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Kita clenched her teeth as she crossed her long dagger and sword against Petersen's broadsword—the three blades locked in a battle of strength. Despite her gritty determination, he pushed her down. Twisting her unsharpened dagger, she parried his sword with hers while sidestepping and thrusting her dagger into his exposed ribs as he stumbled from his overexertion.

Petersen recovered with a wry smile. "Excellent kill. I see you did more than tour the Champignon countryside in your travels."

Is that where Mother said I was? "I did stay a few weeks at the Ecole Militaire for some private tutorage."

"Impressive. It's good for you to learn new forms. Those from Yorq aren't designed for women."

Kita rolled her blue eyes. Only Yorq thinks brute strength is the solution to every problem. A pair of knights in gold and green livery galloped past the training grounds. Kita's pet war cat, Sarge, scrambled out of the way from basking in the sun.

"Hey! You blind ass lover, that's my cat!" she yelled after the knights. Sarge trotted over and sat next to Kita, resting his head on her thigh. She scratched his ears. "It's okay, boy."

Petersen glowered at her. "You know how your father feels about you insulting his soldiers. Consider yourself lectured."

Kita huffed. I hate being home. "Why is Jeffrey's guard here? Didn't they leave with him for Razor's Pass?"

"They did. The only reason they'd be here is if Lord Jeffrey has returned."

Kita bristled. She enjoyed not having her brother around. It was one less person to make her life insufferable.

"You should probably go find out," said Petersen as he placed the practice weapons in the racks.

"It'll have nothing to do with me."

"It might. Lord Jeffrey's not back on a military matter, or I would know. It must be family related." He gave her a dismissive nod.

With luck, maybe Father has fallen ill.

***

Kita trudged up the path toward the castle proper with Sarge trailing. He was her fuzzy shadow, following her whenever she was home. Bloody moons, I hate it here. Why does Mother always drag me back? Why can't they let me disappear? I don't need them. I can build my own kingdom.

She passed through the curtain wall and made the long climb to the inner castle. As Kita reached the courtyard, Sarge growled at hearing voices. She looked down to see what he wanted as she rounded a corner into one of the duchess' gardens, running into the back of a teenage girl wearing a red velvet dress with her hair in big loose curls, standing on the edge of a crowd. Kita glared at Sarge, while he grinned.

"Oh, sorry, um..." Kita searched for the girl's name. As one of the town's lower nobles, Kita had met her several times. None of the young nobles liked Kita, so she never bothered to learn their names. Instead, she assigned them pet names; but addressing this one as Sexy Redhead would cause an uproar with these sexually repressed brats, and she didn't want her ill manners and sexual desires getting back to her father.

Before she could come up with the girl's name, Sexy Redhead spoke, "I'm so sorry, my lady. I shouldn't be standing in a blind spot. Are you alright?"

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