I’m always torn between my all-consuming love for one particular male lead in Lost You Forever, and my just one step below love for the other two male leads. Unlike other Tong Hua novels, there is genuinely no one I dislike among the suitors vying for leading lady Xiao Yao’s heart – I get Zhuan Xu and all his choices (probably because he was the alluded to male lead for Xiao Yao when I first met him in Once Promised), I appreciate Jing’s contrasting personality that complements Xiao Yao so nicely, and I know in my gut that there is no other choice for Xiang Liu than to keep pushing Xiao Yao away.
The novel is winding down but not slowing down, as this chapter ramps up the action yet again, in an even more pressing way than Xiao Yao’s brush with death in the ocean in the last chapter. This time her heart-connected boo Xiang Liu isn’t around to rescue her (booooooo), but another person will step in when Xiang Liu/Bei can’t. Jing is still dead for all we know, while Zhuan Xu’s secret love is getting closer to being blown open and the results will be good for no one. If Xiao Yao loved him like that then so be it, but she doesn’t and it’s all because of what he did way back when to conceal his heart. Now he just has to lay in his own bed and boy does it suck to be him.
Ch 44 – A Familiar Person’s Heart Changes Easily
All the wedding decorations in Xiao Yao’s residence were taken down as if nothing had happened. No one mentioned Jing, and no one mentioned Xiao Yao’s disappearance. Xiao Yao’s life returned to the way it was before, from the Yellow Emperor to Zhuan Xu, nothing changed. But Xiao Yao knew it was all different – now when she looked skyward, there would never be a white crane carrying Jing flying towards her.
The guards increased on Xiao Yue Peak, and clearly Zhuan Xu said something to Left Ear and Miao Pu because Left Ear followed her wherever she went. He was as unobtrusive as if he wasn’t even there, and initially Xiao Yao thought he wasn’t even around. She would call out “Left Ear”, and then a head might pop up from the tree above, or a voice would answer from the bushes, or a sleeve would peek out from behind a corridor beam. Left Ear was like a beast in the wild, able to conceal himself into the surroundings.
Xiao Yao asked about the Tu Shan clan situation and Zhuan Xu said “It’s a bit of a mess. Tu Shan Zhen is the successor in name but the clan elders know he isn’t Jing’s real son so they are complicating things with their plotting. The Tu Shan clan is a prime piece of flesh that everyone wants a bite out of, and the world would be thrilled to see internal strife in the clan so are fanning the discord.”
Zhuan Xu never mentioned Jing actively but if Xiao Yao asked then he discussed it directly. He was like a doctor treating a patient, he didn’t hide the injury but also didn’t actively exacerbate it. He knew Xiao Yao was very sensitive to any mention of Jing’s death but he chose not to shy away from the subject now.
Xiao Yao asked “Can you get involved with the Tu Shan clan situation?”
“Of course I can’t openly, but neither can the other players. So everyone is getting involved behind the scenes.”
Xiao Yao said “As long as I am alive, I don’t want the Tu Shan clan to fall.”
Zhuan Xu asked “What do you want to do?”
Xiao Yao said “Tu Shan Zhen is not Jing’s son but he is the bloodline of the Tu Shan clan. I think the Tu Shan Grand Madam would not have objected to him being the clan leader.”
Zhuan Xu asked “His parents killed Jing, don’t you hate him?”
Xiao Yao was silent for some time before saying “If Hou was still alive I could cut him into millions of pieces, but Tu Shan Zhen is just a child and he did nothing wrong. You and I know what it’s like to grow up without parents, and his birth isn’t something good to begin with so his life is already going to be hard. If he can’t be the clan leader then others will likely harm him one day. He is the successor in name and blood, I don’t want Jing to come back one day and have Zhen gone.”
Zhuan Xu was startled into silence by Xiao Yao’s words, but after a few moments he smiled “Fine, let Tu Shan Zhen be the clan leader then.”
Xiao Yao said “Thank you.”
Zhuan Xu rapped Xiao Yao on the forehead “Why are you being polite with me? Do you want to get beat?”
Xiao Yao rubbed her forehead “Don’t think you can be mean to me now that you have power, don’t think I can’t get you back!”
“Bring it on!” Zhuan Xu sassed right back.
Xiao Yao grew solemn, these days she didn’t have any energy or interest in fiddling with her poisons or concoctions.
Zhuan Xu rubbed Xiao Yao’s head “You’re on Xiao Yue Peak 24/7, you’ll get sick this way.” Last time when Jing broke Xiao Yao’s heart, she found things to busy herself with but this time she didn’t even seem to care about that.
“You have ordered so many guards to protect me, do you expect me to go shopping and have them trailing me en masse down a street? Plus there isn’t any place around Sheng Nong Mountain that I haven’t been to.” Xiao Yao smiled wanly “This is what happens when one lives for so long, at the end one has seen everything.”
Zhuan Xu said “How about this then? You can open a medical clinic in Zhi Yi Castle.”
“You can handle having me running around outside? I don’t want the medical clinic to become famous not for my skills but for having a bunch of guards around.”
“I don’t feel safe having you running around but I feel even worse seeing you like this. I’ll handle how to manage the guards, you just plan on using your medical skills to help alleviate the suffering of others.”
Xiao Yao thought about it and remembered Jing discussing with her to open a medical clinic in Qing Qiu. Xiao Yao smiled broader and said “Fine, I’ll go to Zhi Yi to open a medical clinic.” This would also help her investigate who wanted to kill her. If she stayed on Xiao Yue Peak all day long, tightly protected by guards so that no one could access her, she would also not be able to access others to figure out the attempt on her life.
Xiao Yao used her own pocket money to open the medical clinic in Zhi Yi.
She cross-dressed as a man for ease, and other than having Miao Pu and Left Ear around, the only other people working at the clinic were two young men Xiao Yao hired. She tested them personally and confirmed them to be ordinary men and not secret guards sent by Zhuan Xu.
Medical clinics are not like other businesses, patients need to trust and know the doctor, so initially business was bad. Xiao Yao wasn’t anxious, she used the time to teach the two young men to identify herbs and plants, and also teach Miao Pu and Left Ear to read.
Miao Pu was with her for years so she already recognizing some characters here and there, so Xiao Yao sometimes had Miao Pu teach Left Ear how to read and write. All Xiao Yao could hear was Miao Pu’s voice nagging and haranguing Left Ear. Miao Pu was fully aware of how strong and powerful Left Ear was, so when Xiao Yao asked her to take care of him, she would roll her eyes and snark “Who would dare be mean to him?” without acknowledging that she was being mean to him.
Because Xiao Yao’s medical skills truly were exceptional, when patients did come they left in awe of the skills of this smiling young man doctor. She charged a not cheap fee, but her prescribed treatment used common plants and made it affordable. Gradually word spread and Xiao Yao’s clinic got busier with more patients from nearby.
Xiao Yao said to Miao Pu and Left Ear “I can finally afford to take care of you two by myself.”
Miao Pu couldn’t understand why Xiao Yao insisted on earning money herself, but Left Ear smiled in reassurance that he wouldn’t need to be hungry again. In his eyes, only the money Xiao Yao earned was reliable, nothing from anyone else could be relied upon.
