her attention to her door.
“What’s all the noise? Do you have her yet?” Junior asked as he poked his head into the room and was grabbed around his thick neck.
“What the hell were you just planning?” Shego demanded to know while putting her bloody finger to his throat for him to get the idea that she had no problem putting her fingers through his flesh as she had just done his six men.
“What? I planned nothing!” he insisted while trying to pull away from her, but she had a good hold on him.
“Tell me now or I’ll just slit your throat to make sure I don’t have to worry about this anymore.”
“Nothing! I just planned to have you beaten up,” he lied. He had something more sinister in store for her, but he had not counted on her being able to drop all of his men as she had.
“Listen, snot-for-brains, we are about to get attacked by the Shogun, so you shouldn’t be wasting perfectly good men on me when we could be using them to save your miserable hide,” Shego snarled as she shoved him away from her. She sucked her teeth. “Fool.”
Junior cowered for a bit and then raced off down the hall. He was now convinced that she was a demon. He had to tell his father about everything that happened and how Shego had to be the wickedest of all spirits. His father nodded to show that he understood, but explained that they needed her for the moment. Once they were victorious in battle against the Shogun, he figured that he would take care of Shego.
Kim stared into the city built in the shadow of Senior’s castle from a hilltop and sighed. She knew that she was not going to make it in time, but now it was pretty much confirmed. She was willing to bet that they were in the castle, but she was going to ask around to make sure and then she would send word back to Betty.
She looked around and asked some questions. As far as people were willing to say, the lord has returned and was staying in his castle of course, but that was about all they knew. She really did not need more than that.
She did wish that she could find out if “yojimbo-san” was in the castle too, but she doubted that anyone would know. She did ask a few people if a slender, green-skinned fellow had arrived with the lord, but no one knew. They told her that the daimyo had come in at night and they were not sure who was with him.
The redhead sighed because of the lack of information regarding “yojimbo-san,” but chose not to despair. She wrote a quick note to Betty confirming that the Seniors were at the castle. She then reached into her obi, which was where she had a small whistle tucked away. She blew the whistle and flung the message into the air. A bird soared by and snatched the message up.
“Well, since my work here is done, might as well look around,” Kim decided. The bird that she had summoned with the whistle would take her message right to Betty and since her job was just to track the criminals, she was finished. She would wait for Ron and Yori and see if they wanted to stick around, but for the most part, they were done.
Ron and Yori showed up much later that day. Kim found them in a restaurant and was not surprised that Ron was gorging himself. He was probably trying every dish that they served in the place and Rufus was helping. Kim sat down with the couple and did like Yori, namely just watched Ron go.
“Ron should do a travel log and just talk about every restaurant in every city that he’s ever been in,” Kim commented.
“That would be a long book,” Yori remarked with a smile.
“He could do more than one,” the redhead offered.
Ron did not pay the two females any mind. He was just focusing on his food and making sure that Rufus did not steal any of his grub. He loved it when they found great restaurants. It made leaving home worth it, especially when Yori was with him.
“So, you didn’t catch them, Kim-chan?” Yori asked the obvious.
“No, they made it to the castle already,” Kim answered the obvious.
“Did you send word to Director-sama?” the ninja inquired.
“Yeah, I did.”
“So, what now?”
“Well, I was going to leave that up to you two. You want to head home or just wait for word from Director-sama?” Kim asked.
Ron mumbled his answer, which the girls guessed translated into, “Let’s go home.”
“She might need us,” Yori said.
“She might,” Kim agreed. She was not opposed to sticking around, even though she would like to go home. She figured that if she stayed around the city, she could find out if “yojimbo-san” was with the Seniors. The question had been eating away at her since she found out about the breakout and an answer might ease her mind, and settle her stomach, which had butterflies building ever since she entered the city. But, she knew only one answer would quell the anxious feeling bothering her system.
“Let’s stay for a while. Besides, a battle would be fun,” Yori commented with a smile.
Kim agreed with that; they could use some combat after all that they had to put up with in the past couple of months. Ron groaned; why did he have to hang around two girls that loved to fight? Now he was going to have to stay behind too and possibly help out Betty. Ah well, at least there was good food around and he was with his two favorite ladies, he consoled himself. He went back to eating while the ladies continued watching.
After Ron ate all the he could, they went in search of a place to stay. It was not a long or hard search. They got a room at a decent inn and camped out there.
Kim, Ron, and Yori met up with Betty on the outskirts of the city. Betty had the area surrounded in case the Seniors and other fugitives tried to flee into the city. She planned to take the castle from the back, which was open land instead of possibly killing a bunch of people in the city by attacking the front of the castle.
“So, you three stuck around?” Betty inquired. She could not believe it. From the way Kim and Yori had acted before, she was almost certain that they would flee the scene like flustered birds the moment the job was complete.
“Thought you might need us,” Kim replied.
“I could always use more warriors. You want to help, go grab a bow and some arrows. I’m going to give them a chance to surrender, but it’s likely that we’re going to have to force them out,” Betty said.
Kim and her friends did not argue. They walked off while Betty sent her message into the fortified castle. The message did make its way to Senior, who was getting ready for the battle. Senior might have gone and surrendered because he would not have the men to fight against the forces outside of his home, but the men that he had with him in Edo had made their way to the castle, so he was now in for the long haul.
“Make them suffer,” Senior ordered his forces. They would fight.
1: haori: a short jacket worn over a kimono.
2: anata: darling (used by a woman to her husband or boyfriend).
3: koibito: lover
4: oni: a devil; a demon.
5: ojousan: young woman.
6: ojiisan: grandfather; old man.
Next time: Let the battle begin.