Epilogue: Hazuki Returns To Her Quest
Those quiet words brought the three travelers to a halt. Hazuki looked up and down the broad earthen path, but saw nothing unusual: just road and endless forests. She turned a puzzled frown to Chou'un, and saw her confusion echoed back to her. "Where's here, exactly?" she asked.
"This is the border," Ryofu explained.
"Hmm, no markers or signs," Chou'un considered. "You're certain, Ren?"
"Borders are still changing," Ryofu nodded. "As of now, this is the edge of Yue's territory." She then looked down, and her next words were more quiet than normal, even for her. "This is as far as I can take you."
"Thank you for seeing us this far," Hazuki smiled sadly. "I only wish..."
"You know I can't," Ryofu whispered, and Hazuki felt badly for having brought it up again.
After an awkward pause, Chou'un broke the tension by turning to Ryofu and bringing her left hand and right fist together in a respectful bao quan gesture. "It has been the greatest honor to fight at your side, Ren-dono. From this day, may we cross paths and never weapons."
"It was good to see you again... Sei..." Ryofu replied, returning the gesture and bowing her head to her fellow general.
Chou'un straightened up, looked from one of them to the other, than stepped a short way down the path to give the other two space for their goodbyes. Hazuki found herself thankful for the gesture, but was not sure what to say to her newest sister.
As it turned out, Ryofu spoke first. "Will I see you again?"
"I... I don't know, Ren," Hazuki sighed. "I hate to say it, but... if things go well for me, and I find her, then... no, I don't think you will."
"I understand," Ryofu whispered, but then her features lightened into a small, unexpected smile. "I'll hope for you."
The smile flickered. "I'm sorry we never found your mask."
"It's okay. If it turns up, would you hold onto it for me?"
"I will." That normally emotionless face twisted through several unfamiliar expressions before Ryofu looked her in the eyes almost fiercely. "I know you'll find her. But I also know that we'll see each other again. Somehow."
Heart breaking and eyes suddenly feeling very full, Hazuki stepped forward and embraced Ryofu tightly, burying her face in the other girl's hair. "I hope so, Ren," she whispered.
Ryofu rubbed the side of her face against Hazuki's for a few moments, then stepped back and smiled again. "Safe travels, Hazuki. Sei will take good care of you." Her forehead then creased in thought. "Careful, though. She's sort of a groper."
"I'll keep that in mind," Hazuki chuckled, reaching to wipe the tears from her eyes. She gave Ryofu's hands one last squeeze, then took a deep breath and turned to follow Chou'un across the unmarked border.
After they had walked some distance in silence, Chou'un cleared her throat. "Hazuki-dono, forgive me, but there is something I feel I must tell you. A truth that you must know."
"What's that, Sei?"
"I am not 'sort of' a groper."
"Most assuredly not."
A few steps later, Chou'un continued. "I happen to be a fantastic groper."
With Kayuu and her troops having returned to the capital, Ryofu elected to take a meandering path home after seeing the others off at the border. Yue and Kaku would be safe without her for the time being, and she felt somehow that she needed this time alone to adjust to her loss. Even though she knew that everything had happened for the best, she could not deny feeling that familiar ache inside.
As she had done countless times during those long years, she went fishing in the river and caught a dozen of the skinny grey fish she liked to roast. Then it was just a matter of finding some sturdy sticks upon which to spit them, after which she picked out a rocky spot near the river to make herself a fire, taking care to build it in the lee of a large boulder. She stuck the spitted fish into the ground so that they formed a ring around the cookfire, then sat back and stared silently into the crackling flames.
Even in the midst of this old routine, which she could do for fun now instead of for survival, she kept coming back to that feeling of emptiness. She had a family now, and she loved them all: Yue for her gentleness, Kaku for all her blustering devotion, Kayuu for her optimism, and her troops and her animal friends for their loyalty. She even loved Chou'un, strange as she was.
Hazuki, however, had been something different. Not more, not less, just... different. Being with her was comforting in a way she had not felt since losing her sister so long ago. When they held hands, or cuddled closely, it stirred something: some strange energy that made her feel green inside, like a forest in springtime. What had Hazuki called it? Souma?
As brief as it had been, Ryofu had truly enjoyed this chance to have a sister again, even if the roles had been reversed. Being the onee-san was something for which she felt a real affinity, and it was a shame that her time with her new sister had been so brief.
