Ju Zi glanced at Wang Dong beside Huo Yuhao and nodded. "As long as you're alright. You should eat while the food's hot, it's not nice when it cools off. It's getting late—I'll visit again tomorrow. The higher ups in the military wanted to thank you personally, but I considered your identity and rejected them for you. It avoids unnecessary trouble this way."
"Thank you," Huo Yuhao replied sincerely, "We only fought to help you and Ke Ke, not for the Sun Moon Empire to quell this rebellion. It's best that we don't meet them."
Ju Zi said, "Yes. Enjoy your meal, we'll take our leave first." She forced a smile at Huo Yuhao before she made for the exit with a heavy heart.
Ke Ke tugged at Ju Zi's sleeves, but she just shot her a glare. Ke Ke was typically straightforward and casual, but she seemed a little meek as she stuck her tongue out and followed Ju Zi away.
Huo Yuhao watched their shadows disappear into the distance. He was a little confused as he muttered, "Why doesn't it feel like we saved them, but like we offended them instead?"
Wang Dong smiled and said, "Can't you tell? She really likes you, and feels very conflicted. However, she's the prince's consort, so you must be careful. Don't drag me down with you if something happens."
Huo Yuhao snapped, "Eat, eat. Stop spouting nonsense." He felt a little down when he saw the expression on Ju Zi's face, and he almost wanted to stop her to ask about it. However, he remembered that Ju Zi was the Crown Prince's fiancee, and their paths ahead were destined to never intersect, so he had to swallow his emotions. It was better this way, so that he wouldn't cause any trouble when he was supposed to let go and didn't. This sentiment was similar to what Ju Zi had said when she sobbed beside his bed, "We should never meet again." Both he and Ju Zi recognized the unsurmountable rift between them, and they understood it was best that they didn't interact too much.
The food was delicious, Huo Yuhao and Wang Dong were a little astounded. Four meats and four vegetables dishes, and they were all warm. It definitely wouldn't have been easy for them to put together a meal as sumptuous as this within their military camp. The soup was thick and rich, and Huo Yuhao knew with his experience in cooking that this was a taste that could only be achieved after prepping the food for an entire day.
Wang Dong found the food delectable, but Huo Yuhao could taste more than that. Even though Ju Zi didn't say anything to him, Huo Yuhao could taste many different things in this meal—out of the eight dishes, three were sour, and sour to varying degrees; two were sweet, and the rest were bitter, spicy, and salty.
He could taste a mix of five different flavors in a simple meal, with an emphasis on sourness and sweetness. She was the daughter of a renowned chef, so she was surely able to make these dishes the way she intended.
There was a similarly large tent not far from Huo Yuhao and Wang Dong. Ke Ke stared at Ju Zi with a confused look on her face. "Why are you acting so weird today, Ju Zi? Are you…?"
Ju Zi shook her head softly.
Ke Ke dashed to the entrance and poked her head outside. She made sure that nobody was nearby before she darted back beside Ju Zi and whispered, "Have you really fallen for Huo Yuhao?"
Ju Zi glanced at her, but she still said nothing. However, Ke Ke knew the answer from the look in Ju Zi's eyes.
"Since you like him, why did you leave back then? Why did you have to agree to marry the prince?"
Ju Zi answered plainly, "You don't understand. There are some things that I cannot decide—my life has been drastically changed ever since my parents passed away. Emotions like these shouldn't even be appearing in me."
Ke Ke glared at her and said, "Then why did you work so hard to make his food?"
Ju Zi said, "I'm just trying to repay him for saving my life."
Ke Ke raised her voice a little and said, "No, that's absolutely untrue. It's been a very long time since I've seen you so focused. When you were cooking for him, your entire aura felt different—it wasn't just focus in your eyes, I saw warmth and tenderness!"
Ju Zi shuddered. "You're talking too loud! Do you want the entire camp to hear you?"
Ke Ke softened and said, "Don't be so hard on yourself, Ju Zi. What's the point?"
Ju Zi smiled, but there was a tinge of sadness in all that beauty. "You wouldn't understand. Did you really think I'm suitable for him? Have you forgotten that I'm older than him by a few years? What kind of person is he, and what kind of person am I? You already know my status—I'm just one of the prince's chess pieces, and a chess piece that will be completely destroyed until it can't be used. All I can do is play my part as a chess piece. Do I have to drag him into this mess?"
Ke Ke leaned in beside her ear. "But you can run away!"
Ju Zi smiled again, but her smile was now one of despondence. "You still don't understand. Feelings cannot bring you happiness just from wishful thinking. Perhaps he has good feelings about me, but I can tell that someone else is already in his heart. That's not something that I can just force myself into, and that is the crux of the issue. Even if I'm willing to give my all for them, they must accept me too. Furthermore, how can I do that? I will have vengeance for the death of my parents—when they passed away that day, I swore that revenge would be the only thing motivating me to live for the rest of my life."
