Everywhere she looked there were colors, sounds and smells to discover. Salespeople called out for possible customers from small stands and shop entrances, while the rich kids laughed and walked around, covering their faces with small fans and pointing excitedly at a few street performers blowing and swallowing balls of fire.
It was weirdly realistic, but as someone used to modern world wonders, such as 'Roudini's' stunts, Sam though it was only a case of very good technique and visual illusionism.
All around, beautifully adorned hairs, delicate gowns heavy jewelry stood out among barefoot street wanderers, plain, brown clothes and tired-looking slaves with tussled, uncared hair. The contrast was so strong, uncomfortably so, that Sam couldn't help looking down at her clothes and then at Ah Mei's, noticing the haggard looking seams, washed cloth and simple braided hair.
The stab of guilt that hit her was even harder to ignore.
"Hum... Ah Mei?" she called tentatively, while avoiding bumping in a group of chattering ladies, all of whom seemed to suddenly stop talking as they noticed her presence.
"XiaoJie?" Ah Mei turned, frowning slightly "Is something the matter?"
"Ah! No, no, I'm fine, I just..." she stopped, trying to find the right words to say what she wanted without making her uncomfortable "I... Well... Is there anything you want? Or need... Is there anything you need?".
Ah Mei blinked, seeming to have been taken off guard.
"Miss, this servant wants for nothing. I'm very glad for everything the Jiang family has provided me" she assured her, still looking a bit uncomfortable.
Sam wanted to shout in frustration. Why is it that everyone seemed to talk in circles around her! Starting with that General of theirs... But she wasn't going to start thinking about him right now! It would only sour her mood and make her forget what she had gone out for!
"I know, I know" she assured her in an annoyed tone "You are grateful... But, well, I noticed how well Qing Shan's maid dresses... I was just wondering, why don't you have better clothes?".
"XIaoJie" the younger girl blushed a little "This servant was just a simple maid on miss's yard... It is my luck to be serving you as a personal maid for now... I don't dare to be greedy".
Sam blinked, beginning to understand.
"So... You are not considered my personal maid?" she exclaimed in a surprised tone "But you go everywhere with me! What else they want, an official nomination?".
The silence she received, along with the girl's lowered head was enough answer.
'Ah!!! Why is it that nothing is easy around here?' she cried to herself, before sighing, waving absentmindedly.
"Forget it... it's just good that I know." she brushed the matter away, already thinking about talking with her sister after going back "Let's just get going... We still have work to do!".
Ah Mei simply smiled at her, taking the lead once more as they started walking again, trying to avoid all the hostiles and curious stares turned her way.
Sam had just begun feeling a bit annoyed by it all when her attention Wass caught by a what looked like a crowd gathering at the side, the voices and cheers beaming animated while bets and curses became stronger.
Curious, Sam stopped and turned to study what looked like a semi-circle of people, a small frown marring her forehead.
"Wei... Ah Mei, do you know what is happening there?"
Ah Mei frowned, following her mistresses's gaze to find two man standing in the middle of a crowd, looking straight at each other while what felt like a wave of pure energy started to weave and turn itself around them.
'Heavens, they are at it again' she though, feeling the excitement building inside at the prospect of the fight ready to begin.
"Xiaojie!! What great luck! The Great Daoist Master has come back from the mountains!! It is really our fortune to see him conceding to a challenge like this!!" Ah Mei babbled delightedly, almost jumping in excitement.
"Ah Mei, what do you mean 'challenge'? And why the hell are you so excited??" she could barely keep the annoyed stick out of her voice. It seemed that, for every question she asked, she got another five or six of them.
'It is really exhausting at times' she sighed miserably at herself.
"Miss, this is such a good opportunity!! Miss really can't miss it!! Let's go!" completely ignoring her scowl, Ah Mei grabbed her hand and almost dragged her forward, in time to hear the guy up in the air declaring what sounded like a challenge.
"I, He Geng Xin, hereby issue this challenge to the Great Daoist Master, promising to be fair and not shame the gifts bestowed to me by the heavens". asked the tall men with a hard expression, his hands turned into fists at the sides of his dark, expensive clothes.
At the other side, with his legs crossed and floating just a few feet off the ground, what looked like a very young men, with long, straight dark hair and an impeccably white robe floating in the wind smiled slightly, his long, delicate fingers playing with what looked like a bambu flute on his lap.
'Oh My God!' Sam thought to herself, amazed at what she was seeing 'He is flying!'
"Ah Mei" she whispered, trying not to catch the attention of the crowd surrounding them "I didn't know you had such good CGI here".
"Hein?" the girl turned a curious, a bit confused eyes at her "XiaoJie, this servant didn't understand... What is CGI?".
Before Sam could say anything else, though, the second men, the one that had been standing quietly all that time, made a move with his hand, turning everything suddenly dead silent.
"As it is your right and your choice, I hereby accept your challenge, promising not to stray frown natural laws and be fair and honor the gifts bestowed me by the Heavens." the young man said, his voice soft, as if hiding a smile "So be it." he finished, his eyes still closed, head bent a little, as if feeling the environment at her sides.
Sam started to feel excitement bubbling inside her, even though she didn't know quite what to expect! Maybe it was like those plays at the theatre, where they used light effects to hide the cables and other equipment.