There came the sudden, muffled sound of a dog's bark, and Ryofu looked up to see a young girl and a large, shaggy dog stumbling out of the undergrowth and making a wobbly effort at a beeline toward her campsite. The girl fell to her hands and knees beside the fire, staring longingly at the roasting fish, while the dog waited obediently at her side.
Finally, the girl seemed to realize that she was not alone, and she looked up. Once her eyes met Ryofu's, she shrank back, trembling.
She looked several years younger than Ryofu: perhaps just on the verge of maturity. Her hair, pulled back into a pair of pigtails, appeared to be a shade of light green, and the skin of her hollow-cheeked face was very pale, though both were hard to discern considering how filthy she was. Her clothes were in tatters, hanging loosely over her shriveled frame, and her hands were covered with innumerable cuts and scrapes, some of them healing better than others.
Ryofu stared at her, and as she did, she felt that sisterly energy welling up inside her again, along with something else that was harder to name. She knew this scene too well: a girl and her dog wandering through the mountains, homeless and starving. Two more strays, abandoned by their people and left to fend for themselves.
The girl's stomach growled painfully, and she shrank back even further, her eyes desolate and hopeless.
After a moment's pause, Ryofu checked the fire, plucked out a fish that looked good and done, and held it out to her. "Want one?"
Over the weeks that followed, both Hazuki and Chou'un had cause to question the wisdom of going out on the road when they had. Cold weather was setting in, and while this winter season was proving to be relatively mild, there were still a few days of difficult going here, and a few cold nights without shelter there. Sometimes the roads familiar to Chou'un were blocked, forcing them to brave thick forests and snow-capped mountains, with no clear trail through the wilds. While many nights were spent in the relative safety of an inn, sometimes there was nothing between them and the elements but a single travel blanket. They made do, though: even though she never seemed to tire of making suggestive comments while they huddled together against the cold, Chou'un remained true to her word and kept her hands (mostly) to herself.
They filled the long hours of walking by telling stories. At first, this was mostly Chou'un, who regaled her companion with seemingly endless tales of past wars and travels throughout Asia. Gradually, though, Hazuki was coaxed into relating her own journeys from one world to another. While Hazuki could not be certain whether or not Chou'un actually believed any of them, she was nonetheless attentive to each one, and was not shy about asking for clarification.
"So due to your prowess in defeating their angry 'god,' they proclaimed you their new god in its place?"
"I'm afraid so," Hazuki nodded, giving an exhalation that was part laugh and part sigh. "And then, since they considered Lilith to be a false prophet to their old god, they decided to sacrifice her to me."
"I presume she was displeased at the idea?"
"No, I think she was actually encouraging them. She got into the ceremonial clothing for the sacrifice, then leaped into my lap and started saying 'Come on, Hazuki-chan, eat me, eat me!'"
Chou'un laughed loudly. "How very subtle of her!"
"If there's one thing Lilith is not, it's subtle."
They continued down the road in silence for a few moments, then Chou'un turned an odd look on Hazuki. "Do you really think she's left you here for good, then?"
"It's looking more and more like it," Hazuki sighed. "As jealous as she always was, it's the only thing that makes sense at this point."
"What do you mean?"
Hazuki found herself blushing a little. "Before, there's no way Lilith would have let me stay in the company of someone as beautiful as you for this long, much less allowed us to share a blanket."
"Ah, Hazuki," Chou'un smiled. "Keep flattering me like that, and I'll be sorely tempted to end both of our quests here and now by ravishing you on the forest floor."
"No you won't," Hazuki smiled back at her.
"You only say that because you underestimate how charming you are. Not to mention how desperate I have become in my prolonged abstinence."
"Erm... thank you, I think?"
"I'm only teasing, of course."
"About which part?"
"I'll leave that for you to guess."
The whole of their travel time had been filled with banter like this, and far from feeling threatened by it, Hazuki had actually come to enjoy it. Once Chou'un had made it clear that she would honor both Hazuki's devotion to Hatsumi and her own to Kan'u, such talk had become easy and even commonplace. For Hazuki, who had never flirted with anyone in her life (if this could truly be considered flirting – she remained uncertain), it was strangely freeing to be this comfortable around an attractive woman.
Perhaps this insane world had defeated her after all, but not in a bad way.
Hazuki abruptly stopped walking. "Sei," she said quietly, feeling the need to express this somehow.
