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167 The Artist Screams A Lo

    Somehow- just somehow- Yujia found herself sitting on top of a horse.

    It took a lot of tears, fear, and refusal on her end, and lots of persuasion, encouragement, and demonstration on Zhizhong's end, for her to end up where she was now.

    At first, she was dead set against any notion of getting near the two horses. But Zhizhong continued to kindly prove to her that this monster called "Little Cutie" was not a monster at all, and rather a very sweet horse. For some reason, now that Yujia was far away, the chestnut mare became calmer and more agreeable, letting Zhizhong ride her. Yujia only watched on from the distance she deemed safe as Zhizhong explained how to control and ride the mare properly.

    After that, seeing how the horse calmed down a lot more, Yujia was willing to give it another try- though not instantly and not without a struggle, of course. Even going up to "Little Cutie" was a task more difficult than most of the things Yujia had ever done in her life. Half her mind screamed at her that she was walking up to a literal killing machine while the other half yelled the opposite: that if she did not conquer her fear this time, she would never be able to conquer any other fears. Yujia didn't want to become the kind of person who collapsed at the slightest bit of adversity.

    Despite all that, once she mustered up enough courage to step up to the horse, getting onto the creature was a whole other deal.

    This was when Zhizhong's persuasion skills really came to a test.

    Many, many, many words of encouragement where given from his side. He also continued to demonstrate that "Little Cutie" truly was a cutie. Instead of Yujia's initial perception that if Zhizhong continued to hang around the horse, he would soon end up with all his bones broken, the chestnut mare somehow withstood his antics and allowed him to demonstrate everything a beginner needed to know when it came to horseback riding.

    A small voice began to convince Yujia that the horse only acted the way it had- all the kicking and snapping- because of Yujia being a stranger. But now that Yujia established that though she was a stranger, she posed no threats, the horse became much milder.

    Or at least, that was what Yujia hoped.

    Zhizhong left one last word for her. "You know," he proposed carefully, "seeing that it will be difficult to race at this point, let's just make this game simple. If you manage to get and stay on Little Cutie for five minutes- just five minutes- I'll let you win!"

    When she heard that, Yujia had actually given his words a lot of thought. Either Zhizhong genuinely wanted to see her capable of conquering her fear of the horse, or after seeing her entire demonstration of fear, he didn't have any hope that she would be able to get on. He was so confident that she couldn't even get close enough to "Little Cutie" that he would be willing to make a bet on that.

    Yujia admitted that with this thought, her pride felt a bit damaged. Even though she knew that he might not actually think that way, and that she was just overanalyzing all his words, her pride still felt hurt.

    "What happens if I don't win?" she had asked in reply.

    He simply replied, "Same conditions as last time. Winner gets to do one thing to the loser."

    And at the end of his words, Zhizhong gave her a very, very,

    very

    suspicious smile.

    She knew it. At that moment, Yujia knew it. This entire thing- horseback riding and all- it was just payback for when she drew a cat face on Zhizhong.

    Yujia never imagined that Bo Zhizhong would be such a petty person.

    This, along with everything else that had happened so far, combined together to give Yujia fuel to finally face her fear.

    And that was how she ended up on the back of "Little Cutie", holding on for dear life.

    Though in the first few moments, she struggled to raise her back when she was sitting on top of the saddle, Yujia eventually raised herself bit by bit until she was sitting straight.

    To word it nicely, Yujia was not used to this view from so high up at all. To word it in a less subtle manner, she felt like she was going to throw up.

    Zhizhong clapped his hands excitedly. "Just stay up there for a few minutes, and you'll be able to win!"

    Yujia didn't even want to look down. She kept her eyes fixed up high and prayed to every deity in the world that the horse she was on would not move. If the horse was still, she could at least pretend like she was just sitting on a very tall boulder.

    But then, Zhizhong said, "Okay, change of plans. If you can stay on the horse after

    this

    - then you win."

    "Wait wha-"

    Before Yujia could even finish her words, Zhizhong patted the back of "Little Cutie", yelling out, "

    Jia

    1

    !"

    And then, with a lurch and a scream of terror from Yujia, the horse started galloping.

    ...

    Fu Yushang thought of it as a joke. Or, if not a joke, at least a good learning experience.

    His logic was that fear was only something that held people back from improving. Fear was only a barrier to be destroyed. Some people may eventually be able to conquer their fears and enhance their entire life experience, while others continued to be held back by the limits of their fear.

    Regardless, the barrier called "fear" proved to be a struggle to everyone, no matter how brave or courageous they were. Everyone had their fears.

