305 Complete Darkness
Li Xueyue realized exactly what a fool she had been for not stopping in any of the other towns she had seen along the way.
On a few occasions, she had come across signs pointing towards the different villages. But after her first encounter with the bandit town, she was too hesitant to venture anywhere else except to head in the direction towards Hanjian's capital to the best of her abilities.
Now that the rain was coming down more heavily and nipping at her skin like arrows, she had finally understood the stupidity of her paranoia.
"You scaredy cat," she chided herself.
If she had swallowed her fear earlier and stopped by a town, she wouldn't be stuck inside of this tiny cave, shivering to death.
Her teeth clattered from the frosty cold. She had barely managed to start a fire with the howling wind, but now the flames were growing smaller.
Li Xueyue didn't have any other kindling to stoke the fire. The sticks outside the cave would be soaking wet, and throwing them into the fire wouldn't help at all.
Heiyue quietly snuggled against her. The poor thing. Even with his coat of fur, he was shivering from the cold. His large body couldn't be warmed up by such a pathetic fire.
"I'm sorry, Heiyue," she whispered whilst using one hand to hug her upper arm, and the other to caress her horse.
He had folded his legs and was now seated upon the ground, but didn't show signs of sleeping any time soon.
Li Xueyue didn't anticipate the rain to worsen so quickly. One minute it was a soft drizzle and the next, the droplets beat down upon them like cannonballs. She bit her bottom lip when her stomach growled in protest.
"I should've eaten more before leaving the Palace..." Li Xueyue muttered.
They had traveled for at least a day on their own now, and neither of them had a proper meal. She wanted to eat a few wild berries found in the forest, but was unsure if they were safe to eat. What if they were poisonous?
But the spoiled Heiyue, who usually ate the best quality of feeds, was actually well-behaved.
Heiyue had nipped and chewed at the grass in the forest to fill his stomach. She knew a horse's favorite pastime was snacking on grass, but Heiyue was different.
Prior to this travel, the pampered horse would refuse to eat anything but the premium blend of food given to him.
Li Xueyue reached into Heiyue's saddle, hoping to find some sort of treat for him. If she had brought a fruit, that would be better than nothing. Disappointment filled her when her fingers touched the rimmed edges of the coins inside and nothing else.
"The one time money can't solve my problems," Li Xueyue groaned.
Without warning, she let out a sneeze that startled Heiyue. His ears were on high alert, set off by the unexpected noise.
"I-it's just me," Li Xueyue sniffed. She continued to stroke his head until he went back to lay it down.
"Oh no—" she gasped when the flame became smaller than the size of her hand.
She let out a small curse and glanced around, hoping to find any source of fuel. Her eyes landed upon her soaked robes.
Li Xueyue weighed her options. If she cut off the sleeves, she'd lose the minimal warmth it provided her.
If she let the flame die out, they'd lose their heat source and be plunged in complete darkness. And nothing would be more frightening than that. The storm outside was already heightening her fear, but she tried her best to calm down.
"Damn rain," she grumbled.
Heiyue's ears perked at the unfamiliar sound of a dagger cutting through a fabric.
Li Xueyue had used the dagger strapped to her leg to cut the sleeves away, up to her elbow. Immediately, her entire body shuddered from the exposed skin. She sucked in a sharp breath and furiously rubbed at her goosebumps.
"It's so cold," she muttered whilst placing the wet material into the fire.
She prayed the moisture from the sleeves wouldn't kill off the flame. To her dismay, the flame only grew slightly bigger.
"I'm so tired…" she trailed off before yawning. For odd reasons, the cold was lulling. Almost as if it was guiding her to death's doors. Even Heiyue didn't realize she was falling asleep.
It wasn't long before Li Xueyue's eyes fluttered shut. She began to doze off, not realizing it was just a ploy of the weather. Her body leaned towards Heiyue as death slowly crawled from the shadows and towards her leg.
- - - - -
A few minutes went by and Heiyue was puzzled by the silence. He tilted his head, wondering exactly what happened to the soft, murmuring sound beside his ears. He let out a quiet neigh, hoping to hear something. But nothing, except for the quiet flutter of wind.
Heiyue instantly knew something was amiss. He let out a louder neigh and shifted his neck, nipping and nudging in the air. What was happening? He could no longer hear the loving sound of a voice calling out for his name.
Heiyue rose to his full height. He heard the ruffle of clothes before something thumped beside him. With one leg, he stomped the ground in protest, wondering if his friend heard the same thing. But he felt and heard nothing.
At this, he began to panic. He stomped the ground again, letting out a protesting snort. He folded his ears and began to pace the cave, only to shy back from the heat emitted by the small fire Xueyue built.
Heiyue prodded the floor, again and again, hoping to touch something. And finally, he did. The motionless body smelled familiar, sweet, and light. It smelled like comfort, home, and kindness. The smell he was used to and loved. The only problem? She wasn't moving.
He poked at her again with his nose, wondering why the body wasn't moving. What was happening to his friend? He heightened his senses and listened. Finally, he heard it. The quiet, chattering clinks sounded strange. The puffs of air were growing weaker and weaker…
When a rough gust of wind blew past, he tilted his head out of curiosity. Abruptly, the heat he felt on his side was gone. He was perplexed, and for once in his life, he was scared.
Heiyue let out a quiet snort. He paced a bit and continued to nudge at his friend with his muzzle. And little did the poor thing know, she won't be making it until the next morning.