Outside, the house was unassuming, but through one of the doors and down the stairs was a hidden interrogation room, which could instill fear with its appearance alone. Dried blood tainted the already weathered walls. The floor radiated bone-chilling coldness. The sound of whipping rang and echoed.
Nan Xun made his way to the depth of the room. A man was tied to a pillar. Surrounding him were a few of Nan Xun’s confidantes. His most trusted shadowguard brandished a whip. He bowled respectfully when he saw Nan Xun. “This man is difficult to break. I’ve whipped him for an hour, but he said nothing.”
Nan Xun scoffed and narrowed his eyes at the unkempt man. Without warning, he splashed the barrel of salt water at him.
“Hm? How does it feel to get salt water in your wounds?” Nan Xun picked up a thin iron rod and lifted the man’s chin, forcing him to look up.
The man was a spy who had infiltrated Nan Xun’s circle. It’d taken Nan Xun a lot of hard work to finally root him out. He’d been a good looking man, but now all his clothes were tattered, and his once well-groomed hair covered his face messily. The salt water drenched his hair, making it stick to his face, which was covered in bloody gashes.
Caught off guard, the man hadn’t close his eyes in time. They burned painfully. He gritted his teeth, unwilling to say anything.
Nan Xun smiled sharply and crossed his arms. “It’s said that one’s fingers are connected to his heart,” he said coldly. “You’ve been so stubborn. Do you want to know what it feels like to have your heart stabbed?”
The man opened his eyes, which were bloodshot from the salt water. Without a word, he glared at Nan Xun venomously.
The shadowguard frowned and gripped the man’s hair, smashing his head into the pillar. The man muffled a cry but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to tell them who his master was.
The shadowguard cursed. “He’s not going to talk.”
Nan Xun scoffed, his eyes growing dark. He gave one of his men a pointed look, who handed him a small hammer without missing a beat. Nan Xun felt the weight in his hand, his smile growing colder.
Without a word, he hit the man’s toe with the hammer. The nail turned a purplish red immediately as blood rushed under it. It wasn’t a pleasant sight, but Nan Xun didn’t seem at all affected. Without giving the man any time to recover, he hit the same toe again.
He could hear bones cracking. The man paled, but his pride didn’t allow him to break.
Nan Xun didn’t want to waste his time on the man. He handed the hammer to his shadowguard. “Go on. Hit him until he speaks.”
He took a step back and looked down at the man.
The only sounds in the room were of hammer hitting fragile bones and the man’s pained grunt. When Nan Xun told the shadowguard to stop, the man’s feet was a bloody mess. A few nails had fallen off. And he was close to losing consciousness.
With a fierce expression, Nan Xun pinched the man’s chin and forced him to look at him. “This is your last chance. If you refuse to talk, you’ll be in a world of pain.”
The man’s face had gone blue, and he was trembling, his face covered in sweat and tears. Finally intimidated, the man sucked in a few breaths and stammered his answer. Finally, Nan Xun understood his motives - to rebuild Tianyu, a destroyed dynasty.
It was a sleepless night. Nan Xun grimly ordered his men to investigate. Soon, he found out that there were a group of people who refused to accept the destruction of the Tianyu Dynasty. They’d been trying to rebuild it ever since, and had created a good number of organizations to do it. Nan Xun scowled. He had a feeling that this was but the tip of the iceberg.
Jun Huang had been sleeping soundly until she felt Nan Xun’s absence. What happened earlier in the day put her in a long and unbelievably realistic dream.
She stood over a lawn, her view blurry. She rubbed at her eyes, but it hurt. She sucked in a breath and trembled.
“Go, princess. The army had broken through the city gate. If we don’t leave now, we’ll never be able to.”
Jun Huang turned to the source of the voice. An old caretaker was dragging a young woman who shared her face. She knew instinctively that the lost looking girl was her, but in the past.
“Go?” muttered the girl. “To where?”
The old caretaker was on the verge of tears. She helped the girl up and made her way through the panicking crowd. “This way. You’ll be fine once you flee the palace.”
