The news got out quickly and soon reached Consort Zhuang. She was stunned into inaction for a good while with panic flashing through her face, but the panic was soon replaced by viciousness. If she’s still in a coma, I must not allow her to survive to utter a word! That bitch sure is hard to kill, resurrected after being submerged for so long. If fate wills her to be unconscious, though, let her stay that way forever!
A steely smile tugged at Consort Zhuang’s face, and her eyes shone with madness. She caressed the emerald jade bracelet on her wrist - a gift from the emperor after the first night she served him. She’d always cherished it like her greatest treasure. In an unusually tender voice, she murmured, “Soon, our wait will be over. He’ll be ours and ours alone!” A look of delusional blissfulness overtook her expression, and she held the bracelet to her chest.
She changed into the outfit of a palace maid and quietly made her way to the An’ning Palace with a bowl of medicine. She knew the guards’ schedule. She took a walk around the palace and returned just in time for the guards to change shifts. She’d gathered enough information to know that the emperor and the princes were with the empress dowager while the imperial physicians treated her.
Heavens granted her this opportunity! She sneered and waited until the guards had left the palace to brief their colleagues before changing shifts, and then she vaulted over the wall and entered the An’ning Palace. It didn’t take long for her to find her way to Lin Haihai’s room. A trace of doubt flickered through her mind as she snuck her way close. Everything has gone too smoothly. So smoothly that it seems like a trap! However, the sight of Lin Haihai’s serene face ignited fury in her heart and burned away her rationality. Even if it was a trap, she would take Lin Haihai with her to hell!
Her inner energy concentrated on her right hand to generate great power. She’d gone all in this time for her vicious goal to take Lin Haihai’s life. Lying on the bed, Lin Haihai could sense a strong killing intent, and she sighed inwardly. The woman truly wanted nothing but for her to die. Sorrow rose from her heart. She had always believed that human beings were born good and kind, and became selfish and vicious only because of the lure of fame and power. She didn’t approve of those who had fallen for the temptation, but she could understand them.
Consort Zhuang had been driven to madness. What a pity. She would’ve destroyed the merits and goodwill her family had built for themselves through bloodshed and sacrifice. Lin Haihai couldn’t possibly allow that to happen. It didn’t matter if it was Consort Zhuang or some other women. She neither approved nor understood her. Women could sacrifice a lot for their love, but it must not be the reputation of their family or the lives of others!
Lin Haihai opened her eyes when the palm strike was about to land. Startled, Consort Zhuang’s gaze turned even more vicious. Lin Haihai looked at her with eyes of great clarity as the attack was about to land on her chest. Then Zheng Feng suddenly emerged from behind the canopy and grabbed a cup, shooting it at Consort Zhuang’s right hand with inner energy.
It’s a trap! Consort Zhuang thought with panic and rising killing intent. She advanced upon Zheng Feng with her Golden Snake Stance, but Zheng Feng dodged her attack with a simple side step. Then he grabbed her by her long hair and leapt into the air to kick her du meridian, isolating her inner energy.
It was a trick Lin Haihai had taught him. There were two meridians that ran through the entirety of a human body: the ren meridian and du meridian. With the two meridians open and clear, cultivating inner energy would be doubly efficient. With either of the meridians closed, on the other hand, one’s inner energy would be blocked. In other words, he had rendered Consort Zhuang a woman with fancy moves but no power.
Consort Zhuang collapsed to the floor in pain. Hearing noises from the outside, Lin Haihai rose and hurriedly said, “Quick, take her away! Don’t let His Majesty see her! Empress Chen will meet you in the back. Take her token and leave the palace to send her home immediately!”
Consort Zhuang struggled to her feet and spat out a mouthful of blood, venomously biting out, “Enough with your pretense, bitch! If you wanna kill me, just do it! If I make a sound, then I’m not Xie Xue’er! Don’t try to act merciful. It makes me wanna throw up!”
Fuming, Lin Haihai got off her bed and slapped Consort Zhuang across the face, who responded with a venomous glare like she wanted to skin Lin Haihai alive. Lin Haihai smiled faintly and said, “Stubborn, aren’t you?” And she slapped Consort Zhuang a few more times, her smile never fading, until Consort Zhuang was lightheaded and seeing stars.
“Do you think I pity you? I wouldn’t even shed a tear for your death! I did this for General Xie! The old man has led battles after battles for the nation for years. It’s a great enough shame for him to retire to the countryside due to his disability. How can I possibly allow his achievement to be destroyed overnight by you? The devoted men and women of the Xie Family don’t deserve to be dragged down by a black sheep like you, do they? My heart aches for the old general!”
Consort Zhuang collapsed to the floor and broke into tears while covering her face.
The commotion outside grew louder as an army of men made their way here. Zheng Feng grabbed Consort Zhuang and left through the window before making his way to the back of the palace. The empress had made the necessary arrangement for their retreat. Soon, they got into a sedan chair, and the bearers made it out of the palace openly with the empress’s token.
Meanwhile, a large group of guards had rushed into Lin Haihai’s room; Yang Shaolun and the princes marched in after them. The guards searched around but found no one but Lin Haihai. Yang Shaolun glanced at the open window, and realization dawned on him.
“Please leave!” Lin Haihai told the guards. “There is no one here you’re looking for!”
The guards turned to Yang Shaolun for instruction. Yang Shaolun waved dismissively, and they all left the room.
Yang Hanlun walked up to her and asked quietly, “I know the culprit was here. Where is she?”
Lin Haihai sat up. “Since we’re all family here, I’ll be open with you. I’ve let the culprit go. You won’t be able to find her. I don’t want to follow this through, and I hope you’ll give up and let her go!”
