Chapter 17 can be read below the cut.
It took a couple of days of travel for Lisel’s group to reach the next town. Lisel and Sirilrhis headed off to the market in an attempt to sell the weapons and various other things they’d picked up from the Imperial soldiers. Before they’d left, Lisel had told Kiyaska and Hirúka to stick together.
Kiyaska looked around the town square. Hirúka had been right next to her just a few minutes ago. She had absolutely no idea where he could have gone. It probably wasn’t too important; Hirúka could find his way back to the rest of them like he always did.
She walked around, looking at all the storefronts. A tea shop caught her attention and she stopped and stared at it. Sirilrhis had said he was almost out of tea. Maybe I should see if I could buy some…or maybe I could buy the kind of tea I like instead of the gross stuff he always makes.
There was a slate at the front of the shop that indicated what sort of tea was being sold. Kiyaska looked down at it and frowned. She didn’t actually know how to read Meitsung soré. A couple of the letters looked familiar, but she definitely had no idea what any of the words meant.
Kiyaska looked up and realized that the shopkeeper, an elderly Renghan woman, was eying her carefully. “Um, could you help me find a certain type of tea?” she asked.
The shopkeeper narrowed her eyes. “Yes. What sort of tea are you looking for?” she asked.
Kiyaska realized that she had no idea what the tea Nelunna served them was actually called. “It was some sort of fruity oolong,” she said. “I didn’t actually ask what the name was.”
The shopkeeper sighed heavily. “Fruity oolong? You’ll have to be more specific than that.”
“I really have no idea what it was called,” said Kiyaska. “Can you just show me the teas you have? I’ll pick one and buy it.”
The shopkeeper didn’t look happy, but pointed Kiyaska toward the varieties of oolong tea. Kiyaska spent some time observing each tea, sniffing a couple of them to try and distinguish one that could have been similar to what Nelunna gave them.
When Kiyaska turned around with a bundle of tea in her hand, she saw that another person had stepped into the shop – a human man, Renghan like most of the Imperials. “I think this is the one,” she said to the shopkeeper. “How much does it cost?”
The shopkeeper smiled and clasped her hands together. “How much are you willing to pay?” she asked.
Somehow, she’d completely forgotten about the existence of haggling. “What’s your starting price?” Kiyaska asked after a few moments.
The shopkeeper kept smiling. “Ten qián,” she said.
“Ten!?” Kiyaska exclaimed. “What is this tea made of? Jade?”
“It’s quite expensive,” said the shopkeeper. “I’m assuming you don’t have that much money. You’re still a young girl, and you’re one of those northern foreigners.”
“No, that’s way too much!” said Kiyaska. “What about seven qián?”
The shopkeeper looked disappointed. “Not nearly enough. Nine.”
“Eight,” said Kiyaska.
“Eight and a half. That’s as low as I’ll go,” said the shopkeeper.
Kiyaska hesitated. Eight and a half qián was more than she wanted to pay, but she also wanted the tea. She looked down at the bundle in her hand and sighed. “Eight and a half it is,” she said. She opened up her coin purse and handed the money to the shopkeeper, who looked incredibly pleased with herself.
“If there’s anyone else you know who needs tea, feel free to tell them I’m here!” the shopkeeper said happily as Kiyaska walked away.
“Sure,” Kiyaska muttered under her breath.
Someone brushed against her roughly. Kiyaska stumbled to the side but caught herself quickly. It only took her a few moments to realize that her coin purse was gone, and that the Renghan man she had seen earlier in the tea shop was the one who bumped into her. A wave of irritation washed over her as she saw the man walk away like he hadn’t done anything.
Kiyaska unsheathed her hunting knife and kept her hand behind her back as she walked up to the man. Once she got close enough, she kicked him in the small of the back. He stumbled forward, clearly not expecting that. She pointed her knife at the man as he turned to face her. “Give me my purse back,” she demanded.
The man sneered at her and turned away. “You’re a kid, but you’re definitely old enough to know better than to go around kicking people and accusing them of stealing from you. Where are your manners? Who raised you to think this was okay? I’m sure even you northern barbarians know that’s wrong.”
Kiyaska gripped her knife harder and gritted her teeth. “You’re going to give it back now or I’m going to seriously hurt you. I don’t think you want that to happen,” she said.
The Renghan man shook his head and turned around. His beizi shifted in such a way that Kiyaska saw a brief glimpse or her purse in a pocket. She lunged forward and tackled the man. He hit a stall, causing some of the things on it to fall to the ground. The vendor yelled something that Kiyaska didn’t quite catch.
Sirilrhis hung back a few meters, trying not to look bored, as Lisel talked to the weapon salesman. There was some yelling coming from the other part of the market, which didn’t seem to be too unusual from what he’d seen and heard so far. It suddenly got louder, and Sirilrhis started paying closer attention.
“That’s – huh?” said Lisel.
“What’s going on over there?” asked the weapon salesman.
Much to his dismay, Sirilrhis recognized one of the voices. It was Kiyaska, and she was yelling in Zarya Heul, threatening to kill someone.
“That’s Kiyaska,” said Lisel, her frown deepening. “What’s she saying?”
“Nothing good,” said Sirilrhis. He touched Lisel’s arm with the back of his hand, still looking toward the source of the commotion. “I’ll deal with this. You stay here.”
“Alright then. Don’t get arrested,” said Lisel.
The sight before him was definitely surprising. There was a Renghan man on his back, covered in dirt and blood with cuts and what looked like a couple of bruises on his face. Kiyaska stood a few meters away, hunched over with a knife in one hand and her coin purse in the other. A few people, most of them human, stood behind the man, trying to reassure him and get him to stand up. No one was near Kiyaska. A tiger guard stood nearby, but all he was doing was watching the scene warily.
