“Go ahead, Empress,” Lin Haihai said. “If I can’t make it back in time, please light an incense for me.”
Noting her obvious panic, the empress asked, “What’s wrong?”
“He’s in danger!” Lin Haihai uttered in fear. She was certain that something must have happened to him. The red string told her so!
“Who?” The empress was still confused.
“Stop!” Lin Haihai jumped off the carriage. One of the guards hurriedly rode to her and asked, “What’s the matter, Consort Lin?”
“I have a stomach ache. Allow me to relieve myself.” With that, Lin Haihai ran off to the woods by the main road.
Face flushed in embarrassment, the guard hurriedly told Guihua to follow Lin Haihai. The maid ran into the woods calling Lin Haihai, but the princess consort was nowhere to be seen. Panicked, she dashed around looking for her, hollering, “Consort Lin, Consort Lin!”
No one responded. Something must have happened to her! Guihua stumbled back to the carriage, her face dark with fear as she blurted out, “Gone! Consort Lin is gone!”
Alerted, the guards rode into the woods looking for Lin Haihai, but they found no traces of her in the vast woods.
Earlier that Day
Yang Shaolun left the Prince Residence with Xiao Yuan and a large group of imperial soldiers. Halfway to their destination, a puff of blue smoke wafted their way, gradually seeping into the air. It took only a few seconds for half of the soldiers to be knocked out.
Alerted, Xiao Yuan shouted, “Hold your breath!” Yang Shaolun immediately did so, but he’d already breathed in some of the smoke. He pushed open the door of the carriage and flew out, but already a group of men in black had descended from the sky riding the wind, making a circle around the carriage. Their curved blades glinted blindingly under the early morning sun.
Without wasting his breath, Xiao Yuan drew his sword and charged at them. Some of the more powerful imperial soldiers struggled to face the assassins, but they didn’t last long, injured and subdued after a single blow. Yang Shaolun tore a piece of cloth off his sleeve to cover his nose before drawing the fine sword hidden in the carriage. He soared into the air and made a flurry of movement with his sword, sweeping two assassins off their feet.
The men in black hurriedly shifted their target. Their moves were strange, seemingly without rhyme nor reason, but every slash left no room for escape. Under their relentless attack, Yang Shaolun’s form began to falter, and his steps weak. The poison smoke he inhaled had come into effect.
Seizing the opening, the men in black cut into Yang Shaolun’s torso, sending crimson blood splattering everywhere. Heart clenching, Xiao Yuan growled, “Your Majesty!” as he struggled out of the circle of assassins around him. The men in black followed doggedly and stabbed into his back. Xiao Yuan endured the pain and leaped with all the strength he could muster. Before the men in black could make another strike at Yang Shaolun, he sent his sword through the assassin’s torso.
Yang Shaolun threw up a mouthful of blood when he saw the sword impaling Xiao Yuan. He struggled to stay upright using his sword as his crutch, his intense eyes blazing with icy light. His innate presence of a ruler was enough to intimidate the men in black. Unfortunately, they were killers who wouldn’t even blink when taking lives. They would terminate their targets even if they were facing the Lord of Hell himself.
The assassins charged at once. Yang Shaolun raised his sword and met their attacks head-on. He’d suffered several slashes, while Xiao Yuan had long gone past his limit. He looked at the emperor in despair, and a thought cemented in his heart: His Majesty must survive this!
He took in a deep breath and let out a howl, desperately putting all his remaining vital essence into his last attack and knocked away the assassins surrounding them. Then he grabbed Yang Shaolun and flew to the carriage, putting him inside before giving the horse’s abdomen a forceful kick. The horse flew into a gallop in terror.
Yang Shaolun forced his eyes open. Seeing Xiao Yuan in dire danger, he grabbed his sword and struggled to get up, but then he fell back into the carriage. The men in black had caught up with the carriage led by the dashing horse. Xiao Yuan used up the last of his vital essence to slow them down.
An assassin yanked out the sword buried into his back, and blood geysered out in all directions. Xiao Yuan turned to look at the fleeing carriage. Another assassin was chasing after it. In the blink of an eye, a curved blade had slashed across his abdomen. His blood dyed his clothes red, but he didn’t even faze. It was as if the one getting cut hadn’t been him. Tapping into his reserves of strength, Xiao Yuan caught up with the assassin chasing the carriage with qinggong and tackled him.
His strong will despite his critical injury shocked and awed the assassin. Reluctant to make another strike at him, the assassin was about to take him down barehanded when another assassin caught up with them and attacked Xiao Yuan from behind with a slash. Pained, Xiao Yuan stared at the retreating carriage as he slowly collapsed to the ground, his lips twitching. Your Majesty, please be safe!
Pain overwhelmed Yang Shaolun, and he struggled and failed to stay conscious. It seems that I’m not lucky enough to escape this time. Where’s Xiao Yuan? He tried to force his eyes open but ended up falling into oblivion. The horse continued to run at full speed, going uphill, downhill, past the bridge, and then up a mountain. Finally, the carriage could no longer withstand the abuse of the rough travel and separated from the horse. Without the force pulling it forward, the carriage tumbled and fell off the cliff.
Lin Haihai followed her senses through the path the carriage had taken, seeing traces of an intense fight and its aftermath. Blood and dead imperial soldiers were lying haphazardly all over the ground. She had never been in such panic as she followed the track. Then she saw Xiao Yuan lying ahead of the path with several slashes on his body, and his white clothes dyed completely red. If Xiao Yuan’s here, where is he? Lin Haihai couldn’t help trembling as fear overtook her heart.
