Chapter 206: Warmth Within the Cold

Yun Ruoyan smiled upon hearing Lin Qingchen’s declaration. Unlike Lin Qingxue, Lin Qingchen wasn’t particularly fond of commotion or excitement; even her bamboo garden in the Lin manor had been situated in a rather quiet, isolated part of the land.

Being neighbors with Lin Qingchen would allow for some much-needed peace and quiet.

Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen toured the entire courtyard. Seemingly dissatisfied with the rooms around the courtyard, however, Yun Ruoyan smiled and turned to the south. To the south of the courtyard was a cliff, and some fifty feet away from that cliff was a small cottage, seemingly waiting for its owner.

“There, I want that one!” Yun Ruoyan pointed at the isolated cottage.

Lin Qingchen frowned, because she didn’t see any other accommodations nearby—how could she be neighbors with Yun Ruoyan in that case?

“Let’s go have a look.” Yun Ruoyan appeared to be particularly fond of the little cottage despite its ordinary appearance, and she excitedly pulled Lin Qingchen into the cottage with her. It wasn’t particularly large and didn’t have its own living room; it was furnished simply, with a wooden bed, a wooden table, a few books, and a wardrobe. However, it did contain a bathroom with a bathtub of considerable size.

Yun Ruoyan had been worried that the cottage would be derelict and uninhabitable, but it seemed that her worries were unfounded. The cottage had two windows, one facing the south and the other facing the west. Yun Ruoyan opened the southward and was immediately dazzled by the sight of the sea of clouds burnished gold by the setting sun, so beautiful that she felt as though she were removed from the mortal world.

When Lin Qingchen saw Yun Ruoyan’s expression, she knew that her cousin would choose to stay in this little cottage without a doubt. Although she was somewhat deflated, she couldn’t help advising, “It’s really a nice cottage, and the scenery is truly quite beautiful, but there’s no shade around here at all. It’ll be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Sister Ruoyan, won’t you reconsider?”

“This is the place for me.” Yun Ruoyan shook her head adamantly. Li Mo, when you told me to choose an accommodation close to the south, this is what you meant, right?

“Sister Ruoyan, look over here!” Suddenly, Lin Qingchen yelled out in excitement. Yun Ruoyan turned around to see that she had opened the window to the west and was pointing outside with a delighted expression on her face.

Yun Ruoyan walked over to see her pointing at a verdant bamboo forest hidden behind two oddly shaped stones. If the window hadn’t been placed exactly where it was, the forest would be very difficult to notice otherwise.

“There’s bamboo here? Let’s have a look!” The two girls held hands as they walked out of the house toward the rock outcropping. A small crevice between the two rocks was just large enough for the two girls to squeeze through.

“There’s a cottage in there too! It’s perfect!” Even the usually quiet Lin Qingchen let out a happy yell when she realized that she would be able to be neighbors with Yun Ruoyan after all. “I’ll stay here, and this will be my new bamboo garden!”

After helping Lin Qingchen settle in, both girls went in search of Lin Qingxue. She chose a cottage by a garden with several neighbors, although it wasn’t particularly crowded.

Lin Qingxue was more outgoing than Lin Qingchen and Yun Ruoyan, but after spending so much time with her elder sister and cousin, she had unknowingly adopted some of their preferences regarding people. She didn’t like places that were too crowded and clamorous, but she also couldn’t stand being alone in silence. Given her personality, she thought she had found a very suitable cottage.

After Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen went on a tour of Lin Qingxue’s cottage, they walked her to their respective cottages. However, they didn’t get very far before a girl popped up in front of them.

“Yi Qianying, what are you doing here?” Lin Qingxue asked.

Yi Qianying’s appearance was quite unexpected: after all, she was the concubine of the crown prince. The sole privilege afforded to the crown prince in the Kongming Academy was to have his own large villa, and Yi Qianying had been brought to that villa after passing the trial.

What is she doing here?

“I can’t best any of you with my cultivation,” Yi Qianying assured them self-mockingly. “I just have a question.”

“What question?” Yun Ruoyan asked.

Yi Qianying twirled the hair at her temples with a finger innocently. “Were you the ones who killed Rong Yueshan?”

“What, that concubine-born daughter of the Rong family?” Lin Qingxue exclaimed. “That’s right! So what?”

“No matter.” Yi Qianying smirked. “Yun Ruoyan, you’ve killed yet another daughter of the Rong family. Do you think they’ll let you go?” She turned and left, chuckling to herself.

“You…” Lin Qingxue wanted to follow and heckle her, but Yun Ruoyan pulled her back. 

The three girls continued heading to the south, their spirits unaffected by their sudden encounter with Yi Qianying. Yi Qianying headed behind a rock formation as she bowed respectfully to a middle-aged man. “Master Rong, were you able to hear my conversation with Yun Ruoyan clearly?”

