Chapter 9 can be read below the cut.
“So what are we going to do?” Kiyaska asked.
“We’re going to burn them,” said Lisel. She gestured at the talismans on the table. “Remember what you two woke up to this morning? These spells will hopefully have the same effect.”
“I thought you didn’t want to cause a forest fire?” said Sirilrhis.
“Well, I changed my mind,” said Lisel. She gritted her teeth. “I’m not so sure that burning down this entire forest would be a bad idea. I think we might actually be doing the country a favor.”
Lisel handed the spells out to Hirúka and Kiyaska. “All you have to do is touch them with the spell. They ought to stick right away. Kiyaska, you can wrap them around your arrows if you want to shoot them instead.” She looked up at Sirilrhis. “You don’t need help setting anything on fire, do you?”
“Nope,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel turned to face everyone. “I want to make something extremely clear. We are leaving. Our goal isn’t to fight these things until there aren’t any left. It’s to get as far down the road as we can and kill anything in our way. If they stop following you, leave them. We aren’t going to come back here to kill anything because we’re upset or we want revenge. Do you two understand me?”
“Yes,” said Kiyaska. Lisel detected a tiny amount of disappointment from her.
“Yeah,” said Hirúka, much more dejectedly.
“Good,” said Lisel. “Prepare yourself.”
Lisel pulled the door open and ran outside. Kiyaska was next; she climbed up to the roof of the cabin. On the ground, Lisel scanned the area. The creatures were fairly spread out, with no obvious groups or clusters.
Lisel ran around to the side of the cabin. She stuck spells on a few of the creatures, kicking and tripping some of them so that they caught the others on fire. One grabbed on to her shirt; she stabbed it and shook it off. Not a single one of them managed to put a scratch on her.
She rounded the cabin back to the front to see Sirilrhis and Hirúka taking care of a few creatures on the path. “Keep the rest of the spells you have, Hirúka,” said Sirilrhis. “I’ll set these ones here on fire.”
Lisel looked to the top of the cabin to see that Kiyaska was still there. “Kiyaska, get down here!” Lisel yelled. “We’re leaving!”
Kiyaska didn’t reply, but she did jump down from the roof and run toward the three of them. “I ran out of arrows!” she said. “I didn’t get all of them-”
“I said it wasn’t necessary!” Lisel cut in. “All we need to do is outrun them.”
Behind them, the creatures as well as some of the surrounding forest and the cabin were on fire. A few of the creatures, both on fire and not on fire, ran after the group.
“Um, they’re following us and some of them are on fire!” Hirúka exclaimed.
Sirilrhis sighed loud enough that Lisel could hear him over the sound of their footsteps. He created a fireball, turned around, and threw it at the feet of one of the creatures. It immediately caught on fire and screeched, but continued running after them, just like all the other creatures.
“That’s not what I expected,” Lisel remarked. “I thought my spells would have more of an effect than that.”
“You’re too tired,” said Sirilrhis. “We need to find some place and stay there for the rest of the night-”
Lisel cut him off, waving her hand and then pointing at him. “No! I checked the map, and we’re not that far away from civilization. We’re on the very edge of this spirit-infested forest. If we keep walking, we’ll get to a town.”
“Then why didn’t we do that in the first place?” Sirilrhis shouted.
“Because the nearest town is forty kilometers away!” said Lisel. “We couldn’t make it there before nightfall.”
Sirilrhis slowed down to a jog, then a walk. “Forty kilometers,” he repeated. “You want us to walk through the night for another eight hours.”
“Yes,” said Lisel. She paused for a moment to catch her breath. “I really don’t think we can stay in this forest any longer. Once we get to the town, we don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day, okay? We can just rest. For the whole day.”
“I hope you’re telling the truth,” Sirilrhis warned.
“I am,” said Lisel.
They stared at each other for a moment before Sirilrhis gestured at the road. “Then lead the way,” he said.
The creatures and the cabin were far behind. The only remnant Lisel could see was the pillar of smoke from the fire extending far into the sky. She turned forward again, and brought out her slate and chalk. It was time to send a message to Suli.
Suli suppressed a yawn and turned to see Petkal wave as he ran up to her. “Good morning!” she said. The slate nearly slid out of her lap, and she grabbed it
Petkal’s eyes immediately went to the slate. “Did you hear anything about Kiyaska?” he asked.
“Not much,” said Suli. “They’re all unharmed, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s it?” said Petkal.
Suli stood up and stretched. Her knee was stiffer than normal, and she limped the couple of steps to the entrance to the military headquarters without using her cane. Petkal tried to open the door for her, but she was quicker and got through the doorway before he could do anything. Suli held the door open for him, smiling.
