The wolf howled and darted to a corner, obviously heavily injured.
"Come here! All of you, come here!" she shouted while she bent down and picked up two stones, hitting them together. With a spark, the hay caught fire with a roar. The child lit her rod on fire and raised the torch. She ran all over the arena, chasing away the pack of wolves that was attacking the children. While doing that, she continued shouting, "All of you, come here! All of you, come here!"
Children of all ages ran towards Jing Yue Er as they wailed, all of them injured. Some were bitten by wolves, some were shot by arrows. After the onslaught, there were barely twenty children left alive.
The pack of wolves were afraid of fire. Looking at Jing Yue Er protecting them from the middle, they tarried and dared not to inch forward. They had been hungry for too long. Seeing that their prey was now protected, they ran back to the bodies that lay in the arena, devouring all that they could.
Zhuge Huai's long and narrow eyes squinted at this sight and murmured, "Useless animals." He pulled his bow and started shooting at the wolves.
Sharp arrows flew towards the pack, attacking them unknowingly. The wolves howled in pain, collapsing onto the floor and in no time, they were all dead.
The children that survived were overjoyed. Ignoring the wounds on their body, they cheered loudly.
However, even before their cheers could be heard, another wave of arrows rained down on them, piercing through their small bodies.
The empire's aristocratic descendants shot ruthlessly with their sharp eyesight. Unsympathetically, they aimed right at the children in front of them with bloodthirsty arrows coming in for the kill.
An arrow swooshed through the air coming at a frightening speed, shooting through a child's head with a thud, entering through her left eye and coming out from the back of her head, stopping right in front of Jing Yue Er's nose. Warm blood splattered all over her face and she opened her mouth. With the burning rod being held tightly in her grip, she froze. The cries of children reverberated to the sides of her ears. It was all like a nightmare.
The arrows started to lessen as Prince Wei and Mu Yun laughed in unison. Both pulled back their bows, took aim right at the girl, and released an arrow, letting them speed through the air.
Zhao Jue frowned and steered his horse forward. Reaching for his quiver, he realized that he only had one arrow left. With a cold groan, he snapped the arrow in half and put them on his bow. With a skilled shot, he shot both arrows, shooting the arrows shot by Prince Wei and Mu Yun out of the sky.
Zhuge Huai laughed and commented, "Good shooting skills!"
Finishing his sentence, all cries stopped and the northern wind swept through the snowy arena, blowing the stench of blood along with it. The arena was covered in red and the only child surviving was Jing Yue Er. Her hair strewn all over her head, with hay stuck within it, her clothes dyed red and a pale expression. She held the wooden rod and did not move an inch. She looked over with a stunned gaze as if she was in shock.
Zhao Jue said, "The seventh brother is still the best. I have no more arrows left. I think you will be the winner today."
Prince Wei raised his brows, looked at his quiver, then Mu Yun's, and finally turned towards Zhuge Huai.
Zhuge Huai smiled smartly and said, "I was out of arrows long ago."
"Yan Shizi still has some arrows, doesn't he? The time is not up. Whose hand the deer will die under is still unknown," Mu Yun said all of a sudden.
All gazes fell on Yan Xun.
Zhao Jue looked coldly at Yan Xun and said without emotion, "Yan Shizi is known for giving everyone surprises at unsuspecting times."
The joss stick was only burnt halfway through, but everyone else had already used up their arrows. There was only one snowy white-feathered arrow lying in Yan Xun's quiver.
Yan Xun sat stately on his horse. Although he was only thirteen, his back was strong and straight, with dashing eyebrows and sparkling eyes. His nose was sharp and had a piercing gaze. The neatly pressed clothes he wore, distinguishing him from the crowd, made him seem handsome but cold. With his cold expression, he nudged his horse forward and drew his bow, aiming at the child standing right in the middle of the arena.
Gusts of wind swooshed by, blowing up the child's tattered clothes and messy hair. She was still very young, not older than six or seven years, looking malnourished and ghastly, like a hairless little wolf that had just been given birth. Her arms, neck, and calves were covered in wounds, and the wound on her shoulder was near her artery. She stood in the middle of the messy Xiu Luo Arena, with dismembered limbs strewn everywhere, fresh blood flowing from bodies, and the stench of blood filling the air. The strength of cruelty was like the spirit of hopelessness, tearing at the delicate eyes of the child.
A glistening bloodthirsty arrow slowly took aim at the child's throat. The teenager sat stately on the back of his horse. With his sharp gaze and brows furrowed, the veins on his arms bulged while he pulled back his bow.
There was nowhere she could hide. Disorganized thoughts were rushing through her mind, so many queries and mysteries vanishing under the sudden onslaught. She slowly raised her head. Her gaze extremely cold, radiating an immense amount of hate and resentment, she glared at the teenagers in front of her without the slightest fear.
That day, it was year 770, the 4th day in the first month of the Bai Cang calendar. The people of Zhen Huang had just celebrated New Year's Day. In the royal hunting arena on the outskirts of Zhen Huang City, it was the first time he and she met.
