Everything Under Heaven

“So you’re a chef,” the huntress said, after she’d saved the day, “and you’re out here to hunt and cook a dragon?”

“Yes?” Kee picked leaves off her muddied pants, a futile gesture.

The huntress stared at her with a slight frown. She was compact, shaved hairless, brown-skinned, and wore Easterner boiled leather armour, dotted with bright tassels like the saddle of her horse, a sturdily built Easterner pony, built low to the ground and shaggy. Kee’s donkey, Red Rabbit, eyed everyone with open suspicion. Kee could understand the sentiment.

“Imperial Court chef?”

“No. Heavens no.”

“A dare?”

“No?”

“Just a crazy person then.”

“Some would say that,” Kee said, righting the pot that she’d set over the cooking fire, one that had overturned when the tiger had leapt for her from the undergrowth. Its great paws had scoured gouges in the bedroll she’d tried to fend it off with. “I didn’t know there were tigers this far south in the Cloud Forest.”

“After the Dragon Gate opened on the Kuanyin mountains, the dragons that came out of it have scared a lot of the animals south. You’d see silver deer at the Longshu delta, even.” The huntress dismounted and bowed, without bothering to tie her horse to a tree. “My name’s Sarnai.”

An Easterner name. “I’m Geok Kee. Well have we met.”

Sarnai’s mouth twitched into a wry smile. “Five more minutes and we probably wouldn’t have. You’re lucky the tiger was toying with you.” Sarnai started to help Kee pack the camp. She didn’t touch the jars smashed by the tiger on the dirt, a waste of achar and sambal from the restaurant’s line cooks, lovingly made.

“I’m thankful.”

“You’re still headed for the Dragon Gate? The Emperor’s marked all of Kuanyin off limits for a reason.”

Kee nodded. “That’s the plan.” She was glad that her tone was steady, even as her hands were cold and clammy as she slung the damaged bedroll against Red Rabbit’s saddle, fastening it down.

“I’ll go with you,” Sarnai said. It wasn’t an offer. “I’m also headed for the Gate. We’ll be safer together.”

“What are you looking for at the Gate?”

“I’m tracking a particular dragon. A great flying beast, its wings as long as a paddy field. It was last seen returning towards the Gate.”

“A matter of honour?” Kee asked, as delicately as she could.

Sarnai nodded, turning her face away as she mounted her horse. “A matter of insult and revenge. If it isn’t satisfied, I’ll have to leave the jianghu.”

An Easterner? Part of the jianghu? Kee wasn’t aware that anyone outside the One People could join the fractious morass of infighting and politics that formed the backbone of the One Kingdom’s loosely organised martial world. Yet it made sense. The jianghu was the only true merit-based system in the One Kingdom, for while it was also afflicted by matters of lineage and ruled by powerful families, anyone who was a scholar in the martial arts could rise within it, to form families of their own.

“You must be very good,” Kee said awkwardly, with a nod at Sarnai’s short scimitars and longbow.

This got her a brief, sharp smile. “Good enough. Come, chef. The day isn’t getting younger.”

Red Rabbit was clearly unhappy at having to keep pace with a horse—he didn’t like horses, and tried to bite when Sarnai’s walked too close. The Easterner horse sidestepped with graceful ease, the only sign of its irritation a sharp snap of its tail. “Sorry,” Kee said, flicking Red Rabbit’s ear in reproach.

“You’re not well-equipped for the mountains. Can you use that bow on your saddle?”

“It was my mother’s, and yes. We’re a week away from the nearest village. I’ve survived by myself up until now,” Kee said, as politely as she could.

“A fine bow. Very fine,” Sarnai said, as a conceded apology.

“My mother was jianghu too,” Kee said, then wished she hadn’t admitted that, when Sarnai visibly stiffened.

“But her daughter is not.”

“No.”

Sarnai looked away again. “Good,” she said, and Kee was left wondering at the bitterness in Sarnai’s voice.

Kee liked to tell people that she had a father and no mother: it was easier that way. Her father was a handsome man, a solidly reasonable, practical rice farmer from a family of farmers, his days spent in backbreaking work over paddy fields that Kee grew to know inch by inch, helping during the planting and harvest seasons, wary of snakes.