“Yes, that’s it,” she said.
Suli opened the door to the meeting room to see that Kiyohu was already there. Papers were strewn all over the table in front of her. She didn’t look up at either of them when they walked in, or when they greeted her.
“Good morning, Suli, Petkal,” Kiyohu said in a monotone. “How are you two?”
“You don’t seem very happy,” said Suli. “Do you have bad news for us?”
Kiyohu sighed and finally looked up at the two of them. “Well, we’re running out of money,” she said. “This Rebellion will have to become volunteer only very soon.”
“We knew this was going to happen eventually,” said Suli. “It was inevitable.”
“That’s definitely right,” said Kiyohu. “So where’s Qursin? Either of you seen him this morning?”
Both Suli and Petkal answered in the negative. “We’ll start the meeting now, I guess. Qursin can give us his updates if he decides to come in,” said Kiyohu. “Suli, you’ve been communicating with Lisel almost every night. Where are they right now?”
Suli set the slate on the table. “They’ve just passed through Central Shensi Forest and reached a town called Yiling. I got the message sometime during the night. Lisel said they ran into a few problems and that’s why she wasn’t able to talk to me when she usually does.”
Kiyohu pressed her fingertips together in front of her mouth. “What sort of problems?” she asked.
Suli clasped her hands together. “She said they were attacked by monsters and had to set the forest on fire in order to escape.”
“Monsters?” said Petkal. “There are monsters in that part of the country?”
Suli shrugged. “She didn’t say what kind of monsters they were. Or why they were attacked. Or much about what’s going on, really,” she said.
Kiyohu sighed and rubbed her face. “I told you to tell her to be more specific. I guess she didn’t listen.”
“No, she usually is,” said Suli. “She just said she’d been awake for more than an entire day and would explain later. I think that means tonight.”
Qursin burst into the room before anyone could respond. “I bring news from our spies in the Capital!” he announced, still breathing hard.
“Sit down, Qursin. You’re late,” said Kiyohu. She didn’t bother looking up from her papers, but she definitely sounded irritated.
Qursin looked offended, but sat down in the nearest chair. “I was taking notes!” he said. He unfolded his crumpled papers, trying in vain to smooth the wrinkles out against the table.
“So what’s the news?” said Kiyohu. “Is it good? Bad? Boring? Anything useful?”
“Possibly,” answered Qursin. Kiyohu frowned and shared a look with Suli, who shrugged with one shoulder. “The Imperial Generals have suspicions.”
“That’s not new. They always have suspicions,” said Kiyohu.
“They’ve moved a lot of troops around lately,” said Qursin. “Most of them are heading toward the border. I didn’t get anything about what this maneuver is supposed to accomplish, or what they’re expecting.”
“They’re going to secure the border so that their subsequent invasion will be easier,” said Kiyohu. “Set up checkpoints, supply lines, temporary housing. Better to do that in advance so you know what works and what you need than at the last minute.”
“Right,” said Qursin. “But they’re sending a lot of them to the rural border areas in Shihun and Ménghun.”
“That could make it harder for Lisel and the others to cross,” said Suli.
“Why the rural areas?” Petkal asked. “Was that reasoning mentioned anywhere?”
Qursin scratched his beard. “Well, no.”
Petkal frowned. “But why start now? Right now, of all times, when we’ve sent Kiyaska and Lisel and the others on this mission. It’s too much for me to believe it’s any kind of coincidence.”
Kiyohu looked to Qursin. “Did you get any other information? Any speculation from our spies?” she asked.
Qursin shook his head. “There aren’t very many people who are supposed to know about this, even though that doesn’t really make all that much sense. People are definitely going to see soldiers moving around and start talking about it and-”
“Qursin,” said Kiyohu. “Stay on topic.”
“They’re keeping it secret,” Qursin continued. “As much as they can, anyway. They know we have spies and they really don’t want this information getting back to us.”
The resulting silence was broken a couple of seconds later by Suli. “They must be aware we’re doing something,” she said.
“If that’s the case, then I doubt things are going to go well,” Kiyohu grumbled.
“Do you think it’s Haru-” started Qursin.
Kiyohu silenced him with a raise of her hand. “You’re the one communicating with the spies. Has anything seemed strange with any of them?” she asked.
Qursin shook his head. “No, the reports are all normal. Nothing has changed at all.”
Kiyohu sighed. “Well, we all knew that there are Imperial spies here in East Meitsung,” she said. “And we all knew they would pose problems eventually. We’ll simply have to be more careful from now on.”