Howdy y'all. I do hope that everyone out there is enjoying my story so far. As always I appreciate any feedback you'd give me.


Ouka pushed through the stone hallways of her castle at an alarming pace with Kouryuu, Chiba, and her two guards following her. Servants quickly jumped out of the way as they caught sight of the dark skinned woman, whispering to each other as she passed them. Ouka simply pressed on ignoring everyone around her as she drove to what had to be the center of the castle.

As Ouka continued moving forward I could feel a presence emanating from her. It was demanding that everyone around her bow and submit to her will. She seemed to be a completely different woman than the one I had spent the last few months with. But there was something else; I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I felt like there was something below her confidence that was affecting her.

"Ouka," Kouryuu called out to the dragoness, earning him a mix of looks from the two guards who were still following their mistress and her guests through the halls. Ouka grunted noncommittally as she continued through the halls, nearing the room at the center of the house. "Ouka!" he called again in an attempt to get the woman's attention. This time she didn't even reply as she kept moving toward her destination. Kouryuu growled in frustration as he reached out and grabbed the woman's tail, yanking back on the appendage harshly to get the woman's attention.

Ouka let out a hiss as Kouryuu yanked on her tail, spinning around on the ball of her foot to face the man. By the time she had turned around though her guards had drawn their weapons and had them at the young man's throat. "How dare you lay your hands on Ouka-sama?" Sugu demanded as she pressed the tip of the naginata against the man's neck.

"Stand down," Ouka growled as she looked between the two guards and the half-dragon before her. The two had to have moved quickly in the time it took her to turn around but Kouryuu just stood perfectly still, unperturbed by their actions.

"B-but Ouka-sama, he…" Shion began only to be immediately interrupted by the dragoness.

"I said stand down," Ouka berated the two, her intimidating aura causing the two to back down and fall back behind the man next to Chiba. "Now, what exactly do you think you're doing Kouryuu?" Ouka barked at the man as she tried to stare a hole though him.

I have to admit that Ouka was extremely intimidating at that moment. I could feel her will pushing against mine, looking for a point to exploit, to push until I was subdued. For a moment I felt the weakness she was looking for flare up inside me and yell at me to give in. Thankfully I was too damned stubborn to give into the posturing.

Kouryuu let out a breath as he looked the woman in the eye, steeling his emotions as he focused on what he needed to say. "You're unbalanced," he explained simply as he continued to stare her down.

"Unbalanced?" the dark skinned woman repeated as she took a step forward, her voice slightly shaky, "Of course I'm unbalanced right now! I'm about to go fight for a territory that is rightfully mine against my mother, who just a few months ago tried to assassinate me and left me for dead mind you, all while trying to deal with the fact that a man, who also is just barely a man mind you, has just confessed to me that he loves me!" the dragoness exclaimed as she passed her spear back to her tail and walked forward, grabbing the man by his shirt. "What exactly do you want me to be hu? Some model of composure? I don't have ice running though my veins like Makoto does! So what exactly do you want me to do in this very, very emotional situation?!"

Kouryuu responded by gently grabbing the woman's hands that were clenched tightly around the blue fabric of his haori. "I want you to know going into this that I will not let you die in there," Kouryuu avowed as he wrapped his tail around the woman's waist and pulled her closer to him. There was a small murmur coming from the guards that had been escorting them through the halls but he paid them no mind. "I love you Ouka," he maintained as he stared into her eyes, "I love you for your emotions and because you're not cold and calculating. I wouldn't want you to be like Makoto-sensei. But if it comes to a choice between your land or your life I will step all over your pride and your emotions to preserve the latter of those two."

Ouka let out a sigh as she rested her forehead against Kouryuu's. "How the hell can you make me feel this way?" she mused for a moment before pushing off of the man, taking a few steps away from him. "Fine, but no stepping in until you're sure I'm not going to win. I'm not going to loose because of an underestimation of my abilities or a plan I have," she instructed before turning her attention to her guards. "And what exactly are you two whispering about back there?"

"N-nothing Ouka-sama!" both exclaimed in near unison as they bowed deeply.

"Good then," Ouka said as she turned on her heel and passed her spear back to her right hand as she began strutting back down the hallway, "it's time for me to take back what is mine." Ouka moved through the earthen halls with fervor; Kouryuu, Chiba and her guards following after her. The dragoness stopped short of the large wooden doors that kept the room separated. She reached out for the door, hesitating for a moment before pulling her hand back and turning to the half dragon behind her. "Kouryuu, you said before that you can sense water and blood, right?" she asked looking at the young man.

Kouryuu nodded as he looked at the dark skinned woman, "To certain degree. I can get some approximations about who's in the room, but it's a bit of a guess at best. If the room were filled with steam or fog I could get you a decent read," the half dragon explained.

"Some read is better than none, correct?" Ouka posed, her demeanor more composed after her talk with the young man. Kouryuu nodded again and closed his eyes, focusing on the space beyond the wooden door. Slowly the masses of blood that were people's bodies became visible to him.

"I see…less than a dozen people in there…it's hard to get an exact read. There are…three maybe separated from the others. I think they're sitting higher than them," Kouryuu explained, making sense of what his senses were telling him.

"The ones sitting higher than everyone must be Suzu-sama," Sachi explained getting a slightly disgusted look from Ouka. "I apologize milady; but your mother demanded that…"

Ouka held up a hand to silence the woman, "Now's not the time for apologies," she ordered as she considered her actions. "Kouryuu, just to be clear no stepping in unless I am unconscious and about to have my life extinguished." Kouryuu sullenly nodded in understanding at the terms she had laid before him. "Sugu, Shion if you two want to keep your positions here safe in the event of my loss I would recommend you stay out here."

