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In the silent night, the rushing footsteps sounded flustered and anxious. There was a touch of panic as though evil spirits were in pursuit. He ran into an alley, trying not to breathe heavily, feeling terrified.
For a long time, there was no movement outside the lane. He relaxed, and leaned against the wall as both his legs became soft but he did not dare rest. He shook his body into action and stepped out of the alley cautiously.
A glinting knife appeared across his neck. His whole body froze, his scalp was numb as a sharp chill cut through his skin. He trembled with fright, and his fearful eyes looked at the person,
‘Where is he?’ the low voice was as ghostly as a spectre making the man completely cold. His legs could not hold up so he sank to the ground.
‘Please, please, I beg you…don’t kill me…I beg you…’ he could not stop shaking, he was so scared, ‘I was just trying to make money…everything was ordered by the young master…I-I’m innocent…I ask Sir to forgive…forgive…’
The figure ignored the pleas; he repeated the question, ‘Where is he?’
‘He, he…’ the man hesitated answering, and the glinting blade flashed. He wailed painfully holding the right arm that had been cut; warm blood spurted out.
The man was too noisy, the figure kicked the man’s mute hole and asked, ‘Where is he?’
The man gasped, tears and snot continued to flow and his red eyes stared up at the figure in fear. With trembling lips, he opened his mouth silently.
He untied the man’s dumb hole, ‘Speak!’
‘He fell! He fell-he fell of the cliff. Ah! Ah!’ the man’s left arm was cut off. He fell to the ground screaming in pain. (Zuben: Ouchie! Sharp sword to be cutting through bone like it was butter)
Seeing the figure coming closer step by step, the man moved his legs in fear shuffling backwards, and his crotch oozed liquid, ‘Ah, he jumped by him-oh!’ The man looked down; the silver blade was pulled from his chest. It had no trace of blood. (Zuben: Shhwoo!)
Dismissing the dead body, he stepped out of the alley. The weak light of the moon shone on the tall figure and finally fell on the cold handsome face. (Zuben: Like a gentle slap)
Qin Yaotang clenched the hilt of his sword and his body emitted a cold aura.
She had planned this! When he returned to the carriage and found Dié-er unconscious, there was a scent of a drug in the air, and she had disappeared. He figured out everything. He followed her trail, but then he found blood. Following the blood, they came to a cliff.
His heart ran cold.
He did not let himself think the worst, he ordered his men to find the leader of the thieves. But he had gone into hiding. It had taken half a month of find his whereabouts.
Thinking of Liu Ming’s words, Yaotang’s eyes were cold.
She fell off the cliff…
Was this what she wanted? Designing a robbery drama, at all costs, just to leave him? She didn’t even care about her death?
‘Don’t even think about it!’ The cold words were ground out of the general’s thin lips.
He would never allow her to leave like this. Never! (Zuben: Yes but she gone!)
‘Send a search party down the cliff.’ He quietly commanded his guards in the dark.
Yaotang closed his eyes and tried to suppress the agitation in his heart. After a long time, he slowly opened his eyes restoring the calm indifference. Only the hand on the hilt was still tense, blue veins visible from his kin.
Pei Shaoqing, under the pure blue sky, I will find you and you will never be allowed to escape from me ever again.
Mioafu shot awake, her breathing fast. Her expression was panicked and a sheen of sweat coated her forehead. A cool hand suddenly covered her face, and she became scared and panicked, shrinking away subconsciously. If she hadn’t been grabbed, she would have fallen off the chaise longue.
‘What are you doing? Did you have a nightmare?’ the person who caught her asked frowning.
Miaofu looked at the dark delicate face,
‘Jiang Chuwei?’ she looked around. She was in an elegant room, outside the terrace was a chic garden. Golden lace curtains blew in the breeze which carried the faint scent of flowers. This was the small room she lived in the palace. The person in front of her was her best friend, Jiang Chuwei.
