Li Xueyue gloomily glared at the cellar walls. She sat on the staircase with her arms crossed. That damn husband of hers! What kind of man would lock his wife in an underground cellar?
She grumbled under her breath before finally standing up and deciding to take some action.
Li Xueyue stomped down the staircase and decided to view his collection of poison. To her pure disappointment, only the name of the poison was written on the labels, and nothing about its effects.
"Eternal Sleep…" It was the only one she knew.
Li Xueyue picked up the bottle and examined the dark color. Out of curiosity, she decided to uncap it to take a whiff. Was it similar to the tonic that the physician in Wuyi had prescribed her? If it was, she wondered if it would help Yu Zhen sleep a little longer.
It was dangerous for him to survive on so little sleep, then overwork himself all the time. She was worried about his health.
"Hmm…" Li Xueyue uncapped the bottle and brought it to her nose. She wrinkled her nose in disgust when a strong fume rushed into her nose. She coughed in response, and held the bottle away from her.
Li Xueyue placed the cap back onto the bottle. It definitely did not smell the same. She wondered why. With a shrug of her shoulders, she slipped it into her pocket and continued browsing through the shelves.
"Poppy," she read out loud upon picking up a random bottle of ink-black liquid. It certainly did not match its colorful name. Poppy… What type of poison was that?
Did he mean poppy seeds that were extremely poisonous?
Li Xueyue settled the bottle back onto the shelf. She glanced around in curiosity and noticed she had wandered considerably close to the darkest corners of the cellar where the candle was blown out.
Speaking of which, the candles were burning at a faster rate than expected. Soon, they would all go out and she would be in complete darkness. Just the thought of it was enough to make her skin crawl.
"How can he be so mean?" Li Xueyue muttered to herself in utter disappointment. Was he punishing her for being kind? Wasn't that what every man wants in a woman? Not that she cared, but still.
Li Xueyue held back a sigh. If more candles get blown out, submerging her in darkness, she would never forgive him—ever. Whenever it was dark, she would think of terrible things. And with her current state, there was nothing holding her back from having those dark thoughts.
Li Xueyue held back a sigh. She turned on her heels and headed for the shelf that was not consumed by shadows. But she warily peered over her shoulders, terrified of what could be lurking there. It was dim in the cellar, but her eyes had not adjusted to the dark.
Hoping to distract herself, Li Xueyue turned to another shelf. "A Thousand Needles." She picked up the empty bottle.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. She recalled him mentioning that Lady Ge was poisoned with this. It gave her a fate worse than death, where the victim would practically be begging to be killed.
She warily placed the bottle back onto the shelf. Then, she glanced at the tiny bottles placed on the same shelf and her face paled. There were more—a lot more.
Li Xueyue also noticed there were five more empty bottles of "A Thousand Needles."
"They must've been fed to the intruders…" Li Xueyue knew the fate that had awaited these men. With Yu Zhen's temperament, he'd most likely have them tortured beyond recognition, only for their bodies to be dumped in boiling water, or worse, branded all over.
Li Xueyue shuddered. She took a step away from the shelf, but did not realize she had a foot in the darkness.
Just then, something clicked.
Li Xueyue jumped in fear. She looked in between the shelves, wondering what could've caused that sound. She could not get a good look at the cellar door from where she stood. Which meant…whoever opened the door would not be able to see her too.
Suddenly, a quiet creaking sound was heard. A voice called out for her, warm and uncertain. "Sunshine?"
Li Xueyue's glare became vengeful. He sounded worried… She narrowed her eyes. For the sheer terror he made her feel by locking up all alone in this dim cellar, she decided she would teach him a lesson. He knew of her fears but he did not hesitate to terrorize her.
Suddenly, all of her fears vanished. She was overwhelmed with sheer rage. He had witnessed her breakdown in that torture tent, how she sobbed and begged for mercy. How dare he subject her to such a terrifying experience again?
Blinded by revenge, Li Xueyue stepped into the darkness. She concealed herself within the dark corners of the cellar, where the light did not touch and the shadows embraced her.
- - - - -
When Yu Zhen was met with silence, his heart dropped. "Sunshine!" he called out, this time, with more urgency.
Yu Zhen's eyes wildly searched for her. Why was she not responding? Was she truly crazy enough to take her own life?!
"Xueyue!" he screamed, storming down the staircase.
His blood was filled with dread. His eyes trembled. He was panicking with each passing second of silence. There was no response. No movement.
Yu Zhen's heart wildly thumped. He could hear it loudly thumping in his ears like a drum. Where was she? Where did she go? Why was she so quiet? Was she alright? Did something happen?!
