Chapter no 10

The Poppy War

The Ryohai Emperor had been patrolling Nikan’s eastern border in the Nariin Sea for twelve nights. The Ryohai was a lightly built ship, a sleek Federation model designed to navigate quickly in rough waters. She had few soldiers, as her size was not large enough to carry a battalion. She had not been reconnaissance, nor had there been messenger birds circling the flagless mast, nor had there been spies abandoning ship under the cover of ocean fog.

All the Ryohai did was flutter impatiently around the coast, sailing back and forth over the calm waters like an anxious housewife. Waiting for something, someone.

The crew spent their days in silence. The Ryohai carried a skeleton crew: the captain, a few sailors, and a small contingent of the Federation Armed Forces. She had on board a renowned guest, General Gin Seiryu, Grand Marshal of the Armed Forces and the esteemed advisor of the Ryohai Emperor himself. And she brought a visitor, a nikara that

It had lurked in the shadows of the hold ever since the Ryohai had crossed into the waters of the Nariin Sea.


Tyr, nikara, and commander of the Cike, was very good at making himself invisible. In that state, he didn’t need to eat or sleep. Dissolved in shadows, shrouded in darkness, he barely needed to breathe.

He had found the days to be irritating only out of boredom, because he had already kept vigils longer than this. She had waited an entire week in the locker room of the Dragon Warlord’s room. There was an entire month sheltered under the floorboards of the leaders of the Republic of Hesperia.

Now he waited for the men aboard the Ryohai to reveal their purpose.

Tyr had been surprised when he had received orders from Sinegard to infiltrate a Federation ship. For years the Cike had operated alone within the Empire, killing dissidents the Empress found particularly troublesome. The Empress had not sent the Cike abroad, not since the disastrous assassination attempt on the young Ryohai Emperor, which had resulted in the death of two operatives and another so mad that he had to be dragged, screaming, to a pillar in the prison of stone.

But Tyr’s duty was not to question, but to obey. He crouched within the shadow, unnoticed by anyone. And he waited.

It was a calm night with no wind. It was a night full of secrets.

It had been on a night like this, many decades ago, with the moon full and shining in the sky, that Tyr’s master had taken him deep into the underground tunnels, where no light had ever touched the stone. His teacher had guided him turn after turn, circling in the darkness so that he couldn’t make a map in his head of that underground labyrinth.

When they reached the heart of the spider’s web, Tyr’s master abandoned him inside. Find the exit , he ordered Tyr. If the goddess chooses you, she will guide you. If she does not do so, you will perish .

Tyr never held any resentment against his master for abandoning him to darkness. This was how things were supposed to be. Still, his fear was real and overwhelming. He had walked through the airless tunnels for days in a state of panic. First came the thirst. Then hunger. And when he stumbled in the darkness, he knew that the things that echoed around him were bones.

How many apprentices had been abandoned in the same underground labyrinth? How many had managed to get out?

Only one would achieve it in Tyr’s generation. Tyr’s shamanic line was kept pure and strong through the demonstrated ability of his heirs, and only one survivor of the test would be imbued with the goddess’s gifts, which she would then pass on to the next generation. The fact that Tyr had been given that opportunity meant that every apprentice who had tried before him had failed. And he had died.

Tyr was very afraid back then. Now he wasn’t going to have it.

Now, aboard the ship, darkness greeted him, just as it had thirty years ago. Tyr was wrapped in his embrace, an infant in his mother’s womb. To pray to his goddess was to return to that primordial state before childhood, when the world was silent, where nothing could see him, where nothing could harm him.


A schooner made its way across the midnight sea, sailing nervously, like a small child doing something it shouldn’t. The small ship was not part of the Nikara fleet. All identifiable markings had been roughly torn from the hull.

But it was coming from the Nikara coast, either the schooner had taken a long and convoluted route to rendezvous with the Ryohai , to deceive an assassin that the Ryohai did not know it had on board, or it was a Nikara ship.

Tyr crouched by the mast, a spyglass trained on the schooner’s deck.

