Chapter 31 can be read below the cut.
Yésun was the largest city close to the eastern border of the Tengming Capital Region with Shihun Province. Compared to the cities in the central part of the region, it had a fairly low population. It still had the typical shops and amenities expected of a city of its size.
Nüwa emerged from a tailor’s shop, holding a bundle of clothes in her arms. She made her way through the city, weaving through people to get to the inn that the rest of the group had been staying in. Inside, Hirúka and Sirilrhis sat at a table in the common area, drinking tea and chatting about something inconsequential. Nüwa smiled and nodded at them as she walked back to their room.
Lisel and Kiyaska were sitting cross-legged on the mattress. Both of them looked up at Nüwa as she walked in and shut the door behind her.
“Nüwa!” said Kiyaska.
Nüwa knelt down and set the bundle of clothes down at the edge of the mattress. “That was relatively quick,” said Lisel.
“The tailor primarily sold pre-made clothes. All I did was walk in and choose the ones that looked like they would fit you,” said Nüwa. She picked up the zhongyi. “Don’t worry. What I got seems to be the current fashion.”
“Good. I don’t want to stick out,” said Lisel.
It didn’t take her long to get dressed – first the zhongyi, then the ruqun shirt and skirt. She tied the sash and attempted to smooth out the wrinkles. “This isn’t bad at all. It’s close to what I wear when I’m not working,” said Lisel.
Kiyaska looked stunned. “What? You mean you don’t normally dress like a man?”
“What do you mean? I don’t normally dress like a man,” said Lisel.
There was a knock on the door. “Are you done? Can we come in?” asked Sirilrhis.
“Yeah,” said Lisel.
Sirilrhis and Hirúka walked in. “That’s going to take some time to get used to,” said Hirúka, his eyes wide.
“But am I recognizable?” Lisel asked.
Hirúka blinked. “Not at first glance. But I think someone who knew you well would probably recognize you.”
“He’s right,” said Sirilrhis. “If someone only knew you as a soldier, they likely wouldn’t immediately recognize you out of uniform. And I’m assuming you wore that uniform all the time.”
Lisel nodded. “When I was in the Imperial Military, I lived for it. That’s not unusual for a Division Commander. I usually spent my days off drawing up plans. No one saw me dressed as a civilian other than my relatives.”
Nüwa frowned. “Did you not have any friends?”
“I didn’t have time for that sort of thing,” said Lisel. “At least, not the way most people would use that word.”
“How many members of your family are there?” asked Sirilrhis.
“Four. My mother, her husband, and my younger siblings,” answered Lisel.
Sirilrhis frowned. “No cousins? Aunts, uncles, grandparents?”
“They don’t live in the Capital Region anymore,” said Lisel. “They’re across the border in South Kelutshélin.”
“So your former coworkers might not recognize you, you don’t have any friends to recognize you, and your family isn’t in the area,” said Sirilrhis. “That sound too good to be true.”
Lisel nodded. “Of course it does. I suspect something will go wrong.”
Hirúka raised his hand. Lisel gave him a quizzical look. “Yes?” she asked.
“How do we actually plan on getting in to the Imperial Palace?” Hirúka asked.
A moment of silence followed his words. Lisel frowned and pressed her fingers to her forehead. “Did I not…did we not go through this at some point? I was sure we did,” she said.
“No,” said Kiyaska.
“I don’t remember anything like that,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel looked bewildered. “What the fuck. Okay, we are going to go through that right now.” She sat down at the edge of the mattress. “First of all, we’ll be getting the positions of all the guards and soldiers soldiers the day before we enter the Palace. Fortunately, everything is structured strictly down to the minute, so we won’t have to worry about things changing unless there’s some sort of emergency. But getting inside the Palace will be a problem since we don’t look like soldiers. And I definitely can’t wear my uniform-”
“Excuse me,” said Nüwa. “You’re not thinking this through. I can use the same sort of magic that got us safely through the border checkpoint to get us into the Palace.”
