Chapter no 15

The Poppy War

The Warlords of the Ram and the Ox sided with Altan when they discovered that the Cike had accomplished what the First, Fifth, and Eighth together had not even attempted. They spread the news among the ranks in such a way that it seemed that they had also been responsible for the feat.

The citizens of Khurdalain held a victory parade to boost morale and collect supplies for the soldiers. Civilians donated food and clothing to the barracks. When the Warlords paraded through the streets, they were greeted with great applause which they gladly accepted.

Civilians assumed that the marsh victory had been achieved through a large joint assault. Altan did nothing to correct them.

“Liar farts,” Ramsa complained. They are stealing your credit.

“Leave them,” Altan said. If that means they’ll work with me, they can say what they want.

Altan needed that victory. In a cohort of generals who had survived the Poppy Wars, Altan was the youngest commander, by decades. The battle in the marsh had given him the necessary credibility in the eyes of the army, and even more importantly, in the eyes of the Warlords. They now treated him with deference instead of condescension, consulted him in war councils, and not only listened to Cike’s intelligence, but acted on it.

Only Jun did not congratulate him.

“You have left a thousand enemy soldiers starving on the marsh coast without supplies or food,” Jun said slowly.

“Yes,” Altan said. Isn’t that a good thing?

“What an idiot,” Jun said. He walked through the office, turned around, and slammed his hands on Altan’s desk. Idiot , don’t you realize what you’ve done?

“Securing a victory,” Altan said, “which is much more than you have achieved in the weeks you have been here.” The supply ship has returned to its arc-shaped island to reestablish itself. We have delayed their plans by at least two weeks.

“You have incited possible retaliation,” Jun snorted. Those soldiers are cold, wet and hungry. Maybe they didn’t care much about this war before, when they crossed the strait, but now they are furious. Angry, humiliated, and most of all, desperately in need of supplies. You’re going to force them to risk everything.

“They were risking enough,” Altan said.

—Yes, and now you have taken away their pride. Do you know how much reputation matters to Federation commanders? We needed time for the fortifications, but now you have accelerated their plans. What, you thought they’d turn around and go home? Do you want to know what they are going to do now? They will come for us.


But when the Federation came, it was with a white flag and a ceasefire request.

When the birds of Qara saw the arrival of the Federation delegation, Rin went to alert Altan with news. Excited, Rin slipped past Jun’s aides to make her way to the Ram Warlord’s office.

“Three delegates from the Federation,” he reported. They have brought a car.

“Shoot them,” Jun suggested immediately.

“They carry a white flag,” Rin said.

—An opening stratagem. “Shoot them,” Jun repeated, and his young officers nodded in agreement.

The Ox Warlord raised a hand. He was a tremendously large man, two heads taller than Jun and three times his width. His weapon of choice was a double battle ax the size of Rin’s torso, which he kept on the table in front of him. He stroked his edge obsessively.

—They could be asking for peace.

“Or they could be planning to poison our water supplies, or murder one of us,” Jun snapped. Do you think of

Is it true that we have won the war so easily?

“They carry a white flag,” the Ox Warlord said slowly as if speaking to a child.

The Ram Warlord said nothing. His nervous eyes moved between Jun and the Ox Warlord. Rin could see what Ramsa had explained, the Ram Warlord looked like a child waiting to be told what to do.

“A white flag means nothing to them,” Jun insisted.

—. It’s a hoax. How many false treaties did they sign during the Poppy Wars?

—Wouldn’t you make a bet for peace? —the Ox Warlord challenged him.

—I wouldn’t bet with the lives of any of the civilians.

“This is not your ceasefire to reject,” the Ram Warmaster pointed out.

Jun and the Ox Warlord looked at him, and the Ram Warlord stammered in his eagerness to explain.

—I mean, we owe it to the guy to be the one to manage it.

The victory of the marsh was his. They are surrendering to him.

Everyone looked at Altan.

Rin was amazed at the subtle politics at play. The Ram Warlord was smarter than he had thought. His proposal was a clever way to absolve them of responsibility. If the negotiations went wrong, all the blame would go to Altan. But if they went well, the Ram Warlord would come out better because he was magnanimous.

