Chapter 120: The Decision

Yun Ruoyan had once taken off her gauze patch and removed her fake birthmark for Yun Moxiao to see. The original birthmark on her right cheek had completely vanished along with the original poison in her body. Although her face was swollen from a newly added scar, Yun Moxiao could clearly see Lin Yuemei in his sister’s appearance.

He firmly believed that, when Yun Ruoyan’s new wound healed, she would be a beauty who would surpass even her mother.

When Yun Moxiao heard Yun Lan’s dislike for his sister through his tone, he barely stopped himself from revealing the truth. The only thing stopping him was what Yun Ruoyan had told him in confidence: although an ugly appearance would leave most people unwilling to interact with her, it also meant that no one would disturb her, allowing her to cultivate in peace.

Rather than a beautiful appearance, she would much rather use her cultivation-derived strength to shore up the Yun family. Only when she had gained sufficient power to assure her own independence would she reveal her true appearance for one and all to see.

Yun Ruoyan said these words blithely, but the resolute gaze that accompanied her words was one that Yun Moxiao recognized: such determination could only have been forged by countless years of trial and tribulation.

When Yun Lan saw his eldest son remain stubbornly silent, he continued, “I know you dote on Yan’er, but you need to remember your position as the eldest son of the household. What you should be most concerned about is the well-being of the entire family.”

But Yun Moxiao still didn’t say a word.

“When General Huang picked you to be his disciple amidst a crowd of other young scions, Yuemei agreed to send you off even though she was heartbroken. She must have had great expectations for you, and I hope you won’t disappoint her.”

“I’ve always kept my mother’s expectations close to my heart, and I’ve never forgotten my promises to her,” Yun Moxiao finally gritted out. “It’s late, Father, and I’m going to head to my rooms to rest.”

Before Yun Lan could continue, Yun Moxiao strode off into the distance. Before stepping back ashore, he turned to look back at the house on the lake, where Yun Lan still stood on his mother’s favorite dancing spot.

When Yun Moxiao returned four years ago, his mother’s residence had been torn down. He’d gone off in search of his father in rage, only to be told that it was the Yun matriarch’s idea.

What Yun Moxiao hadn’t expected was that Yun Lan would simply have moved the house to the heart of a misdirection array. But when he looked back at his father, Yun Moxiao wondered whether he was reminiscing her person or her beautiful appearance.

If Lin Yuemei hadn’t died at the prime of her beauty, but had instead lived until old age, when her beauty had all but withered away, would his father still long for her so? Yun Moxiao couldn’t be certain.

He walked to the guesthouse where his guards were stationed, saw that they were all asleep, and decided not to bother them. Instead, he headed straight back to his residence.

It was grand and imposing, second only to Yun Lan’s own quarters. However, because it had long been empty, there was little trace of familial warmth within.

Even his newly assigned servants were completely unfamiliar to him. Yun Moxiao waved at them in dismissal before heading straight to his room.

He tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep despite his need for rest. As soon as he closed his eyes, he would hear Yun Ruoyan’s accusation of Madam An, as well as Yun Lan’s cold, indifferent tone.

“Xiao’er, take good care of your sister.” These were the last words that Lin Yuemei had said to Yun Moxiao before he was forced to train under his new master. When he next saw Lin Yuemei again, it was at her grave.

“For what reason do I cultivate? I might be able to protect my homeland, but what about my only sister? If I can’t even fulfill my mother’s dying wishes, what kind of man am I? The kingdom has tens of thousands more men, but my mother has only me, my sister has only me! If I discard Ruoyan once more to return to the army, how could I ever rest soundly? If I can’t find my mother’s killer myself, how can I call myself filial?!”

He tossed and turned.

“But my master has personally instructed me for so many years, even promoting me to deputy general using his own power and connections. How can I stand to disappoint him?”

When he finally succumbed to an uneasy repose, he dreamed of a rope, taut and fraying at both ends.

Back in Yun Ruoyan’s quarters, Peony and Xi Lan were drawing a bath for Yun Ruoyan.

“Miss, when will the young master be returning to the army?” Peony asked.

Xi Lan stilled as she pricked up her ears, waiting for Yun Ruoyan’s response.

As she combed her hair, Yun Ruoyan replied, “He’s only been approved for ten days of leave, and the round-trip journey takes five days. It’s already been two days, so if he still plans on returning, he’ll only be here for three more days.”

“If he’s still planning on returning?” Xi Lan actually managed to discern the hidden meaning in Yun Ruoyan’s words. “Miss, do you mean that the young master might choose not to return to the barracks?”

Yun Ruoyan stopped combing her hair as she glanced at her two servants and smiled. “What? I’ve not said anything of the sort.”

“Miss, you clearly did!” Xi Lan hurriedly exclaimed, pressing her mistress. “Didn’t you say if he were returning? Doesn’t that mean he might not return?”

“Xi Lan, are you doubting my words?” Yun Ruoyan clearly didn’t plan on broaching this subject with her servants. “Alright, alright, stop guessing. I’m going to take a bath.”

