“The journey is going to be exhausting. You’re...”
“I have to go. I have to make sure he’s alright. No one knows how long it’ll take you to bring him to me. What if… I die before he’s back? Then I won’t be able to rest in peace.” Jun Huang was simply telling the truth. She wasn’t trying to use her death as a bargaining chip.
Nan Xun understood her. Oleg Cragfiend hadn’t yet found a cure. Her days might very well be numbered. He wanted her to be happy, and he wanted her to fight to live. Eventually, he nodded. He’d take Jun Huang to Jun Hao.
They departed as soon as they could. Theirs was a small group. Apart from Jun Huang and Nan Xun were Nan Xun’s most trusted men, Yin Yun, and Oleg Cragfiend. Nan Xun took the poison master in case Jun Huang’s condition deteriorated.
His decision was proven to be a wise one. Jun Huang had fallen unconscious along the way several times. Once, Jun Huang was bored and wanted to read, but Nan Xun stopped her and read to her instead. Not long after he started, Jun Huang fainted. He’d thought she was simply asleep, but he couldn’t wake her up. It wasn’t until Oleg Cragfiend checked on her that he knew she’d lost consciousness.
Nan Xun had been constantly afraid for Jun Huang, worried that she’d collapse at an inopportune moment. It wasn’t a smooth journey. She might get herself hurt.
Oleg Cragfiend had been giving Jun Huang medicine nonstop, but it hadn’t been effective. It got to the point that Nan Xun was losing sleep every day. He couldn’t rest easy without Jun Huang in his sight. He worried that she’d fall unconscious one day and never wake up.
Jun Huang didn't know how she could comfort Nan Xun. She could only talk to him about the beautiful scenery outside.
Half a month had passed. Nan Xun seemed to have aged prematurely from the stress. His chin was covered in stubbles. He didn’t look like his usual stoic self.
Yin Yun noted his unkempt look. Who would’ve thought Northern Qi’s general would end up like this? Who other than Jun Huang could have such a profound impact on him?
Nan Xun didn’t allow himself to relax until after Jun Huang had fallen asleep. Their coach was parked on the side of the road. Not far from it was the cliff. With a tangled mess of thoughts in his head, Nan Xun got off the coach to get some fresh air. He ran into an equally awake Yin Yun.
Yin Yun traced the sound of footsteps to Nan Xun. He could see the exhaustion in the general’s eyes. He sighed. “The princess is doing relatively well, and Oleg Cragfiend is a master of poison. He’ll be able to help her. Don’t run yourself to the ground. We don’t want you to collapse before the princess gets her cure.”
Nan Xun smiled wryly at his attempt of reassurance and looked up at the bright moon. Eventually, he said, “What if Jun Hao has become nothing but a pile of bones when we find him? What will you do?”
Yin Yun froze. He knew why Nan Xun would say such a thing, so he didn’t blame Nan Xun for painting a grim picture. He put some thought into the question and answered seriously, “If His Highness has died, I’ll follow him to the other world. I won’t hang onto my life and leave him alone in the dark.”
Nan Xun was surprised, but it dawned on him how devoted Yin Yun was to Jun Hao. The guard had watched the boy grow up. He’d cared for him and risked his life for him. If one day Jun Hao did die, Nan Xun believed Yin Yun would do as he’d said.
If one day Jun Huang passes away, I’ll do the same.
He didn’t voice his thoughts, but his eyes were expressive enough under the moonlight. Jun Huang had overheard their conversation. A look at Nan Xun’s face was enough for her to understand his unspoken words.
Yin Yun was getting tired. He patted Nan Xun on the shoulder and told him not to think too much before leaving. Nan Xun nodded, watching him go. When he turned back, Jun Huang was not far from him, her clothes fluttering in the wind.
“Why did you come out?” Nan Xun hurried to her side and pulled her into his arms.
Jun Huang snuggled closer to him. “What are you thinking?”
“If I die, are you going to take your own life?” Jun Huang looked up at him. Her piercing gaze seemed to be seeing through his soul. His heart jumped and his throat tightened. With a sigh, he covered her eyes.
“As you’ve speculated, I’ll follow you to the other side if you can’t be cured. I’ll follow you even in hell, even if I have to drink the brew that’ll erase my memory.” Nan Xun’s hoarse voice seemed to speak directly to her soul.
