A voice suddenly sounded. Chu Qiao turned towards the crowd and saw a boy that served in a scholar's study speaking loudly with an arrogant tone. Not far away, a teenager with a long and slender figure wearing a dark green robe stood before the court hall with his back facing the crowd. At his side, there were four followers.
Zhu Shun was stunned. Turning his head hurriedly, he pathetically bent down, well below his crotch. He nodded while he bowed and scraped, "Royal Highness Yan, my men were not well disciplined, causing them to make fools of themselves in front of your Royal Highness."
"Is your servant's discipline more important, or is my family's royal highness more important? Zhu Shun, I think you must be crazy."
Zhu Shun was taken aback. He got on his knees and started to kowtow, hurriedly saying, "I wouldn't dare, I wouldn't dare, I know I am wrong."
The young attendant snorted, "If you know your mistake, what are you still doing here?"
After hearing that, Zhu Shun stood up at once, rushing towards Zhuge Huai's study room. The servants in the household retreated to a corner. One of them said cautiously, "Can I invite Royal Highness Yan to wait in the hall?"
The teenager dressed in robes nodded and turned slowly, his jet black eyes sweeping through his surroundings. When he saw Chu Qiao, his eyes narrowed, as though he remembered a thing or two. He walked straight up to her.
Chu Qiao remained calm and cautiously took two steps back. When Yan Xun saw her retreat, he stopped and thought to himself for awhile. He took out a white porcelain bottle from the pocket in his sleeves. Pictures of delicate orchids were engraved onto it. The teenager reached out with the bottle in his hand and nodded, signalling for her to take the bottle.
Chu Qiao looked up and down at Yan Xun, and the scene at the hunting arena flashed by her eyes. She stood her ground with caution.
Yan Xun was puzzled. Immediately, his lips waned and let out a grin, bending down to place the bottle gently on the floor. After which, he turned and led his followers into the hall.
"Urgh." A slight groan could be heard behind her. Xiao Qi barely made out Chu Qiao's features. Her voice as soft as mosquitoes, with paramount fear, she cried, "Sister Yue Er, Xiao Qi… is Xiao Qi dying?"
Chu Qiao crouched down and placed the porcelain bottle in her hand. The muscles tightened throughout her body, and she looked gloomily towards the main house of the Zhuge household. She said slow and firmly, "Xiao Qi, I assure you, you will be okay."
Carrying Xiao Qi, she ran back to the slave's yard, rushing into the room and cleaning the wound before bandaging it. The medicine Yan Xun had given her was very effective. It could not only stop the bleeding, but also had a mild anaesthetic effect. Xiao Qi let out several hums before falling into a deep sleep.
Xiao Ba, who had been sick all this while, woke up and could barely get out of bed. These children were traumatised by all the recent incidents. No one spoke a word after they woke up, looking at Chu Qiao busily taking care of Xiao Qi with dazed looks like a bunch of fools.
It was getting late. Chu Qiao wiped the sweat off her forehead, the wound on her shoulder blazing in pain. She leaned against the wall, listening to Xiao Qi's soft cries of pain in her sleep. It felt as if someone had tightly gripped her heart and yanked it out resolutely, throwing it onto the freezing snowy ground. Closing her eyes, Lin Xi appeared in her mind. The boy that was good looking and pure, the one that promised that he would protect her, the one that was beaten so viciously that he was unrecognizable.
A stream of tears flowed from her tightly shut eyes. They flowed down her chin, dripping onto her cloth shoes.
Suddenly, a frantic voice could be heard outside the door. In a moment of shock, Chu Qiao opened the door and walked out. A girl that was twelve to thirteen years old stood in the yard. When she saw Chu Qiao, it seemed as though she had seen her savior. She cried and rushed forward, "Yue Er, Zhi Xiang and the children from the Jing family were taken away by the men Butler Zhu sent."
Chu Qiao frowned, and her voice sank. "Taken away? When did this happen?"
"They left early in the morning. I only managed to find Lin Xi, asking him to plead forgiveness from the fourth young master. A day has passed but there is still no news from him. What do we do?"
"Did they say what the children were doing?"
Wiping her tears, the girl cried and said, "They said… They said the children were being sent to the old master's house outside the city."
"What?" Chu Qiao exclaimed. Alarm bells started ringing in her mind. The rumors Lin Xi had told them these past few days about the beastly hobbies of the old master ran rampant in her mind. Her face paled.
Xiao Ba stood at the door. Hearing their conversation, she walked up, as if in a trance. She tugged at Chu Qiao's sleeves. Her voice was soft, like a small injured animal. She asked repeatedly, "Sister Yue Er, where are Sister Zhi Xiang and the rest of the children? Where did they go?"
Chu Qiao reacted, turned around, and sprinted out the door.
"Yue Er!" the girl cried from behind. Chu Qiao did not look back, a bad feeling entrenched in her mind. She did not know whether she would be able to make it, and did not know whether she had a chance of rescuing those children. She could only do her best, sprinting ahead, not daring to stop.
She passed the Qing Shan court, the stables, the back gardens. Sprinting forward, she would reach the five curve corridors of the front court. All of a sudden, the sound of hurried footsteps were heard. Chu Qiao stopped with caution.
"Sister Yue Er?" A tiny voice was heard from behind her. Chu Qiao was stunned. She turned, only to see Xiao Ba dressed in a loose blouse, standing pitifully behind her. She had not even put on her shoes. In a daze, she asked, "Where did Sister Zhi Xiang and the others go?"