When he emerged from the darkness, he experienced sudden vertigo. This happened to him more and more often, whenever he was in the shadows for too long. More and more, it became harder for him to return to the material world, to separate himself from the goddess of him.

Be careful , he warned himself, or you won’t be able to return from the shadows .

I knew what would happen then. It would become a conduit, an unstoppable breach for the gods, a door to the realm of spirits without closure. He would be a useless epileptic vessel, and someone would have to take him to Chuluu Korikh, where he could not

do no harm. Someone would record his name in the Wheels and watch him sink into the stone prison, just as he had imprisoned many of his own subordinates.

He remembered his first visit when he had locked his own master in the mountain. She stood before him, face to face, as the stone walls closed around the visage of his master: eyes closed, sleeping, but not dead.

The day was approaching when he would go crazy if he came out of the shadows, and even crazier if he didn’t. But that was the fate that awaited the men and women of Cike. Being an assassin of the Empress meant an early death, madness, or both.

Tyr thought he still had another decade or two left, like his master before he gave the goddess to Tyr. He thought that he still had a sufficient period of time to train an initiate and teach him to walk in the void. But he was following the designs of his goddess, and what he had left to do would matter little when his goddess decided to call him for eternity.

I should have chosen an apprentice. I should have chosen someone from my people.

Five years ago, I thought I might choose the Cike Seer, that scrawny boy from the Hinterlands, but Chaghan was very delicate and strange, even to his people. Chaghan would have ruled like a demon. He would have achieved absolute obedience from his subjects, but only because he had taken their free will away from him. Chaghan would have destroyed his mind.

Tyr’s new lieutenant, a boy fresh out of the Academy, was the best candidate. The boy would already be ready to

command the Cike for when Tyr was no longer capable of leading.

But the boy already had a god of his own. And the gods were selfish.


The schooner stopped under the shadow of the Ryohai . A single cloaked figure climbed into a rowboat and crossed the distance between the two ships.

The captain of the Ryohai ordered the rope to be lowered. He and half his crew waited on the main deck for the nikara to come aboard.

Two sailors helped the hooded figure up.

She removed the dark hood from her head and released long, shiny hair, like obsidian. Skin of a mineral whiteness that shone like the moon itself. Lips like freshly spilled blood.

Empress Su Daji was on the ship.

Tyr was so surprised that he almost stumbled out of the shadows.

Why was he here? His first thought was absurd and miserable, didn’t he trust him to handle this mission?

Something had to have gone wrong. Was he here of his own free will? Had the Federation forced him to come?

Or had his orders changed?

Tyr thought frantically, wondering how he should react. He could act now, kill the soldiers before they could hurt the Empress. But Daji knew that he

He was here, and the Empress would have given him some sign if she wanted all the men of the Federation to die.

I had to wait then. Wait and see what Daji’s intention was.

-Excellence. General Seiryu was a huge soldier, a giant among men, and he towered over the Empress. It has taken a long time to come, Emperor Ryohai is impatient with you.

“I’m not Ryohai’s dog so he can give me orders.” Daji’s voice sounded cold and clear as ice across the ship, sharp as a knife.

A circle of soldiers surrounded Daji, locking her in next to the general. But Daji stood tall, chin high, showing no fear.

“But you have been summoned,” the general said harshly. Emperor Ryohai is irritated by how you’ve wasted his time. Your position is weakening. You play a hand with very few good cards, and we know that. You must be grateful that the Emperor has deigned to speak with you.

Daji’s lips curled.

—Your Excellency is certainly considerate.

—Enough of the talk. Say what you came to say.

“Everything in good time,” Daji said calmly. First, I have to attend to another matter.

And he looked directly into the shadows where Tyr stood.

—Well, you’re here.

Tyr took those words as the signal.

He readied his knives and ran out of the shadows, only to fall to his knees when Daji stopped him with his gaze.

He choked, unable to speak. His body was numb, frozen, and the only thing he could do was remain upright. Daji possessed the power of hypnosis, and although he knew it, he had never used it against him.

