Chapter 68: Terrified

Yun Ruoyu and the girls waited for the big reveal with bated breath.

Yun Ruoyan looked at Li Qianxiao gently as she slowly peeled off the patch of gauze on her right cheek.

“No!”

Just at this moment, Li Qianxiao grabbed Yun Ruoyan’s hand. He looked deeply into Yun Ruoyan’s eyes as he promised, “Ruoyan, don’t. I’m not in a hurry, and I’m willing to wait to see your perfect, unblemished face. Let me send you back to your rooms now.”

He left supporting Yun Ruoyan, not turning back no matter how hard Yun Ruoyu screamed behind him.

On the other hand, Yun Ruoyan tilted her face toward Yun Ruoyu, her lips curved up in a gentle smile. Like a needle, that smile penetrated deeply into Yun Ruoyu’s heart.

“Why? She’s so ugly no one wanted to look at her. Why?” Yun Ruoyu clutched one of the pavilion’s stanchions, her five fingers gripped tightly around the cool stone. “Why does the crown prince believe her over me?”

“Sister, don’t be upset.” Yun Ruoyao helped wipe away Yun Ruoyu’s tears with a handkerchief. “You know how protective Grandmother is of her, and even Father’s been looking at her differently ever since she passed the trial for getting into Kongming Academy. Even Mother doesn’t dare to push her too far now, so don’t you go getting any thoughts in your head!”

“Why?” Yun Ruoyu turned her teary-eyed expression toward Yun Ruoyao. “How did that wench manage to climb above all our heads in just a few short months?”

It truly was a conundrum, one that plagued not only Yun Ruoyu, but also Madam An, Yun Ruoyao, and Yi Qianying. Every other day, Madam An would ask Ling Lan for a report on Yun Ruoyan’s situation, and every time, she would reply that Yun Ruoyan appeared no different from usual.

No different from usual? Surely not. Something must have happened, something none of them were aware of!

“I also feel that she’s changed far too much from before,” Yi Qianying began. “Look at how she made the crown prince dance to her tune! Does she look like a young, innocent girl who’s not even fifteen to you?”

Even Yi Qianying, who had long since trained in enticing the opposite sex, couldn’t claim that she would have charmed the crown prince more completely.

“I refuse to let this ugly wench do whatever she wants!” Yun Ruoyu cried out hatefully, as if she wanted to shred Yun Ruoyan to pieces. The crown prince might not be hers, but she certainly wouldn’t let him be Yun Ruoyan’s, either!

“Don’t worry, Ruoyu.” Yun Ruoyao helped wipe away the tears that had stained Yun Ruoyu’s hair. “I’ll help you.” 

A dark gleam passed through Yun Ruoyan’s eyes.

As they left the garden, Yun Ruoyan extricated herself from the crown prince’s embrace. Li Qianxiao’s arms went slack, and his heart fell.

“Ruoyan, are you feeling better?”

“I’m alright, Crown Prince, thank you.” Yun Ruoyan’s tone was as polite and courteous as it had been.

“There’s no one around, so don’t bother with formalities! Why don’t you just call me by my given name, Li Qianxiao?”

“Ruoyan doesn’t dare, crown prince.” Yun Ruoyan lowered her head, remaining a respectful distance away from him. Despite her outwardly polite nature, she really despised Li Qianxiao.

In her past life, Pei Ziao had told her that, despite his gentlemanly appearance, he was uncommonly lecherous. Every year, the Peis would curry favor with him with beauties gathered from all over the kingdom, and he would never refuse them.

“You mentioned just now that the Slaughtering King caused some problem in the Yue kingdom. What problem could be so major that you’d have to deal with it yourself, Crown Prince?” Yun Ruoyan asked casually.

“Ah!” Li Qianxiao’s tone turned vexed. “My uncle killed the Yue emperor’s own nephew for a female slave. The emperor couldn’t do anything about him, of course, so he came crying to my father, and my father sent me to the Yue kingdom as a gesture of goodwill.

That man had killed the Yue emperor’s own nephew for a female slave?! Yun Ruoyan’s eyebrows couldn’t help but shoot up.

Suddenly, a harsh wind rose up amidst the cool summer night, mussing Yun Ruoyan’s hair and making her dress flare up. For a brief moment, all she could hear was the rustling of leaves.

