In a year of fantastic fantasy debuts, there’s a strong argument to be made that R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is the one to beat.
It’s set in a world inspired by 20th century Chinese history and culture, in which the Nikan Empire and the Federation of Mugen maintain a fragile peace in the wake of the Second Poppy War. An orphaned peasant girl named Rin is admitted to the prestigious Sinegard military school, making her an outsider at the home to the children of the Empire’s elite. As she battles bullies and forges her own path, Rin discovers she possesses unique gifts that mean she’s one of the few who sees another war on the horizon—and what a bloody affair it will be.
Next year, Rin’s story continues in The Dragon Republic, picking up from the epically grimdark finale of the first book. Today, we’re showing off the cover, designed by Dominic Forbes and illustrated by JUNGSHAN, and sharing a lengthy excerpt. Find both below the official summary.
Rin’s story continues in this acclaimed sequel to The Poppy War—an epic fantasy combining the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters.
The war is over.
The war has just begun.
Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.
Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.
But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.
Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country… and exact her vengeance.
Dawn saw the Petrel sail through swirling mist into the port city of Adlaga. Shattered by a storm of Federation soldiers during the Third Poppy War, port security still hadn’t recovered and was almost non-existent–especially for a supply ship flying Militia colors. The Petrel glided past Adlaga’s port officers with little trouble and made berth as close to the city walls as it could get.
Rin propped herself up on the prow, trying to conceal the twitching in her limbs and to ignore the throbbing pain in her temples. She wanted opium terribly and couldn’t have it. Today she needed her mind alert. Functioning. Sober.
The Petrel bumped against the dock. The Cike gathered on the upper deck, watching the gray skies with tense anticipation as the minutes trickled past.
Ramsa drummed his foot against the deck. “It’s been an hour.”
“Patience,” Chaghan said.
“Could be that Unegen’s run off,” Baji said.
“He hasn’t run off,” Rin said. “He said he needed until noon.”
“He’d also be the first to seize this chance to be rid of us,” Baji said.
He had a point. Unegen, already the most skittish by far among the Cike, had been complaining for days about their impending mission. Rin had sent him ahead over land to scope out their target in Adlaga. But the rendezvous window was quickly closing and Unegen hadn’t shown.
“Unegen wouldn’t dare,” Rin said, and winced when the effort of speaking sent little stabs through the base of her skull. “He knows I’d hunt him down and skin him alive.”
“Mm,” Ramsa said. “Fox fur. I’d like a new scarf.”
Rin turned her eyes back to the city. Adlaga made an odd corpse of a township, half alive and half destroyed. One side had emerged from the war intact; the other had been bombed so thoroughly that she could see building foundations poking up from blackened grass. The split appeared so even that half-houses existed on the line; one side blackened and exposed, the other somehow teetering and groaning against the ocean winds, yet still standing.
Rin found it hard to imagine that anyone still lived in the township. If the Federation had been as thorough here as they’d been at Golyn Niis, then all that should be left were corpses.
At last a raven emerged from the blackened ruins. It circled the ship twice, then dove straight towards the Petrel as if locked on a target. Qara lifted a padded arm into the air. The raven pulled out of its dive and wrapped its talons around her wrist.
Qara ran the back of her index finger over the bird’s head and down its spine. The raven ruffled its feathers as Qara brought its beak to her ear. Several seconds passed. Qara stood still with her eyes shut, listening intently to something none of the rest of them could hear.
“Unegen’s pinned Yuanfu,” Qara said. “City hall, two hours.”
“Guess you’re not getting that scarf,” Rin told Ramsa.
Chaghan yanked a sack out from under the deck and emptied its contents onto the floor. “Everyone get dressed.”
Ramsa had come up with the idea to disguise themselves in stolen Militia uniforms. Uniforms were the one thing Moag hadn’t been able to sell them, but they weren’t hard to find. Rotting corpses lay in messy piles by the roadside in every abandoned coastal town, and it only took two trips to scavenge enough clothes that weren’t burnt or covered in blood.
Rin had to roll up the arms and legs of her uniform. Corpses her stature were difficult to come by. She suppressed the urge to vomit as she laced on her boots. She’d pulled the shirt off a body wedged inside a half-burnt funeral pyre, and three washes still couldn’t conceal the smell of burnt flesh under salty ocean water.