“Right,” said Lisel. “That will make things a lot easier. I keep forgetting we have an Immortal with us. But I want you to answer one question, Nüwa. Why did you buy me new clothes instead of putting an anti-notice spell on me?”
Nüwa looked hurt. “Those spells don’t last forever.”
“You could just keep redoing them-” Lisel started.
“Redo them over and over and put you lowly mortals through that sort of physical pain and degradation?” said Nüwa. “What sort of benevolent Immortal would I be if I committed to that kind of wanton cruelty?”
Kiyaska had been following the conversation fairly well, but now looked almost entirely lost. “What does ‘physical degradation’ mean?” she asked.
“Would you like a translation, or do you not understand what those words mean in context?” Nüwa asked.
Kiyaska still looked confused. “Um, both,” she said.
Nüwa looked up at Sirilrhis. “Perhaps it would be better for you to explain this. You actually speak Zarya Heul.”
Sirilrhis nodded and turned to Kiyaska. “If you’re a mortal, it’s not a good idea to be the recipient of spells that can that can only be used by Immortals and dragons. You know how it hurts when Nüwa uses spoken magic? A small amount of exposure isn’t bad. But experiencing it over and over does damage, physically and mentally.”
Kiyaska was silent for a moment. “So it’s like getting stung by a bee. Most people can handle one bee just fine unless they have some kind of allergy. But a thousand bees can easily kill you,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have chosen that analogy, but you have the right idea,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel cleared her throat. “So now that I’m aware that constant use of those Immortal spells is bad for my health, should I be concerned that you’re going to put a spell on us to sneak us into the Imperial Palace?” she asked.
Nüwa shook her head. “Repeated exposure is the problem. If I did it every day like you suggested with the disguise spell, you would start experiencing problems. This particular spell will only last for an hour and it will be entirely cosmetic. It will hide your appearance, but if you walk into people or cause a mess, it will come undone.”
“Don’t walk into anyone, don’t talk to anyone, don’t knock over any books…is there anything else we shouldn’t do?” asked Hirúka.
“You probably should not kill anyone, either,” said Nüwa, “but I doubt that will be much of a problem for you.”
“It’s a problem for me,” said Sirilrhis. “I need to kill one man.”
Nüwa frowned. “Kill that man when he is alone and can’t yell for help. The spell won’t come undone if the only person who sees you ends up dying,” she said.
“Are you certain of that?” Sirilrhis asked.
“No one has ever killed anyone else when I’ve used this spell. I don’t know what will happen, ,” answered Nüwa. She turned to face the rest of the group. “If there are no more questions about my magic, I think we should question Lisel’s plan. She hasn’t explained much. Do you even have a map of the Imperial Palace?”
“Why would I need a map?” Lisel asked.
“It would be helpful for the rest of us to know where things are located?” said Nüwa. “Especially the library.”
Lisel reached into her pack and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, which she unfolded to show a hand-drawn map of the Imperial Palace. “Qursin drew this from memory. It’s not official, and it’s probably only sixty percent accurate, but it’s all we have right now,” she said.
Hirúka did not look pleased. “So we’re guessing on where things are going to be?”
Lisel shook her head. “No, we only need to know where the library is. Everything else is unnecessary.”
“That’s not entirely true,” said Sirilrhis. “I need find General Shonaru Mérrun. I’m assuming that he will be found somewhere in the military compound. Is that close to the Palace?”
Lisel nodded. “Yes, but we need to wait on Haruyéng for that information. He’ll be able to tell us Mérrun’s location for the day.”
Sirilrhis let out a breath and looked down toward his feet. “You’re putting a lot of trust into this Haruyéng person. I hope it pays off,” he muttered.
Lisel narrowed her eyes. “He’s not one to half-ass things. Well, not important things, at least.”
There was silence as everyone stared at Lisel. Then Nüwa sighed loudly. “I heard you talking about how incredibly under-funded and unprepared the Rebels are, especially with this mission, but I did not expect it to be this bad,” she said.
“Shut up,” Lisel grumbled.