"Karen-san... we can't ask you to do such a thing ..."
 "Nonsense, Kaoru-san. You welcomed me into your home when you didn't know a
thing about me, or my past." Karen's blue eyes were unusually soft, and Kaoru
thought they held pain ... pain and loneliness. "I will forever be in your debt."
 "Karen-san ..." Kaoru trailed off, not knowing what to say.
 A rurouni ... a person who wonders, never staying, never tarrying in one place for
long ... a free but lonely life ... Does Karen-san, like Kenshin, have such a painful
past? She is so strong, but her eyes are so sad ...
 "Come, Kaoru-san. I think we should hurry to the dojo." Karen quickly smiled. But
her eyes were urgent. Kaoru nodded.

 "Whew!" Yahiko stretched and let out a breath. "What a day. My legs feel like
 "There sure were a lot of customers today," Tsubame agreed. "It's been like that
lately. A lot of foreigners, particularly."
 "You did a good job, both of you." Dae gave them both a smile. "Tsubame, will you
do me a favor and please follow Yahiko to the dojo? I've packed a few leftovers
for Kaoru but there are two bundles. I think you should stay the night, since it's
getting dark."
 "OK, Dae-san." Tsubame nodded.
 "Good night, Dae-san." Yahiko shifted a bundle on his shoulder and marched out,
Tsubame behind him.
 "Is there really a lady samurai at the dojo, Yahiko-kun?" Tsubame asked with
wide eyes.
 "I don't know if she's a samurai, but she's a kenkaku at least," Yahiko shrugged.
"I've never seen her fight, though, so I don't know."
 "Someone said her sword is too fast to see!" Tsubame told him.
 "Then it would have to be as fast as Kenshin's sword, and that's pretty
impossible," Yahiko said with confidence.
 "Yes, that's-"
 Yahiko suddenly stopped and listened. In an alley nearby, two men were talking in
low voices. He could've sworn he'd heard the words, "Kamia Dojo".
 "... were all defeated by Kamia Kaoru and that rurouni," one of them was mumbling.
 "Tonight," hissed the other. "Get everyone gathered tonight. And meet at the
dojo by midnight."
 "It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight," snickered the first. Yahiko paled. So
did Tsubame. "Yahiko-kun ..."
 "Tsubame, turn around and go ? " he stopped. If she went alone ¡¦
 "We don't have a choice. Hurry up, we have to get to the dojo quickly!"

 "Karen-san! Karen-san!"
 "hm?" Karen looked back to see Kaoru gasping for breath.
 "Karen-san, don't we, have to, report, the bodies?" Kaoru tried to speak normally.
 "Bodies?" Karen said vaguely. "Oh, those guys. Don't worry about it ? their friends
will take care of them. We have to get to the dojo as quick as possible."
 They will be nervous now that there has been an open attack. They might even
try something big and put a complete end to this. What will they try, with someone
like Himura at the dojo? I'm sure he's noticed something by this time.
 Half walking, half running, the two girls made it to the dojo in time to meet
Yahiko and Tsubame coming the other way.
 "Hello, everyone. Did you have a good day?" Kenshin asked cheerfully.
 "...^^;" All four of them stared.
 "Oro?" Kenshin blinked. Yahiko spoke first.
 "This is no time to be saying 'oro'!" he scowled. "I heard some guys talking on our
way here ... I couldn't hear very well, but they said something about Kaoru and a
rurouni defeating someone, and to gather tonight in front of the dojo. And the
last one said, 'It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight'. What does that mean?
What's going on?"
 "That's what I'd like to ask." Sanosuke was leaning against the wooden doors.
"Something's going on, and she has something to do with it. Don't you think it's
about time we knew?" he glared at Karen.
 "I've been feeling something around us for awhile now, but it was too unclear to
be sure of anything. And it still is. Karen-dono, do you know anything about this?"
Kenshin looked at her.
 "I saw her last night talking with someone outside of the dojo," Sanosuke said
accusingly. "Who was it, Karen-san? Did you hire the yakuza to burn us down? I
have a feeling you know more about us than we know about you."
 "Stop it, Sano!" Kaoru suddenly found her voice. "Karen-san ... Karen-san saved my
life today! I trust her. Everyone has a past they don't like to talk about. Don't
 "That's all right Kaoru-san." Karen was as cool as ice. "I'm used to such
accusations. But I wish you would save such words until the morning. If Yahiko-kun
heard aright, the dojo will be set on fire around midnight tonight. We must hurry
if we are to stop it."