All thought was expelled from his mind. All she could think about was her eyes. At first they were large, luminous and black, and then they turned yellow like a snake’s, with a narrow pupil that claimed him like a mother to his baby, like a cruel imitation of his own goddess.

And like her goddess, she was so beautiful. So beautiful! Enthralled, Tyr dropped the knives.

Visions were happening before his eyes. His big yellow eyes, suddenly gigantic, filled his entire vision and took him into his world.

He saw nameless shapes. He saw colors beyond all words. She saw faceless women of vermilion and cobalt dancing, saw bodies curved like silk ribbons twirling in their hands. And then, after fascinating her prey, the Viboratrix attacked him with her fangs and flooded him with poison.

The psychospiritual assault was devastating and immediate.

The Viboratrix shattered Tyr’s world as if it were made of glass, as if he existed in a mirror and she had thrown him into a corner. And that, right at the moment of the crash, she would have stopped him in time, so that his mind wouldn’t end up destroyed.

in seconds but in eons. Somewhere, a scream was heard, louder and louder, and it didn’t stop. The Viboratrix’s eyes turned a colorless white that pierced his vision and turned everything into pain. Tyr sought refuge in the shadows, but he could not find his goddess, and those hypnotic eyes were everywhere. Everywhere he looked, those eyes looked back at him. The great Serpent hissed, his gaze fixed on him, piercing him, paralyzing him…

Tyr called out to his goddess again, but she still remained silent. She had been cast out before a power that was infinitely stronger than darkness itself.

Empress Su Daji had channeled something older than the Empire. Something as old as time.

Tyr’s world stopped spinning. He and the Empress drifted together in the eye of a colorful hurricane, made stable by Daji’s generosity. Tyr took the form of her body again and so did she too, no longer a viper, but a goddess in the form of her Daji woman.

—Don’t hold a grudge against me. There are forces at play that you could not understand, against which your life is irrelevant.

Even though he looked mortal, his voice came from everywhere, even from himself, vibrating in his bones. It was the only thing that existed, until she allowed him to speak.

-Why are you doing this? —Tyr whispered.

“The prey does not question the predator’s motives,” the thing that was not Su Daji hissed. The dead do not question the living. Mortals do not challenge the gods.

“I have killed for you,” Tyr said. He would have done anything for you.

“I know,” he said, and caressed her face. She spoke with genuine sadness, and for an instant she sounded like the Empress again. The colors dimmed. How stupid.

He pushed him off the boat.

The pain of drowning, Tyr realized then, came in the struggle to survive. But he couldn’t fight. Every part of him was paralyzed, unable to blink, unable to close his eyes against the salt water.

Tyr could do nothing but die.

He sank back into darkness. Back to the depth, where sounds could not be heard, images could not be seen, where nothing could be felt, where nothing lived.

Back to the soft stillness of the womb.

Back to his mother. Again with his goddess.


The death of a shaman did not go unnoticed in the spirit world. Tyr’s destruction sent a psychospiritual shockwave through the realm of the unknown.

It felt beyond the peaks of the Wudang Mountains, where the Night Castle remained hidden from the world. It was felt by the Seer of Strange Children, the lost son of the last true khan of the Inner Lands.

The pale Seer passed through the spiritual plane as easily as through a door, and when he looked for his commander he saw only darkness and the torn silhouette of what he had seen.

He had previously been a human being. He saw on the horizon things that were yet to happen, he saw a country covered in smoke and fire. He saw a battalion of ships crossing the strait. He saw the beginning of a war.

-Do you see? Altan Trengsin asked.

The short-haired Seer tilted his head towards the sky, exposing long jagged scars on the sides of his pale neck. He gave a harsh laugh.

“He’s gone,” he said. She’s really gone.

Altan’s fingers tightened on the Seer’s shoulder.

And the Seer’s eyes snapped open. Behind the eyelids there was nothing but white. There was no pupil, no iris, no trace of color. Just the landscape of a white mountain, like freshly fallen snow, like nothingness.

