Li Xueyue wanted to run away from here. The exit was not so far back yet her eyes were trained on the scene in front of her. She wanted to throw up. Anything was better than staying here.
The smell was gut-wrenching. Blood mixed with human waste, there was only so much she could handle.
Placing a hand on her face, she covered her nose and mouth. Stumbling backwards, she nearly stepped on the tiger.
Xiao Juzi let out a soft, threatening snarl, warning her to stay away from him.
Li Xueyue took another step in the opposite direction. She intended to flee from here.
It was too late to turn back.
Xiao Juzi's quiet snarl had given their position away. Yu Zhen turned his neck, expecting to see his friendly pet, but he saw both of them at once.
When his eyes connected with Li Xueyue's petrified ones, his gaze hardened. This was who he really was. If she couldn't handle it, she could leave.
"Come here, Little Hamster," Yu Zhen muttered.
Li Xueyue did not understand this man. One minute he vowed to take her back home, and the next, he wanted her by his side. What exactly did Yu Zhen want from her?
When she didn't react, Yu Zhen reached out a hand in her direction. It was her last chance. Take it or leave it.
Li Xueyue's eyes flickered from Yu Zhen's outstretched hand to the tortured family who was beyond shocked by her presence. They had not expected to be soiled and disfigured, whilst she stood there, clean and healthy.
Li Xueyue took a step forward, then another. Yu Zhen smiled encouragingly. She hesitated in putting her hand in his but did so with great reluctance. Her eyes grew wide when he wrapped his fingers around her hand and pressed a fond kiss upon her fingernails.
"Did you eat yet?" Yu Zhen mused. His gaze landed on a proud Xiao Juzi who seemed to be eagerly waiting for his praise.
Li Xueyue slowly shook her head. He gently tugged her closer until she was standing beside his seated position.
"Why not?" he asked, warmly caressing her fingers. He could sense her fear. She was practically shaking, but she would not hold onto him for support. Such a stubborn little thing she was.
"T-these people," she stuttered, "They're—"
"The ones keeping you in Wuyi," Yu Zhen chillingly said, his smile turned sickening.
Li Xueyue swallowed hard. She knew he was intelligent, but she didn't think it was to this extent.
"D-did you find them through the royal decrees?"
Yu Zhen tilted his head. "Of course, where else would I find them?"
"You're torturing them...why?"
"You know the answer to that, Sunshine." Yu Zhen's sharp features darkened.
Yu ZhenHe did not need to divulge the details to her since it involved her. He only found out about the abuse after the Bai family servants spilled it in exchange for their lives.
Li Xueyue's face paled. "What do you know?" Her eyes nervously darted to the family in front of her. "Did you do this because of me?"
"Who else would I do it for?" Yu Zhen quirked a brow.
Yu Zhen released her hand and grabbed her waist. He feared she would buckle onto the ground any minute now. Perhaps her stomach wasn't as strong as his. It was not a surprise.
Li Xueyue wasn't used to the cruelty of war. But he, who led the men to battle, was familiar with all of this. As a matter of fact, this torture was nothing like the ones he experimented on war criminals.
Li Xueyue felt her lips tremble. Just who exactly had she fallen in love with?
Her eyes met his eyes and she shivered. His aloof expression seemed lifeless. He was not fazed by his own brutality. In fact, Yu Zhen appeared to be amused that she was even worried about such a thing.
"I've said it before, Sunshine. All of your monsters, I will slay them for you."
"But you're a monster too."
Yu Zhen's smile disappeared. He dropped his hand. "Do you expect me to fall onto my own sword?"
"What?" she blinked, "Of course not. Don't jump to conclusions."
Yu Zhen raised a brow. She jumped to conclusions faster than him. He supposed they were both hypocrites.
Li Xueyue stiffened. Her eyes landed on presumably Viscountess Mu Yihua. She didn't suffer as much as her husband, but it was difficult to ignore the bruises and black eyes.
"My baby, is that you?" Viscountess Mu Yihua breathed out. She was choked with emotions, her eyes wandering over her daughter's body. "I-I'm so happy to see you're well. The Li Family, they treat you well, don't they?"
Li Xueyue could not find it in herself to answer her birth mother.
"C-come closer, my baby, come let mommy have a good look at you."
Mommy? Li Xueyue's expression went cold. The last time she had called Viscountess Mu Yihua 'Mother' in front of Viscount Bai Sheng, Li Xueyue was slapped across the face by her so-called "father."
Suddenly, the fear she felt for Yu Zhen was replaced. Raw anger coursed through her veins, her blood boiling at the realization that the Bai family was using her.
