Hua Zhu Yu felt defeated, sitting in the dark dungeon all alone. Whether it was deciding to go to the front lines or following Xiao Yin back to Northern Kingdom, in the end she didn’t accomplish anything.
Hui Xue had said Xiao Yin was neither poisoned nor manipulated. Since that was the case, she had to leave; the longer she remained here, the more dangerous it would be. It was just that she didn’t know where to go.
At the moment, Xiao Yin had pulled his troops back to Yangguan City. For all she knew, Yangguan could already be surrounded by Southern Army. If she left now, there was no other place to go except Southern Kingdom’s military base camp. She really wasn’t sure what kind of punishment would await her there.
When she left the capital, she had told Ji Feng Li that she wasn’t a Northern spy, she even vowed she wouldn’t follow Xiao Yin back. Ultimately though, she failed to keep her word.
She was certain that in Ji Feng Li’s mind, she was without a doubt a Northern spy. If she returned, Ji Feng Li definitely wouldn’t spare her. But if she didn’t go back it would be equivalent to acknowledging that she was a spy; something she would never allow.
Hua Zhu Yu got up and walked over to the cell door. With a slight nudge, the door opened. Hui Xue had deliberately left the door unlocked and there weren’t any guards patrolling in the halls; they were all stationed outside. She quietly left the cell and walked up the stairs, slowly proceeding forward.
Outside the dungeon, a few guards were sitting about. Hua Zhu Yu employed her internal force, swiftly moved behind them, and sealed their acupoints. She then quickly removed one man’s uniform and retreated back into the cover of the dungeon to change clothes. After she was done, she took the man’s sword and left in a hurry.
The magistrate’s residence was not small. The dungeon was located in the back garden. Hua Zhu Yu took shelter in the shadows of the trees and began to proceed forward furtively. Spotting an approaching group of patrolling guards, she hastily jumped onto the rooftop.
The night breeze swept by, carrying with it a slight chill. It was late at night and the sky above was ink dark. Although there was no moon, a few faint stars could be seen if one were to look closely. If there wasn’t a war in progress, this night would surely be a beautiful one.
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She remained hiding on the rooftop for a long time and didn’t dare move until all the patrolling guards were gone. She finally let out a sigh of relief, thinking Xiao Yin was really vigilant. Northern Kingdom had already taken over Yangguan City and there was no one else in this residence besides his troops, yet this place was still guarded so tightly.
Looking ahead she saw there was only one more rooftop to clear before escaping the residence. Suddenly a faint voice sounded below. “You should’ve gotten enough fresh air after staying up there for so long.”
Hua Zhu Yu’s body stiffened and she looked down. She realized that she was hiding on the rooftop of a room within a small courtyard and standing beneath the tree in the courtyard was the Northern Emperor Xiao Yin. He stood there with his hands clasped behind his back, the lights of the lanterns filtered through the leaves to illuminate parts of his face, making him give off a cold, stern appearance.
Spotting him, Hua Zhu Yu wanted to smile wryly, but she didn’t even have the energy to.
It seemed her plans to escape tonight failed. “Come down. You won’t be able to escape.” Xiao Yin’s robes swayed in the breeze as he stepped out of the shadows.
She knew the moment Xiao Yin discovered her, she would not be able to leave. Stationed outside the residence were his troops. Even if she were to successfully leave the residence, she wouldn’t be able to leave the city of Yangguan.
Hua Zhu Yu knitted her brows and finally decided to jump down.
“Your Majesty is in such high spirits!” Hua Zhu Yu commented as she clapped her hands. It was already so late and he wasn’t in bed but was actually standing beneath a tree doing who knew what. She didn’t believe he stood there waiting just to catch her.
Xiao Yin’s lips lifted in the semblance of a faint smile. “This Emperor naturally isn’t in as good spirits as you. It’s already this late and here you are, hovering over the rooftops. How was the scenery up there?”
“The moon is completely hidden behind the dark clouds. Doesn’t Your Majesty think it’s beautiful?” Hua Zhu Yu coldly asked. No matter how beautiful the scenery and atmosphere, it was still ruined by the pressing war.
Xiao Yin didn’t seem angry at the fact that Hua Zhu Yu had escaped from the dungeon. He pointed to a stone table and bench, saying, “Sit. This Emperor has something to ask you.” His voice was cold, without an ounce of warmth.
Hua Zhu Yu looked at him and slowly proceeded to take a seat at the stone bench.
“The person that gave you this pendant, is this Emperor’s younger sister,” Xiao Yin slowly said in a voice suffused with sadness as he looked at her.
“Hm,” Hua Zhu Yu nodded her head and said, “I had guessed that. She had said that the pendant was something left behind by her older brother.”
“Why did she die?” Xiao Yin lifted the hem of his robe and took a seat at the stone bench facing her.
Hua Zhu Yu’s heart ached. She knew he had many questions regarding Jin Se. They were separated at a young age, he didn’t even know what she looks like now.
“She was very beautiful, with long, shapely brows full of spirit. She had bright, intelligent eyes. She very seldom smiled, perhaps due to her unpleasant past. She had a hard childhood and suffered greatly, but even so she was very kind-hearted and loyal. For me, she even…..” Hua Zhu Yu’s voice gradually lowered. She didn’t dare complete the sentence. If Xiao Yin were to know that Jin Se was humiliated to death, that if he came just a little earlier that night he could’ve saved Jin Se, that had he listened to her request he could’ve found Jin Se’s corpse, if he knew these things, how guilt-ridden would he be.
