Chapter 36 can be read below the cut.
Lisel’s group traveled through South Kelutshélin for forty-four days without experiencing any problems. They hadn’t even seen any soldiers. Lisel’s shoulder injury had healed somewhat, but she still wasn’t able to use her rifle. Her focus for the past week had been training Kiyaska on how to use it.
Kiyaska held the rifle up to her face. Her arms were still wobbly, and she couldn’t keep the sights trained on a single object. “Is it still too heavy for you?” Lisel asked.
“Yeah,” said Kiyaska. She made a big deal out of sighing and planted the butt of the rifle into the ground.
Lisel leaned back slightly. “You aren’t used to it. This sort of thing takes time. You’ll be strong enough someday,” she said.
“Can’t I just keep using my bow?” asked Kiyaska. “It’s lighter and it doesn’t make noise. And I already know how to use it.”
“It’s not good to rely solely on one type of weapon,” said Lisel. “You might be in a situation where there are only rifles around. Not knowing how to use one, in that case, would be pretty bad.”
Kiyaska frowned. “But rifles are rare. Only people in the Imperial military have them…and the Rebels…and some of my people who stole them from the Imperial occupiers…”
Lisel let out a snort. “Kiyaska, I know you’re just coming up with excuses. Just put up with it and learn a new skill, okay? It’s good for you.”
Kiyaska walked over to Lisel and held the rifle out to her. Lisel stared at it. “If you somehow haven’t noticed, I’m not able to use that right now,” said Lisel.
“I’m going to get breakfast,” said Kiyaska. “I don’t want to carry it around with me.”
“Kiyaska,” said Lisel in exasperation. “Put the strap over your shoulder and start getting used to it.”
Kiyaska huffed, but did what Lisel said. She adjusted the strap so it didn’t interfere with her bow. Then she walked over to the other part of the clearing where Sirilrhis was cooking something over the fire.
“What are you making?” Kiyaska asked.
Sirilrhis was sitting cross-legged on the ground with a teacup in his hand. “Tea,” he stated.
The pot on the fire wasn’t a teapot. The teapot sat on a flat stone next to him, and it was steaming. Kiyaska looked back to the pot on the fire. “That’s not tea,” she said.
Sirilrhis pointed to the teapot. “That’s tea.” He gestured toward the pot on the fire. “That’s breakfast. It’s water, whatever dried meat and mushrooms we had, and some herbs Nüwa gathered.”
Kiyaska sat down and adjusted the rifle so that it rested in her lap. “That sounds better than what we’ve been having for the past week,” she said.
Haruyéng eyed the rifle. “That’s Tsensung’s. Is she making you carry it around full-time now?” he asked.
Kiyaska huffed, trying to blow some air out of her face at the same time. “Yeah. I think she’s trying to turn me into her replacement,” she said.
“I can hear you,” Lisel called.
Kiyaska made a face at Lisel, who was sitting all by herself. “Whatever,” she said.
When breakfast was ready, Lisel joined them in their circle. She had the map open in her lap. “Looks like we’re just outside of a town called Sinnai,” she said.
Sirilrhis stiffened. Both Hirúka and Kiyaska glanced at him. “It looks like it’s another small town,” Lisel continued. “Despite that, I’d like to keep a low profile. We need to buy food. It would probably be best if-”
Sirilrhis held up his hand and Lisel stopped talking. “Two of my children live here,” he said. “At least, this is where they were living when I last heard from them.”
“And I assume you want to go talk to them?” said Lisel.
“I’d like to visit them if they’re here,” said Sirilrhis.
Lisel looked skeptical. “I’m not quite sure I like that idea-”
“Lisel,” Nüwa interrupted. “Let him see his children. I doubt he will have an opportunity like this one for years to come.”
Lisel frowned. “Why are they living in the Empire, anyway?”
Sirilrhis looked down at his soup. “They were living here before the country split in two. If you’re asking why they never come to the East and visit me, I don’t know,” he said.
Lisel could hear the bitterness in his voice. “Okay, okay. We can spend some time today visiting your family,” she said.
They split into two groups in Sinnai: Lisel with Hirúka, Sirilrhis, and Nüwa, and Kiyaska with Haruyéng, Hayésu, and Onnarré. Kiyaska had expected Lisel to say something about her wanting to join the other group, but she hadn’t.
Onnarré and Hayésu exchanged a glance before Hayésu looked over to Kiyaska. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you following us instead of Tsensung?” he asked.
Kiyaska had been staring off into space, and it took her a few moments to realize that Hayésu was talking to her. “Haven’t you heard Lisel nagging me about practicing shooting with her rifle? I don’t want to deal with that right now,” she said.
