Chapter 4 can be read below the cut.
Lisel walked ahead of the group, map in her hands once again. “I think that since we had a late start yesterday, we should try to travel sixty or seventy kilometers today,” she said. “That means we’ll spend most of the day walking.”
“Are you sure that’s realistic?” Sirilrhis asked. “I’m sure I can do it, but I don’t know about these two.”
“Hey!” said Hirúka. “I can totally walk that far today, and tomorrow, and all the other days!”
Lisel was immediately skeptical. “Sure,” she said. “What about you, Kiyaska?”
Kiyaska shrugged. “When me and Petkal escaped from Zarya Wa, we spent most of the day walking. I’ll be fine.”
“About that,” said Sirilrhis. “How did you do it.”
Kiyaska looked confused. “I just…told you that we walked?”
Sirilrhis thought over his words before he spoke again. “With the curfew in effect, how did you manage to leave Nin Tulka?” he asked. “I’m sure it was difficult.”
“Oh, it took a lot of planning!” said Kiyaska. “But mostly we tracked the Imperial soldiers’ movements and figured out they were on a routine. It wasn’t too hard to avoid them after that.”
“You didn’t encounter any Imperial soldiers?” Sirilrhis asked.
“Yeah, of course we did!” said Kiyaska. “There’s a ton of them everywhere in the major cities and along the major roads, so we had to spend a lot of time in the wilderness until we got to West Rhecaré.”
Sirilrhis narrowed his eyes and frowned. “Hold on. You said you’d never met a dragon before, but you came to Resuni through West Rhecaré? That’s part of our homeland. We’re everywhere over there.”
“Well, I saw plenty of dragons, but I never got the opportunity to talk to one or anything!” said Kiyaska.
“Well, you now have the opportunity to fix that,” said Sirilrhis with a smirk.
Kiyaska and Sirilrhis continued chatting as they walked. Lisel was happy that they were getting along. The last thing she wanted was a fight to break out. That was always a problem with a group where no one knew each other.
“Hirúka,” said Lisel. “Do you seriously just want to go on an adventure? Is there no other reason for you to be here?”
Hirúka shrugged and grinned. “Nope! I’m just so excited, you know? I’ve wanted to do something like this for my whole life.”
Distance traveled: 55/3450 km
“Finally, civilization,” Lisel said as the four of them walked into the city of Tauruning. “Don’t wander off, everyone. I-”
“Why not?” Hirúka interrupted. “This isn’t a big city. If we agree to meet up someplace in an hour or so, we won’t have any trouble finding each other.”
Lisel stared at him for a moment before slowly turning her head to look at Sirilrhis. “I’m mostly worried about the dragon escaping,” she said.
“I already told you I’m not going to do that,” Sirilrhis said with a sigh. He crossed his arms. “It would be nice if you believed me.”
“I’ll believe you once I’ve known you for more than a few days,” said Lisel. “Anyway, I want to talk to the guards here. Let’s-”
Hirúka raised his hand. “Can I go to the market?” he asked. “I want to get some more food.”
“I can go with him,” said Sirilrhis. “I don’t particularly feel the need to talk to any guards.”
It did not sound like a good idea. “I have a hard time believing that a tiger could stop a dragon from doing anything,” said Lisel.
“I’m not going to do anything,” Sirilrhis insisted.
“He can’t even switch to his dragon form right now!” said Hirúka. “It’d be really easy for me to beat him up in my tiger form, even if he is really tall.”
Lisel stared at them for a few more moments. “We’ll meet back here in an hour,” she said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“We won’t,” said Hirúka. Lisel wished she knew him well enough to believe him.
“Why do you need to talk to the guards?” Kiyaska asked.
“There are Imperial spies all over East Meitsung,” said Lisel. “I need to know if anyone’s heard or seen anything suspicious.”
Kiyaska was quiet when Lisel talked to the guards. Lisel assumed that Kiyaska would want to know more about how things worked in East Meitsung. From what she’d overheard from Kiyaska’s conversations with Sirilrhis, the girl was curious and didn’t know much about how things worked outside of Zarya Wa.
Lisel waved at the guards as the two of them left the guard station. Kiyaska looked at her quizzically. “Is it really that easy?” she asked. “You talk to them and they talk to you nicely?”
“Yep,” replied Lisel.
Kiyaska looked skeptical. “Are you sure the reason they’re so nice to you isn’t because you’re an Imperial in the Imperial military? I haven’t had good experiences with town guards or military.”
“I’m not an Imperial, Kiyaska,” said Lisel. “I’m a Rebel, and so are most of the soldiers in East Meitsung.”
Kiyaska rolled her eyes. “You all keep saying that. But Imperials are still Imperials, even when they say they’re Rebel Imperials.”
“I think we’re experiencing a bit of a language barrier here,” said Lisel. “Now come along. We need to get back to the meeting point.”
Kiyaska pointed toward the market. “But it hasn’t been an hour yet. They’re still going to be there.”
What Kiyaska said was true. “I’m sure you’d also like to look around the market, right?” said Lisel.
Kiyaska looked surprised. “Well…maybe. Yeah.”