Li Qianxiao immediately shielded Yun Ruoyan with an arm.

That gust of wind dispersed as suddenly as it had appeared.

“Where did such a large gust of wind come from?” Li Qianxiao dropped his arm as he turned toward Yun Ruoyan once more. “Ruoyan, are you—”

Halfway through, his voice suddenly choked, his eyes and mouth both widening in shock. He had never before seen such a revolting face! Half the face was as beautiful as a fairy, and the other half, as red and swollen as a demon’s! 

The crown prince breathed in and out rapidly. A strong wind had passed them by, and then this face had appeared in front of him out of nowhere. His mind turned blank, and the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up. When he finally reacted, he screamed. “Help, a ghost!”

Li Qianxiao took a few staggering steps back as he yelled out. In his hurry, something tripped him up, and he landed heavily on his butt.

“Crown Prince…” As soon as Yun Ruoyan began stepping toward him, Li Qianxiao shrieked once more. “Don’t come closer, don’t come closer!” 

Yun Ruoyan stopped moving.

“Yo-yo—your face!” Li Qianxiao even went as far as to shut his eyes while speaking, not wanting to look at Yun Ruoyan for even a single moment more.

Yun Ruoyan raised her hand and touched her right cheek, finding that the phoenix-orchid gauze had long since vanished.

“Crown Prince, my face hasn’t fully recovered…” Yun Ruoyan whispered softly as she began walking toward Li Qianxiao once more. “It’s already a lot better than before, and it’ll get even better in the future.”

“St-stand still!” Li Qianxiao opened his eyes a tiny slit, but he only dared look at her dress and the bottom half of her body. “I-I-I’m going back to the palace; you can go back to your residence on your own!”

Li Qianxiao turned around and hastily scrambled off, not even stopping to check for any injuries after his bad fall.

Yun Ruoyan looked expressionlessly in his direction as his back became smaller and smaller, before vanishing completely.

She turned back toward her residence, calling out for Qiuqiu mentally.

Qiuqiu would usually respond after just one or two calls, but this time, it was quite a while before Qiuqiu finally answered.

“Qiuqiu!” Yun Ruoyan called out once again.

“Yes, Mistress?” Qiuqiu finally responded.

“Who was that just now? Could you sense him?”

“Qiu… Mistress… I was sleeping and wasn’t paying attention, qiu.”

When she got back to her rooms, Yun Ruoyan sent the maids away and sat cross-legged on her bed. Despite multiple attempts, she was unable to get into the right mental state for meditation.

That gust of wind was surely unnatural. What sort of person could have created it, and what was that person’s goal? Yun Ruoyan tried to think this through in her head.

When she recalled the crown prince’s terrified expression, however, she couldn’t help but grin.

“Haha,” she muttered to herself. “Qingchen really was right: my face was frightening enough to make the crown prince himself beat a hasty retreat!”

Unable to muster up the energy to cultivate, Yun Ruoyan slumped and lay on her bed. She’d relay this encounter to Qingchen soon, and even if she wasn’t one to smile very much, Yun Ruoyan was certain that this story would make her laugh out loud.

“Hahaha…” Yun Ruoyan’s tinkling laughter reached the dark shadow resting underneath her windows. A large hood covered up his features, revealing only a distinct jaw and scarlet lips.

By the northwestern corner of the Yun mansion, in a remote cottage, Qin Jianmei knelt on her praying mat, a buddha figurine on the desk in front of her.

The cottage wasn’t particularly big, but it was filled with the smell of incense.

Yun Ruoyu suddenly burst through the front doors. Qin Jianmei turned toward the daughter she hadn’t seen in days and couldn’t help breaking out into a smile. However, her expression turned to worry as she took in her swollen eyes and puffy nose.

“Yu’er, why were you crying?” Qin Jianmei asked.

“Mother!” Yun Ruoyu leaned into Qin Jianmei’s embrace. “Mother, I’ve been bullied!”

Qin Jianmei patted Yun Ruoyu’s back softly. “Ruoyu, you know we don’t have much backing in this household. Don’t draw attention to yourself, and just try to perform your tasks to the best of your ability, alright…?”

