Chapter 8: Hail of Arrows
The following day, nothing happened. Sometimes Bao lay down on the cot, sometimes she sat, sometimes she stood, sometimes she paced. She thought about many things, and nothing. She tried to make plans of how to escape, but everything she thought of seemed silly after only a few minutes.
Despite her show of fearlessness in front of all the criminals, icy terror was beginning to worm its way into her heart.
I’m just a girl. I can’t fight. I have no magic. What can I do?
What she had said about her clan’s attitude was true, although now, she almost wished she hadn’t spoken the words out loud.
She mattered little to her clan; her only value would be as a wife to marry off to some other clan to strengthen ties or form an alliance. However, there were many other young women that could do the same thing. Although the clan leaders wouldn’t blithely abandon her to be killed, she worried that they wouldn’t provide the type of ransom these criminals were after.
She stewed in her thoughts the whole day before finally managing to fall asleep.
Late in the night, she awoke with a start.
Candlelight poured down onto her face, causing her to squint slightly. The candle was being held by none other than the swarthy man who had stood next to the leader of this criminal gang. Bao remembered him being called Underchief Wang.
He was currently staring at her, a slight grin on his face as he leaned up against the iron bars.
She quickly scrambled into a sitting position, folding her arms around her knees.
Apparently he was waiting for her to speak first, so she resolved to deny him of that, and said nothing.
After a long moment passed, his lips twisted into a sneer and he said, “Things aren’t looking good for you, girl.”
Again, she said nothing in response, and even looked away from him into the darkness that was the far corner of the room.
He snorted. “Play tough all you want. If your clan won’t pay up, bad things are going to happen to you.” He chuckled. “Maybe more than just a missing finger.”
When it became clear that she was not going to speak, he began to slowly tap the metal bars of the cage with an iron cudgel that he had been holding behind his back with his free hand.
“So tell me, what’s the Demon Emperor like?” he asked. “How is he with, you know… the ladies?”
Bao slowly turned to look Underchief Wang in the eyes, then spat on the floor of the cage.
He laughed. “Oh, come on. Everyone knows the nobility is in bed with the Demon Emperor. Both figuratively and literally. Girls like you jump at the chance to spread your legs for him at night. How many times have you let his Majesty stick his--”
“Shut the hell up!” Bao spat. “I’d kill myself before I let the Demon Emperor touch me.”
“Oh really? I heard he has a different noble girl every night, except the ones he likes, who he calls back for second helpings.”
“That’s a lie and you know it.”
Underchief Wang chuckled again, then pointed the iron cudgel at her through the bars. “I say you’re the Demon Emperor’s whore. Which is a good thing for me. Heh heh. You’ll be all loosened up and ready when I--”
Bao jumped off the cot and lunged for the iron cudgel, but was too slow. Laughing, Underchief Wang jumped back.
Bao gripped the cage bars so tight her knuckles creaked. “I hate the Demon Emperor!” she said, her voice quavering. “You hear me? I HATE him! I wish I could rip his arms and legs off and beat him to death with them!”
“Feisty!” Underchief Wang said, licking his lip. “I might just have to tie you down when the time comes.”
“If you lay a hand on me, you’re DEAD!” Bao said, her voice rising to a shout.
“You know, I used to work in Xuanlu, and I ran into a girl a lot like you. At first she fought back, but eventually she was asking for it. I bet you’ll be just the same.”
“I take it back,” Bao said, her voice suddenly cold. “If you lay a hand on me I’ll cut it off! I’ll rip your intestines out and strangle you with them, you bastard! I’ll dig your eyes out with your own fingernails! You’re just as bad as the Demon Emperor. Fuck you! Fuck you and the Demon Emperor. FUCK YOU!”
Almost the exact moment that Bao shrieked the curse words at the top of her lungs, the ground vibrated, and a muffled boom could be heard. It sounded almost as if something had exploded nearby.
Underchief Wang immediately strode over to the door and walked out, not even bothering to shut it behind him.
Bao stood with hands clenching the iron bars, breath coming in ragged pants. Finally she gritted her teeth, turned, and kicked the cot as hard as she could, although nothing much happened to the sturdy cot.
She had never lost control in that way, nor had she ever uttered such filthy words. However, no one had ever spoken so vilely to her in her life, either. She sat down on the cot and put her head into her hands.
She didn’t have much time to think about the matter, however, as the sounds of a commotion drifted into her ears. Based on what she remembered of the layout of the facility she was being held in, the commotion seemed to be coming from the direction of the reception hall where she had briefly met the gang’s Chief, which would also likely be near the main entrance.
Soon, Bao realized what the commotion sounded like: battle. She could hear the clang and clash of metal hitting metal. She heard people shouting and screaming, and soon, the aroma of smoke hit her nose. Bao stood back up and walked forward, trying to get a better view of the corridor outside.
