It was Nan Jihan. His gaze wasn’t on Jun Huang, but on the mountain not far from them. Neither of them said a word.
When exhaustion set in, Jun Huang bid Nan Jihan goodnight and returned to her bedroom. She didn’t see the adoring look he cast her way when she turned around.
In the beginning, he merely admired her for her talent and grace. After knowing that she was a woman, he fell for her and grew protective of her. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.
He huffed out a sigh. What a shame that she didn’t need what he could give.
Early the next morning, Jun Huang woke up to find the sun shining brightly in the cloudless sky. The air, however, was so cold it sent a chill down her spine. She put on the winter coat and left her room. Nan Jihan was waiting at the door.
After breakfast, they made their way into the snowy mountain. Jun Huang had assumed that the lotus would be at the top, but Nan Jihan cut into a narrow path halfway through their climb.
“Isn’t the blood lotus at the top of the mountain?” she asked curiously, fogging up the air. Her nose turned red because of the cold and her eyes were misty. Her hair ran neatly down her back, contrasting with the snow surrounding her. Nan Jihan stared at her dumbly for a moment before clearing his throat.
“Blood lotuses can only survive under very specific conditions,” explained Nan Jihan. “The snow has to be pure and there has to be sufficient oxygen. Although the snow at the top of the mountain hasn’t been tainted by human traffic, the air there is too thin. Halfway up the mountain is where the lotuses can be found.”
Jun Huang nodded without another word. Nan Jihan silently led her to a small cave. He threw her a glance before entering. Jun Huang quickly followed him.
Their boots had been drenched by melting snow during the long walk, which had been mildly uncomfortable but not debilitating up until this point. Inside the cave, the temperature dropped, causing chills to run up from her feet. Jun Huang tightened her robe around herself, trying to warm up.
The deeper they got, the colder it became. All warmth seemed to have seeped out of her body. Her ears turned a violent red as she trembled. It felt as if she was walking on blades. However, it was all worth it when she saw the blood lotus protruding from the snow.
The cave expanded into an open space without cover. Snow fell from the sky and landed on the translucent lotus, giving it a mystical feel.
“Is this it?” Jun Huang pointed at the lotus, her tone excited.
Nan Jihan nodded with a smile. Jun Huang took a couple steps forward, but quickly backed away for fear of disturbing the flower. After some deliberation, she approached Nan Jihan and said earnestly, “Thank you for generously taking me here, Nan Jihan.”
Nan Jihan stilled, but it gone unnoticed by Jun Huang because of the heavy snow. He took a deep breath before he said, “It’s not that simple.”
Jun Huang’s smile dropped. She stared at him coldly, thinking that he was going to state his price again.
Nan Xun could tell what she was thinking about. A rueful smile appeared on his face and quickly disappeared. He sighed, pointing at the lotus. “I promise you that I don’t mean you any harm. I know it’s futile to try anything on you.” He paused and thought for a moment before continuing, “The blood lotus requires tribute before it can be consumed. It must be fed a palm-sized bowl of the patient’s blood the first time, and a fist-width bottle of blood every day afterwards. You won’t be able to survive that much blood loss at the moment.”
Jun Huang’s face fell. She knew her condition better than Nan Jihan. She wouldn’t be able to go through with the blood donation for even a few days. For a moment, she stared at the lotus silently.
Nan Jihan felt his chest tightened. He remembered how excited Jun Huang had been when she saw the lotus. It pained him to see her this dejected. However, he couldn’t do anything to change the reality.
“Let’s return. We’ll come up with a solution. You should rest and recover.”
Jun Huang shook her head. “I’ll stay for a little.”
Nan Jihan frowned and grabbed her hand, growling, “It’s not going to run away. What good is it going to do for you to stay here? Why can’t you take better care of yourself? You won’t need to think about curing your poison if you collapse again. I don’t know what is pushing you to seek out the cure, but staying here won’t help.”
Jun Huang looked up at him with unfocused eyes and suddenly cracked a genuine smile. It was so beautiful that Nan Jihan’s breath hitched. When he came to his senses, she’d reverted back to her usual aloof self.
