Chapter 119: The Fragrant Garden

“That’s why I think we should start by investigating the temples,” Yun Ruoyan concluded.

After deciding on a next step, the three finally relaxed a little.

“I’ll start with those temples in the capital tomorrow,” Yun Moxiao volunteered.

“Brother, we’ll go together.”

“Kongming Academy will shortly be in session, and Ruoyan will have to spend ample time on her cultivation. Xiao’er, you only have ten days of vacation, and you should take this period to rest. I’ll let Lin Bo deal with the temples.”

Lin Bo had been a loyal companion of Lin Zainan ever since their youth, and the three were naturally satisfied with his efficacy.

Before they left, Lin Zainan frowned. “Ruoyan, give me your hand.” He had felt something amiss since his first look at her today: her complexion wasn’t as rosy as usual, and her breath seemed to be somewhat congested. However, she was no less vigorous than usual, and it didn’t seem as if whatever was affecting her was doing so unduly.

Lin Zainan knew that Yun Ruoyan must have encountered something. He’d been waiting for Yun Ruoyan to bring it up over the course of conversation. Because she wasn’t volunteering the information, however, Lin Zainan had no choice but to ask.

When Yun Ruoyan extended her hand to Lin Zainan and he felt her pulse, he frowned again. Her body did seem to be clogged up, and there were only dregs of spiritual energy in her system.

“Ruoyan, who poisoned you again?”

Yun Moxiao hadn’t discovered Yun Ruoyan’s unease, but this was simply a result of his long years of separation from his sister. In fact, she was still far more hale and hearty than the sister of his recollections.

When he heard Lin Zainan’s words, he hurriedly added, “Was it the demon? Or was it Madam An?”

Yun Ruoyan shook her head to both questions before revealing the details of her encounter with Rong Yuehong.

“The devourer’s poison, made with the blood of venomous insects… Once the poison enters your bloodstream, it’ll feast on your blood and flesh, causing unbelievably agonizing pain. In mere minutes, the pain aggravates your mind to such an extent that you can die from the pain alone.” Lin Zainan shook his head as he continued feeling Yun Ruoyan’s pulse. “The Rong family is unscrupulous in its dealings, and it doesn’t surprise me that this Miss Rong would do something so cruel.”

Yun Ruoyan snorted. “She may have poisoned me, but I did anger her to death, so I’ll consider that even. However, her father won’t be as easy to deal with, and I’m worried he’ll try to hurt me.”

Yun Ruoyan turned to Yun Moxiao. When she saw his worried, distressed expression, she consoled him, “Brother, you’re not responsible for all my problems. I’ve survived all these years even without your presence, haven’t I? Don’t worry, I’m not a naive young girl anymore.”

Yun Moxiao pursed his lips, as if he wanted to say something. In the end, however, he didn’t mutter a word.

Lin Zainan continued, “Luckily, you consumed an antidote in time. Although there are still remnants of that poison in your body, it’ll slowly be excreted, so you don’t have much to worry about.

The reason Yun Ruoyan didn’t tell Lin Zainan about her poisoning was because she found that her spiritual energy and mental energy were both slowly regenerating, and she didn’t want to worry her family.

When he heard Lin Zainan’s reassurances, Yun Moxiao’s gloominess dissipated slightly, and he felt even more tenderness toward his sister.  In the two short days since he’d returned, his sister had suffered so much! Yun Moxiao didn’t dare to contemplate what her life must have been like all these years.

Yun Moxiao lightly placed a hand on Yun Ruoyan’s slender shoulder. His gaze landed on the gauze patch on her right cheek, and the bloody scratches that were swollen underneath the patch.

When she felt Yun Moxiao’s gaze, Yun Ruoyan turned back and smiled at him—a smile so unfettered, warm, and free that he could almost believe that all her suffering had been a dream.

But Yun Moxiao’s heart clenched in pain.

As the sky darkened, Yun Ruoyan and Yun Moxiao returned to the Yun manor. Yun Moxiao sent Yun Ruoyan back to her quarters, and Peony, Xi Lan, and Ling Lan all wept when they saw their mistress return safely.

“Miss, you’ve frightened us half to death!” Xi Lan wiped at her tears, while Peony inspected Yun Ruoyan all over to see if there were any remnant wounds on her body before she relaxed.

Ling Lan stood by the side. Although she didn’t rush up to Yun Ruoyan like the other two servants, her eyes were also red and puffy.

Yun Ruoyan waved at Ling Lan, who hurriedly walked over. “After you accompanied Peony and Xi Lan in calling out for me outside the great hall, did Madam An make things difficult for you?”

Although Yun Ruoyan’s head felt as though it would split apart from the pain, she hadn’t fainted. As a result, she still could remember many small details regarding what had happened that day.

That day, her three servants had loudly screamed that Madam An had laid a trap for her, and Ling Lan’s voice was the loudest. As a result, Yun Ruoyan was worried that Madam An would suspect that her pawn had somehow been subverted.

“No, Miss!” Ling Lan hurriedly shook her hands. She was very touched as to Yun Ruoyan’s care despite her own obvious suffering. “Miss, you don’t have to worry about me. Madam An hasn’t been doing well these last few days either, and she doesn’t have the time to care about me. If she were to ask, I can always say that it’s to put on an act for the others.”

Although Ling Lan always seemed like she was afraid of something, she was actually very astute. Because she was grateful to Yun Ruoyan for her assistance with her family, she tried her very best when carrying out tasks for her.