Aside from worrying about being fed, Left Ear was even more worried about Xiao Yao’s safety. In his eyes, the guards sent by Zhuan Xu were not his so were not reliable. Left Ear asked Xiao Yao “Don’t you want to know who tried to kill you?”
Xiao Yao replied “Already investigating it!”
Left Ear stared in confusion so Xiao Yao laughed. It wasn’t clear if it was because Left Ear hung around Miao Pu all day long, but Left Ear added more expressions these days which made him seem more and more human.
Xiao Yao said “The person trying to kill me either is doing it for gain or because of hatred. If it’s because of hatred, then if the person you hated didn’t die and is instead parading around all happy and healthy, how would you feel?”
Left Ear said “I will kill!”
Xiao Yao patted Left Ear on the shoulder, sighing with the hope that one day Left Ear will stop it with this one answer to all questions.
Miao Pu scoffed “The person trying to kill Miss, seeing you come back fine will likely cause that person to sleep poorly and pay more attention to Miss. The happier Miss is, the worse that person will feel. Likely that person will try to kill Miss again, and if that person strikes then we find out who.” Miao Pu raised her chin and glared at Left Ear “This is what His Majesty means by seemingly doing nothing but actually doing everything. An uncouth brute like you would never understand.”
Left Ear said nothing as usual but Xiao Yao could see through to his feelings. Miao Pu saw how powerful he was yet she still sassed him around, which meant she wasn’t afraid of him or saw him as a monster. Xiao Yao coughed slightly and said in a low voice “I don’t want to tell His Majesty about this matter yet.”
Miao Pu was silent and then nodded “I understand.” After the discussion last time, she knew that between her old master and current master her loyalty could only reside with one.
Xiao Yao clapped and said with a smile “Okay, I’m going to work now. Let’s see how long that person can sit tight.”
One afternoon Xiao Yao was seeing a patient when Feng Long walked in. Xiao Yao smiled at him and continued seeing her patient. Miao Pu walked up to greet him while Left Ear seemed to do nothing but his entire body was coiled in readiness for any sudden attack.
After Feng Long drank his tea, Xiao Yao finished with the patient and walked over while the patient left grumbling about the high price of the consultation. Xiao Yao just smiled and didn’t try to explain but also didn’t lower the fee.
Feng Long said “If the patients knew the doctor they were seeing helped compile Yellow Emperor Internal Medicine Guide and the Yellow Emperor External Medicine Guide, they wouldn’t complain about the high fees.” Since the two manuals were released to the world, the doctors of the world praised it to the heavens and even the ordinary people who didn’t understand what was written in it knew that it saved lives and was invaluable. Doctors who were rumored to have worked on it could charge sky high prices for medical visits, and often couldn’t even be summoned for a consultation.
Xiao Yao explained “His illness is a common one and any doctor could have seen him. My fee was high so his complaint was valid, so next time he doesn’t need to come see me!”
Feng Long wondered “If you’re not doing charity, why open the clinic under a false identity? But if you’re doing charity, why charge such high a consultation fee?”
Xiao Yao explained “My medical skills are so good that if the fee is low and everyone comes to see me, I can’t handle that volume. But I don’t need to use my medical skills to earn money to feed my family, but other doctors do, so I can’t do charity at the expense of ruining their livelihood. This way some who can afford it can still see me, and others go to the other doctors, and everyone gets a way to live.”
Feng Long chuckled, Xiao Yao really had a way of thinking that was always different than other people. He could never understand her thought process. Perhaps the only one who understood her was Jing, but……Feng Long’s smile turned down “The Tu Shan elders have agreed to let Tu Shan Zhen become clan leader, and will assist and support him until he comes of age. The elders handle the Tu Shan clan affairs together, and with His Majesty’s support, the Tu Shan clan can manage until Zhen grows up.”
Zhuan Xu had already told this to her so Xiao Yao didn’t believe Feng Long came all this way just to tell her this. She silently stared at him.
Feng Long said “Today I got together with old friends from the Tan and Jiang families. In the past they did whatever I wanted, but now they are even more accommodating. I felt bored so slipped away early. I was just wandering and didn’t intend to come inside, and am not even sure why I ended up walking in. What happened to Jing…..I’m very sad about it.”
Xiao Yao looked downward.
Feng Long continued “When I was small, I looked forward to growing up, being free to do many things. But now I keep thinking of the childhood days. Back then, Jing and Hou were so close I was super jealous. Hou was very active like me yet we didn’t really play together. Every time my teacher would scold me, I would run to Jing’s room to complain and talk about my grand dreams for the future. And Li Jie Chang, that dog headed bastard, he loved to oppose me yet also played with us. So if Jing wasn’t around, we would end up fighting. Us boys fought and played and somehow all grew up. Now when Chang talks to me, he’s got a polite smile and is very well mannered, like I’m his customer. Hou’s dead and Jing isn’t here anymore either. In the blink of an eye, I discovered that I don’t have any friends to play with genuinely anymore.” Feng Long smiled bitterly “I don’t know why I am telling you all this, likely I used to go find Jing when I was frustrated to vent so today I’m venting to you. I hope you don’t mind.”
Xiao Yao said warmly “Just lending an ear, I don’t mind at all.”
Feng Long stood up “I’m off now. You……don’t be too sad. You have a long life ahead, Jing will want you to be well.” Feng Long suddenly felt rather absurd, Xiao Yao was going to be his bride and after she ran away at the wedding, he thought he would never forgive her. He once cursed her a lifetime of loneliness and pain. Who knew today seeing her like this, he actually felt bad himself.
Xiao Yao walked Feng Long to the door and casually asked “How did you know I opened a medical clinic here?”
“The Empress mentioned it.” Actually, Xing Yue didn’t just mention it, she said a lot of words in disgust, which didn’t make any sense to Feng Long. Since Xiao Yao ran off at the wedding, Xing Yue hated her guts. She called her witch and slut all the time, so much so Feng Long got used to hearing it. Every time Xing Yue heard about Xiao Yao, she would launch into a diatribe, and one time even said Xiao Yao was a whore like her mother, and cursing Xiao Yao to die like her mom. Feng Long finally had enough and chastised her but Xing Yue just huffed off. Feng Long couldn’t do anything since she was the Empress now.
Xiao Yao walked back inside and silently sat there thinking. Was it really Xing Yue? But why? Feng Long said he didn’t understand how it came to this, old friends dead or scattered, even when meeting it was just superficial talk. Xiao Yao didn’t know how it came to this either, years ago she shared a pallet with Xing Yue, covering for their own brothers, worried for Zhuan Xu together……..so why did she want Xiao Yao dead so badly now?
Left Ear said “Miao Pu said he is Chi Sui Feng Long. Is it him?”
Xiao Yao replied “If he isn’t the best actor around….the it’s likely not him.”
“Then it’s Sheng Nong Xing Yue? I’ll go kill her now.”
“Stop!” Xiao Yao grabbed Left Ear and said harshly “Without my order, you don’t do anything. Got it? Otherwise I won’t let you be my bodyguard anymore!”
Left Ear’s impassive face flashed across a pout but he said “I understand.”
Xiao Yao didn’t know why she would suddenly thought of Xiang Liu pouting, which made her want to laugh and want to comfort him, so her voice turned warm “I’ll take care of this, you just need to stop thinking about killing people. A bodyguard is different than being a killer.”