—There was a hexagram.

“Tell me,” Altan said.

The Seer turned to him.

—I have seen the truth of three things. One: we are on the brink of a war.

“We all know that,” Altan said, but the Seer interrupted him.

—Two: we have an enemy that we love. Altan stiffened.

—Three: Tyr is lost. Altan swallowed.

-What does that mean?

The Seer took his hand. He brought it to her lips and kissed her.

“I’ve seen the end of things,” he said. The shape of the world has changed. The gods now walk among men as they have not done for a long, long time. Tyr will not return the Strange Children answer to you now, and only you.

Altan exhaled slowly. She felt a tremendous sense of relief and pain. He had no commander. No, he was now the commander

Tyr can’t stop me now , he thought.


Tyr’s death was also felt by the Guardian, who had remained during all these years not quite dead, but not quite alive either, enclosed in the shell of a mortal, but without being a mortal.

The Guardian was devastated and confused, he had totally forgotten who he was, but one thing he would never forget was the pain of the Viboratrix’s venom.

The Guardian felt that ancient power dissipate into the void, which both united and separated them. He raised his head to the sky and knew that an enemy had returned.


It was felt by a young apprentice of Sinegard who meditated alone while her companions slept. She frowned at the disturbance she felt but she didn’t understand.

Who wondered, as he always did, what would happen if he disobeyed his teacher, if he took poppy seeds and

traveled to commune with the gods again.

And if it did something more than enter into communion. And if he brought one with her.

Because, although she was forbidden to call the Phoenix, that did not mean that the Phoenix would not stop calling her.

Soon , the Phoenix murmured in his dreams, soon you will ask for my power, and when the time comes, you will not be able to resist. Soon you will ignore the warnings of the woman and the Guardian and fall into my ardent embrace .

I will make you great. I will make you a legend.

He was trying to resist.

He was trying to empty his mind, just like Jiang had taught him, trying to dissipate his anger and the fire in his head.

But I knew I couldn’t. She knew she didn’t want to.


On the first day of the seventh month, another skirmish broke out on the border, between the Eighteenth Battalion of the Federation Armed Forces and the Horse Province Nikara Patrol making its way through the northern Hinterlands. After six hours of fighting, both sides called a ceasefire, and spent the night in an uneasy truce.

On the second day, a Federation soldier failed to appear for morning patrol. After an exhaustive search of the camp, the Federation general of the border town of Muriden demanded that General Nikara give him

allowed passage to the Nikara camp to continue the search.

General Nikara refused.

On the third day, Emperor Ryohai of the Mugen Federation sent by carrier pigeon a formal demand to Empress Su Daji for the return of his soldier to Muriden.

The Empress summoned the twelve Warlords to her throne room in Sinegard and they deliberated for seventy-two hours.

On the sixth day, the Empress formally responded that Ryohai could go fuck himself.

On the seventh day, the Mugen Federation declared war on the Nikan Empire. On the arch-shaped island, women cried with joy and bought portraits of Emperor Ryohai to hang in their homes, men joined the Armed Forces, and children ran through the streets loudly celebrating a nation’s bloodlust. at war.

On the eighth day, a battalion of Federation soldiers docked at the port of Muriden and decimated the city. When the province’s militia resisted, they ordered all men in Muriden, children and babies included, to be rounded up and shot.

Women were saved from the Federation military only because of their

need to advance quickly within the country. The battalion looted the towns as they advanced, also taking grain and animals. What they couldn’t take, they killed. They didn’t need supply lines. They took what they needed from the earth. They marched through the interior of the country at a martial pace towards the capital.

On the thirteenth day, a messenger eagle arrived at Jima Lain’s office at the Academy, saying:

The province of the Horse has fallen. Mugen is coming for Sinegard .


—It’s kind of exciting, don’t you think? —Kitay said.

“No doubt,” Rin said. We are about to be invaded by our centuries-old enemy, after they violated a peace treaty that had maintained fragile geopolitical stability over the past two decades. Yes, super exciting.