Altan hesitated, clearly torn between his better judgment and his desire to see his victory come to Khurdalain. Rin could see the hope reflected in his face. If the Federation’s surrender was real then he would be responsible for winning this war. He could be the youngest commander to achieve a military victory on that scale.

“Shoot them,” Jun repeated. We do not need a peace negotiation. Our forces are tied now: if the assault on the dock goes well, we can repel them indefinitely until the Seventh gets here.

But Altan shook his head.

—If we deny their surrender, then this war will continue until one side has decimated the other. Khurdalain won’t be able to hold out much longer. If there is a chance to end the war now, we need to accept it.


The Federation delegates they met in the main square wore no weapons or armor. They were dressed in light, tight-fitting clothing, blue uniforms designed to make it clear that they had no weapons hidden under their sleeves.

The leader of the delegates, whose stripes on his uniform indicated his highest rank, stepped forward when he saw them.

—Do you speak our language? She spoke in a faltering old Nikara dialect, with a poor approximation of the Sinegard accent.

The Warlords hesitated, but Altan took the initiative.

—I speak it.

“Good,” the delegate responded in Mugenese. Then we can proceed without misunderstandings.

It was the first time Rin had gotten a good look at a Mugenese outside of the chaos of battle, and she was disappointed at how similar they were to the Nikara. The slope of her eyes and the shape of her mouth were as marked as the textbooks said. Her hair was the same black as Nezha, and her skin was as pale as any northerner.

They actually seemed more Sinegardian than Rin and Altan.

Aside from their tongue, which was more guttural and rapid than Sinegard’s nikara, they were visually indistinguishable from nikara.

He was disturbed by the close resemblance the Federation soldiers bore to his own people. He would have preferred them to be faceless monstrous enemies, or to be completely foreign, like the light-haired Hesperians from beyond the ocean.

—What are your terms? Jun asked.

“Our general is calling for a ceasefire for the next forty-eight hours while we negotiate the terms of surrender,” the delegation leader said. He pointed to the car. We know that your city has been unable to import spices since the fighting began. “We bring an offering of salt and sugar, a gesture of our good will.” The delegate put his hand on the nearest trunk. Can?

Altan gave his approval. The delegates lifted the lid, revealing piles of white and caramel crystals that sparkled in the afternoon sun.

“Eat,” Jun suggested.

The delegate bowed his head.

-Excuse me?

“Try the sugar,” Jun said. So we can see that you are not trying to poison us.

—That would be a terrible and inefficient way to wage a war.

—said the delegate.

-Even so.

The delegate shrugged and accepted Jun’s request.

His larynx rose and fell as he swallowed.

—No poison.

Jun licked his finger, dipped it in the sugar, and then put it in his mouth. He moved it around his mouth, and seemed disappointed when he couldn’t find traces of any other material.

“Just sugar,” said the delegate.

“Excellent,” said the Ox Warlord. Take them to the dining room.

“No,” Altan said quickly. Leave it here, we will distribute it from the square. A handful for each house.

Altan stared at the Ram Warmaster, and Rin realized why he had said that. If rations were taken to the mess hall, divisions could fight over the distribution of resources. Altan had tied the Warlords’ hands by designating rations for the population.

In any case, a group of Khurdalain civilians had begun to surround the cart with curiosity. Salt and sugar had been in short supply since the siege had begun. Rin

He suspected that if the Warlords had confiscated the chariot for military use, the people would have rebelled.

The Ox Warlord accepted.

—Whatever you say, boy.

Altan looked cautiously around the square. Apart from the ranks of army soldiers present, a large crowd of civilians had surrounded the three delegates. Rin saw the hostility in his eyes and did not doubt that they would destroy the Mugenses if the army did not intervene.

“We will continue the negotiations in a private office,” Altan suggested, “away from people.”

The delegate bowed his head.

-As you wish.



“Emperor Ryohai is impressed with the resistance at Khurdalain,” the delegate said. His tone was clipped and polite, despite his words. Your people have fought well. Emperor Ryohai would like to extend recognition of him to the entire population of Khurdalain, he has proven to be of a superior race unlike the rest of this land plagued by cowards and whiners.