She was shaken. A sorrowful smile tugged at her lips. She didn’t push Nan Xun’s hands away. “What if I don’t want you to follow me? Things have gotten back to how it should be. You should see the peaceful world for me. I don’t want you to end your life prematurely.”
Nan Xun put his arms around her tightly and said in a loving voice, “Have you given up hope? Why can’t you think about what I want, Jun Huang? Don’t give up just yet. No matter how slim the chance of your survival is, no matter what we have to face in the future, I’ll stay by your side. I won’t leave you behind.”
Jun Huang fell silent and leaned toward him, listening to the quiet wind. She looked up at the bright moon and the fluctuating line of the mountain range. She didn’t put her love for him into words.
A sliver of hope snuck into her heart, unbidden. She didn’t have to worry about being alone anymore. The man had said he’d never let go of her hand.
For the next few days, Jun Huang fainting spells happened a lot less frequently. Nan Xun was relieved.
They soon reached the location the Tianyu prisoner had given them. Worried that there would be danger lying await, Nan Xun had his guards scout the area first. Then he took Jun Huang and Yin Yun to the hidden cave they spotted.
The journey had been bumpy. Jun Huang had wanted to stretch her legs for a long time. She insisted on following Nan Xun on foot. They entered the cave.
The guards took point while Jun Huang and Nan Xun stayed in the middle. Yin Yun followed them at the end, keeping an eye on the surroundings. They each held a torch in their hands, staying on high alert.
The path within the cave was smoother, easier to traverse. They hadn’t encountered any danger so far. Jun Huang held onto Nan Xun’s arm. Her expression was calm. Nan Xun and the others looked cautious. Caves were usually dangerous, and this was Tianyu’s treasury. They worried that there would be traps.
Fortunately, Ji Bo hadn’t deemed it necessary to set up traps since the place was so well hidden. They soon reached the end of the cave. Before them was a narrow path wide enough for only one person to pass at a time. Jun Huang frowned.
She pushed aside her concerns and followed Nan Xun through the tunnel. The place opened up to a vast, beautiful grassland. Jun Huang gaped at her surroundings. Had she accidentally entered the realm of the celestials?
The grass was a rich, vibrant green, decorated with tiny yellow flowers. Surrounding the grassland were a circle of snowy mountains. The blue of the sky was in stark contrast with the snowy top of the mountains.
Nan Xun didn’t dare relax his guard. He kept Jun Huang shielded behind him and said to Yin Yun and his guards, “You should go find Jun Hao.”
Yin Yun nodded and led the guards away. The place was big. They had to move around with their light body technique. They soon found a cabin by the lake. Before they could get close, a maid walked out of the door and spotted them. Fear flashed through her face. “Who... Who are you?!”
Yin Yun’s response was cut short by Jun Hao’s sudden appearance. He’d come out to check what the commotion was about. His eyes widened when he saw his personal bodyguard. He dashed toward Yin Yun and threw himself into the man’s arms.
Nan Xun’s guards were going to catch the maid, but Jun Hao pulled away and stopped them. “She’s not a bad person.”
Yin Yun later found out that Ji Bo had entrusted Jun Hao to the maid and the assassin they’d caught. The man realized that something had happened to Ji Bo after they lost contact with him. After telling the maid to take care of Jun Hao, he left their sanctuary.
He found out what had happened and blamed Jun Haung, which led him to risk his life in order to avenge Ji Bo. That was something neither Jun Hao nor the maid knew.
Jun Hao was well taken care of. He hadn’t lost any weight. However, it had been a long time since he was separated from Yin Yun. He refused to leave his side. Yin Yun sent a man to notify Nan Xun with fond resignation.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang made their way to the cabin as soon as they got the message. Jun Huang’s heart pounded. She almost couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Jun Hao.
Jun Hao had seen Jun Huang as well. He let go of Yin Yun and rushed into Jun Huang’s arms.
No words were needed to express their feelings when they held each other. Jun Huang tightened her arms around him. Color slowly drained from her face.
Nan Xun caught her as soon as she collapsed. He thought this was simply another fainting spell like the ones before, but then he noticed how pale her face was.
He should’ve known. How could Jun Huang’s health have miraculously recovered the past few days? It was simply because she was going to see Jun Hao. She’d been tapping into the last of her reserved strength so that she could stay upright until she found her brother.
Now that She’d made sure that Jun Hao was alright, her body relaxed and gave out.