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My brows furrowed, and I hastily opened the curtains to look outside, hands gripping the edge of the window. Fresh air mixed with hot, dense wind to assail my senses. My chest seethed, and a sense of disgust welled up within me. There was no one outside, and the quilt across the horse’s back was splattered with tiny spots of blood.
The carriage was shaking violently now, and all I could hear was the sound of wheels crushing past stones mixed amidst thunderous hoofbeats. The scenery flew past us, branches occasionally scrabbling nosily against our vehicle. Startled by the fire dragon, the horse had his head bowed as he ran for his life. It was clear to see that the shock had frightened him out of his senses.
Straight in front of us was the edge of a cliff…
I gritted my teeth and reached for the reins whipping wildly in the wind. Just as my fingers were about to touch them…the carriage gave a heavy lurch and tilted to the left. Something seemed to be breaking apart. My eyes widened.
Curses! Someone had even sabotaged our ride…
“Shao’er, I think something’s wrong with this carriage,” someone spoke from within.
“That’s right, it’s about to fall to pieces.”
Without anyone to control him, the horse ran past a bend in the road and kept rushing forward, dragging the shuddering carriage behind him straight over the cliff’s edge…
I immediately turned towards the seated Han Zichuan and grabbed him by the arms. We burst through the carriage roof as I flew into the air, the wind whipping our robes.
“Where are we going?” Han Zichuan asked as I held him by the armpits, wind blowing his hair askew while he squinted at me. I ignored him, stepping lightly on air. He seemed as if he wanted to ask me more questions, but kept silent and held me tight instead.
This guy, he’s so heavy…
Actually, I’d already regretted the moment I flew out of the carriage with him, so much that my intestines might’ve turned black and green. I didn’t have much internal energy left, and here I was showing off. We hadn’t even reached the top of the cliff before I ran out of qi. My foot slipped a few paces as my heart sank. One hand hastily reached out and grabbed an outcropping rock on the cliff face while the other carried the weight of a second person…a glance downwards revealed the carriage at the bottom of the cliff, utterly destroyed.
Our combined weights made it feel like my fingers were breaking.
“Shao’er…” he looked at me with a gentle smile. “Why aren’t you letting me go?”
I choked on my silence as I held onto the rock in a death grip. Of course I wanted to let go, but for Fang Hua’s sake, I couldn’t just abandon you. The bottom of the cliff was a long ways down, but Han Zichuan kept smiling, though that smile…
…made me extremely uneasy. It was as if he’d come to some sort of decision.
My heart felt heavy as I tightened my grip on him, speaking in a tight voice. “Don’t even think about moving around. I don’t have enough strength to fish you back up if you drop.”
He slowly smiled and reached out a hand to embrace me, those eyes shining like the light of shattered stars. Curses, I thought he was going to kill himself for my sake, but–hey, what’s he doing with his hands like that…I…I really don’t have any strength left!
My hand had stopped feeling sore and long turned numb, and blood was flowing down my wrist. The rock had cut into my flesh, but there was no pain as I raised my head, eyes searching. From here, I could see the light spilling over the edge of the cliff. Gritting my teeth, I summoned up all my reserves of internal energy and used brute strength to force my way up. My foot stepped on air as I leapt upwards, but before I could reach the top, qi burst into my chest and made me ill. It felt like my entire body was exploding from the inside. My vision blurred as everything grew hazy…
In the end, I blacked out.
The last thing I remembered was Han Zichuan gathering me into his arms as the scenery rushed past us. So even I had met with a day where I fell off a cliff. Little Fourth was right, this journey had really lead to a hugely inauspicious event.
I didn’t know how much time had passed before a loud, shrill noise pierced through my muddled thoughts. My eyes opened weakly, but the sight I saw scared me to death. An abyss yawned before me and I instinctively backed away. Behind me was a dark cave, and around us were nothing but precipitous cliffs. Han Zichuan held me in a tight embrace.
One of his hands rested against my ear, the other holding an object that was expelling white smoke as it send a bright flare up into the pitch-black skies, illuminating it in a flash. It looked like some sort of signal. Since he had something like this, why not use it earlier, before we fell off the cliff…
Hold on, I’m not dead?
“Shao’er, I’m sorry…I woke you.” he used a hand to feel my forehead as he muttered to himself. “Your fever still hasn’t left you.”
I wearily clutched his sleeves, my teeth gritted as I asked, “What exactly happened?”