Holding Xiao Ba, Chu Qiao turned and crouched beside a bush. It was already winter and all its flowers had wilted. Luckily, it was in the middle of the night, where lights were sparse. It would be difficult to spot them.
The sound of footsteps came closer and closer. There were four people pushing a cart towards them. One of them was pushing, with the other three supporting the sides of the cart. The road Chu Qiao had used was already very remote, and only the cleaners would use this road. She pulled Xiao Ba close and crouched within the bush, quietly waiting for the people to pass.
These people walked up to where the two of them were hiding and stopped. Xiao Ba appeared very afraid, her body shuddering, tightly grabbing Chu Qiao's clothes in her hands and not daring to move an inch.
One of the men said gruffly, "Guys, let's take a rest. We walked quite a distance without rest. At least let me have a smoke."
The others laughed, "Old Liu's smoking addiction is here." After which, they lit their cigarettes in glee, starting to smoke.
Chu Qiao started to get anxious and her brows were tightly knit together. As the cold wind blew by, Xiao Ba, who was dressed thinly, started to shiver vigorously due to the cold. With the northern winds picking up speed, the straw mat on top of the cart was blown up with a swoosh, circling in the air for awhile before landing on the ground with a crunch. The yellow straw mat was red in color, drenched in dark red blood.
Chu Qiao and Xiao Ba gazed into the cart. With lightning speed, Chu Qiao threw her hand onto Xiao Ba's mouth, shutting it tightly.
The moon shone through the clouds, allowing dim white moonlight to illuminate the surroundings. All they saw were small bodies of children being piled onto the medium pushcart, like a pile of lifeless radishes. Zhi Xiang's skinny body lay naked, with bruises all over it. Her eyes were still wide in shock, with blood clots at the corner of her eyes. Her lower torso was a mess and limbs were still being tied together. Her posture was strange and she had been placed in the most humiliating manner at the top of the pile of bodies. Chu Qiao covered Xiao Ba's mouth tightly, with her other hand hugging her in a tight grip. The child seemed like she had gone mad, desperately wanting to break free from her grip. Enormous drops of warm tears rolled down Chu Qiao's arms, her teeth sinking mercilessly into Chu Qiao's palm. Fresh blood seeped out, flowing down her fair wrist, and eventually dripping onto the blackened soil. Moonlight shone through the sparse tree onto them, covering them in mottled shadows as dismal as frost.
No one knew how much time had passed. The cart started to get further and further away, and they were surrounded by dead silence. Chu Qiao let go of her hand slowly. The flesh in her palm could be seen and was covered in blood. Xiao Ba seemed as though she had become dumb, simply standing there quietly, in a daze. Chu Qiao reached out and patted her on her cheek, calling out her name cautiously with a hoarse voice.
The wind was frigid. Withered branches whirled in the air. In this night of dead silence, music sounded from the main hall of the front court as if it had come from another world.
"Kill them…" the six year old child murmured. Her eyes widening all of a sudden, she continued, "I want to go and kill… Kill them!"
The child had bloodshot eyes, rummaging around as if she was looking for something. Suddenly, she picked up a stone from the bush, stood up, and wanted to run towards the cart. Luckily, Chu Qiao had a fast reaction. She held the child back, holding her tightly in her arms.
"Kill them!" Kill them!" The child could not hold it back anymore as she roared in fury, her face twisted with hatred and despair, tears streaking down her face. She could collapse any moment.
Chu Qiao felt as if a knife had been driven through her heart. She held this crazed child in her arms and finally succumbed to her torrential tears.
These animals, these beasts, a thousand deaths would not be enough to wash away the sins of these scum. She had never felt such intense hate, and she definitely never had felt such a desire to kill someone. She was consumed by an overwhelming amount of hatred. She hated them, hated the cruelty of those people, hated this cruel world. But she hated her weakness and her helplessness the most. She hated that she could only watch these events unfold, but could not do anything about them.
The child in her arms was nearing collapse. Her cries seemed like knives, slicing away at Chu Qiao's heart. If she could get her hands on a shotgun, she would not hesitate to rush into the Zhuge household, killing every one of those scum living inside.
It was a pity that she did not have one. She had nothing. She had no money, no power, no background, no skills, and no arms. She was just a spirit from another world being trapped in the small body of Jing Yue Er. Even though she had the brains and knowledge that were thousands of years more advanced than the time she was in, at that moment, she could only hide carefully in the bush. She had not even been able to muster the courage to see them one last time.
Chu Qiao raised her head slowly, allowing the cold moonlight to shine on her face. She secretly swore to herself that this could only happen once. She would never want this to happen again. She never wanted to live with nothing, and never wanted to live without the ability to protect herself. Never again!
The cold moon seemed like it was liquid. In such a huge household, two weak and lowly slaves crouched in the bushes within the back garden like two shy puppies, laying close to each other. However, in their hearts, they had enough hate to destroy the world.
By the time they reached the slave's yard, it was already midnight. Before entering the gate, she saw that the door was wide open. Chu Qiao's heart sank. She let go of Xiao Ba's hand before running into the house.
The room was a mess. The top of the bed-stove was filled with blood stains, with adult footprints covering the floor. There was no sign of Xiao Qi.
"Yue Er, you are back!" The girl whom she had met before crawled out from the pile of firewood at the corner of the room.
Chu Qiao hurried forward and pulled her back. She asked in a deep voice, "Where is Xiao Qi? Where did Xiao Qi go?"
The girl cried and replied, "Butler Zhu brought his men over and took Xiao Qi with him. He said that she could no longer work without one hand. They carried her out and wanted to throw her into the Ting Lake to feed the crocodiles."