They stopped and sat underneath a willow tree next
to a small stream. Karen tipped her cup and looked at Sojirou. "You know,
it's dangerous to be so close to Kyoto and Tokyo. The police are most likely
still looking for you..."
"How... do you know they are looking for me?"
Sojirou was surprised. Karen smiled, but the smile held something that wasn't
exactly cheerful within it. "I know everything about what happened,
Sojirou-kun. About what Shishio-san was planning, and about the battle, and
"You do?" Sojirou exclaimed. Suddenly
his expression changed. "Karen-san, there are only two ways you could ever
know. Which one is it?"
"Both," Karen drained her cup.
I am part of the government that Shishio planned
to destroy... and also know the people that destroyed Shishio's plans in turn...
Sojirou furrowed his brow. "You mean you can
both read minds and talk to the dead? I didn't know that was possible..."
Karen nearly spit out her sake. Sojirou jumped back.
"...^^;" Karen giggled softly, wiping
her mouth and pouring another cup. "You are quite a character. How someone
like you is so strong is one of the seven wonders of the world."
Sojirou grinned sheepishly. "But really, Karen-san,
how do you know?"
Karen stared at her cup of sake, her blue eyes looking
out at her, reflecting the frosty moonlight. "Sojirou-kun..."
"I loved Yumi," she said suddenly. "I
loved her as much a sister, as much as I ever loved anyone in this accursed
world. I wished for her happiness. And she was happy, I know..."
Sojirou stayed silent, watching Karen drink her
sake. Her voice was low as she spoke somewhat incoherently, yet clearly, and
somehow she looked part of the summer night itself.
"When I let her go, when she went to Shishio-san...
I knew in my heart that her way and mine were two directions that were different,
yet same. I knew that I would leave my life as an oiran for the same reason
as she did... but I also knew that Shishio-san was a man that was from a dead
era. And that the man I would love, like my mother, would be someone who fought
for the new... and that I would play a role in Yumi's death..."
Sojirou listened attentively, trying to make sense
out of her rambling. Karen smiled whimsically. "If I hadn't let her go
then... then both of us would be unhappy, but I did, and now at least one of
us is happy."
"Karen-san, do you love Kenshin-san?"
Karen again choked on her sake at Sojirou's deadly
serious question. She laughed, the melodious sound filling the night. "Sojirou-kun,
why do you think I would even know who Kenshin-san is?"
"...I don't," Sojirou scratched his head.
"But you said you loved someone who fought for the new era..."
"I do... but not Kenshin-senpai," Karen
giggled again at the thought. "Kaoru would not be so kind to me if I did..."
"So you do know Kenshin-san!" Sojirou
Karen shook her head and smiled again. "We
that love the sword have a way of knowing who all of us are. And speaking of
swords..." she glanced at the young man, her blue eyes pinpointing his
waist where a blade would normally hang. "Why do you wander without one,
"...I don't think... I'm ready for it,"
he said simply. "Until I know my truth."
"Truth..." Karen mused, draining her cup
Sojirou fell silent and watched Karen yet again
pour herself a cup of sake. What is Karen-san's
truth? She loved Yumi-san, but she let her go when she knew that if she did
so she would die. That is not anything like Himura-san's truth. But neither
is it like Shishio-sama's truth.
He thought back to a year ago - when his master
Shishio had planned to overthrow the Meiji government and take control of Japan
in order to make it a strong country. And the fateful fight - when Shishio's
forces and Himura and his friends fought for the future of Japan. Once he had
thought that Shishio's truth was right.
The strong prey on
the weak... that is the way of the world.
But after he had lost to Himura Kenshin - the once-hitokiri that wielded a sakabatou - he had started to wander on his own.
"You won, Himura-san. Your truth is right."
"No, Sojirou. If my truth is right because I won, then that is no different from saying that Shishio's truth is right."
"...Everyone must find their own truth..."
Sojirou absently raised his cup to his lips and drained it. Karen smiled approvingly. "See, it's not so hard." Sojirou smiled sheepishly.
Karen slowly opened her eyes. Through blurry sight she could make out the first light of dawn on the horizon. Her head slightly ached after the several bottles of sake she had drained the night before.
"Awake, Karen-san?" Sojirou greeted her cheerfully.
He was leaning against the willow tree, his eyes on the sun. "It's a beautiful
"...Are you all right?" Karen asked as
she pulled herself up with a groan.
Sojirou nodded. "Yes, I'm fine... but why?"
Karen let out a peal of laughter. "After all
that sake last night? Even I have a headache this morning. And you are up earlier
than the sun himself."
Sojirou shrugged and smiled. "I guess I have
a talent for it."
"All kenkaku must know how to drink - or so
my father likes to say," Karen stretched and yawned. "Although I must
say I can't recall Senpai drinking much of anything."
The two watched as the sun made its appearance over
the land. Karen was not impressed. She had seen too many sunsets to count in
her travels. Sojirou kept on smiling as he watched, but made no other comment.
"Well, another day begins... so where are you
headed?" Karen asked Sojirou.
"..." Sojirou fiddled with his clothes.
Karen looked at him curiously. "Are you heading back to Kyoto?"
The young man reddened and nodded. Karen cocked
her head. Suddenly she snapped her fingers. "Ah! It has been almost exactly
a year since that fight."
Sojirou nodded. Karen looked at him, mildly exasperated.
"You may be Tenken, but with Hajime on the prowl, there's no way you can
sneak that close to Kyoto without being caught. I'll escort you there."
"...Karen-san?" Sojirou started. "How
do you know Saitou-san?"
"...It's a long story. But back to what we
were talking about..." Karen skillfully avoided his question. "You
don't even have a sword, you idiot," she pointed out with a sigh. "You
say you are not ready to pull one out yet, but shall I tell you something? All
kenkaku wield their blades for themselves."
"He is no exception. Of course, to most people
it looks as if he fights for others, but he in truth fights for himself - for
his ideals, just like Shishio-san did. It just so happens that his ideals are
to protect others."
"But I have no ideals yet."
"If you don't have a sword at hand when you
figure your ideals out, it will be too late by the time you do get your hands
Sojirou turned this over in his mind. If I find my truth, and don't have a sword to keep my ideals
when I figure them out, by the time I do find a blade it will be too late...?
"Don't think too deeply about it, Sojirou-kun,"
she said cheerfully. "There's a shop nearby that sells blades. I'm sure
you'll want a better one by and by, but you'll have to make do with a cheaper
one for the time being."
"Karen-san...!" Sojirou tried to protest, but Karen had a firm grip on his arm as she dragged him toward the village.