Ramsa, draped absurdly in a uniform three times his size, gave her a salute. “How do I look?”
She bent down to tie her bootlaces. “Why are you wearing that?”
“You’re not coming.”
“But I want to–”
“You are not coming,” she repeated. Ramsa was a munitions genius but he was also short, scrawny, and utterly worthless in a melee. She wasn’t losing her only fire powder engineer because he didn’t know how to wield a sword. “Don’t make me tie you to the mast.”
“Come on,” Ramsa whined. “We’ve been on this ship for weeks, and I’m so fucking seasick just walking around makes me want to vomit–”
“Tough.” Rin yanked a belt through the loops around her waist.
Ramsa pulled a handful of rockets from his pocket. “Will you set these off, then?”
Rin gave him a stern look. “I don’t think you understand that we’re not trying to blow Adlaga up.”
“Oh, no, you just want to topple the local government, that’s so much better.”
“With minimum civilian casualties, which means we don’t need you.” Rin reached out and tapped at the lone barrel leaning against the mast. “Aratsha, will you watch him? Make sure he doesn’t get off the ship.”
A blurry face, grotesquely transparent, emerged from the water. Aratsha spent most of his time in the water, spiriting the Cike’s ships along to wherever they needed to go, and when he wasn’t calling down his god he preferred to rest in his barrel. Rin had never seen his original human form. She wasn’t sure he had one anymore.
Bubbles floated from Aratsha’s mouth as he spoke. “If I must.”
“Good luck,” Ramsa muttered. “As if I couldn’t outrun a fucking barrel.”
Aratsha tilted his head at him. “Please be reminded that I could drown you in seconds.”
Before Ramsa could respond and start a quarrel, Chaghan said, “Everyone take your pick.” Steel clattered as he dumped out a chest of Militia weapons onto the deck. Baji, complaining loudly, traded his conspicuous nine-pointed rake for a standard infantry sword. Suni scooped up an Imperial halberd, but Rin knew the weapon was purely for show. Suni’s specialty was bashing heads in with his shield-sized hands. He didn’t need anything else.
Rin fastened a curved pirate scimitar to her waist. It wasn’t Militia standard, but Militia swords were too heavy for her to wield. Moag’s blacksmiths had fashioned her something lighter. She wasn’t yet used to the grip, but she also doubted the day would end in a sword fight.
If things got so bad that she needed to get involved, then it would end in fire.
That wasn’t the plan, though. “Let’s reiterate.” Chaghan’s pale eyes roved over the assembled Cike. “This is surgical. We have a single target. This is assassination, not a battle. You will harm no civilians.”
He looked pointedly at Rin.
She crossed her arms. “I know.”
“Not even by accident.”
“Come off it,” Baji said. “Since when did you get so high and mighty about casualties?”
“We’ve done enough harm to your people,” said Chaghan.
“You did enough harm,” Baji said. “I didn’t break those dams.”
Qara flinched at that, but Chaghan acted as if he hadn’t heard a word. “We’re finished hurting civilians. Am I understood?”
Rin jerked out a shrug. Chaghan liked to play commander, and she was rarely in a state to care. Chaghan could boss them around all he liked. All she cared was that they got this job done.
Three months. Twenty-nine targets, all killed without error. One more head in a sack, and then they’d be sailing north to assassinate their very last mark–the Empress Su Daji.
Rin felt a flush creep up her neck at the thought. Her palms grew dangerously hot.
Not now. Not yet. She took a deep breath. Then another one, more desperate, when the heat only extended through her torso.
Baji clamped a hand on her shoulder. “You alright?”
She exhaled slowly. Made herself count backwards from ten, and then up to forty-nine by odd numbers, and then back down by prime numbers. Altan had taught her that trick and it mostly worked, at least when she took care not to think about Altan when she did it. The fever flush receded. “I’m fine.”
“And you’re sober?” Baji asked.
“Yes,” she said stiffly.
Baji didn’t take his hand off her shoulder. “You’re sure? Because–”
“I’ve got this,” she snapped. “Let’s go gut this bastard.”
Three months ago, after the Cike had first sailed out from the Isle of Speer, they’d faced a bit of a dilemma.