Jun was translating the Warlords. The Ox Warlord rolled his eyes.

“Let’s get to the part about your surrender,” Altan said. The delegate raised an eyebrow.

—Unfortunately, Emperor Ryohai has no intention of abandoning his purpose for the Nikan continent. Expansion into the continent is the divine right of the glorious Mugen Federation. Your provincial government is weak and fragile. Your technology is centuries behind that of the west. Your isolation has held you back while the rest of the world grew. Your death was a matter of time. This land belongs to a country that can take it into the next century.

—Have you come here to insult us? Jun asked. Not a very wise way to give up.

The delegate’s lips twitched.

—We have come here to discuss surrender. Emperor Ryohai has no desire to punish the people of Khurdalain. He admires his fighting spirit. He says your resistance has proven your worth to the Federation. He would also like to add that the people of Khurdalain will make excellent servants for the Federation.

“Ah,” Jun said. It’s that kind of negotiation.

“We don’t want to destroy this city,” said the delegate. This is an important port, a place of international trade. If Khurdalain surrenders his weapons, then the Ryohai Emperor will consider this city a Federation territory, and will not lay a finger on man, woman or child. All civilians will be spared on the condition that they swear allegiance to Emperor Ryohai.

“Wait a moment,” Altan said. Are you asking us to surrender to you ?

The delegate bowed his head.

—These are generous conditions. We know how Khurdalain suffers under the occupation. Your people are dying of hunger. Your supplies will last you a few more months. When we break the siege, the battle will be in the streets, and then the citizens will die en masse. You can avoid it. Let the Federation fleet in, and the Emperor will reward you. We will allow you to live.

“Unbelievable,” Jun murmured. Absolutely incredible. Altan crossed his arms.

“Tell your generals that if you embark your fleet and leave the coast now, we will allow you to live.”

The delegate looked at him curiously.

—You must be the esperli of the marsh.

“I am,” Altan said. And I will be the one who accepts your surrender.

The delegate gave him a slight smile.

“But of course,” he said. Only a child would assume that a war could end so soon, or with so little blood.

“This child speaks for all of us,” Jun interrupted, his voice hoarse. He spoke in Nikara. Take your terms and tell Emperor Ryohai that Khurdalain will never kneel before the bow island.

“In that case,” the delegate said, “every last man, woman and child in Khurdalain will die.”

“Big words for a man who let his fleet burn,” Jun said.

The delegate answered in simple nikara, without a trace of emotion.

—The victory in the marshland has set us back a few weeks. But we have been preparing for this war for two decades. Our training schools far surpass your pathetic Academy in Sinegard. We have studied the war techniques of the West while you spent these twenty years in the indulgence of your isolation. The Nikan Empire belongs to the past. We will raze your country to the core.

The Ox Warlord picked up his axe.

—-Or I can cut off your head right now. The delegate did not seem at all affected.

—Kill me if you want. On our island we are taught that our lives mean nothing. I am one of a horde of millions. I will die and be reincarnated again in the service of Emperor Ryohai. But you, heretics, who do not prostrate yourself before the divine throne, death will be your end.

Altan stood up. His face had turned pale with fury.

—You are trapped on a narrow strip of land, outnumbered. We have kept your supplies. We have burned your ships. We have sunk your ammunition. Your men have met the wrath of a sperli, and have burned.

“Oh, esperlies aren’t that hard to kill,” the delegate said. We already did it once. And we will do it again.

The office doors burst open. Ramsa walked in, looking nervously.

—It’s saltpeter! -he screamed-. It’s not salt, it’s saltpeter . He fell silent in the office.

The Warlords looked at Ramsa as if they could not understand what he was saying. Altan opened his mouth in confusion.

The delegate threw back his head and laughed with the abandon of a man who knew he was going to die.

“Remember,” he said. You could have saved Khurdalain. Rin and Altan stood up instantly.

They had barely grabbed their sword when the sound of an explosion boomed like thunder.


One moment she was standing behind Altan, the next she was on the ground, dazed, with a ringing in her ears so fierce that it drowned out all sound.

