Blood spurted from the man's mouth as he rolled on the ground. A very pissed Sanosuke was standing above him. "You bastard, do you want me to pull out all your teeth and string them on my neck? Eh?"

 The other man was likewise groaning on the ground, his face a mess from Sanosuke's violent fists that had been only too glad to force information out of him. Or try to force, that is. So far they had gotten nothing out of them.

 "It would be best for all concerned if you would talk," Kenshin commented. The men said not a word.

 "Excuse me, may I try?" Karen said lightly, standing up from where she and Kaoru were sitting.

 "Be my guest." Sanosuke growled at the two men moaning on the ground.

 Karen waited until they were able to sit up awkwardly. Their hands and feet were tied, so it took awhile for them to get up again. Karen was patient. She knelt and looked them in the eye.

 "Look here, misters. I know you have a job, and a boss, and you don't want to betray him and all that."

 Her voice was smooth and sounded soothing, as if she was sympathizing with them. She slowly unsheathed her blade and fondly rubbed its edge as she spoke.

 "But you see, I don't give a damn about your dirty group with its dirty rules."

 Her eyes fastened on them. Kaoru felt as if someone had poured ice water down her back. Karen's eyes were gleaming with a strange light, thought her voice was still calm.

 "Do you see this blade?" she held up her sword. "It's a wonderful blade, very sharp, as your dead friends could tell you." She ran a finger on its sharp edge. The men were shaking, but she was still smiling.

 She took the blade and very gently touched it to one of their cheeks, rubbing it softly against his skin as she leaned toward him. Her lips were practically touching his. The man was frozen with fear, as sweat poured down his face.

 "If you don't tell us what we want to know, mister," she breathed, "I will take this blade and I will skin you and hang your skin in front of your dirty eyes for you to observe while you beg for me to kill you. And if you still don't tell me what I want to know, I will very slowly cut you in pieces until nothing is left but your heart and your head, and then I'll preserve them so my grandchildren can use them for their science experiments. So how about it?"

 Kaoru felt herself turning green. Sanosuke whistled while Kenshin stared at Karen. Yahiko gagged. "Ew. . ."

 Karen straightened up and sighed. "Yahiko-kun, would you please run to the station and tell the police to pick up these misters?"

 Yahiko faintly nodded and quickly ran out as the sun was rising. The men were motionless, lying on the ground and pale as death. Karen yawned and sat beside Kaoru.

 "They're planning to assassinate Yamagata-san tomorrow at noon."

 "...!!" Kenshin clenched his fists. "Where?"

 "That's the problem," Karen furrowed her brow. "As far as I know tomorrow is not a special day. There are no events planned, and Yamagata-san will be in his heavily guarded office like any other day. I don't see how they're going to manage such a feat."

 "But we must warn him nevertheless," Kaoru said worriedly.

 "Oh yes, of course," Karen nodded. "The question is how much good it will do."  She paused for a moment. "Yamagata-san does have a habit of staying alone in his office from noon until 4. He relishes his solitude. But his office is still guarded from the outside. Hmph."

 "I guess we'll get to see Kyoto again tomorrow," Sanosuke commented. Kenshin nodded. "Mm. . ."

 It was early next morning when the group arrived in front of the building where the government officials worked. Yahiko gaped. It was quite impressive, built in English style, and around it were numerous guards all armed heavily and taking their work very seriously.

 "How are they going to get in here?" he asked breathlessly.

 "I wish I knew," Karen grinned. She was wearing a pale blue kimono, and her hair was pinned up again. But her sword hung from her waist, giving her an odd look. Kaoru smoothed the folds of her own yellow kimono and sighed. "Are we going to enter?"

 "Hey." The voice was lazy and very slightly surprised. "What are you guys doing here?"

 "Saitou. . ." Kenshin turned to see him slowly walking towards them with his usual cigarette in his gloved hand.

 "We need to get in, Hajime," Karen raised an eyebrow. Saitou glanced at her, then waved the soldiers aside. They saluted.

 "Lieutenant Fujita!" a tall man walked toward them. He was a foreigner, with blond hair and a beard covering his face. He wore a Western style suit, and spoke Japanese slowly but fluently.

 "Mr. Smith," Saitou greeted him in halting English.

 "A wardrobe for Mr. Yamagata is arriving, compliments of Lord Malberry." He informed him. "I trust there will be no problems?"

 "None at all, Mr. Smith." Saitou shook his head, as if to imply he had more important things to do than to worry about gifts.

 "Good morning, Mr. Smith," Karen slightly bowed.

 "Ah, Miss Karen, how lovely to see you," Smith bowed. "What brings you here?"

 "I have come to visit Yamagata-san," she said smoothly. "There seems to be some problems regarding the purchase of various Japanese lands by your people."

 "Ah, is there? Quite a shame," Smith shook his head. "I do not wish to fight with the Japanese over land. Some of my countrymen are foolish. I hope you will understand."

 "I do not presume myself competent enough to judge the culture of another country, however strange it may be," she smiled gracefully. Smith laughed heartily.

 "It is a shame our English roses are not as witty nor as bold as the fair cherry blossoms of Japan," he said amusedly as he bowed again. "Excuse me, I have something important to attend to. Good day."

 "Is he someone important?" Kenshin asked. Saitou blew a cloud of smoke before he replied.

 "He is the bodyguard of Lord Malberry, I think, and his advisor when needs be. Much smarter than his boss."

 "See here!" a sharp voice suddenly snapped at them. Everyone turned to see a short man trot towards them. He looked annoyed. "See here, Fujita, what is the meaning of this? Why are all these civilians here!" he barked.

 "They have been invited by Yamagata-san," Saitou answered with his usual enthusiasm.

 "Does Yamagata-san think he owns this place? With what authority does he invite civilians here?!"

 "Is he insulting us?" Sanosuke whispered loudly to Kenshin. Kenshin smiled nervously.". . .^^;"

 "Are you questioning his authority, Raikoji-san?" Karen said insolently as she walked past him. The rest followed her inside as Raikoji sputtered on his own words.

 "Who's he?" Kaoru asked.

 "An officer. Right below Yamagata-san. He's all too eager to sell Japanese land to foreigners. But so far he hasn't done anything illegal on the surface yet," Karen explained as they walked down the hall and into a room.

 A tall man with a drooping mustache was sitting behind a large desk, writing some papers. He looked up as they entered.

 "Himura? And Karen? What are you two doing here?" he stood up in surprise.

 "Konichiwa, Yamagata-san," Kenshin bowed along with the others.

 "We've come to warn you, Yamagata-san," Karen said urgently. "Someone is planning your assassination today."

 "Excuse us!" The door suddenly opened, and a large wooden wardrobe carried by several men stumbled in. Yamagata looked at Saitou.

 "A gift from Lord Malberry," he explained shortly.

 "It must be heavy," Sanosuke commented as he watched the men stagger.

 Karen waited until the wardrobe was put in place and the men left. She idly wondered what use a wardrobe would be in an office. Then she turned back to Yamagata.

 "Yamagata-san, do not come out of your office today. We will stand watch and capture the assassin."

 "Does this have to do with the land problem?" he asked calmly.

 "I think so," Karen nodded.

 "We were attacked a few nights ago ourselves," Kenshin added. "Do you have any idea who might be responsible?"

 "I have a bad feeling it might be an inside job," Yamagata sighed and shook his head. "Hm."

 "How about Raukoji-san?" Saitou suggested blandly.

 "I don't think he would have the courage to do something so big." Karen shrugged. "But I guess we'll find out today. . ."