Assault On Sendai Castle

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"What!? Are you sure?" Hijikata asked sharply, furrowing his brow as he and Sumiko both ran to the house where he had left Chizuru.

"There's no mistake," Sumiko replied grimly, furrowing her own brow. "This recent rash of killings in the town is the work of the Rasetsu Unit. I had to cut one of them down myself."

"I see... There's no mistake then," Hijikata said, accepting her conclusion. Nearly all of the remaining men in the Unit had been on her operating table at some time before taking the Ochimizu. She wasn't likely to forget their faces. And although he didn't want to believe it, he had known from the start this could be a possibility, that San'nan-san might have betrayed them...

"I'm sorry," Sumiko apologized solemnly, knowing this wasn't easy for him to hear. "We finally get to meet again, and this is the kind of news I bring..."

"No, it's not your fault. But you sure do have a knack for finding trouble, Sumiko-san," he said with a wan smile.

"Contrary to popular belief, I don't go out looking for trouble. It finds me on its own!" she retorted with a wry smile, sweat-dropping.

"Guaah!" they heard a familiar voice cry out in pain as they drew nearer.

"!" Sumiko gasped as they exchanged an alarmed glance before picking up speed.

"Heisuke!" Hijikata shouted as they rounded the corner and sprinted towards the side gate.

"Hijikata-san! Sumiko-san!?" Heisuke exclaimed, surprised and relieved to see both of them together. They could now see Heisuke struggling to fend off a group of rasetsus in Imperial Army uniforms.

"These are Sensei's...! So, it's as I thought..." Sumiko said lowly, narrowing her eyes slightly, as she followed Hijikata into combat without hesitation as he leaped to Heisuke's aid.

SLASH!

SLICE!

SLASH SLICE SLASH!

With all three of them working together, it was over within seconds. Hijikata and Heisuke stared at Sumiko, stunned. Her stance had changed. Despite their best efforts not to fall behind with the sun weakening them, not only had she done most of the work, but the speed and skill with which she dispatched and executed their enemies suggested that this was not her first time killing...

"I still don't like it," Sumiko said, as if reading their minds. She was staring at the blood that had splattered onto a clean, white kimono that was hanging from the line. "A human life is a heavy burden to bear. I was afraid I would be crushed by that weight, but there's something important that I have to protect, so I've decided to do what I have to. But I won't let myself be crushed. It wouldn't be fair to all the people I've outlived if I just up an died so easily. Instead, I've decided that for every person I've killed, I'll survive and live enough for their share as well, so that it won't go to waste. I'm tired of walking on egg shells. I'm not going to hold back anymore." She turned to face them. "But enough rambling from me, where's Chizuru? Did Koudou-san take her?"

"Yeah!" Heisuke said, still panting a little. "He covered her mouth with a white cloth, and she fainted!"

"What!?" Hijikata said, clearly alarmed and concerned for Chizuru's safety. The two of them looked like they were about to immediately rush off and do something hasty, so Sumiko quickly grabbed them by the backs of their shirts to stop them.

"Hold on, I'm worried too, but we can't just go rushing off without a plan. There's too many of them for just the three of us to handle right now... but it would be a different story at night," she said with the hint of a smirk. Hijikata seemed to catch her meaning, and he calmed down slightly.

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