He put his hand to his face and saw that there was blood on it.

As if to compensate for his lack of hearing, his vision was now extremely bright. She saw blurred images, as if his eyes were a shadow puppet screen, everything happening both too fast and too slow for her to process. She perceived the movements as if they were a drug-induced fever dream, but this was not a dream. His senses simply refused to accept his perception of what had happened.

She saw the walls of the office shake and tilt so much that she was sure the building would collapse with them inside, and then they righted themselves.

He saw Ramsa throw Altan to the ground.

He saw Altan trying to stand up, reaching for his trident.

He saw the Ox Warlord swing his ax through the air.

He saw Altan scream, “No, no!” before the Ox Warlord beheaded the delegate.

The delegate’s head rolled to a stop at the door, eyes wide and glassy, ​​and what Rin thought was a smile.

Strong arms grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her to her feet. Altan turned her around to face him, her gaze scanning her body for any injuries.

Altan moved his mouth, but no sound reached him. He shook his head frantically and pointed to his ears.

Altan gestured his words.

– Are you OK?

Rin examined his body. Somehow everything seemed to be in order, even the bleeding wound on his head didn’t hurt. He nodded.

Altan turned away from her and knelt before Ramsa, who was curled up on the ground, pale and trembling.

Across the office, General Jun and the Ram Warlord stood up. They were both unharmed, the explosion had thrown them to the ground, but had not injured them. The Warlords’ barracks were far enough from the center of the square that only the impact of the explosion would have affected them.

Even Ramsa seemed fine. His eyes shone and he staggered when Altan placed him on his feet, but he moved and spoke, seemingly unharmed.

Rin sighed in relief.

They were all fine. It hadn’t worked, they were fine. And then she remembered the civilians.


It was strange how the rest of his senses had been amplified now that he couldn’t hear.

Khurdalain looked like the Academy in its first winter days. He squinted, thinking he saw blurry, but realized it was fine dust floating in the air. It shadowed everything, a strange mix of fog and snow, like a white sheet interspersed with blood, hiding the extent of the explosion.

The square was devastated, shops and residential complexes had collapsed. The debris formed strange symmetrical lines around the explosion, as if framing the footprint of a giant.

Far from the explosion site, buildings were not destroyed, but exposed and leaning at strange angles, entire walls torn away. It was strangely perverse how the buildings displayed their privacy, showing their private rooms and bathrooms to the outside.

Women and men had been thrown against the walls of buildings. They remained frozen, hooked in a ghostly adhesion, trapped like preserved butterflies. The

The intense pressure of the bomb had torn off their clothes, and they hung naked like a grotesque specimen of the human form.

The stench of charcoal, blood, and burning flesh was so strong that Rin could taste it on her tongue. And it was even worse with the eerie sweet undertone of caramelized sugar floating in the air.

She didn’t know how long she had stood still watching. She began to move only when a pair of soldiers jostled past her with a stretcher, reminding her that she had a job to do.

Find the survivors. Help the survivors.

He walked down the street, but his sense of balance seemed to have completely disappeared next to his ear. She wobbled from side to side as she tried to walk, and she ended up walking down the street holding onto whatever she could like a drunk.

To his left he saw a group of soldiers pulling a couple of children out of a pile of rubble. He couldn’t believe they had survived, it seemed impossible so close to the epicenter of the explosion, but the little boy they were carrying out moved and cried and struggled. Her sister had not been so lucky, her leg was shattered, crushed under the foundation of the house. She clung to a soldier’s arm, her face pale, too racked with pain to cry.

-Aid! Aid!

A faint voice pierced the ferocious roar in his ears, as if someone was shouting from afar, but it was the first sound he could hear.

He looked up and saw a man clinging desperately to the remains of a wall with one hand.

The floor of the building had collapsed right below where he stood. It was a five-story inn, and without the facade it looked like a porcelain dollhouse like the ones Rin had seen in the market, the kind that opened completely to show its interior.

The floors were leaning towards the ground, the furniture of the inn and its other occupants had already fallen, forming a grotesque pile of chairs and mangled bodies.

