“The body that was found, the body that began my investigation…it was always assumed to be that of Sary Saloth, a young and rising courtier in your service. My Empress herself confirmed this upon viewing the body. And yet, how could my Empress have recognized a body in such poor shape? Those who knew Sary Saloth have called her quiet, observant, and someone who avoided drawing attention to herself. Would my Empress have known her well enough to identify her through some small quirk, some secret mark?”

Inspector Xan continued. “No, if there were any courtier my Empress knew well enough to identify from a mangled corpse, it was Kiang. And yet my Empress let Kiang–her lover–go along with her entire personal staff. Poor lovesick Kiang has accepted a position as a choregirl just to remain close by an Empress who no longer wishes to be near her. Granted, the need to choose a consort and produce heirs meant that Kiang’s hope was always a vain one. But empresses throughout history, down to The Beloved Empress, have kept their forbidden favorites close even as they did otherwise in public. Old Ieng, for one.”

“This leads us to one, inescapable conclusion. The body as not that of Sary Saloth, and yet my Empress has a very intense interest in showing that it is so. Why?”

The Empress smirked. “You tell me, Inspector,” she said. “After all, you have convinced yourself that these fantasies are the truth.”

“Yes, the truth,” agreed Xan. “The truth can only be that the body was not that of Sary Saloth…but, rather, it was that of Empress Shien Khou Vu.”

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