Heiyue continued to nudge at the unmoving body. A few minutes of pure silence passed by before he grew terrified. He let out a frightened neigh when the sky rumbled and a loud bang echoed. He shivered in fear, unable to step outside of the cave and try to seek help.
Anxiously, he paced about and continued to poke at his friend. When he was met with something cold, but familiar, like her soft caress, he licked at it. It was strange. Her touch was always warm, not cold.
Minutes trickled by and the air around them turned colder. By now, he still hadn't heard anything.
All hope was lost.
His friend was growing colder with each nudge he gave her. Help wasn't coming. He had a feeling that everything was going wrong. Unable to do anything, Heiyue folded his legs.
He had felt this sense of dread before—when his mother died. There was something so strange about this situation because he felt it again. This time from his friend.
The only comfort he could offer was to remain with his friend. He slowly sank to the ground until his body was directly touching hers.
Heiyue slowly closed his eyes and laid his head upon the person who gave him gentle touches.
If she was going to die, he would go with her.
- - - - -
Yu Zhen let out all sorts of foul curses as he frantically turned from left to right. By now, the lantern was completely soaked through and the light had died. He was lost amidst the unrelenting rain.
Xiao Lizi snorted in protest, stomping the ground, almost as if she was chiding him.
"I know," Yu Zhen growled. He tossed the useless lantern to the ground, as well as the umbrella he had brought. It was useless now. Both materials were completely soaked through.
Xiao Lizi whined at his response. She hesitatingly turned her body and began to walk in the direction they came from.
"We can't go back, you know that," Yu Zhen angrily bit out. His fingers tightened upon the leather reins. "Not when she��s out there."
Yu Zhen let out a frustrated sigh. The rain was weighing down on him, but he paid it no mind. Even when it yanked at his hair and soaked his clothes. None of that mattered.
If he was having it rough, it was hard to imagine what his woman was going through. His blood had boiled with rage, but now, it had gone cold with dread.
He painfully closed his eyes when memories of her slammed into him. It hurt more than the prickling, violent rain. Her cheerful laughters and suppressed smiles. Her nimble footsteps, her thin fingers lifting a teacup daintily to her rosy lips.
He sucked in a breath.
He recalled her unimaginable strength when she wielded the sword against him, a clash so powerful, he had been caught off guard.
And then he thought about her small stature. Her thin shoulders that looked like it would break any moment now. The look in her eyes when she panicked. And how much she resembled glass.
"Fuck," Yu Zhen breathed out. Li Xueyue was in grave danger. He had given her his heart, it rested upon her hands. But now, she was slipping from his fingers.
"We must go on," Yu Zhen demanded. He urged Xiao Lizi forward until she trotted a bit before breaking out in a full dash.
He didn't know where he was going. He couldn't even think about anything except going deeper and deeper into the forest. All he needed was a sign. Anything. Please.
Yu Zhen had calculated the distance from a day's worth of travel from the border of his enormous country. The closest she could be would be at the outskirts of the Capital, and the farthest? The town before the Capital.
Yu Zhen ground his teeth. He had given her the most powerful item in the entire country. It wasn't a weapon that could slice a man in half. It wasn't poison that could massacre a town overnight. It was his pendant.
The key to this country was that exact item. The use for it was limitless. All she had to do was show the pendant to a family and she would be treated as an honorable guest.
Xiao Lizi abruptly came to a sharp halt.
"What is it?" Yu Zhen seethed. He didn't have time for her tantrum right now. She was the fastest horse this entire country had ever seen. But like her Master, her temperament wasn't the finest.
His little ray of sunshine was out in the forest somewhere. For all he knew, she could've been in tears and pleading for help. The thought of that shattered him. His body went rigid with fear. Was she all alone and afraid? Was she wandering through the forest, on the verge of slipping off her horse due to fatigue? Was she starving?
So many scenarios raced through his head.
Yu Zhen had never felt this kind of terror before—the fear of losing someone he love. He didn't think it was possible to feel this.
"We must continue," Yu Zhen stated. He raised an impatient brow when Xiao Lizi ignored him.
Xiao Lizi raised her head and glanced around.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. He began to examine their surroundings but couldn't see anything. Did she hear the snap of a twig? He hadn't heard anything nor did he feel the presence of someone.
Xiao Lizi's head turned straight, and so did he. Yu Zhen squinted. He couldn't even see beyond his outstretched arms. Then he heard it. It was faint and barely audible.
Originally, Yu Zhen thought it had come from Xiao Lizi. She loved to whine, but this one was unlike her. A neigh—so tiny, he nearly mistook it for the howling wind.
"I heard it as well," Yu Zhen informed his horse.
Yu Zhen didn't know where exactly he was.
He had run for miles and rain drenched his body from head to toe. But one thing was for sure. He knew this country like the back of his hand.
Yu Zhenn had stormed through this land, walked upon the soil to defend his homeland. To bring glory to Hanjian. To expand the territory. This country was rightfully his.
Yu Zhen knew the way back, even if every direction looked the same. It was precisely why he urged his horse through the forest.
"Let's go," Yu Zhen instructed.
Xiao Lizi didn't need to be told twice. She broke into a thunderous run towards the place his Master urged her to go.
Half way into the run, things grew more difficult. The sound had faded. It was no longer audible. And there wasn't a second sound.
But Yu Zhen had already pinpointed the location. How could he have forgotten the cave? He was sure of himself.
She would be there.
He just knew it.
So why was his stomach twisting uncomfortably?
Yu Zhen had never felt dread. Never felt fear. Something was wrong. He had a feeling that everything had gone awry. As if there was no joy in this world.
Yu Zhen refused to believe his instincts, but he knew. Every fiber of his body knew what was about to happen.
The only joy in his life was Li Xueyue. To feel it was gone only meant one thing.
- - - - -
Yu Zhen always trusted in himself. His plans had never failed him, and it wasn't about to start failing him now. Just as he had predicted, they reached a familiar sight—the small cave he had once stumbled upon.
"As small as I remember," he muttered whilst climbing off his horse. He observed the small cave that was hidden amongst the thick trees of the drenched forest.
There was something off about this place. As he remembered, the opening was shorter than him by a tiny bit. It was the perfect size for Xiao Lizi, and maybe for a horse of a slightly bigger stature.
"Xueyue?" Yu Zhen called into the cave, wondering if she was hiding in there, shuddering for her dear life. But no one responded. And the cave was too dark for him to see clearly.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. If she was in there, she would've already said something. He would've heard the stir of her clothes or the quiet breathing of her sleeping form. But nothing.
There wasn't a single sound.
"Damn it," Yu Zhen cursed. He clenched his jaw and glared at the ground.
She wasn't here.
If not here, then where?
The only shelter in this forest was this small cave. Where else could she have taken cover? Could she truly be in one of the neighboring sounds?
Yu Zhen frowned. He didn't think he would hear wrong.
His ears were sharper than most people. He trained his body and sharpened his senses beyond that of an average man. But perhaps the rain was playing tricks on him, much like the heavens.
His fingers tightened into a fist. If she wasn't here, then where could she be?
What if… she was unconscious on the forest floor in the middle of god-knows-where? Just the thought of that was enough for him to shiver.
Yu Zhen let out a shaky breath. He didn't want to waste any more time by this useless cave.
He needed to find his Xueyue. As soon as possible.
Yu Zhen ignored the rain that blurred his vision. He ignored his soaked clothes. The howling wind didn't affect him. Neither did the mud that weighed his boots down. He turned his back and approached Xiao Lizi.
It was time to continue the search elsewhere.
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