On the day of Zhao Yuxi's birth, a grand banquet was thrown to celebrate her existence. She was the first child of the wealthy and noble Zhao Yulong and Chen Xiyue. Like a gift from the Heavens, the baby girl was deeply loved and cherished.
Despite the lack of a heir as the first born, Zhao Yulong never complained. Instead, he had invited everyone to come and celebrate her birth.
Even the Emperor and Empress of Huoling came to personally bless the child. Because of Zhao Yulong's strong connection to the Royal family, the Empress had personally presented the child with the highest gift of all: the title as a fourth-rank Princess.
The announcement had shocked the entire country. No one expected the Empress to hand out a grand title so easily, especially when her own daughters were considered to be fifth-ranked princesses. The personal title and immediate gift demonstrated the baby's status in the world.
There was never a year where Yuxi's birthday was not celebrated. With each passing year, the banquets would always be grander and better than the previous years.
Noble families from all across the country was invited to the banquets, and everyone always looked forward to the invitations. It was their only opportunity to catch the glimpse of the youthful, but extremely beautiful Yuxi whose alluring face could only be seen once a year.
The celebrations would go on for weeks, and soon, the entire month of January was dedicated to Yuxi. World-renowned musicians, the country's best chefs, exquisite performers, and mountains of gifts was always present on Yuxi's birthday. The people would throw parades to celebrate her name and the sky was always bright and clear.
Everything changed on the first occurrence of rain on Yuxi's birthday. A storm had torn across Leijing, and the celebration was called off for an entire week.
Many villages was flooded and damaged from the falling trees. Not only this, but the banquet that was always set up days in advance was ruined and wrecked. The damage seemed to have ominously foreshadowed something big and indeed it did.
On the first day of rain, Yuxi lost her parents. The enormous Zhao Manor was raided and ransacked by unidentifiable soldiers. Because of the heavy rain and chaos, Yuxi wasn't able to catch a good glimpse at the emblem and flag of the soldiers.
On the day that everyone was supposed to cheer at her presence, hold their breath and clap for her birthday, Yuxi found herself coated in the blood of her servants and parents.
Not even a week of mourning had passed when Yuxi was suddenly presented before Zhao Yulong's brothers. She was supposed to show her guardianship and with an inheritance enough to suffice a family for centuries to come, her father's brothers was eager to immediately get ownership of the frightened child.
"Come with me, little Yuxi. Eldest uncle will take good care of you." Yuxi's eldest Uncle, Zhao Yueluo, offered her a hand.
In a room of scary men whose faces were pulled into a deep scowl, her father's older brother was the first to offer her a gentle smile. His warm and tender eyes belied his true nature: a cruel and greedy man who will stop at nothing to achieve wealth and power.
Yuxi had no reason to doubt and question his kindness. She was only a child, so the simplest action of love was enough to fool her.
When Yuxi reached out to place her tiny hand onto his palm, the man immediately enclosed his hand around it. He was scared to lose the girl's favor, scared to lose the only key to a fortune so grand, it could purchase an entire empire with significant amount of leftovers.
The day Yuxi reached the house of her eldest Uncle was the day the torment began. Her eldest cousin, who was extremely envious of the small child's beauty, became her biggest bully.
Despite her extremely youthful age, Yuxi was already a budding flower. With doe-like eyes that resembled a tiny rabbit, cute button nose, and lips as soft and pink as the peach-blossom trees, Yuxi was a sight to marvel at.
Yuxi's aunt would force the child to wear rags that not even the beggars dared to touch. She was the first to make sure Yuxi would starve.
In just a span of three months, Yuxi lost her beautiful rounded cheeks that resembled freshly steamed buns. Her cheeks became hollowed and her skin clung onto her bones.
After being starved for so long, she resorted to eating the scraps thrown onto the floor. Her treatment was worser than the prisoner who committed the highest level of thievery and the poor girl didn't even steal anything!
All of the servants, especially her uncle, turned an blind eye to the torment that fell on the innocent Yuxi. Her eldest uncle immediately broke his promise.
