It was another beautiful and sunny day in ĀnZhàn (安战). Children were playing by the riverbank with their varying colored kites in their little hands, letting the wind take them where they should be. High pitched laughter echoing throughout the area; Tiny squeals from the little girls whenever they were chosen to be the it. Oh, sweet innocent childhood. The one last serene atmosphere Yien will ever get see before it happens—it never failed to plaster a smile on his face. They all look so peaceful and happy. He wished them all the blessed happiness their childhood innocence can offer.
Since the "hunting" season is coming, the children in the village would go out and make the best out of the day because when the season begins, they'll be forbidden to venture outside for obvious safety reasons. Things could get really messy, if not bloody, in these events. So far, there hasn't been any cases where someone actually got killed or got brutally injured, but that's still not one to be ignored. Things could happen, and every passing year, suitors would improve (in terms of brutality) in hopes of getting a wife or husband for the past years if they were unsuccessful the last time. It's scary because they never know what the pursuers are going to do and more often than not they would resort to using cheap tricks to win.
To someone unfamiliar with their tradition, they’d be forgiven to think ill of the unjust nature of the event. You see, to earn the hand in marriage for any available male/female in the small village of ĀnZhàn, a pursuer must fight other suitors off to eliminate competition. After that, they'll face the final challenge by engaging in a physical battle with the mate of their choice to prove their worthiness and capability to protect their future family.
One can be considered eligible to be pursued once they've reached the young age of 16, which is the age of maturity. They will be then no longer hidden away like the rest of the children in the village, but they are to be set out in the battlefield to challenge potential mates. They either manage to fend off the pursuers or get conquered. Usually after that, they will be introduced to the parents and immediately start with the marriage ceremony. Albeit, some wait for about a week or two for the ceremony.
It was an uncanny tradition of theirs, if Yien were to say. But tradition is tradition. He can't do anything to stop it from ever stopping. In their village, that's just the way it is. He hated it though. He never liked the practice of behaving like animals in relationships and kinship. It made him feel like a savage. A feral, if not. They were humans, but are expected to act like animals in the wild.
The locals were to be treated as one would in the wild. Yien, for a lack of better term, hated it. ĀnZhàn is no different from the wild; ĀnZhàn is as joke to civilization.
Because of this tradition, he spent most of his childhood training—learning how to attack and fend off unwanted pursuers. Yien didn't want to be seen as a prize so he did everything he could to not end up as some random person's husband.
Duan Yien is renowned for being the most sought after male in the entire village. Men and women from other neighboring and far away villages come to ĀnZhàn in hopes of making him their husband. However, it's no easy task for Duan Yien is known for his impeccable combat skills, making him the most difficult-to-attain suitor in all of ĀnZhàn.
He has seen most of his friends lose and marry strangers so many times, he had turned to loathe the practice (more than he already does). If only he couldn't participate, he wouldn't. However, the absence in participation would bring great shame to the family, dubbing it "a cowardly act"—a deviance. So that leaves Yien with the only option of winning the battles so no one could have his hand. He has managed to remained untouched for over 4 years now, and he plans on making this years his 5th.
Strangely enough, his lack of enthusiasm in the battles gained him more popularity. He is the village's "Unrivaled Prince". Even his family took pride in his resistance and winning streak. They've been very supportive of his choice, though his mother is silently wishing for his son to finally settle with someone even just as close for his standards. Her son was getting older and, as much as his title grooms his dignity, participants are beginning to prey on the younger ones. (Yes, it does sound that disturbing).
His father, however, was more that glad to help his beloved son train for the season since it gave them opportunity to spend some quality father and son time together by engaging in spars and dabbling in martial arts—something his father has been very vehement about since he was young. Somehow deep within him, he knew that he didn’t want to lose his prized son to someone random.
To add insult to injury (for Yien, that is), his beauty has done more bad than good. Because of his mature and youthful look, many have turned their attention to him. Added with the thrill of chasing someone who hasn't been touched, raised more unwanted interest from desperate and cocky men and women alike.
It was tiresome.
A voice interrupted his attention to the playing children. The said male turned to look for the source of the voice only to find his cousin—Tzuyu (子瑜). She gave him a tired smile before plopping down beside on the grassy field. "You aren't going to train for tomorrow? You know that you’re still the number one target. Even after these years… Can you believe that?" She mumbled the last one, but Yien was able to hear it.
He smiled, "I did train. I wanted to take a breath so I went out. A breath of fresh air doesn't hurt."
Tzuyu nodded, "Well, your papa asked me to tell you that you should be finishing your training soon so we could all have dinner by 7. That means everyone will have enough time to rest for the evening. That way, you'll have all the energy you need for tomorrow's event. After all, you don't want to be sluggish on the first day."
Yien chuckled at his cousin’s bluntness before doing as told. He did a few more practices using his favorite dagger, embowed in a distinct style to signify his ownership, wrapped in red tinted leather for good luck.
When night came, Yien glanced at the window adjacent to his bed. The august glow of the moon notified the time for the event to begin. The gods and goddesses will be watching them, picking their fates with little effort. All he could do was hope that everything will go the way it should.
This is Yien's fifth year participating, yet he still gets nervous for the day to begin. The event lasts for up to 3 days and there's no telling who are involved. It'll all come to light tomorrow. But that still doesn't give him any ease.