She glanced at her trembling hands and nodded. “Let’s go then.”
Her smile wasn’t for Nan Jihan. She’d simply been reminded of the reason she wanted so much to cure herself - Nan Xun. The smile bloomed on her face unbidden. Perhaps it was because her heart had finally found a place where it could settle.
Jun Huang didn’t return to the palace with Nan Jihan. She wanted to see Oleg Cragfiend and discussed what they could do. Nan Jihan didn’t stop her, but he looked like he wanted to say something on their way back. In the end, he didn’t say anything.
When Jun Huang returned to Oleg Cragfiend’s residence, the shadow guards were waiting for her. She sighed in relief and blamed herself for forgetting to notify them about her trip. They must have been worried.
“You’ve finally returned, Gentleman Feng,” a guard hurriedly said as he jogged up to her.
Jun Huang responded softly before entering the house to find her master. He was writing down prescriptions at the desk. He raised an eyebrow at her when he saw her and put away his writing brush. “How did it go?”
Jun Huang told him everything. After a bemused pause, she said, “I’ll need your help, master.”
Oleg Cragfiend nodded. “Of course. You should stay here for the next few days. I’ll try my best to restore your health while we find a solution. We’re going to cure you once and for all no matter what.”
Jun Huang was touched. She nodded and had the guards help her move her belongings from the inn to her master’s residence. She wanted to start getting treated immediately.
Ever since Jun Huang’s departure, Nan Xun couldn’t stop missing Jun Huang. At first it was a faint nagging feeling, but then it grew to the point that he started losing sleep.
He twisted and turned, but sleep eluded him. Finally, he opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.
There were footsteps coming from outside his room. Overwhelmed by unexplainable melancholy, he jumped off the bed without thinking and ran outside.
The one sitting in the garden wasn’t the woman he’d missed dearly. Of course it wasn’t. He exhaled disappointedly, his lips curling downward.
Ji Bo turned to look at him, surprised. It was difficult not to notice Nan Xun’s dramatic entrance. “What’s wrong? Has something happened?”
Nan Xun pursed his lips and schooled his expression into one of indifference. After taking a deep breath, he sat down before Ji Bo. “No, nothing happened. I simply heard you reciting poetry about the moon and found it interesting, so I came out to check on you.”
“It’s an impractical hobby,” Ji Bo drawled. “It’s for my own entertainment and doesn’t hold any deeper meanings. I hope Your Highness won’t find it laughable.”
They fell silent. It was getting windy. Nan Xun noted the thin clothes Ji Bo was wearing and wondered if he should remind him to put on something warmer, but Ji Bo didn’t seem to care. He stared up at the bright moon, his thoughts indiscernible.
“Your Highness seems preoccupied these days,” Ji Bo said softly, shifting his gaze to Nan Xun. “Would you mind telling me what has been troubling you?”
Nan Xun didn’t expect the question. He wondered if he should tell Ji Bo. His suppressed emotions had been tormenting him. He wanted to talk to someone. He just didn’t know who it should be.
It was a peaceful night. His emotions finally found an outlet. He took a deep breath and picked up a cup of tea, taking a sip. It felt as if he was drinking wine. He looked up at Ji Bo with furrowed brows.
“There’s not much to do at night other than drinking. Hasn’t Your Highness heard that one shouldn’t have an empty cup under the moon?” Ji Bo laughed heartily, his hair running loosely down his shoulders and flying in the wind. He looked carefree despite his graceful turquoise robe.
“I miss her,” Nan Xun finally said, pouring himself a cup of wine and finished it in one go. “I miss her every second every day. I want nothing more than to abandon everything and get to her side, keeping her company.”
Ji Bo’s smile dropped. He looked up at Nan Xun and listened to the general talk about his feelings for Jun Huang. Ji Bo didn’t speak up until Nan Xun was finished. “This gentleman knows about Your Highness’s feelings, but she wouldn’t want you to abandon all your responsibilities for her.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter