The moment she splashed into the water, she could feel the cold water immediately greeting her in a wave of shock. The water seeped through the thin layers of her robes and trickled down her throat as she struggled to clear her frenzied thoughts to understand what was happening. Her eyes burned from the water splashing at them.
Yujia clamped both her mouth and eyes shut.
She didn't know how to swim. She didn't know how to swim. She didn't know how to swim.
The waters of the canal were deep and threatened to pull her under, deeper and deeper.
But it was alright. It wouldn't be a big deal. Even if she didn't know how to swim, she had to be still near the edge of the canal after the fall. The ground was slightly elevated, but as long as she could grab onto the edge, it would be alright.
Yujia's limbs began to flail as she struggled to bring herself above the surface of the water. When she brought herself back to the air for the first time, she opened her eyes and lurched her head back, inhaling a breath of air deeply to temporarily soothe her burning lungs.
She wasn't even underwater for that long. Why were her lungs burning so much?
It was then that Yujia realized that the body of the Fourth Miss wasn't exactly in the healthiest condition. Her lungs were always weak when it came to full-body exercises like running or swimming; hence, she was never good at either of them. Yujia in her old self was somewhat similar. She wasn't too athletic and never bothered to learn how to swim well either.
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Right now, she regretted this fact more than anything.
"Help—" she gasped out. It was already difficult to breathe.
The one moment of a cry of help made her sink under the water again. Knowing that she didn't have much time left, Yujia struggled some more to to raise herself and carry herself closer to the edge.
The second time she bobbed up from the water, she noticed something else, and not just the state that she was in. Despite the fact that her lungs felt weak, she was sure that her cry wasn't quiet. Everyone should've heard her. The splashing of the water around her should've caught the attention of everyone present on the banks too.
Yet, as she looked up at everyone, hoping that someone would help her, she realized that none of the people in the crowd moved an inch.
They had long stopped discussing the boating that was still happening. Yujia saw all of their eyes glued onto her. Except, instead of stepping forward to save her from drowning, they just stood there. They stood there with their eyes fixed on the scenario while startled whispers traveled between them.
But none of them made a single move. Not a single bit of assistance came from a single person.
Yujia's eyes flinched over to Zixu. They were chatting in a carefree manner only a few seconds ago, but he seemed immeasurably distant now. There was clear hesitation in his gaze while he looked at her, and though she could only measure his expression in the time frame of a second, she noticed that he was just another bystander in the crowd. Though he wasn't smiling anymore, all signs of recognition were wiped from his gaze.
He seemed like nothing more than a stranger now.
How could it be that everyone around her were so indifferent, so apathetic? How could they just witness a person drown and not do anything about it? A few even carried flashes of amusement in their expression, as if seeing her drown was pure entertainment. Those who displayed horror in their faces weren't much better either— why weren't they even offering her a hand to grab onto?
All of her horrific thoughts lasted no longer than a few seconds. Her head was carried under the water again.
She couldn't keep splashing in the water for much longer. Every single time she went under, she could feel her lungs burn more in protest. Every single time she went under, she could feel the strength and energy slipping out of her entire body. Every single time she went under, the more numb she felt from the ice cold water.
It was now or never.
Yujia's two hands reached out in a desperate last attempt at saving herself. Her right hand barely scraped against the rough surface that enclosed the canal, but her left hand found something to cling on to. Out of the stone that made up the canal walls, there was a jagged edge in the middle of the border that she could hold on with.
Light returned to her eyes, a trembling smile of relief beginning to creep on her lips.
Her left hand clung a little tighter to the walls while she tried to use it to pull herself above the water. When she broke through the surface for what she hoped to be the last time, she caught a flash of light teal and a warm hand being offered to her. With her blurred gaze, she tried to focus a little more at the face of the person who offered it.
Was it Yu Zixu?
Hearing his voice, deep and concerned, answered the question for her. "Miss Yang," he asked, "are you alright?"
She didn't even have the strength to answer. Raising her right arm, Yujia reached for his extended hand, trying to grasp onto it. There was barely any strength left in any part of her. Her left hand loosened on the edge it was clinging onto. Finally, she could get out of this water. Finally, she received some sort of kindness from somebody. Finally—
But their hands barely touched.
For in the next moment, Yujia saw another flash of bright colors that belonged to the boat she was observing when she was still on land.
The colors— the boat— rammed into her.
The collision tore her hand from his, dragging the left hand that held onto the broken edge of the wall off as well.
Yujia's eyes widened with panic, her head turning in almost slow-motion to see the boat paddle straight over her. The hull of the boat struck right on her. Once more, Yujia found herself being enveloped completely with water as the force of the collision dragged her underneath, pushing her beneath the boat.
She wanted to move herself, to push herself up, to save herself in some way. Any way.
It was just too late to do any of that.
The freezing water stole the last bits of warmth and strength from her. It flowed into her and pulled her deeper and deeper into the depths, where all the darkness lied.
Yujia couldn't even lift a single finger now. Even mere thinking seemed difficult. It felt like her mind was being slowly frozen by the water as well.
Her last thought drifted off to a strange topic that she never thought she would think of, especially not in a moment like this. It was a memory of walking down the streets of the capital that morning, determined to enjoy herself on her birthday. She had such high spirits for the day ahead.
How did things end up this way?
Was this… what it felt like to drown to death? What a peculiar way to end the story that she barely began.
The last breath of air escaped her lips. Yujia's eyes fluttered shut, sealed down by the weight of the water.
She surrendered herself to the darkness, and the darkness gladly took her in.
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