“You said she died because she tried to save you. Then who exactly killed her?” Xiao Yin asked, his sharp gaze burning a hole through her face.
Hua Zhu Yu fell silent.
“That, I’m still investigating.” She originally thought Ji Feng Li had hired people to carry out the command from the Old Emperor, but as of yet she still hadn’t found any definitive evidence.
A cold glint flashed in the depths of his purple eyes as he narrowed them. “Alright, in the future I will investigate with you. Let me ask you this, if Zhou Ya risked her life to save you, are you the one she loved? Were the two of you married?”
Hua Zhu Yu was slightly embarrassed.
“Actually I …..” Actually I am female. Hua Zhu Yu was hesitant to tell him this. If he had already forgotten her, she should just let it be. Otherwise it would only be troublesome to bring it up. She truly didn’t know how to respond to his question.
Xiao Yin looked at the person before him and felt that though he was only wearing an ordinary uniform, it could hardly hide his good looks. Especially his clear, bright eyes which seemed to contain some sort of force that made him unable to look away.
Why did he feel such a sense of familiarity?
His gaze was attentively fixed on Hua Zhu Yu when suddenly he felt a throbbing pain in the depths of his heart and he quickly grabbed his chest as his face paled.
He didn’t understand what just happened, but whatever it was, it was gone just as quickly as it came.
“Who exactly are you?” he asked with knitted brows.
At this exact moment, a maidservant came running out of the room, hurrying over to kneel before Xiao Yin. “Your Majesty, Miss Wan is having her coughing bouts again and couldn’t drink her medicine. This servant truly doesn’t know what to do.”
Upon hearing this, Xiao Yin frowned, asking, “Wasn’t she fine just moments ago?”
“It may be that her health has gotten worse from following Your Majesty on your continuous campaigns. Miss Wan’s body hasn’t gotten accustomed to our Northern Kingdom’s climate. This servant truly doesn’t know if she will be able to withstand our upcoming winters,” the maidservant said with trepidation.
Wen Wan was unwell? No wonder Xiao Yin was still awake. Was he worried about Wen Wan? This small courtyard actually belonged to Wen Wan. Hua Zhu Yu was truly unlucky, there were so many rooftops to hide on, why did she jump onto this one!
A trace of concern flashed in Xiao Yin’s eyes as he slowly got up from the stone bench and faintly said, “No need to worry. When winter comes, perhaps we will no longer be in the North.”
The faint light illuminated his handsome face. He suddenly turned back and coldly gazed at Hua Zhu Yu, “You stay here. Since this Emperor’s younger sister saw you favorably, this Emperor won’t make it difficult for you, but won’t set you free either. When the war is over, this Emperor will take you back to Northern Kingdom. You can slowly tell me about my sister then. Temporarily stay in the dungeon, don’t think about escaping anymore.” His domineering tone made it hard for others to refute. He gave orders to Qing Yun and Bi Yue to escort her back to the dungeon before he quickly strode over to the room.
Sitting there, watching his disappearing figure from behind, for a split second, she felt that the night wind was unpleasantly cold and the stone bench beneath was chilling to the bone.
No need to worry. When winter comes, perhaps we will no longer be in the North.
It seemed he was determined to rule the world.
Hua Zhu Yu felt her heart sinking and the frigid cold made her shiver. She slowly stood and was escorted back to the dungeon by Qing Yun and Bi Yue.
Under Xiao Yin’s strict orders, Qing Yun and Bi Yue locked the cell doors tightly and ordered more men to stand guard outside.
Sitting on the pile of hay on the cell floor, Hua Zhu Yu hugged her knees. The lantern Hui Xue left behind had long burned out and she was surrounded by complete darkness. There was a sudden tearing pain on the wound on her shoulder, reminding her that she had forgotten to apply the medicine. She took out the bottle of medicine Hui Xue gave her, pulled out the cork, and groped in the darkness, trying to apply the medicine. She endured the stinging sensation and tore a piece of cloth from her clothes to bandage the wound. Having spent many years on the battlefield, getting hurt was a common occurrence so she had gotten quite skilled at dressing her own injures.
Alone in the silent dungeon, Hua Zhu Yu felt like a small wounded animal, in the middle of the night, hiding in an uninhabited darkness, licking her wounds in silence. No matter how strong she was, she couldn’t help but feel sad. She wanted to cry, but this was not the time, nor place.
The night was extremely quiet and she was unaware of how much time had passed before she began to feel tired, unfortunately the dungeon was too cold and sleep would not come. She hugged her knees and was about to sit in meditation when she heard the sounds of footsteps passing overhead. As soon as she heard the movement, she became alert. She stood, went up to the cell door and asked the guards outside, “What’s happened?”
Xiao Yin had become more vigilant and had not only increased the number of guards outside but even stationed a few at her cell.
Upon hearing her inquiry, the guard coldly replied, “What else, the Southern Army is attacking the city walls. Our Emperor is riding out to face the enemy!”
Hua Zhu Yu was slightly surprised. The Southern Army was attacking the city walls?
They had marched so hard to get to the North. After having won the battle they should have rested and recouped their strength, not continue on the offensive. Failure would give Xiao Yin a golden opportunity to launch a counterattack, perhaps even giving him the chance to capture Su Zhou. Why was Ji Feng Li so eager? He wasn’t an impatient short-sighted person who would seek a quick victory. The war with the North was not going to be finished in one night.