They ate simply at first, until Kee grew old enough to hold the heavy butcher’s cleaver without her arms aching, then she made the best of what she could from what they could get. She learned how to stew buah keluak from her father’s mother, make chap chye from her aunt, and bake kueh lapis, layer by painstaking layer, from an older cousin. The food of her father’s side of the family was called Nyonya food because it was made by women, its secrets passed only from women to women as the truest way of expressing love. It was love that Kee ground into her spices, that kept tedium at bay as she chiffonaded mountains of herbs for nasi ulam.

Her mother was hardly ever home. She was an irregular ghost during the Lunar New Year, a pale figure in white robes, with her jade sword and her beaded bow, her fine horse. Kee hadn’t even known who she was until she was four, hadn’t known her name until Kee was six. Ming Yan, also known as “Dragon Ming,” had bound her life to far-away conflicts Kee had never heard of. She had rough hands from the pommel of her sword, hands that had never learned how to cook. By the terms of Kee’s world, that meant her mother had never learned how to love.

When Kee was sixteen, Dragon Ming came home to die. They buried her under a peach blossom tree on the outskirts of the village with her jade sword, and sold the fine horse to pay for the wake, the funeral casket, and headstone. Kee had stared at her father during the wake, but he hadn’t looked grieved. Only tired.

“It’s just us now,” her father said, once they were alone by the headstone.

“It’s always been just us,” Kee said, resentful of the days the wake and funeral had torn out of their lives. Of the strange people who had come by the village to attend it, with their own fine weapons and fine horses. She’d had to cook for them all, for people she didn’t know and didn’t love.

“Your mother was a good woman.”

“That’s what I hear.”

For the first time Kee could remember, a flash of anger crossed her father’s face. “Has someone been saying things to you about her?”

“No one has. I don’t even know her. And now I never will.” Kee gestured at the freshly-turned dirt. “Why did you even marry her? She was never here.”

Her father clenched his jaw, even as Kee flushed with shame. The words, ill-spoken, hummed in the air, made ugly by her selfishness. “I’ll tell you someday,” he said stiffly, and never did, not willingly.

“Why a dragon?” Sarnai asked, when they stopped for the night in the shelter of a cave. It was a well-worn spot, with grooves and ashes in a hollow by the entrance, even a hitching post hammered into the ground just outside.

“‘Everything with their backs to Heaven’,” Kee quoted the popular proverb—and joke—for the One People’s famous tendency to eat anything that was remotely edible.

Sarnai laughed. “You’re a good cook, at least.”

“Thank you.” Kee’s grandmother liked to joke that other people cooked with spices, while Nyonya women cooked with Time. She had tried to make do with the spices and pastes she had in her bag for the fish Sarnai had caught from a stream, but she’d missed her kitchens—both the great one in the village and her hearth at home.

“I can’t cook. I’ve tried. Not even simple things,” Sarnai said, a cheerful admission.

“Everyone can cook,” Kee said, then coughed, a little embarrassed. “I mean—”

“Give me some pointers. I’ll trade. How good are you with that bow?”

“Good enough. But I can’t fish.”

“Fishing? Fishing’s easy. Here. I’ll show you now, while the day’s still warm,” Sarnai said, grinning broadly, to Kee’s relief. She couldn’t quite explain to Sarnai why she couldn’t teach a stranger how to cook. Not her family’s recipes.

They took the pots and bowls down to the stream to wash. Sarnai was far more friendly with a full belly, and not for the first time in the day, Kee wondered why she was so far west. She asked Sarnai why she had come to the One Kingdom as Sarnai was showing her how to bait a hook with worms they’d dug up from under a shrub.

“We are a horse people,” Sarnai said, as she inspected Kee’s work. “No, not like that. Like this. Yes. Better. Cast, like this. Now be patient.”

“Horse people?”

“We roam the steppes, following the great herds of the Mother Moon. Everyone who can ride, rides. Beyond that, there are some things men can do that women can’t, and some things women do that men cannot. I disagreed. I heard the barbarians to the west had a different way. Where anyone who was good at war could live however they liked.”

“Not exactly.”

“Close enough. You said your mother was part of the jianghu.”

“And because of that I never really knew her.”

Sarnai nodded. “It is a different life,” she said, diplomatic.

“Did a School take you in?” That would be one way for a foreigner to enter the jianghu.