“You fainted, probably from exhaustion. I happened to see a cave on the side of the cliff and brought you here just now.”
Good. Very good…very fortunate.
Dare I ask exactly how you had the luck to carry a person in a dead faint to this cave while we were falling?
“Actually, my martial arts skills aren’t bad.”
“What’s wrong? Do you feel unwell somewhere?”
I viciously used my sleeves to wipe my mouth and slowly closed my eyes. He’d enraged me enough to spit blood. This guy was perfectly capable of escaping from danger but decided to rely on me. Now look, we were both ruined and stuck in this dreary place.
Inside the cave, an icy wind blew past, making me shiver. I bent down into a crouch and tried to feel about me, but he looped me by the waist and forced me into his lap, looking about to laugh as he spoke in a serious tone. “You’ve been unconscious for half the day. Don’t move around, we should share body warmth since it’s cold at night.”
I fell silent, not because of what he said, but because I discovered I couldn’t call forth a trace of qi from within my body. Something was very wrong.
“Shao’er, why is your body so cold?” He seemed worried as he felt about me.
“Seems like I’m plaguing you with cares,” I pushed aside his hands and closed my eyes for a while, before quietly asking, “We’ve already been forced off a cliff. Have you figured out who was targeting you yet?”
He frowned, muttering to himself for a while before slowly replying. “I’m sorry for dragging you into it.”
…I laughed bitterly.
As I suspected, this person wouldn’t drag me back to the palace without reason. If people could even hurt the emperor, who knew how Fang Hua had passed his days? I guessed the news of my disaster would’ve reached the young Princes by now. Things must be chaotic back at the house.
“Nothing will happen. Roughly around dawn, people will come to rescue us.”
I remained feebly in his embrace, staring at him with a half-smile. “Even on an inspection tour, the emperor has treacherous ministers planning his assassination? Looks like your rule hasn’t been all smooth and steady.”
He lifted his eyes to look at me, the expression as if to say, how did you know?
Of course I knew. My palm hadn’t harmed the assassin in the slightest. Even without adequate internal energy, the results shouldn’t have turned out like that. Thinking back, the feeling I had then…there was definitely armor hidden beneath his robes, and he looked like an experienced fighter. Maybe he was even the soldier of some general.
No one from the jianghu would dare to provoke me.
Right now, I was more worried about the Princes. They were famous figures in the jianghu, each one filled with determination to protect their Master. It was doubtful that they’d let matters rest if they couldn’t find me. I gave a vague glance at Han Zichuan’s calm expression, coupled with his leisurely posture, and thought it a bit odd. He didn’t seem a bit anxious. Did he mean to borrow the strength of the young Princes to kill rebellious, would-be assassins?
A sudden burst of pain filled my chest, and I looked away, sucking in a deep breath. Calm…I had to stay calm.
“Though Zhen ascended the throne as the emperor, military power has always been beyond my grasp. There are plenty of people who wish to rebel as well.” he swept his gaze over me, finally deigning to explain. Even the emperor’s carriage had been sabotaged, these ambitious rebels were really too bold.
I slowly struggled free and grabbed the front of his jacket, sullen. “And you’re just letting them conspire against you like this?!”
“Shao’er, are you showing concern for me.” he peered at me tenderly, the question turning into a statement of certainty on his lips. I gave him a stunned looked before turning away, paralyzed with rage.
The current officials actually dared to send assassins after the emperor on his inspection tour. Such an open, brazen display of actions was not only crude and rash, but stupid. They seemed to have no thought for the consequences, perhaps because Han Zichuan had forced them to this point.
I should have realized it earlier…the person before me now had killed his own father while he was still a crown prince. He wasn’t a leader you could provoke easily. Though, if it was just his internal affairs, why drag an innocent person like me into the mess? Wasn’t this unfair? Unjust?
Meanwhile, he kept staring and smiling at me, heart filled with happiness as he held me in his lap and took a breath. “Are you worrying about me again? When you told me to not let go no matter what at the cliff, I knew…even if everyone in the world was plotting against me, you wouldn’t. My Shao’er is still the same as before…”
If I could turn back time, I’d drop you without hesitation.
He held my face in his hands as he looked me up and down, eyebrows furrowed. “What’s wrong with your face, it’s so pale. Did you suffer some internal injuries?”
This guy, I was ready to sling him over my shoulder and throw him off the cliff. He only just realized I had internal injuries. Isn’t this a bit too slow?
