Her silhouette performing a dazzling dance of shadows, a young girl crawled backwards on her hands and feet. She stumbled away from the lethal and spectacular edge of a jewel-encrusted sword, and her heart clenched in fear at the deranged expression on the fair countenance.
Her assailant gently chuckled and lurched forwards with great leisure, the tip of the sword weaving indeterminate and complex symbols in the evening skies.
“Why should I stop? Young lady, you want to enjoy yourself as well, isn’t that right?”
Reason had surrendered to degeneracy as the Young Masters succumbed to the dehydrating effects of over-indulging in wine, and the torment of incessant hunger pangs. Surrounding the terrified young girl were several others who had been cornered against the walls of the shelter by the aristocratic youths, their sinister expressions reflected by the crackling fingers of flame.
“Y…young Master Song, you promised not to cross the line!”
A fair maiden curled her body into a ball against the corner, trembling in fright. Her fingers dug into the almost scattered rags covering her body, and fear was deeply suffused in her irises. The youth surnamed Song paused to leer at the quivering girl, and felt the lustful flames incense his heart once more.
“I promised to not cross the line because you offered us food and drink,” Young Master Song curled his lips in contempt.
“Now that you no longer have offerings to bargain for your safety, how else do you intend me to not cross… this line?”
The Young Masters cheerfully advanced amidst the young maidens’ cries of fear and despair, and no trace of compassion or human sympathy could be observed on their privileged countenances. The echoes raced through the inner walls of the shelter to reverberate outside, prompting the expressions of the elders to immediately sink.
“Young Miss Han, are you… are you truly going to let such atrocities happen?”
Their hands were clenched into desperate fists and their hearts screamed in dear pain, but they could only stand in place and stare at the Young Miss seated on a polished stone block, guarded by her newly acquired servants. Separating the two groups was a thin line gouged into the ground by the Young Miss’ sword, and five bodies lay face down besides it.
“They have been chosen by the young lords of this city and province. It is their honor to serve their lords,” Young Miss Han replied with an even voice, and crossed her legs.
“If they can serve their lords well, then they will be accepted as a concubine after the immortal cultivators arrive tomorrow. If you are concerned about their future as you claim to be, why do you express such discontent?”
She had killed three who had ignored her words and attempted to charge into the shelter, and the servants besides her had accidentally beaten two more to death whilst attempting to maintain order. Young Miss Han tinkered with the sword placed at her lap, her countenance wistful and dreamlike.
Silence maintained itself until the shelter was torn asunder by a young girl’s heartfelt cry of pain and despair from within. Her mother immediately rushed to her feet and raced towards the seated Young Miss with desperation laced on her wrinkled countenance.
“Young Miss Han, please command them to stop!”
She wailed and dragged her feet into the ground as the servants dashed forwards to shove her back across the line. When her eyes locked onto the wretched and guilty expression plastered on her son’s countenance as he stood amongst those who had submitted under Young Miss Han’s feet, the woman’s heart shattered.
“My son… my son… why do you stop me so?” she rasped, and lost all strength.
“Your sister… it is your younger sister that is suffering in there!”
“Mother… I am sorry,” the youth bowed his head in shame, but revealed a pair of resolute eyes.
“It is the only way for all of us to survive. Mother, I do not wish to lose either of you! I cannot!”
The woman stumbled onto the ground at the coldhearted words, and her eyes gradually relinquished their lustre. She gave a final glance towards her son who stepped behind to stand resolute behind the Young Miss, and uttered a wretched sob that tore the golden skies with a shade of crimson.
“You have ruined your sister! You have ruined all of us! You – you… you are not my son!”
Young Miss Han waved her hand, and several youths stepped forwards to drag the woman to her original position. She arose from her seat and glanced at the numerous expressions of resentment, and revealed a nonchalant, wry smile.
“It seems that you all do not understand the severity of this matter. One of the people in the shelter is Young Master Baek, the scion of a provincial family,” she sighed.
“Once our sufferings end tomorrow, he will hold sole authority among all of us in the entire city. After the immortal cultivators arrive, they will believe the words of those with greater authority and privilege, not the common people. If he is killed in the city, then the Baek Clan of the capital will massacre us all, and if his desires are not sated, he will ruin all of our lives!”
“I am also a woman – do you truly think that I can stand by as they commit such actions? However, as much as I sympathize, I must look after the city’s wellbeing and survival as a whole – that is my responsibility. That was the order of my Father to me, and to all of you as well!”
The few words uttered by the Young Miss combined with her individual prestige within the city caused many to forcefully quell their anger and discontent, although they couldn’t stop their body from shuffling around in anxiety. Their veins bulged when an aristocratic youth peered from within the shelter to display a licentious smile, but none dared utter a word from fear of losing control.
Nobody dared offend the capital of Bei Tang, nor its clans whose appetites rivaled that of gargantuan behemoths.
An Fei and the elderly man stood besides the entrance of the shelter, far away from Young Miss Han or the people. The whimpers of pain and forced lust echoed deeply within the young girl’s ears, and caused her brows to crinkle into an unpleasant frown.
“Do you seek to intervene?”
The elderly man smiled towards the displeased young girl, and pointed at the ajar door with his stick. As An Fei lurched into motion, his next words immediately rooted her into place.
“Think carefully, and assess what you have learned. Your time of sacrifice has come.”
An Fei immediately recalled the elderly man’s words a few days before, and quickly whirled to face him with a stormy expression. The young girl jabbed towards the scenes of debauchery and lust within with her thumb.
“My time of sacrifice has come? These men are enjoying their lust to the fullest, and what am I supposed to sacrifice – my body?” she repeated with an incredulous tone.
“If my time of sacrifice has come, then what about yours? What will happen, if I perform such a sacrifice?”
The incessant barrage of questions from the young girl caused the elderly man’s smile to deepen, and he strode to stand a single meter away from An Fei. As they were of similar height, there was no possibility for An Fei to escape the piercing gaze, the eyes that shone with great wisdom and truth.
“You are scared. Why?” the elderly man questioned with a gentle smile.
“I shall tell you, as you wish. If you enter the shelter before another youth seeking a woman emerges from within, then this event will have never occurred. The young girls who have been defiled to save or better the lives of their families will not have to suffer, and everyone will be saved when the immortal cultivators will arrive tomorrow. Nobody will experience any hunger, thirst, or trauma from this incident, but in exchange, you will perish… permanently.”
An Fei flinched at the finality hidden within the elderly man’s gaze, and she unconsciously stared at the entrance of the shelter. Before her eyes, the dark passage that seemed to extend infinitely beyond her vision disintegrated into a multitude of particles.
She saw threads of crimson, blue, and black weave through the world at a speed beyond the perceivable range of her senses, and she felt the world warp and distort to the tune of the otherworldly threads. The shelter, the ruined city, and the elderly man vanished, and An Fei felt an unbearable cold bite at her skin.
Her eyes snapped open to witness a great expanse of snow, a world of white that extended beyond the foreseeable horizons.
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