Chapter 14: A bittersweet farewell

In the Inner courtyard of Du An Pharmacy, Ning Chen was currently facing a serious dilemma. To strip or not to strip? After toiling for half a day, the fruits of his labor was now laid bare right before him. It was a steaming tub of hot water. As he tore his eyes away from the wispy clouds of steam, he turned to the unconscious Mu Chengxue laying right beside the tub on a bed, his brows furrowed.

“Sigh, I don’t think I could live this down if I did this now…”

He touched his chest as he muttered quietly to himself. There was still a tinge of guilt left within him, meaning that he wasn’t a heartless bastard yet. However, given the circumstances, perhaps some minor details could be ignored?

Ning Chen tried convincing himself as he stretched out his hands. Aren’t the girls of this era very conservative? Even if there were extenuating circumstances, it still seemed inappropriate of him. As this thought crossed his mind, his hands halted in midair.

Manager, you’ve just dug a hole for me… Ning Chen griped quietly. He stared at Mu Chengxue once more and sighed, this time with a hint of determination in his tone.

“If this one doesn’t sacrifice himself, who will?”

With a clear conscience, he tiptoed to the bedside. As he held his breath, his eyes intently stared at her motionless face. Having confirmed that she wouldn’t wake up any time soon, his worries were finally allayed and he began the arduous process of stripping her.

“Hng.”

As the light sigh escaped her lips, Ning Chen’s outstretched hands immediately withdrew themselves as his entire body stood there frozen in shock . His eyes widened as they drifted back up to her face.

“S***, that was scary.”

He muttered to himself with an expression that looked like he was on the verge of crying. This lady was a ruthless woman who even dared to assassinate the Xia Emperor. If she woke up and saw him now, he would probably end up as a real eunuch in the palace.

*rip*

The ripping sound of fabric filled the otherwise quiet room as he tore a piece of cloth from his clothes. Darkness slowly closed in on him as the torn fabric was brought up to his eyes and secured. Sigh, being a gentleman is hard work.

Sigh, nothing’s visible now. Amidst this sigh was a tinge of regret hidden within it. As they say, Beasts is just another way to refer to Men.

Thankfully, Mu Chengxue’s clothes weren’t some complicated palace attire, so even blindfolded Ning Chen could still find his way around them. Besides, undressing wasn’t exactly rocket science either. A few seconds later, he was done undressing her.

As for whether there were any accidents while undressing her, that was a matter of conscience. Of course, he would never admit otherwise.

A short moment later, he carefully carried her into the bathtub. Only after confirming that her body was fully submerged in the tub did he finally remove his blindfold. As he looked at his hands, a silly grin spread across his lips. Looks like he won’t be washing those hands for a couple of days.

With that out of the way, everything else was simple. He quietly stood watch beside the bathtub, filling it from time to time with hot water before returning to his idling.

“Hrrgh”

A pained groan escaped her lips, closely followed by a spurt of fresh blood. As the crimson droplets landed into the otherwise clear water, his eyes widened in shock.

“Mu Chengxue.”

He immediately rushed up but before he could reach her, he was stopped by the half-conscious Mu Chengxue.

“Stop.”

It was just a simple stop but within it was a pained voice. The bath erupted in waves of steaming water as the air suddenly tensed up. A moment later, the True Qi within her exploded outwards, sending the surrounding furniture along with Ning Chen flying in a mass of broken wood and debris.

As he laid against the wall, he spat out a mouthful of blood. The collision with the wall had clearly taken its toll on him.

“Sigh, death really does find those that seek it.”

Ning Chen wiped off the blood before struggling to his feet and checking in on Mu Chengxue.

“…”

In the midst of her stupor, she noticed the approached Ning Chen but fainted before she could say anything.

His heart skipped a beat as he watched her body go limp once more. Ignoring his internal injuries, he immediately rushed forward and placed his fingers onto her neck artery. There was a pulse. The faint thumping of the artery instantly put to rest any worries he had.

Upon closer inspection, Ning Chen noticed the visible improvement in her complexion. Compared to her deathly pale look a moment ago, her face now had a tinge of rosiness.