Ke Ke grew silent for a while, then said, "You're too extreme. Besides, how do you know he has someone else? Did he tell you that?"
Ju Zi shook her head and said, "He doesn't have to tell me, I just know. You don't need to care about this anymore—I don't want to see him anymore. Send them away when they recover from their injuries. It's late, you should go and rest."
"Ju Zi…" Ke Ke was about to keep going.
"That's an order!" Ju Zi said decisively, "Go and rest."
Ke Ke heaved a sigh. She could clearly see that Ju Zi's eyes were filled with tears, but she didn't say anything more, instead she came to Ju Zi and hugged her softly before she turned around and left.
Only when Ke Ke left did the tears welling up in Ju Zi's eyes trickle down like pearls cut from a necklace; they slid down her soft and tender cheeks.
So, this is how it feels to truly love someone. Why, why did you have to come into my life? I would've rather died at Zhao Yang's hands than see you again—did you know that?
Ju Zi was shouting internally. Even though she knew very well that this was against her interests she was still replaying the various experiences she had from when they were still together in her mind.
She could vividly remember the determination in Wang Dong's eyes when he answered her question. Even though it was just a heavy nod, it had completely severed that one last strand of hope and desire that she was so vehemently in denial of but had always been there from beginning to end.
The night went by in silence.
In the early morning, when the sun first peeked out from the eastern horizon, Huo Yuhao and Wang Dong were standing outside their tent. They faced eastwards as they inhaled and exhaled the dawn's purple energy.
The Purple Demon Eyes relied on consistent accumulation. Huo Yuhao revealed the strongest characteristics of his body; over just one night of cultivation, the flourishing life energy in his body had caused the wounds on his back to scab over. He was in a daze for a day and a night from when he was injured before he awoke, and that meant that only two days had gone by. His regenerative ability could only be called unprecedented, utterly extraordinary, and never to be duplicated.
The purple energy dissipated as Wang Dong asked, "Yuhao, I'm not very comfortable here. We are ultimately in someone else's territory. Can you walk?"
Huo Yuhao said, "It's not a good idea to remain here for long, as I'm unwilling to interact with the Sun Moon Empire's military too. I will be fine—it's a pity that my flying-type soul tool is broken. If not, activating and controlling it wouldn't have been a problem."
Wang Dong asked, "When do we leave?"
Huo Yuhao answered, "I will bid my farewells to Ju Zi and Ke Ke after breakfast, and then we'll leave."
Wang Dong studied Huo Yuhao's face solemnly. He could tell that there wasn't a forced look in Huo Yuhao's eyes at all, and the smile on his face became wider as he said, "Alright."
Ke Ke delivered breakfast this time. It was much simpler compared to the previous night's feast, consisting of steamed buns, salted vegetables, porridge, and sauced meat. The meal was simple, but sufficient.
"We only have this stuff left in the camp." Ke Ke said a little apologetically.
Huo Yuhao laughed. "We aren't privileged commoners used to living like royalty. A full stomach is enough for us. When I was young, I couldn't even find bread to fill my stomach sometimes. How can I be picky with a fragrant and enormous white steamed bun?" He started munching on a steamed bun that was almost the size of his palm as he spoke.
Formidable life energy was one thing, but life energy also needed replenishment, and food was the optimal choice for that.
Wang Dong had a lot gentler eating mannerisms compared to Huo Yuhao. He pushed more food in front of Huo Yuhao, spread open a steamed bun, and placed the marinated meat inside before he ate.
Ke Ke sat to one side. She seemed to have already eaten breakfast, so she didn't touch the food at all, but Ke Ke didn't leave either.
Huo Yuhao and Wang Dong quickly devoured the meal. "I'm full now. Ke Ke, is Ju Zi free? My injuries are much better now, and we have some things to do. I wish to bid her farewell."
Ke Ke frowned and said, "There's no need for that, Yuhao. She's very busy."
Huo Yuhao was stunned for a while, then said, "She doesn't even have time for a goodbye?"
Ke Ke's eyes seemed apologetic as she stood up and said, "Come with me, Yuhao. I have something to tell you."
Huo Yuhao said, "Wang Dong is my best friend. There is nothing you can't say in front of him."
Ke Ke lowered her voice and said, "No, this is something that only you should hear."
Huo Yuhao glanced at Wang Dong, and Wang Dong said calmly, "It's alright, go ahead. Everyone has his or her own secrets, and I don't want to know them."
Huo Yuhao stood up and followed Ke Ke outside.
Ke Ke didn't slow down after coming out of the tent, and she walked ten meters out of the military camp before she stopped.