Nan Xun stared at Jun Huang, unblinking. Almost timidly, he reached out to feel her breathing, his fingers trembling against his will. He finally let go of the breath he’d been holding when he made sure Jun Huang was still alive. What came next was an overwhelming sense of sorrow and rage.
The tall, strongly built fighter was rendered into a bawling mess. He cursed at the gods for being unfair and at the world for being blind. Someone like Jun Huang shouldn’t be hurt again and again.
Jun Hao and Yin Yun stared at him, caught off guard. Jun Hao wanted to get close to Jun Huang, but Nan Xun pushed him away.
Like a feral beast protecting its mate, he glared at Jun Hao and growled, “It’s your fault!”
He wasn’t thinking clearly. His mouth spouted off cruel words on its own accord.
“If not for you, Jun Huang wouldn’t have been like this. She got in danger for you again and again. I wish you’d stay away from her.”
“People say she brought misfortune to everyone around her, but no, you do. You’re the bane of her existence.”
“I know you’re upset, Nan Xun, but how do you think the prince is feeling? You’ve crossed a line!” Yin Yun yanked Nan Xun up and threw a punch at him.
Nan Xun stared dumbly at Jun Huang’s prone form. He only realized then what nonsense he’d said. Before he could apologise, Jun Hao tugged at Yin Yun’s sleeve and shook his head. They walked away, leaving Nan Xun alone with Jun Huang.
After a long, long while, he knelt down and pulled Jun Huang into his arms. “How can you be so cruel, Jun Huang? Does our promise mean nothing to you?”
“I want to be with you until our hair turn grey. I want to see the world and the most stunning scenery with you. How can you leave me behind?”
“I will give up everything to be with you. Everything… I’m begging you, Jun Huang. Please wake up. I’ll do anything you want me to do. Just don’t leave me behind.”
He was beside himself. He tightened his fists, averting his gaze from her pale, lifeless face. His heart squeezed painfully.
Jun Huang was the most important thing in his life. He couldn’t bear losing her. He’d gladly trade everything he had for a lifetime with her.
He could give up his ambition. He could throw away his reputation. He could live without any power. He could be the most boring, mediocre man with no achievement under his belt. The one thing he couldn’t live without was Jun Huang.
A man who didn’t cry was a man who hadn’t loved. When he was a young prince shedding his blood on battlefields, he’d never anticipated that one day, he’d love someone so deeply that he shed tears.
Jun Huang felt as if she’d entered a world of infinite emptiness. There was nothing and no one in her sight. She was rooted to the spot and couldn’t take any steps. Then, suddenly, she heard someone crying.
The sound made her heart ache, but she couldn’t remember who it could be. It was so close, and yet she couldn’t see the man who was crying for her. She opened her mouth to offer comfort, but no sound came out. The man was still bawling. She struggled to look at him.
Finally, when Nan Xun was still muttering into Jun Huang’s ear, she opened her eyes. The tears on his face were still fresh. With her heart throbbing, she gently wiped the tears away.
Nan Xun was both startled and overjoyed. He didn’t know what he should do to express this overwhelming feeling.
“You don’t have to do this,” said Jun Huang. “If I die, find someone else to love. Don’t cry for me anymore. It’s not worth it.”
He’d wanted to tell her how much he loved her, and yet she doused the fire in his heart with those cutting words. He stilled.
Jun Huang looked away. She didn’t want to see the hurt look on Nan Xun’s face. She worried that she would change her mind and instead tell Nan Xun to stay forever alone for her.
Nan Xun was furious. He’d given her his heart, but she didn’t want it. He knew it wasn’t because she didn’t love him.
Overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions he couldn’t sort through, he bit Jun Huang in the shoulder.
Jun Huang winced, but didn’t push him away. Nan Xun let go of her quickly and rubbed at where he’d bitten, worried that he’d hurt her. After a long pause, he asked bitterly, “Are you really willing to push me into another woman’s arms?”
His pained voice hit Jun Huang hard. She met his gaze, and all the selfless words she’d come up with got stuck in her throat. She shook her head.
“No, I don’t want you to be with anyone else. My heart hurts whenever I think about you showing another person the same love you’ve shown me. But that’s selfish.”
“I want you to be selfish. Can’t you hold on for a little longer for me?”
Their eyes met. Finally, Jun Huang nodded with determination and snuggled close to Nan Xun. He held her tightly in his arms as if she’d disappear the next moment.
