Chapter 8 can be read below the cut.
It was late afternoon when Lisel’s group reached the cabin. The sunlight no longer reached the ground, and the shadows from the trees stretched long down the road. The sun wouldn’t set for at least another three hours. Lisel wasn’t happy about the wasted daylight, but she didn’t want to take her chances outside in another unfamiliar forest.
The cabin was larger than any of the shacks they’d passed so far. Lisel wondered if it was divided into multiple rooms. It was impossible to tell from the outside, as there were curtains drawn over the windows.
Lisel walked up to the front door and raised her hand to push it open. “Wait,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel looked at him expectantly, keeping her palm on the door. “Why?” she asked.
“All the windows are covered. You can’t tell if there’s anything or anyone in there,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel rolled her eyes and unsheathed her dao. She kicked the door open and ran in, dao brandished in front of her. The room had a fireplace, a table, and a couple of chairs stacked against the walls. There was a doorway to another room, which she quickly found out was entirely empty.
“All clear!” Lisel said cheerily from the doorway. “Come in.”
Sirilrhis hesitated. Lisel, still holding the door open, raised an eyebrow at him. “Something bothering you?” she asked. “Is there something out there following us? Spit it out.”
Sirilrhis looked back into the forest. “I don’t think so, but something doesn’t seem quite right,” he said.
Hirúka and Sirilrhis quickly got the fire going and cooked a meager dinner. Lisel was initially against it – a plume of smoke from the fireplace would make them extremely noticeable. Sirilrhis had ensured her that the only things around here were spirits, and that those spirits definitely already knew they were in the cabin. That hadn’t reassured her at all.
Lisel could hear Kiyaska and Hirúka in the other room telling each other horror stories. She briefly wondered if telling them to stop and go to sleep would have any effect, or if they’d just ignore her like they’d done so many times already.
Lisel turned back to the map. She’d traced out their route through the rest of the province on a piece of scrap paper. All she’d done so far was go over the same exact roads over and over again in order to see if there was some other, shorter route, but she hadn’t found anything.
Sirilrhis was stretched out on his side in front of the fire, dozing off. He’d set his beizi, shenyi, scarf and bow on the other chair. His jian, on the other hand, was leaning against the wall closest to him.
Lisel glanced at him as she stood up and stretched. “You sleeping?” she asked.
Sirilrhis didn’t move, but made some kind of sleepy noise. Lisel took that at his answer and started walking to the other room to check up on Hirúka and Kiyaska. Before she got to the doorway, something hit the window. Lisel grabbed at her waist and hit empty air – she’d left her dao leaning against the wall by her chair. Sirilrhis was immediately on his feet, jian in hand.
“What just happened?” asked Hirúka as he kept into the main room. Even in his tiger form, he looked wary, with his head lowered and some of his fur sticking up.
“You wrote the protection spells, didn’t you?” Lisel demanded.
Hirúka somehow managed to look offended. “Yes! Of course I did!”
Kiyaska looks from Hirúka to Lisel. “Why do you think it’s a monster and not just a bird or some other kind of animal?” she asked. “Can’t we just go outside and look?”
“Let’s not go outside unless we absolutely have to,” said Sirilrhis.
Kiyaska frowned. “Then pull the curtains aside.”
“That’s an okay idea,” said Lisel. “Let’s just do it.”
She yanked the curtains of the nearest window aside. The light from the fireplace illuminated some of the closest trees, but nothing beyond that. Lisel couldn’t see anything strange outside, but it was also dark and her night vision wasn’t that good.
“Can’t really see anything,” she remarked.
“There’s nothing?” said Hirúka. “Nothing hit the window?” He put his paws on the windowsill and peered out.
Lisel let the curtains fall back into place. “Guess not. Now go to sleep, or back to whatever you were doing before.” She shook Sirilrhis’s beizi and other things off of the spare chair and onto the floor, then wedged the chair in front of the door.
“Worried about something?” said Sirilrhis. He bent down to pick up his beizi.
“I could say the same about you,” said Lisel. She gestured at the jian in his hand. “I don’t need anything coming in when we’re sleeping.”
Lisel sat back down in her chair and stared up at the ceiling for a few moments. There was definitely no way she would get anything else done tonight.
“I think I’m going to try to sleep,” she said to no one in particular.
“Is that the best idea?” Sirilrhis asked. He’d gone back to lying on his side on the floor in front of the fireplace. This time, his sword lay in front of him.
Lisel lay her blanket down next to the wall bordering the door. She made sure her dao and rifle were within reach. “There’s nothing I can do right now,” she said. “That noise could have been literally anything. Hirúka wrote the protection spells. I don’t need to worry.”
“You don’t even believe your own words, do you?” asked Sirilrhis.
Lisel sighed and flopped down on her back. “Nope,” she said. “I’m hoping that things will work out. And that I can get to sleep if I tell myself that.”
