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At the Bottom of the Well

 Ai stood at the top of a hill overlooking the river along the imperial city's edge. She was

just twelve years old and very slight, with silky ebony hair tied into braids that ran down to her waist.

From the pastoral peaks, she could see columns of acrid smoke drifting over the descending sun blending into the pink and purple hues of the evening light. The sound of cannons reverberated through the hills like thunder throughout the valley. Occasionally, one burst closer to her and shook the hill under her feet. The barbarian soldiers were drawing closer.

Ai, could see the hordes marching through her mind's eye. They were terrible hooven men with pale skin and horns bursting from their caps.

"Ai!" Her father called to her

There was a flash in the distance, followed a fraction later by an ear hammer burst. Another tendril of smoke began drifting into the clouds.

"Ai!" Her father called again.

Ai ran down the hill towards home. Her father, Lu, and mother, Min, were waiting outside. Ming's eyes

were downcast. Tears streamed down her soft cheeks. Lu stood erect, his motionless face betraying no

emotion.

"We found a place where you will be safe," blurted Lu.

Ai looked puzzled. "Are you sending me away?" she asked.

"No," Min interjected. "You will still be home with us."

"Come with me said, Lu. Ai followed Lu to an old stone well on the far end of their estate, while Min

stayed behind. A family servant, a small bald man with a long sinewy frame, a long drawn face, and onyx marble eyes was waiting.

"Down there," Lu said, pointing to the well. "You will be safe from the white soldiers down there."

Ai walked over to the well and looked straight down the hole. The bottom was obscured by darkness.

She tossed a pebble down and heard it strike against solid ground. She looked back at her father, whose

face was still as stone.

"Please, father, don't make me –"

"Silence!" Lu raised his hand.

Tears welled in the girl's eyes. "Now is not the time to be thinking only of yourself," Lu said sternly. "This is

for the benefit of your family."

Ai began to sob. Lu glanced at the servant and gave him a nod. He grabbed Ai and lifted her up.

"Please, father!" she begged.

"Trust me, Ai. I'm saving you from a fate worse than you could possibly imagine."

AI screamed as the servant held her over the well. She kicked against the stone, but he was too strong for her. He dropped her down the whole. Her scream echoed even after her face disappeared into the darkness. There was a thud and then silence.

Lu reached into his pocket and dropped some gold coins into the servant's extended hand.

Lu returned to the house, he found his wife quietly sobbing in bed facing the wall. He walked over and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.

"It's what was best for everyone. We spared Ai the suffering of being violated and dying as an old maid.

"What man would ever have wanted to marry her after the foreigners would have done?"

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