The story and characters of El-Hazard were created by Hiroki Hayashi and
Ryoe Tsukimura, and brought to North America by Pioneer LDC. They hold all
copyright to El-Hazard, we hold none. The following story is fan fiction,
and may not be sold or distributed for profit. It is a stand-alone story,
but it takes place in the same continuity as the fan fiction series "El
Hazard: Earth".

We are giving this story a PG rating, with warning of graphic depiction of
violence and some moderately suggestive content.

We would like to thank our pre-readers, Charlie Groark, Greg Smith and
Jerry Yen.

Mark Engels mark_engels@rocketmail.com
Ken Wolfe kenwolfe@mts.net

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Rough Justice: A Tale of El-Hazard
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"The first casualty when war comes is truth."
Hiram Warren Johnson

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---
One
---

Need some salt for Four. Twelve wants some rialdi sauce for their eggs.
That moron at Seven managed to knock a kettle over onto Eight's cakes.
Guess they'll want a fresh stack now. How in the hell did Six end up with
cold miso soup? Where did those people at Nine get off to? If they think
they'll jilt me again they've got another --

The counter bell's pealing brought Nanami out of her reverie. "Order up!
Cakes and hash!"

Nanami shook off her stray thoughts like rainwater off an oilskin tunic.
She hadn't been a restaurateur very long at all before realizing breakfast
was the ultimate test of a server's mettle. Breakfast customers want to
eat, to eat fast, and then be on their way. Many were merchants and
laborers who, very soon, would be hawking their wares in Floristica's vast
marketplace or lugging them across the city. It was easy to tell one from
the other. While both castes pounced upon their meals like rabid hyenas,
the merchants were the ones under whose flashy, colorful robes their
corpulence protruded.

Lately she had managed to find a few good servers who were willing to rotate
the early shift. Last night, however, Keisha's fiancee had stopped in just
after the dinner rush pitching some tale about a nasty flu bug. Rather than
have Rivvy come in for the second day in a row on short notice, Nanami
decided to work the shift herself. Getting wind of all the good gossip was
a great consolation prize.

And it's nice to see I've still got the knack, she thought.

Pulling a small jar of rialdi sauce from her apron, she placed it at Twelve
on her way to the counter. Picking up the plate, she grimaced at the
still-steaming hash. "Hey, there was a side of -- "

"Capers. Yes. Right here."

Nanami smirked as the cook lifted a small bowl of the pickled vegetables
from below the countertop. "I didn't know you were trained as a mind
reader."

He chuckled. "I wasn't. Instinct."

Nanami set down her tray, leaned over the countertop and locked lips with
him, evoking knowing nods from the regulars sitting at the counter. "What
does your instinct tell you now, smartass?"

He flushed, as he always did when she pulled a stunt like that. Nanami
giggled as her husband momentarily struggled to keep his composure. "It,
ah, tells me I needs must go sit in the cooler awhile."

Nanami winked at her husband as she picked up her tray. "Grab me another
bowl of soup for Six on your way, would you?"

Working with him was probably the best reason of all to work the early
shift. Of course, none in Roshtaria could match her culinary prowess, but
he could hold his own. And those wonderful pickled capers he'd shown her
how to make were a big seller!

Four got some salt, Eight's fresh cakes arrived momentarily, Six got a bowl
of soup hot enough to melt lead, and Nine cashed out leaving a hefty tip.
Seven received another full kettle, with a complimentary side of
admonishment -- a house specialty.

Almost as quickly as it had come, the morning rush died away. Nanami had
barely begun to register such when she heard two familiar voices breaking
the late morning's relative quiet. She chuckled, mostly to herself. The
reigning Duke and Duchess of the Floristican Merchant Guild were about to
grace her humble eatery with their magnanimous presence.

"...woman, do you take me for a fool? I, Asdic, the most savvy merchant in
all Roshtaria, would never permit anyone to repair our precious silver
jewelry without posting a bond!"

With that, His Savviness pushed aside the draperies covering the entrance to
the cafe. The elderly merchant wearing robes loud enough to be deafening
led his similarly clad wife to their favorite table. Their argument, as
usual, never slowed once as he helped her take a seat.

"Well, I, Jilyn, recall your last lapse of judgment, you old fool! Remember
that goldsmith 'friend' of yours who made clean off with my favorite
broach?"