“Baizi!” growled Lin Haihai. The white figure emerged behind her, looking at her coldly. “I want him to live, no matter the cost!” That was all she said before she vanished into thin air. I’m too late!
The red string told her he was close, but before her was the steep cliff. He… Lin Haihai could barely imagine what had happened. There were obvious tracks left by the carriage, but they disappeared by the cliff. It was very likely that the carriage had fallen off.
She closed her eyes and flew off the cliff, and she found herself among difficult terrains of boulders and tall hills and deep, deep valleys. Her senses led her deeper into the valley and found the carriage stuck in a thousand-year-old tree, caught by one of its strong branches. However, the velocity at which the carriage had fallen was too great, and the tree branch had splintered, in danger of falling off any moment.
Heart pounding, Lin Haihai flew up the tree and landed before the carriage. The man inside was unconscious, oblivious to the outside world. His pale face and the bloodstains all over him made Lin Haihai’s heart clench. Gently, she picked him up and flew down the tree to lay him on the ground. With trembling hands, she put her finger under his nose to check his breath. It was faint, but it was there.
She collapsed to the ground in relief, letting go of the tension wreaking havoc in her mind, if temporarily. Her face was covered in tears and sweat, which dripped down on Yang Shaolun’s face drop by drop.
Tapping into her spiritual energy, she sent her own blood into his body and circulated her spirit pearl. It glowed and cast white healing light over him, facilitating the recovery of his injury and leaving only shallow cuts all over his body. She didn’t have the power to heal him completely. She could only lessen his injury and pain. The spirit pearl might be powerful, but it was for battle, not saving people. Lin Haihai could only stabilize his condition first. Then she could get him out of here and treat him.
“Brother Yang, Brother Yang!” Lin Haihai patted his pale cheek. He didn’t respond. Looking up at the sky, she could see dark clouds gathering and obscuring the originally bright sun. Then there was thunder. Lin Haihai got to her feet worriedly and looked around. There was a cavern not far from them. We should take shelter there for now!
Lin Haihai picked Yang Shaolun up and made a leap to the mouth of the cave. She had thought it would be dark as the night, but instead, she was met with an open clearing so brightly lit that it seemed to be illuminated by the sun. It was also beautiful with all the flowers and other vegetation. Not far from them was a hot spring with a constant supply of hot water, and the steam rose from the surface of the hot spring.
Lin Haihai placed Yang Shaolun on a leveled patch of land before going off to collect some fallen leaves as cushions. Seizing the time before it started to rain, she hurriedly collected some firewood as well.
Yang Shaolun was still unconscious. Lin Haihai wasn’t sure how long the rain would have lasted, so she went out to find something to eat. Unfortunately, she found only some wild fruit. She collected a good amount and took off the silk outer layer of her court attire to carry the fruit.
Heavy rain arrived when she was on her way back, soaking her from top to bottom. Her clothes were drenched when she reached the cave. She immediately started a fire. Casting a hesitant look at Yang Shaolun, she finally decided to strip herself naked. As a doctor, she knew better than anyone that keeping wet clothes on would make her catch a cold. She put her clothes on a rack of branches to dry them with the fire. Then she climbed into the hot spring to soak herself in the hot water.
Sixth Prince Residence
Yang Hanlun had led Chen Birou’s carriage through the door. They would begin their ceremony at the ji hour. Lin Haihai still hadn’t returned, which gave Yang Hanlun a bad premonition. The guards following them were nowhere to be seen. Imperial Elder Brother hadn’t arrived, either. Even Chen Luoqing, Xiao Yuan, and Zheng Feng were not in attendance. Has something really happened?
The more he thought, the more he feared for their fate. He wanted to rush out to look for his loved ones, but his confidant Feihu stopped him and said solemnly, “You must not leave now, Your Highness. All the officials had arrived. You must stay here to reassure them, especially if something did happen. Please trust General Chen to handle this!”
Shaken, Yang Hanlun stared at him and bit out, “What happened?”
Feihu turned away, conflicted. Yang Hanlun flew into a rage and growled, “This Prince orders you to tell me the truth!”
After some hesitation, Feihu said with difficulty, “Please stay calm once you hear the truth, Your Highness. Consort Lin was abducted on her way to the State Protection Temple, while His Majesty encountered a group of assassins. All his entourage had been killed, with only Sir Xiao half dead, clinging to the last of his life.”
Yang Hanlun grabbed tightly onto Feihu’s shoulders, his eyes red and his face pale. “What about my brother? What happened to him?”
Feihu took a deep breath, his voice choked as he said, “His Majesty has fallen off a cliff along with his carriage. A search party is now looking for him everywhere!”
Yang Hanlun let go of his hands, his expression frozen in disbelief. He staggered back and shook his head. Feihu worriedly advised, “You must not leave now, Your Highness. The others must not know! Otherwise, the officials will be in panic. You have to pretend that nothing has happened, and complete the ceremony in joy!”
Eyes dimming, Yang Hanlun balled his hands up into fists, his body trembling slightly. He tried his best to get his emotions under control. Feihu was right. He must not act recklessly now. His imperial brother’s fate was in limbo. If someone exploited this, the officials’ loyalty would be swayed. There would then be an opening for the culprit to start something. Blasted, they must stay calm and collected!
Taking a few death breaths, he looked out at the pouring rain and ordered coolly, “Take some men to join in the search. You must find His Majesty!”
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This is so dramatic. Holy molyyyy!