Chapter 2 can be read below the cut.
Lisel made her way through the outskirts of Resuni. There were more people out now that it was mid-morning. Most of them were headed toward the central district of the city where the largest market was, either to shop or set up their shops for the day.
In the very center of the central district was a large, circular clearing. The main roads of Resuni radiated from it like the spokes of a wheel. There was a fountain and a statue of the founder of the original city-state of Resuni located on what was said to be the spot that the ancient governing council had their meetings. Shops with houses on the second and third floods circled the clearing, including the flower shop that Lisel was headed to.
Lisel took care not to bump into any of the myriad of flowerpots spilling into the street. The front windows of the shop were open, and Lisel could hear chatter from Suli and another person, probably a customer. The sign out front said OPEN FOR BUSINESS; the shop had probably been open for an hour already. Suli liked to start her days early.
Lisel walked in through the open doorway, brushing aside the hanging beads. The inside of the shop was a lot smaller than it looked. The walls were lined with tables covered in flowerpots and books stacked haphazardly on the parts of the tables not occupied by flowers. Various garden tools were also strewn about, most of which were also for sale.
Suli Showakelu was leaning against the counter in the back of the room, talking to an elderly couple that Lisel didn’t recognize. Her cane hung in the crook of her elbow, unneeded since most of her weight wasn’t on her feet.
“So, yes, that would work,” said Suli.
The elderly man smiled. “That’s great to hear!” he said.
Lisel stayed back at the front of the shop with her arms crossed, leaning against the wall as she waited. The couple finally finished their conversation and Suli walked them out, chatting the whole time. “Bye!” said Suli. She waved at the couple as they left the store.
Suli finally turned to Lisel, who stood up straight and uncrossed her arms. “How did it go this morning?” Suli asked.
“Pretty well. I’ll tell you more over tea,” said Lisel.
The living area was on the second floor of this building, but there was also a small converted kitchen and a garden behind the door beyond the counter. A couple of minutes later, the two of them were sitting at the small dining table in the kitchen.
“It wasn’t difficult at all?” Suli asked.
Lisel set down her half-empty teacup and shook her head. “No. The dragon told other villagers he’d be out hunting deer so he wouldn’t run across any of them. Once we got that information, it wasn’t difficult to figure out where he would be, and at what time.”
Suli glanced away momentarily and hummed. “What? What are you thinking about?” Lisel asked.
Suli looked back at Lisel, frowning. “How today’s meeting is going to go. I hope the Commander has the right idea. What I’ve heard of the plan isn’t too promising.” She met Lisel’s eyes. “You know what I mean, right?”
Lisel rolled her eyes and blew a few stray hairs out of her face. “Oh, yeah. It’s completely fucking terrible. I don’t know how she managed to come up with it and think anyone else would take it seriously.”
Suli smiled. “So you definitely aren’t volunteering, right?” she said.
Lisel crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Of course not! I wouldn’t volunteer for something so outlandish even if my life depended on it.”
Suli was quiet during the walk to the military headquarters. That changed as soon as they walked through the doorway. “Everyone is supposed to be here this time, right?” she asked. “Even Qursin and Petkal?”
Lisel shrugged. “I don’t know. They should, since this is supposed to be our final meeting where we discuss the final plan and what we’re actually, finally going to do, but we’ve had a few of those, so…who knows.”
Lisel opened the door to the meeting room and let Suli go in before shutting it after her. The room was somehow even more of a mess than it was last time she had been here. There were chairs all over the place, and Lisel thought that, somehow, the number of chairs had increased.
Muhánquri Qursin and another tiger were the only ones sitting at the table. Nin Tulka Sil Petkal sat on the ground, leaning against the wall and talking to a Zarya Tel girl who was sitting in one of the random chairs. Lisel has seen that girl before; she was probably Petkal’s younger sister. Petkal’s spirit soul stood next to the wall, looking about as bored as a snow leopard could. Neither Commander Kiyohu nor the dragon were anywhere in sight.
Suli sat down at the table. Lisel remained standing, her hands on her hips. “Anyone seen Kiyohu?” she asked. “Is she going to be here soon?”
Qursin shrugged. “No idea,” he said. “Nice of you and Suli to finally join us, by the way.”
“Don’t make it sound like I’m late. Kiyohu isn’t even here,” responded Lisel.
Kiyohu chose that moment to open the door. Sirilrhis, looking unhappy and still rubbing his right arm, was right behind her. “What was that about me being late?” Kiyohu asked.
“I didn’t say anything,” said Lisel.
