Leap of Faith

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For a moment the others just stared at Hope and her outstretched hand as if they weren't sure what to do with it. They were waiting to see Kouen's reaction to be being greeted so casually.

"General Ren Kouen of the Kou Empire's Western Subjugation Army," Kouen introduced himself calmly, accepting her hand. Though they could have taken care of that frog just fine on their own, the fact still remained that she had risked her life twice to help them, and if not for her quick thinking one of his men would have most certainly been lost.

Hope smiled, relieved that he had accepted.

"I see, so I was right in thinking you were the one in charge. Sorry for grabbing you so suddenly back there, but we were pressed for time, and I figured the others would follow if I grabbed their leader..." she said with an apologetic smile, rubbing the back of her neck a bit sheepishly.

"Hey, is that all the respect you can muster, girl? That's no way to talk to a prince!" Kin scolded her.

"Huh?" Hope said, blinking. "Prince?"

"You... Don't try to tell me you've never heard of Ren Kouen, the first prince of the Kou Empire..." said Kokuton as they all stared at her with some rather offended expressions on their faces.

"Uh, don't take this the wrong way, but, um... no," Hope answered a little nervously. "I've never even heard of the Kou Empire. Is it supposed to be famous or something?"

"Damn it!!" Kin cursed. "This girl really knows how to piss people off!"

"There's no way you haven't heard of the great Kou Empire! Our Empire's name is known around the world!" said En Shou.

"I say we finish her off right here, right now!" said Seishuu.

"Stand down!" Kouen ordered his men sternly. "Don't be so hasty. There are still many questions that need to be answered, and I believe she holds the key. Where did you come from and why are you here, Hope Dupont? Do you know what disturbed the Rukh?" he asked the odd girl. The excited (and a little obsessive) look in his piercing red eyes was beginning to make Hope feel a little uncomfortable.

"Uh, well, your majesty... it's kind of complicated..." she began a bit lamely, not sure where to start or how much she should tell them. She didn't want them to think she was crazy. "For the moment, let's just say I'm from somewhere really far away. I'll be happy to answer all of your questions in greater detail once we're out of here, but for now I'd like to focus on surviving whatever this place is alive and in one piece." What she had said wasn't completely unreasonable, but Kouen wanted answers. And he wanted them now. "Hey!?" she cried indignantly when he grabbed her tightly by the arm and pulled her so close that their noses almost touched as he leaned down.

"Tell me everything you know, right now!" he commanded her. There was a really scary expression on his face as he glared down at her. Hope gulped nervously. This guy was way too intense!

"I-I don't care if you're a prince or what country you rule—I'm an American citizen, and I will not be intimidated!!" she retorted, doing her best to put on a brave face. After everything she'd seen and been through already a talking dragon, a guy with snakes for hair, a pig-like giant, a guy who looked like Belle's Beast, and a tyrannical prince who looked like he could be a final boss in Nobunaga's Ambition were nothing! "If you want to talk then let's talk, but I don't appreciate being threatened or manhandled! If you don't let me go, I won't tell you anything."

"Wow, this girl has some balls!" said Kin.

"More like a death wish!" said Seishuu. But to their surprise, Kouen did release her.

"Very well," he said as he straightened back up. "Start talking."

"Fine. But I doubt you'll believe me..." Hope grumbled with a pout, rubbing her sore arm. "My sister and I were flying together on a plane—it's a kind of flying machine—when we were suddenly beamed up in this mysterious tunnel of light, and the next thing we knew we were being transported from our world to this one. Unfortunately, we got separated and pulled apart by the wind shear as we were falling through the atmosphere, so I have no idea where she is. I don't know how I survived the fall, because I lost consciousness on the way down, but I'm betting all my hopes that if I did, then so did she. So all I want to do is get out of whatever this place is and find her. I know, it sounds totally insane, and you probably think I'm nuts now; but that's what happened. I don't know how or why it happened, but it did."

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