She grabbed a handful of dust and rubbed it all over the girl’s face, covering up her stunning beauty.
The girl didn’t recover from her numbness until they walked some distance. She widened her eyes and pushed the caretaker away, who fell to the ground and stared up at her.
The girl shook her head and backed away. “No, I can’t just leave. I have to find Jun Hao and mother. I have to find Royal Father.”
She turned around and ran toward the palace, now obscured by smoke.
Jun Huang felt her chest tightened. She looked into the distance and approached the old caretaker, trying to help her up. Before she could do so, an arrow came out of nowhere and buried into the old woman’s chest. The old caretaker widened her eyes and muttered something intelligible before collapsing to the ground.
It all happened so suddenly. Jun Huang gasped and backed away, catching a glimpse of the girl from the corner of her eye. Curiosity got the better of her. She ran after the girl.
The path was littered with dead bodies and disembodied heads. There was a branching river of crimson blood flowing through the place.
“Let go! Let go of me!”
There was a sharp scream. Suddenly, the space opened up. She arrived at a spacious hall and saw the girl. She was restrained by a few maids and eunuchs, stopping her from going forward. Before her, among the mess of burning silk curtains, sat a proud and dignified woman. There was a striking resemblance between her and the girl.
Her clothes were tattered. In her arms was a man dressed in dragon robe. The bright yellow was tinted by the crimson red of his blood. The woman looked at him with unfocused eyes, caressing his face with long and delicate fingers. A hint of warmth flashed through her gaze.
“Heavens! The building is crashing down!” A eunuch shouted. He grabbed the young woman and ran outside. Then it happened. The palace collapsed with a loud thud. Dust mixed with sparks hit the girl’s eyes.
Jun Huang felt her heart clench in sympathy. She took a few steps back and covered her chest. Her forehead was covered in sweat.
The girl shrieked and almost fainted. A few guards and maids took her away. Jun Huang stood rooted to the spot. She didn’t know what she should do. A voice told her to stay.
She droned around the burning palace without a clear destination. She saw the Eastern Wu army break in and stab the eunuchs with their spears. The gushing blood was enough to dye the land beneath them red. She saw soldiers with revolting smile assaulted the young maids before breaking their necks, leaving their naked body exposed to the blazing fire.
It shook her to the very core. She ran as fast as she could. Everything whipped past her with great speed. She knew she was dreaming. She wanted to wake up. However, the nightmare wasn’t going to let her go easily.
All she could hear was the laughter of the Eastern Wu soldiers and the screams of the eunuchs and maids. She ran and ran, wanting nothing but to leave the nightmare behind and return to Nan Xun.
She jerked awake and panted, staring at the canopy of the bed. Sweat streamed down from her neck. She touched her face and felt something wet.
She was crying.
She sat up and stared into the distance. Finally, a reprieve. She was no longer dreaming.
She tried to move her arms. They were sore. She’d been asleep, but nightmares had plagued her throughout the night. It didn’t leave her feeling restful. She was exhausted but very much awake. She rubbed at her forehead and got off the bed, pouring herself a cup of tea and taking a sip.
Outside the window, chilling gust whipped and shrieked. The sun had risen, but it was raining. Jun Huang looked into the distance until she was interrupted by someone knocking on her door. She cleared her throat and said, “Come in.”
Nan Xun walked in with her breakfast and didn’t notice anything wrong until he placed the tray on the table and looked up. She looked tired and sick.
“What’s wrong?” Nan Xun walked up to her and asked worriedly. “You didn’t sleep well?”
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and shook her head as she put the teacup on the table. Realization dawned on Nan Xun when he saw her trembling fingers. He took her hand and pulled her close.
He could feel her shudder and the coldness radiating from her body. He regretted letting her witness the violent scene yesterday. She had a soft heart. It was too much for her.
He patted her back reassuringly. Jun Huang lay against his chest, her body slowly warming up.
Finally, she said quietly, “I remembered something.”