A year ago, she fell off the cliff, but some miracle she had been rescued by Chuwei. She could not believe the dark skinned woman was the once beautiful and glamorous queen Jiang Chuwei. And, this dark skinned person was now Empress, and the Emperor loved her to death, so much that this dark flower was the only one in the harem enjoying the Emperor’s unique favour.
At that moment, she felt this world was twisted.
For once when Chuwei and the Emperor had a fight, Chuwei slipped out of the palace and ran into Jiang Yan; brother and sister were happy to recognise each other. A Hao who had been a tall and sturdy macho man, had become a pretty boy. He was dressed in the best clothes.
When Miaofu considered A Hao’s enchanting little face and Chuwei’s dark one, she felt comforted. (zuben: really?) In comparison, her crossing was normal. Her appearance did not change, she just grew taller and slimmer. This was enough; she did have much to ask for.
‘Hey! Miaofu are you in a daze?’ Seeing Mioafu’s dozy expression, Chuwei flicked her forehead.
‘Ow.’ Miaofu held her forehead in pain, the Queen’s hand was so painful, her forehead must be red. Miss Du who was always bullied was too angry to speak, she muttered under her breath, ‘I just can’t get used to your face.’
Beauty to black charcoal, a big impact! (Zuben: We can’t have this again)
‘You had better.’ Chuwei did not believe her. She had been watching her for a year, she didn’t believe Miaofu couldn’t adapt. This woman knew very well how to transfer people’s attention from what she wanted to avoid.
‘I have been watching you have nightmares all year. What are you dreaming of?’
‘Who knows…?’ Miaofu replied vaguely, shaking her head, ‘Who remembers what they dream of anyway?’ She woke up and forgot the light.
Is that so? Chuwei did not believe her, ‘Isn’t some left over impression?’
‘No.’ Miaofu shook her head earnestly. Feeling thirsty after her slumber, she turned to pour herself a cup of white ear lotus seed tea from the side table.
Seeing that she was not lying, Chuwei reluctantly accepted it, ‘Hmm, I thought you were dreaming of the stinky man that bullied you.’
Miaofu choked on her tea, and began to cough. Her eyes reddened and teared up, and so did her face. She quickly recovered and looked innocently surprised, ‘What stinky man…?’
Unfortunately, this move was useless on Chuwei. She lazily stroked her five-month old belly and took a small sip of the tea and watched the tension grow in Miaofu’s eyes.
Miaofu shivered a bit and looked with like she had a guilty conscience.
Seeing her behave like this, Chuwei knew her friend wanted to act stupid, but this time she wasn’t letting her off. A year ago, she saved Miaofu from a creek, she had large and small scars on her body. The most serious, was the wound in her abdomen, which looked like it had been pierced by a rough weapon. At the time, Miaofu had a high fever and was close to death. Chuwei looked after her day and night, rubbing her body with a cold towel to dissipate the heat for her. Chuwei noted Miaofu had red and green bruises interlaced with scars. She knew they were left behind by a man, she had thought the bad injury was the worst of it.
However, when Miaofu recovered, her mind was normal and her emotions were not affected, so Chuwei changed her theory. But Miaofu would not tell her anything that had happened to her in this world, including how she came to be injured and fell off a cliff.
Whenever Chuwei asked her, Miaofu would think about it from left to right and would not answer. In so respects, Miaofu had a stubborn personality. She may be timid, but when she was being stubborn, she could not be moved. So Chuwei did not pester her at the start, waiting for Miaofu to speak herself. But it had been a year, and this woman still would not open up, now Chuwei had lost patience.
What she hadn’t told Miaofu was that this past year, someone had been looking for her, but Xiahou Yin had been blocking them, so the otherside would not find her. When she asked Xiahou who the other person was, Xiahou was unable to find out. It was amazing, there were forces that could avoid the scrutiny of the emperor. Xiahou told her that the person may be a person of the Wulin. The things of the Jianghu, the emperor could not interfere.
So who was that person? Why were they looking for Miaofu? Chuwei was curious and all the answers were hidden in Miaofu.
