issue 3

Seven Parts Full, by Anya Ow

Seok Kim cursed the mountain as she walked. The mouse deer that ducked away from her stumbling gait wasn’t spared her wrath. As she loudly wished for a thousand fleas to infest its white-striped throat, someone stifled a laugh. 

Dropping a hand to the heavy cleaver belted to her hip, Seok Kim backed up a step and squinted at the humid gloom. “Who’s there?” 

A tall woman in grey and saffron robes circled around an angsana tree, picking her way delicately over the roots on homespun slippers. Her shaved head did nothing to detract from the startling beauty of her delicate cheekbones and moon-shaped face, a bodhisattva exploring the woods with a basket slung against one elbow. It was half-filled with fungus and herbs. “I’m sorry if I startled you,” said the monk.

Seok Kim reddened. “No, I’m…no. It’s all right.” She was acutely aware of her flushed and sweaty state from trudging uphill through the jungle, of the rudeness of her clothes. Seok Kim had finer clothes in her pack, but for the trek, she’d worn a short-sleeved brown samfu and pants. 

“Can I help you? Are you lost?” asked the monk. 

“I’m looking for the Temple of the Quiet God.” 

“You’re not far. An hour’s walk.” The monk pointed past the trees, which were climbing against a steep slope through dense undergrowth. 

“What? I know you people like solitude, but isn’t this a bit much?” Weren’t many monks older people? The profession was getting less popular now that the Imperial Examinations were open to everyone, but what if an elderly monk fell ill? Convincing a doctor to make the trek up the mountain was going to be tough.

“May I ask what your business is with the Temple? We don’t often get visitors.”

Seok Kim patted her steel cleaver. “I heard that your abbess has the Jade Knife. I want it.” 

The monk eyed Seok Kim with surprise. “You don’t look like a bandit.” 

“I’m not a bandit!” Seok Kim bristled. “If I were, would I have told you what I was after? I’m going to challenge her for it in a fair fight.”

“We’re a nonviolent sect.” The monk looked mildly horrified at the thought.

Seok Kim deflated, hot with embarrassment. On hindsight, she did look like a mountain bandit in her muddy clothes, with her brawny arms and the cleaver at her hip. Just a week ago, Seok Kim had roared with laughter during an impromptu contest of strength in a restaurant, beating out all the local menfolk for the number of children anyone could hoist in the air for five minutes. Before the graceful monk, Seok Kim felt like an ox with her sturdy frame. “I didn’t mean a fight in that way. I’m a chef. I don’t know if you’ve heard of PeraMakan up here, but it’s the best restaurant in Huat City.” She slapped her fist against her chest proudly.

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“No, it’s all right. It’s my fault.” Seok Kim wouldn’t usually concede something like this, particularly not in the provinces. People who judged her by her appearance and mannerisms often made her laugh—PeraMakan’s success spoke for itself. The monk’s elegant contrition embarrassed Seok Kim where mockery and disdain would have amused her. 

“You’re too kind to say so. What is your name?” 

“Oh, right. Seok Kim of Huat. You?” 

“Feng.” 

“Nice to meet you. I’m glad you found me—I’d have walked in circles on your mountain for days if you hadn’t.” 

“I’ll show you to the Temple,” Feng offered. 

Seok Kim looked at Feng’s half-empty basket. “It’s all right; you’ve already told me where it was. I don’t want to interrupt your work or get you into trouble.” 

“The entrance to the Temple may be difficult to find for someone new to this area. I’ll walk you.” 

“Tell you what,” Seok Kim said with a smile, “how about I help you gather pig’s ear mushrooms, wolfberries, and astralagus, and once we’ve got a basketful of them we head up together? That way I won’t get lost, and I’ll be paying you back for your help.” 

“You know these herbs… do you have an interest in medicine?” Feng asked, intrigued. 

“I have an interest in anything tasty,” Seok Kim said, chuckling, “and if it’s medicinal, that’s a bonus for me. I don’t care what it is: soup, pills, elixirs—if it tastes bad, I won’t eat it.” 

Instead of grimacing or laughing along, Feng nodded gravely. “Yes, that’s something that I’ve been trying to solve. Medicines that are too bitter—or just unpalatable in some way—often end up unused by our patients. Particularly the very young or very elderly.”

“Making things taste good is my speciality. While we’re looking for your mushrooms, why don’t you tell me what you’re working on? No need to give me the exact ingredients, though I promise you I won’t steal the recipes. Maybe I can help.” 