“Kiyaska!” said Sirilrhis. “What are you doing?”
Kiyaska looked incredibly surprised to see him. Her angry expression evaporated instantly, and she stood up straight and dropped her hands to her sides. “Sirilrhis?” she said. After a moment, a look of realization came across her face. “Oh! You finished selling everything, didn’t you? Is it time to leave now?”
Sirilrhis sighed hard and pressed his palm to his forehead. “Kiyaska, what are you doing?” he asked. “Did you attack that man?”
“Sir, is this your daughter?” the tiger guard asked.
“No, but I’m currently responsible for her-” Sirilrhis started.
“Well, she started attacking this man, and I don’t really know why. It’d be really nice if you could get her to talk,” said the guard.
Sirilrhis looked back at Kiyaska. “Can you please explain what happened?” he asked. He gestured with both hands at the scene in front of them – the Renghan man still lying on the ground, covered in blood and looking terrified, Kiyaska standing there with a knife, and the crowd surrounding them.
Kiyaska looked indignant. “He stole my wallet and tried to run away, so I got it back!” With that, she held up the coin purse and smiled.
Sirilrhis frowned. “I’m glad you got it back, but was that level of force necessary? He’s bleeding.”
“He tried to pretend like he didn’t do anything,” said Kiyaska. “And he was really rude! He called me a northern barbarian, too.”
“Did he?” said Sirilrhis.
The man stood up and attempted to brush the dirt off of his beizi. “Hey, dragon,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going through your head right now, but I’m going to need more than an apology from your girl.”
Sirilrhis sighed as he walked over to the man, who backed up a few steps. “I’m going to demand this from you only once,” said Sirilrhis. “Apologize to Kiyaska. That’s the least you can do after stealing from her and trying to pretend it didn’t happen.”
“You can’t make me do anything. You have no proof,” said the man. He was trying to act nonchalant, but Sirilrhis could tell from his body language that he was starting to become scared.
Sirilrhis narrowed his eyes and leaned in closer, towering over the man. “Is that so?” he said. “I can do much worse than she did, you know.”
The tiger guard shoved the two of them apart. Sirilrhis immediately dropped his intimidating demeanor and looked at the guard in confusion; the Renghan man looked mildly offended. “That’s enough,” said the guard. “I was going to let you two work things out on your own, but that clearly isn’t going to happen. Dragon, pay him fifty qián. That ought to be enough to cover the injuries your daughter gave him.”
“She’s not my – fine,” said Sirilrhis. He sighed and handed the money to the Renghan man.
“That doesn’t seem like enough,” said the man.
The tiger guard snarled and pointed right in the man’s face. “And you! You are a thief and I am going to take you to the guard headquarters.” He grabbed the man’s arm and turned back to look at Kiyaska and Sirilrhis. “The two of you aren’t welcome in this town anymore. I expect you to be gone by sunset. There will be problems if that doesn’t happen. Do you understand me?”
“Of course,” said Sirilrhis.
“Yeah,” said Kiyaska.
The crowd dispersed as the guard dragged the thief away. Most of them were eying Sirilrhis and Kiyaska with either fear, disdain, disgust, or a combination of all three. Kiyaska looked around in confusion, still holding her knife in her hand.
“So,” Sirilrhis started.
Kiyaska immediately looked away. “I’m sorry!” she blurted out.
“You’re sorry?” said Sirilrhis. “I wasn’t going to start scolding you.”
“You’re not?” Kiyaska asked.
Sirilrhis smirked and rubbed his chin. “Nope! I’m proud that you stood up for yourself, even if you didn’t do it in an ideal manner. Backing down and giving in to men like that won’t do you any good in life. Fighting back will let people know you aren’t someone who can be messed with. That’s important, especially since you live in a country that isn’t kind to your people.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Kiyaska. “Um, I bought some tea earlier!”
Sirilrhis blinked in surprise. “You did? I thought you didn’t like tea.”
“The kind you make is gross, but I really liked what Nelunna gave us. I bought something similar,” said Kiyaska.
Sirilrhis stared at her for a moment. He was about to say something when Lisel walked into view. “Sirilrhis, what’s going on?” she asked.
“We need to leave before the sun sets. We’re banned from the town,” said Sirilrhis.
It took a few moments for those words to sink in. “We’re going to leave as soon as we find Hirúka – wait, what? Banned? How did that happen?” Lisel demanded.
Kiyaska and Sirilrhis looked at each other. “A man robbed me and I beat him up,” said Kiyaska.
“That’s my understanding of what happened,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel narrowed her eyes at Sirilrhis. “I want to tell Kiyaska ‘good job’, but what did you do?”
Sirilrhis crossed his arms. “I threatened the thief in front of a town guard.”
Lisel raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? It must have been quite a serious threat.”
“I suppose it was,” said Sirilrhis.
There was a moment of silence. “So where in the world is Hirúka?” Lisel asked. “Has anyone seen him since we got here? Kiyaska, you were with him, weren’t you?”
Kiyaska shrugged. “I don’t know. He disappeared at some point.”
Lisel looked around, then put her palm to her forehead and sighed. “I guess asking anyone if they’ve seen a young male tiger isn’t going to be very helpful, since that’s every fourth person here,” she said. “Can you track him down by scent, Sirilrhis?”
Sirilrhis shook his head. “There are too many tigers here for me to distinguish one from another,” he said. “We’ll have to do this the hard way – on foot.”