The wicked heroine, p.30
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.30

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Twelve

  Three hundred and twenty-one years ago

  The rough green crystal spires atop the Khan’s summer palace gleamed in the moonlight. Something sinister, alive, seemed to writhe within their hexagonal matrices, defying the first glance and prompting another from nearly all who gazed upon them.

  Sahsca Yan was not one of those who took a second glance. She did not need to; she had seen these wicked spires daily since she had arrived in the high, grassy Valley of the Weikou five months ago.

  She had nearly died on one of them.

  Her calls for war against the Khan’s southern neighbor had not been received well by the Khan and his coyote-furred courtiers. They had ordered her impaled upon one of the crystal spires as a warning that they would not tolerate witchery, as they had so colloquially termed it.

  How superstitiously surprised they were to witness what happened after they dropped her onto one of the crystals’ wicked green points. Sahsca, while impaled, cracked the crystal with a screaming wrench, fell to the taut ox-hide roof of the palace, bounced to the ground, and withdrew the bloody end of the crystal from her own body, revealing to the astonished and fearful observers absolutely no wound.

  From that day, the Khan had been in the palm of her hand.

  Now he was going to war for her, and he thought it was his own idea. Sahsca bared her teeth in what might be considered a smile on the face of a less bitter woman, and flung aside the red-dyed woolen curtains of the Khan’s inner court. She paused, waiting for her presence to stop all other conversation.

  Indeed, the nobles within hushed, each pivoting toward her on a bronze stool padded with a horsehair cushion. All of them were bathed in the light of flaming braziers that smoked aromatically at the edges of the curtained space.

  To their eyes, Sahsca knew she appeared otherworldly. It was a look she had carefully cultivated. Her hair–white, frizzy, and full of static electricity–stood out from beneath her short conical hat. Its dark green felted material was nothing special, but the two coiled puff adders wrapped around it gave the nobles pause. Sahsca’s face was drawn and gaunt; she had not slept well in years, it seemed. Her long, trailing robes of soft leather, nearly exactly the shade of her own flesh, seemed a mystical extension of her body, and because of the weights she hid in the long sleeves and hem, it never flapped in the breeze. She enjoyed its unnerving effect on those who observed her striding purposefully through a strong breeze, unruffled in every way.

  And now that she had the nobles’ and the Khan’s full attention, she spoke harshly into the incense-filled silence.

  “Great Khan, the time is now. The Unblemished are massing for their Autumn Harvest rituals. Once they all gather on the banks of the Kardin, they will be trapped, and you must be there to strike.”

  “What?” the Khan blurted, surprised. “Seer Sahsca, you predicted just last week that we had two weeks to prepare! We are not ready yet.”

  “Do not forget that the Unblemished have a Seer as well, Great Khan. He has foreseen that your troops will arrive far after the harvest rituals are complete. The Seer will not do any readings while he is on the road to the Kardin. If you leave now, you will surprise them. If you wait, they will be prepared for you.”

  “Clever witch. You set that up for the Seer to learn, didn’t you?” the Khan laughed roughly. Only about half of his fur-clad nobles had the wit to follow his logic. “You created this opportunity for us to move invisibly to the eye of their Seer.” He nodded his approval. “You are worthy.”

  Sahsca merely inclined her head.

  The Khan stared at his bizarre Seer for a minute, pondering. Then he slapped his hands onto the bone-carved armrests of his throne and barked, “Then we shall go! Make ready the armies and break camp. We will leave with the dawn.” His nobles stood and bowed from the waist, right fists over fur-shielded hearts, and murmured their compliance.

  The entire city was gone the next morning. Every single tent was rolled up, packed onto oxen or yaks, and trundled off behind the long snaking formations of the Khan’s finest soldiers. Only the semi-permanent foundation poles remained, framing ghosts of homes and shops. Even the great summer palace itself, with its mesmerizing green crystals, was gone.

  The Weikou were going to war. But their Seer was not among their number.

  Sahsca Yan stepped out of the pine tree line and watched their immense dust trail in the distance, her clothing now a forgettable, blending combination of browns and greens, her white hair hidden beneath a loose turban of brown wool. Her green eyes were as cold and unforgiving as the crystalline spikes of the Khan she had just sent to die.

  The Unblemished had no other Seer–in fact, no one did. That position had lost its magic centuries ago. Those who held it now were either charlatans or spymasters. What the Unblemished did have was the largest army the Silken Steppe had seen in a generation. The Great Khan and his armies were expected, had been expected for months. And this time, they would be defeated. Sahsca Yan had given the Unblemished her word.

  It was only fair, since she had unwittingly been the instrument of their near-destruction a generation ago.

  A frequent drawback of immortality was the buildup of various mistakes; this one, she had finally put right.


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