A small crowd had gathered beneath the inn to watch the man.

“Help,” he begged. Someone help…

Rin felt like a spectator, like everything was a show, like the man was the only thing in the world that mattered, and yet she couldn’t think of anything to help him. The building had been destroyed, and looked like it would collapse in minutes. The man was too high up to reach from the roof or any of the surrounding buildings.

All he could do was stand there with his mouth open, watching the man struggle in a vain attempt to get up.

She felt so deeply and entirely useless. Even if she could call upon the Phoenix, summoning fire would not save this man from death.

Because all Cike knew how to do was destroy. And even with all his power, with all his gods, they could not protect his people. They couldn’t turn back time. They couldn’t bring back the dead.

They may have won the battle in the marsh, but they were powerless in the face of its consequences. ‌

Altan shouted, perhaps asking for blankets to stop the man from falling, because moments later Rin saw several soldiers running into the square with blankets.

But before they could reach the end of the street, the inn shook dangerously. Rin thought it would collapse to the ground, crushing the man, but the wooden boards sank a little and stopped suddenly.

The man was now only four stories high. He tried to grab the roof with his other hand in an attempt to secure a better grip. Perhaps enraged by his proximity to the ground. For a moment, Rin thought he would make it, but then his hand slipped against the shattered glass and he fell backwards, the tilt of the wall pushing him away from any grip.

It seemed to stay in the air for a moment before falling. The crowd retreated.

Rin turned around, grateful that she couldn’t hear his body crashing to the ground.


The city was plunged into a terrible silence.

Every soldier was called to the defense of Khurdalain in anticipation of a major assault. Rin stayed in his place outside the walls for hours, her eyes scanning the perimeter. If the Federation was going to attack the walls, it would certainly be now.

But evening fell and there was no attack.

“They can’t possibly be scared,” Rin muttered, then grimaced. His hearing was beginning to return, although he still heard a constant high-pitched ringing.

Ramsa shook his head.

—They are playing the long game. They want to weaken us. Scaring us, making us hungry and exhausted.

Eventually the defensive line relaxed. If the Federation attempted a midnight invasion, the city’s alarm system would call troops back to the walls, and in the meantime, there was plenty of urgent work to be done.

It was brutally ironic that civilians had been dancing through these streets just hours before, celebrating what they thought would be a Federation surrender. Khurdalain had hoped to win this war. Khurdalain had believed that everything would return to normal.

But Khurdalain was strong. Khurdalain had survived both Poppy Wars. Khurdalain knew how to deal with devastation.

The civilians silently searched for the remains of their loved ones, and after so many hours of searching, with the only bodies they had recovered, they made a funeral pyre, set it on fire and pushed it into the sea. They did it with sad, practiced efficiency.

The medical squads of the three divisions set up a field hospital in the center of the city. Civilians flocked, hasty tourniquets tied clumsily to severed limbs, crushed ankles, and hands smashed into a stump.

Given Rin’s year of training in field medicine, Enki had her make new tourniquets for those who came bleeding while awaiting medical attention.

His first patient was a young woman, not much older than Rin. Her arm was wrapped in what looked like an old dress.

Rin removed the blood-soaked cloth and involuntarily hissed at the damage he saw. He could see the bone all the way down the arm to the elbow. He would lose his entire hand.

The girl waited patiently for Rin to assess the damage, her eyes glazed over, as if she had resigned herself to her new disability a long time ago.

Rin took a strip of linen from a bowl of boiling water and wrapped it around his upper arm, wrapping a stick around the end and twisting it to tighten the hold. The girl moaned in pain, but she gritted her teeth and looked in front of her.

“They’ll probably cut off your hand.” This will prevent you from losing more blood, and will make amputation easier. Rin tied a knot and backed away. I’m sorry.

“I knew we should have left,” the girl said. From the way he spoke, Rin doubted he was addressing her. He knew we should have fled the moment those ships docked on shore.

—Why didn’t you do it? —Rin asked.

The girl stared at him. Her eyes, devoid of emotion, accused him.

—Do you think we have somewhere to go?

Rin fixed his gaze on the floor and turned to the next patient.

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