Sitting atop a large boulder, legs crossed, was a monk, a head of white hair flowing down to his bony shoulders. The monk's ragged and tattered robe was covered with poorly sown patches.
Eyes closed, he sat motionlessly, the only movement being the wind moving his hair and robes.
The white-haired monk was silent.
The boy panted heavily and managed to heave his body up the mountain, where he saw the old monk resting on a rock beside a hut.
As if not noting the peaceful atmosphere, Aiguo wiped the sweat from his thick brows and ran toward him.
"Master Qiu, we need your help! Jia and I—"
Before the boy had the chance to finish, an object flung in his direction, a painful feeling rushing to the center of his forehead.
Aiguo clutched his head with a hiss and noticed the small pebble below his feet. He looked up at the white-haired monk with an extremely gloomy expression.
"Hey, old man! What was that for?!"
Toward the boy's accusations, the monk on the rock remained silent with his eyes closed.
"You know very well the reason yet act as if you don't. You're a dunce to ask such a question."
Aiguo's face sunk slightly before it reverted to normal upon recalling the reason he came here.
"Master Qiu, Jia and I found a boy near the river! He's still alive!"
The monk was silent toward his words, seemingly uninterested.
However, Aiguo continued, his small face glowing a faint red. "But it turns out the boy we found…is a girl—ouch!"
Aiguo grasped the back of his head from the unexpected blow. With slightly watery eyes, he glared at the old monk with a wrongful stare. The old monk ignored his glare.
"I have no care for the outside world, nor do I welcome perverts in my domain. Now get out."
Forcibly pushing down the annoyance in his heart toward the old monk, Aiguo pleaded. "Please Master Qiu! If you don't help, she'll die!"
The old monk yawned while scratching his back. "Not my problem. Besides, I'm old and lazy, what more do you expect from me, boy?"
Aiguo bit his lip and clenched the fists by his side. After a period of deliberation, the boy took in a deep breath and dropped his body to the ground in a kowtowing position.
"Oh, Great Grand Master Qiu, please help!"
The old monk glanced at the kneeling boy and raised a white eyebrow, a small sneer forming at the corner of his lips.
"You think flattery will work on me, boy?"
In Aiguo's eyes, the hope vanished instantly, like a fire extinguisher by a basin of cold water. The smile on his face stiffened for ten seconds before he realized it.
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Of course, the old man wouldn't be won over by simple words of flattery.
Aiguo continued looking at the old monk-like a begging puppy.
However, the old man was completely unaffected.
The next moment, Aiguo's pitiful look instantly switched to an expressionless face, an idea suddenly crossing his mind.
Aiguo elevated his head and said with a raised voice: "Please help! Please!"
The old monk looked at the boy coldly and said nothing.
Master Qiu: "…"
Master Qiu: "..."
The boy's voice raised even higher. "Please!"
"Shut up, boy! I'll help you all right?"
Aiguo smiled wide. He laughed, and his round face seemed to glow.
He said in a clear and pleasant voice: "Many thanks to Grand Master Qiu!"
The old monk felt goosebumps rise on his body and grumbled.
He picked his ear and muttered sourly, "Damn children, so annoying. Why are they so popular these days?"
Seemingly not detecting the old monk's words, Aiguo urgently ushered him forward.
"Follow me, Master Qiu!"
The old monk sighed before standing up from the rock and stretching his frail legs, his tattered robe swaying a little in the wind. Scratching his chin, he tiredly followed the frantic boy down the mountain.
"Your highness, you look so lovely!"
"Indeed! I have never seen anyone look more beautiful than the princess!"
The young girl sitting in front of the mirror with a quiet expression raised her eyes. She looked at the figure within the mirror and blinked.
Curved brows, pink lips, milky porcelain skin, and rosy cheeks. A small mole rested beneath the right of her almond-shaped eyes - pupils a dazzling and rare color of emerald.
A pink flower hairpin rested on both sides of her small intricate buns, while the rest of her sleek and gentle hair fell on her back.
Like a newly blossomed lotus, she looked humble and lovely.
The young girl subconsciously mumbled, "Not as pretty as mother…"
The maidservants were slightly startled by the girl's words and nervously cast one another a glance.
"D-Does your highness, not like it? If you wish, we can change it to your liking!"
The little girl calmly stared at herself in the mirror, her dark lashes veiling her eyes.
She sighed. "No. It'll do."
While the maidservants revealed a look of relief, they had completely overlooked the unusual look in the small princess's eyes when she looked in the mirror.