“If you hold me any tighter, I’ll die faster.” I stared straight at him, forcing out my words.
He nestled closer in embarrassment, the hands around my waist neither loosening nor tightening. After a while, they rested over my shoulders as he came to a decision, “Zhen has methods. Zhen will treat your injuries for you.”
I gave a start.
When he used the word “Zhen,” I had a premonition.
“No…” No need.
But the hands on my shoulders were like iron. I was seized with panic as he turned over and pressed me beneath him. As soon as I prepared to use my internal energy, he spoke. “If you don’t want to die early, then stop fiddling around with your internal energy.”
Hey, why did his lines sound so familiar? He…h-h-he, why was he copying me?
I grew blank. He gave me a slow, careful look while I docilely stayed on the ground. His words were right. I’d felt that something was wrong with my internal energy as soon as we fell off the cliff, but what treatment was he thinking of using? Even as I stared at him, he remained calm, circulating his own qi as he touched me with his palm. Burning qi streamed through my robes to enter me, pure and vigorous, but it only made my head feel numb. If I knew he was going to channel true qi inside me, I wouldn’t have listened to him.
Pah, what a lousy idea.
I resisted the tumultuous sensations within my chest with difficulty, suppressing and rejecting the stream of true qi as I turned over and pushed him aside. He seemed at a loss as he tried to move over and pull at me. “What happened, did I do it incorrectly?”
“That’s right. That’s very right…”
If he gave me any more true qi, it’d damage my internal organs and cause my body to burst. He eased me into his embrace and curved his eyes into a smile, hands resting on my shoulders to repeat the process. I couldn’t bear it anymore and leaned forward, spitting up a mouthful of blood.
“Shao’er, what’s happened to you..?” his voice shook, severely disturbed.
I pulled my mouth into a grin. “Nothing. Just let me sleep for awhile and stop fussing over me. My cultivation way is different from the rest, wavering between yang and yin. I can’t endure the usual…”
He couldn’t nod his head fast enough as he mutely held me in his arms. The wind was very strong by the cliffside that night, but he leaned his head against the crags, stubbornly holding on to me. A chilly moon hung against the horizon, and the gale billowed out our sleeves.
“Zichuan, did you know beforehand that someone would attack the carriage?”
He used a bit of strength to rest me between his knees, stroking my hair as he answered. “I’m not an Immortal, how would I know these things?” He closed his eyes as if preparing to doze. I smiled in response. That’s true…he wasn’t an Immortal.
At the very least, an Immortal wouldn’t tell lies.
Despite his warmth, I couldn’t fall asleep. Both my heart and my body felt extremely uncomfortable. Second had spoken correctly. From the start, I shouldn’t have cultivated the Carefree Recollection. My true qi had suffered damage and now my own internal energy was attacking me. It wasn’t something a human could bear, and an extremely difficult trial to surmount. My eyes remained open while my thoughts drifted, until enough time passed for his breaths to turn low and even.
“…Zichuan.” He remained unresponsive.
I shifted a bit, only hesitating briefly before rolling up my sleeves and digging through his robes. It was easy to fish out the bundle of silk from inside. Opening it up, I found the pills he had hidden away from me…as well as a single paper charm. Smiling softly, I smoothed out the crumpled charm before folding it into a paper crane. Then I put it in my lap and stroked it, watching the passing wind make its wings tremble. My other hand held the pill to my nose for an experimental sniff.
Should I or shouldn’t I take it?
Second said eating it would not only suppress, but dissolve the rest of the internal energy in my body. Even if I didn’t eat it, my internal energy had already been heavily depleted. Now it was even rising up and attacking me, making me doubtful whether I’d live to see the sun tomorrow. My heart was doing flip-flops, and I felt extremely tired.
But if I ate it, then wouldn’t that mean…?
My smile was bitter. Preserving my life was more important. I hadn’t even seen Fang Hua yet, so how could I shut my eyes and pass away so easily?
I placed it in my mouth. The slightly acrid flavor of the drug spread out across my tongue. I cradled the paper crane in my hands and dug up the remaining traces of my memory to wave my fingers, casting an incantation. The paper crane started moving its wings, and suddenly flew off to disappear into the horizon…while I leaned against the rocks and smiled.
Little one, take this message to my Princes. Tell them not to worry, and if I fall into Han Zichuan’s hands, don’t get drawn into the struggles of the imperial court.
