Li Xueyue wished he would stop torturing her like this. One minute, he was cold, and the next, he was warm. How was she supposed to react to such a confession? Only one answer came to mind.
"Then never let me go," she softly uttered. "Hold me for as long as you deem suitable. A lifetime, a century, I do not mind."
Yu Zhen was stunned by her words. Did she truly mean it?
Yu Zhen wished he could believe her, but he couldn't. Not after the number of times, she had played with his heart.
"Yet another selfish response," Yu Zhen said and released her.
Li Xueyue forced herself to smile when she wanted to cry. She was never this emotional, but when it came to him, all of her pent up tears seemed to flow. She told herself that his words didn't hurt. That her heart wasn't stabbed by him. That the pain in her chest was just a mere illusion.
With his warmth gone, she was freezing cold. Nightfall had approached and she was in nothing but thin riding clothes. Nonetheless, she clenched her chattering teeth and looked away.
Xiao Juzi did not spare her a second look. This prey was weird. He wondered if he could eat it, or he should just ignore it.
"Guide the Princess back to the tent," Yu Zhen ordered a soldier.
The soldier bowed his head. "Right away, Commander."
"What's in there?" Li Xueyue asked, pointing to where she had heard the grotesque scream. She saw a handful of soldiers were preparing two lanterns to light up their view.
"None of your business."
"Are you raising animals there?" she continued to inquire. "I heard an animalistic wail."
"Under the right circumstances," he mused. "Humans can also make that noise."
Li Xueyue felt like lightning had struck her. She was bewildered, yet frightful of his words. What did he mean by that? She licked her bottom lip, unable to tear her gaze from his satanic smile. She once admired his eyes, filled with depth and brilliance. Now, it was wide, crazed, and thirsty for blood. But whose? Was it hers?
"Who's in there?"
"Would you like to see?"
The soldiers stiffened. They exchanged looks with each other, wondering if they should speak up. The gruesome scene was not something a Princess like her should see.
Li Xueyue felt like she would die of curiosity if he denied her. Nervously, she licked her bottom lip. "A-are you going to hurt me?"
"A stupid question deserves a stupid response," Yu Zhen snapped. He ground his teeth, his fingers tightening into fists. Did she truly think he would ever lay a hand on her? How idiotic of her. Was there ever a time he had intentionally harmed her?
"I want to see what's inside."
Yu Zhen smirked. This would be an interesting test. "Follow me then."
Li Xueyue didn't behave as she was told. Instead of trailing behind him, she boldly matched his footsteps. Side by side, she forced herself to catch up to his large strides.
The soldiers glanced at each other again. No one knew of her identity, but judging from her behavior, they knew she wasn't a simple woman. Perhaps, she was the Commander's woman. They sneakily peered at her one last time. Noticing the lack of discontent on their Commander's face, the soldiers knew, she was not one to be messed with. That, and the fact their Lieutenant was forced to train the entire day and night.
Li Xueyue wondered if he was truly cruel enough to make a human scream as such. She turned to examine his dark, prominent features. Could such a handsome man be capable of questionable deeds?
He once said he was cruel, but not to her. What a lie that was. Then again, she could not argue with him about such claims. She was the one who pushed him to behave like this.
Letting out a quiet sigh, Li Xueyue hugged her elbows and focused her attention elsewhere. It was cold and the frost was nipping at her arms.
The soldiers expectedly stared at their Commander. The proper thing to do was lend her his heavy cape. It would keep her warm and comfortable.
Yu Zhen didn't bother to pay her any mind. He continued walking, ignoring her the entire time. When they reached the tent, her nose crinkled. Her ears perked, straining to hear the questionable sounds emitting from the inconspicuous tent.
"Commander," the guards greeted, cupping their fists and bowing to pay their respects.
Yu Zhen nodded in acknowledgment. He entered the tent without a lantern. He had no need for it. His eyes were trained to handle the darkness.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. He didn't even hold the curtains open for her. Ignoring his discourtesy, she picked up one of the lit lanterns.
"Careful, my lady," one of the guards nervously said, knowing the handles were still hot. "It's best to hold it with a handkerchief. Or else, it will burn your fingers."
"Thank you," Li Xueyue responded, placing the lantern back down. Her fingers were indeed warm from holding the lantern but not to the point that they were burnt. She searched for a handkerchief in her pocket but found none.
"A little burn never hurt anyone," she finally said, bending down to pick up the lantern again.
The guards anxiously watched her. Weren't ladies more mindful of their skin? Especially a highly-ranked woman such as herself? It was common knowledge that women with blemishes or scars would never be able to marry well beyond their ranks. Isn't she the Commander's woman?
Li Xueyue let out a quiet hiss. The lantern was indeed too hot to handle without a handkerchief. She realized the design of this lantern was different from that of Wuyi's. The frame was made out of metal, instead of wood. It was more efficient and durable, but the metal absorbed too much of the candle's heat.