"Hmm?" Chou'un asked, turning to face her.
A great many thoughts ran through Hazuki's mind before she decided to keep it simple. "Thank you," she said, taking a small step closer to the other woman.
Chou'un gave her a knowing smile, then held out her free arm to invite Hazuki into an embrace. "It has been my pleasure."
"Oh, I don't think so!"
Literally from nowhere, a hand appeared on Hazuki's chest (probably not by accident getting a good handful in the process) and shoved her back a couple of steps, while opposite her, Chou'un was likewise pushed aside.
There, standing between them, looking as furious as Hazuki had ever seen her, was none other than Lilith.
The scowl on the Keeper's face did not last long, though, as she threw herself at Hazuki, eyes wide with concern. "Pleasure? With my Hazuki-chan? Did this horrible woman hurt you? Did she take your maidenhood? Hold still, I'll check..."
"Lilith?!" Hazuki sputtered, reflexively blocking the goddess's attempt at an impromptu purity exam.
"And you!" Lilith thundered, turning to face Chou'un. "What manner of wanton harlot are you, trying to steal my Hazuki-chan like that?"
"Greetings," Chou'un smiled bemusedly. "You must be the Lilith I've heard so much about. I am Chou Shiryuu of Jouzan, and I assure you, 'your' Hazuki-chan's virtue is intact, despite some of my best efforts."
"Best... efforts..?!" Lilith fumed. She then turned to one side and took a step back so that she could keep them both in sight. "Hazuki-chan, this is the last time I let you wander off on your own, do you hear me? No more solo adventures! Next time wait for me before exploring a world full of hussies like her."
"But you're the one who left me here!" Hazuki cried, feeling some of that long-dormant anger clawing its way past her shock and confusion.
"Nonsense!" Lilith snorted. "I took my eye off of you for a few minutes, and poof! Off you went! I've been looking all over for you! How are we supposed to find Eve if you keep disappearing like you did, hmm?"
Hazuki was, in a word, gobsmacked. Most of her was too shocked at having Lilith here in the first place to try to understand what she was ranting about. Was she blaming Hazuki for this separation? After Lilith had left her here, unarmed, without hope? After she had nearly died, and nearly succumbed to loneliness once and for all?
She wanted to scream and rage at Lilith, and demand to know if she had any idea what Hazuki had gone through because of the Keeper's petulance, but before she could do so, Chou'un struck first.
"Charming," she smiled, stepping into Lilith's field of vision and fixing the goddess with her gaze. "Truly, Hazuki's description of your beauty, impressive as it sounded, could never do justice to the reality."
"Huh?" Lilith squeaked, looking from Hazuki to Chou'un. "She said I was..? That I was... eep?"
At that moment, Hazuki had the rare pleasure of seeing Lilith completely flummoxed as she returned Chou'un's stare, and as Hazuki watched with a mix of fascination and dawning horror, Chou'un closed the distance between them and kissed Lilith deeply.
After at least a good thirty seconds, Chou'un stepped back, leaving the Keeper standing there with her eyes closed, blushing profusely, an expression of complete bliss settling over her sharp-featured face.
"What are you doing?" Hazuki hissed.
"Keeping you from ruining your best chance," Chou'un shot back at her in a voice just over a whisper. "This is your guide, is she not?"
"She is. But..."
"But nothing," Chou'un said with a shake of the head. She stepped closer to Hazuki, while Lilith merely teetered in place, her eyes still closed to the world. "Now calm yourself before you say something you'll regret for the rest of your life."
"But she... she left me..." Hazuki said lamely, holding onto the remains of her fury.
"And now she's come back for you. Hasn't a part of you been hoping for this all along?"
At this point, Lilith shook off her trance and smiled dazedly. "Note to self," she whispered. "Bookmark."
"Well, then," Chou'un said briskly. "I imagine the two of you will be on your way to find the missing goddess, yes?"
"That's right!" Lilith beamed, slamming her fist into her open palm. "If she's not in this book, we need to keep checking. Come on, Hazuki-chan, let's get moving!"
"No, no... just... just wait a moment," Hazuki stammered, shaking her head. After weeks upon weeks of thinking she'd never have this chance, the reality of it was happening too quickly. "Sei, what about... what about Kan'u? I promised you..."
Chou'un looked sternly at Hazuki. "Azuma-dono," she said coldly, "I am quite certain I did not just hear you suggesting such a thing." Her face and voice then softened. "Leave Kan'u to me: you have your own lost love to find."
