The Xia Empire was located on the northern shore of the Hong River. It was customary for their people to know martial arts and their army was valiant. Since their ancestors, they were a nomadic race which roamed in search of water and green pastures.
The first long ring from the city's clock sounded at the crack of dawn, sounding majestic as if it were miles away. The city's gates opened slowly as the clock rang with sunlight shining upon the city, signifying the start of a new day in Zhen Huang City under the iron-fisted rule of the empire.
"Go!" a clear voice shouted strictly.
A handsome black horse raised its white hooves, galloping on the snow outside Zhen Huang city, kicking up snowflakes in its wake. Its hooves clanged as it hit the ground, leaving ten or so men far behind.
"Yan Shizi, you're late!" Zhuge Huai said towards them after a hearty laugh, while steering his horse forward.
Standing by him were four teenagers, the youngest eleven to twelve years old, and the eldest being merely thirteen to fourteen years old. All of them were dressed in brocade clothes, surrounding him from the back, appearing handsome and smart. Hearing his voice, they turned in unison, looking at the man coming towards them.
Yan Xun halted his horse with a shout. His horse reared and neighed loudly, landing steadily on the snowy plain. Yan Xun was dressed in azure colored clothes, with a few carps stitched at the end of his robes with gold and silver thread. He had a white, long fur coat on his shoulders. He laughed, "I heard the news of you, Brother Zhuge. The eighth princess was at my home and I couldn't leave her there alone. Sorry to keep everyone waiting." He had a hearty voice and smiled youthfully. Only through his half-closed eyes, one could tell that he was a little introverted. With a mink scarf around his neck, he looked regal, casual and elegant. Yan Xun was no older than thirteen to fourteen years old, but he definitely radiated the elegance and stature of one that was older.
"I did not know you had a date with a beautiful woman. It seems like we have spoiled the mood for you, your Royal Highness," the prince said while walking forward. He was wearing turquoise clothes and his voice seemed prepubescent. He looked no more than twelve to thirteen years old and his eyes curved like that of a fox and he spoke with glee.
Yan Xun laughed slightly and said with a moderate tone, "Second prince of Wei, you must be joking. If not for you causing me to break the princess' glass cup during the state banquet a few days ago, I would not have the privilege of having her at my place today. Speaking of which, I must thank you for giving me that opportunity."
The young prince smiled and was not offended by it. He turned and said to another teenager by his side, dressed in green robes, "You see, Mu Yun, I told you his Royal Highness would not let this go and would definitely talk to me about this."
Mu Yun raised his brows and said, "How many in this imperial city have suffered because of you? Royal Highness Yan has a good temper. If it was me, I would have rushed to your place and confronted you the night before."
"Are we still competing? If you two would like to keep talking, we might as well head back!" A teenager in black clothes walked forward with a huge bright yellow bow at his waist, obviously his weapon of choice.
Yan Xun looked as if he just saw this teenager. He jumped off his horse and bowed respectfully, "Oh, the Seventh Highness is here, please pardon my poor eyesight."
Zhao Che gave Yan Xun a slanted gaze and smirked to acknowledge their presence. "My eighth brother and I have got to head to the bookstore during dinner time, we don't have much time to waste," he said straight to Zhuge Huai.
Zhuge Huai laughed and said, "Since Royal Highness Yan is here, let us begin."
The prince of Wei clapped his hands and chirped, "What did you find us this time? Quick, let us have a look."
Zhao Jue said, "I see a bunch of animal cages over there. You're not asking us to hunt, are you? That's not very interesting, maybe that's why your fourth brother did not want to come."
Zhuge Huai shook his head and with a mysterious tone, he said, "He has an awkward character. When has he ever joined us at our gatherings? But I have put in quite a bit of effort today, you'll see." After finishing, he clapped his hands twice. It was clear and crisp, as the clap echoed throughout the snowy plain.
In the distance, the arena that was fenced up opened its gates. Pushing large carts, Zhuge Huai's followers walked into the arena. Six cages were placed in a straight line in the arena. They were covered by pieces of black cloth, totally hiding anything that was in it.
Prince Wei was very interested in the cages. He chirped, "What is in the cages? Stop keeping us in suspense, Zhuge."
Zhuge Huai laughed and waved to his men in the distance. In a swoosh, the black clothes were being pulled off the cages. Prince Wei was startled and dazed for a moment but started smiling gleefully in no time.
In those huge cages were a bunch of young girls no older than seven to eight years old. There were twenty of them in each cage and each girl only had a piece of rough short gown on them. On their chests were large words that made them look like prisoners, and the words differed with each cage. There were 'Mu', 'Wei', 'Yan', 'Zhuge'. But for Zhao Jue and Zhao Che, they were set apart by 'Jue' and 'Che' respectively. These children had been closed in a dark cage for too long. When a light suddenly shone in the cage, they could not open their eyes and huddled together in shock like a bunch of cowardly rabbits.