I sat leaning across the crags, slowly closing my eyes as dawn broke out in the east. Gradually, the sun rose to illuminate the dewdrops, heralding a new day…
I don’t know how long I remained unconscious, or when it was that someone carried me out of the cave. Exhaustion had overtaken my body as if I would die at any moment. Beneath me, soft silken bedcovers slipped and slid like water as they jolted incessantly. Dimly, I could hear a voice murmuring by my ear.
“After we enter the palace, Zhen won’t let anything hurt you…”
That person must have been bending over me, because his breathing was very near…
There was a soft laugh, the breath unbelievably ticklish. A warm hand rested on my head, the dexterous fingers softly stroking my hair. Before I even opened my eyes, I could smell the scent of rain-kissed bamboo. This was exactly like the scent from my childhood home. There used to be someone who extremely liked that smell. Back then, Han Zichuan used to say it was dull that everything smelled like bamboo, but I liked it immensely because it cleared the heart and refreshed the body.
I felt very tired, wavering between sleeping and alertness. My head felt rather muddled, and every time I tried to think, it was like grasping at strands of silk that escaped from my fingers. In the darkness, a figure dressed in white appeared before me, clear yet indistinct as he floated farther and farther away.
The pain this sight caused me was tremendous.
I suddenly opened my eyes.
“What is it?” someone asked in a steady voice.
I blinked once, not knowing what was the matter. I only knew I was uncomfortable but not the reason why…and my head…my head felt like it was on the verge of exploding. The light was very dim, and the room was unfamiliar…it was very spacious, and couldn’t be called a room, but a grand hall.
A faint scent of bamboo drifted through the air, restful and calm. I was lying on something soft, breathing heavily as I stared at the ceiling. Beyond the layers of flickering candlelight and embroidered lotuses on muslin gaze, I could vaguely see the forms of auspicious flying dragons. The curtains around my bed seemed like they were going to bury me alive, and I felt a sudden rush of panic…
Was this the imperial palace? Why was I here?
I was utterly confused, my hands groping about and crumpling the brocade covers…my limbs felt numb as if every inch was being gnawed on by ants, and complete fatigue had overtaken my body, making it hard to use any strength.
“Shao’er? What’s wrong with you, don’t scare me.”
Someone was holding my face and patting it. His actions seemed to be conflicted, afraid to use too little force to wake me, or too much force to hurt me. Those pretty eyebrows were all knotted up, yet it did nothing to mar the heroic beauty of his face.
Ah, that’s right…I closed my eyes and dimly thought for a bit.
He’s Han Zichuan, the current reigning emperor.
“Someone, go call the imperial physician. You’re all more useless than the dead.”
My chest felt stuffy, and it felt like a cloud of true qi was rising up from my abdomen. Shoot…of all the times for a flare-up, it had to happen now. My vision turned black, and I lost awareness for a while.
When I recovered my senses, I felt a hand checking my pulse. One of my arms was resting on a pillow, and the air was very cold. I twitched my finger a few times before I regained some feeling. Who knew how long that person had been examining me? I only felt that his whole body was shaking, as if he feared this cold even more than I did. Or not…perhaps he was shaking from fear.
My illness couldn’t be counted as an illness, but a result of my cultivation.
Add that to the fact that I’d incurred internal injuries, then the pill I’d eaten must have yet to take effect, or else I wouldn’t have remembered this much. I next felt someone scooping me up into their arms, their movements exceptionally gentle. He blew on a cup of water for a long while before handing it over to me. I had no strength to take it, nor did I want to drink.
I only stared at the cup, which seemed determined to stay until I accepted it. Very reluctantly, I scooted over and took a shallow sip. It was cool and refreshing, and the cold slipped into my stomach to suppress the churning currents of nameless qi inside. This water was probably dosed with some medicines for focus and calming qi, so I lowered my head and drank some more.
The person holding me seemed to relax and exhale as he watched. He placed the drink aside and wrapped his arms around me, chin resting on my shoulders as he looked at me with a vastly complicated expression. It was hard for me to take it all in, so I forced a weak smile.
“Imperial Physician, what’s the meaning behind this illness? Why did she suddenly become like this?”
“To reply your Majesty,” the old voice that spoke was so respectful, he was one note away from bowing on the floor. He didn’t even dare to lift his head. “This, this…”
After all that time, he still didn’t know what to call me by. This imperial physician wasn’t even worth half of Nongyu’s intelligent or eloquence. Though…who exactly was Nongyu…? I searched for awhile, using all my strength to think before I dimly recalled a face.
