Fear overwhelmed Yue completely; her breaths were quick and shallow; she knew she was hyperventilating. Sweat constantly coated her palms even after she had wiped them just a minute before, her head was throbbing and her muscles were weak. Whimpering slightly, Yue turned her head slightly in an attempt to plead her way out of this from Lei. But Lei was having none of it.
Lei had a burning torch in his hand, but even then, his forehead was screwed up in utter concentration as he tried to peer through the veil of darkness around them. He had very bad night vision and the torch wasn’t helping much.
“Lei, please let me go back.” Yue pleaded as Lei forced her to lead.
“Shut up and mov- GOD DAMN!” Lei cursed as he stumbled over an exposed root sticking out from the ground.
Yue felt her blood freeze within her veins when she spotted movement coming towards them from the right. Her fingers tightened their hold around the hilt of the sword until the whites of her knuckles shone. Sensing her apprehension, Lei stopped mid-trek and turned towards the same direction as well; he couldn’t see the disturbance but he could sense the approach of three-no two individuals. They only had to wait for a few moments before the intruders broke through the thicket; Lang and a half-dressed man appeared from the darkness.
“Lang!” Yue cried out in relief.
It took her some time before she realised who the other man was – Kang; the resident camp commander. Kang openly stared at the dishevelled state of Yue; particularly the blood that covered her abdomen and arms. Without a word, he unsheathed the double swords from his hip and boldly stepped into the darkness beyond the light range of the torch. Lang stepped up from behind and placed a comforting hand onto Yue’s head for a moment; it was brief but it was what Yue needed right at that moment. An indication that she was not alone in this and that she had friends beside her.
The small group advanced forward with Kang at the head and Lang bringing up the rear. Yue started to recognize the surroundings, but before she could sound it out to the group, Kang broke through to reach the body first. Wild critters scattered quickly when the light from the torch reached them; their eyes wide with fear.
Tien’s body had yet to cool; rigor mortis had barely set in. Bits of flesh from Tien’s thighs had been gnawed off by the wild animals but barely any blood flowed from the wounds anymore. Blood had pooled on the ground around Tien’s knees, bloody paw prints led away from the body to the depths of the darkness that hung around like a thick black veil.
The stench of death and blood was heavy in the air. Yue felt bile rising up into her throat, she turned quickly falling onto her knees as she released the contents of her stomach onto the ground. Coughing from the burn of gastric acid at the back of her throat, Yue looked up and watched the men circle around Tien. Lang took off into the shadows to ensure that they were truly alone whilst Lei knelt down by Tien’s left side.
“You say this was a murder?” Kang asked from his position behind Tien, his eyes trailing the blood trail down Tien’s back.
“Th-there was a-another man here. He kil-killed Tien.” Yue stammered as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
Her stomach was still contracting weirdly as if it were trying to propel more digested material up her oesophagus. Unwillingly, Yue forced herself to look at the body. She saw it when it happened but her mind still had not truly accepted the fact that she watched a man get killed – and she did nothing to stop it from happening. Sure, Yue knew she would not have been able to defeat the murderer, but she could have called out for help or at least try and scare him off. The guilt bubbled up from deep within as her gaze landed on the empty eyes that had looked at her at the last moment.
They were closed.
“His eyes were open!” Yue pointed out as she jumped up.
Kang circled around from the back to the front of the body and looked at Tien’s face. Spotting something, Kang used the tip of one of swords to pull something out of Tien’s trousers pocket. Unfolding the crinkled piece of parchment, Kang’s eyes ran up and down the words that had been written before looking toward Yue incredulously.
“This is his suicide note, complete with his stamp.”
“What?!” Yue cried out in disbelief. “But that’s impossible, I watched him get stabbed!”
Lang stepped up from behind and took the note from Kang to read it for himself. He looked at the stamp and noticed nothing out of the ordinary from it. The stamp belonged to Tien, no doubt about it. Glancing up from the note, he realised Yue was staring at him, waiting for a response. Sighing deeply, he nodded his agreement to Kang’s words.
“I am not lying! Why the fuck would I lie about this?” Yue asked, face flushed in disbelief and anger.