He didn't care for the well being of the girl, instead, he was eager to get rid of her. And the torment would go on for one decade, until Yuxi was eighteen years old.
She had bled two years prior and now that she was the ripe age for marriage, her guardians immediately sold her off.
"I like her, I'll take her." The government official, older than her grandfather, greedily licked his lips at the sight of the cowering and bony woman.
Used as a stepping stone for her uncle and his family, Yuxi was immediately married off the very next day. There wasn't a grand banquet thrown to celebrate her wedding, instead, she was thrown out of the door.
In exchange for Yuxi's innocence, her uncle became a high ranking government official with a heavy pocket. Not only did her uncle sell her, but he also forced Yuxi to sign away her inheritance to him.
"It's either you sign here or be thrown in the slums. If you think being touched by an old man is bad, imagine being touched by dirty and grimy men with rotting teeth. They're men that haven't taken a shower for months or even years." This threat was enough to force Yuxi into submission.
Perhaps her aunt's best deed towards Yuxi was damaging her reputation before she got married. After words of infidelity and rumored adultery traveled to Yuxi's husband, she was thrown into a room that not even the maidservants dared to touch.
"I swear I'm innocent-" Before she could even finish her sentence, a rough smack had already flied across her face.
One of the many wives that the government official had, smacked the girl right across the face. Truthfully, all of the women wanted her gone.
Yuxi was simply too beautiful, despite the lack of meat on her bones, and the women was beginning to grow envious of the girl. They wanted her gone as much as the government official wanted her gone.
"Yuxi will hereby be banished to the Forbidden Halls. Guards!"
The poor girl never received a chance to defend herself. She was immediately exiled to the Forbidden Halls where she'd spend the next decade alone. Her only comfort or "friends" would be the mice that occasionally scurry across the room.
"Tell your mistress to come here." Yuxi turned towards the maidservant that would come once a day to bring her stale and rock-hard bun.
"Why should I listen to you-"
"Tell her to bring the poison." These words was enough to send the maidservant sprinting in glee.
She had immediately came back with a bowl of dark and pungent liquid.
Yuxi wasn't surprised at the speed to which the maidservant had brought the poison. Everyone wanted her gone and this was the first time she willingly accepted poison.
The maidservant placed the bowl on the floor and immediately left the room at the sight of a mice running past her feet. The door slammed shut with a loud thud, trapping in darkness.
With no windows in the room, light rarely seeped through the cracks of the wood. All alone, in a dark and dusty bedroom, Yuxi spend her last moments in utter solitary.
Today was her birthday, but now it has been changed to her death day.
"Mother, father, I have wronged you." Yuxi breathed out, her eyes fluttering between life and death.
From somewhere in the room, a tiny squeak could be heard. It was followed by the familiar pitter patter of baby rats running around the room. After living in this room for so long, Yuxi had gotten used to the creatures and occasional sound of furry animals.
Locked in this room for as long as Yuxi could remember, she had forgotten how the outside world looked like. She had forgotten the beauty of the sky, the soft feeling of the wind, and the lushness of the grass beneath her feet.
As her dying wish, Yuxi only wanted to touch the outside world. She wanted to feel the land and the scenery she always saw through the tiny cracks of the old, wooden wall.
The cracks mocked her, taunting her of the freedom she'd never have. The outside world was so close, yet so far away. The door to her room was always locked and there was no way out. Surviving on a single bun a day was not enough to supply her with enough strength to kick down the wooden door.
"I want to experience happiness..." Yuxi coughed out. The dust-filled air attacked her dry lungs, making it harder for her to breath.
Gone was the beautiful girl who used to run around the Zhao Manor with a beaming smile. In her place was a malnourished woman whose bonny frame and ghostly appearance belittled her true age.
Yuxi was already twenty-eight years old, yet her starved body resembled an adolescent beginning puberty.
Somewhere in the distance, the deep sound of a bell could be heard. It signaled the start of the afternoon, exactly twelve o'clock.
Yuxi's end was near.
On the same hour, minute, and second of Yuxi's birth, she took her last breath.