Feng smiled warmly at Seok Kim, the soft curve of her mouth lighting up her face. “I would be grateful for your guidance.”

“Hai, hai, no need to put it like that,” Seok Kim said with a dismissive gesture. “It’s just small talk.” 

It took the better part of the rest of the day to find enough astralagus for Feng. As they walked up the mountain, the temperature began to dip along with the sun in the sky, though the humid air still made the trek uncomfortable. Feng looked unbothered even under her layers of robes. She walked in a way that made her float over the gnarled roots and undergrowth, soft-footed and quiet. Seok Kim wasn’t sure if Feng might be a martial artist of some kind. Huat City and the surrounding Pek province was home to the Khouw Clan, and the robed martial arts practitioners of the clan were a common sight on the streets. Ordinary people like Seok Kim hardly ever had the opportunity to witness anything unusual, however. The Khouw Clan had strict rules against duels. 

“How did the emperor get to the Temple when there’s no road?” Seok Kim complained after the third time she tripped over a root and had to be steadied by Feng. “Surely she didn’t trek up the mountain on foot. Her sedan chair wouldn’t have made it through the trees.” 

“The mountain is nothing to a divine horse.” 

“I’ve never heard of any horse that wouldn’t break a leg on a mountain like this,” Seok Kim huffed as she walked.

“They’re specially bred for the Imperial family and the Inner Circle. Highly intelligent and sure-footed.” 

“Must have been an exciting day,” Seok Kim said. The story of the Emperor visiting the Temple of the Quiet God had spread quickly through Pek province, of the abbess whom the Emperor herself had called an ‘Enlightened Chef’ after sampling her cooking. “Have you seen the Jade Knife?” 

“Everyone saw it,” said Feng. “The emperor bestowed it only when the entire monastery was gathered in the courtyard to watch.” 

“She didn’t want anyone missing out on the honour.” That was nice of the Emperor.

“You could say that.”

Seok Kim looked at Feng, puzzled. “What else could it be? The Jade Knife’s a blessed artefact consecrated by Sui Ren himself. One of the God of Cookery’s own knives. Isn’t it true that any raw ingredient touched by the knife reverts to its freshest possible state? Any chef would want such a thing.” 

Feng gave Seok Kim an appraising stare. “Is that why you want it?” 

“Why else would I want it? I have good knives aplenty back in the restaurant.” Seok Kim frowned. “Is there something wrong with it? Cursed? Or does it not do what it’s meant to do? If that’s the case, I’m going home.” That would be disappointing. 

“It does what it’s reputed to do.” Feng started to say more and hesitated as they stepped out into a well-trod dirt path that snaked up to a well-swept compound. 

Nestled within the trees, the Temple of the Quiet God embraced the forest. Saplings and undergrowth crept into the edges of the compound, and twining vines knotted into living walls against the flanks of the stone building. It was the least decorated temple Seok Kim had ever seen. Even the tiles of its roof were an unvarnished red instead of the bright enamel green that Seok Kim was used to in Huat. There were no stone guardian lions or friezes. 

Near the archway into the temple was a person on the most beautiful horse Seok Kim had ever seen. It looked forged out of gold—its pelt and mane glimmered in the sun, and there was an intelligent gleam in its eye as it glanced over at their approach. A thickly bearded man in scale and leather armour sat in its saddle, with a large curved ornamental knife sheathed at his hip and a black enamel bow against his back. 

The rider looked over at them and got off his horse, striding over. Seok Kim moved to stand between him and the monk. The rider glowered at her. “Out of the way, woman.”

“Who are you?” Seok Kim shot back.

“None of your business.” 

Seok Kim ignored the warning in his tone. Belligerent, rude men always rubbed her the wrong way. “What do you want with the monks?” 

“Not the monks. Her.” The rider jerked his chin at Feng. “Move. Or I’ll move you.” 

“I’d like to see you try.” Seok Kim was always up for a fight. 

“It’s all right.” Feng touched Seok Kim’s elbow gently. “General Yee. You seek the Jade Knife.” 

“What else would I want from here?” General Yee said. 

“Well, you can’t have it,” Seok Kim cut in as Feng opened her mouth. “Or you need to get in line. I already told Feng here that I intend to challenge the Temple for the Jade Knife.” 

“Is this true?” General Yee glared at Feng. 

Feng looked between Seok Kim and the General, even as Seok Kim said, “Why would I lie about something like that?”