The windchime by his window sang him a lullaby. It was the last song he heard before eventually letting sleep take over.
With one final roundhouse kick, the man came flying across in a distance. It took him a while to stand back up again, indicating that he has lost the battle already. Yien let out a deep breath as he mentally cheered on himself. That was his 9th guy today, not counting the 2 other women who tried, and already he was disappointed in this year's event so far.
Sure he hated the objective of it, but getting to beat random people with a good reason and not having to face consequences was always the best part. However, this year wasn't really much of a challenge for him. Everyone was so predictable and often attacked him purely on impulse.
Times when he wasn't a target, he would jump on roofs to get an overview of the entire village and see who were worthy to be challenged. If he was going to participate, at least give him a good one.
"That's him. It's Duan Yien!"
He looked behind him to see 2 pairs of eyes fixated on him. Whenever someone got close to Yien, they always had the same expression—thrilled and anxious. They were no different. One of the two looked at his friend before nodding. He charged at Yien with impressive speed, wielding two knives.
Yien quickly jumped to the nearest roof to prepare himself then he followed. It tool him a while to lose him, but Yien was able to slash the man's thigh, inflicting immense pain on the chaser. It wasn't over though. His friend who was patiently waiting for his turn, automatically jumped in as the next challenger. He was just as good as his friend, but they did both have something in common—they weren't good enough.
The town bell roared through the entire village, making the end of today's event.
Yien gave the men a grim expression before jumping off the roof to go retreat to his family. As he walked pass the participants, he could make out a few familiar faces who had been conquered, some were his old classmates, some were his neighbors, and some were his previous pursuers. The ones who were able to defeat their chosen mates were tending to the wounds they had inflicted on them and vice versa. Looks like some really did put up a fight.
Those who saw Yien gave him a mix of expressions. Some were amazed, some with a knowing look, and some even envy.
"He must be really good."
"He should really settle down now that he's in his 20's"
"Isn't it his 5th year now? He should really let someone win if he wants to have a family."
"Lower your standards a bit, would you?"
"At this point, everyone should just stop going after him."
"Yeah, there are plenty of other girls in this village anyway."
"Makes you really wonder what his wife or husband is going to look like."
"This is getting annoying."
"Just how strong is he?"
"He probably thinks he's better than us."
"I wish he trained us with him."
There were all kinds of whispers and murmurs coming from every direction but he paid them no mind. He knew better than to drown in the words of people with little to no significance to him.
Another successful day for Yien.
"This guy's really no joke," she mumbled to herself as she blocked another one of Yien's offense. She was a skilled fighter just like the man before her so she didn't easily backed away like the rest did. It never bothered to her of the words circulating around the village. All she knew was that Duan Yien was this event's most notable prize out of all and she wanted to be the first to defeat this prominent figure and be just as famous.
There were four guys approaching them. It looked like they wanted to attack Yien while he was busy. He was able to sense them coming and instead threw one of the men to the girl, knocking her momentarily as he took care of the three charging at him at once. He did so by backflipping over a stone fence and into a little moat in someone's garden.
The five pursuers were back on his tail, attacking all out once like before. Yien made use of water surrounding them by throwing whoever he could grab unto the vegetated part of the moat so that they would have a hard time breaking free from the untamed water lilies and other aquatic plants he didn't know the names of.
This wasn't the first time someone pulled off the same tactic so Yien wasn't looking forward to losing this round. Though he will admit that this day did pick up its pace.
Yien was distracted with the man he was punching that he didn't notice someone creeping his way from behind. He grabbed a hold of him by the neck and pulled them both down. Yien gasped as he water started entering his lungs, he elbowed the man holding him but he didn't let go. He instead tightened his grip on him, cutting off his oxygen supply. By now Yien was panicking. He didn't want to lose in this way. No. He trashed his limbs around, hoping that it would tire the man. His eyes and chest were stinging as he involuntarily coughed under water.
He was able to resurface when the man finally let go of him. He violently coughed out the remaining water in him and gasped for air, seeing that the woman was to be thanked for saving him since she was the one who pulled them both up. Though Yien knew that she only saved him because she wanted to be the one to beat him.
Yien had to regain his vision back by taking deep breaths. As he did so he noticed that his pursuers resorted to attacking each other since one of them nearly killed him. He took that as an opportunity to jump back over to the other side to tend to his own aching lungs. He knew that it was too risky to be out on the open in a weak state so he did what he had to do to protect himself. He hid in the nearest house he could find away from the one he was just at. He found an empty outdoor kitchen area and took shelter there. It was a bit cowardly, he knew. But his violent coughs and aching lungs needed to calm down in order for him to survive.
After recovering, he walked out of the kitchen only to hear the bell ring. Yien sighed in relief, knowing very well that he barely got out of this one alive, let alone single. He chuckled to himself as he walked back to the direction of his house with the same kind of stares being thrown at him from yesterday. Tough some were impressed and shocked seeing that someone probably almost manged to conquer him given his disheveled look.
This was a reminder to everyone that some people really do take this event seriously and all for what? Sex? Marriage? A family?
It's more brutal here in the real world for the civilians in ĀnZhàn.
"One more day," Yien encouraged himself. "It'll be over for now."