It was Meng Fuyao's first time spotting such an expression on him. He looked as if he wanted to swallow her up. The Yuan Zhaoxu she was familiar with was graceful and calm. He would even kick a mountain away if it were to collapse. She hadn't imagined that she would ever see this side of him.
Nevertheless, his eyes at that moment made her heart sink. She felt suffocated, and her eyes drooped a little, diverting away from him. She tightened her fists before inhaling a deep breath and then reciprocating his gaze.
'Blame me, hate me... I can't escape your powers, so it's best to push you away...'
Yuan Zhaoxu simply stared at her without moving and without expression. The initial storm within his eyes had subsided as well.
He sat by the fire, ever so calm, allowing the flames to light up his delicate profile and long lashes.
Everyone present felt the air stiffen around them.
It felt as though someone had poured a pot of paste from high above, instantly wind-proofing the field and pressing down onto them. The glorious flames from before had weakened significantly and were now burning silently.
The cheers gradually died down, and Hu Sang's ecstasy turned to unease. She stood, rigid, looking between Yuan Zhaoxu and the man he was staring at.
Amid the stillness, Yuan Zhaoxu moved.
When he moved, it was as fast as lightning, reaching out to drag a surprised Meng Fuyao up and then tossing her out.
Meng Fuyao's body drew an arc in mid-air before plopping onto a horse outside the circle of the crowd. Before she could react, a purple shadow flashed by. In the next moment, Yuan Zhaoxu was already seated on the horse while facing her. Seeing that she was opening her mouth and about to shout, he deactivated her acupuncture point before slapping the horse.
Everything happened so fast that no one was able to process what they had just witnessed. All they could see were two figures, bobbing up and down as the horse galloped away with the kidnapper and the kidnapped.
Hu Sang rushed forward and cried out, "Sir... you accepted my handkerchief!"
Yuan Zhaoxu never turned back. A fur ball emerged from his robe and hopped onto his shoulder. He turned to face Hu Sang, raised his claw and displayed a handkerchief with an embroidered image of two mandarin ducks, which signified a happy couple.
Under the flames, Yuan Bao's teeth were whiter than snow. He looked at his master's admirer in satisfaction, the handkerchief in his claw fluttering along with his white fur.
'If not for me, Master would've been sold by that shameless woman...'
Grief-stricken by the fact that she had just offered herself to a guinea pig, Hu Sang had fainted.
Meng Fuyao hadn't imagined Yuan Zhaoxu to be able to charge this quickly. The horse was galloping at a speed comparable to modern cars. The wind whizzed past her ears cuttingly and took her headscarf with it. Her long hair swayed in the breeze, and a few strands even got caught in the reins. Feeling the pain, she simply pulled out a wisp of hair, letting it fall onto the ground.
She pursed her lips, noticing her surroundings flying backward. The trees, people, houses and so on appeared and vanished within her line of sight in a split second. It was as if time was playing in reverse. How great would it be if she could rewind time? She could return to being the peaceful girl that she was, free from emotions and matters of the heart.
Meng Fuyao sat stiffly on the horse. Yuan Zhaoxu hadn't shown mercy when tossing her onto it. Like a wooden block and unable to control herself, she simply shook along with the movements of the horse. Yuan Zhaoxu had one hand controlling the reins and the other supporting her waist. Despite her having on a thick winter coat, she could still feel his ice-cold palm.
From her angle, she could only see his lower jaw – as exquisite and strong as usual – and his lips closed tighter than her own. He was always smiling a smile so noble and carefree that his cold, downturned lips were discomforting for her. She subconsciously reached her hand out in an attempt to flatten them, only to realize that she was unable to move a muscle.
They rode on, through the wide, quiet streets and water streams. There were Rongsmen setting river lanterns, whose colorful lights drifted along with the ripples and the rolling wind. The Rongsmen lifted their heads, catching a glimpse of the speedy horse flashing by, a whole sea of Bougainvilleas being raised, and then the two figures sitting on top.
Falling petals, floating lights, frosted ground... it was a night many were celebrating in cheers; it was a night a duo was sitting in silence.
The tapping of hooves struck the cold, silent night. The city gate was in sight. Yuan Zhaoxu conveniently picked out the command tablet from Meng Fuyao's robe and tossed it toward an approaching soldier. "The mayor has an urgent military matter to attend to. Open up!"
Without a word, the soldier opened the gates, and Yuan Zhaoxu sped forward immediately.