“Everyone take your seats,” said Kiyohu. Once that was done, she continued: “I’m sure all of you have been wondering why exactly I’ve called you here for today-”
“I think we all know why we’re here today,” Qursin interrupted.
Kiyohu wrinkled her nose. “Fine, I’ll get straight to the point. This is the meeting were we discuss how we’re going to steal Yrrum Innué from the Imperial Library.”
Sirilrhis looked lost. “Um, why am I here?” he asked.
“I’ll get to that. Just be patient for a while and I’ll explain your role in all of this,” said Kiyohu. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since Qursin showed me that page.”
“Uh, you forced me to show you,” said Qursin.
Kiyohu ignored the comment. “If we want to get this book, then we’re going to need a small group of people to steal it.”
Lisel raised an eyebrow. “Small? You previously wanted this to be a larger operation.”
Kiyohu shook her head. “I’ve been thinking it over, and we just don’t have the numbers or equipment for that,” she said.
Qursin leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed, looking impressed. “I’m surprised you managed to come to your senses. What prompted that?” he asked.
Kiyohu continued to ignore him. “I want to keep the number of people to a minimum,” she said. “Four to five at most.”
“What does this have to do with us?” Petkal asked. “Half of us aren’t military.”
“I know. I was hoping we’d be able to use that to our advantage,” said Kiyohu.
“Commander, can you explain your thinking?” Suli asked. Like everyone else, she looked confused. “I don’t think anyone understands.”
“Four of you are going to the Imperial Library to steal the book,” said Kiyohu. She snapped her fingers and pointed at Lisel. “Lisel.”
“Huh?” said Lisel.
Kiyohu pointed to Qursin. “Qursin.”
Qursin slammed his hands on the table and stood up. “NO! I am not going back into Imperial territory! I still need to finish deciphering the language in the copies I brought with me. It’s going to take a few more weeks!”
“You can do that on the way there, can’t you?” said Kiyohu.
Qursin looks offended. “No, of course I can’t. I need the resources we have here. I need to stay here.”
Kiyohu sighed. “I’m sure we can work things out. Anyway…” She moved her hand toward Petkal. “Petkal, you’re going, too.”
Petkal frowns. “Okay,” he said.
Kiyohu turned to Sirilrhis. “Dragon. You’re going.”
Sirilrhis looked affronted. “Excuse me? What is this?” he said.
Enough time had passed for Lisel to process what had just happened. “Me!?” she said. “You want me to go to the Imperial Library? Are you serious? Everyone there knows who I am! They’ll arrest and execute me once I set foot in the Capital Region.”
Kiyohu sighed. “Lisel, you’re the only one here who knows the layout of the Palace and Library. There’s no one else I could send in your stead.”
“Qursin used to work at the palace,” Lisel pointed out. “He knows the grounds just as well as I do.”
Qursin immediately shut that down. “I just said I need time to translate the language in the book! I can’t do that on the way there. And everyone in the Palace knows who I am, too. I don’t need to get killed.”
“Lisel, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s an order,” said Kiyohu. “You’re leading this group and there’s no way you’re getting out of it.”
Lisel narrowed her eyes at Kiyohu. She let out an annoyed sigh, then leaned back with her arms crossed. “Fine,” she said.
Kiyohu smiled. It was a bright and fake smile, and Lisel doubted that anyone was convinced by it. “That’s great!” she said. Just as quickly, she stopped smiling and turned to Qursin. “I’m sure we can work through your complaints.”
Qursin threw his hands up in the air. “You haven’t listened to a single thing I’ve said,” he said. “I’m not going. That’s final. You can’t make me do it.”
The tiger next to Qursin suddenly put his fist up to his mouth and coughed. That got everyone’s attention.
“Yes, what is it?” Kiyohu asked.
“I could go instead,” said the young tiger.
“You what?” exclaimed Qursin. “Hirúka, you’d be even more useless than me. What the hell are you thinking!?”
Hirúka frowned at Qursin. “I think you mean ‘just as useless’. I can do anything you can. And traveling all the way to the Heavenly Capital will be a lot easier for me than you!”
Qursin looked displeased. “I don’t-”
“I suppose that’s acceptable,” said Kiyohu.
Qursin gaped at Kiyohu and started gesturing at Hirúka. “Are you serious!? He’s nineteen! He’s not even an adult! And he’s my nephew!”
Kiyohu shrugged. “Nineteen is old enough. He can make his own decisions,” she said.
Hirúka’s face lit up and he grinned widely, showing his teeth. “Wow! Thank you so much!”
