Surrounded by frost coated trees, on the outside of Jade Mausoleum, fresh crimson blood tainted the calm and quiet tranquility.
Inside, corpses scattered over the entire mausoleum floor. Bright, red blood flowed on the floor, and the smell of death permeated every corner.
In the middle of the sea of blood, a tall figure stood, his body draped in a long, silk robe with a dragon symbol. Although he was already middle-aged, he hadn't lost his figure. His eyes were deep and unreadable.
The tiles beneath his feet were covered in a garish red river of blood, rivulets of it flowing out of the arms and legs of the dead bodies.
Suddenly, a clear voice called out from behind, "Your Majesty, General Duan has returned from his mission."
The emperor hadn't withdrawn his gaze from the three tombstones and said in a low, magnetic voice, "What did he find?"
The subordinate quickly responded, "It appears the An Clan's leading commander has been killed in an ambush."
"Hmm." There was a shift in the emperor's expression. The deep pools of his eyes flashed for an instant, quickly masking over the change as if he had never been surprised in the first place. "That lad sure had no shortage of brute strength, even our army could hardly manage without the Bai families help."
He returned his sword to the scabbard on his waist. The emperor bestowed a faint glance that held no emotional fluctuations to the slain bodies below him. It was as if in his eyes, they were not even as good as air.
"It truly is a shame."
The subordinate behind him said nothing and silently kneeled. After a prolonged moment of silence, the emperor ordered, "Arrange to have their bodies disposed of. And clean up this mess. I don't want a single drop of blood to further taint this place."
"Yes, your Majesty." The subordinate bowed and quickly went to attend his orders.
Left alone, the emperor shifted his gaze to the sword resting high on the ceiling above the three tombstones. Images of a woman flashed before his head. Her brilliant golden hair spread upon the white ground, the tips tainted with crimson red. A sword, folded perfectly in the woman's cold, porcelain hands while she lay still in her own blood.
His pupils dilated as he sank deep into his thoughts. When a sudden notion came to him, his eyes narrowed. The emperor glanced at the third tombstone, the words 'Liu Rin' engraved on the front.
Only after a long period of silence, did he look away with a sigh and leave the Jade Mausoleum.
The next few days passed in a blur. In those days, they finally returned to the Bai Manor.
"Hah!" Rin swiftly threw out her own fist in a fast jab, striking it into General Guo's face.
He dodged his head to the side. Rin followed the punch with another using her other hand. He caught it in his large palm, his fingers swallowing her fist.
Gritting her teeth, Rin thrust her knee up, but he blocked with his other hand and shoved her back with both hands to her abdomen. She stumbled a few steps before finding her balance and looked back with sharp eyes. General Guo backed up and cracked his neck, his hard face bearing a stern expression.
As he stepped closer, Rin stepped back, maintaining a measured distance. When her body connected a kick to his side, her body hummed with excitement. Though she knew it didn't affect him, the contact thrilled her.
Upon her flawlessly and delicate face was an unquenchable, ruthless smile. The pair of emerald eyes, which seemed to have been immersed in darkness, were shining with elation after issuing attack after attack.
Regrettably, her excitement was cut short the longer she sparred. As she launched a high kick to his head, General Guo grasped her ankle and dragged her off balance, sweeping a foot under the only ankle holding her to the ground. Rin yelped, her body going down. Then, she was on the ground.
It happened so fast, she could hardly process what happened. Breathing heavily, Rin glanced up to see General Guo looking down at her, his face grim.
His eyes narrowed. "You've become weaker."
Rin looked up from the ground and blinked. She let out a soft sigh.
"From what I've seen, your sword and crossbow skills have improved, but your combatting has grown sloppy and weak. You can't rely on weapons all the time, Rin." He explained sternly.
"I know, Uncle." Rin sighed helplessly as she understood the meaning behind his words.
Then, she looked towards the wide horizon of the clear blue sky. She took a deep breath of the refreshingly cool spring air to suppress the resentment in her heart.
She was seriously frustrated right now.
She hated to admit it, but she had grown physically weaker. Compared to a few months back, her body stamina could hardly keep up with her uncle in a one on one match.
Rin frowned and stood up in one swift graceful movement.
"Uncle, please let me try again." She looked at him with determination.
