Chapter 37 can be read below the cut.
Sirilrhis started running toward the lake. “Zhívasu!” he called.
Lisel reached out toward him with her right hand and winced in pain. “Don’t just run off on your own!” she yelled.
Nüwa patted Lisel’s uninjured shoulder. “Lisel, it’s fine. We can see him. He is not going to run out of our sight,” she said.
Lisel didn’t look convinced. “That’s what I thought before, and then he or Kiyaska or Hirúka ran off and it took a while to find them. So let’s follow him closely this time.”
She took off running after Sirilrhis. Kiyaska immediately ran after her, and Hirúka stared after the two of them before looking quizzically at Nüwa. “As I am not in any sort of hurry, I will walk,” she said.
Sirilrhis stopped a couple of feet from the lake. Zhívasu stood on the lake shore, sopping wet and frowning as she wrung out her hair. “Wasn’t there either,” was all Sirilrhis heard her mutter to herself.
“Zhívasu!” he said again.
Zhívasu froze and looked up, wide-eyed and confused. “Baba? What are you doing here?” she asked.
Sirilrhis stepped forward. “Traveling. It’s a long story. Where’s Vidhas?” he asked.
Zhívasu looked annoyed. She pointed to the cabin near the woods, keeping the other hand on her hair. “He should be in there. But he’s not the only one who lives there, so don’t be surprised if someone else opens the door,” she said.
“Good to know,” said Sirilrhis. Without waiting for an answer, he ran off toward the cabin.
“Hey, wait!” Zhívasu called. “Baba, why are you here?” She stared at Sirilrhis and the cabin for a moment, then dried herself quickly with her magic and ran after him.
Lisel and Kiyaska were now sprinting after Sirilrhis as quickly as they can. “Hey, you heard her!” Lisel yelled. “Wait! Dragon, wait! Sirilrhis!”
Sirilrhis didn’t stop running until he was at the cabin’s front door. He wasn’t out of breath or the slightest bit tired. He raised his hand to knock on the door, and it opened before his fingers touched the wood.
A young man he didn’t recognize stared at him. After a moment, the man’s eyes widened. “Um, are you related to Vidhas?” he asked. “You look similar.”
“Yes, I’m his father,” said Sirilrhis. “Is he here right now?”
“Uh, yeah,” said the young man. He looked past Sirilrhis and saw the other people running toward the cabin. Sirilrhis noticed his shoulders tense. “You’ll need to tell me why there are people running after you before I let you in.”
Sirilrhis glanced back. “They’re with me. They aren’t a threat,” he said.
“If you say so,” said the young man, looking incredibly skeptical. He turned around. “Vidhas! There’s…uh, your dad is here for some reason.”
Lisel walked up to Sirilrhis, panting and pressing a hand to her shoulder. “Could you really not have just walked like a normal person?” she said irritably.
Inside the cabin, Vidhas slowly and cautiously walked up behind the young man. He set his hand on the human’s shoulder and looked at Sirilrhis warily. “Dad, why are you here?” he asked.
“Why am I here? I want to talk to you,” said Sirilrhis.
Vidhas frowned. “But what are you doing here in the Empire? Did you move here?” He looked past
Sirilrhis and raised his eyebrows upon seeing Lisel. “Oh, that’s Lisel Tsensung, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” said Sirilrhis. “And I-”
Vidhas’s eyes widened and he gasped. “You were that dragon in the Capital who killed all those soldiers,” he said.
Sirilrhis looked startled. “How did you know about that already? When did the news reach this small town?” he asked.
Nüwa walked up to stand next to Sirilrhis and poked him in the upper arm. “Many people own linking slates, Sirilrhis. I’m certain that the news got here very quickly. But why are we standing in the doorway? I’m sure there is room inside for all of us – isn’t there, young man?”
The man looked uncomfortable. “Um, we don’t have enough chairs, but I can get some cushions-”
Nüwa clasped her hands together. “That sounds wonderful. Now, I do not want to impose, but if you have any tea, it would be nice to have while we discuss things. But first – what is your name?” she asked.
