Chapter 19 can be read below the cut.
Lisel sat cross-legged on the mattress with the slate in her lap, which was now blank as she’d wiped off the previous messages with a spare cloth. She rubbed the the stumpy piece of chalk against her fingers of her right hand, and tapped the fingers of her left hand impatiently against her knee. She’d been waiting for half an hour without any messages from Suli.
Are you available now, Lisel?
When the sentence registered in her brain as a message from Suli, Lisel gasped. “Yes!” she said out loud. She wrote her message underneath Suli’s: Good morning, dear. I’ll be undisturbed for the next hour.
It took a few moments for Suli’s response to appear. Our spies and informants in the Empire are quickly being found. Tsiyung Haruyéng is helping.
Lisel frowned. Clarify, please. What is Haruyéng doing?
Almost half a minute passed before words started appearing on the slate. Haruyéng is turning our spies in to the Empire. He hasn’t answered any correspondences we’ve sent to him for at least a week. We don’t know what his goals are or if he’s decided to side with the Empire after all.
Lisel’s frown deepened. She wiped off the messages before writing her response. When did you become aware of this?
Suli’s messages showed up quickly. The last informant remaining in Tsengtu contacted us a few days ago. All the others were found and executed a few days later for treason. It was all Haruyéng’s doing.
Lisel sighed, partly in relief. Our route takes us through Tsengtu. If he is there when we we arrive, I’ll deal with him. He won’t get a chance to inform the Empire if I get to him.
Sirilrhis and Kiyaska wandered through the streets of Suqhúlnis for a while before they reached the market. The crowds here was much bigger than in any of the towns and cities they’d previously traveled through. Símaqágu was the most populated province in East Meitsung and Suqhúlnis was the most populated city, and it was obvious now that they were actually here.
Kiyaska was amazed by essentially everything. “This is all so different,” she said. “All these buildings are so interesting!”
“It definitely is,” said Sirilrhis. “I remember the first time I saw a tiger city. It was so different from any of the elf or human cities I’d been to that I had to stop and stare for a moment.” He glanced at a tea shop as they walked past it. “Of course, things have changed since then.”
Kiyaska looked up at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“That was hundreds of years ago,” explained Sirilrhis. “The tigers build things differently now. Everyone does, in fact. Some architects and engineers have made discoveries that make foundations more stable, or allowed buildings to be built in a different way. I don’t exactly remember what it was, just that it changed the shape of houses and shops in a subtle way.” He scratched his chin. “Basically, what I’m trying to say is that nothing looks like it did when I was a kid.”
Kiyaska crossed her arms. “Ah, I see. You’re just being an old man. Makes sense.”
Sirilrhis let out a low laugh. “Come on, let’s go get that chalk. Maybe we’ll also find Hirúka.”
Hirúka ran a hand through his hair, making it even messier than it already had been. He’d been wandering around the market, looking at the various things people were selling. All around him, people – including the rare elf and human – were talking in Mayu Lháni, and he’d been letting it wash over him. It almost felt like home. Maybe this was what homesickness felt like.
He looked down at his hands. Am I homesick? I wanted to travel. I wanted to see all the different things in Meitsung! There’s no way I made a mistake, right? That I’m not actually cut out for this sort of thing?
Kiyaska’s shouting cut him off from his own thoughts. He looked back in time to see her run up to him. Sirilrhis followed at his own leisurely pace.
“Yeah?” Hirúka said in Mayu Lháni. “What do you-” He quickly switched to Meitsung soré. “Uh, do you need me for something?”
Kiyaska, still breathing hard, straightened up and pointed accusingly at his chest. Hirúka looked down at her hand. “You went off by yourself and we had no idea where you were!” she said.
Hirúka rubbed the back of his head, looking sheepish. “Oh, yeah…I was gonna leave a note, but I couldn’t find any charcoal. Or chalk. Heh.”
“You shouldn’t do that. Lisel wanted to leave without you,” said Sirilrhis.
Hirúka’s eyes widened in horror. “She – she did? What? WHAT!?” People were staring now, and Hirúka looked around at them nervously. “Okay, okay. So we’re leaving now, right?”