Chuwei watched the guilty looking woman, her eyes fell to Miaofu’s hand. She reached out and snatched the item in Miaofu’s hand.
‘Ah!’ Miaofu was surprised and wanted to get the item back, but at the Empress’ glare, she retracted her hand. Besides, Chuwei was pregnant; she didn’t want to fight for it. If something should happen to Jiang Weiwei’s stomach, she will definitely be killed by elder brother.
Xiahou Yin had become her brother. When she returned to the Palace with Chuwei, the Emperor took her in as his sister and Miaofu was ordained Princess Furong, the only folk princess of the Shengyuan Dynasty.
Perhaps because Xiahou Yin loved Chuwei so much, he loved everything that came with her. He loved his adopted sister. Miaofu never called him Xiahou Yin, she always called him brother. And they got along very well. And the Queen Mother also liked her adopted daughter very much, and with an Empress who was the only one to get the favour of the Emperor as a friend, Miaofu lived a good life in the Palace.
Chuwei played with the curved wooden comb in her hand, her fingers stroking the hibiscus relief on it. It wasn’t a valuable item, but Miaofu always carried it with her, not letting others touch it. But when she looked at it, her expression was complicated and her eyes glimmering.
‘So, who gave you this comb?’
‘I bought it myself.’ It was a very obvious lie.
‘Is that so? To me, when you look at this comb, it is as though you are looking at a lover. Who is it that you want to forget?’
‘What to forget?’ Miaofu retorted, agitated, ‘I don’t. I haven’t been thinking about him…ugh!’ She tried to stop herself but Chuwei heard it.
‘Him?’ Chuwei repeated with raise of her eyebrow, ‘Who?’
Miaofu kept mum and decided to be a stuffed gourd.
‘You won’t say?’ The beautiful eyes shifted slightly, Chuwei smirked, ‘Shall I guess?’
Chuwei was quiet for a while, then she spoke, ‘The person is very brilliant, people notice him wherever he goes because he is handsome and his conditions are good.’ She stared at Miaofu and continued, ‘But his personality is autocratic, not gentle at all. He must be obeyed, especially with you. You are not allowed to resist him, he holds tightly on to you, you aren’t allowed to escape his control.’
Miaofu’s eyes widened and stared at Chuwei, how could she guess…
‘He treats other women better than you, but he is always fierce with you. Only uses a commanding tone with you, will only bully you, makes you feel like a pet. Perhaps one day, when he becomes bored, he will change to a new favourite and you will be discarded. How did I do? Am I right?’
‘How did you…’ Miaofu couldn’t articulate, her heart was shocked by the accuracy.
Looking at Miaofu’s stupefied appearance, she knew she was right, and she could not help but shake her head, ‘Are you curious as to how I guessed?’
Chuwei sighed and said, ‘Miaofu, don’t you think he’s rather like your ex-boyfriends?’ (Zuben: So she doesn’t learn her lesson)
Huh…Miaofu thought about it for a long while, and her eyes slowly widened.
This woman…Chuwei did not know what to say about her slowness, ‘Everytime you had a boyfriend, you are treated like this, you think they don’t love you, you avoid them and run away. Then the next one is the same, and so on. Miaomiao, I really sympathise with your exes.’
‘Why?’ Miaofu shouted, a frown marred her face, as she continued, ‘it is clear that I am the victim in all this. They just wanted an obedient lover. Whether they want me or not, they decide for me. I don’t have the right to say no!’
She hated strong people, they were too lofty to understand the little people. (Zuben: oh victim mentality)
‘But weren’t they good to you?’ Chuwei asked, ‘They decide things without permission, but if you really protested, did they force you?’
Miaofu stopped. No. Yes, her boyfriends’ personality was overbearing, but once she exceeded her limits and refused, they didn’t push.
‘Yes, but he isn’t like that.’ Miaofu protested, ‘He is worse than they were. He is overbearing, he is autocratic. He is just bad. He only oppresses me. He isn’t good to me at all. He doesn’t love me at all. It’s totally different from my former boyfriends; he is much worse!’
