Qiu Chan hurriedly stood up. When she caught sight of Ni Lie’s face, she couldn’t help but be momentarily stunned. The man before her was exceptionally handsome, tall and robust, exuding an imposing aura that made it difficult to meet his gaze directly.
Her face turned instantly red. Initially, she had a somewhat disdainful attitude towards him. She had heard that the Commander-in-Chief of the two rivers and three provinces was born of a tigress mother, fierce and unstoppable. She had expected him to be a strange and uncouth brute. However, he had taken her by surprise, turning out to be such a handsome and gallant young man.
Her heart couldn’t help but race, her breathing becoming slightly heavier, and her excitement blossoming.
The man in front of her took a few steps towards her, catching Qiu Chan off guard as she met his sharp eyes.
Ni Lie openly examined her from head to toe, not letting go of a single detail.
Similar, very similar. However, for some reason, Ni Lie didn’t feel that familiar sensation. Especially those eyes – his animal-like instincts told him something was amiss. Those eyes shouldn’t belong to someone with such an appearance.
Everything these eyes conveyed reminded him of the women in his harem from his previous life.
Being directly scrutinized by him made Qiu Chan’s face flush red. She slightly curtsied in a delicate manner and then straightened up again, almost sighing, “My lord, you’ve grown so big.”
With such a soft and delicate demeanor, she was truly charming. There wasn’t a man who wouldn’t feel tender towards her, Qiu Chan thought, blushing.
Sure enough, the man before her stood there, observing her for a long while before approaching and taking a seat.
“Over these years, you’ve suffered,” he said.
Qiu Chan listened to his words, feeling a sense of relief that things were likely not going awry. She went along with it and reddened her eyes, taking a handkerchief from her sleeve to dab at the corners of her eyes.
The man pointed to a nearby seat, saying, “You should sit too.”
With teary eyes, Qiu Chan sat down in a mournful manner. The man picked up the teapot from the table and poured tea for her.
“Back then, when we parted in the animal room, I never thought we’d meet again like this.”
Qiu Chan’s face reddened even more. She lowered her head and twisted the handkerchief.
“Yes, I had hoped we’d go our separate ways. If not for…” Her voice choked slightly, and she paused. “If not for the fact that I truly had no way out, I wouldn’t want to trouble you so much.”
“Such words aren’t necessary,” Ni Lie lowered his gaze, concealing the coldness in his eyes. He picked up the tea cup, using the lid to remove the tea froth. “We don’t need to discuss these things between us.”
He took a sip of tea and continued casually, “I wonder if you still have the token I gave you back then?”
“… Your token, Qiu Chan treasures it like a precious item.” Qiu Chan managed a forced smile, feeling uneasy. She didn’t actually know what token he had given back then, and she was afraid he might continue probing. So, she changed the subject, “The palace is strict, I’m curious how you managed to come in?”
Just as the words left her mouth, for some reason, she felt the air suddenly grow colder. She became even more uneasy. She glanced at him, noticing that he hadn’t said anything, yet it felt as though he had transformed into a different person.
Qiu Chan felt a sense of foreboding, but seeing him calmly preparing the tea, her heart thumped with anxiety. Strangely, she now felt more afraid of this version of him than she had been when serving Emperor Mingde.
She cautiously stole a glance, and when she saw him lifting his head, the sharpness in his eyes sent a shiver down her spine. She quickly lowered her head, and she heard him ask, “Have you served the Third Prince?”
Qiu Chan’s heart raced, pondering the reason behind this question. Based on what she had heard at the imperial hospital that day, it seemed there was some enmity between these two.
She nodded, her thoughts racing. She then heard him inquire further:
“How did he treat you?”
“The Third Prince treated me… acceptably.”
He chuckled softly, “Then, why didn’t you follow him to Lingnan back then?”
Qiu Chan swallowed, her mind in turmoil. Her original intention had been to replace that ominous figure. However, how could she give up the opportunity to become a concubine and instead follow a less favored prince to such a treacherous place?
Anxious thoughts raced through her mind: This nobleman, with such great influence, managed to transfer her from the laundry department. He must be aware of her past as a palace maiden. How could a man not be concerned about a woman’s purity?
Her mind spun through several turns, and an idea formed—she was originally a substitute for that unfortunate person. Now, she must shift the blame onto that person to achieve two goals: firstly, prevent the two from reuniting; she could continue being his benefactor. Secondly, she hoped to evoke his compassion and make him disregard her lack of purity.
As she thought more about it, the plan seemed feasible. So, she let out a sob, tears streaming down her face, portraying herself as pitiable and helpless.
However, the man before her showed no hint of sympathy. He calmly sipped his tea as if nothing had happened.
Panic welled up within Qiu Chan. She sensed that things were not going well, but she was already in a difficult position. She wiped away her tears, her voice filled with sorrow, “How could I not want to escape this cannibalistic palace? I thought I would eventually have a chance to leave this treacherous place with the Third Prince. But… he actually did it to please the Emperor, by offering me to him…”
She cried, tears streaming down her cheeks like pear blossoms in the rain, “Pity me, innocent and yet plunged into this quagmire!”
