Koumi town is a real place in japan, located at the Nagano prefecture. I just thought it up, then wondered if it really existed, Koumi means "spice".

Sorry it took me longer to update real life got to me. Also... this was supposed to cover how they meet with a new Vassal (Guess who!), but the chapter got too long. I hope you guys like this!

Chapter 6

So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood supply

Shuurei gave a long sigh.

She was cleaning their room that morning. It had been three days since they came in the city of Flowing Wine. They did not have much success in finding the next vassal and Shuurei began to wonder if they should pack up soon and leave. She told her proposal to her comrades, however, Kijin did not agree with her.

"Staying here is the best," said the minister, "Like the Shou Taishi and the emperor said. We must stay in one major city for two weeks. The Vassals themselves will come here, and in the words of the emperor and Shou Taishi, 'as if guided by fate'. Just what if they live in the mountain? we need to give them ample time to sense us. Our stay here may be useless, but let us stay, and see what will happen."

Patience was a virtue, that Shuurei knew as much. However, it was running out.

Their business was flourishing. It was the biggest earning they could have. Well, if they were not officials, it would have, but since they were, the men thought that their earnings could only be called pathetic. The older men were earning more than they did the first day that they went, however, Seiran was now paid regularly: 500 bronze. He was given money by his coworkers, though why they did, Shuurei cannot comprehend. Seiran always comes home with something an ordinary laborer could never earn.

What gave them the means to survive was Master Kouyuu. Now that they had proper materials, they were selling their products for one and a half silver. It is a steep price, but with the craftsmanship that the two ministers show, it was understandable. Kouyuu had turned out into a good merchant, to everyone's surprise. Now that he had conquered his little shyness with women, although it was never truly gone, he now knew how to talk women into buying his stuff. He was always sold out before the end of the afternoon. And he always brought home something a little shy of gold, sometimes more.

Soon, the two weeks alotment passed, and it was time for them to go. However, like the Lord Ryuuki have said, their journey WILL be filled with monsters, and their path WILL be filled with stones. Shuurei thought he meant it literally, however now she understood. Lord Ryuuki forsaw things that they did not. Monsters would be surrounding them as they go, and fate would cast stones for them to stumble and fall. And they felt it right before they leave.

Two nights before the decided day of their departure, just before they were about to sleep (Shuurei by herself, and the men, all in another room.), they heard commotions. They heard a fight issuing down below, however they did not mind it at all, thinking that perhaps it was one of those brawls that the haunted inn had every other night. But come morning, they found that it was not at all a simple brawl.

Just as they were getting down to go to their jobs, they saw a crowd of onlookers, and the authorities. Curious, Shuurei and the men looked, and saw that the creaky, creepy old stable was now a charcoal of ruins! According to the owner, some of their guests have gotten into a fight and since it bothered the other customers, the owner kicked them out like he did with the others who fought in his inn. One of the guests however seemed to have lost the fight and displaced his anger to the horses in the stable, and slit their throats. As if that was not enough, he even burned the stable down! None of the horses made it alive. Some that did, died either in the fire. One was lucky enough to survive the fire, but died from loss of blood. It was a tremendous lost. Lucky for the owner, the barn was spared, so the cattles lived on.

But as fate must have it, Shuurei and her posse were not so fortunate. They had lost the imperial horses, horses bred for battle, and they also lost the large carriage that the emperor gave them! The carriage was the most regrettable of all. It had a lot of purpose since the musicians used it as a stage for their little performance. By using it, they held the attention of people. But without it, they looked like lords passing the time by performing. Also, it was almost impossible to find a carriage that big!

The men had readied themselves for harrassing the owner into coughing up the amount of losses due them. No doubt, Shuurei would make sure he pay EVERY bronze for it. However, what met them was not an angry Shuurei. In fact, they wondered what possessed their leader!

Shuurei had one hand over her mouth, while her eyes had tears threatening to spill. She knew that even if they harrassed the owner, or threaten him even, they would never get anything from him. The inn was all he had. and the money that he was earning would not give them enough. Shuurei walked silently away from the crowd, back to the inn and into their room, only her companions noticing. They let Seiran handle the situation with the owner and the rest followed Shuurei.