The portly merchant's gray beard shook as he rebuked her. "Woman, pay me
the respect I am due! That was different! If I had known--"

"Lord Asdic, Lady Jilyn -- good morning to you both," Nanami interrupted,
knowing lunchtime would arrive before an opening. "Always a pleasure to
see you here."

Asdic shifted from his argumentative posture to his wide-eyed greeting with
practiced ease. "Ah, Lady Nanami! How lucky we are indeed to be attended
this morning by the Lady Nanami Jinnai -- owner of Floristica's legendary
Shinanome Café, Caterer to the Royal House of Jagdhar--"

"Flatterers *still* pay full price," Nanami deadpanned.

Asdic pretended to pout while Jilyn cheerfully indicated they would take
their usual. When Nanami returned with a full kettle of citrugrass tea, the
couple hardly noticed as they continued their seemingly endless argument.

"Ah, Lady Nanami, did you hear the latest?"

Nanami sighed. So much for a clean getaway.

She knew Jilyn was a good person at heart, but like anyone victim to her own
vices. In her golden years, Jilyn had reached the dubious distinction of
being Roshtaria's most infamous gossip. Nary a stone's turning in
Floristica escaped Jilyn's network of spies. Nanami had long suspected her
reach extended far into the depths of the Royal House itself. Maybe Jilyn
was secretly working for Affairs Minister al-Farsi?

No, of course she wasn't. She would certainly talk the minister to death.

"I hadn't, Lady Jilyn. But I'm sure you'll relieve my soul from the burden
of my ignorance."

"Indeed, Lady Nanami. I hear that the Prince's Mountaineers will mobilize
on the morrow."

"Mobilize?" Nanami gasped. She recalled how young Prince Justen had taken
honorary command of Roshtaria's elite mountain troops several months ago.
"But just where will they mobilize to?"

"It pleases me to report that my dear wife has no idea," Asdic interjected
before Jilyn could answer. "Thankfully Roshtaria's military manages to keep
*some* of its secrets from her."

Jilyn silenced her husband with a menacing stare Nanami thought sure would
make even a Demon-God take pause. Her voice dropped into a conspiratorial
murmur -- that is to say, only half the restaurant could hear her. "As I
was saying before being rudely interrupted, the Mountaineers will mobilize
on the morrow's meridian. All of Floristica is excited for them and their
mission." Nanami grimaced; Jilyn continued nevertheless. "When morn is
nigh they will parade from the Palace gates to the amphitheater, where
Prince Justen will address his troops and the public. Then, they shall
march to the canal where the Royal Navy's boats will be waiting to take them
to their final deployment." She sighed, waving her hand in a dismissive
gesture. "Where that will be, no one knows for certain."

Nanami sighed. "I suppose everyone thinks this is the only way."

The aged merchant knew what Nanami wasn't saying. "Lady Nanami," he
consoled her, "the Mountaineers shall be there merely to ensure the safety
of Roshtarians and Ceruleans alike during the transfer. Why, one look at a
company of those brutes should make any potential interloper reconsider."

Nanami hmphed. But in her heart she knew her friends were merely trying to
help. "Thank you, Asdic. I only wish I had your confidence in Prince
Justen's discretion," she said, turning toward the kitchen.

Asdic wagged a finger at Nanami as she walked away. "Our Prince may be
young, haughty, and inexperienced, but take heed! -- he is cut from the
finest stock of both Roshtaria and Geynos. I believe our confidence in him
will not be misplaced."

I've heard this all before, Nanami thought as she pushed through the kitchen
door. Many times during the Cerulean Uprisings she had questioned her
allegiances. There were her friends to think of -- no, they had become her
surrogate family. She had pledged herself to the Roshtarian crown and its
Alliance, as her friends had. But ever since he had come into her life,
she found herself looking at the world they shared differently.

Instantly she regretted letting her guard down. Two arms slid around her
waist, clasping her to their owner's chest. She relaxed as he pecked the
top of her head where her long reddish-brown hair gathered into a
waist-length braid. "Stealth -- yet another of your many talents," she
murmured.

He didn't have to look at her to see something bothered her. Turning her
gently around to face him, he waited for her to tell him about it.

Nanami looked up into his gray eyes. Her husband stood about a half a head
taller than her, toting a muscular build that hadn't softened much over the
years. She thought she could lose herself into that kind, gentle face of
his. The closely cut white hair sprouting out from under his chef's hat
begged the question: could the old wounds Roshtaria carried from the time
the Eye of God blinked last ever be healed? Sometimes Nanami despaired
those peaceful members of her husband's race would ever gain the acceptance
and trust they deserved.