Sarnai was about to reply, when she stiffened, holding up a palm. In the trees upstream, there was a faint rustle, the evening-deepened shadows mottling over a high-humped form. There was a low hiss, from the throat of some great snake. Frozen, Kee could only clench her hands tight on her fishing rod. They’d left their bows at the cave. Sarnai had a dagger at her belt, but her scimitars were at her pack and—

“Hoi!” Sarnai roared. She grabbed a stone from the bank of the stream and threw it into the shadows. There was a pained yelp, then an angry hiss as Sarnai threw another stone. Kee dropped her rod, scooping up pebbles, throwing them as hard as she could. Something crashed through the bushes, sprinting away with great, heavy strides, a scaly tail flicking momentarily in and out of sight, crested with bright yellow feathers.

Kee sat down, breathing hard. The dragon had been taller than Sarnai by more than a hand’s breadth. And it had nearly gotten into striking distance. On the way back, Sarnai was red with anger. “Careless. I’ve been careless. Haven’t heard of the dragons ranging this far south. Haven’t seen any tracks.”

“I thought the dragons only ranged in one li around the Dragon Gate.”

“Shouldn’t have assumed.” Sarnai muttered something under her breath. “We’ll have to take turns keeping watch tonight.”

“You could’ve taken it,” Kee said. Members of the jianghu were capable of superhuman feats. Everyone knew that. “We could have carved it afterwards.”

Sarnai frowned at her. “This dragon you want to eat. Which one is it?”

“All of them.” How else would she know which was the best? Which were edible, and which were poisonous?

“What? You have a greedy soul, Chef. And you’ll be at the Dragon Gate for a long time. Maybe for the rest of your life.”

Nyonya women cooked with Time. “I know.”

Sarnai shook her head. “What’s the point? Is there a demand for dragon meat that I haven’t heard of? Are you trying to start a trend?”

“It’s a matter of honour,” Kee said, and smiled when Sarnai let out a sharp, startled laugh. It wasn’t however, not really. It was a matter of pride.

Kee’s father died of old age, a gentle death, by all reports. Kee would disagree. Her father’s mind had begun to wander, the year before his death, often recasting him as a boy in an old man’s body, bewildered by strangers. Everyone was a stranger. He ran away often, ranging farther and farther, even after he’d broken an ankle falling into a ditch. “I’m chasing the Dragon,” her father said once, when Kee and her aunts had found him knee-deep in firefly grass, half a li away from the village. “She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, did you know? The most beautiful.”

“She was beautiful? That’s it?” Kee had been furious enough to be venomous. Her father had stared at her with a young man’s bemused surprise. Of course it was enough. Had been. Men loved with their eyes at that age.

Father grew lucid later in the evening, after a dinner of his favourite fish head curry. Kee always made the soupy sauce spicy enough to melt iron, the way her father liked it, the simmered rich broth a masterpiece of hours, and Father had sighed with a belly-deep sigh of contentment, his dull eyes quickening. Later, he had even helped her with the dishes by the rainwater barrel.

“It wasn’t just because she was beautiful,” Father said. His shoulders were hunched, defensive as he scrubbed out the stewing pot.

“Oh?”

“You don’t remember? I guess not. You were fairly young when she… passed. And she was never very good with children. Even her own.” Father stared at the pot he was scouring. There was a memory compressed into the wrinkles cut against his skin, a complicated one. “She walked in the world like an Empress,” Father said eventually, visibly struggling for the right words.

“I’m surprised Grandmother approved.”

“She didn’t,” Father said, with a quick, hard grin.

“You never even told me much about Mother. What School she was in? Which lord did she fight for?”

“She was in no School, and she had no lord,” Father said, with a strange sort of fondness. “She used to say that she was a stray cat.”

“A stray cat that was like an Empress?”

Father didn’t speak for a while, not until the pots were dried and packed away. “To be a farmer’s wife was not in her nature,” he said then.

“But you married her.”

“She married me,” Father said, amused.

“At least she loved you,” Kee said, because that was one of the few things that she remembered of her mother’s visits, of the tender way she would look at Father. Not that it mattered. She never stayed. “She didn’t love me.”

“No,” Father conceded, after a moment’s thought, his amusement fading. “Not the way you wanted her to.”

Kee killed her first dragon three days after the first sighting. It was a small, chicken-sized thing, four-winged, with a beak full of teeth—she had killed it with her bow at twenty paces. They set up camp, Sarnai ranging ahead while Kee plucked the dragon, cleaned it, checked it with tinctures for poison, then marinated it with curry powder and soy sauce from her brace of jars. By the time Sarnai returned, Kee had found root vegetables in the forest, which she stewed with the dragon-meat, with rice cooking in a separate pot.

“Smells good,” Sarnai said, as she hunkered down by the fire.

