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Achin drops to her knees, her eyes dull from the drugged ash-wine. Behind her, the rest of the Heavenly Choir does the same, voluntarily or at the hands of the guards.

The emperor is propped up before them, pale, like a thing already dead. The soothsayer Quan-ti turns from the fire and nods to the bard, who bends his head to his lute. The Choir begins to sing; Quan-ti, smiling, approaches their leader.

He draws the short bronze knife across her throat and moves on; behind him, the emperor flushes with health. Achin’s voice dies in gurgles. The blade keeps singing.