“You?” General Yee looked Seok Kim up and down. “You look like a bandit.”

You look like a bandit.” It wasn’t Seok Kim’s best comeback. She cleared her throat and pushed on. “I’ve got a cleaver, some chef’s knives and tools, a pack of condiments, pickles, and spices. You’ve got a big knife and a bow. Who’s a bandit?” 

General Yee’s face turned eggplant purple under his whiskers. Gritting his teeth, he said, “Fight me first, then. Winner challenges the Temple for the knife. Fists? Blades? Bow? What do you want? I’m in a hurry.” 

“Seok Kim,” Feng said. She looked a little alarmed. “Surely you don’t intend to fight. You’re not a practitioner. General Yee studied with the Khouw Clan.”

PeraMakan was popular with the Khouw Clan, who were polite, tipped well, and most importantly, ensured that no fights ever broke out in the restaurant. Every Clan person Seok Kim had ever met was armed to the teeth. She made a show of cracking her knuckles. “General, you’re in a hurry, I’m in a hurry. Let’s not waste words.” 

“You’re either very brave or very ignorant,” General Yee said. 

“I don’t like people who are rude to women.” Seok Kim folded her arms over her chest. “Didn’t your mother teach you anything? It’s fine. I’ll teach you a lesson in her place. One contest, winner takes all?” 

General Yee nodded, too angry to speak. 

“Do you have a weapon of choice, or can I pick?” Seok Kim asked. She looked askance at General Yee’s fine weapons. “I can’t say I’m very good with a bow.” 

“You pick,” General Yee growled. 

“You’ll be satisfied with my choice? No second thoughts?”

“My word on it.” General Yee sniffed. “Don’t worry,” he told Feng. “No lives can be taken on the Temple grounds, I know. I’ll let her live.” 

“No need to be so dramatic. Besides, aren’t you getting ahead of yourself, General?” Seok Kim asked. “I haven’t yet named my weapon of choice.” 

“Well, what is it?” General Yee said. 

“The kitchen.” Seok Kim grinned sharply.

A soft laugh eased out of Feng. The monk pressed her fingers to her mouth to stifle the rest, though the rest of her mirth sat warmly in her large, dark eyes. General Yee stood frozen, his thick hands curling and uncurling at his flanks. Seok Kim tried not to tense up. If the General snapped and reached for his weapons, she’d have to act first. Catch him off guard and hopefully get in a few good knocks. Brawls she was used to, but in a straight-up fight against a trained soldier, Seok Kim knew that the odds weren’t in her favour.

General Yee slapped one meaty fist into his palm. “Fine.” 

“Fine?” Seok Kim said, having braced for more anger at the very least. 

“You think I’ll just admit defeat? Fine.” General Yee glanced at Feng. “Can we borrow the monastery’s kitchen?” 

“We’ll clean up after and pay for any damage caused,” Seok Kim said. 

“Who’s judging?” General Yee asked. 

“I guess the abbess can judge. It’s her knife,” Seok Kim said. 

General Yee clasped his hands together. “General Yee Yin of Tek Kha Garrison.”

Seok Kim copied the gesture. “Seok Kim of Huat. Owner of PeraMakan.”

A smirk stole up under General Yee’s whiskers. “PeraMakan … I’ve heard of your restaurant. Your speciality’s the fish head curry, isn’t it? And the candlenut chicken stew. Rich, powerful flavours.” 

“What about it?” Seok Kim asked warily. She was proud of her menu.

“Here’s a free tip. The abbess is vegetarian, and she has very particular tastes. I know what she likes. You don’t.” 

“How would you know about that? You can cook?” The General didn’t look the sort.

“Khouw Clan chores are all done by their juniors, and the Clan Elders love temple food. Ready to lose?”

“Lose? In a cook-off? I don’t know what that means.” Seok Kim cracked her knuckles. “Two hours. No help.”

“Done,” General Yee said.

Feng chuckled, inclining her head. 


“How are you finding the facilities?” Feng asked as Seok Kim thinly sliced vegetables over a stone cooking bench in the outdoor section of the kitchen. 

“Kitchen’s not what I’m used to, but it’s fine.” Seok Kim and the General had tossed coins for the use of the indoor or outdoor kitchen, and the General had looked satisfied with the hand Fate had given him. 

“You’re very good with a knife,” Feng said, inspecting the slices, each of them perfectly even in width.