“At least now we know we have a job,” Kitay said. Everyone wants more soldiers.

—Could you be a little less superficial?

—Could you be less depressing?

“Could we move faster?” —asked the magistrate.

Rin and Kitay looked at each other.

Both would have preferred to be doing anything else than helping to evacuate civilians. Since Sinegard was too far north to feel safe, the Empire’s bureaucracy was moving to the military capital in the city of Golyn Niis in the south.

By the time the Federation battalions arrived, Sinegard would be nothing more than a ghost town. A city full of soldiers. In theory, that meant that Rin and Kitay had the incredibly important task of ensuring that the central leadership of the Empire survived, even if the capital did not.

In practice, it meant dealing with very annoying, and very fat, bureaucrats.

Kitay tried to place the last box on the cart, but when he lifted it off the ground it immediately wobbled from the weight.

—What’s here? she asked, swaying as he tried to balance the box on his hip.

Rin came to help Kitay lift the box onto the cart, which was already swaying under the weight of the magistrate’s many possessions.

“My teapots,” said the magistrate, “have you seen how I have marked the side?” Be careful that it doesn’t tilt…

“Your teapots,” Kitay repeated, incredulously. Are your teapots a priority right now?

—They were a gift to my father from the Dragon Emperor, may his soul rest in peace. —The magistrate inspected the cart loaded to the brim —. Oh, this reminds me of something, don’t forget the vase in the yard.

The magistrate looked imploringly at Rin.

Rin was dizzy from the afternoon heat, exhausted from hours of storing the possessions of the magistrate’s estate in various poorly prepared vehicles. She noticed, in her stupor, that the magistrate’s jowls trembled hilariously when she spoke. Under other circumstances she would have told Kitay. Under other circumstances, Kitay would have laughed.

The magistrate pointed towards the vase again.

—Be careful, okay? He is as old as the Red Emperor himself. Maybe it would be better to tie it in the back of the car.

Rin stared at him, not quite believing his words.

-Mister? Kitay asked.

The magistrate turned to look at him.


With a grunt, Kitay lifted the box over his head and slammed it onto the ground. He hit the ground with a low sound, and not with the porcelain crash that Rin would have expected. The wooden lid of the box flew off, and several beautiful porcelain teapots with a beautiful flower pattern rolled out from inside. Despite the fall, they seemed intact.

And then Kitay took care of them with a wooden board.

When he finished beating them, he brushed his curls out of his face with one hand and turned to the sweating magistrate who cowered, afraid that Kitay would start beating him too.

“We’re at war ,” Kitay said. And they are evacuating you because, gods know for what reason , you have been considered important to the survival of this country. So do your damn job. Take care of your people. Help us maintain order. Don’t pack your fucking teapots.


In a few days, the Academy was transformed from a campus to a military camp. The grounds were invaded by the green-clad soldiers of the Eighth Division, from the nearby province of Carnero, and the students were absorbed into their ranks.

The Militia soldiers were a stoic and gruff bunch. They interacted with the Academy students with reluctance,

making it very clear that they considered that students had no place in this war.

“It’s a problem of superiority,” Kitay later speculated. Most of the soldiers have never been to Sinegard. It’s like being told to work with someone who in three years could be your superior officer, even though he doesn’t have a decade of combat experience, and you do.

“They don’t have combat experience either,” Rin said. We have not had any war in the last two decades. They know even less than we do what they are doing.

Kitay could not argue with his argument.

At least the arrival of the Eighth Division marked the return of Raban, who was assigned the task of evacuating the freshmen out of the city, along with the civilians.

“But I want to fight,” protested a student who barely reached Rin’s shoulders.

“You weren’t going to help much,” Raban replied.

The freshman raised his chin fiercely.

—Sinegard is my home, I will defend it. I’m not a little boy, I don’t have to be evacuated like all those terrified women and children.