They did not invade the privacy that they felt Shuurei wanted. Instead, the men stayed at the common room to discuss the matter at hand. They did not wait for Seiran to start.

"How much do we have, Houjo?" Reishin started.

Kijin brought their money bag out and placed it into the table. "Don't bother thinking about it. We only have 15 gold, 40 silvers and 862 bronze in total". He said. He took of his mask and rubbed his temples. "I haven't added the 5000 bronze coins that the walking corpse (he meant Shou Taishi 3 ) gave us. As if that would make much difference!"

"Damn, not even enough to buy us a carriage" Reishin said.

The two lords actually had a marvelous collection of carriages in their houses. Not to mention the others found in vacation houses. Kouyuu knew that much, since he often got lost in the garage on his way to his room. They owned all kinds of carriages, from small, compact ones to those that were bigger than the royal carriage that they brought.

They heard someone close the door. It was Seiran.

"I talked with the owner. He said he will let us eat and sleep for free for a month if we wanted. He also gave me back the rent for the rooms during our stay." He said. and with that he placed 480 bronze coins on the table.

"Great. THAT can't even buy us a donkey!" said Reishin. Kouyuu looked at the coins. the ministers owned a lot of horses, especially his father. He often finds his father taking care of the horses, sometimes cleaning the stables himself. He simply thought it was his father's weird hobbies. If anyone knew the price of horses, that would be Reishin and Houjo.

The two older men gave out a sigh while Seiran took a seat beside Kouyuu.

"There is one way though" said Reishin, a frown on his face, "We can buy a merchant wagon, instead"

"Have you gone mad Reishin? A wagon would cost us FIFTEEN gold! There will be none left. What will we do with a wagon with nothing to pull it with?!?"

"Then what do you suggest, Houjo? A cart?! That would be a waste of money! It would not fit the four of us, what more if someone gets added in our company"

Although it seemed that it was a fight that would break the two's friendship, it was not. The two knew each other, and sarcasms, tauntings, and provocations are a part of them that they had learned to love and accept. The yelling was welcomed to clear each other's head, in fact.

"Damn this cursed journey, damn that old man," Kijin began to say, rather passionately too. "Damn even that emperor! I know the wagon is the best choice, Reishin, but with nothing left how will we make that thing move?"

The two older men looked at the two younger ones and considered them. They sighed and leaned back to their seat eventually, to Kouyuu and Seiran's relief.

"No, that would be inhumane," Said Kijin, "And Lady Shuurei will hear none of it". The fight with the names had been cleared. Kijin would call Shuurei what was proper of her, which was "Lady Shuurei" while Reishin will call her by name since they were relative.

Reishin sighed. "Yes.. too bad."

Kijin sighed as well. Just how many sighs did he gave already for that day? They really need to think how to get money and how to earn it fast. He looked at Reishin, wondering if the genius actually had some useful ideas, and for some reason, his eyes wandered off to Reishin's collar. It was rather exquisite, his red collar. The gold embroideries could have only been made by the best embroiderers. Then, his eyes shifted to the hem of his own sleeve. His own gold clothes were as exquisite as Reishin's. The green embroideries was also very fine to look at. Well, he did spend for his wardrobe and dressing up shabbily is no sign of professionalism.

"I wonder, how much are wardrobes would fetch?" Kijin said casually. The moment he said it, the thought became concrete.

"Quite hefty, I think" said Reishin. He grinned behind his fan, getting Kijin's idea. And so, they explained their plan to the two younger men. Since Seiran was a servant, they did not bother asking him to give his share. Shuurei's belongings were also left intact for they thought that she would not possess anything grand ("Shou Taishi be damned! After this journey ends, I'm buying her a wardrobe fit for the Kou Princess!" Reishin swore.). Only Kouyuu could add contribute, but he did not mind. They had brought their summer clothes as well, luckily, which they can sell. For now, it was best to sell the summer clothes instead of saving them. Who knows, they may not need them anymore.

But before they rushed into things, Kijin said, "Then, I will go and tell Lady Shuurei". Since he was holding the money, it was his job to inform everyone of their financial status. Besides, she needed to be consoled, or whatever, anything to get her to pull herself together. However, Kouyuu caught his wrist.