Left Ear grumbled “Kill her, protecting you.”
Xiao Yao’s head hurt so she handed it over “Miao Pu, you explain to him the difference between being a bodyguard and a killer.”
Miao Pu giggled and ran over to Left Ear and started her haranguing.
Before Zhuan Xu married Xing Yue, Xiao Yao had already left Zhi Jin Summit, and since then she hadn’t visited once.
When Xiao Yao arrived at Zhi Jin Palace, no one recognized her, so she flashed the Yellow Emperor’s badge and shocked everyone while Miao Pu said “This is Ms. Xi Ling from Xiao Yue Peak’s Zhang Yi Palace.”
People had heard of this Ms. Xi Ling with unique birth background and colorful life, but even more had heard of how much the Yellow Emperor and the Black Emperor cherished her, so seeing the Yellow Emperor’s badge today confirmed the rumors. They opened the door quickly to welcome Xiao Yao inside.
When Xiao Yao left, Zhi Jin Palace was a bit desolate but that mood was completely gone now. Every inch was bright and shiny, every blade of grass well-tended, countless people coming to and fro. But the activity was orderly and silent, giving off a sense of silent pressure. People’s movements were tightly controlled, as if being afraid of one tiny misstep and upsetting those in charge.
Xiao Yao smiled softly, so this was the everything that Xing Yue wanted.
Today was March 3rd, a Middle Plains holiday where people went to bath in the rivers and pray to the heavens, and later that night walk through the spring foliage to admire the blooms. This holiday was as important to the people of the Middle Plains as the lantern festival on May 5th was to the people of Gao Xing.
Zhuan Xu treated all tribes the same, keeping all the major holiday traditions of Xuan Yuan, Middle Plains, and now Gao Xing. Every holiday Zhuan Xy would celebrate according to the tradition of that place, while letting the ordinary folks decide whether and how to celebrate it themselves.
The consorts in Zhi Jin Palace came from all over the vast wilderness so every holiday would be celebrated, but because the Empress was from the Middle Plains, this holiday was even more festive. For the evening’s celebrations, Zhuan Xu would be attending as earlier in the day he already went to see the Yellow Emperor and Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao followed the servants lead into Hundred Flower Garden.
Inside the garden, there were creeks and trees everywhere, and hundreds of flowers blooming. Small winding pathways, little bridges, and multiple pavilions dotted the landscape. Consorts were sitting here and there, and a dragon phoenix raised dais was placed in the center where Zhuan Xu and Xing Yue sat together. Zhuan Xu was half reclining while Xing Yue sat very demurely upright, listening to the musicians play a lively tune.
When the song was done, everyone clapped but one consort Xiao Yao didn’t recognize said “The tune was good but cannot compare to Her Highness.”
Consort Jiang smiled and added “Rumor has it that His Majesty and Her Highness met on the Chi Sui Lake during a thick fog, and His Majesty heard Her Highness playing her zither so he joined her on his flute. They hadn’t even met yet and already played so in sync with each other. Back then they were strangers but now as husband and wife, playing together would be even more destined.”
Some other consorts added their voice to the request, while other consorts said nothing and looked rather annoyed. Xiao Yao had Miao Pu stop the servants from announcing her presence and stood under a tree to observe.
Xing Yue’s expression was a bit upset, a bit excited, and a bit blushing, clearly she wanted to play the zither with Zhuan Xu. He said nothing so the chatter gradually grew silent.
Xing Yue looked around and said to Zhuan Xu “His Majesty, tell them to stop teasing and asking me to be a musician today!”
Zhuan Xu laughed “Today is a holiday so if they want you to be a musician for a day there is no harm in that. I’ll keep you company, who dare tease you.”
The myriad expression changes on the consorts faces was a sight to behold, while Xing Yue’s face lit up as a zither was placed before her and a flute handed to Zhuan Xu.
Xing Yue readied herself while Zhuan Xu walked over to the side of the creek with the flute. Xing Yue started playing first, and it was the tune she played that day with Zhuan Xu. He joined on the flute and there was dead silence all around so the music was even more audible. One was strong and forceful, the other tender and docile, one was bold and daring, the other careful and conservative, one was soaring and casual, the other followed the lead.
Xiao Yao remembered the sound of the same zither on the lake, so haughty and challenging back then, daring to compete with the flute, to grow anxious, to get so angry as to snap a string. Xing Yue gave that kind of playing up and chose this type of playing now. Xiao Yao unconsciously sighed, and it wasn’t a loud sigh but because it was complete silence all around as the Black Emperor and his Empress were playing a duet, Xiao Yao’s sigh was heard by all and came across as especially rude and insolent under the circumstances. Zhuan Xu and Xing Yue both furrowed their brows and looked over at the tree.
Xiao Yao knew she had been rude and sighed inwardly that she really wasn’t suited to behave at important events. She stepped forward and bowed to Zhuan Xu and Xing Yue, and despite the gesture being so subservient, when Xiao Yao lifted her head she made a silly face that only Zhuan Xu and Xing Yue could see that clearly showed Xiao Yao wasn’t being subservient in the least.
Xing Yue’s hand jerked so hard that she snapped a string on the zither, while Zhuan Xu was so shocked to see Xiao Yao that he stopped playing at the same moment so it appeared their tune stopped in sync and didn’t seem odd.
Zhuan Xu composed himself and asked “Why are you here?”
Xiao Yao lowered her head respectfully and said “Grandfather’s cherries are ripe earlier than expected, knowing Your Majesty is here celebrating the holiday, he asked me to bring it over.”
Miao Pu stepped forward and presented a basket of cherries. The servants received it and Zhuan Xu said “If it’s Grandfather’s gift then everyone have some!”
The servants quickly passed out the cherries to each consort present.
The Yellow Emperor lived on Xiao Yue Peak and never came to Zhi Jin Summit. He also never summoned any granddaughter-in-law to go see him. Other than the Empress very rarely paying her respects, none of the wives had ever interacted with him. The consorts were so shocked and pleased at this unexpected gesture and happily ate the cherries. They thanked the Yellow Emperor, thanked Xiao Yao for bringing it over, and generally make a big to do all just to make Zhuan Xu notice, and in that moment the entire garden was lit up with beautiful women all atwitter.
Xiao Yao smiled as she looked around and Zhuan Xu plastered a smile on his face but didn’t seem comfortable, like he was doing something he shouldn’t have been and was caught by Xiao Yao. He looked over at the servant “It’s getting late, the consorts should be retiring.”
The consorts weren’t surprised, the Black Emperor seemed very easygoing but was actually quite aloof and uninterested in celebrations. Every event, he would either come early and leave early, or come late and make the event end right after, he never had the interest to partake of an entire celebration.
As the consorts were leaving, Zhuan Xu handed his flute to Xing Yue with a smile “Will the Empress please hold onto this.” All the consorts glanced at Xing Yue before looking away and hiding their own disappointment and envy.
Xing Yue smiled and took the flute with both hands, but felt a boiling rage in her heart that she could barely contain. She wanted to scream loudly “Are you guys all blind? Can’t see it? He doesn’t even care about me! He’s just using me so no one notices that he ended the celebration the second Xiao Yao arrived. He’s doing this so later on when people remember today, they will only remember the zither-flute duet and afterwards him giving me the flute. You guys are all blind as bats! He’s protecting the person he’s hidden away all this time! If you guys want to be jealous, to hate, it should be towards her!” But Xing Yue couldn’t say any of this so she just bowed low and took her leave beautifully.