Time went through the path of history, tearing open the gates of time and space. Two souls that were never destined to meet had been placed on the same platform.
Yan Xun knitted his brows. Moving his fingers a little, he let go of the arrow.
The long arrow shot out, moving the cold air, as it soared through the air. All gazes concentrated and fell onto the child that was rooted to the spot.
With a swoosh, the line of blood lengthened as the sharp arrow grazed the neck of the child, cutting her. Her figure wobbled a little, but continued standing after staggering for a few steps.
"Ha ha! Congratulations seventh brother!" Zhao Jue laughed.
Zhao Che glanced scornfully at Yan Xun and smirked, "Yan Shizi has been spending all his time on song, dance, and poetry. Did he forget how the ancestors of the Zhao clan held a bow?"
Yan Xun put down his longbow and turned. With a bland tone, he said, "How the ancestors of the Zhao Clan held the bow, it would already be enough if their descendants remembered. I wouldn't dare to meddle in your family's affairs."
Zhuge Huai let out a huge laugh and said, "Since everyone is here, I guess the winner of this competition is his Seventh Royal Highness. I have dinner prepared for all of you at my house. Let's go and have drinks at my place."
All of them agreed and climbed up onto their horses together, as if all that had happened was just a game that could not be more ordinary.
A huge gust of wind blew past, whipping up the robes of these men, the stench of the wind filling the vast snowy plains. From afar, Yan Xun turned back, looking at the child covered in blood and filth. She had been standing in the middle of the plains after all this while, her deep gaze looking in their direction, fixated for a long while.
The sky gradually darkened. With the northern winds howling past, the piercing cold chilled them to the marrow. The wind whipped up snow on the ground while moaning like a crazed beast.
The men from the Zhuge family were clearing up the arena, shoveling up those young, tiny bodies, throwing them into a cart behind them. Not far away, there was a medium sized ditch that was dug out, with wormwood crackling in flames within the ditch, thick smoke billowing from it. It was used to bury those children, along with those bloodthirsty beasts. These lives were worthless, as if they were balls. Their rich owners would play with them only once and grow tired of them, hence throwing them out.
Jing Yue Er had a torn sack draped over her, and her head hung low in silence, sitting quietly beside the cages. She was seriously injured, but even if had she been a grown man, it would have been hard to suffer the immense pain in total silence.
The men from the Zhuge family thought that she would die soon, but even after a long while, they noticed that her chest was still rising and falling, albeit very little. They knew that she was alive due to her breathing and that an unknown source of strength was still supporting this child even though she was so close to death. Hence, they did not throw her into the mass burial ditch. Instead, they put her back into the cage when they left.
The cage that was initially packed with children suddenly seemed spacious. All the children were dead, only one had survived. As the men were amazed at the child's luck, they could not hold back the urge to turn back and survey her with caution.
Even though they could not find the words to describe it, they acutely sensed that the child, compared to when she had arrived, had changed.
The home of the Zhuges occupied a vast space. They entered through the back door and Zhu Shun placed Jing Yue Er under the care of two workers. After giving them a few instructions, they took one last cold look at her, turned their bodies and left.
With a click, a lock on one of the rooms was opened. Jing Yue Er was pushed into it. The door was locked shut before she could even pick herself up.
It was pitch black within the four walls, with a pile of firewood that was bunched together. One could still hear the rustle of rats scuttling through the room. The child did not yell in horror. She sat in the middle of the room, taking off the sack that was draped over her shoulders. Using her teeth to secure one end of the sack, she started tearing pieces of cloth off the sack, wrapping the wounds on her body with intense concentration, her techniques surprisingly well practiced.
Such a long time was enough for the qualified agent to calm her nerves, using careful thinking and a calm demeanor to tackle anything that came her way, even if the circumstances were unbelievable.
Indeed, Jing Yue Er of that time was Major Chu Qiao, assistant commander of the 11th division, who had sacrificed her life for her nation. Fate, at many times, could be as unbelievable as this. Under an abyss may not be hiding certain death, but perhaps the path to a new life.
Chu Qiao raised her arms. Using the light that was outside, she looked at her small palm. A tinge of sadness could be felt at the bottom of her heart, but she was unaware as to whether she was sad for herself or this pitiful child.
"There is no one here. I can allow myself to be sad and afraid, but I have to shorten this time as much as possible."
The child murmured to herself as tears streamed down, flowing across her filthy, skinny face. Hugging her knees, she lowered her head, nestling it between her arms. Silently, her back started to shudder.
This was the first night Chu Qiao spent in the Xia Empire, in the cold, well circulated firewood hut of the Zhuge household. It was the first time she cried helplessly because she was weak and afraid. She gave herself an hour to curse her fate, reminisce her past, worry about her future, and to adapt to her new life. After an hour, she would no longer be Chu Qiao, the super commander of the 11th division, but instead, a young and helpless female child slave with nothing, struggling to survive in this inhumane, bloodthirsty, and chaotic empire.