Namely, they had nowhere to go.
They knew they couldn’t return to the mainland. Ramsa had pointed out, quite astutely, that if the Empress had been willing to sell the Cike out to Federation scientists then she wouldn’t be happy to see them alive and free. A quick, furtive supplies trip to a tiny coastal city in Snake Province confirmed their suspicions. Each of their faces were plastered on the village post boards. They’d been named as war criminals. Bounties were out for their arrest–five hundred Imperial silvers dead, six hundred alive.
They’d stolen as many crates of provisions as they could and hurried out of Snake Province before anyone saw them.
Back over the Omonod Bay, they’d debated their options. The only thing they could all agree on was that they needed to kill the Empress Su Daji–the Vipress, the last of the Trifecta, and the traitor who had sold her nation to the Federation.
But they were eight people against the most powerful woman in the Empire and the combined forces of the Imperial Militia. They’d had few supplies, only the weapons they carried on their backs, and a stolen skimmer so banged up that they spent half their time bailing water out of the lower decks.
So they’d sailed down south, past Snake Province into Rooster territory, tracing the coastline until they reached the port city Ankhiluun. There they had come into the employ of the Pirate Queen Moag.
Rin had never met anyone who she respected as much as Moag–the Stone Bitch, the Lying Widow, and the ruthless ruler of Ankhiluun. She was a consort turned pirate who went from Lady to Queen when she murdered her husband, and she’d been running Ankhiluun as an illegal enclave of foreign trade for years. She’d skirmished with the Trifecta during the Poppy Wars, and she’d been fending off the Empress’s scouts ever since.
She was more than happy to help the Cike rid her of Daji for good.
In return, she demanded thirty heads. The Cike had returned twenty-nine. Most had been low-level smugglers, captains, and mercenaries. Moag’s primary income stream came from contraband opium imports, and she liked to keep her eye out for opium dealers who didn’t play by her rules—or at least line her pockets.
The thirtieth mark would be harder. Today Rin and the Cike intended to topple Adlaga’s local government.
Moag had been trying to break into the Adlaga market for years. The little coastal city didn’t offer much, but its civilians, many with lingering addictions to opiates since the days of Federation occupation, would gladly spend their life savings on Ankhiluuni imports. Adlaga had held out against Moag’s aggressive opium trade for the past two decades only because of a particularly vigilant city magistrate, Yang Yuanfu, and his administration.
Moag wanted Yang Yuanfu dead. The Cike specialized in assassination. It was a match destined to be.
Three months. Twenty-nine heads. Just one more job and they’d have silver, ships, and enough soldiers to distract the Imperial Guard long enough for Rin to march up to Daji and wrap flaming fingers around her throat.
If port security was lax, wall defense was nonexistent. The Cike passed through Adlaga’s walls with no interference–which wasn’t hard to do, considering the Federation had blown great holes all across the boundary and none of them were guarded.
Unegen met them behind the gates.
“We picked a good day for murder,” he said as he guided them into the alleyway. “Yuanfu’s due in the city square at noon for a war commemoration ceremony. He’ll be out in broad daylight, and we can pick him off from the alleys without showing our faces.”
Unlike Aratsha, Unegen preferred his human form when he wasn’t calling down the shape-shifting powers of the Fox Spirit. But Rin had always sensed something distinctly vulpine in the way he carried himself. Unegen was both crafty and easily startled; his narrow eyes were always darting constantly from side to side, tracking all of his possible escape routes.
It’s part of what made him an effective scout no matter what body he displayed.
“So we’ve got what, two hours?” Rin asked.
“A little over. There’s a warehouse a few blocks down from here that’s fairly empty,” he said. “We can hunker down to wait in there. Then, ah, we split pretty easily if things go south.”
Rin turned towards the Cike, considering.
“We’ll take the corners of the square when Yuanfu shows up,” she decided. “Suni in the southwest. Baji northwest, and I’ll take the northeast.”
“Diversions?” Baji asked.
“No.” Normally diversions were a fantastic idea, and Rin loved assigning Suni to wreak as much havoc as possible while she or Baji darted in to slit their target’s throat, but during a public ceremony the risk to civilians was too great. “We’ll let Qara take the first shot. The rest of us clear a path back to the ship if they put up resistance.”
