cw: graphic depictions of death and war from “He was buried…” to “Finally there was light.”

That night, although the snow had stopped falling, a gale howled outside the windows.
The cold wind rustled the snow in the courtyard and caused the window paper to rattle. 

The main hall and east side hall of Mingluan Palace were connected to the dilong, which had already been fired up several days ago so it was very warm.
Jun Linghuan was frightened by the howling wind.
She insisted that Jun Huailang accompany her and tell her stories.

But Jun Huailang was a little preoccupied.
He thought over Diancui’s abnormality today a few times, and his heart beat faster.
According to Concubine Shu’s character, although she was outwardly domineering, she rarely made things difficult for others.
She seldom got involved with matters big or small, and gave them all to Diancui to handle.

Then what if Diancui made a decision without authorization and did some evil things in her name? 

Then other people would have enmity with Consort Shu.
Diancui was just a servant girl, if there was any discord or hatred, people would only remember Consort Shu and hold her responsible.

Thinking of Consort Shu’s bizarre death in the previous life, Jun Huailang was unable to sit still.

In addition, today was really cold.
Although the dilong[1] was burning in their hall, cold wind still came in through cracks in the windows and brought with it traces of bone-chilling cold.

Jun Huailang could not forget Xue Yan’s thin clothes and the pitifully small amount of luggage in the hands of the little eunuch who followed behind him.

Jun Huailang started fighting with himself in his heart.

At that moment, Jun Linghuan shook his arm and asked, “Gege, what happened next?”

Jun Huailang was taken aback.

“The scholar met a snake demon on the way to the imperial exam.
What happened next?”

Jun Huailang realized that he had been halfway through telling the story when he stopped unconsciously. He apologized, “I’m sorry, your brother is a little absent-minded today.
I said that the scholar encountered a rainstorm on the way and was trapped on the boat…”

Jun Linghuan opened her mouth.
“What are you thinking about?”

As soon as Jun Huailang lowered his head, he met those clear eyes and couldn’t hide his concerns any longer.
He felt sick at heart, his soft-hearted thoughts wronged Jun Linghuan and the humiliations she had suffered in her previous life.

He whispered, “Just then, I was thinking of going to the west side hall to see the gege who just moved in.”

Jun Linghuan said logically, “Then you should go.
I heard the maid-jiejies[2] two days ago say that the dilong in the west hall is broken and it’s very cold inside.
They cleaned it for two days and got frostbite on their hands.”

Jun Huailang paused and said, “But he is a bad person.”

Jun Linghuan nervously asked, “What bad things did he do?”

Jun Huailang was unable to answer.
He paused for a moment, and said truthfully, “Although he hasn’t done anything bad yet, he will do bad things in the future.”

He added, “He will do very bad things.”

Jun Linghuan never doubted Jun Huailang.
She let out a long “oh,” but began to think hard on the matter.

After thinking for a long time, she still couldn’t figure it out.
“If he wasn’t born a bad person, why did he become bad?”

Because everyone in the world feared him, wanted him to die, and treated him harshly due to his divination. 

Jun Huailang couldn’t say it.
After a long time, he didn’t answer Jun Linghuan’s question.
Instead, he asked, “Linghuan, what if he has a feud with your older brother in the future?”

Jun Linghuan was stumped.
After thinking a while, she finally asked, “Can’t you not have a feud with him?”

“But your brother needs vengeance,” Jun Huailang said.

Jun Linghuan laughed.
“Gege, didn’t you say the feud was in the future? How can you avenge a future feud now?”

Jun Huailang paused.
He had to admit that Jun Linghuan was not wrong.
No matter how reprehensible Xue Yan was in his previous life, he had done nothing in this life.

Jun Linghuan suddenly reached out and tugged at the hem of his clothes.
“Compared to revenge, Linghuan just wants you to be safe,” she said.
“If he is a bad person, Gege should just not provoke him, okay?”

Seeing Jun Linghuan pout, he muttered softly, “How can your brother fight against bad guys? What if I get bullied?”

The matter that had weighed on his mind this whole time seemed to slowly melt away. 

Indeed, everything in the previous life had not happened yet.
If he went against his own nature and kept opposing Xue Yan, kept indifferently watching him suffer, Jun Huailang would start the feud instead.
As long as Jun Huailang did not have the ability to kill him, Xue Yan would inevitably rise up like in the previous life.
When the time comes, the Jun family would still face extermination.

Compared to the tangled karma of the previous life, in this life protecting his family was the most important thing.

Now, if he allowed Xue Yan to be treated harshly in this place, the one who would bear Xue Yan’s hatred in the end would be Consort Shu.
If Consort Shu’s death in the previous life was related to Xue Yan, Jun Huailang was not confident he could stop Xue Yan in this life.
Then, allowing Xue Yan to suffer was also allowing Consort Shu’s future death. 

Jun Huailang sat up.
“Linghuan, wait here for your brother, okay?” Jun Huailang said.
“I will go have a look.” 

Jun Linghuan nodded obediently.

Jun Huailang got up and put on a heavy overcoat and cloak.
He asked the maid to bring him a lantern, and went out alone.

As soon as the door was pushed open, a gust of wind carrying crushed snow blew directly towards Jun Huailang, lifting his long hair and cloak and making him shiver.

“Young Master, it’s so late.
Where are you going?” Fuyi, who was waiting in the corridor, hurried up to greet him.

“I’m going to the west hall to take a look,” Jun Huailang said lightly.
“I’ll go by myself, no need to follow me.”

Fuyi was a little worried, but when he heard that he was not leaving the palace he had no choice but to agree.
He promptly fetched a carved silver hand stove[3] and stuffed it in Jun Huailang’s hand.