    Yushang also discovered that to break this barrier, the quickest method would be brute force. The wall of fear could be slowly chipped away, bit by bit, throughout an individual's life, or they could just run into the wall and break it with pure will, solving their fear in an instant. The solution was that simple- the only problem being that not many people were at the level of being able to just straight out face their fears like that. Not everyone was headstrong enough to run into a brick wall.

    So, Yushang held strong by the belief that if one was not capable of doing something, then someone else forcing that individual to do said thing would lead to good results.

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    In this current situation, though Yushang admitted that he was a little mean, he thought that the same ideology about fear would be effective. He strongly believed that Yujia could conquer her fear of horseback riding as long as she received some, well,  "motivation" to continue to cling on the horse. This motivation included the value of life and the value of healthy, unbroken bones.

    But Yushang didn't want to be that evil. He only planned to let the horse run far enough so that it was still in his sight, and he would call it back. That would be enough time, he believed, to show Yujia that riding on a horse wasn't actually that terrifying. It was also such a short period of time that the chances of her falling off was increasingly little- anyone could hold onto a galloping horse for only one minute.

    Recalling that his sister used a horse whistle to call her Little Cutie back, once the mare was far enough, he pulled out and blew the whistle. The shrill noise of the whistle cut through the forest, and Yushang blew it a couple of times.

    Little Cutie didn't even turn back her head.

    For a few seconds, Yushang stared at all this blankly, the idea registering in his head that the whistle didn't call the horse back.

    No way! No! Absolute! Way!

    He had gone on horseback rides and held competitions with his sister all the time! In all the cases, his sister always rode on Little Cutie, and she had always been able to call her horse back with the whistle! She even bragged that her horse was so obedient that she could blow the whistle on the opposite side of the world, and Little Cutie would come running towards her!

    Yushang would not have chosen Little Cutie to teach Yujia how to ride if he hadn't seen Little Cutie's calm demeanor and absolute obedience! He admitted that what happened in the beginning did shock him a bit- he didn't expect the mare to be so spirited today- but he was convinced afterwards that she had calmed down. That was why he dared to let Yujia try riding the horse. He would not have done so if he ever thought that too much danger would come to her.

    But now- why wasn't this whistle working?

    Yushang blew it a couple more times, to no avail.

    That was when he began to panic. He knew that it probably wasn't the case, but he hoped that Yujia was not in a state of too much panic right now-

    ...

    There was only one thing going through Yujia's mind at this moment: endless screaming.

    ...

    Meanwhile, two horse grooms were checking on the imperial family's horses when they came upon one empty stall.

    The older groom, who was the younger stableboy's mentor, curiously said in a half-question, "Strange. Why is this stall empty? Wasn't that where the new horse was kept?"

    "The new horse?" the stableboy replied, "Master, this is the stall for the princess's favorite Little Cutie, isn't it?"

    The groom looked at that stall, then took a few rushed steps forward, looking at another stall close to this empty one. In it, there was a chestnut mare with a very pleasant aptitude, chewing at some of her lunch. He blinked.

    The stableboy followed him, asking, "Master?"

    "This one's Little Cutie, idiot."

    "What?"

    Gesturing at the horse in the stall, the groom explained, "Little Cutie, the one that the princess likes, has a thicker, continuous strip of white down its head. But the new horse we got just recently, the one we haven't trained properly yet, has a white star at the top, and then a broken stripe down. They may both look alike, but that's how you tell them apart." He paused, looking back at the empty stall. "So where's the new horse? It was your shift this morning."

    "Oh. The Crown Prince's servants came by this morning and asked for his black stallion and Little Cutie to be brought to him," the stableboy answered, his words falling short and his eyes widening as he realized what he had done.

    "You absolute idiot!" His master barked, angrily smacking the boy on the back of his neck. "You did what now?"

    "I- I- I made a mistake- it was an honest mistake-"

    "Fool!" The groom grabbed the boy. "That horse you brought to the Crown Prince is barely trained! And she's not a gentle kind of horse, like Little Cutie, either! She was just recently shipped over from the west, and here you are, mixing her up with the princess's favorite horse... What if the Crown Prince gets hurt by this horse? She's far too spirited to be ridden by anyone!"

    "Master- I-"

    Lowering his voice to a hiss, the groom kept going, "You know, if the Crown Prince gets hurt, all of our heads are falling off today?"

    The stableboy's eyes were so large at this point that they seemed like they were about to fall out. "But! But- but- but it was an accident!"

    "And your

    accident

    will cost us all of our

    lives

    ."

    ...

    Yujia's mind at this moment was still at the same state.

    Screams, screams, and screams.

    Jia = giddyup in Chinese.
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