 "Karen-dono is right," Kenshin drew his eyebrows together as he spoke. "We must
set up a plan ..."
 "I already have one," Karen twirled a stick in her fingers and scratched a line in
the dirt. "But to follow it, you must trust me. Absolutely. In the case I am with
the enemy, this plan will give me the perfect chance to do away with all of you."
Her face was expressionless. "And if I am the enemy, believe me, I will do so
without thinking twice."
 "..." Everyone was silent. Kaoru met Kenshin's eyes. Kenshin looked straight at her,
and she could almost hear him. You trusted a rurouni you knew nothing about once
... a rurouni who had a past drenched in blood.
 ...Can I do it again?
 Without hesitation, Kaoru put her hand over Karen's. "Karen-san... Kenshin was a
rurouni once. He had a past stained with the blood of others. But he saved me, and
he helped me stand up again when I was down. So I trusted him. I don't know
anything about you, Karen-san. We've only known each other for two days. But you
risked your life for me today."
 "That doesn't mean it is safe for you to trust me," Karen shrugged.
 "I know," Kaoru nodded. "But your eyes ... your eyes are like Kenshin's ..." She
blushed a little.
 Kenshin and Karen both looked surprised. Then Kenshin smiled and turned to
Karen. "Karen-dono, if you were our enemy, you would've done everything you could
to make us trust you. But you aren't. You're pushing us away. You are not our enemy,
Karen-dono. You are our friend."
 "I have no idea what the hell you guys are talking about," Yahiko cut in. "But if
Kenshin and Kaoru trust you, Karen-san, then so do I." Tsubame timidly nodded her
head behind him. Kenshin glanced at Sanosuke.
 "Hmph! You guys sure are turning me into a big bad wolf," Sanosuke shook his
head. "All right! I guess I'll be an idiot like you guys and trust this lady."
 Karen's eyes widened as the group smiled at her. She bent her head for a second,
and her hair covered her face. "...Thank you, everyone." Then she looked up and
briefly smiled. "Thank you. Now, listen carefully ..."

 The moon was new, nothing but a silver sliver hanging in the deep black sky
speckled with stars. A light breeze shook the trees, making eerie sounds as it
whistled around the dojo. Karen crouched from her spot and listened. But her
thoughts wandered.
 These bastards are moving awfully fast ..I didn't think they'd come out like this.
There's something we don't know here, but what is it? And where is that damn
policeman when you need him? She bit her lip. Just wait till this is all over ...
 Then she heard it. The sound of many people ... maybe around 40?... gathering
around the dojo. She tensed as she heard the sound of some kind of liquid being
poured. That'd be gasoline.
 "Make sure no one gets out alive," someone muttered.
 Karen softly leapt on tops of the wall surrounding the dojo and watched the men
scatter. The sound of a match being lit reached her ears. Her hand crept to her
 "The fun begins," the voice cackled as it threw the match on the ground. It
 "...?!" Karen smiled grimly at their cursing. "What ... what the hell is going on?"
 Karen whipped out a match and struck it on her blade. Then she lit the torch they
had set at each corner of the dojo. Almost at the same time three other torches
sprang to life, blinding the men that had surrounded the dojo. The fire traveled
down gasoline-soaked threads and lit the other torches they were connected with.
The dojo was as bright as day.
 "Up here, you morons!" Sanosuke's voice could be heard by everyone. "Surprise,
 "Wha ... what the hell?!"
 All was confusion as the men bumped into each other, trying to escape the light.
Yahiko, who was guarding the inside of the dojo along with Tsubame, grinned.
 "That was a pretty good idea, digging a trench and soaking the earth with water.
Those bad guys must've been pretty surprised." His face slightly darkened. "Now
it's up to Karen-san ..."
 "Hello, everyone." Karen leapt down from her perch and calmly surveyed the
group. "Nice night we're having, isn't it?"
 "The rurouni!" one of them gasped.
 "Rurouni? Not exactly," Karen shook her head. "I'm a secret messenger from the
government. They sent me to make a deal with you guys. Care to listen?" Her voice
sounded as if she didn't care whether they did or not.
 "Silence." One of the men who seemed to be the ringleader stepped forward.
"What is it you want to say?"
 "They know what you're after, and they want to help. Only they can't do it openly
because of the people. If the land around here is used right, Japan can make quite
a fortune, am I right? So can the foreigners. Profit for all involved. Too valuable
to be used as an old falling-apart dojo. Don't you agree?"
