It’s Real, Not an Illusion
Someone said that when in the North, especially Song Zhou, this sort of scene could be seen everyday. Duan Mu An Guo had control over every girl in the province, but not everyone wanted to enter the imperial palace. At 13 years of age, a girl was not yet of marriageable age. According to Da Shun’s laws, a girl that had not yet become of marriageable age could not be married off.
But in the rough and unreasonable northern provinces, these matters were ignored; moreover, Duan Mu An Guo was extremely debauched, especially when it came to younger girls. That was why the girls that were still children were worried at all times that they would be caught and sent into the Winter Palace. As for Duan Mu An Guo’s twelve concubines, they were an existence above those in the Winter Palace. It was equivalent to a promotion.
Now, there was a girl on the run, and nobody on the streets cared or went to stop her. Either way, she would not be able to escape before being caught by her family and brought back. The people of the North had already become accustomed to selling their daughters for benefits. In fact, they were all too eager for their daughters to become favored. After all, as long as they had a daughter remain in the Winter Palace, they would be exempt from paying taxes.
Feng Yu Heng saw the girl get caught rather quickly before being brought by her family to a middle-aged man that looked a little refined that was standing at the side of the road. They said: “Sir, please do not worry. We will definitely take care of educating our young daughter. After a little time, we will definitely send her to the Illusory Hall later. We will ensure that she is obedient.”
The middle-aged man sighed, saying: “Every year, during the 100 family banquet, a few of the girls of our Illusory Hall will be chosen by leader Duan Mu to enter the Winter Palace. That is a life-changing great occurrence. At first, the people of the Illusory Hall definitely would not come out to look for people; moreover, doing so in such a rush. Unluckily, a group of people was sent to Qian Zhou to perform, and Qian Zhou agreed that they would return before the end of the year, but the one that came this year was Prince Lian. He did not mention this matter, and it’s hard for us to ask. Only because of this are we in a rush to come out and look for substitutes. But if your daughter does not want to, just forget about it. This is not something that can be forced. The Illusory Hall definitely will not bring any girl that does not want to enter the Winter Palace.” After he said this, he saluted and turned to leave.
Feng Yu Heng stared at that person’s departing figure for a while, and an idea appeared. Before this thought could be fully formed in her mind, Ban Zou frankly pinched her arm from the side then fiercely said: “Can you allow me a little bit of peace of mind? Don’t bother with that idea.”
Feng Yu Heng spread her hands, “But if I don’t go with that idea, how can I get into the Winter Palace? I don’t trust that just your qinggong will allow me to enter without anyone knowing about it. On the day with that palace, there was a large number of people present, so we can forget about it. As for Winter Palace, since that is Duan Mu An Guo’s little imperial palace, it definitely will not be very open. Moreover, after that incident, he will be very intent on finding us.”
Ban Zou shook his head once more, “No matter what you say, I will not agree.”
“If you don’t agree, just come with me.” Feng Yu Heng winked at Ban Zou, “To avoid any lapses, I have chosen the path of Illusory Hall, so how about you go and find your own path?”
These words caused Ban Zou to consider things carefully. He knew that his master would stand by her word, and it would be too difficult to change her way of thinking. This meant that only by him going in would he be able to help if anything went wrong.
Seeing that Ban Zou was willing to listen, Feng Yu Heng covered her mouth and smiled. The two walked like this then turned around at some point. After opening some distance between them and the group, Ban Zou immediately soared with her, heading straight for the inn where magistrate Lu resided.
Right now, Feng Yu Heng definitely did not believe that magistrate Lu was foolish enough to try and escape. Without that name list, even if he could recite it for Duan Mu An Guo, the authenticity of it would be decreased. For magistrate Lu, the only person that he could rely on was Feng Yu Heng.
Sure enough, the two did not wait for long in the room before magistrate Lu returned while looking dejected. He was not in the slightest surprised to find Feng Yu Heng already inside the room. He just asked her in a flustered voice: “The day after tomorrow will be the 100 family banquet. Imperial daughter, how should this lowly official pass this trial with Duan Mu An Guo?”
Feng Yu Heng spread her hands: “Just tell him that you had a name list that was unfortunately burned in the fire.”
Magistrate Lu trembled. If he said it like this, he would immediately be killed, right?
Ban Zou poured a cup of tea for himself and said while drinking: “There will be many people at the Winter Palace tomorrow. Qian Zhou’s prince has also come. Don’t worry. Duan Mu An Guo will not make himself look stupid to bring this up with you. Every extra day is a day. If you truly cannot continue hiding, I will personally escort you out of the city.” This great one will personally send you on your way.
Magistrate Lu nodded, saying: “I only wish for that to be the case. Many thanks, young hero.”
Feng Yu Heng and Ban Zou did not remain in the room any longer. The two only sat for a while before going their separate ways. Feng Yu Heng went straight to the Illusory Hall, while Ban Zou was very secretive and refused to tell where he was going. She could not be bothered with caring. This brat was becoming more and more capable. He was actually able to make it all the way from the capital to the North without anyone noticing. It was natural that he would be able to sneak into the Winter Palace. Duan Mu An Guo, you were not able to celebrate you birthday; however, you would never expect that this imperial daughter also has no intention of allowing you to celebrate a happy new year.