Outside her courtyard, the little girl stared up at the clear blue sky, a rare hint of delight veiled on her face. She blinked her round eyes before turning in the direction of another wing.
"I'm going to visit Mother."
The maidservants behind the girl widened their eyes and cast one another a glance.
"Ah…your highness, are you sure? The Madam's courtyard is rather far, and it's so cold out."
"Yes, yes! The Madam promised to have dinner with your highness tonight!"
The girl turned to look at the women coldly, her eyes never showing a single trace of emotion. Met with her stare, the maidservants clamped their mouths shut and lowered their heads with obedience.
The girl huffed before twirling her small body, the silk layers of her pink, lavender hanfu fluttering as she proceeded to walk in the direction of her mother's courtyard.
After walking into the Pearl Wing, the little girl calmly scanned her eyes around the area, searching for a certain figure.
When a flash of golden light caught her attention, the girl's doe-like eyes shone brightly, like a small creature discovering a rare treasure.
Running across the courtyard with her little feet, the girl's eyes shone brightly at the golden-haired woman. She paid no heed to the maidservants yelling her name, nor did she notice the tall man standing beside the golden woman, whose expression looked unsettled.
Before she came in sight of the two figures, a shadow cast over her, blocking her path. The girl froze and peered up at the figure with haughty eyes.
"Wei Jingyi!" She stomped the ground in frustration. "Move!"
The middle-aged servant by the name of Wei Jingyi looked at the little girl with an apathetic gaze. Upon a closer look, one could see the depths of his pupils turn darker as his eyes lingered on the little girl.
"Your highness, please return to your room."
"Move! I want to see my mother!"
"Your highness, the Madam is busy at the moment. Please return."
The little girl frowned. "Don't lie! I just saw her, now move!"
The little girl shifted her body to the side to move past Wei Jingyi when she suddenly froze in place. Her mother, with her back faced to her, had her head lowered, almost as if…she was crying.
However, the sight that met her eyes was enough to make her tremble in fright.
A tall man stood beside her mother, a hand placed on her shoulder, while his dark eyes looked at the little girl. The look in the man's eyes was cold, filled with unrestrained contempt.
The little girl could feel the hairs on her head stand on end. She subconsciously took a step back, trying to distance herself from the danger before her.
Why was uncle looking at her like that?
Why did mommy look like she was crying?
Lost in thought, the little girl had not realized her footsteps were already walking back to her courtyard. The flowering snowflakes covered by the red umbrella atop her head drifted in front of her.
The maidservants behind her were silent and looked at the petite figure with pity. Just as they were about to reach the door to her room, the little girl turned around.
"Leave. You're all dismissed."
The maidservants were startled and worriedly glanced at the little girl.
"Your highness, that…we were ordered not to leave you alone." A maidservant hesitated to say.
The small white fists by the girl's side clenched, her eyes turning colder.
"Your highness, perhaps we could go to the kitchen and deliver you some snacks, that'll cheer you up!"
"Indeed! While you wait, we can draw you a nice herbal rose bath and…"
Suddenly, the girl's lovely voice rose in anger as she shouted. "Don't I have the authority to command servants like you? I said to leave! Scram!"
The maidservants were extremely frightened. When they returned to their senses their eyes flashed with sympathy yet again.
"Your highness, I understand you're feeling troubled for the Madam, but she promised to visit you tonight. There's no need to…"
"Quiet! Whether she comes or not, I don't care anymore! If she wants to be with my uncle then let her! All I want is to be alone, is that too much to ask?"
Although her voice still had a hint of immaturity in it, every word was said strongly; it was as though each word was doused in ice water.
"Being surrounded all the time…it's suffocating! Everything is so…"
At that moment, a heavy feeling welled up in the little girl's chest. She released a loud cough and covered her mouth with her small hands.
The maidservants surrounded the girl with anxious expressions.
"Your highness, are you all..."
Their bodies suddenly froze, their eyes widening.
"Your highness, you…"
"Quick someone call the Imperial physician! The Princess…"
"…The Princess has coughed blood!"
The tiny, petite figure looked down at the blood on her white palms, a metallic taste filling her mouth. Viewing the dark color against her tiny fingers, her doe eyes grew large.
She suddenly felt the urge to go back and see her mother.
After that, her world turned black.
A small, broken down thatch hut rested upon the mountain cliff-side. Despite the frosty weather, overgrown weeds surrounded the hut, with green moss on the side of the cliff.