 Kaoru glared at her from her perch. "^^; I'll forgive you since you don't mean it,
Karen-san," she muttered to herself.
 I can practically feel Kaoru-san's glare. Karen swallowed a smile. "They've agreed
to help you if you agree to keep your mouths shut."
 "...How do you plan to help us?"
 "These people trust me." Karen's mouth curled up in a sneer. "Nice people, but too
innocent to live in the Meiji Era. I've convinced them to follow my plan. They think
I'm going to lure you in and kill as many of you as I can. In the meantime they'll
attack from the sides, and the police will appear and attack from the back. But
see, I'm the one who was supposed to explain to the police what's happening. And I
did. But not the way they expected." Karen laughed. Kaoru shivered from her
position. The plan Karen was talking about was, in fact, their actual plan. If Karen
really had done what she was telling the men she had done, and if she did what she
was telling them she would do, they were done for.
 "So the police aren't coming." The ringleader was suspicious.
 "Of course not. Are they above the Meiji government?" Karen shrugged. "So how
about it? I'll let you in, and you destroy the dojo."
 What if ... what if ... Kaoru found herself paralyzed with doubt. Then she
remembered the light in Karen's eyes that evening when they had fought with
those men. She had said, I wouldn't work for the Meiji government if my life
depended on it. Kaoru mentally shook herself. I said I would trust her, and I do.
 Kenshin was listening carefully to Karen. Yes, we can trust her ... but she knows
too much to be a simple rurouni. What is she really?
 "How can we trust you?" the man said suspiciously.
 Karen looked bored. "Don't, then. It doesn't matter to me. I have nothing to lose."
 The man frowned and conferred with his comrades for a minute. Then he nodded.
"All right. Open the door."
 Everyone in their spots was tense as Karen moved to open the doors. They made a
creaking sound as they swung open. Karen calmly walked inside as the men followed
her. Then she walked up to the leader.
 "How does it feel?" she asked lightly.
 "How does what feel?" the man barked.
 "How does it feel to be fooled by a woman?"
 Before anyone could react, Karen's blade gleamed in the moonlight as it sliced
into the man. Blood spurted out and splashed on the ground as he fell.
 "Shit!!!" the others quickly drew their weapons. "She tricked us...!!!"
 Karen smiled. "Never, ever trust anyone from the Meiji government." She lifted
her ninhontou. "Who's next?"
 "Die!!" Several men jumped on her at once. At the same time Kenshin and
Sanosuke attacked from either side. Kaoru gripped her shinai and stood guard in
front of the room where Tsubame was. Yahiko had come out and was watching the
three figures fight.
 "Not bad!" Sanosuke shouted as a knife nearly ripped his clothes. He jumped up
and connected his fist cleanly with the opponent's jaw. "But not good enough!"
 "Hiten Mitsurugi ryuu!" Kenshin leapt up. "Ryuu Tsui Sen!!" He hit the enemy full
force on the head as he landed. They fell, their faces frozen in fear. "Gua!!"
 "Say your prayers!" Karen yelled as she took on a stance. "Hyat!!!!" She ran, did a
flip, and attacked from below, her blade coming in contact with the enemy's jaw.
"Ryuu Shou Sen!!"
 "...!!" Kaoru and Yahiko both stared. "Ryuu Shou Sen ...that's Kenshin's kenjitsu!!"
Yahiko breathed.
 "But it's not the same," Kaoru was fascinated. "Karen-san did a flip right before
she attacked. Her strength is not as strong, but ... but her speed was greater!!"
 "She's faster than Kenshin!?" Yahiko exclaimed. "Faster than Hiten no
 In the meantime, Kenshin, Kaoru, and Sanosuke had paused as the remaining gang
started to back off. Karen smiled wickedly. "I don't think so."
 "Police!!" A swarm of officers were running toward the dojo. The men looked at
each other and nodded.
 "..!!!" Kenshin caught sight of one of them pulling out a small gray ball. "It's a
 "Damn it!" Karen cursed. "Run away! Get down!" She swiftly jumped and tackled
Kaoru and Yahiko.
 In that moment, just as the man was about to set the bomb off, a figure
attacked from behind. In a single movement the rest of the men fell. More blood
stained the ground, mingling with the dust clouds that arose from the sudden
 "Who ... what .." Sanosuke coughed, waving the dust away.
