A/N: Sorry for long delays in uploads. Just writing as I get ideas. Had some fun writing the sword fight in this chapter, though it may be obvious that I used to fence. :D

Also, shout out to Ghost Writer Orange-kun who agreed to beta for me. Hopefully he can help me keep more on track. Thanks also to those who reviewed, faved, and followed. You guys helped me keep this story alive!

A thought that may help me keep going: I write best listening to music. If you guys have some great lyric-less (lyrics are distracting) music you think fits the story, suggest it to me in reviews. Also, review in general. Reviews feed hungry writer-monsters.

Chapter 3

An owl called, as if in warning, but no one heeded the call. In a burst of wings, the solitary bird fled its perch and the feline that had chased it away took the now vacant place on the branch. Moonlight glinted off mirrored eyes as they watched the river flowing past below. A long tail swished, the only outward movement of the great cat.

An abrupt flash of motion, and the cat was on the ground, a silvery fish wriggling in her claws. Touran figured her parents would be furious at her for being out and about at night here, but restlessness that could only be satisfied by activity had overtaken her. Escaping the dog palace was out of the question. Even if she could get past the sharp noses of the guards to get out, there was no way she could slip past the palace wards to get back in. Asking for re-admittance from the guards rubbed her pride the wrong way. The garden thus offered a very welcome place to explore.

Touran kept an ear focused on hearing anyone approach while she quietly ate her kill. Fresh food like this fulfilled her hunger better than any cook's masterpiece. When she was done with the somewhat disappointingly small fish, Touran carefully buried the bones at the base of a shrub. There was no point in advertising her presence here. On silent paws, she stole up the side of the palace next, chasing the unreachable stars. She did have to admit, here in the mountains where the atmosphere clung to the earth less, the stars possessed a particular beauty and clarity. She found a patch of roof that was hidden well enough from any guards and sprawled out on her back.

Under the light of the stars and moon with the chill of late night drawing off any uncomfortable heat, Touran allowed her thoughts to roam free. She played dinner trough her head again, wondering a little at the behavior of the dog taiyoukai and the contrast to her own people. Out of habit, she thought of Karan first. The fiery girl had at least managed to behave herself at dinner. Touran hoped the impression Karan had made was good enough for her to make plenty of friends here.

As for herself, Touran never made friends easily. She preferred it that way. It certainly meant she didn't need to constantly worry about staying in the fickle good graces of a bunch of power-hungry, backstabbing youkai. The few friends she did have, she trusted with her life. She only hoped her family had the good sense to make alliances that could count while here.

Touran patiently watched the circle of the heavens above her head while mentally analyzing the others she had seen here. Little things came to mind, many of no significance at all, but they might help her get to know her surroundings. Her guide favored his left leg, but not by much. At dinner, a little blond girl made patterns in her rice instead of eating it and was scolded by her mother. The mother flirted with the young male across from her. Touga did not bother chewing his food when excited. Sesshoumaru hated beans and pushed them all to the edge of his plate.

When the thoughts ran dry, Touran simply lay watching the stars circle far above. She wondered what made the little lights.

Eventually, meditation turned to boredom. Rolling lithely to her feet, Touran set off to familiarize herself with the palace interior. She dropped off the roof to the ground, a two story drop, on perfectly silent feet and padded through empty corridors. Her keen ears picked up distant voices in other parts of the palace carrying through thin rice paper walls alongside the steady breathing of sleepers. A familiar scent caught her attention and she followed it until she stood outside a closed door listening to her little sister breath contentedly.

She was relieved really that Karan seemed to be so at ease here. She cared for her siblings perhaps more than anything else in the world and Karan most of those. Shuran would follow after her adoringly at home, but he was also rather busy undergoing training befitting the first son of the house and her newest sibling had yet to be born. Karan was special because she was closest in age and had power that so neatly balanced hers. Accordingly, Touran was glad to note that she could smell the waxy scent of a burning candle. Karan had never slept well without her night light.

A distant sound distracted the prowling panther and the feline slipped away from her post to investigate. At the sound's source, she discovered a wolf pup nosing his way around in the palace kitchens. She crouched behind a counter and watched in silence until the pup found what he was looking for and scampered away. Touran stayed where she was, finally noticing the long journey of the past couple of days catching up with her. Stretching into a long languid cat yawn, she turned her feet towards her room.

With the door shut behind her, Touran slipped out of her kimono and into a thin sleeping yukata before dropping into the futon provided. Grimacing a little at the warm breeze coming through the gap in the balcony door, she let her power drop the temperature of the area directly around her before drifting into the land of sleep.

Over breakfast, Touran mulled crankily over dogs who greeted the morning sun with howling. She wasn't much bothered by rising early in and of itself, but preferred to do so at her own pace. To spite the howler and dogs in general, she took her breakfast not from the kitchens but directly from the pond, not bothering to bury the bones this time. At least there were activities today worth looking forward to, though. Touran greatly anticipated the chance to try her strength against the 'killing perfection.'