“It’ll be ready soon. I hope you’re hungry.” Like her grandmother and her aunts before her, Kee always made more than enough. Leaving guests hungry was a matter of shame.

“I took one down near the waterfall.” Sarnai nodded back at where her horse was cropping grass. There was a wrapped package close by in oilcloth. “Strange one in a group of three. Small head, big body, heavy legs, like an elephant’s. Big feathers in three arcs down its flanks. Grass eater. Too big to move, so I just cut chunks from its flanks and thighs.”

“Grass eaters are good. Thanks for the help.” The dragon Kee had killed had been a meat-eater, and the sliver of flesh that Kee had fried for a taste had been gamey, with an ugly scent that she hoped the curry would mask.

“No problem.” Sarnai helped Kee hang up the hunks of meat from the grass-eater. They were good fillet cuts, beautifully clean, and Sarnai chuckled when Kee said so. “Butchery was women’s work.”

“You didn’t like it?”

“Why do you ask?”

“You left the East.”

“Ah-h-h. No, no. It wasn’t butcher-work I didn’t like. Or the weaving, or the midwifing, the healing, the cooking—though I was bad at that. I was bad at all of it. But I would have stayed and tried to learn, if I didn’t have to marry.”

“They… gave you a husband?” Kee had heard all that and worse of Easterners.

“No. No, not at all. But as a Khan’s daughter I was expected to take one.” Sarnai grinned. “So I said I would marry the first man who could outrace me, outshoot me, outfight me, but each man who wanted to try had to first give me a horse. At the end my clan had a hundred new horses and I had no husband.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“Oh, the other clans got angry. So I told them I would marry the first man who could catch me, and rode my best horse west. The Old Kingdom is very big. Besides, no one likes riding this far west.”

“That’s a strange way to get out of taking a husband,” Kee said, though she smiled.

“What about you? Did you take a husband?”

“No.” Until the day she had left, Kee still cooked for love, in the hours she had outside of the restaurant, but she had never felt the least inclination to love and bed a man.

“Your family didn’t care?”

“My parents are past caring, and the rest of my family’s easier to ignore. I was busy—I owned a restaurant. Besides, in this part of the world, men see a successful, single woman and tend to feel intimidated.” She married me, her father had said.

“I wouldn’t be intimidated,” Sarnai said, and grinned mischievously when Kee blushed.

“I don’t think I could outrace you, outshoot you, or outfight you.”

“Ah, but you could probably catch anyone in the world you wanted, if whatever you have cooking over there tastes as good as it smells.”

Kee wasn’t sure what to say to that, which meant letting Sarnai laugh at her as she prepped the rest of dinner. She had no interest in men, but a woman—especially a woman as imperious as Sarnai—perhaps. It was a pity they were who they were. Kee had no interest in repeating her father’s mistakes.

“You never told me why you were chasing a particular dragon,” Kee told Sarnai afterwards, when they were packing up the pots.

Sarnai’s good mood faded, and she fell quiet. Pots packed, Sarnai sat down for the first watch, but as Kee prepared to go back into her tents, she said, “I suppose I owe you the story.”

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“I’ve eaten your food. And we’ve ridden this far together.” Sarnai waited until Kee sat down by the fire, then she twisted her fingers together. “It’s a shameful tale.”

“You don’t have to tell it to me if you don’t want to.”

“I should.” Sarnai exhaled. “When the Dragon Gate first opened, the jianghu assigned us all to villages and towns.”

“Yes.” Even Kee’s small village had received “guests,” albeit people Kee had seen before. At her mother’s wake.

“I was sent to protect a fishing village. I didn’t like having to be there, and the village didn’t like me. We were far enough from the Dragon Gate—or so we thought—that my presence was a formality anyway.”

“Then a dragon came.”

“A huge dragon. Bigger than paddy fields. I don’t even know how it could fly.” Sarnai stared hard at her feet. “I froze.”

“You wouldn’t have seen dragons before.”

“I was a coward. And in that moment of cowardice a child was killed. It was so fast. I should have left the jianghu right there and then, but the child’s mother made me promise I would get revenge. That I would bring her the head of that dragon.”

“We’re all cowards,” Kee said, with a wry twist to her mouth. “Sometimes Fate just happens to be cruel enough to give us the chance to prove otherwise.”

“What about you?” Sarnai asked, raising her eyes. “Why are you really hunting dragons?’