General Guo frowned slightly, his thin lips pressed into a straight line. He saw her expression was very tired and opened his mouth, but had decided not to say anything. He sighed.
"Very well. Then let's try once more, watch your form this time, not your speed."
Rin nodded seriously and prepared herself for their next sparring match.
By night did Rin and General Guo finish training. The following morning she would practice again, but for now, she needed to recover.
The tranquil night was especially peaceful, strangely so. Only the occasional crackling from the lanterns disturbed the silence. Walking down the hall, Rin took the rag from the maidservant and wiped the sweat from her forehead.
The sound of a door sliding open suddenly caught her attention. Raising her head, Rin was vaguely surprised to see Yun Suyin exiting her room.
Her brow wrinkled slightly and she called out in a gentle tone, "Miss Yun, is something wrong?"
At the sound of her voice, Yun Suyin's body jolted in surprise. She jerked her head in Rin's direction with wide eyes. Rin blinked her eyes and looked at the girl's appearance curiously.
Yun Suyin was wearing a pale pink dress, and a pearl hairpin in the latest style was arranged in her long, dark hair. Her figure was short but slender, especially at her waist.
However, to be dressed so elegantly late in the night; it was clear she had planned to go somewhere. Especially from her flustered reaction just now. With an idea of where she planned to go, Rin held back a giggle and looked at Yun Suyin with her usual smiles.
"I know everything happened so suddenly, but I hope you're comfortable. If you have any other problems, please inform the maidservants." Rin's voice was soft and kind, her eyes bright and crystal clear.
Yun Suyin seemed surprised by her words; her eyes widened, and she couldn't speak for a long moment. After a few seconds, she finally recovered herself and frowned. To be honest, she was bothered by Rin's demeanor toward her.
Initially, Yun Suyin believed Rin to be someone of a lower class who happened to have good manners. Yet, who would have thought the girl was from such a prestigious family!
This displeased her.
Nevertheless, still maintaining a proper attitude, Yun Suyin flashed a strained smile.
"Yes, it was a bit of a surprise, but as of now I'm quite comfortable." Her eyes roamed Rin's body for a moment before her smile broadened. "I see Miss Bai is also quite comfortable with herself."
Rin was a little surprised by Yun Suyin's sudden words. It didn't take a fool to understand what her words were implying. In comparison to Yun Suyin's graceful appearance, Rin only wore a plain, white robe and was covered in sweat. She probably didn't smell very good either.
While Rin found it unpleasant at times, she knew it was something that came with combatting and somewhat grew used to it. It was especially more enjoyable with her short hair.
But to a young miss like Yun Suyin, her appearance could be recognized as indecent.
When Yun Suyin finished speaking, her gaze shifted to Rin's face, only to realize that she was expressionless and calm.
Rin's expression didn't change one bit as she said with a smile, "I'm glad to hear you're comfortable. Now, if don't you mind, I need to bathe. I hope you sleep well, Miss Yun."
Yun Suyin's eyes widened. She bit her lip as she tried to control her anger before lowering her head and quickly walking past Rin - her shoulders purposely colliding into her. Rin stumbled but didn't seem the least bit affected. When Yun Suyin was no longer in sight, the maidservant behind her finally complained.
"Miss Bai, how could you allow that girl to—" The maidservant had yet to finish venting when Rin raised her hand.
"I'm sweaty, please prepare the bath," Rin ordered calmly, her expression unreadable.
The maidservant bit her lip and nodded her head before leaving to carry out her orders. Rin watched her leave with a soft sigh. Standing alone in the hallway, she looked out the window beside her and into the dark, starlit sky, her eyes somewhat empty.
She didn't dare take things like petty words seriously, nor did she have the energy to engage in them. Right now, her mind was preoccupied with one and one task only.
The aim to grow stronger. At that time, would she be able to accomplish her goal - to take back the Eastern Empire from Li Chang.
Rin narrowed her eyes and her hands clenched into fists. She needed to work harder. With this thought in mind, Rin shifted her gaze away from the window and walked toward the bathing area.
 Mausoleum - a building, especially a large and stately one, housing a tomb or tombs.
At the top of Fa Mountain, a clear and pristine mausoleum rested at the top. Painted golden walls, sculpted walls, and glass tiles scattered the afternoon sunbeams, producing a luminous scene that did well to show off the importance and care of the Jade Mausoleum.