It didn’t take long to find Hirúka and Sirilrhis. Both of them were standing in front of a merchant. Lisel couldn’t tell what they’d bought from this distance, but she hoped it was food.
Sirilrhis almost bumped into her when he turned around. “Done so soon?” he said.
“Yeah. We should get going now,” said Lisel.
Hirúka looked disappointed. “We’re going to leave right away?” he asked.
“Well, yes,” said Lisel. “What did you think we were going to do.”
“I thought we could take a break and get lunch or something,” said Hirúka.
“I honestly thought that’s what you were doing right now,” said Lisel.
Sirilrhis pointed with his thumb over his shoulder toward the market. “I think he saw something back there he wanted to eat.”
“Yes!” said Hirúka. “I did!”
Lisel sighed. “Make it quick.”
Hirúka rushed off toward the vendors. “Has he let you out of his sight?” Lisel asked.
“Nope,” said Sirilrhis. “I think he’s starting to see himself as a watchdog.”
After a couple of minutes, Hirúka ran back with a couple of onion buns. Much to Lisel’s surprise, he handed one to each of them. He grinned at Lisel’s baffled expression. “You didn’t think I was just going to get food for myself, did you?” he said.
Sirilrhis smiled. “That’s so thoughtful of you, Hirúka,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
“Thank you,” said Lisel, trying to keep any sounds of irritability out of her voice.
Lisel had the map in her hands again a couple of minutes after they left the town. Sirilrhis was attempting to be sneaky at reading the map over her shoulder, but it was just about impossible for him to be subtle with how tall he was. It was only mildly irritating, so she let him do it.
She pointed to the next town on the map. “The next major town is called Enno. I’ve never heard of it before.”
Sirilrhis shrugged when she looked up at him. “What? I only know about the major towns and cities in East Meitsung. I’ve never heard of Enno, either.”
“I didn’t expect you to,” said Lisel. “Anyway, it looks to be around forty kilometers away, so we’ll be there around sundown.”
Sirilrhis frowned. “You’re not going to make us walk more than that just so you can meet your ridiculous deadline, are you?” he asked.
Lisel sighed. “As much as I’d like to, I don’t think that’s feasible today.” She turned back to yell at Hirúka and Kiyaska. “Hey, you two! We’re going to be walking for the rest of the day until we get to a small town called Enno. You got it?”
Neither of them were paying attention to anything other than their own conversation, so both were initially startled at Lisel’s yelling. Kiyaska quickly looked interested. “A town? Do small towns have inns?” She looked to Hirúka. “Do they?”
Hirúka shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know any more than you do. I haven’t been out here before.”
It took nearly eight and a half hours and a couple of breaks to finally reach the town of Enno. Lisel hoped they’d be able to keep up the same sort of schedule for the rest of the trip.
Wéluyoung was the capital of Wingshal Province of the Meitsung Empire. It had a population of over 400,000 people, and its close proximity to the Tengming Capital Region meant that it housed a large military population – the largest outside the Capital Region itself.
Tsiyung Haruyéng sat on a crate outside of the military barracks, slowly eating his lunch, staring off into space, and not paying attention to what was going on around him. It was more quiet than it had been in a while, and he hoped it stayed that way for a while.
A cuju ball suddenly hit the wall near Haruyéng’s head, startling him into dropping his chopsticks. “HEY!” he yelled toward the field. “WATCH IT!”
In the field were the three soldiers in his squad: Koruyin Hayésu, Mina Lu, and Perin Onnarré. Lu appeared to have been the one who kicked the ball at him. Hayésu was standing close by, so Haruyéng assumed that he was also involved. Onnarré was standing farther away with his arms crossed, looking annoyed with the whole situation.
Lu raised a hand and rubbed the back of her neck with the other, looking sheepish. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!” she said.
Hayésu narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m sure you didn’t.”
Lu shot him a dirty look. “Sorry, what was that? Care to say it again?”
Hayésu and Lu immediately started arguing. Haruyéng sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. This was not what he wanted to deal with, now or any time in the future. These were young soldiers, but they were definitely old enough to know that they shouldn’t have been behaving like children.
Later that afternoon, Haruyéng gathered his squad into an empty room in the compound for a meeting. As usual, Hayésu paid close attention. Lu had a much shorter attention span, and Hayésu could tell that her mind was wandering even though she was doing her best to keep focused. Onnarré had his arms crossed and a blank expression on his face. It was always impossible to tell what he was thinking.
“So!” said Haruyéng. “We’re leaving Wéluyoung for the time being. From now on and into the foreseeable future, we’re going to be stationed in Shihun.”
Lu and Hayésu both looked surprised. Onnarré’s expression didn’t change at all.
“Why?” Lu asked.
Haruyéng shrugged. “I’ll explain when we get there. But it’s western Shihun, close to the border with the Capital Region. We aren’t going to be out in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s to do with Rebel activity in that area, isn’t it?” said Onnarré.
“Yep,” said Haruyéng, snapping his fingers. “Now don’t let anyone else hear you say that, okay? No one else is supposed to know about this. Now get your horses. We’re leaving right now.”