“Mother!” Yun Ruoyu abruptly raised her head, her gaze equal parts disappointed and furious. “Someone bullied me, but you won’t stand up for me?!”

Her gaze landed on the buddha figurine in front of her mother’s desk, and she scoffed. “Ever since I could think, Mother, all I’ve seen you do is eat and pray. When have you ever fought hard for me? If not for Madam An, I’d likely be worse off than even Yun Ruoyan.”

But as soon as she brought up Yun Ruoyan, she was reminded of how besotted the crown prince had been with her, and she only seethed all the harder.

“Ruoyu, what’s wrong with Ruoyan?” Qin Jianmei asked curiously.

Yun Ruoyu ignored her mother’s questions and stood back up. “Mother, just stay in this cottage and keep praying for the rest of your life.”

“Yu’er, Yu’er!” Qin Jianmei called out to her daughter from behind, but she ran off without turning back.

Yun Ruoyu headed to Madam An’s residence next. In her mother’s rooms, Yun Ruoyao was recounting what had occurred at the pavilion to Madam An.

“I’d thought that she was only gifted at cultivation, but it seems like she’s even more difficult to deal with than her mother.” Madam An slammed a palm on her table.

“Mother,” Yun Ruoyao spoke up from behind, “Today she even claimed that her grandfather had prepared an antidote for her that would clear away her birthmark. If that were true, wouldn’t the whole Yun family end up in her grasp?!”

“No, that’s impossible,” Madam An replied curtly. “That birthmark was a result of placental poison—there’s no way it could be treated! She must be lying to you.”

“Placental poison…? Mother, what do you mean?” Yun Ruoyao asked curiously. “Isn’t her birthmark natural?”

“We—” Realizing that she had said more than she meant to, Madam An broke off halfway and tried to change the topic. Right at this moment, one of the maids keeping watch whispered through the door, “Madam, Miss, the third miss is coming.”

And then Yun Ruoyu strode into Madam An’s rooms in a huff. “Mother!” Large tears were already falling down her face once again.

“Don’t cry, Ruoyu.” Madam An walked over and wiped away her tears with a handkerchief. “Your sister’s already told me everything. This Yun Ruoyan definitely has to be dealt with—how dare she try to seduce the crown prince!”

“Mother,” Yun Ruoyu grabbed Madam An’s sleeves and snarled, “Mother, you have to help me get revenge on that wench!”

“It’s not as easy as before.” Madam An patted her head as she sighed. “In the past, despite being the sole wife-born daughter, neither your father nor your grandmother thought highly of her, so we were able to deal with her at our leisure. But now, both of them have had a change of heart. Even if she were to seduce the crown prince, I’m sure they would be happy to have closer ties with the royal family.”

“No, no!” Yun Ruoyu shouted. “I don’t care whom the crown prince marries, as long as it’s not Yun Ruoyan! No matter what, I won’t let her supersede me! Mother, you have to help me! I’ll do anything!”

Madam An frowned as she looked at Yun Ruoyu. “As long as it’ll destroy Yun Ruoyan, you’re really willing to do anything?”

“Yes!” Yun Ruoyu pursed her lips and nodded fervently.

Madam An turned around to look at Yun Ruoyao, and mother and daughter exchanged a covert glance.

After two calm summer days, the weather suddenly turned harsh. 

Yun Ruoyan had just finished cultivating and was about to have a cool shower when one of Madam An’s maids came in search of her. Allegedly, Madam An was hosting a small tea party by the lakeside pavilion, and Yun Ruoyan had been invited for afternoon tea with them.

Yun Ruoyan was about to decline immediately when she added that the Yun matriarch would also be in attendance. Not having gone to her grandmother’s residence for quite a few days, Yun Ruoyan reluctantly agreed. 

After tidying up a little, Yun Ruoyan walked over in a jade-green dress, a green, bamboo-leaf gauze patch on her cheek.

As she walked into the garden, Yun Ruoyan saw Madam An, Yun Ruoyao, and Yun Ruoyu within the pavilion from afar. Yi Qianying had been summoned back home, and Yun Ruoyan hadn’t seen her for quite a few days.

Yun Ruoyan didn’t see her grandmother. She scoffed coldly, but still walked toward the pavilion.

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