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 the outcome..."

 "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-san?"

 "...^^;" 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 cried.

 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, Tenken?"

 "...I don't think... I'm ready for it," he said simply. "Until I know my truth."

 "Truth..." Karen mused, draining her cup again. "Hm."

 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 morning."

 "...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."

 "But Himura-san..."

 "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 on one."

 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.