‘Oh~ he’s so awful…’ Chuwei said with a nod, then she asked, ‘So why have you been thinking about him? You have left so many men before, but I have never seen you miss them.’ (Zuben: Help me ask her oh! There is nothing to recommend this fellow except he’s handsome and rich)
‘I have not been thinking about him…’ Miaofu protested weakly
‘Then, what is this?’ Chuwei shook the comb at her, ‘When you break up, you usually throw away all the gifts they had given you. Yet you still have this. Why are you keeping it?’
‘Don’t say he didn’t buy this for you.’
‘I…I…’ Miaofu tried to protest but under Chuwei’s censure, she bit her lip and didn’t speak.
Chuwei sighed, she didn’t want to pressure her too much but she didn’t want her to keep hiding either.
‘Miaomiao, you are always pessimistic. Everything is going to be bad. You don’t have any self esteem, you say that those men who go after you just want an obedient pet, they don’t really like you. But if they didn’t like you, would they chase you?’
‘But…’ Miaofu wanted to refute, but she swallowed it under Chuwei’s glare.
‘Don't you think that those men with their good conditions, shouldn’t they be chasing after beautiful and obedient women? Why would they want to chase an ordinary girl like you?’
Miaofu really hadn’t thought about it.
‘Miaomiao, do you know you are very good?’ Chuwei smiled and said very seriously, ‘No one liked me nor were they willing to be friends with me because I have too many advantages and am beautiful. Too beautiful.’ She lamented without blushing at all. (Zuben: Aside from the jealous peoples, there are a whole slew of sensible people who didn’t want to be a dogsbody.)
Miaofu’s lips twitched, she was accustomed to the Empress’ narcissism but it was strange for it to be coming out of the plain dark face.
Chuwei turned a blind eye to Miaofu’s incredulous expression and continued to aggrandise, ‘But only you are close to me, seeing me as an ordinary person, treating me without any contempt.’
Honestly, when she first met Du Miaofu, Jiang Chuwei was not new  (Zuben: I don’t get it.)
‘You are sincere to everyone. You have had a sad and traumatic life from childhood till adulthood, treated like a personal foot ball by your relatives and finally pushed into an orphanage, but you never complained about it, you remained strong and happy. Miaomiao, you are very attractive. Truly! If I had been a man, I would chase you.’
Actually, A Hao had wanted to date Miaomiao, but she stopped him with her fist. She had found Miaomiao, no one could take her. So when Miaomiao wanted to get rid of those men and hide from them, she helped. After all, she was selfish and wanted to monopolise her only good friend. She had a blind spot when it came to Miaomiao. She could never say no, she never wanted someone to take her away.
Thinking of this, Chuwei could not help but feel guilty. The only way to make up for it was to help solve the current issue, because she could see that Miaomiao was different with this man. When she had broken up with the other man, Miaomiao had not been so lost. (Zuben: Fuck knows why she’s lost now)
She must really like this stinky man this time, she thought. So even if it pained her, Chuwei decided to be her spiritual advisor.
After hearing Chuwei’s words, Miaofu was stunned stupid, she could not speak for a while. When she did she said, ‘Chuwei, do you have a fever?’ Why was she saying these cheesy things?
‘Ow!’ her forehead was attacked again, Miaofu grabbed the sore area.
Chuwei sneered, he woman was fine, it was the cowardly personality she could not stand.
‘Let go of your boring inferiority complex,’ she said poking Miaofu’s forehead, ‘this old lady does not feel inferior in this body, why do you have to feel inferior?’ (Zuben: That’s not exactly true Chuwei with your “why would anybody love a black charcoal like me” rhetoric)
Damn! She had been so jealous when she saw Miaofu’s new body being so normal.
Miaofu did not resist her poking, but laughed sillyly, ‘Chuwei, thank you.’ Thank you for your cheesy words.