"Her lost love has already found her," Lilith added helpfully, grabbing Hazuki around the waist. "She just hasn't realized it yet."
"Sei..." Hazuki said, looking helplessly at her most recent companion.
In reply, Chou'un stood up straight and saluted her with the same bao quan she'd given Ryofu weeks before. "Good travels to you, Tsuki Kachou," she said with a wink.
"Thank you... Hoshi Kachou..." Hazuki replied, bowing as best she could with Lilith hanging onto her. "Thank you for everything."
"You can thank me by telling me how it all turned out when next we meet," Chou'un smirked. "And once again, Hazuki... it was my pleasure."
"Enough about pleasuring my Hazuki-chan!" Lilith whined. "Time to move!"
The morning exploded with green, and Hazuki felt the tug of transition between worlds. It had been so long since the last one, though, that it took her completely by surprise, and the vertigo of seeing Chou'un and the wooded path ripped away from her was almost enough to make her lose her breakfast.
Then the scene re-assembled itself around her, and she and Lilith were once again standing in the Great Library. Hazuki grabbed a nearby shelf to balance herself as Lilith picked up the open book at their feet and returned it to its shelf.
"Hazuki-han!" came a squawking voice, as Ken-chan landed heavily on her shoulder. "I see Lilith-nee-san has returned you safely to us!"
"I suppose she has," Hazuki said carefully, looking askance at the Keeper.
"Kogechibi, take that... thing away from Hazuki-chan and put it away before she damages something with it," Lilith waved, indicating Hazuki's naginata. With a happy giggle, the tiny cloaked figure tottered up beside Hazuki, grabbed the weapon and carried it off in spite of the fact that it was at least ten times her height.
"Oh, speaking of which," Lilith then smiled, unfastening the top button of her ruffled shirt and reaching inside. With that characteristic lack of subtlety, she slowly and languidly pulled Hazuki's sword out from between her breasts and passed it to the other girl. "I found this lying on the floor just outside this book. If you're going to wander off by yourself, you should at least take this with you."
Hazuki took the sword in hand, and felt a rush of Eve's energy flood through her at this long-absent contact. With it, her mind quickly cleared, and she nodded slowly to herself. Her quest was not over after all, and here was the single best reminder of what she still sought.
All the same...
"Lilith," Hazuki said carefully as they walked toward the center of the library.
"Why did..." she started, but then shook her head and tried again. "What happened, before?"
"When we... parted ways? What do you remember about it?"
Lilith's face flushed. "What do I remember? That I can't let you out of my sight; that's what I remember! I take my eyes off you for a few minutes, and you go and get yourself lost!"
"But... what about... what led up to that?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Lilith scowled, but Hazuki was certain she saw something else in the Keeper's eyes. Something that looked a lot like... pain. Just as quickly, though, she covered it up. "If we're going to find Eve, we need to stick together, all right? No more leaving me alone and going off on your own?"
Hazuki realized that this was probably as close to an apology as she would get. After seeing the hurt in the eyes of her companion, though, she decided to let that be enough. Though it was difficult to remember sometimes, Hazuki knew that she was not the only one searching for someone she missed deeply. "I won't," she said softly.
"Good. Ken-chan, find us another book! Time's wasting!"
As Ken-chan fluttered off, Hazuki came to a decision. She was not sure how much of it was self-preservation and how much of it was the true desire to extend an olive branch, but she could think about that later. "Say, um... Lilith?"
"Yes, Hazuki-chan?" Lilith beamed, batting her eyelashes at the taller girl.
"Um... if you find that you... want to take a break once in a while..?" she said, fidgeting a little. "I... think that would be okay."
Lilith's eyes widened. "Really?"
"Um, sure," Hazuki nodded.
"Wonderful!" Lilith squealed, literally leaping up and clapping her hands together. "Because it just so happens that the world of Gerodross is having a three-day wine festival, starting today! What do you think, Hazuki-chan? Wouldn't it be nice to sit under the twin suns, sipping wine together?"
"Perhaps tea for me."
"Wouldn't it be nice to sit under the twin suns, sipping wine and tea together?"
"That sounds... relaxing."
"Sitting under the twin suns drinking wine and tea together, until I spill it all over myself, and ask you to help me lick it off?"
"I'll get you a napkin."