She fell asleep. Nan Xun picked her up and went to find Jun Hao and Yin Yun. They hurried back to Northern Qi. This time, even though Jun Huang hadn’t woken up, Nan Xun calmly and tirelessly took care of her for three days and three nights straight.
Yin Yun and Jun Hao wanted to help, but Nan Xun shook his head. He wanted to be the first thing Jun Huang saw when she woke up. Jun Hao and Yin Yun could only stay outside and keep the couple safe.
Just when they were going to lose hope, Oleg Cragfiend returned. He immediately sought Nan Xun out without notifying anyone in advance. Nan Xun was sitting by the bed, looking at Jun Huang like he could do this for an eternity.
Yin Yun and Jun Hao followed Oleg Cragfiend into the room. Their throats felt tight and their eyes stung. Oleg Cragfiend sighed and went up to Nan Xun. “I can save her.”
Nan Xun didn’t immediately react. He struggled to his feet and stared at Oleg Cragfiend, worried that the old man was humoring him. Oleg Cragfiend snorted and continued, “As the fated phoenix, Jun Huang must never enter the mortal world again. You have to live the life of a recluse with her. Will you be willing to?”
“Of course,” Nan Xun said without hesitation. Oleg Cragfiend nodded and went to prepare the ingredients for the medicine.
After everyone had left the room, Nan Xun collapsed to the floor. He took Jun Huang’s hand in his and choked out, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll be fine soon.”
Oleg Cragfiend soon gathered the necessary ingredients. He and Nan Xun took Jun Huang away from Northern Qi and arrived at the poison master’s old home.
Oleg Cragfiend had prepared a medicinal bath for Jun Huang. She had to be immersed in the medicine every day for three months straight, during which Nan Xun had never left her side.
When Nan Xun’s lead shadowguard came, Nan Xun was resting under a tree. He hadn’t had any proper sleep for a long time. He blinked blearily when he heard someone approaching. He was a little surprised when he saw his shadowguard.
He’d left his guards and shadowguards to Qi Yun before he left. He had no use for them since he’d be living here with Jun Huang, and it didn’t make sense to keep his subordinates from doing what they did best.
“Why are you here?” Nan Xun got to his feet, rubbing at his throbbing temple. He walked toward a table.
The shadowguard cleared his throat and looked at the closed door. “Hasn’t she woken up?”
Sorrow tinted Nan Xun’s eyes. He shook his head with a wry smile. It pained the shadowguard to see him like this. He’d never thought the unbeatable Nan Xun would look so vulnerable.
After a long stretch of silence, the shadowguard updated Nan Xun on the tasks Nan Xun had assigned him before his departure. The treasure Ji Bo left had been found and delivered to Qi Yun. The young emperor would use it to people’s benefit. Qi Yun had asked about Nan Xun and Jun Huang. A deep sigh was his only reaction.
Nan Jihan had returned to Southern Mu after finding the jade seal. He didn’t ask after Jun Huang.
Nan Xun nodded without a word. The shadowguard wasn’t going to force a conversation. He looked around and asked, “Where are the young master and Yin Yun?”
Nan Xun looked up and explained, “Oleg Cragfiend said that since I’ve taken Jun Huang, it’s only right that he has a new disciple. He took Jun Hao away. Naturally, Yin Yun would be following them. If you want to talk to them, go out and walk a mile toward the east. That’s where they’re living now.”
“I’ll check on them.” The shadowguard got to his feet.
“Leave this place after that and don’t come back,” Nan Xun said, finally making up his mind. “Go to Qi Yun. He’ll treat you well.”
The shadowguard stilled. He didn’t turn around, but instead nodded with his fists clenched. A “Understood” was all he said before he quickened his pace and vanished.
Nan Xun sighed and took a sip of his tea. It was too bitter to swallow.
The shadowguard didn’t leave immediately. Instead, he stayed in the dark and kept watch on Nan Xun. He’d been following Nan Xun since he was little. Nan Xun treated him like a brother and never wronged him. He’d sworn that he’d do anything Nan Xun told him to do, and yet Nan Xun was telling him to leave.
He had no reason to disobey Nan Xun. Nan Xun was his master. Even though the general had given up on all his power, the shadowguard would always be his soldier.
Nan Xun knew the shadowguard had been watching him, but he pretended to not notice. The next day, when he noticed the absence of the shadowguard, he sighed and put away the dried medicine before returning to the house.
“When are you going to wake up, Jun Huang?” Nan Xun asked gently, looking at her sleeping face.