“That damned manager, couldn’t he have warned me, damn it, it hurts.” He cursed under his breath as he winced from the pain. With the emergency over, the adrenaline in him finally receded, replaced by all the built up pain and fatigue that was kept at bay until now.

The amount of blood he had lost during these past few days alone could probably match up to what he had lost in his previous world. At this rate, the blood loss would probably kill him before Zhang Sun did.

Despite his griping, Ning Chen put on his blindfold once more as he hauled her out of the tub. He dried her off before gingerly carrying her back onto the bed. Only after covering her up with the blanket did he finally remove his blindfold.

As he looked at the twin tents on the blanket, he quietly lamented in his heart. He was right after all. There’s no way a girl could be that flat.

*drip*

As the thought crossed his mind, a rush of blood hit his head and a moment later, he felt a slight warmth in his nose followed by a slight dampness. As he looked down, the bloodstained fabric of his clothes caught his eyes. His nose was bleeding.

His face immediately flushed a bright red. After a round of debating with himself, he finally decided to get the manager to check out his situation. In his head, there was no way that he was a disgrace. Those internal injuries are the ones to blame.

……………………………….

A while later, in the Manager’s room…

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Ning Chen sat there waiting with bated breath as the manager checked his pulse, deathly afraid that the manager would diagnose some incurable injury or disease.

“There’s no major issues, a couple doses of medicine should do the trick.” The manager said as he calmly retracted his arms.

“Phew.” Ning Chen heaved a sigh of relief as he heard this. However, that matter of his nose bleed still bothered him. He pressed the manager once more, “Are you sure? I had a nosebleed just now.”

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Upon hearing this, he shot him a glance before saying, “Youngsters are prone to bouts of heatiness. Don’t worry, it’s normal. If you are still worried about this, I can prescribe a cooling medicine for you.”

*cough* “It’s different.” *cough* “It’s fine.” As the words left his mouth, he immediately coughed to cover it up before rejecting him clearly.

“Brother Ning, didn’t you accompany Her Majesty back to the palace? Why..” The manager suddenly stopped mid sentence. He wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for him to ask this, after all, it concerned the matters of the palace.

“Ha ha.”

Ning Chen awkwardly smiled as he gave a laugh, evading the question. He didn’t want to lie but he definitely didn’t want to tell the truth either.

Seeing his awkwardness, the manager decided not to press the issue further. In a forthright manner, he said, “Since it’s not convenient for Brother Ning to elaborate, this one won’t insist either. Brother Ning is welcome to spend the next few days here. It’s not too late to leave once she’s well.”

“Thanks Manager.” Ning Chen cupped his hands as he thanked him.

Even though he said this, he still wasn’t sure what to do after he leaves the pharmacy. This was a serious matter that needed to be resolved soon. Given Zhang Sun’s intelligence, it wouldn’t be long before she thought of checking here, at which point he would be done for.

He wasn’t sure if Zhang Sun would forgive him if she ever caught him. After all, leaving the palace without permission was a serious offence, not to mention he used her name in order to do so.

It was safe to say that his life would depend on her whims if he was ever caught. While she was known as a virtuous empress, this didn’t mean that she was soft. After all, in order to survive through the scheming within the Imperial Palace, one needed a certain degree of ruthlessness.

Ning Chen scratched his head as he walked to his room. He was facing a major problem right now and that was his lack of money.

Just to be safe, he didn’t dare bring out any valuables from the palace as he left except for Zhang Sun’s pendant; but that was something he definitely mustn’t sell.

The doors creaked open as he pushed them apart. He pulled up a nearby stool and plopped his butt down beside the bed.

This woman was most likely going to leave once she wakes up. Should I just shamelessly ask her to bring me along?

“Uh.”

As he thought about this, it suddenly struck him that he didn’t know a thing about Mu Chengxue except for her name. In fact, whether or not that name was an alias was still an unverified matter.

He suddenly felt that he was pretty stupid. He nearly lost his life for a girl that he knew absolutely nothing about and had no relation to. Furthermore, whether or not he could keep his life was still an unknown.

“Ah, lust is the opiate of the mind.”

He lightly sighed. As expected, men shouldn’t make promises so easily, that’s asking for an early death.

