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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Author:Xiran Jay Zhao
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: PRH Canada Young Readers
Published: 2021-09-21T00:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

THE TIGRESS

An Lushan is of course livid at the stunt we pulled. But with Chief Strategist Zhuge Liang on our side, he couldn’t do much against us after the battle ended.

We can’t coast on that forever, though. The various frontiers and their local strategists may technically be under the authority of Central Command, but Central Command answers to the Sages, and can’t claim to know the intricacies of each region. If every single senior Sui-Tang strategist insists it’s a better idea to tribute us than to risk our continued existence, the Sages will take their word, even if Central Command is an all-star team of the best and most experienced strategists from across Huaxia.

We need to start changing attitudes fast.

Even though the Kaihuang watchtower is right in front of the Tiger Cage training camp, some rigid rule forces Qieluo and Yang Jiang to relocate from their luxury loft to a camp bunker all the same once they’re qi-exhausted and off-duty, so there’s an opportunity to catch Qieluo at the communal showers. With a jade necklace as incentive (courtesy of Yizhi, after we waited out the battle), the auntie who manages the showers alerts me the next time Qieluo shows up.

When I push through the showers’ translucent vinyl curtains, naked, I find half a dozen women and a few children in the steam. Mostly servant aunties, I’m assuming—and Dugu Qieluo.

She’s impossible to miss. She’s sitting on a short wooden stool away from everyone else, shampooing her hair. The Metal-white spinal brace from her White Tiger armor runs like a strip of porcelain down her back. With that on, and its connection needles constantly in her spine, she’d only have to lean against the rest of her armor to reconnect with it. This saves pilots from having to endure the jab of the needles over and over. The needles are thin enough that they don’t impact the regular mobility of pilots.

I stand rooted to the tiled floor for a few moments, gripping my basket of small glass toiletry bottles. Despite the whole baffling list of things I’ve been through, Qieluo’s presence makes me feel like a simple frontier peasant again, unworthy of gazing upon a Princess-General, the highest status a girl could achieve.

Until you, I remind myself.

I grab a stool and totter over to her.

Her shampooing hands halt when I clank my stool down beside her. A caged heat lamp seethes in a crevasse in the wall, infusing the steam with the taste of wet metal. Slowly, she turns to me, features stiff with offense. But upon catching sight of my face, she abruptly slackens with surprise. Her irises sizzle with her Wood-green qi—a spinal brace still works to conduct it.

I struggle not to make the same expression, because, oh skies, Dugu Qieluo is looking right at me.

“Uh, hi.” I clear my throat, carefully sitting down on my stool. “I’m Wu Zetian. I’m new.”

She narrows her eyes, which are even more deep-set and blade-like than Li Shimin’s, given her full Rongdi heritage.



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