"Are you coming?" Yu Zhen snapped from inside of the tent.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. "Thanks for your help," she snapped back, stomping into the tent with the lantern. She ignored the pain that was building up at her fingertips.
When Li Xueyue entered the tent, her face scrunched up in disgust. There was an awful smell in the air. She couldn't place a finger on it, but it was simply nauseating. She blinked rapidly to adjust her eyes to the darkness. The lantern was too small to light up the entire tent that was larger than anticipated.
Li Xueyue coughed, covering her mouth and nose. "What is that smell?"
Yu Zhen ignored her. He took a step forward and disappeared into the darkness.
Li Xueyue wondered how it was possible for this tent to be that large. She supposed she didn't see it was longer than it was wide, for he continued walking. There was the faint sound of muffled whimpers and groans.
Something didn't feel right. Li Xueyue felt antsy and nervous. Nonetheless, she persevered. Ignoring her gut feelings, and the tugs at her heart, she advanced forward.
Li Xueyue continued taking a few small steps, wincing at the pain that was radiating from her fingertips for the handle of the lantern was burning her. She placed it down and blew at her hand, wishing she had brought a handkerchief with her. Eventually, she grew irritated. Turning around, she hoped to see a guard following them. That way, she could borrow their sword and cut some fabric from her clothes to wrap around the handle.
"Of course no one else came in, the smell in here is horrible," Li Xueyue mumbled. She shook her head and picked up the lantern again.
"If I get a burn or blister, I'm going to make him pay," she complained.
Li Xueyue could hear a soft "pft," which most likely came from the damn brute who put her through this mess. She ignored his teasing and continued walking. She held up the lantern, realizing there was something beside her. It was a table, filled with all sorts of weird equipment.
Picking up one of the uniquely shaped ones, she wondered what it was for. There was a handle, like that of a scissor, but the front resembled a sharp bird's beak. When she pressed the handle, the beak opened and closed. What was this for?
"It yanks off nails."
"Like the metal ones for carpentry?" Li Xueyue asked, holding it closer to the lantern. Upon close inspection, she realized there was a small piece of something on the other end.
"No, like human nails."
"What?" Li Xueyue asked, astonished by Yu Zhen's response. Where was he? She couldn't see him anywhere beside her.
"Yu Zhen, where are you?"
He didn't respond.
Li Xueyue was growing antsy. She didn't like the horrid smell and the questionable sounds. The more she walked, the sweatier her palms became.
Though Li Xueyue would not admit it, she was scared.
"Come to the light," she said.
Yet again, he didn't respond.
Li Xueyue gulped. What was going on? She didn't want to leave the lantern behind, despite the handle burning her. Forcing herself to remain calm, Li Xueyue continued forward.
Finally, she came to the end of the tent. The whimpers, cries, and sobs were louder now. Almost as if she was just a few feet away from it.
When Li Xueyue lifted her tiny lantern, hoping to shed some light in front of her, something grabbed her elbow.
"NOOO!" she wailed, swinging her hand at the person behind her. A loud slap was heard.
Yu Zhen touched his cheek. On normal occasions, he would've sliced that handoff. But the person who touched him was Li Xueyue. He had frightened her too much.
"Careful," he softly said, yet again, placing a hand on her forearm.
"Once I get out of this tent, I'm going to beat you to a pulp."
Yu Zhen let out a dark chuckle. In an instant, he stole the lantern from her, tossing it far away. They were immersed in darkness.
Li Xueyue attempted to head in the direction of the lantern. She needed her light source. The darkness was frightening. It reminded her of one Viscount Bai Sheng's punishments. When she misbehaved, he would lock her in her bedroom without food and light. Occasionally, servants were commanded to make spooky noises until she was convinced monsters lurked beside her.
Li Xueyue panicked. The candlelight had flickered out. The tent was utterly pitch black. Nothing could be seen, not even her hands. Her breathing quickened, her heart raced.
Yu Zhen smirked. The prey was trapped. She had nowhere to go. "Boo!"
Li Xueyue screamed bloody murder. Her adrenaline rushed and the overwhelming fear crashed over her.
"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" she wailed, swinging her arms in defense.
"I thought I said to be careful," Yu Zhen muttered, grabbing her wrist before she could slap him again. He admired her strength. Even now, his cheek was stinging a bit.
Li Xueyue let out a frightened scream when he grabbed her wrist. The monsters. They were getting to her now. The monsters were real. They weren't hiding under her bed now. They were in front of her.
Just to get her riled up, Yu Zhen teasingly patted her head, pretending to be a ghost.
"STOP!" she screeched, this time, it sounded far too serious.
Yu Zhen froze. Perhaps he had taken it too far. He was weighed down with guilt. She was truly shaking now, like a brittle autumn leaf on a dying branch. Her breathing was rushed and sharp.
"Sunshine—" he didn't finish his sentence. Her knees gave out and she collapsed to the ground.
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free