Burning Bright

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March, 1868

After spending a day in Hino, the corps left Kondo-san and set out. Kondo-san had received a truly hearty welcome. Including the new enlistees from Hino, their troops had swollen to over 300. At midday, the Shinsengumi and their newly formed corps, the Kôyô Chinbutai, stopped to eat and rest in the shade for short while before continuing their march.

"Kondo-san still hasn't caught up with us," Shinpachi announced grudgingly as he walked over to join the others after checking on the troops. "I swear, he must think our journey to Koufu is a vacation or somethin'!"

"Don't be so harsh," Sano said. "Isn't Hino like his old hometown? He probably wants to return in glory."

"And I'm sayin' I wish he'd put more weight on the time and situation!" Shinpachi retorted, furrowing his brow. "We've been so busy with this war, that we haven't even had time to go after those bastards who took Sumiko! Without her and Yamazaki, anyone who gets shot is a dead man."

"Sumiko-san..." Chizuru said sadly as she and Sano looked down.

"It's not like Kondo-san is just guzzling sake," Hijikata said. "He's also examining the new group of applicants who would like to join us."

"You bastard!" They all looked up when they heard someone curse, disturbing the peace of the rest of their group. "I dare you to say that again!"

"I said a lowly new recruit shouldn't throw his weight around!" one of their older members retorted.

"What's going on?" Sano wondered aloud as they glanced over and saw one of the new recruits grab one of their veterans forcefully by the collar of his kimono.

"What was that, you...!?" the new recruit demanded hotly.

"That's enough!" Shimada said sternly as he rushed over to break up the fight before it could escalate any further.

"You wanna fight!?" the new recruit snapped.

"Tch! Not again," Sano said, furrowing his brow in irritation as he got up and left to go help Shimada. "They never learn."

"Damn it," Shinpachi said, also standing up. "When the general's goofing around, the soldiers start slackin' off," he commented bitterly, glancing down at Hijikata as the fight continued in the background. He furrowed his brow when Hijikata remained silent and walked off to help Sano and Shimada. "Stop! That's enough!" he shouted as he jogged over to them. "Don't fight amongst yourselves!"

"Vice-commander," Saito said after a moment, "I will skip straight to the point."

"What is it?" Hijikata asked as he and Chizuru glanced at him.

"Do you think we can win this battle?" Saito asked seriously.

"!" Chizuru gasped.

"If we can hold up in the castle, we have a fighting chance," Hijikata replied, furrowing his brow. "But it would be tough if we fought them head on. Big shots from the Bakufu have provided us with weapons and cannons, but our foes are purchasing cutting-edge weaponry from foreign countries. On top of that, they displayed great morale and skill in Toba-Fushimi. We don't stand a chance against them as we are now." Chizuru's eyes widened.

"Then we will loose this battle?" Saito asked calmly.

"Of course I'll do what I can to see that doesn't happen. I don't want Kondo-san to experience losing a battle, and we still have to save Sumiko," Hijikata said solemnly. "Heh. But you know I couldn't tell any of this to Shinpachi or Harada," he said with a derisive laugh at the tough situation.

"I understand," Saito replied, bowing his head. Chizuru remained silent. Her brow was creased with worry as she thought about the upcoming battle and what it could mean for everyone she cared about.

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