"I'm sorry, minister. But allow me to talk to her, please." Said Kouyuu. He did not want Kijin to see Shuurei at that moment. He had deduced that the minister who was very strict regarding matters like this would scold Shuurei hardly, to use her head, instead of her heart at times like this. Being scolded for showing a little weakness did not seemed appropriate, something she did not deserve. But, though Kijin is strong and commanded Shuurei's respect, he often tends to be soft with the girl. He will either be too hard or too soft with Shuurei! The other two, forget it! They would pamper and console Shuurei like an innocent girl. Someone had to be firm with her, yet offer a comforting shoulder to cry on. If nobody could do it, he would!

Kouyuu knocked on the door, and not being responded to, he went inside himself, taking a peek first, just to be safe.

There was only one time when he ever saw Shuurei looking like that. It was when she had lost her position as an officer and was fired. She transformed from the bubbly girl who only knew how to smile or how to frown, into a candle that had been left in the storm. It was how Shuurei looked when she had fallen and did not know how to climb up to where she had been.

Shuurei was looking at the window, one hand over her mouth while her eyes dripped of tears like a broken faucet. She herself did not want to cry, making her shoulders quiver, but she was at a loss. Kouyuu understood. Their lives would depend on that Journey. If they were a second too late, they will be executed like common criminals. If they give up, they will be fugitives, with a sum on their heads. They could go nowhere yet cannot retreat, like a cornered animal.

"'So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood supply'." Said Kouyuu, to claim his presence to her.

Shuurei looked at her friend, and wiped away the tears, all in vain. She did not want to see any of the men, She did not have any face to show them. But hiding would be cowardice.

"I'm sorry, Master Kouyuu" said Shuurei, still wiping her eyes, "I'm sorry I left all of a sudden..." then she stopped. She had to. A whimper had come out of from her lips, and if another word was said, she will only cry.

If you think Kouyuu would rush to Shuurei to stop her from crying, well, you are wrong. The idea crossed Kouyuu's mind, and even initiated by his body to hug her. Before she became her student, she was his friend first. But he stopped himself. If he did such things, what would make him different with Seiran or Master Reishin? Then he should have let Minister Kou do the consoling and telling their plan of action.

Instead, Kouyuu took a seat, and brought it beside Shuurei. She was still crying while muttering an apology after apology. He watched her for a moment, wondering what he should do. He cannot give comforting words like the rest of the men could have, but he was something that the others was not. More than her boss, more than her relative, more than her servant. He was his teacher.

"You've cried now, are you done yet?" He said, mocking coldness. It was not the beginning of a harsh scolding that could bring her face down. That was something Kijin was used to. He needed to be her teacher, someone who would point at the path not someone who would hit her for stumbling, not someone who would care for her wounds. Shuurei was capable of those things to do to herself. Shuurei hurried wiping, took two minutes of breathing deeply a few slaps on her face, and she was fine.

That was Kouyuu's pet, his favorite student! he thought, smiling inwardly. "So, how is it? how do you feel now?"

"Frustrated, angry, confused, cornered." said Shuurei. She still wanted to cry, hiccuping still.

"The carriage is gone and the horses are dead" said Kouyuu, pointing the reality. She knew that much, but he needed to rub it in to her, "So what do you propose we do? We can't buy a new carriage. We can buy five horses, but what would happen if we needed to add another one along our cursed journey?"

Shuurei bit her lip. She did not know really. She had no idea. "I do not know... make him walk I guess."

Kouyuu looked at her. Had she been spending too much time with Seiran? Kouyuu Did not want to do this but...

Wham!

Shuurei clutched the top of her head. Kouyuu had his hand poised. He had chopped Shuurei's head, as if she were a common child, saying something stupid that it was not even funny. "I TOLD YOU NOT TO EAT THE RED MUSHROOMS!!" Kouyuu yelled at her.

"I didn't touch them!" Shuurei replied.

Kouyuu sat back to his chair and cleared his thraot. "Don't you think it's rather bad if you make them walk?" he said, "Inhumane, I should say."