Questions after questions swarmed his thoughts. He was shaken with fright. Where was his wife? Where was his woman?
"LI XUEYUE!" Yu Zhen roared. The walls trembled at his voice. The sound alone could shake the entire Kingdom.
He took a shaky step forward, as the light began to flee from him. If she was to die, Hanjian would be doomed. He would not set foot outside of his bedroom ever again. He would go crazy and kill everything in sight. Not a single soul would be spared.
Didn't Li Xueyue know, he was intoxicated by her? Bewitched even. She was the only reason he had been able to control his temper. With her gone, and the stress of running a kingdom, on top of his lack of sleep, it would not be long until his patience wears out.
When Yu Zhen set foot on the cellar floor, there was pure silence. He heard his own heartbeat, and it was erratic, like his eyes that wildly seeked her.
It was a locked door. Where could she have gone?
Suddenly, it did not matter. Yu Zhen's eyes snapped to the first shelf. It was gone. Eternal Sleep was gone. He took a step closer to the shelf, then another, almost devastated. He could not believe his eyes.
Yu Zhen's lips curled into a snarl. In a heartbeat, he searched through the shelves. He moved like a madman, maniac, and insane. He pushed bottles aside, making loud noises but he still could not find the potion.
Where did she go?
"Dead or alive," Yu Zhen coldly said. "I will still want her corpse."
Lost in thought, Yu Zhen did not notice the tiny silhouette sneaking past him. He examined the shelves again, wondering if she had discovered a hidden passage that he did not know about. How else would she have gotten out when he had locked the cellar door behind him?
In the dead silence, a ruffling sound was heard. Without warning, Yu Zhen's eyes snapped back to the staircase. There she stood, at the top of the staircase.
"You wouldn't," he coldly said from where he stood.
Indescribable relief flooded him at the sight of her. She was well and alive. Defiant as always, stubborn as she should be, his Wangfei was one foot away from leaving the cellar.
"The tables have turned," Li Xueyue snarled. "Enjoy your time in the darkness."
Li Xueyue slammed the cellar door shut. She heard his furious footsteps that slapped against the stone floors. She saw the paperweight lying beside the cellar door.
Li Xueyue had seen how the lock worked. In an instant, she slapped the paperweight down and retraced the pattern. A full moon, then a crescent moon, then finally, a straight line down.
"XUEYUE!" Yu Zhen screamed. He punched the cellar door. It rattled with force, but she took a step back, her heart wildly thumping in her chest. She heard the blood rush to her ears.
Li Xueyue breathed out in surprise. She took a step away from the cellar door and let out a sigh of relief. She had made it back out, but now what?
She warily glanced down at the shaking cellar door. He had not stopped assaulting it.
"Dear heavens, I just trapped a bear down there," Li Xueyue breathed out. She warily glanced around, wondering what her next step could be. Truthfully, she hadn't planned this far.
Li Xueyue only wanted him to have a taste of his own medicine. It was cramped and dark in there, she wished he would experience her pains. Wished he would be more sympathetic and understand where her fears came from.
"Once I get my hands on you…" he growled. "You will be thoroughly punished."
Li Xueyue hugged the paperweight to her chest. For some reason, her heart had skipped a beat at his words. Punished. He would never lay a hand on her. But there was more than one way to hurt her.
"Then, you will never get out," Li Xueyue said.
"You forget…" he trailed off. "Who exactly had this room built."
Li Xueyue took a step away from the cellar door. When he said it like that, she did not want to let him out at all.
"Now, be a good girl," he coyly said. "And let your husband out."
Li Xueyue rapidly shook her head. She knew if he was let out, he would keep her trapped somewhere else. Long enough for him to enact his revenge. Long enough for her to know the Empress would turn her back on her son. The Empress might've not had an influence on Yu Zhen, but she controlled a good faction of the court.
Li Xueyue could not bring herself to despise the Empress, even after all that the Empress had done. Because like the Empress had said, Li Xueyue did not know what it was like to be a mother. She would never know what it was like to walk in the Empress's shoes and watch her children get torn away from her, one by one.
Finally, Li Xueyue opened her mouth and sealed her fate.
"No. You will stay down there, until you've calmed down."
"Trust me, Li Xueyue. I have already calmed down."
Li Xueyue shook in her shoes. She heard the threat in his voice. He was calm before the storm. He would not hesitate to tear her to shreds.
"You sound like you're going to hurt me."
He let out a heartless laughter. Her heart froze, and goosebumps surfaced.
"Indeed, you are right."
"I will hurt you in ways you can never possibly imagine."
Li Xueyue gulped. "L-like?"
"You won't be able to walk for weeks. You will be sore beyond relief—trembling and shaking. I will take all of you."
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