Author's Note: It's been less than a year, and already I'm breaking my promise.
Here is the highly anticipated sequel to Land of Red.
Land of Red II
At last, I could blend into the swarming crowd. People here all have skin like mine—a dark, earthy red. I stood near the back, anxiously waiting. The sun beat down on me. My clothes stuck to my skin. It was sweltering. There was a hazy smell of sweat that hung in the air.
The city was crackling with anticipation. The main city avenue—usually packed with street vendors—had been cleared and swept. The houses on each side were garnished with the national emblem. The Queen's soldiers were here to keep peace. They stood in two lines, dividing the crowd and keeping the avenue free.
For as far as my eyes could see, there was a sea of terracotta faces. Having waited for hours, the crowd was starting to grow restless. Women loudly gossiped among themselves. Children cried, squealed, shouted.
Everyone snapped to attention and craned their heads to see. I stood on my tiptoes. Then, I saw them.
The procession began with a vast team of camels, walking in uniform lines. I thought their long necks looked regal and their long, curling lashes very pretty. They seemed to me like haughty women. Their proud owners hoisted Deshret flags up high and made sure they fluttered so all of us could see. I could hear music, the harmonious chorus of aluds, faults, hearpes, a prelude for His Majesty, the King of Deshret.
My heart pounded close to my throat. I hadn't seen him in so long. Had he changed?
But of course he changed, I chided myself. No one can stay the same for five years.
I wondered if I could still get a good look at him from where I stood. I was so far from the avenue. There were so many in front of me that I had to peek through a forest of heads.
I began elbowing my way towards the front, ignoring the curses people threw at me as I jammed past them. Then, halfway, I stopped. What if he saw me? I decided to stand my ground and contented myself with the view I had.
From all around me came cries of excitement. I finally saw what I came here for:
Cicario was sitting on a golden platform held by four strong slaves. His silky white robes shimmered and shone under the hot sun. His black hair provided a good juxtaposition.
He played the part of the visiting diplomat to perfection. He waved and threw sweets at the crowds, a broad smile on his face. Slowly, his procession marched towards the palace of our queen.
He was passing right in front of me, now. I tilted my head up, smiling. What a great king he made.
Then, he looked at me. I felt as if I was hurtling towards him, sucked into his clear gray eyes. He didn't break his gaze, but looked at me strangely. His smile was gone.
The moment lasted forever.
Hesitantly, I raised my hand and waved. Instead of waving back, he looked away. His smile was back, wide and benevolent, showering his royal grace on the crass, teeming denizens of the city. He threw sweets by the handful. The procession moved past me. As he became smaller in my vision, all his distinctive features disappeared. He became only a richly garbed epithet of a god.
There was a coldness spreading in my chest. I wished I had heeded Ti's advice and not come.
Cicario didn't recognize me.