Just as she finished speaking, the man indeed seemed to breathe more heavily. He closed his eyes briefly, and his teeth clenched slightly, “Third Prince… really did this?”
Qiu Chan’s heart leapt with joy. She cried even more tragically, “Qiu Chan should never have spoken ill of my master behind his back. But the Third Prince has harmed me so… My lord, please don’t be deceived by him anymore. He is a sinister and cunning person, the embodiment of a snake and scorpion. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do…”
Before she could finish her words, there was a heavy thud. The table before her shattered into pieces. The man suddenly stood up.
Qiu Chan immediately fell silent, staring at him in terror.
He raised his emotionless eyes, their brown irises gleaming with chilling light.
Fear surged through Qiu Chan. She scrambled to her feet, watching the man take step after step towards her. Trembling all over, she involuntarily retreated.
“My lord!” she quivered, her lips trembling, fear engulfing her like a wave of ice-cold water. She tried to say something else, but her neck suddenly tightened. A pair of sharp claws gripped her throat, lifting her off the ground, pinning her to the wall. Her mouth hung open, gasping for air, her legs kicking in panic.
Her eyes, now bloodshot, locked onto him, “I saved you… how… can you… repay me…”
Before the words of revenge could escape her lips, his eyes turned fierce, and he tightened his grip on her throat. Qiu Chan’s legs kicked once more, and a streak of blood dripped from her lip. Her head slumped to the side, life extinguishing from her body.
Suddenly, Ni Lie released his grip, and her lifeless form fell to the ground like a discarded sack. He paid her no mind, as if she were something dirty. Without a second glance, he strode out of the room.
Outside, a eunuch waited, his brows furrowed in apprehension.
Ni Lie turned his head slightly, squinting his eyes, “Clean up properly.”
As the eunuch was about to respectfully bid him farewell, he saw the man stumble. Rushing forward, he supported him.
Ni Lie waved his hand dismissively and walked away on his own. His figure disappeared into the vast night.
After a day of overcast skies, a gentle drizzle finally started in the night.
In the desolate and empty streets, a tall man walked, his expression blank, letting the rain soak his entire body.
He walked slowly, burdened with heaviness, struggling step by step.
A gust of wind, carrying raindrops, swept over, chilling him to the bone. Yet, he seemed entirely unaffected, his gaze vacant as his mind echoed with memories.
He remembered the image of a person lying in a pool of blood, their face unrecognizable. He remembered interrogating that person harshly, demanding to know why they had altered his fate—remembered their fragile and desperate expression. He recalled that person, like a bird with clipped wings, leaping from a high rooftop. The same person who had once tenderly caressed his face on a rainy night.
“A Lie, from now on… sister can no longer protect you. You’ll be alone out there… take good care of yourself.”
From the very first moment he saw that person, he harbored suspicions. He had doubted from the beginning, but he had avoided thinking too deeply about it.
Now, he understood his own wretchedness. He dared not, he, the audacious and bold one, capable of turning the world upside down, couldn’t dare to contemplate that possibility. He had long discarded such thoughts from his subconscious.
He drove him to his death.
He was responsible for the death of his “sister.”
His sister, his darling, his heart and soul—she had died in despair right in front of him.
Ni Lie stopped in his tracks, gazing skyward with closed eyes. His ten fingers dug into his flesh, the pain grounding him.
Endless darkness swallowed him whole.
Late spring, a slightly chilly night. On this rainy night, the cold penetrated to the bone.
Ni Ying closed the rain-soaked windows and added more charcoal to the stove before gazing contentedly at the person in the room.
Li Yuanmin was sitting under the lamplight, reading a book. Fresh from a bath, he wore a moon-white robe, his long black hair cascading down. He sat relaxedly, his slender and fair fingers brushing his lips as he concentrated on reading. The candlelight softened his radiant face.
Ni Ying sighed with relief, sensing that he was gradually coming alive. This realization almost made her tear up, but she held back.
She didn’t want to disturb this beautiful scene; she merely looked at him a little while longer before quietly retreating.
The candlelight flickered, and a moth fluttered against the lampshade. Li Yuanmin let out a sigh, put down his book for a moment, and gently shooed it away. Just as he was about to resume reading, the door creaked open. A tall figure stood there, shrouded in darkness.
Li Yuanmin’s lips curved into a smile as he stood up.
“Why did you come?”
As he was about to approach, he noticed something amiss in the man’s expression. His eyes were bloodshot, his face pallid, and he was drenched from the rain.
Li Yuanmin’s heart tightened, and he was about to call for dry towels when he heard the man in front of him mutter, “I found the palace maid who rescued me from the palace back then.”
Li Yuanmin was taken aback for a moment, struggling to appear composed, “Oh?”
He feigned nonchalance, taking a few steps forward and helping the man out of his wet overcoat, which he tossed aside.