“To eat memories that I do not have,” Kee said. Nyonya food laboured to make memories out of love, family memories, with spice and heat and sour and sweet. As the daughter of the Dragon, in the wake of all that she and her mother had wasted between them, this was the closest approximation Kee could get. A reconciliation, of sorts, years late.

“Who taught you how to shoot?”

Kee whirled around, and fumbled her bow in surprise. Her mother was watching from the path down to the river bank, her robes dusty from travel, her beaded bow at her back and her blade at her hip, her fine horse nowhere to be seen. “Mother. You’re early.” The reunion dinner for the Lunar New Year was not for a week, and her mother usually only showed up on the day itself, if at all.

Mother made her graceful way down the path, every step carefully considered. She wore her black hair bunned tightly, with a pale hairpin of white gold, wrought in the shape of a rising dragon. Every year Mother defied Time Herself, somehow: age might wear down and crumple other people, but with each year Mother somehow only looked more beautiful. Kee resented that as much as the rest of her mother. She had inherited her father’s stolid brows and strong jaw, with none of her mother’s grace. The only thing they shared, according to Father, were their eyes.

“Who taught you?” Mother repeated, once she was by Kee’s side. Her fierce dark eyes were steely, and as before, Kee could not meet her stare—she dropped her gaze, sullen.

“Uncle Ryen.”

“A hunter?”

“Sometimes.”

“It shows.” Mother said. Kee started to sputter, and Mother gestured at Kee’s reddened arm. “You’re holding the bow badly. That’s why the bowstring thumps your arm and hurts you. Again. Draw your bow.”

“Why should I have to listen to you? Most of the time, you’re never even here.”

Mother stiffened. For a moment she grew so still that Kee took a step away, anticipating a cuff to her ears, but the movement startled Mother out of her stillness, replacing it with a grief so visible and sudden that Kee stifled a gasp. “Stand straight. Legs apart. Your arms should form a straight line when you draw the bow,” she said, after a long moment, and turned, striding back up the path. Ashamed, Kee nearly called her back, but bit her lip and swallowed the words. At ten years of age, she told herself that she didn’t care. She drew the bow instead, notching an arrow.

It took a few attempts for Kee to figure out what Mother was talking about, and more to hit the target she had set up against the poplar tree. As Kee spun, with a whoop of joy, she thought she saw a flash of white against the trees by the path, but as she paused, squinting, hoping, she knew she was alone.

“There! Over there.” Sarnai stood in her stirrups, pointing at the horizon. Something big and far away wheeled in the sky in a slow circle, drifting against the clouds, angling out of sight towards the distant peaks of the Kuanyin Range.

“Are you sure?” Kee gathered her blankets closer over her shoulders, her nose buried in scarves. It was a dizzyingly cold day.

“Those red feathers. That great beak. Yes. Yes.” Sarnai’s face wore a fierce glow. “I’ll get it this time.”

“Once we close in on the Kuanyin we’ll be out of the Cloud Forest. Would it be safe being in the Kuanyin when night falls?” It was already late afternoon.

“Probably not.” Sarnai didn’t bother hiding her disappointment. “We’ll find a place to set up camp and leave for the Kuanyin in the morning.”

They unpacked at a clearing by a dense thicket of trees. Sarnai helped her set up the tents and start a fire, then mounted back up and rode away into the forest. Tethering Red Rabbit at the periphery of the camp, Kee took the waterskins full of pre-soaked black buah keluak seeds from the saddlebags and drained out the water. She cracked the shells, setting them aside, and marinated the meat of the nuts in lemon juice and brown sugar. Digging out her mortar and pestle, she began to pound the marinated meat into a paste.

The work calmed her with its rhythm, with the satisfying thump! Thump! Of grinding the meat into paste, smoothing out the bumps. She breathed in its scent and the scent of the forest. After this she’d have to stuff the paste back into the shells, then prepare the rempah—

Crack. Red Rabbit snorted, his ears pricking. Kee set down the mortar and pestle. Her bow—her bow was still at the saddle. She had her shelling knife and her cleaver. She clenched her right hand around the handle of the cleaver, shifting the knife to her left, scanning the tree line.

Crack. And now a low, familiar hiss. Kee crouched down, backing away towards a braying, snorting Red Rabbit, even as the dragon stepped out from the shadow of the trees.

It was magnificent. Taller than Kee, sleek and two-legged, spiked with bright yellow feathers against a leathery green hide. It had a snakelike neck and a long muzzle bristling with sharp teeth, and it cocked its head at Kee in a birdlike manner, its small, feathered front limbs twitching. It took another step, its powerful thighs tensing as it crouched.

