Li Xueyue warily walked into the darkness holding a lantern in front of her. It was so dark in here, and she wondered how exactly Yu Zhen was able to see without a lantern of his own.
"Here, give me that," Yu Zhen said whilst sticking a hand out for her lantern.
Li Xueyue's heart raced in disbelief. She didn't want to part from the lantern—the only thing that reassured her. Without it, it would be like losing her security blanket.
Tightening her grip on his hand, Li Xueyue resolutely shook her head. "No."
Yu Zhen softly laughed. He turned his head, knowing she was too terrified of the darkness to part from her light source. But some sacrifices had to be made. She stared up at him with sheer defiance. But her lips trembled and jutted out in a tiny pout.
"It'll be alright, Sunshine," Yu Zhen gently said. He reached a hand out and tenderly touched the side of her face but she recoiled back and shook her head.
"No. I need this lantern."
"I will give it back to you soon."
Li Xueyue's grip over the lantern tightened. Her palms were growing moist with fear. "D-do you swear?"
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together and hid an amused smile. Her voice quivered like a small, hesitant child. Fear flashed on her face.
"Do you swear?" she repeated.
"Of course, Sunshine."
Yu Zhen watched as she shakingly held out her hand with the lantern which lightly swayed. He took the cover off of the lantern and pulled out the candle. It was long, and flickered at the smallest movement.
"I'm scared," Li Xueyue whispered when the light was brought away from her face. She stepped closer to Yu Zhen and gripped his hand.
"And I'm worried."
Li Xueyue's head shot up at his words. Her face paled and she dropped the lantern. With her free hand, she grabbed his shirt.
"My hand, that is numb because you are gripping it so tightly."
Li Xueyue looked down at their entwined hands, but was met with darkness. She heard his faint laughter. His muscular shoulders shook in response.
Be it out of spite and guilt, Li Xueyue attempted to release his hand. When her grip loosened, his grip tightened.
"But I didn't tell you to let go."
Li Xueyue scowled at him. "Give me back my candle."
Yu Zhen turned his head back and smiled at her. "Only a little longer, Sunshine."
Just to tease her a bit, he quickened his footsteps. In an instant, she followed after him. Her face was close to his back, as she hid behind him.
"Don't do that," she cried out.
Yu Zhen immediately felt guilty. He released her hand and she squeaked in fear.
"Yu Zhen!" she exasperated. "You know I am terrified of the dark. Don't do this to me."
Yu Zhen turned around and wrapped an arm around her. He pulled her close to his side and held her. "Better now?"
Li Xueyue's heart was racing as fast as Heiyue galloping in the meadow. Even tears had filled her eyes. She despised the darkness. She did not like the monsters that lurked within it, and not knowing how many there were out there.
"I hate you."
Yu Zhen merely smiled at her words. He bent his head and kissed her forehead. "And I love you."
Li Xueyue glared up at him, wishing he would not be so mean. Just then, he shifted his arm and lit a tall candle sticking out from one of the walls. Her heart relaxed a bit, as he began pulling her towards the other three corners of the room.
One by one, the candles were being lit, illuminating the place.
Finally, Li Xueyue's racing heart slowed down. She stopped fidgeting out of fear. "Oh, this is truly a cellar," she commented.
Li Xueyue looked around her surroundings. It was a small room, with rows of bookshelves, all of which were filled with bottles, ranging in size and color. There were labels, some new, some old.
It was a simple room. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in stone, most likely to reduce the risk of a fire hazard. It was dreary and cold in here, despite the lack of windows.
"It's adequate to store all of the poison known by me."
Li Xueyue didn't want to ask where he acquired these bottles. But she did warily glance at him from the corner of her eyes.
"Looks like I would have to restock on a few of them," Yu Zhen noted. He picked up a nearly empty bottle that was in his line of sight and showed it to her.
Li Xueyue took the bottle from his hand and slowly read the little label out loud.
"Eternal Sleep," she said.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. It was an ambiguous title.
"A drop will put someone to sleep, but two will knock them out for a few days, and three will kill them."
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked. This potion sounded awfully similar to the one she had her physician concoct in Wuyi… She quietly handed the bottle back to him.
"Unfortunately, there are only three more droplets left in there," Yu Zhen said. "But it's reserved for a merciful kill."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "It's unlike you to be merciful."
Yu Zhen frowned. "It was for injured soldiers."