Onnarré eyed the spells on the rifle. “If you’re not using it, then can I have it?” he asked.
Kiyaska stared blankly at him. “Don’t say things like that!” said Haruyéng immediately. “You can’t just demand things that belong to other people! Especially not Tsensung.”
“Is this because you lost your rifle?” Hayésu asked.
Onnarré looked annoyed. “I’d like to have something,” he said. “I’m in – I was in the Firearms Division and now I don’t even have the weapon I’m supposed to use anymore.”
Haruyéng didn’t look convinced. “There are much better ways of getting replacement weapons than demanding them from other people! You know that. When we get to Resuni, you’ll get a new rifle. I’m sure the Rebels have plenty lying around.”
“Maybe not. Lisel is always saying that the Rebels were really under-equipped,” said Kiyaska. She frowned, then looked up at Haruyéng. “Wait, there’s no way you don’t know that! Haven’t you been keeping in contact with the Rebel Commander – Keyhu, or whatever her name is?”
“Kiyohu,” corrected Haruyéng. “And there’s a lot she hasn’t told me. You know, there were a couple of months where they weren’t sure if I’d remained a Rebel or gone back to being an Imperial Commander. Tsensung’s still getting caught up on what’s actually going on.”
Hayésu looked baffled. “So the Rebels are poorly funded, poorly equipped, and have a ton of communication problems? It’s incredible you’ve managed to last two entire years,” he said.
“I don’t think East Meitsung is going to exist for much longer unless the Heavenly Emperors are killed soon,” Onnarré said suddenly. “I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”
“So why the hell did you decide to come with us?” said Haruyéng, looking annoyed. “You could have gone back at any time.”
“No, Tsensung said we’d be killed. I believe her,” said Hayésu.
Haruyéng wasn’t impressed. “You know, when we get back to Resuni, I expect you to be fully dedicated to the Rebel cause. No deciding you want to be a civilian or anything. It’s not right for us to become burdens like that.”
“Yeah, yeah. We know,” Hayésu grumbled.
Hirúka suddenly ran into their line of sight and started waving. “Have you got everything you need? Lisel’s done shopping,” he said.
Haruyéng looked around. “Um, no. I actually haven’t done anything. I’ll catch up with the rest of you later. Where are we going to meet up?” he asked.
Hirúka looked sheepish. “I have no idea. Probably near the outskirts of town somewhere. It’s a small town. It won’t be hard to find, wherever it is,” he said.
“Is Sirilrhis going to meet the other dragons?” Kiyaska asked. “I want to see them, too.”
“Well, go on,” said Haruyéng. “Not that you even need my permission to do anything.”
“I was going to go there now,” said Hirúka.
“How come you’re not in your tiger form?” Kiyaska asked once they were out of earshot of Haruyéng.
Hirúka looked at her like she’d said something particularly ridiculous. “As much as I’d like to stay that way, I think it would make me more conspicuous. Like this, I look like a normal human.”
Kiyaska pointed to his head. “Oh, sure. A human with orange hair. That’s totally a normal thing for people to have,” she scoffed.
“It’s not that weird!” Hirúka protested. “And besides, I have a hat. It’s not even noticeable.”
Kiyaska was skeptical. “When was the last time you saw a human with orange hair? At least, one that didn’t have any tiger parents?”
Hirúka gave up. “Well…never.”
The two of them quickly found Lisel and Nüwa. “Where is Sirilrhis?” Kiyaska asked.
Lisel pointed to a nearby shop. Sirilrhis stood there, talking to the shopkeeper. “Getting directions,” she said. “He’s trying to figure out where his kids are.”
Sirilrhis spent a few more minutes talking to the shopkeeper before he rejoined the group. He looked surprised to see Kiyaska. “I thought you went with Haruyéng,” he said.
“I wanted to join back up with you,” answered Kiyaska.
“Have you finally figured out where they are?” Lisel asked.
Sirilrhis nodded. “They’re living on the outskirts.”
“Both of them?” Lisel questioned.
“Yes, both of them,” said Sirilrhis. “The only problem is that they might not be there right now. Let’s get there quickly.”
The four of them followed Sirilrhis to the outskirts of Sinnai. There was a cabin there that backed up to the woods with a small garden close by. A nearby lake stretched along the forest and the rest of the town.
“Looks like a nice place,” Hirúka commented.
“Is that the house they live in?” Lisel asked.
Sirilrhis frowned. “It’s the house one of them lives in,” he said. “The other one lives elsewhere, but apparently she spends most of her time around here.”
There was a disturbance on the surface of the lake, and birds started flying away. Moments later, a dragon stepped out of the water.
“Ah,” said Sirilrhis. “That’s her. Zhívasu.”