Xing Yue knew she shouldn’t keep looking but she couldn’t control herself. She purposely slowed down behind everyone and then made up an excuse to circle back to look for a dropped satchel. As she got close to the edge of the creek, she didn’t dare get any closer so she couldn’t hear what Zhuan Xu and Xiao Yao were saying. All she could see was the two walking side-by-side along the creek edge.
Xing Yue thought back in her memory, since she married Zhuan Xu, she had never walked alongside him. She always walked one step behind, without figuring out whether it was his authority or her own consideration, until it became that way always. If the Empress didn’t dare walk alongside the Emperor, the other consorts would also never dare. With no woman on Zhi Jin Summit who dared walk alongside Zhuan Xu, it made Xing Yue feel like her one step behind wasn’t a problem. But tonight she suddenly realized that there was a woman who dared to walk alongside Zhuan Xu.
Zhuan Xu walked slowly and calmly, while Xiao Yao flitted from the grass to hopping on the stones next to the creek. Whether Xiao Yao was fast or slow, Zhuan Xu always kept pace right next to her. Xiao Yao stepped on a moss covered stone and her foot slipped and was about to fall into the creek. Zhuan Xu reached out to grab her so only one foot landed in the water. Her shoe and hem got wet so Zhuan Xu bent down to pick up her wet hem to dry it for her.
Xiao Yao bent over with her hand on Zhuan Xu’s shoulder so she could take off the wet shoe. As Zhuan Xu stood back up, he took the wet shoe from Xiao Yao to carry for her. Xiao Yao pointed to the creek and said something but Zhuan Xu shook his head no. His winged ride arrived and Zhuan Xu vaulted on with Xiao Yao before flying off towards Xiao Yue Peak.
Xing Yue wanted to leave but she had no strength left in her. She took two steps forward before her knees buckled and she collapsed on the ground. Xing Yue felt this moment was just like when she was a little girl and realized she wasn’t some high born lady but in truth just as hostage to keep her father in line. She could be killed at any moment and have everything taken away, so she was so scared and fearful that everything she had would be gone in the blink of an eye.
She once thought that Zhuan Xu was a fickle playboy, and wondered if she was up to enduring him trading the old for the new on a regular basis. But once she married him, she discovered that Zhuan Xu was actually very distant to all women, his focus and attention solely on governing. He wasn’t loving towards her, but he also wasn’t loving towards any other women. As long as she didn’t cross him then he also gave her due preference over the other consorts in public, letting her wield her Empress authority. She thought Zhuan Xu was this aloof so she accepted it without worry. But once she started to have doubts, then she grew more and more frightened every day, scared that Zhuan Xu wasn’t aloof or uninterested in women, he simply had given his entire all to one woman already.
Zhuan Xu kept Xiao Yao so well protected that Xing Yue observed for tens of years and still never saw a single slip up. He went to Xiao Yue Peak every single day, rain or shine, he let Xiao Yao hit him and didn’t get angry, and instead look very sad and longing when he touched the injury, he was willing to carry Xiao Yao’s wet hem and shoe……
All the women on Zhi Jin Summit competed and vied with each other, but they never realized that the one woman Zhuan Xu spent the most time with wasn’t even on Zhi Jin Summit but was instead Xiao Yao. Even as the Empress, Xing Yue at most saw Zhuan Xu once a month, but Xiao Yao saw him every single day.
Years ago when she married Zhuan Xu, Xing Yue thought she was unparallel, and the confidence came not from herself but having Sheng Nong and Chi Sui behind her. But then came Ah Nian, and she had as much as Xing Yue and even more as Ah Nian brought as her dowry an entire kingdom when she married Zhuan Xu. Everyone told her to accept it then, even her Gege went to Five Gods Mountain to request the marriage alliance. She had no choice but to accept since she had no ability to fight it.
Xing Yue was furious with Ah Nian but wasn’t scared of her. Ah Nian lived on Five Gods Mountain and just had the Empress name without any real power. Sometimes Xing Yue would even scoff that Ah Nian wouldn’t even be able to hack it as the Empress with real power. The White Emperor knew his daughter’s limitations so arranged it that way. But now Xing Yue was growing more and more scared, as the vast wilderness united as one, the importance of the Sheng Nong tribe was decreasing to Zhuan Xu. If Zhuan Xu would let Xiao Yao hit him, could carry her shirt and shoe, then whatever Xiao Yao wanted Zhuan Xu would give it to her. Down the road, forget Zhuan Xu spending time with Xing Yue, even her position as Empress might be in peril!
Xing Yue bitterly laughed – it didn’t even need to wait for Xiao Yao to want something. Just like tonight, Xiao Yao appeared and Zhuan Xu sent all the wives away so he can give Xiao Yao his undivided attention. Xing Yue knew that it was a frightening idea, to kill Xiao Yao, and if Zhuan Xu found out the consequences would be unimaginable. But if she didn’t get rid of Xiao Yao, wouldn’t her future be just as unimaginable? At that time, it would be even more unbearable!
After the holiday passed, Xiao Yao waited for Xing Yue to make a move but nothing happened. Xiao Yao was confused, was it not Xing Yue after all? That time she went to Zhi Jin Summit, Zhuan Xu chewed her out for it, so did she get yelled at for no reason?
At the end of April, Zhuan Xu went to Five Gods Mountain and ordered Xiao Yao not to go to the medical clinic and to stay put. If she was bored then to wander around Sheng Nong Mountain.
Xiao Yao promised him that she would be careful and would not leave Sheng Nong Mountain before Zhuan Xu felt assured enough to depart.
Xiao Yao got an invitation from the Li Jie Consort, the older sister of Li Jie Chang. She was inviting Xiao Yao in early May to attend the lantern release in Sheng Nong Mountain. The invitation include instructions for making beautiful flower lanterns with the opening on bottom, unlike the Gao Xing lanterns where the opening was on top. She wrote that the event would be great fun and invited Xiao Yao to attend.
The Li Jie Consort was neutral on Zhi Jin Summit, she neither supported nor opposed the Empress, so she wouldn’t be doing anything for Xing Yue. And the close friendship between Li Jie Chang and Jing made Xiao Yao warmer towards the Li Jie Consort, but even then there were no close ties so Xiao Yao didn’t understand why she suddenly got invited.
Xiao Yao thought about it and decided to go, it was years since she went to a lantern festival.
Xiao Yao and Left Ear set off around dusk. Left Ear hadn’t learned how to ride a winged horse yet so Miao Pu loudly mocked him for it. But then she went on to earnestly show him how to ride it.
Xiao Yao sat in the cloud carriage and looked at the two sitting up front. Left Ear pulled on the reins but used too much force so the winged horses neighed in discomfort. Miao Pu laughed on one hand while moving over to grab Left Ear’s hand to show him how to control the reins. As the winged horses stabilized, Miao Pu’s body was half sitting in Left Ear’s arms.
