It was a warm June evening in a village somewhere on the outskirts of Kyoto. On a narrow dirt road, a young woman paused. Her eyes strayed to the houses on either side of the street, where faint lights could be seen within. Sounds of families talking and smells of dinner floated out and seemed to create an aura around them. She shrugged, sighed, and walked down the street slowly, towards a much louder building that smelled of food and sake.

 She slipped in the inn quietly and sat down at an empty table. Around her were rowdy men talking, eating, drinking, and shouting. The few women in the room were mostly serving food. The young woman put down her small bundle and waited for someone to serve her. Her dark blue eyes wandered around the room aimlessly.

 It's been awhile since I've stopped by here... a year, maybe? Shall I stop by Tokyo or Kyoto while I'm here? The government has been awfully quiet lately... it's strange. Have I been too far away from Tokyo to receive any news? Or has the Meiji government come to its senses? She smiled cynically. Somehow I doubt that . . .

 "Would you like a room, miss?" a harried woman asked her.

 "Yes, please. And some sake," she replied.

 The sake was placed in front of her, and she poured herself a cup. She stared at it for a moment.

 I wonder who I am like in the matter of sake... Mother never really liked drinking it, even if she was an geisha. Come to think of it, Father loved sake almost as much he loved his sword... or is that a feature of all Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu masters? Kenshin-senpai doesn't seem like the one to drink much... but you never know....

 Sipping her drink, her eyes strayed to the door as another person walked in. She noted it was a young man with pretty features and a mild face. His eyes, at first glance, were placid and gentle, but she found something underneath their depths that disturbed her. He carried nothing but a small bundle.

 The young man looked around, and his eyes met her glance. For a moment the two stared at each other. Then the boy approached. "Excuse me, but do I know you...?"

 Karen looked at him blankly. Suddenly it dawned on her. Her face cleared. "You ... you're Shishio-san's follower ... Seta Sojirou?!"

 A look of recognition appeared on Sojirou's face. "Ah ~! You're Yumi-san's friend, Karen-san!"

 They both stared at each other again. "Um ... may I sit here ...?"

 "Suit yourself," Karen motioned him to sit. Sojirou bowed and sat across from her.

 "Where have you been these past years, Karen-san?" Sojirou asked. "After you left the geisha house..."

 "... How did you know I left the geisha house?"

 "Yumi-san had asked Shishio-sama to keep an eye out for you."

 Karen unconcernedly poured a cup of sake. "He didn't do a very good job, if you don't know where I was." She started to lift the cup, then changed her mind and handed it to Sojirou. "Drink, Sojirou-kun. Didn't Shishio-san teach you how to drink sake?"

 Sojirou wordlessly took the cup and wore a slight look of panic. Karen laughed. "It seems Yumi didn't have the time to educate you."

 He took a sip of his sake and looked at Karen out of the corner of this eye. Karen smiled engagingly. "Do you want to ask me something?"

 "..." Sojirou seemed to be thinking for a moment. "Karen-san?"


 "Could we talk somewhere else?"


 "The men here are glaring at me... - -;"

 Karen glanced around the room and smiled. "So they are. Shall I thank them for the compliment?"

 She stood up and called for another bottle of sake. Then she turned to the men and winked. "Sorry, but I'm too expensive for any of you to afford."

 "^^;" Sojirou timidly held up the bottle of sake on the table as Karen received another from the serving woman. "Let's go talk outside, Sojirou-kun."

 "Wait." One of the men blocked their path. He held a sword in his hand and a cold look on his face. Behind him were five other men. Karen looked up at him disinterestedly. "I told you, my prices are high."

 "Are you the woman hitokiri that works for the government?" one of them muttered. Karen shot a look at Sojirou, but it seemed he hadn't heard. Damn it, have they figured me out? It sure took them awhile - it's been years since I started... Oh well. It was bound to happen sooner or later. And that last episode at the Kamia Dojo was enough to alert even the stupidest of them.

 "You've got the wrong lady, misters. I'm just an ordinary geisha without a job," Karen said sweetly.

 "Since when did geisha carry around swords?" the man glared at her blade.

 "Ah, this?" Karen held it up. Sojirou looked very nervous - he remembered her skill from a few years ago. "Just a little hobby of mine."

 "I don't think so!" Suddenly the man drew his sword and lunged. Karen swiftly sidestepped his blade. A sound of shattering china pierced the air.

 "...! You broke my sake bottle!!!" Karen snapped. Sojirou carefully put down the one he was carrying and tried to calm Karen down. "Ah, Karen-san, I'll buy another one, all right? Let's get away quietly..."

 "Quietly! Over my dead body! They just wasted fresh sake!!" She turned to the men, her blue eyes blazing. "I will bring tenchuu upon them in heaven's name, you dogs who don't know the value of sake!!!"

 "Karen-san ... ^^;" Sojirou tried to block her.

 "Revenge!" the man snarled. Karen grinned. "You sorry dogs, is that what you want from me? You must be from the yakuza, no?"

 For answer, several blades came whistling towards her at once. Karen smiled, ducked, and pulled out her own. It took less than thirty seconds before the men were moaning on the floor. Sojirou glanced at Karen, who had sheathed her blade and called for a bottle of sake to replace the one broken. He cocked his head in thought.

 I never noticed it before, but her kenjitsu is very similar to Himura-san's. I wonder...

 "Let's go, Sojirou-kun!" Karen said cheerfully, swinging her pack and the bottle of new sake. Sojirou smiled sheepishly at the people staring at them and followed her out the door.