Rong Tianhai had a thin and slender physique. Wrapped in a white robe, his dark skin appeared all the darker. “So what if I have?” He narrowed his eyes, his face expressionless. Rong Tianhai was the third son of the Rong family, the brother of the empress and Rong Tianling himself. In his youth, he had entered Kongming Academy to train in cultivation, and had remained there since. Now, he was the instructor of one of the five colleges of Kongming Academy. 

The moment Rong Yueshan had ascended to the Kongming Summit, she had gone in search of him with a letter of introduction from Rong Tianling himself. Yi Qianying had found out about their relationship because she had been in Rong Yueshan’s team, and had accompanied her during the visit.

Rong Tianling had requested his brother to help Rong Yueshan break the rules of the trial and kill Yun Ruoyan. Although he had refused, he didn’t prevent Rong Yueshan from attempting the feat. As a result, Yi Qianying thought it plausible that she could make use of Rong Yueshan’s death to incite a conflict between Rong Tianhai and Yun Ruoyan.

Based on Rong Tianhai’s current dissatisfied appearance, however, Yi Qianying didn’t think she had succeeded. As a result, she continued to probe at Rong Tianhai’s feelings regarding the matter.

“I… I simply pitied Yueshan’s death, as well as that of Miss Yuehong. They were both outstanding cultivators in their own right, talents that the Rong family had spent no small amount of effort developing, but now that they’ve died at Yun Ruoyan’s hands, I… I…”

Under Rong Tianhai’s careful scrutiny, Yi Qianying started to stammer.

“I am aware. You may retire,” Rong Tianhai replied icily.

“Disciple Qianying bids her farewells.” Yi Qianying bowed once more as she turned to leave.

From her back, Rong Tianhai announced, “During the induction ceremony tomorrow, you’ll be forced into my college, Yun Ruoyan.” 

He spat out her name icily, as though she were a vile beast. Her back toward Rong Tianhai, Yi Qianying’s eyes shone with unbridled glee.

“Oh, my two sisters, what kind of cottages have you two chosen?!” Lin Qingxue was dismayed when Lin Qingchen and Yun Ruoyan finally found her. Unsheltered, their cottages would be cold in the winter and warm in the summer. Furthermore, dinner would be provided at the main courtyard, and bathwater had to be brought from the kitchen. They were so far from the main housing complex that their food and water would undoubtedly get cold by the time they returned to their cottages.

Lin Qingxue was still prattering on when a grey-robed youth came by their cottages with some food. “This is your dinner, Young Misses.” 

Lin Qingxue took the trays of food from the youth happily. “This is for me?”

The youth replied, “The food is for the disciples staying in this cottage and the one within the bamboo forest. Is one of those cottages yours?”

“No,” Lin Qingxue replied truthfully.

“In that case, the food isn’t for you,” the youth replied. “There are twenty trays in all, and the remainder are all in the main courtyard. These are the only two trays that are to be delivered to particular residences.

“Ah?” Lin Qingxue widened her eyes. “If I’d known, I’d have chosen to stay here too!”

The youth continued, “It’s quite an unusual arrangement, isn’t it? Both these cottages were built just this year, and I hadn’t expected that anyone would actually pick them.”

Lin Qingxue and the grey-clad youth began chatting animatedly. He introduced himself as Mo Yuan from the Mo kingdom, and was an outer disciple at Kongming Academy.

Only when the youth had left did Lin Qingxue turn to Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen once more, but the two of them had already begun eating their dinner.

“Ah! You didn’t wait for me!”

Lin Qingchen sipped from a bowl of soup without turning to her sister, whereas Yun Ruoyan looked up from a drumstick she was currently devouring. “Aren’t you going to claim your food? It’s going to get cold by the time you get to the main courtyard!”

Lin Qingxue grumbled as she left, her antics causing Lin Qingchen and Yun Ruoyan to smile at each other as they continued to eat. After being half-starved in the secret realm, they truly were quite hungry at the moment.

After dinner, someone came by with a small carriage to deliver bathwater to them. Lin Qingchen immediately rushed back to her small bamboo forest in preparation for her bath.

“My goodness, this is too comfortable!” Yun Ruoyan lay languidly in her bathtub, feeling the weariness from the secret realm dissipate instantaneously. Her washroom was also located to the south. High on the wall was a window from which she could see the radiant moon above the cloud cover, as though it were a pearl-of-night floating on the sea.

“If I could have such a large pearl-of-night as illumination for my room, how much oil I could save over the course of a year!”

“That’s an easy wish to fulfill,” a deep, familiar voice suddenly replied from outside the window.

“Li Mo!” Yun Ruoyan began to stand up to peer outside the window before a chill pervaded her body, reminding her that she was still in the nude and causing her to quickly sit back down again.

A pleasant laughter rang out from outside the window, and a dark shadow seemed to land on the windowsill. “Yan’er, I’ve longed to see you for the last few days.” Li Mo’s jade-white visage seemed cold under the moonlit skies, but the gentle smile by his lips was encouraging and warm.

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