A sense of melancholy crept into Jun Huang’s heart. She’d been busy playing mind games for revenge. She’d forgotten what she should have remembered. She felt a little lost as she recalled her past. It felt like a lifetime ago.
She smiled bitterly. The guard keeping to her side frowned and looked around, but didn’t find anything unusual. He hesitated if he should ask her what was wrong. However, Nan Xun had reminded him not to be too nosy.
Noticing the guard’s hesitation, Jun Huang stopped to look at him and asked with an eyebrow raised, “What is it?”
“The gentleman seems unhappy,” said the guard. “Are you tired? The prince has said the gentleman needs all the rest you can get. We’ve been out on a walk for a while. If you’re tired, we’ll go back.”
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and nodded, turning around to leave. A boy came out of nowhere and threw himself into her arms, knocking her backward. She winced when her back hit the chilly wall and looked down at him. What was going on?
“Master wants to see you,” said the boy before the guards could drive him away. He pulled back and stood two steps away from Jun Huang with a friendly smile.
She considered the young boy and got a good look at his face. Her master must have gotten her message.
She motioned at the shadow guards to reassure them that she was fine. She asked the boy a few questions and found out that he was indeed sent by her master. They made their way through a winding alleyway and reached an isolated house.
The boy went up to knock on the door. After hearing a cough, he opened the door and led Jun Huang inside. The guards knew she’d like her privacy. They stayed outside politely.
Oleg Cragfiend, Jun Huang’s master, sat by the table with an impassive expression. Jun Huang went up to him and bowed. He quickly helped her up and gave her a once-over. “You’ve lost quite a lot of weight since you left,” he said with a sigh.
“This disciple is fine. Master doesn’t need to worry.” Jun Huang spoke softly, her usually cold eyes warming up. She’d been perturbed when Oleg Cragfiend first tried the myriad of poisons on her, but she realized later that he’d been trying to cure her. She’d sworn to pay him back for saving her once she recovered.
“Does master know where the blood lotus is?” Jun Huang asked without ceremony. She knew her master disliked small talk. This had always been the way they interacted. They weren’t cold to each other, but they didn’t exactly have heart-to-heart conversations either. Besides, she didn’t have a lot of time left.
“The emperor of Southern Mu must have told you only members of the imperial family are privy to the whereabout of the lotus. We’ll need one of them to point you to the right direction. I only know about this because I’ve once saved one of their princes.”
Jun Huang frowned. She knew it wouldn’t be easy to get the lotus, but this was troublesome. She wondered what she should do next.
Her sickly look bothered Oleg Cragfiend. He’d heard about what Jun Huang had been doing in Northern Qi. She shouldn’t be overworking herself in her condition, but she didn’t care enough about her health and ended up putting her life on the line.
He took her wrist and felt her pulse, jerking her out of her thoughts. She looked at her master, then at her own wrist. In the end, she opted not to say anything.
“What have you done to yourself?” Oleg Cragfiend said harshly, his expression dark. “No wonder you need the blood lotus. You’d have been able to live for some time simply by suppressing the poison, but now it’s threatening your life. I know you want revenge, but your careless disregard of your own body is troubling.”
Jun Huang knew he was worried for her. Her lips curved into a smile and her eyes softened. Oleg Cragfiend huffed and turned away from her.
A series of knocks interrupted Jun Huang. She glanced at her master before getting the door.
“Gentleman Feng, the emperor of Southern Mu sent a representative,” said her personal guard.
Jun Huang nodded without a word. She’d sent a message to Nan Jihan as well just in case, but now it seemed she would need his help.
The eunuch Nan Jihan sent approached her and said, “His Majesty has ordered this servant to lead you to the palace.”
Jun Huang raised an eyebrow. She quickly figured out that Nan Jihan couldn’t have come in person to have a conversation with her. She rose and was about to follow the eunuch. Before she left, she turned and asked, “Are you coming as well, master?”
Oleg Cragfiend waved a hand in the air. “You may go yourself. Remember to be careful and not to offend too many people.”
“I’ll do as master instructed.” With that, she walked away, leaving her master on his own.
The boy who had led Jun Huang here walked to his side and asked, “What is master thinking about?”
Oleg Cragfiend turned to him without a word. Just when the boy wondered if he’d ever say anything, he opened his mouth. “You’ve seen the guards following her. I can tell at first glance how well-trained they are. They came with her from Northern Qi. Whoever their master is must be of a high status. She seems to be surrounded by people from high places. Nan Jihan is another example. I wonder if it’s going to end up helping her or hurting her.”
The boy thought for a moment before smiling. “Why are you worried about that? Whatever will happen will happen. Perhaps it is her fate to meet those people. There’s nothing you can do to change that. Might as well let her destiny run its course. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with her knowing Nan Jihan. She needs the emperor to lead her to the lotus. If they’re close, he won’t mind giving her a hand. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Perhaps.” Oleg Cragfiend smiled wryly. Of course he understood what the boy said, but the boy was too young to know how unpredictable people could be.
Jun Huang followed the eunuch to the palace. It was very different from that of Northern Qi. Northern Qi’s palace was decorated with carvings, and the eaves of both buildings and pavilions curved upwards, giving the architecture a solemn feel. Southern Mu’s, on the other hand, was composed of jade stones, and the buildings were often draped with silks. Everywhere there were songstress singing in a gentle voice, half of their faces obscured by the lutes in their hands, revealing only their misty eyes.
The winding hallways were lined with lotus lamps. It must be beautiful at night once they were lit. She could smell a faint fragrance of sandalwood.
Noticing her gaze on the lamps, the eunuch explained, “His Majesty is fond of sandalwood and incense. The lotus lamps are light sources at night, but in the morning they’re used as censors, the fragrance refreshing.”
“Is that so? His Majesty must be a proper gentleman.” Jun Huang smiled and glanced at the lamps again. She found it sacrilegious somehow to use the lamps as censors.
Of course, she wasn’t going to voice her thought. It’d be consider a great offense.
After about half an hour, they came to a magnificent palace. Outside were a good number of maids. They each had a dozen of flowers in their arms, which suited their turquoise dresses.
“They serve the emperor,” explained the eunuch. “Every day they bring flowers to the palace. Hearing that the gentleman is coming and not knowing what kind of flower you like, the emperor had them bring a few of every kind.”
The eunuch seemed to be talking Nan Jihan up. He didn’t know Jun Huang’s only weakness was jade. Things like flowers and other trinkets without practical use were wasted on her.
She covered a chuckle and said bluntly, “I didn’t expect such extravagance from Southern Mu. I’ve gotten distracted for a moment. Please forgive me for any mistakes I may make. Southern Mu is obviously a nation with refined taste. I’m too crude to comprehend it.”
The eunuch’s smile stilled. He could hear the sarcasm in her tone, but he was a mere eunuch, while Jun Huang was Nan Jihan’s guest. He shouldn’t and didn’t dare offend her. He smiled awkwardly in lieu of a response.
Jun Huang walked up the stairs and waited for the eunuch to notify the emperor. He came back not long after to invite her inside. She walked past the door with a polite smile and didn’t say anything when she saw Nan Jihan.
He stopped her before she could bow down to him, his eyes lighting up with joy for seeing her again after all this time.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Is it just me, or does Oleg Cragfiend seem like he's been replaced by a pod person?