Lisel looked from Hirúka to Kiyohu. “So, why do you think this is a good idea?” she asked. “I don’t like the thought of leading a team of random people. It would be much easier if everyone was military.”
Kiyohu nodded. “That’s true, but we can’t spare any Rebel soldiers right now. Especially not for the months this mission will last,” she said.
Lisel leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. “That’s unfortunate.”
Kiyohu turned to Petkal, who had been sitting quietly this entire time with his arms crossed. “Petkal, do you have any objections to your placement in this group?” she asked.
“Yes. Just one,” said Petkal after a moment. He gestured down to the snow leopard. “My spirit soul. It’s obvious that I’m Zarya Tel, and since Zarya Wa is on lockdown, I’ll look suspicious once we get into the Empire. I want to go on this mission at aid East Meitsung, but…” His shoulder slumped and he looked dejected. “I don’t think I can. I’ll have to stay here.”
“That’s unfortunate, but it makes sense,” said Kiyohu. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll have to find a replacement who won’t be missed here.”
Petkal’s sister suddenly stood up. “I can go,” she said.
“Huh?” said Kiyohu.
“I can go,” the girl repeated. “I don’t have a spirit soul anymore. I can just dress up as Renghan and nobody will be able to tell the difference.”
“Your accent is obvious, but I suppose you could just not talk,” said Kiyohu. “But you’re still a child. Do you understand what this mission entails? You could die.”
The girl looked angry. “I was supposed to die a year ago, and I didn’t! I won’t die if I go on this mission. And even if you don’t let me, I’ll still follow you all the way to the Capital.”
“I’ll think about it,” said Kiyohu. “Sit back down, girl.”
The girl sat down with a dramatic huff. Petkal scowled at her. “Don’t do that again, Kiyaska,” he said. Kiyaska glared at him in return.
Kiyohu turned back to Sirilrhis, who appeared to be staring off into space. “Okay, dragon,” she said. “What objections do you have?”
Sirilrhis straightened up. “Why am I going on this mission?” he asked. “Us dragons don’t care about your war.”
“I know that,” said Kiyohu. “But you are a dragon, so I’m sure you’re able to read the spells we need-”
“I doubt it,” Sirilrhis interrupted.
Kiyohu looked shocked. “Um, what do you mean by that? You’re a dragon. You have the same magical capabilities as any Immortal-”
Sirilrhis raised his hand, palm flat and facing Kiyohu. “I can’t read spells,” he said. “Dragons can’t naturally do things like that. We have to learn, just like everyone else. I haven’t.”
Kiyohu only looked mildly disappointed. “What a shame. We’ll simply have to find someone else. However…I do have some information that I’m sure you care about.”
Sirilrhis raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”
Kiyohu settled back in her chair. “Ten years ago, the Empire burned down your library and took some of your books. One of those was Yrrum Innué. I’m sure you remember that quite clearly, don’t you?”
Sirilrhis frowned. “Yrrum Innué – can you write that down? I think you’re pronouncing it differently than I do.”
Kiyohu wrote down the words on the slate in front of her and slid it over to Sirilrhis. He took it into his hands. “That looks familiar,” he said. “I assumed it was lost, but it’s in the Imperial Library? You’re sure of it?”
Kiyohu nodded. “Indeed. Qursin copied a page that turned out to be very important, so we’d like to get the rest of the book back,” she said.
Sirilrhis passed the slate back to Kiyohu then leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “I still don’t understand what this has to do with me. I don’t want to go to the Heavenly Capital just to get a book back. I accepted its loss years ago.”
“The person who gave the command to burn down your library, your house, and whose men killed your wife and three of your children is still alive,” said Kiyohu. “He is General Shonaru Mérrun and he’s currently living a very nice, comfortable, cushy life in the Capital right now. I’m sure you care about that, don’t you?”
Sirilrhis stared down at the table, but it looked to Lisel like he wasn’t seeing what was in front of him. “Shonaru Mérrun?” he said slowly.
“That’s right,” said Kiyohu with a nod.
“And he’s still alive,” Sirilrhis continues. “And you know where he is?”
“He’s a general. It’s easy to track his movements,” said Kiyohu. “If you go to the Capital, you’ll be able to find him easily. I promise.”
Kiyohu sounded exceptionally insincere, but Sirilrhis seemed to be convinced. He looked up at Kiyohu. “I’ll go,” he said.
Kiyohu looked incredibly pleased with herself. “Great!” she said. “I’ll finalize our plans right away.”