“Are we still trying to pretend we’re normal mercenaries?” Suni asked.
“Might as well,” Rin said. They’d done a decent job so far of concealing the extent of their abilities, or at least quashing anyone who would spread rumors. Daji didn’t know the Cike was coming for her. The longer she believed them dead, the better. “We’re dealing with a better opponent than usual, though, so do what you need to. Let’s get this job done.”
She took a breath and ran the plan once more through her mind, considering.
This would work. This was going to be fine.
Strategizing with the Cike was like playing a chess game in which she had several massively over-powered, unpredictable, and bizarre pieces. Aratsha commanded the waters. Suni and Baji were berserkers, capable of leveling entire squadrons without breaking a sweat. Unegen could transform into a fox. Qara not only communed with birds, she could shoot out a peacock’s eye from a hundred meters away. And Chaghan…she wasn’t quite sure what Chaghan did, other than irritate her at every possible turn, but he seemed capable of making people lose their minds.
All of them combined against a single township official and his guards seemed like overkill.
But Yang Yuanfu was used to assassination attempts. You had to be, if you were one of the few uncorrupt officials left in the Empire. He shielded himself with a squadron of the most battle-hardy men in the province wherever he went.
Rin knew, based on Moag’s reports, that Yang Yuanfu had survived at least thirteen assassination attempts over the past fifteen years. His guards were well accustomed to treachery. To get past them, you’d need fighters of unnatural ability. You needed overkill.
You need us, she thought.
Once inside the warehouse, the Cike had nothing to do but wait. Unegen kept watch by the slats in the wall, twitching continuously. Chaghan and Qara sat with their backs against the wall, silent. Suni and Baji stood slouched, arms crossed casually as if simply waiting for their dinners.
Rin sat on the floor, focusing on her breaths and trying to ignore the twinges of pain in her temples.
She counted thirty hours since she’d ingested any opium. That was longer than she’d gone for weeks. She twisted her hands together as she walked, trying to force the twitching might go away.
It didn’t help. It didn’t stop the headache, either.
At first she’d thought she only needed the opium for the grief. She thought she would smoke it for the relief, until the memory of Speer and Altan dulled to a faint memory, until she could function without the suffocating guilt of what she’d done.
She thought guilt must be the word for it. The irrational feeling, not the moral concept. Because she’d told herself she wasn’t sorry, that they’d deserved what they got and that she was never looking back. Except the memory loomed like a gaping chasm in her mind where she’d tossed in every human feeling that threatened her.
But the abyss kept calling for her to look in. To fall inside.
And the Phoenix didn’t want to let her forget. The Phoenix wanted her to gloat about it. The Phoenix lived on rage, and rage was intricately tied to the past. So the Phoenix needed to claw apart the open wounds in her mind and set fire to them, day after day, because that gave her memories and those memories fueled the rage.
Without opium the visions flashed constantly through Rin’s mind’s eye, often more vivid than her surrounding reality.
Sometimes they were of Altan. More times they weren’t. Because the Phoenix was conduit to generations of memories. Thousands upon thousands of Speerlies had prayed to the god in their grief and desperation. And the god had collected their suffering, stored it, and had turned it into flames.
The memories could also be deceptively calm. Sometimes Rin saw brown-skinned children running up and down a pristine white beach. She saw flames burning higher on shore–not funeral pyres, not flames of destruction, but campfires. Bonfires. Hearth fires, warm and sustaining.
And sometimes she saw the Speerlies, enough of them to fill a thriving village. She was always amazed by how many of them there were, an entire race of people that sometimes she feared she’d only dreamt up. If the Phoenix lingered, then Rin could even catch fragments of conversations in a language she almost understood, could see glimpses of faces that she almost recognized.
They weren’t the ferocious beasts of Nikara lore. They weren’t the mindless warriors the Red Emperor had needed them to be and every subsequent regime had forced them to be. They loved and laughed and cried around their fires. They were people.
But every time, before Rin could sink into the memory of a heritage she didn’t have, she saw on the fading horizon boats sailing in from the Federation naval base on the mainland.
