Chapter One

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"You're so . . . old," one of the women sneered at me as she sat stiffly, the heavy ornaments and jewels on her head looking like it would tip her head back. I was surprised that her neck was able to hold so much heavy jewelry, since her hair was wrapped it around and weaved in a way that it would all fit. She was gorgeous, with pale skin and dark eyes, but the way her lips were curled back said otherwise. "Really, since when did the emperor want an old, ugly, commoner?"

That was probably the only problem she had with me. It wasn't that I was old—she looked my age, in fact—or that I wasn't pretty enough, but more so because I was a commoner. By the way I was dressed, it wouldn't be apparent that I was, since all the candidates to be the emperor's concubine were dressed accordingly. By my lack of jewelry, ornaments adorning my hair, and fancy accessories to add with my hanfu, it was evident that I was a commoner.

For some odd reason, the merciless, terrifying, and coldblooded emperor, the Dragon— as others called him—had called forth women from all over the Huo empire to be his concubine. It had been over half a year and he still hadn't found one that was fit for him. The list of credentials shifted and women were chosen from any and every social ranking. He even made a point that he wanted his concubine to be older than twenty-two, which was shocking for the empire since there had never been an emperor that wanted someone that old.

I honestly didn't want anything to do with the emperor; I didn't want to be his concubine and I didn't have any reason to be here. Although it would've been financially good for my family if I became the concubine, I knew there was no way the terrifying Dragon would choose me. After all, I was twenty-four, I didn't know how to read or write, and I was a commoner. What kind of emperor wanted that sort of concubine?

"Really, the commanders must have bad taste to bring someone like you here." The woman raised her nose and crinkled it, turning her face away from me. "You smell like animals."

That couldn't have been true since I had been at the Palace for over a week now and I had taken a bath every night.

"Disgusting how there's rats all around here," she continued. The other women who were chosen to get this far all chuckled, save for a few other commoners who looked upon the interaction with a grim expression. "Disgusting."

We were all supposed to sit around and drink tea for the time being, but it seemed as though everyone's anxiety and tension was getting the better of themselves, since everyone was bickering. It had been over a week since we were brought in here and not a single one of us had seen the emperor.

"Truly disgus—"

The door to the giant room swung open and a small women dressed in silks entered the room. She was stunningly beautiful and reminded me of a doll, with her skin pale and smooth, and her eyes a glittering black color.

"I honestly don't understand the need—" She stopped speaking when she entered the room, her brows drawing together and her eyes sweeping around the room in a moment of confusion.

A man followed behind her and stopped a few feet behind. He was exceedingly handsome, but his expression was cold and stoic. His long black hair was tied and he was dressed in a military tunic, pants, and boots, a sash wrapped around his waist and a sword hooked onto it.

"Who . . . " She paused and glanced around the room once more before turning to the man behind her. "Who are these people, Fang?"

My eyes widened. Fang? Did she mean General Fang? As in one of the men that had helped the Dragon acquire the throne from the previous royal family? He was apparently one of the emperor's most trusted men.

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