“Impossible!” Yang Shaolun growled. He wouldn’t allow the culprit to run free. She had hurt the person he loved the most. He would not let her off the hook!
Lin Haihai looked at him, then at the princes. She could tell from their expression that they had figured out everything. With a sigh, she said to the princes, “Would you let me have a moment with him? I promise it’ll be the last time!”
Yang Shaolun felt as if something heavy had collided with his heart, and the dull pain shot through his chest.
The princes’ gaze shifted from Lin Haihai to the pained look on Yang Shaolun’s face. Sighing, they turned to leave. Yang Hanlun remained rooted to the spot, staring at Lin Haihai with a tormented expression.
“I promise,” Lin Haihai said to him. “This is the last time!”
Yang Hanlun nodded and smiled sadly, as if telling her that he would be waiting for her.
Finally, Lin Haihai and Yang Shaolun were left on their own. For a moment, neither of them said anything.
The chorus of cicadas’ chirps came from outside the room, and sunlight streamed through the door frame to form a golden pool on the floor. The two of them looked at each other like there was a world between them. They didn’t dare break the silence, lest their tears fell before they could utter a word.
Time passed, and panic overtook Lin Haihai. They didn’t have a lot of time left. How should they spend it together?
Yang Shaolun walked up to her. Every step he took sunk like he was walking on snow. He sat by her bed, his sculpted face arranged into a sad but tender smile. He wiped away the tears she had shed without noticing and pressed his finger against her trembling lips. Words were superfluous in this moment, and their silence said enough for them.
Lin Haihai leaned into his arms, drunk on the familiar smell. Her heart ached faintly but clearly. This would be the last time they held each other. She would bid farewell to this man! He would fade out of her life, and the two of them would part ways from then on!
Yang Shaolun took out a wooden sculpture from his clothes. The figurine had a familiar face. He had thought they had a future when he was making it. He had thought they would find dawn after the bitter darkness as long as they refused to give up and insisted on waiting! However, things never turned out the way they expected. In only a few hours, he had fallen from heaven to hell. He was told that he would lose his brothers if he insisted on staying with the woman he loved.
His brothers shared his blood. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, treading through blades and fire fearlessly for him. All of them had paid a heavy price in order for him to stay on the throne as the highest ruler, giving up their dreams and ideals and willingly wasting their time away. They became princes with no goals, so that they wouldn’t be used against him.
And then there was this stubborn boy, who had put all his time into training in martial arts for the Imperial Elder Brother he looked up to. Since youth, he had been fighting on battlefields after battlefields and putting his life at risk again and again. Yang Shaolun must not wrong his brothers, so he had no choice but to wrong her.
He handed the wooden sculpture to her and said, “I still had hope when I was making this, but I’m afraid it has scattered now.”
Lin Haihai accepted the gift and took a close look at the fine face of the woman. She had a faint smile and a hopeful gaze. He didn’t sculpt this after her, but after their tomorrow! Alas, this wouldn’t be their tomorrow. Their future would be entirely different!
“Thank you. I really like the gift!” She didn’t know how to put her feelings into words, but she didn’t think it would be necessary. Still, there was something she had to make clear. “Let the attack on me go, would you?”
“Is it Consort Zhuang?” Anger knitted his brows together. He couldn’t think of anyone else with such an expertise in martial arts.
Lin Haihai paused. “You knew?”
“I’m not a fool. Of course I knew! I won’t let her go unpunished. I’ll give her what she deserves!” His words were cold and determined.
“No, she’s gotten the punishment she deserves,” Lin Haihai insisted, holding his gaze. “Let her go!”
“You’re too kind for your own good,” he said in a pained voice. “How can I not worry about you?”
Lin Haihai felt a pang in her heart. “It has nothing to do with kindness. I simply want to preserve the reputation of Old General Xie!”
That gave Yang Shaolun pause. He had neglected that. If Consort Zhuang was caught, how would General Xie possibly bear the consequences? He had devoted his life to the Daxing Dynasty, and he was left with a disability as a result. They couldn’t possibly take away his peace near the end of his life, could they?
Upon deliberation, he decided to let go.
Lin Haihai smiled, but it was sad and devoid of the usual brilliance. It stung his eyes to see her like this. He had to look away. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to go if he gave her another look.
“Are you feeling well?” he asked gently.
“I’m a physician,” she said. “I know how to protect myself. My injury isn’t serious, and I’ll soon recover!”
“That’s good,” he said awkwardly, at a loss of what to do.
Lin Haihai looked at him; the pain in her heart was indescribable. He must be feeling the same, if not worse. His eyes dimmed with pain he could barely contain, but he had to try his best keeping it to himself, allowing no one a glimpse. It was hard for them to maintain this distance. Lin Haihai feared that they wouldn’t be able to control themselves. “I’d like to rest for a bit, Imperial Elder Brother,” she made herself say. “Please shut the door for me when you leave!”
She asked him to leave as tactfully as she could, but it still made the sorrow he had been trying so hard to contain break out. With trembling lips, he said, “Rest well, Sister-in-law. This Emperor will take my leave!”
Lin Haihai nodded and lay down on her bed, turning her back to him. Tears filled her eyes to the brim. She had to bite her finger to silence her sobbing.
Finally, Yang Shaolun rose to his feet. A bitter smile tugged at his lips as he watched her trembling shoulders. He was in so much pain it felt as if he would shatter into pieces anytime. He couldn’t possibly be in more pain than he was in this moment. Without her, was his life even worth living?
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