What happened next was a haze of colors, accumulated perspectives that shifted too fast for Rin to follow. Shouts, screams, movement. Rows and rows of Speerlies lined up on the beach, weapons in hand.
But it was never enough. To the Federation, they must have been savages fighting gods with sticks, and the booms of cannon fire lit up the village as quick as if someone had held a light to kindling.
Gas pellets launched from the tower ships with terribly innocent popping noises. Where they hit the ground they expelled huge, thick clouds of acrid, yellow smoke.
Women fell. Children twitched. The warrior ranks broke. The gas did not kill immediately; its inventors were not that kind.
Then the butchering began. The Federation fired continuously and indiscriminately. Mugenese crossbows could shoot three bolts at a time, unleashing a constant unceasing barrage of metal that ripped open necks, skulls, limbs, hearts.
Spilled blood traced marble patterns into white sand. Bodies lay still where they fell. At dawn, the Federation generals marched to the shore, boots treading indifferently over crushed bodies, advancing forward to slam their flag into the bloodstained sand…
“We’ve got a problem,” Baji said.
Rin snapped back to attention. “What?”
“Take a look.”
She heard the sudden sound of jangling bells–a happy sound, utterly out of place in this ruined city. She pressed her face to a gap in the warehouse slats. A cloth dragon bobbed up and down through the crowd, held up on tent-poles by dancers below. Dancers waving streamers and ribbons followed behind, accompanied by musicians and government officials lifted on bright red sedan chairs. Behind them was the crowd.
“You said it was a small ceremony,” Rin said. “Not a fucking parade. ”
“It was quiet just an hour ago,” Unegen insisted.
“And now the whole township’s clustering in that square.” Baji squinted through the slats. “Are we still going by that no civilian casualties rule?”
“Yes,” Chaghan said before Rin could answer.
“You’re no fun,” Baji said.
“Crowds make targeted assassinations easier,” Chaghan said. “It’s a better opportunity to get in close. Make your hit without being spotted, then filter out before his guards have a time to react.”
Rin opened her mouth to say that’s still a lot of witnesses, but the withdrawal cramps hit her first. A wave of pain wracked her muscles; started in her gut and flared out, so sudden that for a moment the world blacked out and all she could do was clutch her chest, gasping.
“Are you alright?” Baji asked.
A wave of bile rose up in her throat before she could respond. She heaved. A second swell of nausea wracked her gut. Then a third.
Baji put a hand on her shoulder. “Rin?”
“I’m fine,” she insisted for what seemed like the thousandth time.
She wasn’t fine, however. Her head was throbbing again, and this time the pain was accompanied by a nausea that seized her ribcage and didn’t let go until she was doubled over on her knees, whimpering.
Vomit splattered the dirt.
“Change of plans,” Chaghan said. “Rin, get back to the ship.”
She wiped her mouth. “No.”
“I’m telling you you’re not in any state to be useful.”
“And I’m your commander,” she said. “So shut up and do as I say.”
Chaghan’s eyes narrowed. The warehouse fell silent.
Rin had been wrestling Chaghan for control over the Cike for months. He questioned her decisions at every turn; he took every chance he could to make it very clear that he thought Altan had made a stupid decision naming her commander.
And Rin knew, in all fairness, he was right.
She was dreadful at leadership. Most of her attack plans over the past three months had boiled down to “everyone attack at once and see if we come out alright on the other side.”
But command ability aside, she had to be here. Had to see Adlaga through. Since they’d left Speer her withdrawals had only been getting worse and worse. She’d been mostly functional during their first few missions for Moag. Then the endless killings, the screams, and the flashbacks to the battlefield kept setting her anger off again and again until she was spending more hours of the day high than she did sober, and even when she was sober she felt like she was still teetering on the brink of madness because the fucking Phoenix never shut up.
She needed to pull herself back from the precipice. If she couldn’t do this basic, simple task; couldn’t kill some township official who wasn’t even a shaman, then she would hardly be able to stand up to the Empress.
And she couldn’t lose her chance at revenge. Revenge was the only thing she had.
“Don’t you jeopardize this,” Chaghan said.
“Don’t you patronize me,” she retorted.
Chaghan sighed and turned to Unegen. “Can you watch her? I’ll give you laudanum.”
“I thought I was supposed to return to the ship,” Unegen said.
