Chapter Twenty One
Not Over Yet
Xiao Xiao woke up to the sound of dull booming, like distant thunder. The thunder repeated a few times. It was not thunder. It was the sound of cannons firing in quick succession.
"The ships are firing at each other!" the guards were yelling.
Cold unease filled Xiao Xiao's chest. Why were they firing at each other? Wasn't there a treaty? Her father spoke at length about the treaty one day, when he spent time with her. He seemed to unburden himself of all his worries that day. The weight of state affairs was as heavy as the boulders that ringed the courtyards, heavier than the metal braziers combined. He would rather wish to be far away from politics and negotiations with powers beyond the kingdom's borders.
"Are we going into war?" Mother said. She had emerged from her chambers. It struck Xiao Xiao forcibly that Mother looked tired, frail. Her face was pale. There were dark rings around her beautiful eyes. It suddenly occurred to Xiao Xiao that her mother was getting older.
Xiao Xiao shook her head slowly.
"They are saying that there's a monster in the sea!"
Xiao Xin tugged at Xiao Xiao's sleeve.
"It's back," the little girl whispered.
The monster rose from the water, heedless of the booming cannons. Sailors yelled and pointed. A stray cannon crashed into one of the naval ships, causing it to crack and lurch to one side. It began to sink. Panicking men leapt off the sinking vessel, many swimming towards the shore.
A roar shook the air. The Nian's cavernous jaw clamped around one man and swallowed him whole.
"Shoot that... thing!" the British commander ordered his men. A monster? Was it a trick from the Chinese emperor? The monster was swimming towards his ship!
A direct hit crashed into the Nian's face. Injured and offended, it roared even louder. It inched ever closer towards the British vessel.
A salvo boomed from the Chinese naval ships, hitting the Nian square in its scaly flank. The creature let out a bellow and the sea vibrated.
Muzzle bruised and sore, the Nian shifted away from the British ship. It began to swim towards the palace.
Thank you for reading Part 10 of Pearl of the Palace by Joyce Chng!
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