Xiao Yao watched them from behind, noticing Left Ear’s body posture tensing up as his ears turned bright red. Who knew the cold brutal killer would turn shy and nervous like this? Xiao Yao’s heart turned melancholy, her Jing was once this awkward and shy. Xiao Yao used to be so frustrated with him, thinking he didn’t like her enough, didn’t care enough, and even thought about ending the relationship. But looking back now, she understood it was a type of cherishing, of caring too much as to be hesitant. That was so precious, because it was the first and the truest heart.
In Left Ear’s nervous and awkward flying, the cloud carriage arrived at the meeting place.
It really was an exquisite view, with a large rock that seemed to have been dropped off the air into the top of the mountain, perched precariously as if on the verge of toppling over, yet securely remaining in place. A bunch of people were gathered on the rock, chatting amiably as the party was underway.
Xiao Yao’s cloud carriage landed in one corner as another cloud carriage landed in the other. Xiao Yao and Xing Yue got out one after the other and the Li Jie Consort hurried over to greet both, with the three exchanging pleasantries.
Xing Yue looked around and said with a smile “This place is so unique, how did you find it?”
Li Jie Consort laughed “Sheng Nong Mountain is thousands of miles, even living here there are places one will never see even in a lifetime. In my free time I like to wander around the mountain since I have so much free time so found this place by chance. It’s too bad Your Highness is so busy, otherwise there are many more interesting odd places to explore.”
Li Jie Consort’s words seemed candid but a sliver of sadness was hidden within. Xing Yue didn’t continue that conversation and instead asked “Your invite said releasing lanterns, I prepared many lanterns but there is no water here so how to release the lanterns?”
The Gao Xing people lived by water so their lantern festival was releasing lit lantern the water surface. If it floated longer before sinking it meant wishes would have a greater chance of coming true. Legend had it that wishes on marriage were the most likely to come true, so when Xing Yue and the Li Jie Consort were still unmarried, they went to Gao Xing with their girlfriends to release lanterns before.
Li Jie Consort laughed “Sheng Nong isn’t like Gao Xing, if we release lanterns in water it’ll disappear from view shortly, what fun is there in that? I thought up an unique idea to release lanterns here.”
“What unique idea?”
Li Jie Consort nodded to her maid before pointing to the sky “Look!”
They were standing on the surface of a rock perched on the top of a mountain, with white clouds swirling around them. As the winds shifted the sea of clouds changed shapes. A maid rode her winged ride into the clouds and lit up a lantern before releasing it into the clouds. The lantern moved with the clouds as if it was on the surface of water, yet different as some lanterns were higher and others lower rather than all on the same level when released on water. The lights flickered all around them making the view even more mesmerizing.
Xing Yue nodded her head “Very unique indeed!”
Li Jie Consort smiled at Xiao Yao “What do you think?” Xiao Yao exclaimed “It’s fantastic!”
Li Jie Consort said “When more lanterns are released it’ll be even more beautiful.” She gestured “Will Your Highness please go first.”
The maids had the swallow rides ready to the side and Xing Yue said “Then I shall.” Xing Yue’s maid brought out the prepared lanterns and Xing Yue took one in hand before getting on the swallow and flying into the air. She closed her eyes to make a wish before releasing the lantern.
Everyone watched the Empress release her lantern and followed suit on swallows to release their lanterns. Some were lazy and just tossed lanterns into the sea of cloud, with some landing well and floating off but others flipping over and the light extinguishing. Those with low powers decided not to be lazy and got on the swallows to release it properly into the clouds.
Everyone had different design lanterns, in various colors and shapes, and as more and more lanterns were released into the clouds the view grew more resplendent with a rainbow of glowing lights…..as if various colored gems were tossed into the clouds to glitter brightly.
Li Jie Consort asked Xiao Yao “Pretty?”
Xiao Yao stared at the lanterns around her “Very pretty!”
Li Jie Consort said “Chang wanted me to tell you that no matter if Jing was alive or dead, he had the same wish for you to be happy. Even if he wasn’t the one to make that wish come true, he would still only want you to be happy.”
Xiao Yao’s eyes grew misty, so this is why Li Jie Consort invited her today, to pass word from Chang.
Li Jie Consort stared at the floating lanterns with sadness in her eyes “The dead is gone and the living must go on. Being sad and raging to the heavens won’t bring the dead back, best move on to let your heart heal.”
Xiao Yao said nothing so Li Jie Consort smiled “Xiao Yao, don’t think it’s easy for me because I’m just saying this. Your pain I have experienced before, I know what it feels like to hurt so much I would rather not live. But I know my every smile would make him happy, so I try hard to smile every day.”
Xiao Yao turned in shock to stare at the always jovial Li Jie Consort “Xiao Yao, learn to hide your beloved deep inside your heart, even if you accept another in the future, remember that Jing loved the most to see you be happy and not crying. Allow yourself to be happy again, it’s not forgetting or betraying him. The dead won’t be upset and will instead be comforted.”
Xiao Yao said “I know.”
Li Jie Consort sighed “Go make a wish and release a lantern!”
Li Jie Consort’s maid said to Xiao Yao “This swallow is very docile, if Miss holds the rein tightly nothing will happen.”
“Thank you.” Xiao Yao got on the swallow while Miao Pu rode another swallow and followed alongside.
Xiao Yao wrapped the reins tightly around her wrist and tossed a lantern into the sea of clouds. A gust of wind carried into the distance. She released three more in succession and the oil used for the light was from the magnolia tree so the air filled with that scent. Xiao Yao didn’t make a wish, since she was small every wish was dashed in the most cruel way possible so she no longer made wishes. Xiao Yao felt the heavens heard her wish and would purposely destroy that very wish. After some time watching the lanterns float away, Xiao Yao thought to herself “Jing, I’ve planted magnolia trees on Xiao Yue Peak, when the flowers bloom I will sing for you.”
The swallow Xiao Yao was riding suddenly screamed in pain and violently flying out of control. Xiao Yao was taken off guard and almost fell off but managed to grab the reins tight and stay on.
Miao Pu yelled “Miss, Miss!” She tried to catch up but the crazed swallow was flying too fast and Miao Pu couldn’t catch it.
The swallow cried out while flying all over the place, up and side and sideways, even turning in the air. Xiao Yao was sent flying but she held onto the reins and was flung around like a leaf in the wind.
Screams rendered the air as people yelled “Help, help!”
Li Jie Consort yelled “Xiao Yao, hold on tight, no matter what don’t let go!” She climbed on her winged ride not waiting for help and flew towards Xiao Yao. But the crazed swallow was in the throes of survival and all its power focused on this final flight so Li Jie Consort could not catch up.
Xiao Yao looked at the swallow and saw blood coming from its mouth. The swallow likely didn’t go crazy but was suffering from deadly poison. So the person who wanted to kill her struck again!
This might really be the end for Xiao Yao. Li Jie Consort picked a location far from anywhere close to help arriving, and even if they arrived Xiao Yao likely would have fallen from the sky already. She could survive in water but couldn’t survive a fall from the air.
Xiao Yao flashed an image of Jing telling her not to give up and don’t die! Xiao Yao bit her tongue and the pain allowed her to focus and eased the nausea from being tossed around.
Xiao Yao took in the surroundings and saw the swallow flew to an area with sharp cliffs on both sides. An area of green suddenly appeared so Xiao Yao used all her might to climb up the reins towards the back of the swallow. The reins were soft leather but under the pressure it cut into Xiao Yao’s palm, with each pull it cut deeper and the blood and pain flowed.