“It’s not the only thing I’m good with,” Seok Kim said with a wink. Feng stared at her in surprise and blushed, colour tinging her pretty cheeks. “I’m joking,” Seok Kim said, before Feng got offended that she was trying to flirt with a monk. 

“Are you?” Feng asked, amused instead of indignant. 

“Maybe not,” Seok Kim admitted. “You’re too pretty to be cloistered up here. Did your family send you here? Surely they could have found you a good marriage. Or a good apprenticeship.” 

“Why do you say that?” 

“Well,” Seok Kim said, with a helpless wave of her cleaver in Feng’s direction, “you’re beautiful and clever. Talking to you on the way up here gave me a lot of ideas. For food,” she said hastily, in case Feng took offence. “Not medicines. I said I wasn’t going to steal your remedies.” 

“Food? How so?” 

“I change up parts of my menu all the time. This might be a good new direction. As long as it’s still tasty, people won’t complain.” 

Feng picked up the pot of sambal that Seok Kim had made before setting off for the Temple, sniffing it. She raised her eyebrows. “That’s a little strong,” Seok Kim said, trying not to sound defensive. “Hey, Feng. You know the abbess well, don’t you? What does she like to eat?” 

“It’s a bit late to ask, isn’t it?” 

“I don’t know much about temple food,” Seok Kim admitted. “I’ve never had it before. There are temples in Huat, but my family and I only ever went there to pray. We never had the money for anything else.” 

Feng set the bottle of sambal down lightly. “I am the abbess.” She smiled as Seok Kim flinched.

“You? Ha. Haha. Surely the abbess is an older woman. You look younger than I am.” 

“Youth is often a lie.”

“What were you doing picking mushrooms on the mountain, if you’re head of a temple?”

“It’s a small temple. All of us do our part.” Feng tilted her head. “Why do you think the General waited until I arrived to make his demands? There were other monks in the courtyard.” 

Seok Kim slowly set down her cleaver. “I’ve made a fool of myself.” 

“No. Not at all.” Feng reached over, touching Seok Kim’s wrist with her fingertips. “You’re a stranger; there’s no reason you should have known.” 

“No one is a stranger to a chef,” Seok Kim said, checking on the rice. “Anyone hungry is there to be fed, and anyone I feed often becomes a friend.” 

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Feng nodded slowly. “You asked me a question about what I liked to eat.” 

“Ah, don’t tell me. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Fair?” 

“That man over there might be a loudmouth, but I can tell he isn’t a chef. If I get any inside information, that’s cheating. With my kind of food, if you cheat, it isn’t going to taste good.” Seok Kim sniffed the heated air over the wok and ducked down to stoke the fires higher. “The only thing I need to know is whether you have any allergies.”

“No. No allergies. But yes, I’m a strict vegetarian.” 

“How strict? Eggs?” 

“No, and we don’t have hens.” 

“Seafood?”

“No.” 

“I can work with that,” Seok Kim said, though it was going to be a problem. No eggs meant no kueh pie tee pastry shells. The sambal would have to be remixed, and without shrimp paste, it wasn’t going to taste the same. She had several ingredients bottled in her bag, but not nearly enough to recreate some of them from scratch. “I like the challenge.” 

“About the knife…” Feng trailed off, nibbling on her lower lip. “It’s exactly what it’s said to be.”

“So what’s the problem?” 

Feng’s smile was a little sad. “It’s the reason why you’ve both come all this way. Don’t you think that’s frightening?” 

“I don’t know. The General’s loud and bad-tempered but I don’t think he’s a wicked person. As to me,” Seok Kim said, winking, “do you think I’m frightening?” 

Feng’s cheeks turned a little pink. “I’ll see you and the General at dinner. I wish you the best of luck.” 


General Yee served bowls of luohanmian, a simple noodle dish with mushroom broth topped with braised mushrooms, fresh vegetables, and beancurd. Judging from the awkward consistency of the noodles, the General had tried to make them himself. The soup was oddly tasty, even though it had no chilli, no garlic, no ginger or onions. The broth was a rich oak brown, fragrant without being pungent. 

“Not bad,” Seok Kim told him as she ate. 

General Yee looked disgruntled. “There’s no need to save my face. The youngest line chefs at your restaurant could probably do better. I’m so out of practice it’s embarrassing.” 

“I’m not helping you save face,” Seok Kim told him, “you’re my competitor. The noodles are a disaster, sure, but you’re out of practice, and the facilities are simple. I don’t know how you got the soup this rich without pungent ingredients. The mushrooms are inconsistently chopped, but the vegetables were sliced properly, and you even gave the presentation of the dish some thought. It’s good, and I misjudged you.”