My head hurt…
I gave a soft groan. The hand around my waist tightened, as if troubled by my noise, and I shifted my body. Right, the emperor was holding me in his arms. I came to the palace this time because…
I tried to remember, but it only made me tired and uncomfortable. The currents of qi still trapped in my chest were still fighting each other, twisting and turning left and right to give me no peace.
“Are you going to say it or not?” There was a pah! and the sound of something shattering.
“To reply your Majesty, the lady possesses an extremely abnormal pulse. Your servant has never encountered such a condition, but it seems that she’s suffered severe internal injuries. Her true qi is leaking from her body, making her pulse fluctuate between moments of yang strength and yin weakness. In one moment, she possesses internal energy; in the next, it is gone. Your servant is really unsure of what to do beyond writing a few prescriptions to bolster the body and adjust her breathing. The rest will require a few more days of observation before medicine can be given.”
What ‘qi is leaking’ nonsense?
I’m suppressing internal energy so it won’t flare up and attack me and you dare to randomly prescribe me medicine? Wait until I’m better, if I see you’ve messed me up anywhere…I’ll cripple you. How dare this guy try to show his skills before an expert, my medical knowledge…
Do I know medicine?
How irritating, it felt like more of my memories…were slowly slipping away, no matter how I try to hold on…
An angry voice spoke a few words above my head, his chest heaving with the effort. I couldn’t even rest against him quietly, but shook in the wake of his movements. So uncomfortable…
My mind was in disarray. Why were they so noisy? I fumbled about until I found the source of the voice and found a hand, soft and warm like a cocoon. I tugged it to the side of my head, my eyebrows pressed together. He seemed to recover some tact as deft fingers massaged my temples with soft strokes. “What are you all standing around in a daze for? Hurry up and bring over the medicine.”
A pungent smell assailed my nostrils.
I didn’t know what it was, but unconsciously, I knew that I didn’t want to drink it. My face turned away as I buried myself in his chest. There was a tight laugh, mixed with notes of doting and helplessness. He said a few more things that I couldn’t hear, and pushed against my shoulders a few times. I didn’t want to acknowledge him. A pair of hands slipped past my face and brought something warm to my lips.
I wanted to dodge, but someone pinched my nose. I was already feeling congested with a headache…
Sullenly, I opened my mouth to breathe as a spoonful of something was slipped inside. Before I could spit it out, the warm liquid slid down my throat, and I half choked. I was too surprised to even open my eyes. I could only feel a churning in my stomach as I clutched the front of his robes, feeling the bitter taste in my mouth shifting flavors as something else surged upwards…I couldn’t hold it back, and raised my head to spit it out.
The air was suddenly filled with a strange, raw smell…
I narrowed my eyes and studied the man before me. Both his robes and face were flecked with red, and his eyes were exceptionally bright as he looked at me, disturbed and terrified. Looks like I’d frightened him.
I’d spat out blood.
I just knew I couldn’t take the prescription from that muddlehead doctor…why did you feed me anyways?
Great… Just great.
I closed my eyes with a frown, holding his robes in a posture of grievous discontent…and lost consciousness again. The funny thing was, I remembered First’s words to me before my eyes shut. He said that practicing this form of cultivation would bring me trouble sooner or later. The Carefree Recollection seemed like warm water, but was actually a raging flame that forced the internal energy to alternate between periods of gentle calm and ferocious activity. If the practitioner incurred heavy internal injuries, then when the gentle cycle ended, the vicious qi would claim their life…
To remember without sorrow, the Carefree Recollection.
It mixed the cultivator’s internal energy with their memories, imbibing the strength of one with the other. If all the internal energy dissipated, then all the memories would follow, leaving everything a blank slate.
But what choice did I have? I couldn’t just stand by while Han Zichuan was in danger, even if saving him hurt me. First probably expected this when he packed the qi dispersing pills in my things. Though…I never expected that I’d have to use them so soon.
No matter what, I had to stay alive until I saw Fang Hua. It’s fine if I lose my memories. As long as I can see him once, as long as he still remembers me, then I’ll be content.
What kind of scene would play out the next time we met?
Maybe I’d stop grieving. Maybe I could smile at him without misgivings and say softly, ‘This young lord is exceedingly handsome. Where are you from? Where do you live?’
Even though my mind was dazed and confused, I managed a tired smile.Original and most updated translations are from volaretranslations.
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