“No, we need to buy chalk,” said Sirilrhis. “I’m fairly certain that Lisel is going to make us leave as soon as we get back. If there’s something you want to see or buy, make sure to take an extra long amount of time doing it.”
Hirúka brightened up, then started looking dejected a few moments later. “Okay! But…I don’t know that there’s anything I particularly want to do. I guess I’ll just go with the two of you for now.”
The market was much larger than Sirilrhis had thought it would be. It took a while to weave through the merchants and find one that sold chalk. Even though he didn’t care that Lisel would be annoyed at how long they were taking, he was slightly annoyed at how difficult this seemingly easy task had been.
Hirúka and Kiyaska hung back to talk among themselves as Sirilrhis haggled with the shopkeeper. “What kind of souvenir do you think I should buy?” Kiyaska asked.
“What do you need a souvenir for?” Hirúka asked.
“This is the biggest city I’ve ever been to,” said Kiyaska. “And it’s the only one that’s full of tigers! It’s really interesting and I’d like to get something to remember it.”
“You could buy a pendant,” Hirúka suggested.
“A pendant? What is that? I don’t know what that word means,” said Kiyaska.
“You’ve seen those belt pendants that women wear, right?” said Hirúka. “Most of them are pretty cheap. You could buy one of those.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Kiyaska. “I’ve seen a lot of those, in all shapes and sizes.” She looked around at the nearby shops, and almost immediately ran spotted a vendor selling pendants. Without any further thought, she dashed toward it.
Hirúka reached out toward her. “Wait! Don’t just run off like that – like I did! Kiyaska!” He ran after her, leaving Sirilrhis alone.
Sirilrhis handed the payment to the shopkeeper. “Thank you,” he said. He turned around and started talking before he even saw anyone. “Kiyaska, Hirúka, let’s-”
Neither Hirúka nor Kiyaska were there. Sirilrhis stood up on his tiptoes, looking over the crowd for any sign of them. Hirúka would be just about impossible to distinguish from any other tiger, but Kiyaska’s clothing was unique enough that she’d be relatively easy to pick out. He finally saw them on the other side of the market, standing in front of some shopkeeper selling trinkets.
“The two of you need to listen when you’re told not to do something,” Sirilrhis grumbled once he got to Kiyaska and Hirúka.
Hirúka had the decency to look guilty. “I’m really sorry!” he said. “I tried to make sure she didn’t run off, but then I thought it would be better if I went with her so she wouldn’t be on her own…”
Kiyaska turned around with a pendant in her hand. “Okay! We can go back now-” She saw Sirilrhis and immediately looked sheepish. “We…we can go back to Lisel now,” she said.
“I’m sure she doesn’t need to know how you ran off again,” said Sirilrhis. “Isn’t that right?”
Hayésu and Onnarré sat at the outskirts of Tsengtu. It looked like they’d been talking for a while, but Haruyéng had no idea what about. He hung back at the tree line, waiting for them to notice him. When that didn’t happen, he put his hand to his mouth and coughed loudly.
Hayésu jumped at the noise. Onnarré, on the other hand, was much calmer and simply turned his head. “I don’t know what I’m interrupting, but it’s time for us to get going,” said Haruyéng.
“This early?” Hayésu asked. He was trying to regain some of his composure.
Haruyéng nods. “Miyawo Tung’s tea shop opens early. If we get there soon, there won’t be anyone else to come in and get in our way.”
“And that’ll make arresting her easier,” said Hayésu.
“Precisely,” said Haruyéng. “Let’s go. Lu’s already outside the tea shop.”
When they got there, Lu was leaning against the outside wall of the tea shop with her arms crossed. “You look anxious,” Hayésu commented.
Lu scowled. “I’d be less anxious if the two of you would stop wandering off on your own without telling me anything and making me do all this work on my own.”
“Sorry,” said Hayésu. Onnarré said nothing.
Lu rolled her eyes. “You better be.”