 "Pitiful, pitiful." The attacker sheathed his sword and dug in his pocket. In a
minute a cloud of smoke rose from his mouth. "I knew something like this would
happen. Battousai, you've grown old."
 "Goddamnit, you're early," Karen hissed at him, breathing hard. Kaoru was struck
dumb. Yahiko stared.
 "Long time no see," Kenshin greeted the arrival rather flatly.
 "What the hell are you doing here?" Sanosuke snapped.
 "Hey, I just saved your butts." Saitou blew a long line of smoke and watched it
 "Don't expect us to be grateful," Sanosuke growled.
 "Perish the thought." Saitou took a drag.

 It was dawn when the friends were able to sit down and take a breath. Saitou
was leaning against a post, smoking his umpteenth cigarette. Kenshin, his
sakabatou against his shoulder, was sitting with his back to the wall. Sanosuke
dangled his feet and chewed on his fishbone. Yahiko and Tsubame sat next to
Kenshin. Kaoru and Karen sat beside each other, facing the others.
 "I suppose I should tell you now," Karen sighed.
 "You don't have to, Karen-dono ..." Kenshin started to say, but Karen shook her
 "No, I want to." She took a breath.
 "I am from Kyoto. My father is - was - a kenkaku, and my mother was an oiran. My
father met her when he was maybe 18 or so. Their destiny together was for but
one night, but I was the result of their meeting. Until I was 17, I didn't know who
my father was. I worked at the oiran house where my mother was. It was then I
met Yumi."
 "Yumi?!" Kaoru interrupted. "Yumi, as in the Yumi that was with Shishio?"
 "Yes," Karen nodded. "We were close friends. But anyway, my mother died when I
was 17. At her funeral my father suddenly appeared. He took me away to his home,
and for several years he taught me his kenjitsu."
 "Who is your father?" Kenshin asked.
 Karen smiled a little. "His name is Hiko Seijuurou."
 "Whaaaat?!" everyone shouted. Kenshin's eyes bulged. "Sensei ...?!"
 "He never told you, did he?" Karen sighed. "I thought I was his only pupil as well.
Later he told me about you, Kenshin-san, and how you were the legendary
Baittousai. I left him a year before you returned to learn the rest of Hiten no
 Kenshin was still in shock. "Sensei ... it was him?"
 Karen allowed herself to smile, then resumed her story.
 "I returned to the oiran house and was able to meet Yumi before she left. She
told me about Shishio and why she must leave. After she left, I took my mother's
place. That's how I met him." She glared at Saitou.
 "You ..." Kaoru was shocked. "You met him as an ...?!"
 Karen sniffed. "Unfortunately. I became somewhat of a concubine.
 Kaoru's mouth dropped. Sanosuke stared. Yahiko was red. Kenshin looked at
Saitou, who ignored his glance.
 "So anyway, that is how I became what I am now. I do not work for the Meiji
government, although sometimes I end up helping them. I move to help the people
who need my help. The Meiji government is rotten to the core." Karen raised her
head. "I am only one person, but I do all I can to set right the wrongs I see." She
smiled at Kenshin. "We hitokiri don't really belong in the Meiji Era ..."
 "So what exactly is going on here?" Sanosuke interrupted. "Why are we being
 Saitou removed a gloved hand from in front of his face and blew out yet another
cloud of smoke. "The foreigners want Japanese land."
 "So they're trying to force us to sell it," Kaoru guessed.
 "They what?" Yahiko burst out.
 "On the surface, it's very simple." Karen pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.
"The land around here has become very expensive. From a developer's point of
view, it's going to serious waste because it happens to belong to the Kamia family.
So the foreigners want to buy it up. However they've heard about the inhabitants
of the dojo, and they know Kaoru-san's not going to sell. So they hire the yakuza
to chase you off."
 "More like to find a way to chase us off," Kenshin finished. "They never meant to
move in so suddenly. They've been watching us for about a week."
 "They have?" Kaoru exclaimed.
 "But they weren't expecting Karen-dono to move in," Kenshin nodded.
"Immediately they suspected her to be a spy from the government, so they
watched her - or tried to. They weren't counting on Karen-dono catching on to
them so quickly."
 "Still, the smartest thing for them to do at that point would be to stay low for
awhile," Saitou said coolly. "But for some reason, the idiots panicked. They decided
to finish the thing in one night."
 "Why?" Karen mused. "Did they figure out who I was?"
 "Maybe they thought you had figured out who they were," Yahiko suggested.