The dojo was bustling with morning activity. Some practiced slow meditating and stretching exercises while some leapt around practicing fighting forms at full speed. A few has paired off and were practicing the forms in mock combat. Taking her cue from the others there, Touran began a slow dance through her forms, holding to find the perfection in each one as she went through the sequence. By the time she was done nearly a half hour later, a surprising number of people had left. Touran wondered whether they had places to be or were just impatient fools. Practicing was supposed to take time.

Finished with her slow forms, Touran moved on to faster practice sequences. She saw her intended opponent appear and watched out of the corner of her eye as he began a completely different morning regimen. When she finally finished her own warm up, she moved off to the side to watch Sesshoumaru practice with more complete attention, tail twitching. When he finished, she approached.

"How about that practice then, dog?" she asked brightly.

"Hn. Don't be too disappointed if you loose," he replied evenly, drawing his sword. Touran smirked, drawing her own sword, blued steel glinting in the morning sunlight. Spring morning dampness was burning away to become a beautiful day. While others found this refreshing, Touran sorely missed winter.

The two youkai circled each other almost lazily, each watching the other keenly for any signs of offensive attack.

"You may as well strike first," Touran purred. "Cats can wait patiently all day."

"I rather thought circling and throwing insults was a required part of a duel," he quipped.

"If you insist," she said. "You stink of wet dog poo."

"Hn. Going for scent first. You know your insults. I bet you're so used to doing cat fights with your claws that you don't even know how to wield a sword."

"Oh, I can flay you with my claws if you would prefer," Touran laughed. "but I thought you would want a fighting chance at beating me. After all, one sword is easier to parry than ten. Or twenty if I take full form."

"Swords? Needles more like," he returned. "Unfortunately for you, needles don't scare me." He took a casual swipe at her with his sword. Touran parried easily and riposted, aiming for the dog's shoulder. Sesshoumaru parried and attacked again with more speed. Touran swayed easily out of the way, stepping to increase distance between her and her opponent once more. They continued circling, swords raised and carefully watching each other for any telltale muscles twitches.

Touran didn't bother waiting for insults this time but thrust forward with lightening speed. Sesshoumaru snapped his weapon up in the appropriate block and she spun her weapon around to block his expected attack. Sesshoumaru smirked, twisting so that his weapon slid up hers, aiming to disarm her. Touran adjusted her grip to keep from being disarmed and let the guard on her sword stop the dog's weapon from slicing her hand open. Sesshoumaru attacked again in a complex pattern of strikes, keeping her on the defensive. Touran allowed herself to be backed along the floor of the dojo, parrying blow for blow. As her back foot touched the edge of the mat, though, she sprang into sudden offensive motion. Nimbly the panther leapt backwards into the air, using the wall to push off and darting around the dog's side. Jerking her weapon back, she landed the first blow of the battle with her hilt smacking into Sesshoumaru's back.

She gave the dog a toothy grin as he whirled around. "I hope you are not determined to go too easy on me," she teased. "I am only getting started and I want this fight to be more interesting than one with my baby brother!"

Sesshoumaru growled and lunged, but she wasn't ready to go on defensive again. Instead, she rolled low and came up close to her opponent, forcing him on his heels. Aggressively, she chased the general's son back across the dojo until they had returned to the starting position. Sesshoumaru swiped at her as she danced away to resume circling.

"Ah, I see," her opponent said. "So the cat does have claws. Perhaps I should actually start trying."

"Beware that you do not underestimate me," she returned. "Common kitties you may be used to do not have claws quite so sharp. And this kitty can roar!"

"Can you!" he asked, surprised. "You shall have to demonstrate sometime."

"You wish you were so lucky," she growled and closed the distance. Sesshoumaru met her in a whirl of blades and sparking steel. Touran, being smaller, was faster and lighter on her feet, though the inu youkai was not far behind her. She was pleasantly impressed with his skill. Demon or not, it was still disappointingly hard to find peers who could keep up with her. They matched each other blow for blow, neither willing to give ground. Touran allowed a grin to spread across her face, watching as Sesshoumaru began frowning more and more with the fight's progression.

And then she saw her opening. It wasn't much of a hole in the inu youkai's guard, but it was enough for her to slip in, forcing Sesshoumaru's blade out wide and kicking out to knock his legs out from under him. Panting a little from the exertion, she pointed her blade at his chest.

"Who is small and fragile now?" she teased brightly. Keeping a wary eye on the dog, she stepped back and sheathed her weapon.

"Hn. You're quick," he admitted, picking himself up and sheathing his own weapon. "Not bad for a cat. We should do this again sometime."

"I am a panther, and yes we should do this again. Not as though I will not be bored stiff otherwise or anything," she replied. "You are not bad yourself. Not quite a perfect assassin, but not bad."

As she turned away from her sparring opponent, Touran blinked in surprise as she found that their duel had not been a private affair. Quite the crowd had turned out including both feline and canine demons. She scowled at her sister who was lounging on the mat. Karan grinned and waved before rolling to her feet and prancing away, tail swaying. Sesshoumaru nodded at Touran briefly before leaving the mat to walk over to a tall kitsune leaning against the wall. They left as the crowd began dispersing, the kitsune laughing about something as the inu glared. Mentally berating herself for not having paid close enough attention to her surroundings, Touran stalked out of the dojo to find somewhere a little more private to cool down.