Haruyéng pushed the door open and walked in without a word to the other three. The tea shop was empty except for one person who was presumably Miyawo Tung. She sat at the back of the shop behind a counter, writing something on a piece of paper. With her cheek resting in the palm of her hand, she looked incredibly bored.
Miyawo looked up as Haruyéng and the others got closer. “Oh, you’re the soldiers!” she said after a moment. “I’ve seen all four of you walking around, but the only one that’s come in here to talk to me is the Commander. What brings all of you here so early? I’m assuming you want tea?”
“No, we-” Hayésu started.
“I’d actually like to ask you a few questions,” Haruyéng interrupted.
Miyawo looked confused, then put her hand to her forehead and sighed. “This is about Narréra and Shin Leng, isn’t it?” she said.
“Partially,” said Haruyéng.
“They were siblings,” said Miyawo. “I don’t know how old they were or where they came from. They moved here a few years ago, and they developed a habit of coming in early most mornings.”
“Really? What year was that?” Haruyéng asked.
“What year?” repeated Miyawo. “It had to be 4339 at the earliest. I don’t know what day or month they got here, if you want that information.”
“And you were already living here at that point?” asked Haruyéng.
“I grew up here. I’ve lived here all my life,” said Miyawo.
Haruyéng scratched his chin. The civil war had been going on during the year 4339. A lot of people had been displaced and had fled to other cities or provinces. It wouldn’t have been strange at all for the Lengs to have settled in Tsengtu.
“Okay,” he said absently.
Miyawo looked confused. “What do you mean by that?” she asked.
Haruyéng pulled out a wooden folding fan and pointed it at Miyawo. She eyed it warily. “I think I know what happened,” he said. “You’ve lived here your entire life. At some point, you decided you agreed with the Rebel ideology and became one yourself. The Lengs and the other two – Korro and Wing – were part of your network. You all passed information to each other and to other Rebels.”
Miyawo narrowed her eyes. “You really shouldn’t accuse people of being Rebels,” she said.
Haruyéng snorted and waved the fan around. “I’m a Commander. I can accuse anyone of whatever I want, especially since I have evidence of your activities.” He snapped his fingers. “Hayésu, Lu. Bring her to the guard headquarters. It’ll be easier to deal with her in there.”
Lu hesitated. “Are you sure?” she said.
Haruyéng was baffled. “Of course I’m sure!” he said. “Go do it. NOW.”
Lu and Hayésu scrambled over to Miyawo and grabbed her arms. Neither of them looked confident in their own actions. Miyawo scowled as the two of them walked her out of the tea shop, but didn’t make any attempt to escape.
Onnarré watched them leave. “What are you doing just standing there?” Haruyéng asked. “You should be helping them.”
“Are we going to go back to the Capital now that we’ve found all the Rebels?” Onnarré asked.
Haruyéng shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s the Heavenly Commander’s decision, not mine.”
A couple of hours later, Haruyéng sat cross-legged on a mattress in the rented room at the inn. A piece of chalk hung loosely between his fingers as he stared down at the slate in his lap. He tapped the chalk against the slate a few times before writing down his question.
All Rebels in Tsengtu have been found. Are we now allowed to return to the Capital? – Commander Haruyéng
It took a few minutes for the response to show up. Permission granted. Return to the Capital at your earliest convenience. – Heavenly Commander Hunyoung
Haruyéng stared down at the slate. That was not the response he had been expecting. At your earliest convenience? Clearly no one was in a hurry to have him back. I wonder what they’re planning? Do they really just want me out of their way? Are they not pleased with the work I’ve been doing? Have they found someone else to replace me?
Haruyéng set the slate aside and put his head in his hands. There was no actual way to tell what had been going on in the Capital while he’d been here in Tsengtu. He pressed his palms to his eyes and breathed out.
We will return to the Capital as soon as possible. We are leaving tomorrow morning. – Commander Haruyéng
The response came quickly. We await your swift return. – Heavenly Commander Hunyoung
Haruyéng let out a sigh of relief. That was a good response. Now all he needed to do was contact Commander Kiyohu and give her an update. All of the Rebels must have been wondering what was going on since he hadn’t been in contact with any of them for a while.