Li Xueyue instantly looked up at him. She already knew what he meant. On the battlefield, there were times when death was the best option. Sometimes, when soldiers were captured by the enemy, they were tortured until they became insane. It would be better to die, than survive with the terrors replaying endlessly in their minds. Or, when a soldier was far too injured to even make it back to camp to receive first aid and treatment.
"It was a new bottle as well," Yu Zhen somberly said. Without another glance at her, he placed the bottle back into its spot.
Li Xueyue swallowed. It must've been used a lot during the war. She tightened her grip on his robes. "I'm sorry," was the only thing she managed to squeeze out.
Yu Zhen gently smiled at her. He patted the side of her face and directed her down the different rows of bookshelves.
"I have practically everything that you need. What would you like?" he asked, deciding to change the subject. He did not intend to make the atmosphere so dreary, but talks of war brought out that side of him.
Li Xueyue opened her mouth, as a word rested on the tip of her tongue. But then she paused and clamped her lips shut. It would be too cruel. She would not wish that punishment even on her worst enemy.
"What's wrong?" Yu Zhen asked. He turned to her and noticed a flash of hesitation on her face.
"Sunshine…" Yu Zhen could see guilt begin to claw its way out. Her lips trembled and she glanced away from him. There it was—that pesky compassion of hers, coming out at the oddest of times.
"I don't want to stoop to her level," she blurted out. "I-I don't want to inflict that kind of pain on a woman. Being defiled like that is just—"
"Aphrodisiac," he deadpanned.
Yu Zhen narrowed his head when she hung her head in shame.
"It would be horrible."
"She did it to you first."
"But she also did it to herself."
"Or so she claims."
Li Xueyue coiled back from his words. She was evil and cruel. But there were some things that she did not want to do. She did not want to stoop to Lady Ge's pathetic level. If she had Lady Ge defiled like that, what difference would Xueyue be from Lady Ge?
"Yu Zhen, I—"
"How many times are you going to get cold feet and never enact out your revenge?"
Li Xueyue instantly shook her head. "It's not like that, Yu Zhen. I just don't want another woman to experience the same kind of terror I felt."
"She didn't hesitate to do it to you."
"I am not her."
"No, you are more stupid than her."
Li Xueyue flinched. He might as well have slapped her in the face. When she opened her mouth, ready to argue, he gripped her jaw. Her lips were squished together.
He squinted down at her, his lips curled in a snarl. He was furious.
"Listen to me," he growled. "And listen well."
Li Xueyue coiled back from him. His grip tightened—keeping her in place.
"Did she hesitate to hurt you?"
"Did she hesitate to poison you?"
"Would she hesitate to kill you?" Yu Zhen spat out. And before she could answer, he did so for her.
"No," he growled out. "No. She would not. At the first chance, she would dispose of you."
Li Xueyue glanced over his shoulders, where a candle began to flicker. Suddenly, it died off, shrouding that area in utter darkness. It was as if the Heavens knew that was where the aphrodisiac was stored.
Her eyes watered, and she knew, there were times her morals would have to be questioned. Her conscience was always misplaced.
Yu Zhen's glare darkened. He released her with a flick of his hand and took a cold step back.
"You are a fool."
Li Xueyue's heart was stabbed by his words. The truth was too hard for her to hear, much less, swallow.
Yu Zhen's face became aloof. His gaze hardened, his fingers clenching into fists. He took a cold step in her direction.
"If you don't poison her with aphrodisiac, I will."
Li Xueyue pushed him away. "And do what? Steal the satisfaction of revenge from me yet again? You poisoned her without consulting me!"
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. "I did what you should have done a long time ago."
He stalked towards her and tightly gripped the side of her shoulders. "I've told you before, Li Xueyue. Anyone that hurts you, their head will roll before they take another step."
Li Xueyue glared up at him. Her blood boiled with frustration. They were back to the same argument again. "And what am I supposed to do? Sit there and look pretty?"
Yu Zhen's fingers dug into her flesh, his hands flexing in restraint. He forced a heartless smile. "When all you do is have random spurts of compassion, then yes. Just sit there and look pretty."
Li Xueyue was floored at his words. If she could, she would slap him. But she was never fond of violence, even if she was well-versed in it.
"Then you might as well have married a wooden doll."
Yu Zhen scoffed at her petty words. He was tired of this side of her. Tired of her stupid compassion and the hesitation in her eyes.
Wordlessly, he released her and took a step back.
"Do as you wish."
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