—You are defending Sinegard. You are protecting its inhabitants. All those women and children? You are in charge of their safety. Your job is to make sure they reach the mountain pass. And that is a very serious task. —Raban looked at Rin as he led the first-year students out of the main entrance.

“I’m worried that one of the younger ones will slip out and come back here,” he told her in a low voice.

“You should admire them,” Rin said. The city is about to be invaded and his first thought is to want to defend it.

“They are unconscious,” said Raban, without the patience that characterized him. He seemed exhausted. This is no time for heroics. This is a war, if they stay, they are dead.


Escape plans were drawn up for the trainees. Should the city fall, they were to flee through a little-known gorge on the other side of the valley, to join the rest of the civilians in a mountain hideout where Federation battalions could not reach them. This plan did not include the maesters.

“Jima doesn’t think we can win,” Kitay said. She and the faculty will fall alongside the Academy.

“Jima is just being cautious,” Raban replied, trying to cheer him up. Sunzi tells us that we have to make plans for any contingency, right?

“Sunzi also says that when you cross a river, you should burn the bridges so that your army cannot think of fleeing,” Kitay said. This looks a lot like an escape.

“Prudence is not cowardice,” said Raban. And Sunzi also says that you should never attack a cornered enemy, they will fight harder than any man can believe possible. A cornered enemy has nothing to lose.


The days seemed to stretch on forever, and at the same time suddenly disappear before anything could be finished. Rin had the uneasy feeling that they were just waiting for the enemy to arrive at the door. He had the impression that they were not prepared, that preparations for battle were not being made quickly enough.

—I wonder what a Federation soldier looks like?

—Kitay said as they descended the mountain to collect already sharpened weapons from the armory.

—I suppose they have arms and legs. Maybe even a head.

—No, I mean, what do they look like? Kitay asked.

Like the nikara? Everyone in the Federation comes from the eastern continent. They are not like Hesperians, so they must appear normal, in a way.

-That matters? —Rin couldn’t understand why this was relevant.

—Don’t you want to see the enemy’s face? Kitay asked.

“No, I don’t want to,” he said. Because then I’ll think they’re human, and they’re not. We’re talking about the people who gave opium to children the last time we were invaded. The same people Esper massacred.

“Maybe they’re more human than we think,” Kitay said.

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder what the Federation wants? Why are they fighting against us?

—Because their little island is overcrowded and they think Nikan should be theirs. Because they have fought against us before, and almost beat us,” Rin said sharply. Does matters? They are coming, and

We are here, and in the end whoever is left alive wins. War does not determine who is right, war determines who remains.


All Sinegard classes were suspended. The maesters occupied positions from which they had retired decades earlier. Irjah assumed strategic command of the Sinegard Reserve Forces. Enro and his apprentices returned to the city’s central hospital to establish a field hospital. Jima assumed martial command over the city, a position he shared with the Warlord of the Ram. This involved alternately yelling at the city’s civilian officers and stubborn squad leaders.

The prospect was discouraging. The Eighth Division was made up of three thousand men who, although strong, were barely enough to stop the invading force, which was expected to number ten thousand men. The Ram Warmaster had sent a messenger for reinforcements from the Third Division, who were returning from their northern patrol in the Hinterlands, so it was unlikely that they would arrive before the Federation did.

Jiang was rarely available. Either he was in Jima’s office, reviewing contingency plans with Irjah, or he was outside the Academy. When Rin finally managed to locate him, Jiang seemed impatient and worried. He had to run down the stairs at his pace.

“Let’s put the lessons on pause,” he said. I imagine you have noticed that I am very busy right now. No

I can dedicate the time necessary to teach you properly.

Jiang passed Rin, but she grabbed his sleeve.

—Master, I want to ask you, what if we called on the gods?

I mean, calling them out against the Federation?

-What are you talking about ? She—she had been frightened by the proposal—. Now is not the time for this.

“Surely there are combat applications of what we’ve been studying,” he pressed.

“We have been studying how to consult the gods,” he said.

—. Not how to bring them down here, to earth.

—But they could help us in the fight!

