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RHEE tore a path through the bustling marketplace, kicking up dust that fell slowly in Nau Fruma’s low gravity. The foreign tourists coughed and complained as she passed, but Rhee ignored them, scanning the fairgrounds for Julian as she clutched his miniature telescope to her chest. She wasn’t accustomed to being in a crowd; so much of her life had been spent looking down at one from a balcony, urged to wave and smile and look as ladylike as possible. But now, among the people, there was a jostle and roughness to it that Rhee found thrilling.
It was the golden hour, and the sun dipped just below the hori- zon. Risking a quick glance behind her, Rhee spotted one of the Tasinn plowing through the ebb and flow of bodies, headed in her direction. His khaki fitted uniform and polished badges stood out amid the sea of vibrant linen robes. His skin was ashen and pale, unlike the men who’d grown up on this desert moon and knew the heat of the sun by its true distance—not through the refracted beams and domed cities on Kalu. From here she could see that his hand hovered above the stunner strapped to his belt.
The Tasinn were the royal guard—her royal guards, technically, but they felt like a relic of her father’s era, wholly separate from the life she’d led here on Nau Fruma. They were an elite group of fighters plucked from the ranks of UniForce soldiers and trained in personal security. This guard was one of many men sent to find her so she could return home to Kalu, to the planet of her birth.
Rhee had been six when she left, just after her entire fam- ily had died in a crash—“an accident,” the authorities called it, a tragedy Rhee had supposedly been lucky to avoid. But she knew better. There were two things for certain: that her family had been murdered, and that she was supposed to have died at their side.
A homemade firework screeched into the darkening sky, its high-pitched fury petering out into a low whistle. It exploded in the distance. She wondered if her family’s ending had been that instantaneous and merciful.
Rhee slipped the telescope in her pocket and pulled her hood lower to hide her mismatched eyes, one brown and one hazel. She tucked back her jet-black braid and cut left between two rows of tents, squeezing past two laughing men. Dodging a tall woman carrying a cage, she flinched when the white bird inside flapped its wings—then felt silly.
“Stay at the ready,” Veyron had always said as he’d held up two calloused hands for her to box and kick. She’d cycle through combos until all she could hear was her heartbeat drumming in her ears. In the dojo she wasn’t a girl or a princess. She was simply a series of intentions: dodge, strike, block, kill.
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Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing X-Filesfanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. She's a children's editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed with far too many bikes and far too many shoes. When she's not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter @rhodabee.
EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES
by Rhoda Belleza
Published: February 7th 2017
Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.
Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he's forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.
With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly are thrown together to confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.
A saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.
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