“Kironaru Ang,” said the man.
A couple of minutes later, everyone was in the dining area. Hirúka, in his tiger form, lay on the ground against the wall. Kiyaska leaned against him with a cup of tea in her hands. Nüwa, Lisel, and Zhívasu were seated at the table. Sirilrhis, Vidhas, and Kironaru sat on cushions on the ground. Sirilrhis was already sipping at his tea.
Vidhas stared down at his hands in his lap before he looked up at Sirilrhis. “So what’s going on?” he asked.
Sirilrhis opened his mouth, shut it, and looked toward Lisel. “I think it’s better to let Lisel explain,” he said.
Lisel looked down at Vidhas, then over to Zhívasu. “I’d like to know what you’ve heard from the Imperial news sources,” she said. “I doubt it’s too accurate.”
Zhívasu tapped her fingertips against the tabletop. “A group of Rebels led by Lisel Tsensung attacked the Capital and killed a bunch of people in the military,” she said.
Lisel raised an eyebrow. “Was that their wording? ‘A bunch of people’?”
“It was a little different, but that was the basic wording,” said Zhívasu. “Why is that important?”
“Did they say who was killed?” Lisel asked.
Zhívasu shook her head. “No.”
“Aha! I think we did more damage to the Empire than they’d like to admit,” said Lisel, grinning widely. “The Heavenly Commander and a lot of the top brass are dead. I think the Heavenly Emperors are keeping that news to themselves. There are three Division Commanders and a ton of soldiers left, but no one to organize anything or make any real decisions.”
Sirilrhis looked skeptical. “Are you sure of that? You don’t have any more spies in the military to confirm it,” he said.
“From the way you described them to me, it wasn’t hard to figure out that you killed quite a few important people,” said Lisel.
“Even if they weren’t super important, they weren’t just normal goon soldiers,” Kiyaska piped up. “So they’ll be hard to replace, right?”
Lisel nodded. “I’ll be surprised if any of the generals have been replaced already. The process is highly selective, and you have to come from the right sort of family, and all your relatives have to pass a background test, and-”
Nüwa held up a hand to silence Lisel. “I do not think we need to know the intricacies of how the Imperial military selects people,” she said.
Lisel let out a breath. “There definitely won’t be another Heavenly Commander for a while,” she said. “Especially not one that’s an Immortal.”
Sirilrhis rubbed his chin. “Can you explain the significance of that? What do you actually need a Heavenly Commander for?” he asked.
“The Heavenly Commander gets their orders directly from the Heavenly Emperors and gives them to the Division Commanders. They are responsible for managing the military. Any major projects, such as the invasion of Zarya Wa, are drafted by the Heavenly Commander. So without a Division Commander, we won’t be seeing an invasion of East Meitsung. It won’t be feasible. We have some time to think about our next actions,” said Lisel.
Kironaru looked from Sirilrhis to Lisel. “So are you all Rebels?” he asked.
Kiyaska raised her hand. “I’m not! I’m from Zarya Wa!” she proclaimed loudly.
“I’m not a Rebel either,” said Hirúka, much more quietly than Kiyaska. “I’m just here in place of my uncle. He’s a Rebel.”
Nüwa set down her teacup. “So, Kironaru Ang, who are you? You have a strange aura about you,” she said.
Sirilrhis looked at Kironaru and narrowed his eyes. “Now that you mention it, that is pretty obvious,” he said.
Kironaru looked nervous. “I’m a part-time priest. I deal with ghosts,” he answered.
Nüwa nodded in understanding. Sirilrhis inhaled sharply. “Ah. One of your parents was a spirit,” he said.
“Yes. I didn’t know it was possible for anyone to know that just by looking at me,” said Kironaru.
Vidhas side-eyed him. “Didn’t I tell you that when I first met you?” he said.
“I don’t even remember,” Kironaru muttered.
Sirilrhis took a sip of his tea. “So what have you been doing here? Vidhas? Zhívasu? Do you have jobs, or are you just hunting?” he asked.