The swallow turned a few more times in agony and Xiao Yao was turned with it, so she bit her lips to maintain her consciousness. She gradually climbed the reins and quickly released both hands to grab the neck of the swallow.
The swallow was nearly its end and could fall from the sky at any time.
Xiao Yao saw the green forest below and decided to land there. She was like a beast as she bit down hard on the right side of the swallow’s neck and caused it to turn left towards the green forest below.
The swallow appeared to know it was going to die and cawed pitifully. Xiao Yao didn’t even hesitate as she wrapped her arms tightly around the swallow’s neck and snapped it with a crack. Xiao Yao tightly held onto the swallow’s neck with her arms as her legs wrapped around its body. She curled in tightly as the swallow fell like a shooting star from the sky towards the ground below. As the green got closer and closer, Xiao Yao turned the swallow around so it was below as she was above, and then curled her body tightly against the swallow’s soft stomach.
Bang! Bang! Bang! The thunderous impact noises rose around her.
Xiao Yao’s eyes saw black and her entire body was aching. She didn’t know how many bones she broke or whether she could withstand all the impact, she just curled her body tightly against the swallow to lessen as much impact as possible.
Xiao Yao was in so much pain she passed out.
Some time later, Xiao Yao woke up to the stench of overwhelming blood. She struggled to climb out of the flesh and guts around her, noticing that she was covered in blood from head to toe, unclear whether it was her blood or the swallow’s blood or a mix of blood.
Regardless of whether that person was Xing Yue, to dare attempt to kill her in Sheng Nong Mountain meant there was a backup plan. Xiao Yao didn’t dare stay put and she picked up a branch to use as a crutch and tried to walk. Thank goodness she lived alone in the mountains for tens of years, she still had the instinct of the wilderness survival so she headed in the direction of water.
Xiao Yao always carried medicine with her but it all scattered during the swallow’s wild flight. She could only look for herbs along the way, and luckily she found a few as she got closer to the water. When she reached the water source, Xiao Yao weakly sat down and took a deep breath. She walked into the water to wash the blood off and inspect her body.
She heard the birds behind her startle into the air so she reached out her arm and a silver bow appeared.
When she fell from the sky, clearly Xiang Liu must have felt the pain, and right now he was probably annoyed at himself for getting tied up to her because of the bug. Xiao Yao smiled and stroked the bow “It’s all up to you now!”
As she pulled the bow back, Xiao Yao’s arms shook in pain but once the bow was cocked, all her training kicked into place and her stance was steady and firm. She released and a silver arrow flew forward with a whoosh.
A scream split the air and someone said “No worries, it wasn’t a critical hit.”
All her arrows were tipped with poison but Xiao Yao was more worried that she already used her one out of three chances.
Six masked men walked out of the forest. They saw Xiao Yao sitting there unable to even walk and relaxed their stance. They clearly were told Xiao Yao had weak powers so laughed when they saw her pulling back her bow.
A silver arrow was released going from low to high, it grazed the thigh of one before lodging in the arm of another. Another arrow flew forth, the trajectory weird as well, whizzing by the ear of two and leaving a thin blood trail before embedding in the eye of a third.
Two arrows and five people! Xiao Yao did the best she could!
The bow disappeared into her arm and Xiao Yao weakly smiled and her heart said a soft “Thank you!”
A voice from the forest yelled in alarm “It’s poisonous! Be careful!”
A masked man ran out from the forest “The arrow has deadly poison, number 7 is dead!”
And with that, one, two, three…..all five fell one by one, leaving only the one who didn’t get shot and the one who came out of the forest.
The two masked men stared in shock at Xiao Yao, they had strong powers and training, and before this mission they were told Xiao Yao had low powers. They expected danger but not from her.
Xiao Yao finished shooting three arrows and her body was spent. Her entire body was shaking as she stared at the two men and picked up the branch to use as a weapon. The two men didn’t dare underestimate Xiao Yao anymore and summoned their power as they advanced on her. Xiao Yao knew she must look amusing to them, using a branch as a weapon, but if she was going to die then she wanted to take as many with her as she could.
The two men unsheathed their swords and came at Xiao Yao from two sides, treating her like she was a real foe. Their attacked shattered the branch in her hand and right as she was about to be pierced, a shadow dashed between her and the attackers like lightning. He didn’t have a weapon but used his bare hands against the attackers yet showed no fear.
One masked man stabbed at him but he didn’t even dodge and instead softened his arm until twisting it around to grab the masked man’s arm and then wrenched it clean off, with bone snapping and blood spurting everywhere.
When the shadow first arrived the movement was too fast so Xiao Yao couldn’t see clearly who it was but seeing such a brutal attack she said “Left Ear!” Xiao Yao let out a sigh of relief and collapsed on the ground, unable to move anymore.
The two masked men were not any less weak than Left Ear but his attacks were so direct and lethal they had never encountered it before. Left Ear even licked the blood that splashed on his face and made the men even more terrified. Left Ear didn’t even blink, this was like being in the slave arena death match, his entire focus was solely on killing the men before him using whatever means possible so he could survive.
After a short battle, two more corpses laid on the ground.
Left Ear walked over to Xiao Yao and kneeled down. Xiao Yao said “My one leg is broken, and cracked a few ribs. You?”
“My arm is injured.”
Xiao Yao tossed herbs to Left Ear that could staunch the blood flow and mask the stench of blood. She applied the herb to herself and said to Left Ear “Let’s find a place to hide.”
Left Ear carried Xiao Yao on his back and headed upstream “Your archery skills are very high, even I might not have been able to avoid your arrows.”
Xiao Yao smiled before sighing wistfully “I had a very good master.”
Perhaps it was the emotions that came through in Xiao Yao’s tone of voice and Left Ear was especially sensitive to it “Was it Bei?”
Left Ear exclaimed “I will help him now to protect you!”
Left Ear was like Xiang Liu – crystal clear in those who help and harm him. In Left Ear’s mind, Bei helped him so he wanted to repay the debt, but Bei was dead so now he wanted to repay his debt to Bei by taking care of Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao laughed softly “You two really are the same species! But him and I……..we’re not as close as you think we are.”
Left Ear walked for an hour or so before saying “There is a wolf cave over there.”
Xiao Yao said “Go negotiate with them so we can stay the night.”
The wolf cave was very hidden, but Xiao Yao lived in the mountains for tens of years and could assess the surroundings well, plus Left Ear had a very acute sense of smell. In no time they found the wolf cave. Left Ear went in first and Xiao Yao slowly crawled in after. The wolf cave wasn’t very high but was quite spacious in width. Seven or eight little wolf pups stared at them while a horde of adult wolves surrounded them. Xiao Yao wondered why they weren’t attacking when she saw Left Ear sitting in front of one large wolf. That was the alpha male clearly and Xiao Yao smiled at how Left Ear didn’t know any war strategy but intuitively knew that winning a battle meant taking the leader first.
Left Ear grabbed the wolf leader out of the cave, likely to eliminate any traces outside using the best method of having the wolf pee all around. A short time later, Left Ear came back and the wolf leader bounded inside. The wolves formed a semi-circle surrounding Xiao Yao and Left Ear, tense like they wanted to attack but not daring to.
