She had packed a few essentials when the soldiers came to pick her up. She slung her bag over her shoulder and exited the brothel. There was a wagon waiting in front of it. Half a dozen men were sitting inside, all dressed in tunics and commoner clothing. They all had weapons strapped to their waist and she saw a few of them eye her with interest. Manchu stuck his pert nose in the air as usual, refusing to meet her gaze. Before she boarded the wagon, however, she spotted Lin sitting against the brothel.
When her eyes caught with Lin’s, Lin offered her a smirk. She jutted a thumb at the soldiers. “You going to be handed around the whole lot?”
Meifen scowled darkly. “Work is work. Now shoo!”
“I do whatever I want,” she sneered.
She almost rolled her eyes at the hotheaded girl. She placed a hand on her hip. “Don’t snoop around where your nose doesn’t belong. Steer clear from Lotus Spring. Your stench is going to drive away the customers and in turn drive away my potential clients. You look like a wet rat, with your hair all matted and cut like that.” Her nose crinkled. “I have trouble believing you’re truly a female.”
The younger girl shot her a dark glare. “Go back to work, old hag.”
“Gladly,” she said just as Manchu barked at her to enter the wagon. She spun around on her heels and climbed the wagon with ease, tossing her bag on the wagon floor beside her as she took her seat. The stench of sweat hit her immediately and she scrunched her nose together in disgust. A few of the soldiers shot her curious looks while the others glanced over her body longingly. There were seven in total, including Manchu.
The soldier sitting next to her looked to be around her age. He had long black hair that he kept tied behind his head, soft brown eyes that spoke of kindness, and a puckered scar across his jaw spoke of his soldier status. She vaguely wondered the story behind it, but she wasn’t too interested in him to venture a guess or ask. The wagon lurched forward and they officially began their journey to Ki.
“My name is Kong,” the man beside her said. Crinkles formed around his eyes when he smiled.
She eyed him coolly before a smile stretched on her face. It would be wise to understand who these men were and if they posed a threat to her during this journey. “I’m Meifen,” she answered.
“I was quite surprised when we were told that a woman would be journeying with us,” he said with another carefree smile. It was aimed at her in such a way that she knew he was trying to weasel into her heart—or more specifically, between her legs. “It’s not often that women are given missions alongside men. I’m looking forward to seeing the mission unfold.”
She smiled at him, but before she could speak, Manchu barked, “We aren’t here for pleasure and making friends. This isn’t something to look forward to.’”
Kong straightened. “Yes, Lieutenant General. Apologies.”
Manchu grunted a reply while Meifen examined the rest of the soldiers. Three of them were young and were in their early to mid-twenties, including Kong. The other three looked more experienced and had a hardness about them that reminded her of assassins. Those men were probably mercenaries. The younger men looked too bright and happy to be serving their empire; they must have been simple soldiers in Lieutenant General Manchu’s army.
The rest of the ride was spent in silence and it wasn’t until they exited the city and were traveling through the countryside that Meifen spoke up. She shifted in her seat uncomfortably and half-prayed Manchu had a heart big enough to see her discomfort and call for a break. “Who is the man we’re retrieving?” she asked, trying to fill the void. She was alright with a silence between them all, but she needed to have a clearer picture of what they were doing.
“Don’t worry about it,” Manchu snapped. “You just focus on your job.”
She gritted her teeth together. “I need to know in order to efficiently fulfill my mission.”
“Efficiently fulfill your mission?” He snorted. “All you have to do is suck his cock. What’s so hard about that?”
A few of the men chuckled while her cheeks flamed. She turned away from them and instead, focused on the passing scenery. She was disrespected on a daily basis and yet it stung every now and then. When she was with soldiers like this, it angered her that they didn’t see her as an equal of sorts. Her methods were different, but she relayed information and retrieved information in order for soldiers to win battles! She was an important part of the war too. Nobody saw it that way, though. Apparently, seducing people and assassinating them was dishonorable. There was no honor in what she did, only shame.
They finally took a break during nightfall. They camped outside and bread was passed around. She chose to sit far away from the men and silently ate her meal. Kong chose to sit beside her. “Don’t take their words to heart,” he said quietly.
She popped a piece of the bread in her mouth and chewed. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
“To answer your earlier question…His name is Xia Zengguang,” Kong said quietly. “He’s a young soldier of General Hung’s army. He’s not someone notable or known in the war, but General Hung knows of his strengths and has predicted that he will become the turning point of the war.”
Meifen raised a brow. “That’s some pretty high expectations on a supposed nobody.”
“I know. I highly doubt that’s the case, but,” he shrugged, “we’ll see. Anyway, he’s supposedly extremely brilliant. His mind, the General explained, is so vast and sharp like none he’s ever seen. He joined the army when he was fourteen. Apparently, he somehow caught the attention of the General at fifteen and strategized something brilliant in battle, and they were able to win the battle. Since then, he was the secret mastermind behind the General’s victories in the coming battles for the next two years.”
So they were going to save some sort of boy wonder? Some prodigious young strategist? The General was putting so much effort into saving one man because he was intelligent? It was wasted effort, in her opinion. Brilliant minds came and went; no need to break tooth and nail for a boy who was probably already dead. “He was captured and imprisoned since then?” she filled in the blanks.
He nodded. “The General thought he was dead but then he found his whereabouts, which is where we’re headed. Ki doesn’t know that he’s truly a great asset or they would have already killed him.”
She soaked in that information. At least she had a name now. With this, if the warden did let any information slip, she would know who he was or wasn’t referring to. Since Ki thought of him as a nobody, the warden probably wouldn’t even speak of him, but it was good that she knew. It was better to know unnecessary information than to have no information at all.
“I see.” She beamed at him, batting her eyelashes. His cheeks were instantly flushed with color. “Thank you for letting me know.”
“Ah, y-yes, no problem,” he said, rubbing the nape of his neck. “I think you’re entitled to know all the information of the mission since you’re playing a big role in it.”
“Lieutenant General Manchu doesn’t seem to think so,” she said with a sigh. “He only sees me as a petty whore.”
“Being a prostitute is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.
“Hmm.” She peered down at her hands. So he didn’t know that she was a seductress? She glanced at the other men. They were behaving themselves and hadn’t given her a second thought, instead, choosing to talk amongst themselves. “He’s so disrespectful towards me,” she said with a sigh. “I’m glad you’re nice to me, Kong. You know, with the warring period we live in, orphans are given only two options: prostitution or enlisting in the army. Why is it so wrong for me to do whatever it takes to survive? I would’ve starved out in the streets if I hadn’t.”
He bobbed his head sympathetically. He eyed her figure momentarily before smiling at her. “It’s a shame our empire is in this state. It’s a shame that beautiful women like you are forced to sell your bodies just to survive.”
“A shame indeed.”