Love was a curious thing. It would come in the least expected moment, or when we needed it the least.
Yu Zhen had never experienced the so-called "unconditional love." He was raised by his tutors and nannies and barely spent any time with his detached parents.
His father was a strict man who didn't believe in any sort of affection, not even tough love. Yu Zhen's mother was kind and welcoming, but she tried too hard to control her son in hopes of ruling through him.
Yu Zhen was unfamiliar with the concept of love. He didn't know what it was supposed to feel like. Was love supposed to make him happy? Depressed? Weak? He didn't know.
The only thing he was aware of was the emotions that Li Xueyue made him feel. For once, he felt alive. She was a breath of fresh air, not because she was different from the rest, but because she was one of the only people to make him hopeful of the future.
"I've said it before," Yu Zhen calmly said, "My intentions for your sister are as pure as ash."
"Which means it's not pure at all. You're going to taint her." Li Chenyang scowled.
Yu Zhen shook his head. "No one's intentions can ever be pure. There is always a hidden motive behind every action. There is no such thing as selflessness."
"Your view on this world is skewed and jaded. It's horrible."
Li Chenyang did not expect his own words to be used against him. He had always told Li Xueyue about the cruelty of reality, but now, he was forgetting how ruthless it would be.
"I will never give her to you," Li Chenyang sternly said. "Li Xueyue should stay in Wuyi. She's happy with us, she's safer with us. We're her family."
"If it's a family she wants, I can start one with her."
"You brazzen imbecile—"
Yu Zhen stiffened. His ears sharpened, his eyes dilating. Just the sound of her voice was enough to drive him crazy.
When she approached him, her scent lingered heavily in the air, Yu Zhen suddenly found it difficult to breathe. It was difficult to concentrate over the erratic thumping of his heart. He could've sworn it died back there. Why was he suddenly excited to see her again?
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang lowered his voice, forcing a smile onto his face. "You're sweaty," his gaze wandered to the servants behind her. "Get her bathed and properly dressed."
"Wait, I—" she paused, her gaze flickering to Yu Zhen who had kept his eyes forward. He hadn't spared her a single glance. Disappointment and guilt consumed her alive, from the inside out.
"I was hoping we could discuss something in the library."
"Of course," Li Chenyang smiled, reaching a hand out to pat her but hesitated upon seeing her dishevelled appearance. He noticed the dirt that clung to her clothes and the redness of her eyes.
His smile slipped, his gaze darkened. "Were you crying?"
"No, it was just the debris from the dirt kicked up during sword fighting," Li Xueyue fluidly said. She had lied to him again—something she hated doing, but was beginning to make a habit out of.
"It doesn't seem like it, your eyes are puffy."
While Li Chenyang was distracted by his younger sister, Yu Zhen quietly slipped away from them. He was initially headed towards the exit of this manor, but now he had a new objective. If Li Chenyang wouldn't give him the proper answer, Yu Zhen decided he'd find it himself.
"Xueyue, why were you crying? Did something happen between you and Yu Zhen—" he turned around and paused. Where the hell did Yu Zhen go?
"It's fine, Chen-ge. You were right. T-this chapter of my life doesn't need love. It needs self-improvement," Li Xueyue spoke up, nervously fiddling her fingers.
Li Chenyang's hard expression softened. She was averting her gaze from him. No matter how much she told herself that lie, she didn't believe it. This chapter of her life needed love more than ever. Especially with the trauma of her past catching up on her.
"It's going to be okay," Li Chenyang gently said, placing an arm around her shoulder, shaking it. Even so, her eyes were glued to the floor. She was unable to lift her head, her shoulders quivering.
Li Xueyue knew she had no one to blame but herself. It was all her fault and she willingly owned up to it.
It did not take long for rain to drip onto the wooden boards of the hallway. Quiet sniffles and sobs echoed off the walls. A strong gust of wind blew down the corridor, blowing the lantern lights until they were completely shrouded in darkness.
- - - - -
After Li Xueyue had finally calmed down, she was ushered back to her room. The handmaidens were used to her dishevelled appearance by now. The majority of her training always resulted in dirty clothes and a sweaty body.
The handmaidens quickly cleaned her up. She bathed with lavender petals and oils that was supposed to soothe her nerves, but only made her more anxious. After she was dried off and properly dressed, Li Xueyue was finally allowed to leave her room. When she had one foot out the door, a maidservant came rushing down the hall.
She struggled to catch her breath. "My lady, I heard disturbing news in regard to the hallway leading to the library. I think it's best for us to stay in the room."
"Did something happen?"
"Nevermind, I'll investigate myself."
Li Xueyue speed-walked to the library, yet her attention was elsewhere. Her mind was occupied with thoughts of Yu Zhen, whether it was his outburst in the training field, or his adoring smiles before that.
Li Xueyue knew she would never be able to forget him. Not in this lifetime, or the next. Whoever said first love died hard was a liar. All of the beatings she had suffered in her past would never come close to the pain she felt when her heart broke in the training field. His words left a scar on her heart.
Oddly enough, none of the beatings that she had experienced left a scar on her. Sure, they left a bruise but she always healed from them. Viscount Bai Sheng made sure of that.
As a kid, she always wondered why the Viscount didn't kill her. But that night with Earl Qin made her realize why. She was a valuable livestock meant to be fed and then sold off.
"What a laughable man the Viscount was," she said to herself, confusing the servants behind her. Nonetheless, they kept their mouths shut and heads bent.
Li Xueyue jumped upon hearing the loud crash and commotion inside of the library. She was surprised at the sight of an unconscious guard slumped by the doorway of the library. In fact, all of the guards here were knocked out cold. What happened here?
Bending down, her hands shook as she reached for their pulse. There weren't any visible injuries except for the yellow bruise that was beginning to form.
"They're alive," she breathed out.
Li Xueyue stepped inside the room, confused by the mess in front of her. Bookshelves that lined the four walls of the library were disorganized as books were slewn everywhere. In the center of the spacious room was a table that was covered by books, scrolls and parchment.
Li Xueyue saw her brother was frantically tossing scrolls and parchment off of the shelves.
"What's going on?" Li Xueyue asked the minute she walked inside the library. "Why were the guards unconscious outside?"
"It's not here," Li Chenyang impatiently said, continuing to make a mess in the library. By now, almost all of the shelves were empty and its contents laid in a pile on the floor.
"What's not here?"
"The royal decrees!" Li Chenyang exasperated. "They're gone!"
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free