"Sorry," said shuurei, "I really do not know what to say."

Kouyuu rubbed the part of Shuurei that he just hit, and said, "Naturally. You do not know everything."

Shuurei sighed. Kouyuu's hand was a comforting gesture, although it felt odd.

"I'm sorry Master Kouyuu. I just do not know what else to do. I feel like we are trapped between a tiger and a cliff. Both ways would mean death."

"Since you do not know the proper answer to my question, what should you do?" He asked.

Shuurei wondered. What should one do when stumped by a question? "Ask?"

Kouyuu smiled. "So, let's change the question. Our carriage is gone, the horses are dead, and we are short on money. What do you propose we do? What would you do, given these situation, and you have no answer to yourself?"

"Ask?"

"Ask for what?"

"Uhh.. other's ideas"

Kouyuu gave Shuurei a pat, and withdrew his hand. "See how stupid you are? That took you a while. You do not know everything, Ms. Shuurei. Nobody does. and in these times when you are stuck at a question, it is not a bad idea to ask for the wisdom of others, for others could see things that you may have missed. Why do you think we are here with you? We're not here to be a flower in that little carriage of yours. We have our uses. Each of us have our weaknesses, but together, we could work on those weaknesses and become each other's strength. In fact, you should take a good look of what you have to cover your weaknesses! You have with you are the first and second placers of the so called Nightmare exam group, the exiled... er, a promising swordsman skilled in manual labor, and the vice secretary of the civil administration office"

"You used to be the youngest to top the national exam until Eigetsu-kun took your place." Shuurei , her teacher should not be ashamed of that little fact.

"THAT'S NOT THE POINT! You have with you good people, with good brain and decent skills. Yet here you go thinking that you have to do this or that to keep this little group surviving. We're not children, Ms. Shuurei. We are older than you are, much wiser. Yet you choose to ignore us and carry every decision, every weight of the judgement on your shoulders."

Shuurei looked down and remembered what her Uncle and the minister have said to her once, "A single bee makes no honey."

"A grain of rice makes no rice soup." Kouyuu finished. "I'm glad you know that passage, but you have to drill that into your head. Frankly, I am very disappointed that you needed to break down and cry after seeing such unfortunate events, when we were right there behind you. Yet you stubborn woman decided that everything is over after this little incident"

"Master Kouyuu, I've had enough already! Just as we are about to solve one problem, another one appears, and after that, another misfortune! It is as if fate itself wanted to make our lives a living curse! We cannot go forward,but we cannot retreat!"

"Forget about fate. Let the gods fill our path with jagged stone and let it rain thunder upon us. Let the sky fall down, and the earth shatter below our feet. But as long as we are alive, we cannot give up upon this god-forsaken journey. If we fall, we stand up. If we stumble, we rise. Even if we lose everything, so long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood supply. Really, I do not want to follow you if you will give up and break from this. I cannot understand why you have to cry when all is not yet lost."

Shuurei took a couple of breaths, and said, "I am also disappointed at myself, for breaking down like that. I am really sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you, Master Kouyuu, I feel much better now"

"Well, you can thank me by stopping to cry. It does not become you, you know?" Kouyuu said, "By the way, you shed tears for nothing! We've already figured out everything."

Shuurei smiled. Yes, just like they have told her. She was with able people, not helpless children. "And? What was your plan?" She asked.

And so Kouyuu explained. The lords have packed the clothes that they wanted to sell, keeping only a few that they could not part with. They kept their wardrobes simple. Shuurei gave them the bud that the prince had given her a long time ago, when she lived in a dream, but the men refused. Shuurei never had much in life. Taking something from her felt as dirty as stealing from the poor.

"Shuurei," Said Reishin, "stay with Kouyuu, at the market place. Seiran is already in his work. Houjo and I would go and buy us a wagon"

and so, Shuurei helped Kouyuu with their business, while the two lords bought a merchant's wagon, as well as sell their clothes.