Zhuge Huai smiled. "A while ago, a troop of merchants from the west came to my house, and they taught me this game. Later, I will ask my men to remove the cages and let out the wolves. Those beasts have been hungry for three days and are only seeing red. We can shoot the beasts or we can shoot the slaves in the other cages. After a stick of joss, we will then see who has the most slaves left, and they will be the winner."
Prince Wei clapped and laughed heartily, "This is interesting, it could be fun."
Getting their orders, his men went to remove the cages and left the arena. The children shuddered and stood rooted to the ground as if there was a cage surrounding them. They did not dare to move an inch.
Suddenly, a deafening howl was heard and the gates to the arena opened at both sides. More than twenty fierce and evil wolves rushed into the arena, opened their bloodthirsty mouths, and thundered towards the children.
Piercing screams were heard in that instant. The children screamed in unison, frantically running towards where others were standing, huddling together. At the same time, sharp arrows rushed into the arena from the outside, but not towards those fierce wolves, but rather towards the children.
The stench of blood filled the arena, pitiful screams and pleas shooting into the sky. Sharp arrows pierced through the thin shoulders and chests of the children. With fresh blood flowing out, their frail bodies looked as if red flowers were blooming on them. Agitated by the stench of blood, the pack of wolves became more ferocious. A navy blue wolf jumped into the air and bit one of the children right in the neck, snapping it with a bite. Before she could scream, another wolf tore off one of her legs and another bit through her skull. Her white brains and fresh red blood mixed into a mess, spraying all over the snow-covered ground.
The screams did not end. The pain on her shoulder was unbearable, and her eyelids seemed as though they weighed a ton. Jing Yue Er's body was filled with arrows that had pierced through her and she was nailed roughly to the ground. Her breathing was shallow as if she was dead. But her brows were furrowed together, tighter and tighter. A hungry wolf inched closer and closer to her, its menacing gaze falling right onto this child. Its smelly saliva hung onto the side of its mouth. Stretching longer and longer, it dripped onto the child's face with a plop.
Out of the blue, as if God's gaze had fallen upon this tragedy on earth, just as the wolf laid his teeth on the child, her eyes shot open fiercely, as bright and sharp as snow. It was not the courage and bravado a child should have. Instinctively, her hands shot out and closed the jaws of the wolf. Raising her head, she tore off the wolf's tongue which had been out.
A sharp scream sounded in that instant. Everyone turned their heads towards that direction, staring at the child who bit off the wolf's tongue. They were astonished and totally forgot about the shooting.
Zhao Jue was the first to react. Looking at the large 'Jue' on her chest, he laughed heartily, and pulled his bow, shooting an arrow straight into the throat of that wolf.
The wolf fell to the ground with a cry. The tragedy in the arena was still ongoing, all the other wolves were right on the heels of the children. Bodies were lying all over the arena and dismembered limbs of children were strewn everywhere. Heart-wrenching screams and cries filled their ears.
Jing Yue Er stood up shakily, widening her eyes with unbelievable shock as if she was petrified. Torn clothes hung on her body, her hair was messy, and her pale face was stained in blood. Cold winds blew over with a flurry, she seemed like she was a delicate blade of grass.
Shoot! A sharp arrow shot in her direction. Jing Yue Er jumped back with her nimble body, dodging a fatal arrow, but due to her weakened state, she was grazed on her calf by the same arrow. Fresh blood flowed down her leg.
Prince Wei smiled in glee and drew back another arrow, shooting once again.
Zhao Jue raised his eyebrows and groaned coldly, pulling the bow, he shot an arrow right into the arrow Prince Wei fired.
A wolf followed her like a shadow, but its stench gave it away. Smelling it, Jing Yue Er did not have the time to inspect her wounded calf and sprinted right in the direction of Zhao Jue.
It was this person, who saved her life twice in such a short period of time. Though her mind was in a trance, she chose the direction which was most advantageous to her.
However, in just a few steps, an arrow shot towards her, nailing the ground viciously right in front of her foot. The child was dazed and stopped in her tracks. She frowned as she raised her head, looking at the teenager dressed in black on the red horse with a look of confusion.
Zhao Jue groaned at her in despise, giving her a sweeping gaze and shooting an arrow through the back of another child.
That child was barely between five to six years old. She screamed and fell to the ground, her blood staining the 'Yan' on her back red, and was torn apart by the wolves in no time.
Time passed so quickly, yet so slowly. The children stood where they were, with a dazed expression. Suddenly, she bit her lips and turned quickly. Her speed was unbelievably quick as if her injured legs did not affect her agility at all. A wolf was chasing right behind her and pounced viciously. She escaped with a millimeter to spare, barely making it.
At a corner of the arena, there was a pile of wooden rods and hay for the horses. The child picked up a rod. Without turning her head, she pounded the rod onto the waist of one of the wolves that were sneaking up to another child.