Really though! The bullying can stop now.
Chuwei felt no sense of accomplishment. She returned the wooden comb to Miaofu and rose slowly, ‘You think about it yourself. The day after tomorrow, you’re coming with me.’
‘Out of the palace?’ she asked, ‘Where?’
‘A Hao’s father in law is having his sixtieth birthday. As the elder sister, I have to go with a congratulatory gift.’
‘But your stomach…?’ Did older brother agree?
Reading the unspoken question in her eyes, Chuwei gave her a cold glare and lifted her chin, ‘Why do I need to have that guy's consent when I want to go out?’
Oh, the Empress is mighty! Miaofu dared not say anything more.
After Chuwei left, Miaofu’s smiled fell. Looking down at the comb, she considered Chuwei’s words. She wasn’t stupid, how could she not know her own heart? Even if she was an optimistic and cheerful person on the outside, deep in her bones, she felt inferior. She had a been called a comet of bad omen from childhood, unloved and abandoned, she was like a mouse hiding in the dark longing for the dazzling sunshine. Though, she said out loud she did not like dazzling people, she was always attracted to them. But then she felt that such people could not really like her, so she fled from them. She was timid and felt inferior. She never dared to fight for what she wanted. She bore loss and pain silently. When she was hurt, she ran away and hid. When the wound was healed and no longer hurt, she would put on a happy smile like the bad thing had never happened.
She was long accustomed to doing things like this, and she felt nothing. She was strong, this will pass, she will…for many years, has she not been like this?
Looking at the hibiscus carving, she thought of Xiangcheng, the fireworks that night, his smile…She did not understand, why was he always on her mind?
Hadn’t she escaped? She had been hiding for a year, shouldn’t the wounds have healed already?
‘Qin Yaotang…’ she whispered the name held at the bottom of her heart. Every night, she could not sleep, she held the comb and sang his name.
It had been a year now, had he forgotten about her?
Would he be married? With a child? If so, it was good…she blessed him.
Miaofu smiled and looked at the wooden comb; a deep sourness hit her heart. It made her uncomfortable.
When would this nasty wound disappear?
She had chosen to escape; she also bore the consequences of that.
Miaofu did not want to think about it anymore. Even if occasionally, there was a hint of regret, she forced it back down. All was done, regret was pointless. Moreover, she never understood him, let along knew how he felt about her. Not to mention that he was engaged to Song Dié-er…after all this time, perhaps she was the only one not forgetting.
She had been forgotten by him…
Hearing the Chuwei’s voice, Miaofu opened her eyes slowly. Her face was pale and she blinked, ‘Have we reached Gu Yunbao?’ she asked, her voice was low and sleepy.
Chuwei frowned and looked worriedly at her friend, she touched her forehead, ‘You don’t look good, are you ill?’
‘Maybe; I haven’t been able to sleep this past few days.’ Miaofu replied with a yawn.
Chuwei was about to say something when the curtain opened and a beautiful boy peered in, ‘Jiejie! Miaomiao! You’re finally here!’ he said with a bright smile. It made both women uncomfortable.
It was a real sin for a man to grow up like this!
Chuwei directly patted his enchantingly evil face, ‘Go away, don’t block the way.’ If she hadn’t been pregnant she would have kicked him.
Jiang Yan was used to his older sister’s violence, so he did not mind her. He quickly helped the old lady with her big belly down from the carriage, ‘How about brother in law? Is he alright with you going out alone?’
‘What does it have to do with him?’ she asked contemptuously. Truthfully, Xiahou Yin had not been assured, and he had sent guards to escort the carriage and there were many hidden guards in the shadows. If there hadn’t been lots of state business to attend to, Xiahou would have come out with his wife, but he could not. So he only allowed his Empress out for ten days, if she did not return by then, he would come and arrest her in person.