They first decided to sell the clothes, and replace them. They lords had a total of eighty articles to sell. They managed to sell them all for a big price since the fabrics were all first class. They earned five gold from the clothes, just enough to buy a horse. However since they were depleted of so much clothes, the men decided to use one gold to buy themselves and Kouyuu (they are not heartless demons who would leave the younger man out in the cold) clothes for the rest of the autumn as well as winter. It was not as good nor as wonderful as their own wardrobe, but that did not matter. As long as they are kept warm, they were satisfied. They could afford a mule, or a donkey, but it was alright.

After renewing their wardrobe, the two lords went to a horse ranch to buy a pony. Houjo did not think much about ponies, thinking they are small animals good only to teach children how to ride. He had to ask why his friend wanted to buy such things. Reishin corrected his false belief regarding ponies proclaiming that they are smarter than donkeys, but just as hard working, but they were cheaper than the a horse, and since donkeys were considered vital beasts of burden in that area, ponies were cheaper. They managed to persuade the vendor to give them two for the amount of three gold pieces. It was a rip off for the poor rancher, true, but it was a meager price to pay to avoid the wrath of heaven and hell, for he believed that the handsome yet ice-cold Reishin was sent from the very bowels of hell. The rancher believed that if he displeased the noble man, no doubt demons would follow him to the ends of the earth. He also believed that if he displeased the heaven sent Kijin (who had unmasked himself due to Reishin's insisting), the heavens will turn its back upon the rancher, allow the demons to haunt him, and make his life a living hell.

"How fortunate we are to make use of that face of yours, Houjo" said Reishin.

"And with that bitter personality of yours, we can rob and pilage whatever town that comes our way." Houjo retorted.

The two considered the idea of using their skills to its maximum, but wiped the idea as easily as it came. True, the two lords were not branded as ice-cold, heartless, concienceless ministers for nothing. After all, if there are waves, there is certainly wind. They simply cannot do such things for they valued what a certain young lady would think of them if they did something horrible.

As was revealed earlier, Reishin and Houjo knew carriages like the back of their hands. Experts that they are, they knew what to buy and how to buy. There were a lot of stores that sold second hand wagons, but they could not buy anything from those since the prices seemed a rip off while the goods were damaged. They had no choice but to buy a brand new wagon, made of cherry wood and polished to a gleam. Cherry wood seemed to be abundant in that area, so they were the cheapest kind. Although it seemed beautiful, it's price was lower than averags since all it had was a coat of varnish. If they bought a painted one, the price would increase. The wagon was very big and roomy, and it featured sturdy shelves on its walls, making it the ideal wagon for them to travel with. They managed to buy the wagon for fourteen gold instead of their planned fifteen.

If the two lords were cold to the rancher with an air of forboding divine wrath, they were extraordinarily warm towards the wagon merchant. They needed to ask the owner to keep the wagon and the horses for the night.

"It is a gift for my niece" Reishin claimed, and talking about his niece was enough to turn the summit of ice which is his heart into a tropical paradise. The merchant who had lost a a favorite niece from pneumonia, felt all the love that Reishin seeped of and promised the doting Uncle that he understood his love and he will take care of the wagon and the horses as if they were his own gifts for his departed niece. They had an understanding, the two doting uncles (though Houjo found both of them silly and stupid).

We could already predict Kouyuu's fate. With Shuurei with him, no doubt he would still be the bread winner of our heroes. Let us not dwell much with him, for it is a bore to tell something so predictable. Instead let us focus on Seiran.

Seiran went to the vineyard, with a heart heavy as if filled with lead. Losing their car and horses was the most unfortunate of all events that had happened. It was almost as if there is a demon, looming about in their presence, making sure that their desitny would not be met. However, he trusted the two lords skills. No doubt they will be able to solve this little problem. Still, he cannot help but worry.

With his heart so heavy, many of his coworkers noticed the atmosphere surrounding Seiran. He had made friends, and these friends listened to whatever problem he had. The men asked him what was the matter that he could be so down.

"Someone burned our carriage" said Seiran, sighing as if he lifted the world upon his shoulders "also slit the horses' neck."

The men looked at him as if they expected him to cry. Of course, Seiran would do nothing so stupid as that. They knew that Seiran was going away soon, and in their interpretation, "Running away" with his siblings. Half of their heart was sad, sympathy welling from the depths of their heart, yet another part was glad that this beautiful person would be forced to stay longer. However, Seiran confirmed that he was leaving for good. He talked with the owner and said goodbye to his friends as they worked that afternoon.