The sounds of fighting grew more intense, but then suddenly stopped. Next, she could hear people running. First one figure, then two, then three, scrambled past the door. She recognized at least one of them from when she’d gone out into the main hall. They appeared to be fleeing, running for their lives.
The clan’s come to rescue me? she thought. It seemed unlikely.
Another figure ran past, a burly young man who she recognized as Mao Yun. Almost as soon as he ran past the door, she could hear him stop and then turn back. A moment later, his face appeared in the doorway, and he was looking right at her.
Then he glanced back the way he had come running from, and finally hurried over to her cage. Wasting no time, he unhooked the bronze axe he kept at his waist and began to batter at the cage lock.
It took him several blows, but the lock finally broke, and he swung the cage door open.
“I suggest you follow me,” he said.
“Why should I?”
“The people out there… it’s not your clan, and they’re not here to rescue you. It’s the Bone General himself, and his Bone Slicers.”
The blood drained from Bao’s face. “The Bone General?”
“They’re torturing the Chief right now, and when they’re done, they’ll torch this place. The Chief dabbled in matters he shouldn’t have. Come on, there’s no time to talk now. Let’s go.” Not waiting for her to respond, Mao Yun turned and headed toward the door.
Bao didn’t even need to consider the matter; she immediately followed.
The Bone General was one of several Ogre Demon Generals, devoted servants of the Demon Emperor. Everyone in cities occupied by the Demon Emperor knew that they weren’t even human, but rather, monsters that people said were summoned from the underworld of Emo Cheng. They even wielded magical powers. Each of the Ogre Demon Generals served the Demon Emperor in a different way. As for the Bone General, he was used like a hammer to crush threats, which he always did in an efficient and barbaric fashion. The Bone Slicers were his most elite fighters. According to some stories, they got their name from the way they would cut slices of bone out of living victims, then use those slices to torture them further.
Bao knew that to be true. She had seen such horrors during the purge of Yu Zhing, an event which the Bone General played an important role.
Even as a blood curdling scream echoed down the hall from the main audience chamber, Bao hurried out the door and followed Mao Yun.
The first thing she noticed was a table next to the door, upon which rested her knives and leather sheaths. She quickly grabbed them and hurried after Mao Yun, strapping the sheathes to her wrists as she went.
After hurrying through several corridors, she and Mao Yun ended up in relatively large chamber with a large barred door at the end. A group of about 20 or 30 rough looking individuals were congregated there. Standing between the larger group and the door were the man named Underchief Wang, as well as another young man. The two of them appeared to be arguing.
“What’s going on, Third Zhou!?” Mao Yun said in a booming voice.
The young man turned. “Big bro Yun, Underchief Wang won’t open the door!”
Mao Yun strode up to face off with Underchief Wang. “What’s the meaning of this? You’re going to get us all killed!”
“Either that or save our lives!” replied Underchief Wang. “They’ve surely blocked off the exits. We’ll likely open this door to find a hail of arrows punching holes in our hides!”
“The Bone General is right behind us, Underchief. If we don’t get out of here, we’ll be pierced by more than arrows!”
As the two men argued back and forth, Bao looked nervously over her shoulder at the corridor they had just walked out of, her mind filled with horrific scenes of brutality from years past involving the Bone General and his Bone Slicers.
Time ticked by, and the argument between Underchief Wang and Mao Yun grew more heated. Neither party seemed willing to back down.
Bao began to chew her lip, and then tap her foot on the ground. Finally, she had had enough.
Clenching her hands into fists, she walked directly between Underchief Wang and Mao Yun, straight up to the door. Before anyone could react, she placed her shoulder under the door bar and then heave up, tossing it to the side.
“Hey, what are you--” Before Underchief Wang could finish his sentence, she was pushing the door open.
Even as the door slammed against the outside wall, Bao leaped out into wide corridor with a channel of water running down the center. Apparently, it was raining outside.
She looked around vigilantly, but no hail of arrows shot through the air toward her. Actually, the corridor almost seemed deserted. Back when the purge of Yu Zhing had just begun, she clearly remembered what everyone said about the Bone General. She remembered him being described as a hammer used to crush resistance. He wasn’t a thinker or a strategist like the Skin General or the Hate General.
He wasn’t known for secrecy or plots; he tended to barge in, kill or torture everyone he could, and then burn the place to the ground.
Because of that, Bao had been fairly confident that there wouldn’t be an ambush waiting outside. Not waiting to see who else came out of the door behind her, she sprinted down the corridor. When she reached the end, she instantly knew which part of the city she was in, and was about to turn in the direction of the clan estates, when suddenly, she paused.
There’s nothing for me there, she thought. Gritting her teeth, she instead turned in the opposite direction, toward the north wall of the city. Relying on everything she had learned about the city during the last year of stalking it during the night, she began to run as fast as her legs would carry her.