"Why are we going out?" Meng Fuyao asked.
Yuan Zhaoxu showed no signs of entertaining her. Faced with such a blatant dismissal, she could only shut her mouth. Some time later, she heard him say, "Your brain needs a cleansing."
"Eh?" She uttered in perplexion. Upon understanding that she had really provoked him that night, she decided that it was better for her to remain quiet in order to stay alive.
Opposite of her, Lord Yuan Bao stuck his body out and flicked her head, his eyes full of disdain.
"How stupid of me?" Meng Fuyao read his action.
'Yeah, how stupid of me, but if I don't do something stupid now, I might act more foolishly in future...'
Meng Fuyao sniffed and looked up at the hazy moon. In another space and time, what was Mom doing? Did she still have funds for dialysis? Did the research institution compensate for her death? She had always sent Mom to the hospital by bicycle. Who was fetching her now that she was gone?
17 years. 17 years had passed for her in the Five Region Continent. She was really afraid that both universes were parallel, and that her mother wouldn't be able to wait for 17 years. Yet, there were things she couldn't give up on despite her fears. What if both universes were running at different times? What if the supernatural being in the Evergreen Shrine could bring her back? What if Mom had been waiting all this while?
Meng Fuyao raised her head to let the cutting wind blow against her widely-opened eyes. It was so cold that she could almost feel the liquid in her eyes freezing up.
Her body jolted, and the fine frost shattered. Meng Fuyao muddle-headedly looked up and saw that Yuan Zhaoxu had already stopped his horse, and before them was a sheet of verdant mountains. Unobstructed by construction, they galloped forward, embracing the howling wind.
Meng Fuyao couldn't recognize the place, unlike Yuan Zhaoxu, who seemed to be familiar with the landscape. He got off the horse and grabbed Meng Fuyao down. She waited for him to reactivate her acupuncture point, but he did no such thing. Instead, while carrying her, he dashed up the mountain.
He moved so fast that the winding path beneath him appeared almost flat. A bout of dizziness took over Meng Fuyao, but she only let out a bitter smile. 'See, no matter how gentle a person is, he can turn into a lion when provoked.'
Fortunately, Yuan Zhaoxu stopped not long after. Meng Fuyao's head felt heavy. Unable to lift it up, Meng Fuyao only caught a glimpse of white rising vapor while taking in a thick sulfur smell.
Before she could think clearly her body rose into the air.
"Ahhh!" Meng Fuyao screamed as a splash exploded upon her plunge into the water. The water was hot, and white gas was surging upward. It was only after she had stood up that she realized she could move again.
She held onto a half-exposed rock to steady herself and wiped the water off her face. Looking around with her body all wet, she noticed that they were in a natural spring and Yuan Zhaoxu had tossed her in earlier.
She stood in the pool and looked toward the shore at Yuan Zhaoxu, who was half-covered within the shadows. Her face flushed, and she felt dizzy. In that moment she couldn't understand Yuan Zhaoxu's motive.
Half a face hidden within the darkness while the other half illuminated by the pale moon, Yuan Zhaoxu watched her quietly, his eyes bright, moist and crystal clear.
"Wash. Wash yourself good. You need to cleanse your brain and understand what you want and should do."
Soaking in the springwater, Meng Fuyao resembled a homeless dog as she heard every word coming out from that unperturbed man like the shattering of jade stones.
'I'll give you a night's time to cleanse yourself. Cleanse away all the selfishness, indulgence and frivolousness. Don't stop until you learn how not to take advantage of others' tolerance. Don't stop until you learn that you can refuse and avoid, but you have no rights to trample on others' dignity and interfere with their freedom of choice."
Meng Fuyao shivered in the hot water, and she slowly lowered her body back into it.
"Liking and pursuing you is my business while avoiding and rejecting me is your business. If you don't want to see me, tell me clearly, and I will disappear before your eyes forever. Do you want that, Fuyao? If so, tell me now."
Meng Fuyao looked him in the eye, water beads flowing down her face. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
Yuan Zhaoxu gazed at her from higher grounds, his tone calm but eyes sorrowful.
"You're troubled but unwilling to share anything with me, Fuyao. It's not that I can't accept rejection, but I can't accept your unreasonable repulsion and abandonment. Worse, you'd rather push me into someone else's arms. Fuyao, you're selfish and cruel. You only think about protecting your own heart, and in the process, treat the heart of others as worthless."