“I’m working at a shop in Sinnai,” said Vidhas. “Mostly they just need me to lift heavy things.”
“I hunt,” said Zhívasu. “If I get more meat than I need, I sell it at the market.”
Sirilrhis set down his teacup. “It’s good to know that you two are doing well for yourselves. I have to admit that I was worried if you’d be able to handle things at such a young age,” he said.
Vidhas looked insulted. “We’ve been fine, dad,” he said.
Sirilrhis smirked. “I know that now. But you should come and visit me sometime in the future. As soon as it’s safe to cross the border, that is,” he said.
Zhívasu took a long drink of her tea. “I suppose that’s going to happen soon, judging by what Lisel and the Rebels are planning,” she said.
Lisel looked surprised. “What do you mean? I don’t think the Empire’s going to fall soon. I just don’t think they’ll be able to give us a hard time for a while. I want to be realistic,” she said.
Zhívasu brightened up. “This sounds pretty interesting! I’m not doing very much with my life right now. Maybe I’ll see if there are any local Rebels I can join,” she said.
“Huh?” said Lisel. She glanced at Sirilrhis. “I thought dragons weren’t interested in this sort of thing.”
Vidhas looked at Sirilrhis and sighed. “Dad told you that, right?” he said.
Lisel nodded. “Yeah,” she said.
“He’s too old to care about anything,” said Vidhas.
“I know!” said Lisel. “I thought that by now he’d be convinced to join our cause, but he isn’t.”
Sirilrhis frowned. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not right in front of you,” he said. He looked back at Vidhas. “You’ll see what I mean when you hit a hundred years old. Governments rise and fall. Rebellions happen all the time. Sometimes they succeed. Most of the time, they’re violently repressed. Even if you do get involved, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to affect anything.”
Lisel rolled her eyes. “Pathetic. I don’t know how you dragons ever manage to accomplish anything with that sort of attitude.”
Nüwa set her hand on Lisel’s arm. “This isn’t something we need to get into right now. It can wait until we’re back in Resuni,” she said.
Kironaru looked from Sirilrhis to Lisel to Nüwa warily. “So, I’m not trying to be rude, but…you’re not planning on staying the night, are you?” he asked.
“No, we’re going to leave the town in an hour or so,” said Lisel. “There are other people with us. They’re probably waiting right now.”
“That is true,” said Nüwa. “Haruyéng and the others must be wondering where we are.”
“Are you sure you actually trust them?” Kiyaska asked. “They could be spies.”
Lisel looked annoyed. “I don’t think that’s the case, but we should meet up with them soon. I don’t like the idea of leaving Haruyéng alone for too long.”
Kiyaska frowned. “Why not, if you don’t think he’s a spy?” she asked.
Lisel sighed, her shoulders slumping. “Because he…he’s actually just as incompetent as I remember. I don’t want to get back into town and find out he’s offended the wrong person.” She stood up and looked at Zhívasu. “Thank you for the tea, and thank you for having us. Zhívasu, if you actually want to join the Rebellion, I’m not even sure what you should do. I think it would be best if you became a spy and reported back to us. Maybe I’ll send someone out here with a linking slate for you.”
Zhívasu siled. “That sounds great!”
Lisel grabbed her teacup and drained it. Then she looked at Vidhas and Kironaru on the ground. “And thank you for putting up with our Rebel-related conversations, even though they probably made no sense.
Kironaru shrugged. “I have to admit that I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. In fact, I’m still confused,” he said.
Lisel shook her head. “It’s fine. Vidhas, don’t let your sister pressure you into assisting the Rebels if your heart isn’t in it. Though…if Zhívasu gets found out, the rest of you will be in trouble, too.”
“That’s good to know, I guess,” said Kironaru.
The walk back to Sinnai, for some reason, took much less time than the walk to Kironaru and Vidhas’s house. Haruyéng and the others were waiting at the edge of town.”
“That was quite a while,” Haruyéng commented.
“Indeed it did, though I think I persuaded one of them to become a Rebel. We may be receiving some additional help in the future,” said Lisel. “Let’s go.”