"We would never do that milady," Sugu declared as she stamped the pommel of her naginata in the earthen floor.

"We are loyal to you milady," Shion avowed before she and Sugu bowed in unison. "Our lives are yours to command Ouka-sama" the two said in unison.

Ouka nodded as she turned placed her hand on the wooden door. The woman gave a firm push on the door but rather than open inward the door was shot from its earthen frame, skipping a few times on the ground before landing with a thud at the base of a small platform where Ouka's mother was sitting on what could only be called a throne. "Who dares to deface my castle?!" the pale woman who was sitting on the throne demanded as a hulking behemoth of a man stood behind her, staring blankly at the five people who were standing where the door was.

"Your castle?" Ouka repeated as she strode into the room, all eyes now falling on her. There were several excited whispers from the various servants who were moving to the perimeter of the room. "I don't remember you taking this land or building this castle, so how exactly is this your castle?"

Suzu shifted slightly in her seat, a smug smile on her face as she looked down at her daughter. "It's true I didn't build this castle or take this land, my daughter did," the woman said calmly, her voice quivering slightly as she spoke. "Unfortunately my dear daughter was assaulted this winter and passed on. Although her body was never recovered it can only be assumed that she was murdered over the winter and her body disposed of. And here you are trying to impersonate her," the woman sneered as she narrowed her eyes at the dark skinned woman, "I should kill you right this moment."

"Like you could kill anyone you back stabbing whore," Ouka snapped as she pointed her spear at her mother, her hand shaking slightly as she held the weapon out. "You hired a thug to beat the hell out of me. You stabbed me in the stomach! You had me dropped in the mountains to die! It was only thanks to this man," she snarled while gesturing to Kouryuu with her left hand, "that I am still alive! You're the one pretending to be something she's not here!"

The pale skinned woman laughed a tone that sounded like metal scraping against stone. "I get it now, that man must be your creator. I do admit his skills must've improved greatly compared to that earlier creation of his," Suzu said calmly as she gestured to Chiba, who shrank back slightly at being addressed.

"Just goes to show how ignorant you are Suzu," Ouka scoffed as she gestured to Kouryuu. "This man is dragon, and last time I checked dragons aren't necromancers."

"Then this man paid for you to be created for this ruse," Suzu denounced with a wave of her hand rolling her eyes at he daughter. "I grow tired of this play though, you are clearly an imposter of my daughter. If you," the woman said pointing her hand at Kouryuu while she leered at him, "do not take your little dolls away now I will have all of you executed."

"Don't you speak to him that way," Ouka snapped as she slammed the pommel of her spear into the earthen floor, "and I can see that you're not going to be reasonable here, so I challenge you to single combat for my lands!"

The blonde woman laughed as she looked at the small group below her. "And why on earth would I ever do that? What do I have to gain if I accept your challenge? There is only the chance to loose what is rightfully mine?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at her daughter.

Ouka grit her teeth as she glared at her mother, visibly restraining herself from lashing out at Suzu. After a few seconds of staring down her mother Ouka took a step forward, adjusting the grip on her spear. The behemoth of the man moved forward from his position behind Suzu's throne, brandishing a large cleaver like weapon with a jagged edge. The blade was stained with blood and pocked with rust; a weapon clearly meant for maiming and causing pain rather than a quick death. Ouka snarled as she spun her spear and gripped it with two hands, ready to face off against the behemoth and anyone else.

"If you refuse her challenge then you forego the protection that the trial by combat provides," Kouryuu said calmly as he slowly moved his hand over the hilt of Touketsu-hara, getting ready to draw it at a moment's notice. Ouka stopped her approach the second Kouryuu spoke up, the massive man taking two more steps before stopping himself, looking back over his shoulder to Suzu for approval.

The blonde woman appeared to think about ordering the man to continue attacking her daughter before giving him a slight wave, turning her attention to Kouryuu. "What exactly do you mean little one?" Suzu asked as she sniffed the air, leering at the scarred young man. "What would someone who reeks of humans so much and plays with corpse dolls know about the rights of combat?"

Kouryuu stared the woman down, unmoved by her attempts at intimidation. "I know too well that the rights of combat were made to put an end to attacks with armies and powers. It's an unspoken agreement to keep people from laying waste to an entire castle and killing a bunch of innocents in the process," the half dragon explained as he removed his hand from the sword and began feeling for the water in the air. "It is considered an act of weakness and cowardice to storm the keep and take it with overwhelming force rather than by an act of combat. However, if a person were to refuse the challenge then it is no longer considered an act of weakness and cowardice to take the land by overwhelming force."

Suzu continued to stare at Kouryuu, attempting to read if what he had said was truth or not. After a minute she broke eye contact with the man, shifting her gaze to the dark skinned woman. "If I am correct the person being challenged sets the terms of combat and can choose a champion correct?" she asked smoothly, looking over her daughter.

"Yes," Ouka replied, keeping her eyes on the hulking man in front of her. The man shifted slightly and Ouka raised her spear, pointing the blade towards the man's chest.

"Easy now, little miss imposter," Suzu laughed as she stared down at her daughter. "I accept your challenge, so why don't we take this outside so I don't have to have my servants clean your blood from my floor."