-That? No no . He waved his hands, getting visibly more nervous as he spoke. Have you listened to a word I’ve told you these last two years? I told you that gods are not weapons that you can dust off and use. The gods will not respond to a battle.

“It’s not true,” he said. I have read the reports of the Red Emperor’s campaigns. I know that the monks invoked the gods against him. And the tribes of the Interior Lands…

—The Inner Lands speak to the gods to heal. “They seek guidance and enlightenment,” Jiang interrupted. They do not invoke the gods to the earth, because they know, they know, that every war we have fought with the help of the gods, we have won with terrible consequences. There is a price, There is always a price.

—So what’s the goal? Rin snapped. Why study Acquis?

Suddenly his expression became terrible. Just like the day Sunzi the pig was slaughtered, just like when she told him that she wanted to learn Strategy. He seemed hurt. Betrayed.

“The point of each lesson has had nothing to do with destruction,” he said. I taught you Acervo to help you find balance. I taught you so that you would understand how the universe is much more than what we perceive. I haven’t taught you to use it as a weapon.

-The gods…

—The gods will not follow our will. The gods are so far beyond the reach of our understanding that any attempt to use them as a weapon can only end in disgrace.

—And the Phoenix? Jiang stopped.

-Oh no. Oh, no, no, no.

“The god of esperlies,” Rin said. Every time he has been called upon, he has responded. If only we could…

Jiang looked hurt.

—You know what happened to the esperlies.

—But they were channeling fire long before the Second Poppy War! They practiced shamanism for centuries! The power…

“The power would consume you,” Jiang said harshly. That’s what fire does . Why do you think the esperlies never regained their freedom? You would think that a race like that couldn’t remain subjugated for long. They could have conquered all of Nikan if their power had been stable.

But how come they never rebelled against the Empire? Fire killed them, Rin, just as it made them powerful. It drove them mad, took away their ability to think for themselves, until all they knew was to fight and destroy as they had been ordered. The Esperlies were obsessed with their own power, and as long as the Emperor gave them the freedom to quench their bloodlust, there was little else that mattered to them. The esperlies were deceived. They summoned fire, yes, but they are hardly worth imitating. The Red Emperor was cruel and merciless, but even he had the common sense to never train shamans in his Militia, apart from esperlies. Treating gods as weapons only brings death.

-We are in war! We will die anyway. Maybe calling on the gods will give us a chance. What’s the worst that could happen?

“You’re so young,” Jiang said softly. You have no idea.


After that, Rin saw no trace of Jiang around the Academy.

Rin knew he was deliberately avoiding her, like he had done before the Trials, like he always did when he didn’t want to have a conversation. Rin found it terribly frustrating.

You are so young .

That was even more frustrating.

He was not so young that he did not understand that his country was at war. He wasn’t so young that he wouldn’t be asked to defend him.

Children stopped being children when you put a sword in their hands. When you taught them to fight in a war, when you armed them and put them on the front line. Then they were no longer children, they were soldiers.


Time was running out for Sinegard. The scouts’ daily reports indicated that the Federation Forces were almost at the door.

Rin couldn’t sleep, even though she desperately needed it. Every time she closed her eyes, her anxiety crushed her like an avalanche. During the day, her mind was exhausted and her eyes were burning, and yet, she could not calm down enough to rest. He tried to meditate, but her terror took over, her heart beat rapidly and her breathing filled with fear.

At night, when I lay stretched out alone in the dark, I heard the call of the Phoenix again and again. She flooded her dreams, whispering seductively from the other realm. Her temptation was so great that it almost drove her crazy.

I’ll keep you sane , Jiang had promised her.

But it hadn’t kept her sane. She had shown him great power, a power wonderful and powerful enough to protect the city, and the entire country, and then she had forbidden him access to it.

Rin obeyed, because he was her master, and loyalty between master and apprentice meant something, even in times of war.

But that didn’t stop him from going to his garden when he found out that Jiang wasn’t at the Academy, and putting several handfuls of poppy seeds in his pocket.

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