When the sun was about to bid everyone adieu, Seiran gave them all a farewell. The owner gave him two bottles of wine, just like she did on his first day.

"You were a great help, my dear" said the owner, tears shedding from her eyes, "The vineyard had never been as productive as when you arrived. I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for working here" Seiran had to comfort the poor owner, as the other women cried along with the owner, claiming that their sadness would never be lifted from them like a dreaded curse. I should say, after two days that Seiran left the vineyard, they were back to their cheery state. Once all the women said their goodbye, it was the men's turn.

Seiran, although quiet, was well loved by everyone. The men, in particular, were very fond of him. For the men's goodbye, they gave him a few pieces of silver to help.

"This is too much!" Seiran told them sweetly, "But thank you."

The men were so touched and sad by the departure of their "beloved princess"

one man in particular was so anguished by the thought of Seiran leaving that he said shamelessly, "SEIRAN! MARRY ME! I WILL PROTECT YOU"

"Um, hey..." Seiran mumbled, not knowing how to answer that particular question.

"No! marry me Seiran! I promise you will never again think of money in my side!" Another said, quite passionately too.

"If you will marry, then choose me!" said another

"No! Me!" Another yelled.

The men flooded Seiran with proposals, while the man in question, really had no idea how to answer to that.

"Now, please," Seiran said, scratching his head. The men stopped their passionate proposals to listen to him, so he continued, "I cannot marry any of you, since I am a man myself"

The men looked at him with a softness that unnerved Seiran. In the men's mind, they found it adorable of Seiran to deny his "true" gender. They all said, "We know all about it!" confusing Seiran even more.

He only managed to escape when when he saw Houjo and Reishin going back. He simply asked Houjo to unmask himself and he was able to get away.

"We are travelling with a wagon" Houjo said, when they had gotten home. "It is not as comfortable, but it will do." He was irritated at the thought of returning to the merchant for the wagon, but what can he do? The two doting Uncles had a long chat about their niece. One was bragging and one was reminiscing. It galled him that Reishin had to comfort the merchant for losing his precious niece.

The next morning, Houjo and Reishin returned to the wagon merchant, bringing Shuurei along. She was feeling impatient, and since she had already packed their lunch that morning, she was left with nothing to do.

The wagon merchant was delighted to see Reishin's niece, whose beauty, as Reishin dedeclared, shuts out the moon and put the flowers to shame. When Shuurei heard of that, she had had to laugh and insisted that her face is homely compared to the two lords. She did mention however that her father insisted that she looked like her deceased mother, who was a real beauty and really did put flowers to shame, in which Houjo and Reishin agreed with. "My eyes looks too large for my face however." said Shuurei, regrettingly, "My father himself is a handsome man, as you can see my Uncle is (here, Reishin went "kya!") Maybe that is why I turned like this. Though they are both beautiful people, I suppose a truffle and a peach are both delicious but they simply do not go well together". The wagon merchant found Shuurei's display of humilyity adorable.

"Ah, you are too honest, young lady. But you have your own charm and beauty unlike your parents" The merchant told her making Shuurei smile.

As Shuurei explored their new wagon, Reishin, Houjo and the merchant was left to watch.

"Truly, you must be proud to have such a lovely niece" said the merchant, tears now welling in his eyes.

"Isn't she? 3 " Reishin asked like the doting Uncle that he is. Houjo could only restrain himself from barfing.

"Yes, yes! You must be drowning with marriage proposals, asking her hand for marriage"

"Indeed, it is troublesome. Every year the marriage proposals heaps up like a mountain! But only the best for my niece!" Reishin said with determination. "I will not allow just any man to take her from me! He has to be strong, both physically and mentally, his pockets ought to be deep and his face must be divine enough for me to tolerate looking at."

"Che, you worry too much. I told you didn't I? She will live happy and content like a queen in my arms." Said Houjo who was losing his patience with the doting Uncles. He wanted to cause a little havoc.