The General’s weather-worn face flushed in pleasure, and he bent to pick at his bowl. Seok Kim snuck a glance at Feng, who had carefully picked at everything in her bowl before eating. Even the way she held her chopsticks was beautiful, the wooden tips pressed in perfect alignment with no awkward movements. Seok Kim tried not to feel guilty for staring. After today, it was unlikely that she’d get another chance. 

“Now for yours,” Feng told Seok Kim. Was that a flash of concern in her eyes? Seok Kim made a show of bowing as she got up from the table, but if Feng felt amused in any way, she hid it well. 

General Yee lit up as Seok Kim brought out dish after dish in a colourful array, tiling the simple table until it groaned. “How did you make so much in two hours?” he marvelled. 

“Some things are from home,” Seok Kim conceded. “I’ll point them out now so it’d be fair. The achar and the caramel dark soy sauce in the tau yew bak. The gula melaka in the dessert’s from my restaurant too. General, if you’re not vegetarian, this is PeraMakan’s house sambal.” 

“If I lose, at least I’ll lose with a full stomach,” General Yee said, already shovelling fried herbed rice onto his plate. “I haven’t had nasi ulam for years.” 

“Come by PeraMakan anytime. I’m usually in the kitchen,” Seok Kim said. 

“After my wife—I mean, yes. Next time I’m in Huat, I’ll be there.” General Yee closed his eyes with a hum as he ate his first mouthful. “Wow.” 

Seok Kim looked at Feng, but she was expressionless as she ate. Occasionally, Feng would tilt her head or frown slightly. Unsettled, Seok Kim tried to enjoy her food. She’d never had anyone eat her cooking in absolute silence before. Seok Kim wasn’t used to cooking an entirely vegetarian version of the Tok Panjang feast experience. Still, she’d carefully tasted each dish before serving it—even rejecting one at the last minute for not being up to scratch. It was good. Not PeraMakan good, but good enough given the time limit and the facilities. 

The silence unsettled even General Yee. His voice raised a fraction, as though trying to make up for the quiet. “The achar’s great. Just the right combination of sour, spicy, and sweet. Crunchy, too.”

“I made it last night since it has to pickle for a while to be good,” Seok Kim said. Maybe she should have listened to General Yee and cooked temple food—her dishes were the opposite of what the General had served. They were her on a plate: complex, but loud and colourful. Seok Kim didn’t know how to cook any other way but with pride.

As the dishes were cleared, Seok Kim resigned herself to failure. No matter, she told herself. She could always try again. It wasn’t as though the knife would be lost. 

“I heard that Nyonya dishes are passed down from women to their daughters,” Feng said, the first words she had spoken since Seok Kim had served her.

“That’s right,” Seok Kim said. “They’re not the same as my mother’s food, but neither was my mother’s the same as my grandmother’s. This is my food, not my mother’s or the mothers before her, but it’s also theirs, because they taught each other in turn all the way to me.” 

“This is the Jade Knife.” Feng drew a scabbarded blade from her sleeve. It was slightly larger than the average chef’s knife, and was sheathed in scaled qilin leather to preserve the edge. Feng drew the knife from the sheath. From blade to tip it was a solid block of jade that ran from pale ivory at the hilt to a deep grassy green at the tip. Feng pressed the edge of the Jade Knife to her plate and exerted a little strength. The ceramic plate split into two clean halves. Plucking one of the coriander garnishes from the side of a plate, Feng touched it to the blunt side of the knife. The sprig brightened, taking on a fresh-cut scent. 

“Incredible,” Seok Kim breathed. She had never seen a magical artefact of any sort before. General Yee stared fixedly at the blade and said nothing.

“Seok Kim. I ask you again. Why do you want the Knife? A chef as good as you are won’t need a knife to ensure whether an ingredient is of the freshest quality. No doubt you have an agreement with friendly farmers to provide you with their best. You already have good knives. Why do you need this?” 

“To be honest, it wasn’t so much about the knife but the challenge.” Seok Kim rubbed her chin with a wry curl to her mouth. “I like a fight, and fighting chef to chef sounded like something fun? Besides, I didn’t like the fact that no one got the chance to compete for your title. The Emperor’s mother is from Huat.” 

“It was pride that brought you here,” Feng said. 