After dismissing Peony and Xi Lan, Yun Ruoyan lay in her bathtub, Li Mo’s salve on her face, her entire body relaxing for the first time in days.

What will Brother choose?

The reason she had intentionally dredged up those old affairs with Madam An in front of her brother was to make him feel guilty. She had brought him over to her grandfather’s place, telling him about their mother’s poisoning, in order to reinforce the yokes binding her brother to his family.

Yun Ruoyan had done all this in order to induce him to stay—not by physical force, but rather by mental and emotional appeal. It wasn’t because she needed his protection, but rather that she wanted to protect him.

In her past life, not a month later, Yun Moxiao had passed away. Yun Ruoyan would never let that tragedy occur again in this one.

It would be best if Yun Moxiao decided to remain at home, but if he chose to depart, then Yun Ruoyan would come up with another strategy to prevent him from reaching the barracks once more.

“Brother, I won’t let anything happen to you,” Yun Ruoyan vowed.

At dawn, Yun Moxiao, who had tossed and turned all night in bed, suddenly sat up. He got out of bed, got dressed, and walked to his balcony.

His bedroom was on the second floor, and he could see half the estate from the balcony. However, his sister’s cottage was covered up by a large number of other buildings.

As the morning sun rose, the entire Yun manor was dyed in golden light. However, his sister’s cottage was at the farthest corner of the household, the first to darken at dusk, and the last to brighten at dawn.

Yun Moxiao finally made up his mind. Returning back to his rooms, he sat at his desk and began to write.

Master,

I apologize for not being able to discuss matters with you in person. Please accept this letter in lieu of such a conversation. 

When I returned home, I discovered my sister hurt and bullied, absent a guardian to shield her from the intrigue of a noble household. I discovered my mother’s death unnatural, a vicious poisoning that shook me to my core.

The last words my mother left me were an exhortation to ensure my sister’s well-being.

Master, I have failed. I have failed her, and I now fail you. I will stay in the capital to avenge my mother and shield my sister. The day I achieve these goals will be the day I return to the barracks, seeking forgiveness and atonement for my desertion.

Please forgive your disciple’s selfishness.

Yun Moxiao

Finished, Yun Moxiao rolled up the letter into a small cylinder, returned to the balcony, and whistled shrilly in the direction of the rising sun. Soon after, a large bald eagle cawed as it landed on Yun Moxiao’s gauntleted arm.

“Pal, my apologies for the long trip.” Yun Moxiao stroked the bald eagle’s head, stuffed the letter into a small tube by the eagle’s claws, and commanded, “Hand the letter to General Huang.”

He flung out his arm, and the bald eagle soared off once more. It flew high up into the heavens, circled twice, cawed once more in response to Yun Moxiao, and vanished into the skies.

As Yun Moxiao glanced at the departing eagle, he felt a great burden fall from his heart. A wave of lethargy swiftly overcame him. He stretched, yawned, and retired to sleep once more.

“Mistress, mistress!” Right before Yun Ruoyan awoke, Qiuqiu’s voice rang out in her mind. 

“Ah, Qiuqiu.” Yun Ruoyan’s head immediately cleared up.

“Oh, you can finally hear my voice now!” Qiuqiu released a long breath. “I’ve been worried sick these last few days.”

“My mental energy was severely exhausted, and I hadn’t been able to communicate with you,” Yun Ruoyan explained. “However, from the looks of it, I’m a lot better now.”

“Luckily, nothing untoward happened to you this time.” Although Qiuqiu couldn’t communicate with Yun Ruoyan, it could still detect that Yun Ruoyan was safe.

“Truly!” Yun Ruoyan couldn’t help sighing. “I never imagined that Rong Yuehong would line her fingernails with poison in order to catch me unawares, but I survived somehow.”

Although Yun Ruoyan had encountered a number of difficulties after her rebirth, her life thus far had been relatively successful on the whole. If she had really died to Rong Yuehong’s last gamble, Yun Ruoyan really would have thrown a fit.

“Once my spiritual energy and mental energy are fully recovered, I need to learn how to make antidotes. There are too many devious poisons on the Chenyuan continent, and I need to prepare antidotes for the future.”

“Mistress, antidotes aren’t so easy to concoct. If you want to learn how to make antidotes, then you first have to learn how to make poisons.”

And when Yun Ruoyan thought of poison, the first thing that came to mind was the domineering tome in Qiuqiu’s possession. Her smile was blinding. “Have you decided to impart the teachings from that book of poisons to me, Qiuqiu?”

“I want to, Mistress, but your pillmaster cultivation isn’t mature enough yet. Only when you’re a fifth-rank pillmaster can you learn how to refine the poisons in that tome. This isn’t something I can budge on.”

Yun Ruoyan’s smile turned into a disappointed sigh.

But Qiuqiu continued, “Mistress, I might not be able to teach you about the poisons from the tome, but I do know of a few other poisons. I can easily teach you how to concoct the corresponding antidotes for those poisons as a temporary precaution!”

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