“Change of plans.”
“Fine.” Unegen twitched out a shrug. “If I have to.”
“Come on,” Rin said. “I don’t need a wet nurse.”
“You’ll wait in the corner of the crowd,” Chaghan ordered, ignoring her. “You won’t leave Unegen’s side. You’ll both act as reinforcements, and barring that, you will be the last resort.”
She scowled. “Chaghan–”
“The last resort,” he repeated. “You’ve killed enough innocents.”
The hour came. The Cike dissipated, darting out of the warehouse to join the moving crowd one by one.
Rin and Unegen blended into Adlaga’s crowds easily enough. The main streets were packed with civilians, all caught up in their own miseries, and so many noises and sights came from all directions that Rin couldn’t help but experience a constant state of mild panic, unsure of where to look.
A wildly discordant mash of gongs and war drums drowned out the lute music from the front of the parade. Merchants hawked their wares every time they turned a corner, screaming prices with the sort of urgency that she associated with evacuation warnings. Celebratory red confetti littered the streets, tossed out in handfuls by children and entertainers; a snowfall of red paper flecks that covered every surface.
“How do they have the funds for this?” Rin muttered. “The Federation left them starving.”
“Aid from Sinegard,” Unegen guessed. “End of war celebration funds. Keeps them happy, keeps them loyal.”
Rin saw food everywhere she looked. Huge cubes of watermelons on sticks. Red bean buns. Stalls selling soup dumplings dripping with oil and lotus seed tarts lined the streets. Merchants flipped egg cakes with deft movements, and the crackle of oil under any other circumstances would make her hungry, but now the pungent smells only made her stomach turn.
It seemed both unfair and impossible that there could be such an abundance of food. Just days ago they had sailed past people who were drowning their babies in river mud because that was a quicker and more merciful death than letting them slowly starve.
If all this came from Sinegard, then that meant the Imperial Bureaucracy had possessed food stores like this the entire time. Why had they withheld it during the war?
If the people of Adlaga were asking that same question, they didn’t show it. Everyone looked so happy. Faces relaxed in simple relief because the war was over, the Empire was victorious, and they were safe.
And that made Rin furious.
She’d always had trouble with anger, she knew that. At Sinegard she’d constantly acted in furious, impulsive bursts and dealt with the consequences later. But now the anger was constant, an unspeakable fury imposed upon her that she could neither contain nor control.
But she also didn’t want to make it stop. The anger was a shield. The anger helped her to keep from remembering what she’d done. Because as long as she was angry, then it was okay–she’d acted within reason. She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.
She tried to distract herself by scanning the crowd for Yang Yuanfu and his guards. Tried to focus on the task at hand.
Her god wouldn’t let her.
Kill them, encouraged the Phoenix. They don’t deserve their happiness. They didn’t fight.
She had a sudden vision of the marketplace on fire. She shook her head frantically, trying to tune the Phoenix’s voice out. “No, stop…”
Make them burn.
Heat flared up in her palms. Her gut twisted. No–not here, not now. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Turn them to ash.
Her heartbeat began to quicken; her vision narrowed to a pinprick and expanded again. She felt feverish. The crowd suddenly seemed full of enemies. In one instant everyone was a blue-uniformed Federation soldier, bearing weapons; and in another they were civilians once again. She took a deep, choking breath, trying to force air in her lungs, eyes squeezed shut while she willed the red haze to go away once more.
This time it wouldn’t.
The laughter, the music, the smiling faces standing around her all made her want to scream.
How dare they live when Altan was dead? It seemed horrifically unfair that life could keep on going and these people could be celebrating a war that they hadn’t won for themselves when they hadn’t suffered for it…
The heat in her hands intensified.
Unegen seized her by the shoulder. “I thought you had your shit under control.”
She jumped and spun around. “I do!” she hissed. Too loud. The people around her backed away from her.
Unegen pulled her towards the edge of the crowd, into the safety of the shadows under Adlaga’s ruins. “You’re drawing attention.”
“I’m fine, Unegen, just let go–”
He didn’t. “You need to calm down.”
“No. I mean right now.” He nodded over her shoulder. “She’s here.”
And there sat the Empress, borne like a bride on a palanquin of red silk.