“There’s nothing wrong with that.” The food that Seok Kim had grown up with and that she now cooked was made with pride; pride and love. 

“General Yee. Why do you want the knife?” Feng turned to the General. 

“I’ve already lost, haven’t I? There’s no need to say it.” General Yee drew himself up and lifted his chin.

“I haven’t decided on the winner. Why do you want the knife?” Feng asked. 

“She won. It’s clear from the quality of the food,” General Yee said. 

“If it’s an Imperial secret or something similar, we don’t need to know,” Seok Kim said quickly. She had no wish to get any of them into trouble over a knife. 

“It’s not an Imperial secret. It’s my wife,” General Yee muttered, with a sidelong glance at the knife. “She’s pregnant. It’s our first child, but the pregnancy isn’t agreeing with her. Unless she eats something of the freshest possible quality, she throws up.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Seok Kim said, alarmed. “I wouldn’t have challenged you for the knife if I’d known.” 

“I didn’t know that then. I thought you were just a greedy troublemaker until I tasted your food. You’ve won. I don’t want the decision to rest on something other than our contest,” General Yee said. 

Feng set the knife back into its sheath. “General, you’re a fair cook, but you aren’t as good as Seok Kim. Your food is indeed what I would usually prefer, but Seok Kim’s food is undeniably better. I can’t name you the victor in this contest.”

“Don’t worry,” Seok Kim said as the General nodded. “I’ll lend you the knife.” 

“But you won—” General Yee began.

“That being said,” Feng cut in, “the contest wasn’t for the knife, but for the right to challenge me.” 

“Oh, right.” Seok Kim reddened to her ears. “Dinner?”

“There’s no rush. Your need for the knife isn’t great.” Feng handed the Jade Knife to the General, hilt-first. “You may borrow the knife until your child is born. I charge you to take good care of it.”

“I will, but—” General Yee winced as Seok Kim slapped him on the arm. 

“Take it and be grateful,” Seok Kim said. 

“Thank you. I swear to return it safely,” General Yee said, getting to his feet and bowing deeply. 

“Pick up Seok Kim from her restaurant on your way back. She can challenge me then,” Feng said. She smiled slightly. “The General can be our judge. I trust he will be impartial, though I’m warning you. At your current level of craft, you won’t be able to beat me.” 

“How far along is your wife?” Seok Kim asked the General, who looked overwhelmed. 

“She only just started to show.” 

Half a year was enough time for some serious training. “I won’t be at my current level of craft in half a year,” Seok Kim said. She clapped the General on the arm again when he tried to speak. “Go home. Your wife’s hungry.” 

“I’ll take you down the mountain,” General Yee offered. “It’s the least I can do.” 

“No need for that,” Seok Kim said. She had to keep assuring General Yee that she would be fine on her own as they saw him out. When the golden horse disappeared through the trees, Seok Kim exhaled loudly. “I thought he would never leave. Are you sure that he’ll be back? That knife’s priceless.”

“He’s a distant relative of the Emperor through his wife. He’ll be back—his wife will make sure of it. You should have gone with him. That divine horse he was riding could easily carry two,” Feng said.

“I’m not in a hurry. If you don’t mind putting up with me for a few days, I’d like to taste your cooking. I’ll help out with anything you need.” Seok Kim tried not to look too hopeful. 

“I don’t know if I can give you what you’re looking for,” Feng said, guarded. “Unlike some of the others, my vows of celibacy were easy to make. I’ve never had any interest in, ah, physical matters.”

“Who said anything about physical matters? We were talking about food, weren’t we?” Seok Kim said with mock innocence. She lowered her voice as Feng chuckled softly instead of growing offended. “I’m researching my competition. Besides, you’re good company. I’ll be honoured to call you a friend.” They were alone in the courtyard. When Feng didn’t answer immediately, Seok Kim tentatively touched Feng’s wrist, grasping her delicate hand between her two leathery palms when Feng didn’t pull back. She squeezed Feng’s fingers lightly and grew a little breathless as Feng squeezed back. 

“You’re welcome to stay for as long as you like.” Feng laced their fingers together for a shy moment before reluctantly pulling back. “Now, did you have more of that dessert?”


Anya Ow is the author of The Firebird’s Tale and Cradle and Grave, and her short stories have appeared in publications such as Uncanny and Strange Horizons. Born in Singapore, Anya lives in Melbourne with her two cats. She can be found at www.anyasy.com or on Twitter @anyasy.

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