Miaofu also alighted from the carriage behind Chuwei, she looked about Gu Yunbao curiously. It was a fortress built with white stone towering amongst the mountains. It was very imposing. Listening to A Hao, the Gu Yunbao was the biggest fortress in the Wulin, his wife and her brother were the two current lords of the sect.  In short, the Gu Yunbao was a place where masters gathered. Even a small servant would have knowledge of martial arts. The most useless person here was Jiang Yan.
Lots of people had also come to the Gu Yunbao to celebrate the birthday of their leader.
‘A Hao, Miaomiao is tired, can you get someone to take her to rest?’ Chuwei told her brother.
‘Yes!’ he nodded, ‘How about you, Jiejie? Are you tired? Would you like to rest? I have readied your rooms for you.’ With her big belly, they must treat the old lady carefully.
‘No need.’ She waved her hand dismissively, ‘I will greet the in-laws first and congratulate father-in-law.’
Although, the birthday was tomorrow, her brother was a daughter-in-law, so as his sister, she must be first with the family greetings.
‘Miaomiao, you go ahead and rest.’ Chuwei said to Miaofu.
Miaofu nodded, she was really tired. She followed the servant who had been assigned to lead her to their courtyard.
Knowing the identity of their visitor, the servant was very deferent to her, ‘Princess, A Hao has arranged for you and Niangniang to stay in the Bamboo court. It is quiet there, no one would disturb you.’
Miaofu smiled at her, and looked about as they went. There was great beauty to the fortress, very different to the palace. The fortress was very simple and austere without luxury, but not lacking in taste. She followed the servant across a bridge, past a rockery when a female voice called out,
Miaofu was startled and raised her head subconsciously. The people in the courtyard were walking towards them. Miaofu eyes clashed with a sharp pair of black eyes. She gasped and her eyes flashed with horror, the other side looked the same, but his eyes sharpened.
‘Sir, Madam,’ the servant bowed in respectful greeting to them, ‘This is a guest of the Master.’
As for her identity, the maid did not have to explain it, knowing that the masters would understand.
‘A Hao’s guest? Would it be…’ the folk princess? Song Dié-er could not help but look at Miaofu curiously. She definitely could not be the Empress – who did not know that the Empress was very dark skinned. The lady before Dié-er was white.
Miaofu nodded in greeting to Song Dié-er and tried to ignore the sharp eyes of the man beside her.
But bitterness filled her heart, she noticed the change in Dié-er’s dressing; only married women could dress like that, and the maid had called her “Madam”.
Sure enough, they were married.
‘I am Song Dié-er, this is…’
‘I’m sorry,’ Miaofu said interrupting Dié-er, she smiled at her, ‘I am not feeling very well, I would like to go and rest, if that is alright.’
‘Oh!’ Dié-er exclaimed, she noticed the Miaofu’s face was rather pale, she did not say more. She turned to the maid, ‘Qiao-er, please take the princess to rest.’
‘Yes, madam.’ Qiao-er nodded, ‘Princess, let us go.’ She led Miaofu to the bamboo courtyard.
Miaofu kept her head down and quickly walked by with Qiao-er, she did not dare look at the man. Her heart was full of panic; did he recognise her?
Impossible, she was not the same as she was a year ago. He should not have. He was married now, so he would have forgotten her…
Back in the courtyard, Dié-er watched the princess go. She frowned for a long while wondering why the woman looked so familiar. She finally couldn’t help but tug on Yaotang’s sleeves,
‘Hey don’t you think the Princess looks a bit familiar? I feel like I have seen her somewhere before…’ she frowned thinking, but she could not think of where she had seen her before.
Yaotang did not reply, just looked in the direction she had left. His black eyes radiating a sultry coldness.
She had changed.
Her delicate face was now rounded. Her hair fell down her neck and shoulders and was decorated with jade beads. The thin fringe made her look more feminine, the high waisted skirt and golden cloak lent her an air of gracefulness that made people dare not approach.
Yaotang’s eye narrowed as he sneered; she had thought he would not recognise her?
Princess…he sneered inwardly. So she had been hiding in the palace.
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