"Prince Justen's 'peace keepers' move out tomorrow."

He only nodded his assent. "You needn't worry about where my allegiances
lie, Nanami. They are to you, to our friends, and to the Crown we all
serve."

"Yes, Shevlin, *I* know that. I'm worried about those who don't."

He smiled. "My people living in Roshtaria cannot help but feel grateful to
the Queen's Champion. In championing our cause as well, Lady Ifurita gives
all my people hope we can live amongst the Roshtarians peaceably."

Nanami smiled, thinking of their friends. Had it really been twenty-five
years since she had first arrived?

Makoto was as close to her now when Ifurita had first summoned them to El
Hazard. And for Ifurita, closer to Queen Rune than any of them as Royal
Champion, Nanami's accepting Shevlin and his people was reason enough to
stand with them. Ifurita had even secured Queen Rune's support for
integrating Tribesmen into Roshtarian society, though the issue divided the
nation to this very day.

A buzzer sounded from the other side of the kitchen, ending their moment.
Nanami pushed herself away from Shevlin, straightening her apron. She
smiled as she removed the hot plates from the oven; the familiar sounds of
merchant and his wife arguing could be heard throughout the restaurant.
"Guess I'd better go break it up," she said. Experience told her the surest
way to squelch the couple's nearly endless arguing was to feed them.

But neither was at table when she returned to the dining area, carrying a
Morning Special in each hand. She immediately turned toward where Asdic and
Jilyn's continued their verbal exchange. They were standing in the doorway,
its curtain parted on either side of them. Jilyn held up a finger,
indicating they would finish this later, and then waved Nanami over.

She sat the plates down on the table where their purses still lay. What
could be of such importance outside to cause the only Roshtarians more
money-conscious than she to be so remiss?

Nanami's answer came even before she got to the door. The deafening sound
of hundreds of boot heels falling in unison told the story. She watched
numbly as newly fallen leaves were ground into powder upon the cobblestones.

The troops of Roshtaria's Mountain Legion marched smartly past the Shinonome
Cafe up Palace Row. Each sported the breastplate and baggy trousers worn by
all Roshtarian soldiers. But unlike the Regulars, every piece of the
Mountaineer's gear was black. In place of helmets or floppy berets, each
wore a broad-billed wool cap. Nanami recalled these and the sleeved tunics
were worn to ward off autumn chills and mountain winds. While their
uniforms may well have kept the troopers warm, to her the sight of them was
chilling.

"They must be making their way to the Palace for a practice formation this
afternoon," Asdic opined.

Before Nanami could say anything, several skiffs hissed by just a few yards
off the ground. On the back platform of the largest one stood Prince
Justen, arms crossed over his chest. Despite the convoy's speed and a
Roshtarian Royal Guard at either shoulder, Nanami managed to catch a glimpse
of the young royal. Justen had grown into a fine looking young man -- tall
and handsome like his father, willowy and graceful like his mother. The
Prince looked much the same as his soldiers save he wore his cap tucked
under one epaulet. His long, sandy brown hair stood out behind him like the
Roshtarian standards adorning his skiff's bowsprit.

"Looks like he's ready to fight," Shevlin said from behind, startling her.

Posturing just like his father, Nanami thought sardonically. "Well, I'm
sure the Queen has already advised him of his responsibility to change into
his official robes before the ceremony tomorrow -- birthday boy or not."

She felt him hold her to him from behind her waist. Resting her back
against his chest, Nanami felt her shoulders release their tension.
Speaking softly into her ear with his deep voice, he tried to comfort her.
"Now more than ever the Royal House needs our support. These times ahead
will be difficult for us all -- for them especially."

"I know, I know," she sighed. "I just don't know what good can come from
Prince Justen stomping around Cerulea showing off his toy soldiers. I mean,
they just want to be left alone, right?"

As the Prince's convoy passed, Asdic had ceased arguing with his wife and
drew nearer the two of them. "But you know how badly Roshtaria needs
geynosanium. Lord Makoto and Lady Ifurita both tell us the ore may be
necessary to defend the Alliance from future aggressors."

Nanami silently realized everyone's rationalizations brought her no comfort.

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