In the beginning, Yun Ruoyan had only intended to stop Madam An from spying on her, but now she really was starting to like the girl.

“Given that Ruoyan has you three girls to look after her, I’m a little more relieved,” Yun Moxiao began.

Only then did the three girls realize that the young master had entered the manor with their miss, and they all looked at him in unison.

“Young Master, when did you return?” Peony exclaimed happily before bowing. “Peony greets the young master.”

“Please, dispense with the greetings.”

Peony was about the same age as Yun Moxiao, and she was quite familiar with him. On the other hand, Xi Lan was younger and tended to be assigned manual labor, so she hadn’t had much opportunity to see Yun Moxiao. As a result, she didn’t have a deep impression of him, and he was a perfect stranger to Ling Lan.

“This is my older brother, the eldest young master of the household.”

Only then did Xi Lan and Ling Lan react, immediately bowing to Yun Moxiao. Because he knew how loyal they were to his sister, he treated them kindly and helped each of them up.

Yun Moxiao was tall and broad, his smile as resplendent as the sun. The two girls took only a single look at him before lowering their heads, blushing.

He then bade his sister farewell as he headed to his own residence. It was quite far from Yun Ruoyan’s quarters and instead closer to his father’s. Along the way would be the guesthouse where Yun Moxiao’s ten bodyguards were stationed, and he intended on having a chat with them as well.

Not long after he left his sister’s residence, however, he found a shadowy figure hidden by the shrubbery to the side of the main path.

“Who is it? Come out!” Yun Moxiao shouted to the shadowed figure, who immediately scampered off upon hearing the commotion.

Yun Moxiao rushed forward, but by the time he arrived at the shadow’s location, there was no one to be found. This was a rather featureless location of the Yun manor, and there were only his sister’s quarters nearby. Without a doubt, this figure must have been aiming for her.

Yun Moxiao looked all around him, but he didn’t recognize much of the place. Although he was born in the Yun manor, he hadn’t lived there for very long.

He had moved to General Huang’s residence quite early in his childhood. There, he trained and cultivated with him, and when he grew slightly older, naturally followed General Huang into the army. As a result, Yun Moxiao was quite unfamiliar with much of the Yun manor.

After a few steps, Yun Moxiao found himself surrounded by greenery, with a rock mountain in the distance. The scenery felt subtly different, and he deduced that he had unwittingly walked into a misdirection array.

Under General Huang, Yun Moxiao trained not only in cultivation, but also in leadership, battlefield tactics, and arrays. The array that he’d stumbled into was quite an interesting one, but it couldn’t stump him.

The goal of the array was misdirection: one who had unwittingly fallen into the array would find themselves sent to another location in the Yun manor, but Yun Moxiao was able to walk straight to the heart of the array.

After following the hidden path through two bushes and three rock mountains, he saw a small pond in the distance. At its center was a little house.

Yun Moxiao walked toward the house, the memories in his mind clearing up with every step. That pond, that little bridge, that house made of red sandalwood…

As he walked across the bridge, the inlaid moonstones began to light up. Their faint, ethereal light made the scene take on a mirage-like appearance, the splitting image of a memory from his childhood.

This was none other than Lin Yuemei’s house, where Yun Moxiao had spent the start of his childhood. Although it was only for a short time, the memories he developed in this house were ones that he would never forget.

His lovely mother loved to dance outside the house at night, illuminated by the faint light of the moonstones, casting reflections into the pond. As he looked at the house and illuminated pond, it was as if his mother had come to life again and was dancing right in front of him.

“Mother…” Yun Moxiao called out, tears uncontrollably dripping down the eyes of a youth who had spent the larger part of his life in the army. 

“Xiao’er,” a familiar voice spoke up behind him.

Yun Moxiao turned to see Yun Lan standing not far away from him.

“Xiao’er, why are you here?” Yun Lan walked to his side.

“Father.” Yun Moxiao cupped his fists as he bowed, and Yun Lan motioned for him to rise.

Although Yun Moxiao had criticized his father in the heat of anger, he understood the etiquette expected of him.

“On the way back from sending my sister back to her residence, I noticed a sneaky figure by the side of the path. Chasing that figure, I was unintentionally led into this array.”

“A sneaky figure?” Yun Lan frowned. “Did you see his appearance?”

Yun Moxiao shook his head. “That person seemed to be even more familiar with the Yun household than I was, and he escaped my grasp. This area is closest to my sister’s residence, and I’m afraid that someone might be aiming for her. Father, please investigate this matter.”

Yun Lan nodded and stepped across the bridge, until he was in front of the small house. “Do you still remember this place?”

“Yes, of course. Mother loved to dance at the spot you’re standing on, Father, but I’m afraid Ruoyan doesn’t have any recollection of this place.”

When Yun Lan heard him bring up Yun Ruoyan, he sighed. “Your sister doesn’t look like your mother at all, not one bit. Even you look more like her than she does.”

During this period of time, Yun Ruoyan’s appearance had greatly improved after her judicious use of gauze patches. However, the day Yun Ruoyan was poisoned by Rong Yuehong, her half-swollen face had been revealed to one and all, and those who weren’t privy to the truth would once again start discussing the unbelievable ugliness of the Yun family’s second daughter. 

Yun Lan was naturally unaware of the truth. His encounters with Yun Ruoyan had left him with the indelible impression that she was an ugly, uncontrolled, and contentious girl, a far cry from her beautiful and gentle mother.

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