"Who said it was you?!" Reishin screamed, about to hit his friend with fan. However he was stopped by Houjo.

"But is it not me whom you just described? strong both mentally and physically, with deep pockets and a face divine enough to sink a fish?"

"Are you her husband, sir?" the merchant inquired. He could only think of it that way for what reason did the man had to come with them, unless he was related?

"Yes" Houjo said with a mock shyness that did not fit his image. He was a simple man, whose only pleasure in life is to torture his friend.

"He is not, I tell you!" Reishin cried indignantly, baring his teeth at Houjo.

"Uncle!! It is magnificent! This is wonderful!" Shuurei cried, waving.

So with that, the merchant bid them farewell, wishing them good health, and a request to Houjo that he takes care of such a precious gem. They fetched Seiran, Kouyuu and their luggage, and soon enough they were travelling again.

Since the wagon was larger than what they had, the they were forced to take the hi-way instead of the the smaller trail. Since they were to cross the border, between the Purple povince and the Black Province, they had to pay the toll to get into the area. It was rather steep, being a hundred bronze. Taking the hiway also cost them fifty bronze, but that was a cheap price to pay if they had their giant carriage. Wagons and carts were less expensive in the high way compared to carriages.

Taking the highway, turned out to be the best route, a serendipity. The highway led our heroes to their next destination. According to their schedule, they should arive at the big town of Koumi after six hours of travelling, however they managed to reach it in a span of two hours. The town of Koumi was a rich one, despite being smaller than their previous city. Like its name, the town was known for the rich spices and its trade and commerce, serving as a shelter for the travelling merchants that need to go to and from the black province, and the capital province. It was a strategic location also, since it leads to the national highway, several towns and villages connects to that particular province.

Once they had eaten their lunch, our heroes disbanded temporarily, and to earn some money. They were not press for money as of yet, having 2 pieces of gold, 50 silver and 192 bronze. It was a fortune!

We leave the men alone, since we all know how it would go. Instead we will watch over our heroine.

Shuurei had searched through the whole town for the cheapest inn she could find. However, the gods seems to hate Shuurei and her friends. Fate never smiled as the day progressed. All the inns, be it cheap or expensive were full.

The sun was almost down, and still, Shuurei could not find any place for them to stay.

But for some reason, a god must have felt a little pity.

Just as Shuurei was about to announce that they will be spending the night underneathe the stars, she felt the presence of a special person. One of the vassals was near!

"Meow" came a sound. Shuurei looked and found a stray cat, missing a left eye. The cat stared at her and she stared back, and then as if on cue, the cat walked slowly away. The cat looked back, as if saying to Shuurei to follow it. She did. Normally she would ignore things like those, but for some reason... she could not.

It must have been ten minutes or so, when Shuurei suddenly lost sight of the cat. If you are expecting our Shuurei to feel lost, well, you are wrong Shuurei is a bright girl. Following a cat out of whim will not make her forget her own tracks.

The presence of the Vassal was stronger. She looked at the building surrounding her and found an inn that she had missed. It was a beautiful inn, designed as if it was from the mountain. Several balconies featured potted plants, while the inn itself was covered in vines. Some of them, were blooming that the area smelled sweet. It was small, but there was a small sign that said "Inn"

Perhaps it was destiny, Shuurei thought, that she would find this inn. But for some unknown reason, a knight stopped her from entering.

"Know your place, commoner!" said the guard, "This place could only be accessed by the eight nobles of color"

Shuurei looked at the man. She never heard of such an inn before. The very idea seemed ridiculous, and outrageous.

The history behind the ridiculous inn dates back two hundred years ago. Being a small town in the central of commerce, lodgings and food seemed impossible. In a previous journey of a previous "Sougen", they themselves had experienced the same difficulties as Shuurei was having. Everyone had turned them down, and unless they have reservations, they cannot get into an inn. Since a member of the eight noble seemed to always belong in that group, an inn was established to accomodate them. Also, nobles tend to travel on whim. They simply cannot be allowed to sleep beneathe the stars.