"Until I spill it all over myself, and ask you to help me napkin it off, with your touch lingering on my..."
Chou'un had spent the majority of her life's travels alone, so the quiet was nothing new, as such. Still, after the happy companionship of her recent weeks, this was going to take some getting used to again.
What an exit Hazuki had made, though! Disappearing in a flash of green fire and radiance along with the buxom goddess in the interesting hat... It had been difficult not to be skeptical of the otherworldly elements of Hazuki's stories, but if that wasn't proof, it was damned close. It was nice to know that her new friend might have a chance to fulfill her quest after all.
And if she did not... well, perhaps they would indeed meet again, and since Chou'un would almost certainly remain unattached even if she managed to find Kan'u again...
No, that kind of thinking would never do. Hazuki had believed in her, and giving up her own desire for happiness before it had begun would tarnish the memory of her recent comrade-in-arms. No, if Chou'un truly wished to honor Hazuki, she simply had no choice but to find Kan'u and be ridiculously happy with her.
Of course, she was no closer to that goal than she had been for literally months now.
As she continued down the well-worn road, Chou'un saw another figure in the distance, heading in the other direction. This was nothing extraordinary, as she frequently met fellow travelers even in the colder season, but there was something odd about this one's shape. As she drew nearer, Chou'un saw that the other person was a bent-over old fellow with a walking stick, carrying a large basket on his hunched back. His face was covered by a wide-brimmed conical hat, and his clothing was dusty and worn from the road.
In the time it took for the distance between them to close, the man fell no fewer than three times, but after each stumble he used his staff to lever himself back to his unsteady feet. It was actually quite painful to watch.
"Greetings, ojii-san," Chou'un called to him as she stepped closer. "Perhaps you should give your legs a rest?"
The hat tilted up at her, and while she did not see the old man's face, she did notice a long braid of white hair, along with a pair of elaborate golden earrings, the likes of which Chou'un had not seen since her journeys far to the west. "Well, aren't you a dear," came a soft, wizened voice. "No time for that, though, if I'm going to make it to the inn by nightfall."
Chou'un looked up at the sun, and guessed the hour to be just about noon. "The next inn is several hours' walk yet, seeing as I left it just this morning. And meaning no disrespect, but I'm afraid I outpace you significantly. You'll never reach it before sunset."
"No choice but to try, though," the old traveler chuckled as he continued lurching forward, while Chou'un followed alongside him, ready to catch him if needed. "If I need to sleep under the stars, it wouldn't be the first time."
"There may be bandits about, you know."
"An old man like me has nothing worth stealing, dear child."
"I'm not so sure," Chou'un frowned, considering those earrings.
"You needn't worry, my dear," he wheezed, though his tone indicated that he was smiling. "You've a road of your own to travel. I'll manage my own... whoop!"
Losing his footing again, the man toppled sideways, but Chou'un was there to steady him. "That's enough bravado, ojii-san," she snorted. "Come on, let me carry you the rest of the way."
"My child, I would hardly ask a lady to..."
"Never mind that," Chou'un interrupted him. "The lady is the one asking you, ojii-san. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I left you here to face the bandits alone. Climb on."
She crouched down beside him, and after some effort to manage it without losing either her spear or his walking stick, she hoisted him up piggyback-style and headed back the way she'd started from that morning. He was extremely light, and he held himself in place with a hand on her shoulder while she carried his legs to either side. "Thank you, fellow traveler," he said, his voice very close to her ear. He smelled of dust and unfamiliar spices, and again Chou'un found herself reminded of her younger years, when she had wandered far to the south and west.
They made it back to the inn well before evening. Chou'un set the old man down some distance away (for the sake of his dignity), then helped him hobble the remaining way to the open-air porch, where a few customers were drinking and dining.
"There we are, ojii-san," she smiled as she helped him to remove his basket and take a seat at one of the unoccupied tables.
"Your kindness is without end, child," he sighed as he sank into the chair.
"Shall I get us some tea?"
"That would be splendid. Thank you."
Chou'un nodded, then straightened up to go, but before she could, the old man's hand shot out and grasped her wrist far more firmly than she would have expected. More than that, his hand felt strangely warm, but in a soothing way that seemed to spread through her arm and across her entire body. As she turned surprised eyes toward him, the traveler tipped back his hat and smiled at her. "A traveler's blessing to you, Chou Shiryuu," he said, winking one red-irised eye. She saw then that his face in fact looked very young, with his dark skin smooth and unblemished against that halo of white hair. Upon his forehead was painted a small red circle, once again reminding her of the people of those distant lands.
