The autumn wind brought stray drops of rain as it blew through the window shutter.
It whirled a few yellow bamboo leaves, which landed on the pearwood desk.
The stray fragments of rain landed on Jun Huailang’s face, and he hazily woke up.

Unexpectedly, he found himself in the place he knew best in his twenty-some years of living.
In front of him, the carved wooden shutter was open to reveal the lotus pond in his courtyard.
Ten stalks of decorative bamboo swayed by the window.
It was a traditional and proper scene.

He was sitting at his desk, and had dozed off against his arm.
There were many scrolls piled on the desk, and a ministry book was open in front of him.
At the corner of the desk was a Ru porcelain[1] brush-washing bowl his father had managed to obtain from Huzhou.
The guqin[2] he’d played since childhood leaned on a rack by the table.
On the couch under the window rested a jade chessboard.
It was even set up in the middle of a chess problem he had been solving.

This was the study he had used for more than twenty years.
It was familiar and peaceful, but despite that, incited a sense of unreality.

Jun Huailang stared blankly in the original spot for a moment.
The house was still, only the sound of rain hitting the lotus rustling outside. 

He… didn’t he die?

His parents passed, his younger brother dead protecting the city, the entire Jun family exterminated.
The cold rain and butcher knife at Xuanwu Gate, his sister’s humiliation…

In this place of tranquility, it was as if nothing had ever happened.

He impulsively looked down at his hand. 

His hands were slender and soft, with pale skin and delicate joints.
They seemed to be the hands of a child no older than ten.

But clenched in the palm of his hand was a wrinkled scrap of paper. 

Jun Huailang’s pupils shrank, and he hastily unfolded the scrap.

It was a corner of a page from that book full of strange words.
They were clearly Chinese characters, but missing many strokes.
He’d grabbed it by accident, and it was still wet from rainwater.

At the top it said: “Xue Yan’s lips curved into a cold arc.
He grasped her chin and…”

Jun Huailang’s gaze trembled with fear. 

It wasn’t a dream.

What he remembered, it all really happened.
But he didn’t know whether he was in the underworld now, or…

As he was thinking, someone opened the door and walked in.

Jun Huailang hid the scrap of paper back in the palm of his hand.
He looked up and saw a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy wearing close-fitting work clothes,[3] smiling as he entered.

“Eldest Young Master, the Anhui ink you wanted is here!” He said.

“… Fuyi?” Jun Huailang was taken aback.

Fuyi was his book boy.
Only younger than him by a year, they had grown up together.
On the day the Yongning mansion had been raided and Jun Huailang arrested, Fuyi was hacked to death by the Brocade Guard[4] while protecting him. 

How could Fuyi still be alive, and why did he look so young?

Fuyi didn’t notice the shock and doubt in his eyes at all.
He approached the desk with the piece of Anhui ink and began to grind ink for him in practiced motions.

”The ink in this courtyard ran out, so this servant specially went to the master’s study to fetch it for you.
It’s not the same as what you normally use, and I don’t know if you will be accustomed to it…” 

A light flashed in Jun Huailang’s mind.

After he finished reading that book, several immortals had appeared from the void and taken him away.
Judging from those immortal’s words, by luck or coincidence he must’ve gone somewhere he shouldn’t have.

And before his consciousness disappeared, he had faintly heard one of the immortals say he was sent to the wrong place.

Could it be that… he had already died and was supposed to be reincarnated in the underworld, but was mistakenly sent back a few years?

Jun Huailang looked at his hand clenched around the scrap of paper, and became more and more certain of his guess. 

So nothing had happened yet.
He was still young, his parents still alive, and his sister hadn’t…

Thinking of this, his gaze turned cold.

Xue Yan.

That brute was just a little beast right now. 

Fortunately, several immortals favored him and gave him such a clear opportunity to settle old accounts and enemies.
Thinking of this, Jun Huailang tightened his fingers and gripped the page tightly.

By the table, Fuyi was still unaware.
He talked as he ground the ink, babbling without stopping.
“Just now, this servant met Qingce from the Young Miss’s courtyard.
Qingce said that a wild cat killed the bird Young Miss was raising, and she cried for half the day! Qingce is so worried, they have to go to the palace for the Mid-Autumn Festival at night.
If the Young Miss’s eyes are swollen, what should she do…”

The sparrow.

Jun Huailang paused, and was able to match up the time with his previous life.

In the previous life, Jun Linghuan had raised a small yellow bird for more than a year, and it was very precious to her.
In the end, the bird had been bitten to death by a wild cat, and Jun Linghuan had been heartbroken.
He’d even had to coax her for ages.

Since then, Jun Linghuan had never raised birds again. 

If he remembered correctly, this year must be the 18th year of Qingping, and Jun Huailang was sixteen.
On this day in his previous life, he had fallen asleep in front of the window.
Chilled by the cold wind, he developed a fever and missed the palace banquet. 

Jun Huailang’s eyes darkened.

He remembered that in the book, Xue Yan once sent a bird to Jun Linghuan.
The bird had been locked in a jewel-encrusted gold cage, with a gold chain binding its claws.
Jun Linghuan refused it by every means possible, which offended Xue Yan.
But who knew that beast had such perverse hobbies! He somehow made an identical pair of chains, and forcibly shackled Jun Linghuan’s ankle. 

Thinking of this, Jun Huailang gritted his teeth.

Jun Linghuan never entered the palace very much.
He had no idea when the grudge between her and that beast had been born.
In this life, he must watch over his sister well, with absolutely no mistakes.