Jun Huailang saw that the hand stove’s decorative design was exquisite and unique, it was clearly used by women.
He raised his hand and wanted to give the hand stove back, but Fuyi refused and said, “Young Master, take this! It’s so cold outside, what will I do if you get sick!”

Jun Huailang had no choice.
Holding the lantern in one hand and hand stove in the other, bracing himself against the cold wind, Jun Huailang walked towards the west side hall.

Consort Shu had already fallen asleep in the main hall.
The lights in the hall were all extinguished and the courtyard was pitch black.
The west side hall was also dark, not even a single light could be seen.

Was Xue Yan already asleep?

Jun Huailang thought to himself, if Xue Yan was already asleep, it would save him some awkwardness.
Tomorrow he could ask the head eunuch what was lacking and provide it.
With that, Jun Huailang and Xue Yan could consider themselves to be one household living in harmony. 

It was only when Jun Huailang got closer did he see the situation.

Xue Yan resided in the room in the furthest corner of the west side hall.
The door looked thin and the windows did not close properly.
This should have been a small storehouse in the past, but because the door did not close tightly, things were always lost.
Diancui arranged for all the items to be taken away, leaving behind an empty room.

From a distance, this building looked the same as any other house, with green flying eaves.
But up close, the window paper was torn and flapping in the wind.

Jinbao still looked like a zongi,[4] wrapped in several layers of clothing.
He kept vigil at the door and dozed off leaning against the corridor.
He was dizzy from the cold and, half-asleep, did not notice Jun Huailang had come.

Jun Huailang did not wake him either.
He stood on the porch for a while, and planned to take a look through the window.
If nothing happened, he would just leave quietly.

Presumably Xue Yan’s life was tenacious, nothing major would happen to him.

While thinking this, Jun Huailang walked to the window and glanced in through a fist-sized hole.

He froze.

The room was pitch-black.
With light from the lamp in his hand, Jun Huailang saw Xue Yan with his back to the window and door.
He slept on a hardwood bed with no canopy and did not even have any bedding.
He was dressed thinly and seemed to be motionless, but when Jun Huailang looked closely, the arms hugging his shoulders shivered imperceptibly as if enduring something.

That appearance was extremely pitiful, like an abandoned dog in a corner.

Jun Huailang clenched his teeth involuntarily.
Then, lifting the lamp, he pushed open the door and entered.

The room was tiny, there was only one bed and one table.
Even the maids had better quarters.
When Jun Huailang walked in, he realized that this house faced away from the sun.
It was not only cold but also damp, making the cold even worse than outside.

Jun Huailang reached the bed in two steps.

Xue Yan had developed some habits from his years on the battlefield.
Even while sleeping, he was exceptionally alert and would wake up at the slightest movement.
The moment the door opened, he opened his eyes.
He reflexively took the dagger under his pillow in one hand and prepared to strike the intruder’s throat with the other hand.

The shadow approached and brought with it a warm orange glow.

The next moment, Xue Yan’s hand froze on the dagger.

Because a white brocade cloak carrying the warmth of another body enveloped him.
Soft and fluffy fox fur settled against his cheeks, warm as a dream.

Xue Yan was rarely this dumbfounded. 

Then he came back to his senses.
He raised a hand to touch the cold sweat on his forehead and recalled what happened just then. 

He lived in this empty house.
He was not afraid of the cold – the sensation that others described as piercing and intolerable, he did not even consider painful.

But what he didn’t want to admit was that he was afraid of the dark.

In the twelfth lunar month before the new year, he led a team of Yan cavalry in a desperate attempt to defend the city gates.
After a month, he was able to keep the elite force of the Yan cavalry intact and moved them to a secure location. 

Later in the final battle, it took place in the middle of a night so dark he couldn’t see his fingers in front of him.[skip]

He was buried in a pile of dead bodies.
The only thing within reach were corpses mangled beyond recognition, and all of them had once been people he had known.
They covered and surrounded him so tightly even air couldn’t get through.

They had sacrificed their lives to save Xue Yan.

Prince Yan’s last personal guard had been by Xue Yan’s side.
Half his face had been badly mangled.
With his last breath, the man repeatedly told him to survive and go back, to climb the pinnacle of power in order to recover Yan Prefecture and avenge Prince Yan.

He was buried in the pile of corpses all night, surrounded by darkness and unable to see anything.

At dawn, that guard exhausted his last bit of strength to push Xue Yan out of the pile of corpses and out of the darkness.
At that time, the Tujue main force had just withdrawn.
Xue Yan stood there alone, surrounded by dying beacon fires.

>>Finally there was light.

Xue Yan didn’t know how many people he killed, cutting a bloody path out of the battlefield.

Since then, he had been afraid of the dark.
He could endure anything, as long as there was the tiniest bit of light.
But that night, dark clouds covered the moon and there was no light at all.
He asked Jinbao to fetch a candle, but no one acknowledged Jinbao.

Xue Yan had silently forced himself to fall asleep in the darkness.
Sure enough, in the night’s suffocating darkness, he dreamed of a tide rushing forward, almost drowning him to death.

Until a person came.

Xue Yan raised his hand unconsciously and caressed the soft fur at his neck.
The warm cloak carried a faint fragrance of trees, like the white birch trees that grew in the outskirts of Yan Prefecture.
Although slender and frail-looking, those birches could block the bitter wind in winter.

He saw a cold and elegant young man put his lantern on the table and turn around.

The bloody and suffocating darkness that filled his dreams dissipated in the warm yellow light. 



[1] 地龙 underground heating system in the imperial city but due to the amount of resources needed to build and use, only implemented in important places such as the emperor and empress’s palaces. [2] 姐姐 older sister, also used to address older girls not related by blood [3] 手炉 small pots made of metal or porcelain that held coals and was meant to keep hands warm [4] 粽子 glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves

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