"What's... wrong, my baby?" Viscountess Mu Yihua heaved. She was severely dehydrated that her own voice sounded different to her. It was foreign and a cackle like that of a witch.
Her husband had it worse. She knew that. She had witnessed the cruelty of the man that adored her daughter. Selective pieces of the Viscount's tongue were cut, enough to make him stutter, but not lose his ability to talk.
Seeing the Viscountess like this, Li Xueyue's heart went cold. The terror was momentarily distracted by the rage she felt for the Bai Family. The crimes and abuse they committed towards her came back in violent memories.
"You've never treated me as your daughter," Li Xueyue deadpanned. "What makes you want to start now?"
Viscountess Mu Yihua's heart shattered at her daughter's voice. "I've always treated you as my daughter. You were birthed by me, breastfed by me. How could I not love you?"
"I never said you didn't love me." Li Xueyue's gaze softened. "Perhaps, you knew it yourself that you didn't. Is that why you brought it up?"
Tears filled Viscountess Mu Yihua's eyes. "I've always loved you, it's just different from Tianai. In the end, it is still motherly love."
Li Xueyue was growing more and more irritated. Fear did not hold her back anymore. Anger propelled her next action.
"You couldn't even accept the fact that you gave birth to me," Li Xueyue pointed out. "There is no such thing as differentiated love between a mother and her child."
"X-Xueyue, is that you?" Viscount Bai Sheng stuttered out, his eyes wide with disbelief. "Oh, h-how glad I-I am to see you."
"I wish I can say the same," Li Xueyue deadpanned.
Viscount Bai Sheng recoiled at her words. When was she ever this confident? He was a hair's breadth away from cursing her out.
"S-sweetie," he gritted out. "C-come and help your d-dear old father—"
"Why don't you rot in Hell?"
Bai Tianai's jaw dropped open in shock. She had never seen this kind of confidence in Bai Xueyue.
Yu Zhen hid his smile and looked away. His little kitty finally used her claws for the right people. To say he was proud was an understatement.
Li Xueyue was fueled by the Bai Family's abusive nature towards her. Nothing could hold her back today.
Li Xueyue's gaze shifted to Bai Tianai. "Wow, you look great."
Bai Tianai glowered at her. "Wish I could say the same, you wench."
Yu Zhen's mood soured. "Proceed," he commanded.
The soldier didn't need to be told twice. One man held her head and mouth in place. Another advanced towards her with a sharpened blade.
"No, p-please don't!" Viscountess Mu Yihua wailed. She turned to her youngest daughter, her eyes wide with tears. "My baby, tell him to stop, please, I beg of you!"
Yu Zhen held up a hand and his soldiers paused. He shifted his attention to Li Xueyue. "What do you think? Should we stop?" he asked mockingly.
Li Xueyue blinked. Where was Viscountess Mu Yihua when Bai Xueyue begged for mercy? What was Viscountess Mu Yihua doing when Bai Xueyue was abused and beaten by the Viscount? Where was that "motherly love" that was supposed to protect her?
Li Xueyue felt numb. Her heart did not beat for them. She didn't even feel pity. The Bai Family was nothing to her. They were monsters.
"Why don't we ask Bai Tianai if you should stop?" Li Xueyue responded.
Bai Tianai's face flushed red. She knew exactly what Li Xueyue was implying. "I will not beg you for mercy!"
"Mercy?" Li Xueyue mused. "You should be begging for your life."
Bai Tianai's heart dropped.
Viscount Bai Sheng felt like a bucket of cold water was emptied over him. Did this useless scum threaten to kill his daughter?! He saw red. "Y-you despicable brat, I s-should've had your mother a-abort you the day we found out about you!"
It was the wrong move. And his daughter paid for it.
Bai Tianai's lips were cut off, the most wretched of screams filled the tent.
Li Xueyue thought her ears would shatter from the intensity of Bai Tianai's wails. It came and went, but her sobs and bleeding did not. The blood dripped down her chin, staining the already dirtied rag she wore.
Li Xueyue was not fazed, even though she should be. Her fear had dispersed into anger.
Li Xueyue thought she couldn't stomach such things, but didn't realize the satisfaction that came afterwards.
Li Xueyue was not ready to face the truth, that she too, was becoming what she vowed to destroy. She was a monster.
The only thing that Li Xueyue's gaze could not meet was the little boy huddled in the corner of the tent, a blindfold over his eyes. His ears and mouth were covered. He could not hear or see anything, nor could he speak. It was for the best.
"Don't look away," Yu Zhen mused when she took a nervous step backward. "This is all for you."
Li Xueyue's stunned eyes met him.
Yu Zhen did not mind. All that mattered was the fact that she wasn't fleeing.
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