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125 Fear From the Fourth Miss

    Yujia faintly recalled seeing darkness, then a flood of light. At the time, the darkness seemed like nothing more than a second, but thinking back to it, perhaps it was an eternity.

    When she opened her eyes, she saw Yu Zixu first.

    The first thing she noticed was the raw emotion on his face. No longer did he wear his carefully crafted mask of a calm smile or a blank expression. There was an expression displayed on his face that Yujia had never seen before, one with knotted brows, a tense jaw, and eyes fixed onto hers.

    Once he saw that she opened her eyes, the expression vanished. It disappeared so quickly that Yujia doubted that it was even there in the first place, and that she wasn't just hallucinating.

    Zixu leaned back. No words were exchanged between the two of them.

    Yujia pushed herself off the ground, her chest heaving as she coughed harder. With one hand clutched on her chest to support her coughs and the other draping over her face to hide her coughs, Yujia could feel the water coming out of her burning lungs.

    She barely had any energy to move. But somehow, she managed to cough until she was sure that she would hack her lungs out if she continued to cough so much.

    That was when she noticed the crowd around her.

    Their eyes were all fixed onto her, tracing her every move. Yujia's head slowly turned to look at all of them, and out of her muddled thoughts, the memory of all of the present individuals staring at her from before surfaced, only this time, she was on land too, just like them.

    But their gazes were still the same- blank, unsympathetic, emotionless.

    One middle-aged woman from the midst of the crowd stepped forward, her eyebrows knit together and her gaze soft. The woman bent down, rested her arm on Yujia's, and said, "Are you okay?"

    The voice of the woman was gentle, worry laced through her words. But then, Yujia blinked, and all she saw was a detached woman with a deceiving question. The few faces in the crowd that held something that resembled compassion all vanished as well, replaced by empty masks.

    The woman didn't care. No. Never. If she cared, why hadn't she stepped out to help earlier? If any of them cared, then why was it that when she needed help the most, none of them offered any sort of help or sympathy?

    The answer was simple. Not a single person in the crowd cared from the start. They all preferred to watch her drown than to offer her a single hand.

    Yujia's arm recoiled away, her hands pushing the woman back. She stumbled to her feet. Her head spun around to survey the crowd, watching their expressions shift back and forth. One second, she could see the humanity in their faces, yet the next second, their expression changed to one cold and uncaring. The different faces flashed between the two over and over. Around Yujia, the world began to spin.

    Her heart thudded against her chest. Her eyes darted back and forth. Her hands trembled at her side.

    People seemed to notice that something was wrong. In a faint, blurry part of her mind, Yujia could hear voices saying something vague and incomprehensible. Their voices, soon enough, faded away too, leaving nothing but Yujia standing alone in the midst of flashing faces.

    Yujia's fingers crept up her face, attempting to shield her eyes from all the flashing faces. Except, even with her eyelids sealed shut and her hands over her eyes, she could still see the faces of all of them appearing in her mind, sweeping back and forth across her vision.

    The faces taunted her. They repeated over and over again like a never-ending film of images.

    She couldn't breathe. Though a part of her knew that she was on land, that she was safe now, it felt like the rest of her was submerged in ice cold water, cutting into her soul and choking up her lungs. And the faces- they continued to flash in her vision, blinding her.

    She couldn't breathe. She really couldn't breathe.

    If she stayed her for a moment longer-

    She couldn't. She couldn't stay any longer. The more she stayed in the crowd, the more she couldn't breathe. At this rate, she was going to suffocate herself.

    Letting out a sharp scream, Yujia pushed her way forward, shoving past all the faces. Some parted their way for her, while others continued with their eyes fixed on her, not moving an inch. Their gazes trapped her, pulling her and dragging her down like the weight of the water rushing over her head, but Yujia kept clawing her way through.

    She had to get out of this place. She had to get out of this place. She had to get out of this place she had to get out of this place she had to get out of this place she had to get out of this place she had to get out of this place she had to get out of this place shehadtogetoutofthisplaceshehadtogetoutofthisplace.

    A moment passed. Or perhaps, eternity passed.