“Guilt perhaps? You watched him commit suicide but did nothing to stop it and now it is eating you up from inside? Or perhaps, you like the attention? Seeing how you have done nothing but stand out right from day one.” Kang stated as he fixed his eye on Yue.
“What the FUCK?!” Yue roared, her mind clouding with anger. “You god damn idiot, mother-fucking piece of shit!”
Raising the sword in her hand, Yue charged toward her commanding officer before Lang or Lei could stop her. Their swords met with a crash; Yue stumbling backwards from just one block from Kang. Relentless, Yue charged forwards once again, swinging her sword down from the side; Kang parried the attack with his twin swords throwing Yue off again. Moving swiftly, he rained blows down left and right without skipping a beat – a little surprised that although Yue was slow, she was still able to block some of the blows. Swinging her sword across the back of her head, Yue brought her sword down hard, directly into the crossed twin swords. Kang lifted his foot swiftly, landing a clean kick directly onto Yue chest.
Air escaped her lungs faster than she could register as pain exploded from her ribs. Her head hit the ground hard and before Yue could make sense of anything, twin blades circled around her neck, drawing blood from beneath the skin.
“Attacking your commanding officer is definitely the stupidest thing you’ll ever do. Throw him into the cells.” Kang commanded.
“There was someone here – I swear.” Yue muttered through gritted teeth.
Zhao circled around from behind and placed an iron grip on her upper arm. Yue looked up at Zhao for help but was shut down the moment her sight reached the stoic features of her childhood friend. Behind that mask, Yue was sure Zhao was fuming at her idiocy towards a superior.
Sure enough, the moment the two of them were out of ear-shot, the berating started.
The cells were more of cages. Six steel bar cages situated a few feet away from each other – there was neither solid roof nor walls to provide any protection for the detained from the merciless sun, wind nor rain. The cages were bare save for a floor of wet hay, Yue did not even want to think about what it was that coated the hay apart from rain water.
Zhao had dragged her back to the outskirts of camp, his voice hard with suppressed anger and something that sounded like impatience.
“Yue, please stop drawing attention to yourself. Please!”
“But – but! I was telling the truth! Tien was murdered – I swear!”
“Yue. I need you to stop saying that. Just – just stop.”
After locking her into the cell, Zhao had left without a second glance nor was there any hesitation in his footsteps. Other than her, there was another man stuck in another cell two from her left; he was hunched over at a corner, his heavy-lidded eyes had been following their conversation and they trailed after Zhao as he walked away. The man looked at Yue silently as if slowly sizing her up before he laid his forehead back down into his arms.
Letting out a growl of irritation, Yue paced the cell – back and forth, back and forth. Her senses heightened as she stared out into the surrounding darkness, trying to spot for a sign of movement. As her adrenaline slowly wore off, Yue realised how exhausted she was slowly becoming. A pounding headache was forming from the back of her skull and her muscles were aching. Finding the driest spot in the cell, Yue lowered herself onto the hay and pulled her knees to her chest. Hugging her knees tightly, Yue spotted red lines running along the length of her arm; her bad habit was back. Whenever she was stressed or nervous, she would start scratching herself; it was as though the physical burn from the scratches were enough to rid her of her frustrations and worries.
Yue thought she had gotten over it after getting into the film industry. It had been years since she last found her arms covered in zigzags of burst blood vessels. She felt her chest swell up as her eyes started to burn and her nose sting. Quickly laying her head against her arm, Yue swallowed the sob that was threatening to escape. Everything was starting to overwhelm her, even more so than when she first arrived in this foreign era. She thought she was able to deal with whatever that came her way, but she was wrong. It felt as though whatever was happening now was part of some horror script, and she was a minor character who was going to be killed off halfway through.
The director is going to yell ‘CUT!’ any moment now.
Pearls of warm tears dripped down from her lower lid, crashing into the hay below her. Yue bit her lip to prevent herself of sobbing out loud. The wind was picking up and the cell was doing nothing to stop the biting wind against her exposed flesh. Shivering, Yue tightened her arm around her knees, trying to make herself as small as possible.
Any moment now…The moon was already on its descend across the sky when Yue finally drifted off to sleep.