"You've traveled a long way, ojii-san," she said absently.
"Further than you know, my dear," he smiled.
Chou'un nodded to the strange man, then went to fetch the tea she had promised. By the time she returned, however, he was nowhere to be found.
This was certainly turning out to be a memorable day.
Deciding not to waste the tea, at least, Chou'un took a seat opposite where the odd fellow had been. There was a bit of a chilly breeze, so she gathered her cloak about herself and put up its hood, as though out of reflex. Strangely, though, she did not feel very cold, and she didn't think it was just the tea.
Traveler's blessing, eh?
She had just finished her own cup, and was starting on the one she'd brought for him, when she heard a familiar voice coming from outside. She chanced a glance sideways, and saw a violet-haired young mother and her obscenely cute little daughter speaking to the innkeeper.
"Shujin, how much further is it to Touka Village?" the woman asked. Kouchuu - that was her name. That would make the little girl Riri, whom Kan'u had saved months before, with a little behind-the-scenes help from Kachou Kamen. Chou'un smiled at the memory, but it quickly faded: this had been right before losing Kan'u's trail for good.
"Touka Village?" the innkeeper pondered. "Ah! The volunteer army is stationed there, and they got rid of all the local bandits."
"Yes, that's right, that's the village," Kouchuu agreed.
"You have to cross two or three more mountains from here," said the innkeeper. "It would probably take you four or five days, especially with the little one in tow. Are you thinking of joining the volunteer army?"
"I have heard a rumor," Kouchuu replied, "that a person by the name of Kan'u, who helped me before, is a commander there, so I am thinking of giving her a helping hand."
Chou'un had been about to take another drink, but at the mention of that name, she stopped short, and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. A thrill ran though her entire body, surging from fingers to toes before collecting in the area of her heart, making her chest clench almost painfully with excitement.
With that excitement, however, she completely missed the rest of the innkeeper's directions, so after Kouchuu had continued on her way, Chou'un called out to the man. "Shujin?"
"Yes, what is it?" he smiled as he approached her table.
"Can you give me the details about the volunteer army at Touka Village?"
She listened as patiently as she could as he told the story of the great generals Kan'u, Chouhi and Bachou, who along with their strategist Koumei had made great strides toward eradicating the bandit menace under the flag of a young warlord named Ryuubi Gentoku. She then asked for the same detailed directions he'd just given the lady and her child, paid him a much larger sum than the tea was worth, and hurried on her way.
Thank you, ojii-san, she whispered to herself as she once more took to the road. Well, Hazuki-dono? It seems we may both have our chance after all...
Yamihime: Wings of the Butterfly
by Rain Fletcher (Suzume CA)
3 May 2011 - 2 September 2012
Azuma Hazuki, Azuma Hatsumi (Eve), Lilith, Ken-chan and Kogechibi are from Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, created by Root and Studio Deen
(These versions of) Chou'un Shiryuu, Ryofu Housen, Toutaku Chuuei, Kaku Bunwa, Kayuu, Chinkyuu Koudai, Kouchuu Kanshou, Riri, Kan'u Unchou, Chouhi Yokutoku, Bachou Mouki, Shokatsuryou Koumei and Ryuubi Gentoku (and even that innkeeper fellow) are from Koihime Musou and its sequels Shin Koihime Musou and Shin Koihime Musou: Otome Tairan, created by BaseSon and Dogakobo
Minamoto Chikaru is from Strawberry Panic, created by Kimino Sakurako and Madhouse (and she is awesome)
The dialogue between Ryofu and Chinkyuu (both words of it) was from episode 7 of Shin Koihime Musou (appropriately titled Chinkyuu is Taken In by Ryofu)
The dialogue between Kouchuu, the innkeeper and Chou'un was from episode 11 of Koihime Musou (Kan'u Encounters Ryuubi)
Thank you one and all for your patience as I fumbled my way through this one. Special thanks (as always) to Ninemil, not only for being his normal awesome self, but for the aforementioned picture of Hazuki bearing a naginata, as well as the possibility of a War Council picture in the future. Glad to be able to put those images in your head, my friend. ^^
I really need to get back to Strange Fire now. I seem to recall leaving it on a bit of a cliffhanger..?