He put away that torn page, and looked up to instruct Fuyi.
“There’s no need to grind ink.
How much time do we have before entering the palace? You tidy up first, I’m going to see Linghuan.”

Fuyi responded, and promptly made arrangements with a maid. 

Jun Huailang sat alone at the desk, gradually digesting the facts before him and clearing his thoughts.

The Jun family was a centuries old clan, the foremost family closest to the Son of Heaven.
The amount of imperial banquets they attended were too many to count.
Thus the maid in Jun Huailang’s courtyard was very skilled, and didn’t take long to prepare his banquet clothes.

Though it was autumn, the cold came early to Chang’an.
Under the service of two maids, Jun Huailang exchanged a robe of watery cyan with dark brocade.
He added a dark cyan overcoat, and tied on a cloak.

He stood in front of the bronze mirror and glanced in.
The young man in the mirror had black hair, and his height was still insubstantial.
He hadn’t had his growth spurt yet.
He looked young and inexperienced, and his appearance seemed somewhat unfamiliar. 

That sense of unreality surged in Jun Huailang’s heart again.
He felt like Zhuangzi, who couldn’t tell the difference between dream and reality.[5]

The maid next to him was still beaming as she said, “Eldest Young Master looks so handsome.
Even though we see the Young Master every day, we can’t help but be dazzled!”

The maids around him all giggled.

She was not exaggerating.
The eldest young master of the Jun family was well-known in Chang’an for being handsome.
His face was as beautiful as a jade adornment, his eyes and brows were clear and picturesque.
A pair of peach blossom eyes seemed brimming with tender affection.
But his noble and austere temperament made him seem very cold.

Since his rebirth in this life, the childishness in his eyes had long since disappeared.
Instead, his eyes were calm and cold, with outstanding focus like an unspoiled genius. 

Jun Huailang had long been accustomed to his own appearance.
He glanced at the mirror and smiled indifferently.
“It’s just flesh, it’s only an object.”

What’s more important was the soul in the flesh, which had a chance to live once more.


Jun Huailang did not delay and went to Jun Linghuan’s courtyard.
That small and exquisite courtyard had flowers blooming in all seasons.
Small bells hung from the eaves of her main house and rang softly when the wind blew.

Fuyi held an umbrella for Jun Huailang and followed him all the way into Jun Linghuan’s house.

When the maid guarding the door saw him, she immediately smiled and announced, “Miss, Eldest Young Master is here!” and the inner maid invited them in with joy on her face.

Jun Huailang walked in and saw Jun Linghuan sitting at her dressing table, surrounded by several maids.

The little girl was like carved pink jade, eyes red from suppressed sobbing.
It hurt just to see her like this.
Although the whole family had doted on her since she was a child, she was very well-behaved.
At this moment, although she couldn’t stop crying, she didn’t make trouble and obediently allowed the maid to comb her hair.

Hearing that Jun Huailang came, the little girl’s eyes finally lit up a little.
She raised her reddened eyes and looked at him like a fawn. 

“Gege,[6] you came?” Her soft and sticky voice still held a sob.

This was the Jun Linghuan from eight years ago.
With just one glance, Jun Huailang’s heart melted.
How could that brute Xue Yan lay hands on such a lovable little girl!

The maid who had been combing Jun Linghuan’s hair stopped and straightened her hairpin.
She smiled and said, “Eldest Young Master is finally here.
We can’t do anything when Miss cries, we can only count on you.”

Seeing that her hair was done, Jun Linghuan leaped off the chair and ran to Jun Huailang. 

Jun Huailang bent down and hugged her.

Great, he thought.
Nothing has happened yet, his little sister hasn’t been touched by that beast’s viciousness.

Jun Linghuan wrapped her arms around his neck and, as if complaining, whispered, “Gege, my little bird was bitten to death by a cat.”

Jun Huailang patted her back and coaxed softly, “Gege knows.
The little bird is flying back to the heavens.
Later I will find you another pet, so it can accompany you in place of the bird, okay?” 

His voice was clear and rippling like a mountain spring.
Already pleasant to hear, now his soft tone made people want to indulge deeply in it.

Jun Linghuan wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded obediently.
“It has to be something a kitty can’t kill,” she added.

Jun Huailang smiled and nodded, then asked if she had eaten.
The etiquette at palace banquets were many and complicated, he was afraid that she would be hungry waiting for it.

So Jun Linghuan ate obediently.
She even gave Jun Huailang the precious osmanthus cake that she had saved from noon. 

Jun Huailang looked at the little girl watching him expectantly, waiting for him to taste her favorite pastries, and felt a little nervous.

In his previous life… how could he have let her suffer such pain?

Lying in front of him, Jun Linghuan watched him holding the cake but not eating it, and for a moment even forgot her own sadness.
“Gege, why aren’t you eating?” She asked.

Jun Huailang finally came back to his senses. 

He paused, smiled at her reassuringly, and patted the top of her soft hair.
There was an imperceptible solemn resolve in his clear voice as he said, “Gege will definitely protect you.”

He would not let Xue Yan, that scoundrel, have even the slightest opportunity to succeed.




[1] 汝窑 rare pottery from the Song dynasty [2] 古琴 seven-stringed zither [3] 短打 short, tight fitting clothes for fighting or labor (this is a gr8 pic [4] 锦衣卫 the imperial bodyguard and secret police force of the Ming emperors. [5] 庄子 influential Taoist philosopher, wrote a story about dreaming that he was a butterfly [6] 哥哥 older brother, can also be used to address older men in the same generation not related by blood.

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