Xiao Yao knew an agreement was reached and asked Left Ear “Do you have medicine on you?”
Left Ear took out two bottles “Miao Pu gave these to me.” Left Ear was a slave for so long he was accustomed to carry nothing, so even these two items he only kept on him because Miao Pu forced him to take it.
One bottle had thousand year old bone essence from Jade Mountain, the other a small piece of godly wood that burned without being ignited. Xiao Yao laughed “Miao Pu is certainly generous, giving you these priceless items.”
Xiao Yao handed the bone essence back to Left Ear “Keep this safe, at the critical moment it can extend your life.” Bone essence was no use to Xiao Yao since she drank so much of it living on Jade Mountain, but for Left Ear it could keep him alive, and only by him staying alive could she hope to make it out.
Left Ear said “When I came, I saw a lot of guards and servants searching for you. Shall we rendezvous with them?”
“Let’s wait and see. Grandfather may be powerful but these years he tries to avoid any association of using his power so he doesn’t get involved with the Sheng Nong Mountain security guards. Other than the guards on Xiao Yue Peak, none of the guards belong to Grandfather and report to him. Without Zhuan Xu around, I don’t know which guards are trustworthy. What if they act like they are here to rescue but really to finish me off? Why deliver ourselves to them?”
Left Ear didn’t ponder any further and closed his eyes to rest. As a slave at the edge of life and death all the time, his demeanor was always calm and he never let any opportunity to rest pass.”
Despite the pain in her body, Xiao Yao also started to fall asleep.
Left Ear suddenly opened his years and jostled Xiao Yao towards outside.
Someone was here! Xiao Yao didn’t know if it was someone here to rescue or kill her. She strained to hear and there were footsteps outside that gradually grew faint. Suddenly she heard two voices – it was Feng Long and Xing Yue! They were likely conversing near the opening to the wolf cave. Feng Long likely used an enchantment to protect their conversation, but there was some gap due to Left Ear’s actions earlier in securing the perimeter. The voices were audible but very soft, requiring Xiao Yao to strain to listen but even then she could only make out a bit of what they were saying.
Xing Yue’s voice was agitated but muffled, clear that she was saying a lot.
“Are you insane?” Feng Long booming voice was loud and clear since he was so furious.
“I already did it……a released arrow cannot go back to the bow……I can only try and kill Xiao Yao before His Majesty gets back. I’ve already thought of a cover story and pin all the blame on……..” Xing Yue’s voice grew muffled again.
It wasn’t clear what Feng Long said but Xing Yue’s voice suddenly rose an octave and she shrieked in fury and sadness “When you were growing up without a care in Chi Sui, did you think about my life in Xuan Yuan Castle? I carefully tried to get on the good side of all those lords and ladies, all while you were sleeping exhausted after playing all day! I would wake up from nightmares, praying that Dad wouldn’t revolt and the Yellow Emperor wouldn’t kill me. When I was a kid being a hostage, you were growing up without a care and never once helped me. When His Majesty wanted to make Ah Nian an Empress as well, you actually talked me into agreeing just for a few plots of prime land. This is my first time begging you, if you don’t want to help me then get the fuck out! From childhood until now I haven’t needed your help and won’t need to start now either!”
“I urged you to agree to Ah Nian being Empress not for the added land, but because it was also in your best interests.”
“Just leave! I don’t want to hear what you have to say anymore! If I live, if I die, it’s got nothing to do with you!” Xing Yue’s voice gradually disappeared as she likely was rushing off.
“Xing Yue, listen to me………” Feng Long’s voice was filled with regret and his voice also trailed off as he hurried after Xing Yue.
Xiao Yao didn’t hear the rest of their conversation but she knew that in the end Feng Long would agree to help Xing Yue! It wasn’t just because they were siblings, but also because Feng Long felt he owed Xing Yue because she was the hostage in Xuan Yuan Castle when they were growing up, that allowed him to grow up carefree in Chi Sui.
Feng Long didn’t want to hurt Xiao Yao but life often had choices that one was forced to choose. Even if doing so would be difficult to endure, one would go down that path. Xiao Yao understood but she was still saddened as she remembered years ago the parties and singing under the moonlight, where did that all go that Xing Yue had to kill her no matter what?
Left Ear said “They are going to work together to kill you.”
Xiao Yao replied “I heard it.”
Left Ear added “They will be back.”
The killers were afraid Xiao Yao would escape so was rushing ahead to catch up to her. Once they couldn’t find her ahead, they would double back and at such time even this hidden spot would be discovered.
Left Ear stared intently at Xiao Yao who shook her head “Don’t keep thinking about killing people. Feng Long has strong powers and Xing Yue is surrounded by top guards. You won’t be able to kill them. Let’s just try and escape!”
After Miao Pu’s repeated lectures, Left Ear learned that a bodyguard’s only job was to protect, and killing was only used in protecting. He wasn’t as fixated on killing anymore so he listened to Xiao Yao. She thought a bit and said “It’s not possible to escape out of Sheng Nong Mountain, and even if we do it’s likely not any safer.”
Sheng Nong and Chi Sui, Xiao Yao didn’t dare underestimate the combined power of Xing Yue and Feng Long. In Sheng Nong Mountain at least they would hold back a bit, outside they would likely do anything. Xiao Yao said “The only safe place is Xiao Yue Peak, we need to find a way to get back there, or find a way to stay alive until Zhuan Xu gets back.”
It was also dawn so the news of what happened would have been sent. The fastest Zhuan Xu could get back was two days and two nights later, so the road to staying alive was two days and two nights long!
Xiao Yao said “We can’t stay here, let’s set off!”
Left Ear carried Xiao Yao on his back and she moaned in pain. Left Ear asked in concern “Can you endure?”
Xiao Yao fell from the sky and even if she survived she was still gravely injured. Even the accustomed to injury Left Ear was worried about her. Xiao Yao said “I can hang on! Don’t worry, my body is different than most people.”
Left Ear scrambled out of the wolf cave and headed in the direction of Xiao Yue Peak.
Along the way Xiao Yao looked around and occasionally had Left Ear pick various herbs. She also had Left Ear pick a sour fruit and they both ate some. Later she was so exhausted she fell asleep on his back.
When Xiao Yao woke up, she was sitting on the ground against a tree while Left Ear fought with six attackers, with four dead bodies already on the ground.
Left Ear finally understood the difference between killer and bodyguard, his goal was to protect Xiao Yao so his every move included keeping someone from attacking Xiao Yao. He could not attack freely so was like a caged beast, his power greatly reduced, so he was already covered in even more injuries.
Xiao Yao looked at the wind direction and coughed while taking a handful of dried leaves and placing it on the small piece of godly wood and then inserting the herbs Left Ear collected this morning. A smoke started to rise and the wind carried it around.
“Be careful! The smoke is poison!”
By the time the killers reacted it was too late and their movements slacked. Left Ear used that opportunity to swiftly kill them all.
Left Ear curiously asked “That was poison?”
Xiao Yao smiled “No, poison needs to be brewed and cooked together, those herbs will only stun people temporarily. The sour fruits we at this morning was the antidote to the effects of this herb.”
