Fifteen minutes till twelve . . .

 Karen restlessly paced the hall. Kaoru was sitting in a chair and looking over some papers. She looked up. "Why are you so restless, Karen-san?"

 ". . .Something, something's not right. . ." Karen scowled , then looked at the clock. "We're missing something."

 "Well, I can't find anything unusual in here. No signs of illegal sales or otherwise. Although. . ." Kaoru frowned at the papers. ". . . I don't know much about government finances, but . . . let's see . . . it seems that Lord Malberry some sort of purchase, some piece of land, and paid for it, but the money he paid is rather small. Compared to other purchases, I mean. Maybe he bought less valuable land, I don't know."

 Karen was half listening to Kaoru's murmurs as she walked back and forth. Suddenly she stopped. "Did you say he paid less?"

 "Yes. . ."

 Karen looked at the paper. "This land is in Tokyo! There's no way it could be so low. . ." She flipped through the papers and found a rough map. Comparing the two locations, she paled.

 "What? What is it, Karen-san?" Kaoru demanded.

 "Gods. . ." Karen whispered. "That's . . . that's the land your dojo is on!"

 "What?!" Kaoru exclaimed.

 "Kaoru-san, stay here!" Karen raced down the hall.

 Suddenly a tremor shook the building. Kaoru stumbled and fell on her knees, while Karen nearly tumbled down the stairs. "What the. . .?"

 "Earthquake!" someone yelled.

 "Damn . . .!! At a time like this!" Karen leapt to the first floor to find Kenshin and Sanosuke.

 A small gray ball rolled in front of her and stopped. Karen looked down. ". . .!!"


 "What the hell. . .?" Sanosuke cursed as he stumbled down the hall to where the explosion had taken place.

 "They're here!" came Karen's voice. "Guard the entrances and the staircases!"

 Amid the earthquake, several more explosions occurred. The walls visibly shook.

 "I knew this building needed to be repaired. . ." Karen muttered to herself as about five ninjas faced her in the hallway. She immodestly kicked off her high sandals and unsheathed her sword. "Ha ~att!!!"

 Nearby, Kenshin was locked in combat with some more ninjas. Strange, he thought to himself as he fought. This is an awfully open attack, not to mention dangerous . . .

 "And where the hell is that damn wolf!" Sanosuke yelled as he knocked several of the ninjas out.

 Yahiko was fighting behind him. "We don't need him!" he said through clenched teeth as he swung his shinai.

 Kaoru was gathering the scattered papers when suddenly two ninjas were confronting her. "Hand them over, miss, and no one will get hurt." In his hand he held a bomb.

 "Over my dead body!" Kaoru turned around and started to run for her life. With the ninjas in hot pursuit, she raced down the stairs to the ground floor. "Kenshin!"

 "Kaoru-dono!" Kenshin broke off from his fight and turned towards the sound.

 "Kaoru, catch!!" Yahiko threw her his shinai.

 "Thanks!" Kaoru caught it in midair and turned to face the ninjas. "All right you guys! Karen-san's not the only girl who can fight in a kimono!"

 With a few well-placed hits, the men were down. The earthquake died down as Karen reached them, breathing hard. "It's past noon by five minutes, and nothing has gone near Yamagata-san's office," she informed them, her hair hanging down her back. "Where's Hajime?"

 "Who knows," Sanosuke shrugged.

 Kaoru filled them in on what Karen and she had been talking about. Kenshin studied the papers. "So Lord Malberry . . .?"

 Lord Malberry . . . Suddenly something clicked in Karen's head. Without a word she turned and sped up the stairs. She burst into Yamagata's office.

 Saitou was standing in front of the desk, easily holding his own against four other men with swords. Two were already lying on the ground. Karen unsheathed her own blade and wordlessly attacked from behind. They're assassins, so it doesn't matter anyway. She let out a breath as the last man fell.

 "Where's Yamagata-san?" she asked.

 "Safe. I've been sitting in here all afternoon." He fished out a cigarette. Karen shook her head and watched him light it.

 "Why didn't you say anything?" she glared.

 "Like you guys would have been any help." He took a deep breath as if he had been deprived of smoking for a month. Karen walked up to him and smacked the cigarette out of his hand. He frowned and glared at her. "What the hell are you doing?"

 "You're going to kill yourself with all that damn smoke," she retorted.

 "I don't need your concern," he said in a bored tone, gripping her wrist. She smiled seductively.

 "You are but a man, Saitou." She lightly touched her lips to his. He forcefully kissed her, like a vampire hungering for blood. Her eyes widened in surprise, then filled with mischief as she wrapped her arms around his neck.