The night gradually passed as he slowly dealt with all the nonsensical thoughts in his mind. Unknowingly, he dozed off at her bedside. As for the manager, he left them to their devices as he went about his business in the front yard.

As the piercing light of dawn flowed into the room, Ning Chen slowly awoke to a pair of clear eyes staring at him. Without much thought, he raised his hand and said, “Morning.”

As that word left his mouth, he immediately jumped to his feet, his back straight and drenched in sweat. He subconsciously backed away before giving her a dry smile. “You…You’re awake.”

Without any visible change on her face, she nodded and calmly said: “Can you leave for a moment? I wish to change my clothes.”

“Of course…”

He immediately turned around as he heard this. He was still feeling guilty about what he did yesterday. Even though the situation demanded it, he knew how harsh this era was on women. What he did yesterday was equivalent to destroying her innocence.

Her calmness had deeply unsettled him, or perhaps he was simply thinking too much.

It had only been a few days since he arrived in his world and yet he had already gone through so many twists and turns. It almost felt like a dream to him. The surrealness of what he had experienced made these past few days seem like a fantasy.

He was scared. If the day came for that illusionary moon in the water to disappear, would there still be someone to remember his existence?

As the room door creaked open, Mu Chengxue slowly walked out. Her face was still slightly pale but this did nothing to hide her delicate features.

“It’s all thanks to you.”

A simple thanks that glossed over the tumultuous events of the last day. It was a calm thanks that weighed heavily on Ning Chen’s heart.

The two stood there in awkward silence, both having their own thoughts while not knowing how to express them.

“I’m about to leave.” A long while later, Mu Chengxue finally broke the silence.

“That fast?” He panicked as he looked up at the beautiful face in front of him and stammered.

“I’ve been out for too long, it’s time for me to head back.” She stared deeply into his eyes as she said this, her resolute tone not changing one bit.

“Is it today?”

As he said this, a sense of anxiety struck him as if he was about to lose something important to him.

“Mhm.”

She nodded, her expression as calm and unreadable as always.

“Uh, I wish you a safe trip then. If fate would allow it, we will see each other once more.” He said with a smile as he desperately tried to play it cool.

She sighed in her heart as she heard this. She wanted to say “If fate would allow it, we will see each other once more” as well, but just as she opened her mouth, the words got stuck in her throat. In the end, she never got to say it.

With a wave of her hand, a golden scroll dropped out of her sleeves and onto her palm. She immediately handed it to him and said, “This is for you, make sure no one knows about this.”

“What’s this for?” He asked curiously as he looked at the sea of words written on it.

“A cultivation technique.” She whispered.

“For body strengthening?” He said with a smile, the memory of that night still fresh in his mind.

“Mhm.” A beautiful smile appeared on her face as she softly assented.

“Remember to look after yourself. Don’t do anything silly.” He urged her once more. Even during this moment of farewells, he still couldn’t stop worrying about her.

“Mhm.” She nodded, her expression visibly softened.

“How about a hug before you leave?” He teased in a joking tone as he stretched his arms in a welcoming fashion. The last thing he wanted was to leave on such a heavy note.

Mu Chengxue paused for a second in shock but didn’t avoid him, in the end allowing him to hug her.

“Make sure to take care of yourself.”

As the gentle warmth enveloped him, he unknowingly hugged her even tighter as if it would imprint this moment in his heart for all eternity…

In the end, she still left, before the last bit of her warmth had even disappeared from his body. His heart ached, the pain filled his chest, preventing him from saying anything.

In his hands, the golden scroll laid there quietly with a trace of blood still left on it. He wasn’t stupid. He knew where this cultivation technique came from. Because of a meaningless joke, she risked her life in order to break into the Imperial Study. So stupid…heart-wrenchingly stupid.

Even now, he still didn’t know a thing about her. Just like their extraordinary meeting, that forced acquaintance and that forced trust, he didn’t have a say in that matter either.

“Hrgh” The suppressed emotions welled up once more, bringing with it a crimson flower. His body swayed as his leg began to give way.

“Sigh.”

A short distance away, the manager lightly sighed but chose not to step forward. It was best to let him release his grief alone…

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