    Yujia found herself free of the faces.

    The gazes were still fixed on her back. She could feel them. But she was out of the crowd.

    And so, Yujia did the only thing she could think of in this situation.

    She ran.

    She ran with all of the strength remaining in her. She ran with her two legs trembling beneath her. She ran with each step that threatened to make her collapse.

    The world faded around her into a pure, blank whiteness, free of noise or faces. All she could hear was the drumming of her heart against her chest and her footsteps striking against the ground at the same pattern of her heartbeat.

    Yujia didn't have a set direction. She didn't know where she was headed, or what point there was. All she knew was that she needed to get away from all the faces, from all the people, from everything.

    So she ran until she couldn't anymore. She ran all the way until her legs gave way under her. She ran until she dropped to the ground, a mess of sweat, burning skin, and a heart that felt like it was going to burst.

    The world slowly faded back into her view.

    Yujia didn't know where she was at. She was leaning against a wall of an empty gray villa with a willow tree growing over its broken walls. Once her heartbeat calmed and she caught her breath, she could hear faint sounds of a cart rolling and people chattering in the distance, but it was far enough that it seemed like not many people frequented the street Yujia had stopped in.

    What was she going to do now? She had to find her way back to her home eventually, as calming as it was to just lean against the wall and to clear all of her thoughts.

    After a long time of just staring at the dirt floor and her hands that wrapped around her legs, Yujia saw a pair of shoes inching into her field of view. Slowly, she raised her head without much strength and saw Yu Zixu.

    His hair was just as a mess as hers, and his clothes were all saturated with water too. The only thing that was dry on him was a folded cloak that he carried carefully in his arms. His expression, meanwhile, was blank. Blank, not like the blank expression of the crowd without any mercy in their gaze, but blank as if he was just as clueless as her.

    Without exchanging a single word, he lowered his hands and offered the clean, dry cloak to her. Yujia stared at it for a moment, then tentatively took it from him, draping it around herself. Her skin was burning, but she found comfort in wrapping herself with something heavy.

    Neither of them said a word until it began to get uncomfortable.

    Finally, Yujia asked. "How... did you find me?"

    "I asked around," he replied, his words slow, "for a girl who looked like someone who was just doused with a bucket of water. It wasn't hard to figure out which direction you headed in."

    There was a bit of humor in his words, and although Zixu didn't smile, Yujia found herself letting out a quiet laugh that was nothing more than a sharp puff of air. Of course. It wasn't every day that someone saw an individual like her running down the streets.

    "Why did you run away?" This time, it was his turn to ask questions.

    "I couldn't stay there for any longer. It felt like I was drowning on land." Her voice choked up. "How could they- all of them- just not even- offer a hand? Only you did- but how could the rest of them be so... inhumane?"

    Her eyes began to blur. She tilted her head down and covered her eyes with one hand, stuffing back her desire to cry back inside of her. She didn't want to cry in front of him.

    He answered softly, "It's because they didn't know you. They found it an inconvenience to help a stranger."

    "Really?" Yujia couldn't stuff back her tears, but she snapped her head up after hearing that. Her tone turned sharp. "Is that what you think?"

    "I'm not saying anything wrong, am I?"

    Yujia's eyes grew larger with disbelief. "You're not saying anything wrong? So you're saying that simply because I'm a stranger to them, that if they see me drowning, than it's okay to just let me

    die

    ? Just because they don't know me, then it's justified that they didn't offer any help?"

    "Well-"

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    "Let me tell you something, Young Master Yu," Yujia continued with a cutting laugh, her head shaking slowly, "I don't know how to swim. And after today, I'm probably going to terrified of water. But if I ever saw a girl in the same circumstance that I was in today, I would not hesitate to step forward and save her, even if no one else in the world was willing to."

    "That sort of kindness is foolish." His jaw set with his reply.

    "Is that what you think? Kindness is foolish, but what exactly is it that makes us human? Is it not the kindness that you called foolish just now?"

    Yujia stood up and yanked off the cloak hung over her shoulders, throwing it back at Zixu.

    And without exchanging another word or a farewell, she left the scene.
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