She saw Sirilrhis open his mouth to respond, but he never got to say anything. Something knocked on the outside of the fireplace and he immediately turned his attention to it. “You heard that, right?” he asked.
Lisel sighed and let the back of her head smack into the ground. “Yeah,” she sighed. It had been a long couple of couple of days and this was not what she wanted to deal with now, or ever. All she wanted to do was sleep.
“Do you think it’s suspicious?” Sirilrhis asked. He hadn’t moved from his position on the floor.
“Yeah,” she said again, “but I don’t want to do anything about it unless it becomes an actual problem. I’m too tired.”
Something hit the door. Lisel stared up at the ceiling.
“I think they’re throwing rocks,” said Sirilrhis.
“Sure sounds like it,” replied Lisel.
“Are you going to do something now?” Sirilrhis asked.
“I can only think of writing more of those exploding talismans,” said Lisel. “I’m not sure it would be the best idea.”
A loud thumping sound came from the other room – it took Lisel a moment to realize that it was the sound of something hitting the outside wall of the cabin – and Hirúka let out an odd tiger yelp. Lisel sighed. There was no way she would be able to get away with doing nothing now that Hirúka was terrified.
“Did my protection spells not work!?” Hirúka exclaimed as he ran into the main room. He looked at Lisel and Sirilrhis both lying on the ground, and stared. “Why aren’t the two of you doing anything!?”
“I do not believe that any creature has actually touched the cabin,” said Sirilrhis. “It sounds like something is throwing rocks. It’s a nuisance, but even if they break a window, they won’t be able to get past your spells.”
Hirúka switched back to his human form. “But it seems like they’re everywhere,” he said, wringing his hands. “How can you just be okay with that?”
Lisel rolled her eyes and got to her feet. She pulled aside the curtain to see what was outside. There were several creatures, very similar to what they encountered in the morning, standing around the cabin and staring. They weren’t moving, and from what Lisel could see, they weren’t blinking either.
“There are quite a few of those creatures out there,” said Lisel.
“That’s also what I see,” said Sirilrhis from the other window. He let the curtain fall back into place. “What’s the plan, Lisel?”
“I’ve never been in this sort of situation before,” said Lisel. “It’ll take me some time to think.”
Sirilrhis crossed his arms. “You’ve never been in a situation where you were surrounded by an enemy who knew exactly where you were?”
Lisel let out a breath through clenched teeth. “Yes, and you know I have,” she said. “I took a chance and ran for it, and I killed everyone in my way. But my teammates at the time were soldiers, not random untrained civilians like the three of you.”
“I’m not untrained!” Kiyaska protested. “I can hunt with a bow and a knife. It’s not much harder to shoot people.”
“Uh, I am,” said Hirúka. “I can hunt animals. But actually fighting someone? I can’t do that.”
“I’m a dragon. I have hundreds of years of experience with weird situations like this,” said Sirilrhis. “Well, not exactly like this, but similar.”
Lisel crossed her arms. She’d been grinding her teeth, and makes an effort to unclench her jaw. “So you aren’t all defenseless. That doesn’t mean you’re as good as trained soldiers,” she said. “But back then, I had to accept that I could die trying to get out of the Empire. So did my comrades. Are all three of you prepared to die right now? The situation could become bad very quickly.”
Kiyaska rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “I already survived losing one part of my soul. I’m basically immortal at this point. I’m not gonna die.”
“That’s shite reasoning,” said Lisel, “but it’s acceptable for the time being.”
“Why don’t you just make bombs like you did last time?” Hirúka asked.
“You didn’t see how many of those things there are out there,” said Lisel. “If I set them all on fire, the forest would also catch on fire.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Kiyaska asked.
“Yes!” said Lisel. She couldn’t believe Kiyaska actually said that. “Yes it is!”
“But why?” Kiyaska asked.
Lisel was lost for words. “I…I…”
“There’s no way to control a forest fire,” said Sirilrhis. “”It won’t behave the way you want it to, and there’s no real way to make it stop once it’s started. It’ll kill a lot of trees and animals. It’s not a good solution.”
“Sounds like you have some experience with forest fires,” Lisel remarked.
Sirilrhis actually looked sheepish. “I do, but-”
He was interrupted by a loud banging sound on the door. It was enough force that the door moved from the impact, and the chair scraped against the ground. Lisel took a step back, startled.
“What hit the door?” Hirúka yelped.
“I have no idea,” said Lisel. She sighed, and started putting her shoes back on. “I was really hoping we’d be able to get some sleep tonight, but these things just aren’t going away.” She picked up her rifle. “Get your things packed up, everyone. We’re going to fight, and then we’re going to leave.”
Hirúka looked worried. Kiyaska grins widely. “All right!” she said. “Finally we get to do something exciting.”
Sirilrhis eyed Lisel warily. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.
I hope I do too, Lisel thought to herself.