“Hoi!” Kee tried to imitate Sarnai’s roar. She threw the shelling knife at it, darting to Red Rabbit’s side. The knife bounced off the dragon’s muzzle, and it hissed loudly, lunging with eye-watering speed.

Red Rabbit was faster. He kicked out with both hind legs, catching the dragon in the throat and flank. The dragon let out a shocked keening sound, knocked back and off its feet, scratching at the ground and thrashing its tail against the dirt, shrieking. Kee grabbed her mother’s bow and quiver from the saddle, fumbling the first arrow from her quiver with trembling fingers. She notched the second, drawing badly, and yelped as the bowstring slapped against her wrist, the arrow burying itself high on a tree trunk.

A third arrow. This time the arrow sank into the dragon’s chest as it scrambled to its feet. It shrilled, staggering back, clawing at the arrow, gouging bloody furrows in its own pelt.

Above, the sound of thunder. A shadow waded over the clearing, and the great dragon landed, talons first. It snapped the back of the two-legged dragon with a sharp crack, its vast leathery wings outstretched, its great beaked head as long as Kee was tall, spiked with teeth. It stabbed the beak into the eye of the thrashing two-legged dragon, and twisted cruelly. The body shook with grotesque death-spasms.

Kee backed away. The great dragon shook itself, ripping at the feathered hide of the yellow and green dragon, then tearing out steaming chunks, which it ate with birdlike gulps. Its serpentine neck was naked and scaly, its head crested with red feathers, its body nested with black plumes. It stank with a powerful carrion stench, and as it eyed her and hissed, its foul breath made Kee stumble back and gag.

Sarnai charged out of the trees. She twisted astride the saddle, notching and loosing an arrow in a single smooth motion. Her arrow caught the great dragon in its throat, the next in its shoulder. The dragon shrieked and stabbed forward with its sharp beak, but Sarnai’s horse sprang clear at some hidden signal, back into the tree line.

Kee breathed. She notched her fourth arrow, drawing clean lines from arrowhead to arms. The arrow took the dragon high on its chest, the next deflecting off its beak. It lurched towards her with surprising speed, the claws notched into its wing joints digging into the dirt as it swarmed forward. Its beak snapped forward, catching Kee high on her shoulder even as she tried to run, punching her into the air, though it didn’t breach her winter clothes. She landed hard against a tree, the breath knocked out of her.

Another charge, and a war cry. Sarnai leaped from the saddle of her horse and onto the dragon’s back. She stabbed down with both scimitars, holding on grimly as the dragon shrieked and stumbled back, trying to shake her off. Gritting her teeth, Kee somehow managed to get to her feet. Drawing her mother’s bow felt like she was trying to break her arm off at the shoulder. Somehow she did it anyway. Her next arrow found the dragon’s throat, the next high in its chest. The dragon reared with a scream. Sarnai was thrown free, fetching hard against a tree root with a cry of pain. For a moment Kee thought the dragon would turn, stab down with its great beak, but it shrilled at them instead, shaking itself, clawing back up into the air.

Once Kee was sure that the dragon was gone, she walked cautiously back into the clearing, patting a trembling Red Rabbit until the donkey calmed down. Sarnai was sitting up, rubbing her temple, rueful. “So close,” she said.

“It’s wounded. It might not have gone far.”

“You’d be surprised.” Sarnai looked around, at the dead yellow dragon on the grass, at the overturned pots, the stuffed buah keluak shells scattered in the grass. “I was afraid I wouldn’t come back in time.”

“I knew the risks.”

“And you handled them too. Better than some in the jianghu would have.” Sarnai smiled warmly.

Kee ducked her head. She bent, starting to pick up stuffed shells, those that could be salvaged. There was still enough that she could make a variant of the black-nut stew for dinner, one that every Nyonya woman knew, often the first dish that Nyonya women taught their daughters. She would make it with dragon-meat and Time. Perhaps one day, for Sarnai, with something more. “Rest. Dinner will be in a few hours.”

(Editors’ Note: Anya Ow is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)

Anya Ow

Anya was born in Singapore and has Hainanese, Peranakan, and Hakka ancestry. She moved to Melbourne to practice law for a few years. Anya now works in an ad agency as a designer and as the chief briber of studio dogs. Her first novel, The Firebird’s Tale, was published in 2016. Anya’s short stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Daily SF, and Aurealis. She can be found on Twitter @anyasy.

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