Left Ear wanted to extinguish the fire but Xiao Yao told him to throw more wet branches on it. Soon there was a thick black smoke rising high into the sky.
Left Ear carried Xiao Yao and started to run again as Xiao Yao explained “Our tracks are already revealed so might as well expose ourselves completely. The thick smoke will attract the attention of those who are actually here to save us, and might make those who are here to kill us hesitate as Feng Long and Xing Yue will be wary. I also don’t want them to figure out how we killed those people, a secret trick is of no use when people know about it.”
Left Ear saw Xiao Yao’s face stark white and her energy flagging “You sleep a bit now.”
Xiao Yao said “Sure.” But instead she got up her energy to keep looking around for herbs to help Left Ear or anything that could come in handy to save them.
It could be Xiao Yao’s planned work, or Left Ear was adept at hiding, either way they didn’t encounter any more attackers by the time sun set.
Xiao Yao didn’t express any discomfort other than whimpering if Left Ear’s running was too jerky, but that was enough for Left Ear to sense she was in great pain.
At nighttime, he chose a very hidden spot and had Xiao Yao lie down. Xiao Yao handed him herbs for his injuries and he asked “No herbs for you?”
Xiao Yao smiled wanly “My constitution is very different, I ingested all sorts of herbs and medicines when I was small so I recover faster than most people, but conversely most herbs and medicines have no effect on me. I need very rare items to heal from a grave injury.”
Left Ear killed a little deer and he could eat it raw but didn’t know how to feed Xiao Yao without starting a fire. Xiao Yao needed food otherwise she wouldn’t last the night. Xiao Yao said “I can drink the blood even if I can’t eat the raw meat.”
Left Ear bit open the deer’s soft neck and placed the wound next to Xiao Yao’s lips. She drank the fresh blood, about a bowlful, before she shook her hand indicating enough.
Left Ear squatted to the corner and quickly ate the deer, making no sound at all, likely still remembering on the ship Xiao Yao asking Xiang Liu to have Furball eat his meal elsewhere.
After Left Ear finished eating, he covered the tracks before washing his hand and going over to carry Xiao Yao on his back again.
Xiao Yao said “Now let’s head away from Xiao Yue Peak, and move slower but cover our tracks better, no matter what don’t leave any tracks.”
Left Ear looked around before jumping on a tree to travel from branch to branch.
Xiao Yao explained “Feng Long and Xing Yue know that only Xiao Yue Peak can protect me so they will have stationed more people waiting for us there to kill me once and for all. We can’t beat them by force so we have to endure until Zhuan Xu gets back. Even if Zhuan Xu doesn’t think it’s Feng Long and Xing Yue, he’s a suspicious person by nature so he won’t trust anyone anymore. He will send everyone away and only keep his most trusted people around Sheng Nong Mountain after this.”
Left Ear could tell she was having trouble talking “Don’t need to explain, I trust you. Rest up now.”
Xiao Yao was starting to see things and before her flashed Xiang Liu and she murmured “One day you will become very smart and powerful, and won’t need me anymore. I’m just upset that your transformation won’t have my involvement, which is why I’m going to teach you as much as I can now.”
Left Ear was indeed truly intuitive and asked “I will become like Xiang Liu?”
Xiao Yao drowsily said “I hope it’s more like Bei……but it’s all the same! No matter what you become, I will accompany you to walk the entire path…..”
Xiao Yao passed out and Left Ear kept going until stopping right before dawn. He saw Xiao Yao’s face turn red hot and called “Xiao Yao…..Xiao Yao….”
Xiao Yao didn’t respond and the normally fearless Left Ear started to feel afraid for the first time. He took out the bottle of bone essence and fed it to Xiao Yao before putting her back on his back and heading off again.
With his alert senses, he managed to avoid two groups of seachers and when no one was around he would call Xiao Yao’s name but never got any response.
At sunset Left Ear finally stopped because he was so exhausted he couldn’t move another step. He placed Xiao Yao on soft grass and looked at her burning face. He grabbed a large frond to fan her while also using it to cup water to feed her.
Xiao Yao finally woke up and Left Ear said “You hang in there, after tonight when the sun rises tomorrow we’ll be safe.”
Xiao Yao’s eyes were unfocused and didn’t seem to see Left Ear, instead smiling at the distance “Magnolias.”
Left Ear saw that Xiao Yao liked those pink flowers and quickly plucked an armful to bring back and place around her.
Left Ear placed on in Xiao Yao’s hand and she said “When the weather is nice I’ll wash your hair, and you can wash my hair, Jing. Don’t forget to pluck the leaves in the morning dew.”
Left Ear knew Xiao Yao was delirious and could no nothing other than repeating “Endure tonight and His Majesty will be here at sunrise, so you have to make it until then.”
Xiao Yao smiled at the flower as the sun gradually set. Xiao Yao suddenly started crying “Jing, the flower is gone! I can’t see you anymore!” Her eyes were about to close and Left Ear suddenly felt that he could not let Xiao Yao sleep no matter what, otherwise she would never wake up again.
Left Ear took some branches and shoved the godly wood inside, the entire thing lit up like a torch “Look! So many flowers, so many many flowers!”
Xiao Yao tried hard and opened her eyes and took in the flowers.
Left Ear didn’t care about exposing their location anymore, instead throwing more and more wood into the fire to burn brightly so Xiao Yao could see the flowers. He didn’t even care if killers would be lured by the flames, or whether he could battle them, all he knew was that he had to let Xiao Yao see the flowers so she wouldn’t close her eyes.
Luckily, Xiang Liu got involved and sent a secret message to Zhuan Xu earlier than the official notice was sent, so Zhuan Xu received word earlier than expected that Xiao Yao was in danger. He got back to Sheng Nong Mountain earlier than expected so Left Ear’s big fire display just happened to catch Zhuan Xu’s notice and he rushed there.
When Zhuan Xu arrived, all he saw was a brightly burning fire with a bloody Left Ear beside it tossing leaves and branches on the flames. Xiao Yao rested under the magnolia tree with magnolia flowers strewn around her.
Zhuan Xu rushed over “Xiao Yao!”
Xiao Yao turned to look at him, her vision faraway, her cheeks bright red, a sweet smile on her lips. Not since Jing died had Zhuan Xu seen Xiao Yao look so sweetly happy. In that split second he felt like an untried school boy meeting with his lover with the first time, his cheeks flamed red and his heart thundered.
He rushed over to Xiao Yao and kneeled down “I’m so sorry, I came too late!”
Xiao Yao’s eyes were staring into the distance and she said with a smile “Jing, you’re finally back!”
Zhuan Xu paused for a split second, his smile frozen, but then he firmly picked Xiao Yao up into his arms “Let’s go home.
Zhuan Xu carried Xiao Yao onto the cloud carriage. Her body couldn’t move but her face was tightly pressed to his chest “Jing, I miss you so much, so much……..Don’t leave………don’t leave……..”
Zhuan Xu placed his palm on Xiao Yao’s back and felt her weak heartbeat.
His face showed no signs of his exhaustion from rushing back day and night, but his eyes reflected endless sorrow. His voice remained gentle and firm “I won’t leave, Xiao Yao, I won’t leave! I will always be here!”
Xiao Yao listened to his firm beating heart and finally felt comforted. Jing was here! Jing was right beside her