“What were you doing? You’re all wet.” Li Yuanmin grumbled softly, though his pupils trembled uncontrollably.
Ni Lie’s blood-red eyes stared at him, and he spoke hoarsely, “Her name is Qiu Chan.”
Li Yuanmin’s breath caught, and he stammered, “How… how could it be her?”
But Ni Lie didn’t directly answer the question. He just kept staring into Li Yuanmin’s eyes, “I once said that she was the only woman I ever wanted to marry in my past life.”
Pausing, his voice choked, “So, I will marry her.”
Li Yuanmin’s mind raced, and his lips quivered with anger, “You dare! You dare to marry her!”
“Why not?” Ni Lie drew closer, his eyes even redder, “Why can’t I marry her?”
Li Yuanmin suddenly realized what was happening. He swallowed hard and took a few steps back, “You… if you marry her… then don’t come to see me anymore.”
Ni Lie’s face twisted in anguish, and he let out a bitter smile, “So, you know that not seeing you is the one condition that can truly threaten me, right?”
Li Yuanmin’s heart pounded, feeling cornered, he pressed against the wall. He raised his hands, pushing against the man’s chest, but Ni Lie’s cold body made him shudder with fear.
“Because you know, I’m already deeply attached to you, and I can’t break free, can I?”
Ni Lie’s voice quivered, he said each word with difficulty, “So, you won’t tell me that you’re my ‘sister,’ you’re afraid I’ll go mad, right?”
Li Yuanmin shivered, looking at Ni Lie. He was becoming unhinged, his face distorting. Li Yuanmin panicked and hugged his neck, standing on tiptoe, pressing his face against the cold skin.
“A Lie, it’s not your fault. My death in my past life had nothing to do with you.”
But the man in front of him was already in a daze. He murmured,
“How could I bear it…”
“How could I bear watching you hurt yourself, cut yourself piece by piece…”
“How could I bear treating my heart, liver, and flesh so cruelly…”
“How could… I bear it…”
Li Yuanmin’s heart ached, and tears streamed down his face, “It’s not your fault, it really was not your fault.”
Feeling lost, he could only hold onto the man’s hand and press it against his abdomen, “I’m in pain, A Lie. Feel it, touch it.”
Ni Lie stared at him with his blood-red eyes, then glanced at Li Yuanmin’s slightly protruding abdomen. He embraced Li Yuanmin tightly, so tight that it hurt, that Li Yuanmin’s bones ached. Yet, he didn’t resist; instead, he hugged Ni Lie’s head and caressed him.
“A Lie…” Li Yuanmin’s voice trembled, “Do you remember New Year’s Eve?”
Images gradually resurfaced in Ni Lie’s mind, clearing through the fog of confusion. He remembered, on that night, how he had followed Li Yuanmin back to his room, how he had brought him to the bed, how they had been entangled without end. The fireworks had been dazzling, and as he held Li Yuanmin, sweaty and flushed, against his chest, he had tenderly whispered to him.
At that time, he had already fallen into the net of emotions that Li Yuanmin had woven, and there was no possibility of escape—he just hadn’t known it then.
Li Yuanmin, with tear-filled eyes, kissed his lips, “Back then, I already knew you were the Red Tiger King… I already knew you were…”
But despite that, he treated him tenderly.
Perhaps now, Li Yuanmin finally understood why he had acted that way back then. He also understood why, in both lifetimes, he hadn’t been able to leave the child trapped in the cage alone.
The child who was treated as subhuman, trampled on, abused, treated worse than an animal. Li Yuanmin looked at him as if he saw himself abandoned by the world.
They were two lonely beasts in this world, unable to resist dragging their wounded bodies close, taking solace in one another.
It was destiny.
Li Yuanmin treated him as one would a baby, gently touching the back of his neck. “No matter the lifetime, you will always be my A Lie.”
The man in his embrace remained silent, only holding onto him more tightly. Li Yuanmin felt a scorching warmth spreading from his neck, and he closed his eyes, his tears falling freely, “My A Lie…”
The night was exceptionally tender.
Li Yuanmin embraced Ni Lie, their bodies exposed. He had never experienced such moments before. With his own body and tenderness, he comforted this lonely creature across two lifetimes.
Of course, the world at large wouldn’t understand the significance of their actions. These dirty, sticky, and indecent gestures would be met with scorn if witnessed by others.
Yet, Li Yuanmin didn’t care. When he no longer desired anything else, he didn’t care how others looked at them or what they thought. Nothing could be more important than soothing his A Lie.
He was willing, he was willing to give up everything for this.
Because he knew that this man felt the same way.
So, he couldn’t bear to let even a shred of guilt affect him—he didn’t want to let go at all.
No matter how fate twisted and turned, they were each other’s redemption. This fact wouldn’t change, no matter what.
Moist hot waves enveloped everything.
Li Yuanmin kissed Ni Lie’s eyelids, “My A Lie.”
He kissed him again, their bodies still damp, and repeated gently, “My A Lie.”
The author has something to say::
Drumroll—our Red Tiger King shed some tears!
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