At her side, Ah Mei suddenly stiffened.
"Oh, this is bad news!!" she whispered, coming even closer to Sam and trying to push her away "XiaoJie... XiaoJie we really should get going...! Right now, we really should go!!".
Sam frowned, looking back at her.
"Shhh!! Ah Mei, I want to see it!" she shushed her, not noticing the sudden nervousness that made the girl's voice quiver.
"XiaoJie... We really should go!!" she insisted. But just as Sam was about to slap her hand away and ask her for patience, the complete stillness was broken by a loud cry.
And then the two of them lounged themselves at each other. It was all so fast Sam could do nothing but fast in astonishment.
Their movements where flawless, with the more nervous and ruthless one brandishing his sword in perfect arcs, attacking his opponent at a speed that should be impossible. But it wasn't him that got Sam enthralled. No, it was the Priest. At first, she thought he was just standing there, still as a willowy tree, a small, gracious smile still on his face.
It wasn't until someone commented at her side at such grate skill and years of cultivation from the Daoist master that she noticed. It wasn't that he was still, but that his movements were so swift, so effortless, that human eye could barely register it.
Sam felt like watching a dance. A beautiful, deadly dance. She was mesmerized. It was almost possible to feel the buzz of energy all around them, the gathering of force and the excitement humming over the crowd.
And then suddenly something changed, the movements got more aggressive, even though the still flowed as a calm river. Both seemed to speed up, bringing things to a deadlock. It was then that the Daoist Master started using his flute with one hand to avert the sharp, double sided blade, the other one pointed upwards with two fingers.
It almost looked like he was chanting something.
"Ah-ah! Do you think he will do it??" someone asked excitedly from somewhere around her.
"Quite! You don't want to make him loose concentration!".
"Aya! As if it was possible! Master is such a grate martial artists! Just look, he will definitely use the Cloud Shattering technique!".
Sam frowned, trying to get a little closer to the talking couple, but at precisely that moment she was shoved from behind by the squirming mass, losing sight of Ah Mei as she was shoved to the front row.
"Xiaojie!"she still heard the girl calling, right before a sizzling sound caught her attention. Her head whipped at the front, eyes wide with wonder and horror as she saw what looked like small, shimmering threads of energy gathering themselves around the Master's lifted hand, bundling onto one another till there was only a cloud-like mass of thunder and lightning suspended over both fighters.
Seeing that, the challengers bared his teeth, stopping his movements and burning his swords deep on the ground with a single shove. The crowd hurrayed, seemingly even more excited as he aso started to concentrate, his hand forming a fighting stance while yellow light blinked in and out of sight around him.
'Ahn...?' Sam gasped, her hands flying at her mouth 'This doesn't look like CGI in the least... could it be it's all real?? No it's impossible! It really couldn't!! Still...'
The energy became stronger, so that she could almost smell it. It overwhelmed her, made her head muddled and her breath haggard.
"I have to get out of here" she whispered to herself, desperately trying to find a way out by bumping and pushing the sea of people aside. "Please, please! let me out! I need to get out!!"
She hit into something and then was pushed back. Hard.
And then she was falling. Right in the middle of the fighting duo.
Everyone around held their breaths, horrified at the girl lying on the ground between such powerful attacks on the making. There was no doubt on their minds that the girl was crazy. She must definitely be seeking death to put out such stunt.
Far behind, still trying to make her way at the front, Ah Mei continued to shout desperately for the girl.
"Miss!!! Miss! Get up!! Miss, please, Ah Mei is coming!!! Miss Yue!!!" she kept trying, almost calling her name on her efforts to catch her miss's attention and get her to move away.
'I should have made us go!' she berated herself. When she saw WHO was fighting, she should have tried harder, pushed them to leave... But her curiosity at the fight got the better off her. And now Ying Yue was sprawled in the middle of the fight, completely lost!
The challenger opened his eyes, suddenly turning his head as the sounds and voices finally filtered at him. Frowning, he followed the mindless shouts and screams till a small servant girl trying to fight the crowd, her face a mask of terror... His gaze travelled on, trying to understand why everyone looked so agitated, talking, whispering and pointing.
Finally, his eyes stopped at the figure fallen on the middle of the circle, apparently massaging an aching head.
He gasped, all the energy he was gathering disappearing. It could not be possible. I could not be her... Could it?
"Outch!" the girl mumbled, still not getting up the floor "I hope this doesn't mean another visit from that stinky doctor... Ah, my head hurts!".
He was not wrong. Heavens.
It was her. It really was her.
"The rumors were right" he whispered at himself "she is alive".
Without regard of anything, he left his stance, running to the girl and, before she could say anything, pushing her up and into his arms.
"Yue'er... Yue'er... I though I had lost you!" he repeated nonstop, his arms tightening around her.
Sam stilled, her body stiff as a wood. She could think straight. She didn't understand what was happening.
On the other side, the Daoist Master stopped, his hand lowering itself until he was once more on his two feet, a curious look on his beautiful, bluish eyes.
'Ah Mei, you have to save me!!' Sam thought as she tried fighting the stranger by pushing him away from her. But it seemed that he was somewhere else, content with just keeping whispering noises and calling her name.
'Oh God, Ying Yue! Why is it that you seem to have left such a mess behind?!?!'