Why Shuurei is angry at the very thought, I myself wonder. She is a princess of the direct line, therefore, she could enter the place upon whim. According to her perspective, the only person in their company who does not belong in the eight colors, was Seiran. Of course, Shuurei is the only one in the group who has no idea that Shi Seiran, was actually Shi Seien, and could enter the place and trash it if he wants to. Kouyuu was the heir presumptive of the Kou clan, so he is defenitely getting inside.

"I am Kou Shuurei" said Shuurei, introducing herself to the guard with the heir of the nobility taught to her, "and I demand that you allow me entrance in this establishment"

The guard eyed her carefully. Although she spoke in noble manner, she was dressed far too humbly to be a noble. The guard spitted at her feet and yelled, "Get out of my sight woman!" and chased her off.

The Vassal was near, and Shuurei thought that the person may be staying in that place or walking nearby, since the street was unusually quiet, she chose the former. But how to get inside? She did not have any proof that she was a from the noble line. Her things were with her uncle and the minister. Plus, since her father was casted out by the Kou family, she had no badge to prove of her heritage.

She looked again at the beautiful building. Well, it would be expensive. Even if she get inside, she doubted that they could afford living in such a place. She hated to waste the opportunity to find the vassal, but she simply cannot afford to waste money even more. If the Vassal was near, he will come out and meet with them!

As Shuurei walked away, looking back at the building, she bumped unto a cloaked man. The man fell back, while she sprawled ungracefully in front of him. But it's not that simple. Now that Sougen have chosen her, her path will be filled with uncertainties, tears, woes and despair. A demon must have played a prank but as Shuurei fell down she extended her right hand to break her fall, but that caused her to twist her right ankle. And as if that was not enough, the hand she used gave, so her elbow hit the ground sharply.

A normal person would have fallen with no injuries, even Shuurei. She was not always so clumsy, but it seemed it was her year of misfortune.

"I'm sorry" She said, automatically, despite being the injured one, "Are you alright, sir?"

The cloaked man stood up, and brushed off his bottom as well as his hands. Then he looked at Shuurei curiously, as Shuurei looked back. The man had a scarf covering his face, so Shuurei concluded that the man must have been a traveller like them. But when she looked upon his eyes, and felt her eyes widen. Those purple drooping eyes only belonged to one man.

"Ryuuuuuuren!!!!!" She screamed with delight, holding up her hands, which was very unlike her. But with all her misfortune, seeing a familiar face in this God-forsaken adventure was welcomed! If she was younger, she would have shed tears!

"Hello, My Soul Friend no.1!" Ryuuren greeted. He wrapped his arms around Shuurei and held her up, dangling her to his eye level like a child. "I am well and good, but perhaps you are not" he said.

Shuurei bit her lower lip and looked away, embarrassed at her state. The pain on her ankle was getting unto her not to mention, her elbows and arms were beginning to sting. "Please put me down, Ryuuren" Shuurei requested. She used her left feet to stand and held on to Ryuuren for balance.

"It is rare for Soul friend no. 1 to be outside of the capital. I have heard from my idiot brother no. 4 that you were terminated. If you have no job, my soul friend, I would gladly buy a house and settle down, just so you may work as my personal chef. But hmm, my brothers would be angry if I house a woman without wedding her. Well, let us marry so you may have that job! I will pay you well too!"

Shuurei laughed nervously. What kind of logic was that? "I should not impose on you Ryuuren. Besides, I have been tasked by the government to do something worth while." And so Shuurei explained her mission.

"A character in their body is your only clue?" Ryuuren repeated. "Shall I write up a character on myself to make your life a little easier? Of course, I would love to help you dearest Soul Friend!"

"Uh, no" Shuurei declined.

"Hmm... shall I write letters on those guards over there?" Ryuuren asked

Shuurei began to wander if the Ran family had made a mistake naming the man before her as the legendary Ran Ryuuren. This Ran Ryuuren seemed more like a retard, rather than a genius.

"No Ryuuren" Said Shuurei, feeling exhausted, "Those characters are in their body since birth"

Ryuuren blinked as if he did not understand. "You mean, like this one perhaps?" then he took off his scarf and his hood, and showed Shuurei his nape.

There at right side of his nape, was the character for blue!

Why didn't Ryuuren showed it to her in the first place?!