Song Zhou only had one Illusory Hall, and it existed to perform for the leader of the North. The so-called illusions were nothing more than modern magic tricks. It was just that the majority of modern magic tricks relied on high-tech lights and props as pillars of support. The amount of technique necessary compared to these illusions was much lower. The ancient era was different. There were no high-tech gadgets, and everything relied on simple props and seemingly magic hands. Right before leaving, magistrate Lu told her that the Illusory Hall in Song Zhou had already existed for many generations. The one that had founded it was a person from Qian Zhou, and the illusions performed were related to snow and ice. They were very mystical. Duan Mu An Guo’s infatuation with illusions was no lower than his infatuation with girls, thus this Illusory Hall was handed down generation after generation. In the end, it had become for Duan Mu An Guo’s personal enjoyment.
Feng Yu Heng dressed herself up as a commoner girl and walked toward the Illusory Hall. Gradually, more and more people appeared on the streets. The majority were girls around her height and age. Looking in the direction that they were walking, she found that they were all heading toward the Illusory Hall. Some of the more talkative girls said: “It’s rare that the Illusory Hall looks for new members. In the past, even if they did look for new members, they would be very selective, but I heard that they lost quite a few girls this time. They all ended up being kept in Qian Zhou, which is a benefit to us. I heard that as long as we get into the Illusory Hall, we will receive a bit of money. The monthly wage is also quite a bit. The most enticing part is that no less than ten girls are chosen from the Illusory Hall by leader Duan Mu to enter the Winter Palace. Xiao Ya, your mother fell ill, and your family is still struggling. This is a chance!”
The girl named Xiao Ya had an anxious expression, and she looked to be a little tangled. It was clear that she did not want to make this trip. She asked the girl that had just spoken: “Is there really no other option? I really don’t want to go.”
The girl helplessly said: “Ever since your mother fell ill, your family has already borrowed money from every family that yours was acquainted with. Yesterday, I saw your father go to the Li Manor to knock, but they did not even open the door. Put truthfully, unless you give up on your health, there’s really no other choice.”
Another girl to the side advised: “Xiao Ya, you are the one that is the most beautiful among us. As long as you get into the Illusory Hall, there will be no worries about not being chosen! As long as you can get into the Winter Palace, lord Duan Mu will give some money to your family. Not to mention your mother’s illness, even their day to day life will improve by a good amount.”
Xiao Ya smiled bitterly then sighed. Helpless, she followed them forward.
Feng Yu Heng increased her pace and glanced at Xiao Ya. She just saw that the girl was born with delicate features, and she really was quite pretty. It was not just prettiness, but what caught her attention the most was the faint similarity in the eyebrow area. Feng Yu Heng observed for a while and gradually felt that with this sort of similarity, if she got rid of the gloominess on Xiao Ya’s face, she would more-or-less look like her. That would already be close enough!
She slowed down her pace and immediately made up her mind, thus she slowed down a little more, simply following behind Xiao Ya from a distance. She followed all the way until they reached the doors of the Illusory Hall.
Illusory Hall opening its doors to accept people had aroused the interest of the girls in the city whose minds were filled with fantasies. She saw a few dozen girls standing around the front, and there was a man at a small table in the front. He was keeping a record on all of the girls that came. At the same time, the girls had to hand over their registration for this person to see.
Xiao Ya was also advancing like this; however, she was not too willing. But in the end, she could not avoid the advising of her friends, as she handed over the registration.
These girls did not immediately enter the Illusory Hall. Instead, they all returned to their homes. Feng Yu Heng heard someone say that the Illusory Hall needed to carefully consider the identities and appearances of the girls. Those that were chosen would be picked up in the morning by carriage.
She followed Xiao Ya back to her home. The residence was not shabby, but it was overly quiet. There was only an old man watching the gates and another male servant sweeping the ground inside. Further inside, a woman could be heard coughing. Xiao Ya pushed the door open and entered, calling out: “Mother.”
Because Feng Yu Heng had followed behind while using her space, she appeared in a corner of the room and immediately saw the severely ill woman lying down in bed and Xiao Ya, whose face was covered in tears.
The woman asked her: “Where did you go?”
Xiao Ya said: “I went to borrow money.” She raised her hand and wiped away some tears, not saying anything further.
The woman coughed for a while before finally managing to calm her breathing. She quickly and urgently warned Xiao Ya: “If you and your father want to borrow money, I cannot stop you, but Xiao Ya, you must remember that no matter what idea you come up with, you must never consider going to lord leader’s place.”
Xiao Ya was unable to hold back her tears and partially turned around to wipe them before saying to the woman: “Mother, don’t worry. Daughter won’t do that.”
The woman sighed, not entirely believing her, but there was nothing that she could do. She said: “If you use that sort of method to get money, I would rather bite my own tongue off and commit suicide before using a single cent!”
Immediately following this was another round of loud coughing, as she became unconscious once more. Xiao Yao was finally able to let out her cries, repeating again and again: “Mother, I’m sorry. Xiao Ya doesn’t want to lose you, but there’s also no other choice. The leader’s palace is gone, but there is still a Winter Palace. From this day forward, perhaps daughter will not have another chance to fulfill my filial duties.”
The more she cried, the more heartbroken she felt. She did not even realize when someone had appeared behind her. She just felt a hand gently rest on her shoulder, as a girl’s voice said to her: “I can treat your mother’s illness.”