I swear that this is my own original work and I haven't stolen it etc and so on...

The absolute beauty of the landscape I rode through was almost enough to take my mind off what was happening and what was going to happen. Mountains on the horizon, majestic and dusted with white. Sunlight sparkling off the Yellow River, given its name because of the yellow sediment that flows down bringing fertility

Lotus, with her beautiful dark coat, is wiry and nowhere near the strength of our other horse, Ivory. She is lean and smaller than most but that's why I love her so, she's like me. Because she's small and female everyone underestimates her, which is what makes her strength so amazing.

I had a days ride ahead of me but focusing on what could come was too painful instead I focused on what was happening then. The burn in my arms, the sound of Lotus's hooves knocking against the ground, the dagger pressing against my hip. My knives. Three years worth of doing odd jobs and saving every coin bought me four small daggers, deadly and easily concealed, A soft leather grip and made from bone as there was no way I could ever afford any made from bronze or iron. But no matter the material they are made from there is no accounting for how deadly they are.

Given that I'd been riding, and Lotus running, for hours on end we stopped under a tree on the edge of the river. Dismounting quickly I snatched my small bundle of clothes out of the small saddlebag and Lotus gratefully trotted down to the river and started drinking. I couldn't help grinning as I hid behind a tree and started to change into my younger brother's clothes. Even though I'm three years older, he is the same size as me so they fit perfectly.

Trousers and a shirt aren't typically the proper attire for a girl but I figured that they couldn't expect us to fight in a long, rough, tunic that would do its very best to trip me off the edge of this mortal coil. Though the other clothes were still rough I could move much more freely, oh how I envied my brothers. If you were a man you didn't have to marry though it was still a benefit. If you were a man you could speak your mind and not be shut down. If you were a man you had control of your own life.

I took one of my sleek, bone, daggers and, holding my ramie tunic in the other hand, sliced away a small strip of the fabric. I almost laughed as I reached behind my head and tied my hair back roughly, something that would have been looked down on if I was back home.

I sighed and wandered over to Lotus who was playing around in the most adorable manner at the edge of the river. Leaping and rolling around, giving quite a shock to the birds. Looking into the murky water I could just make out my reflection, loose strands of my black hair framing a pair of deep blue eyes. My skin is tanned unlike Daiyu, yet again, as she has the perfect pale skin that makes her so beautiful. WIth my hair tied back and out of my long tunic I looked moreā€¦me. The young girl had been left back at home, and now a confident, wild, absolutely crazy girl had taken her place.

Lotus snuffling my neck snapped me back to reality, the world where I've locked my sister in our small house and gone to a place of no return. The world where I've left my parents with only one horse and probably broken their hearts. I swiped at the single tear that ran down my cheek and stood up, mounting Lotus.

She snorted as I swung my leg over her, not looking forward to the run ahead, frankly, I didn't enjoy it either.

I don't really feel like reminiscing on the ten hours of torture (riding), but I rode through the night. A painfully boring and uneventful ride, if I do say so myself. But it was all worth it when, though the mist of the early morning, I saw the Jade Palace. Never had I seen a building larger than some of our storehouses but the palace was of immense proportions, the roof made of a thousand glazed tiles, varying shades of green, that sparkled in the sun.

Surrounding the Palace was the city, expanding in all directions it engulfed the country outside, stopping just before the surrounding wall crushed the small farms spotted around the outside. In other words, it was the largest and most breathtaking thing I'd ever seen in my short life. I nudged Lotus and rode to the great gates of Jade City.

The guards that were controlling the steady flow of people didn't seem that shocked to see a rag-tag girl riding in on a horse without a male chaperone, but I was still questioned before being allowed in the city.

"What's your reason for visiting Jade City?" Guard number one asked.

"The Dragon Duels."

A second guard stepped in a female guard which isn't a common sight. "Do you have anything to declare, weapons or foreign items."

I sighed," I have four throwing knives which I am allowed for the duels and no foreign items that I am aware of."

Guard #1 nodded," you may enter."

I gave them a faint smile and was about to join the flow of traffic when the female guard tapped my leg. She lifted her visor and I saw that her eyes were broken even though she hid it well.

"I'm sorry to burden you with this but my daughter has been conscripted for the duels and," she paused as she pulled a ring off her finger. "Can you please give her this?"

I smiled," of course."

"Oh thank you, her name's Zhen, Zhen Chiang."

"I'll give it to her the first chance I get. You have my word. I'm sorry but I must go."

She nodded," I hope fate treats you well."

I smiled one last time and rode through the gates into Jade City.

It looked even larger from the inside, with a labyrinth-like network of roads, I'd surely get lost if it weren't so obvious where the palace was. As I rode along the road leading to the Palace every person I saw looked at the wild girl in shock and disgust. I just smiled sweetly and rode on.

When I reached the palace I dismounted Lotus and a guard stepped forward to take her from me.

"Don't worry," he said, seeing my nervous expression," she'll be cared for."

I nodded and let him lead her away then I turned to the other guard. "May I explore the city before entering the palace?"

"If you run then your family will pay."

"I won't run! Where would I go to?"

The guard nodded," you must be back before nightfall."

I turned and strode down the steps, turning into an alley as soon as I could, just to escape the watchful stare of the Guard. The alley twisted and turned, I could only see a little way ahead of me. This was the perfect place for robbers and lowlifes to attack, I pulled two of my knives from the sheath on my hip just in case.

Suddenly something, no, someone dropped from above with a faint grunt. They, he, turned to me and I leapt, shoving him into a wall, holding my knife to his throat.

"Make one move and you die."