The cheers and claps died down when they realized that Li Chenyang's arrow was still intact with his lowered bow.
Their puzzled eyes followed Li Chenyang's eyes until it landed on Xueyue who was preparing to sit back onto her saddle. That was, until a horrific event occurred.
An arrow flew straight towards her leg and before she could even dodge that, another flew towards her arm.
Hearing the "woosh" sound of arrows flying in its direction, Heiyue panicked and tried to maneuver his body to avoid the arrows to put Xueyue out of harm's way. The sharp and unexpected movement caused the poor girl to lose her footing. Everyone held their breaths as she slipped off her horse, yet no one dared to move — except the man rushing towards her when the first arrow whizzed through the air.
Li Chenyang urged his horse to gallop as fast as he could to Xueyue but couldn't get to her in time.
Xueyue squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for the painful fall, but it never came.
Instead, her back collided with something hard and solid. Startled at the warmth that emitted from it, she opened her eyes and found herself looking into a pair of eyes as bleak as midnight.
Completely awestruck by him, she could do nothing but stare right back. He was easily one of the most handsome men she had ever seen. His lips curled into a devious smirk upon seeing her gullible expression.
Dangerous. Alluring. Bewitching. All rationality left her when she continued to stare deeply into his eyes, a void of black that swallowed the light.
"Are you alright, little one?" His voice was deep and husky, yet warm and inviting.
"Xueyue!" Li Chenyang hopped off his horse. Without warning, he yanked her off of the man. Shoving her behind him, he glowered at her savior.
Xueyue rapidly blinked when she returned to reality. "Chen-ge? What are you doing here?" Her lips dipped into a frown. Why was he in the archery competition?
"Jinkai, I've already warned you once." Li Chenyang's dark voice surprised Xueyue.
'Warned him once? When? Did Chen-ge know this man?' she asked herself. Her eyes widened, 'Wait. Did he just say Jinkai? As in... Wen Jinkai, the Commander she encountered two years ago?!'
Curious at his condition now, Xueyue peered out from behind Li Chenyang's back. He looked healthy and well.
Her voice was caught in her throat when she inspected him closer. His brooding eyes that promised sinful nights were perfectly enhanced by his sharp jawline and broad nose. An air of mystery was wrapped around him. His devious smirk made him far too mysterious for her own good.
When his eyes met hers, she tilted her head. Her eyes unknowingly widened with curiosity.
Wen Jinkai's eyes flickered with amusement.
Li Chenyang scowled, "Are you even listening to me—"
"So what if you've warned me once?" he answered.
Xueyue swallowed. Betraying his fearsome aura was a smooth, velvet voice that drew her closer to him.
Chenyang blinked at his words before his confused face morphed into displeasure. "You son of a—"
"Chen-ge, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be inside the tent or on the sidelines watching?" she interrupted him in an attempt to change the subject.
Last time she checked with the Duchess, neither of the twins have ever participated in archery. Both of them disliked this sport.
Sensing unhappiness from her tone, Li Chenyang turned to face her. "That's not important right now—"
"Were you trying to sabotage me?" She frowned, her eyes flashing with irritation.
Li Chenyang was surprised by her fierce expression. Since when did she learn to glare? He had never seen her eyes dance with fire and annoyance, despite his nagging and aloof personality.
"I would never try to sabotage you—"
"So you didn't plan on making me lose this competition to look bad, right? You didn't want to ruin my first entrance into society so that no suitors would pursue me. You wouldn't do that to me, right?"
No wonder why the twins looked so suspicious, they had planned on making her lose from the start!
Li Chenyang's silence and sullen expression were enough for Xueyue to know she was right.
Her frown deepened.
Suddenly, the drums went off, breaking the high tension. The heavy noise brought attention to the Eunuch who stood on a tall pedestal. He glanced up from the unwoven scroll, "After counting the arrows, it was evident Li Xueyue has won this year's archery competition!" he loudly announced to the people.
Not wanting to get on the Li Family's bad side, the people were quick to cheer for Xueyue. Regardless of her identity, this Xueyue girl has the Li family name attached to her name!
Li Chenyang was glad for the distraction. He took a glance at Xueyue's expression and was surprised to see the fire in her eyes had died down. Strangely, her complexion was ghastly-pale.
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"Xueyue, what's wrong—"
"They've heard him..." she whispered, suddenly taking a fearful step backward.
"Who heard him?" Li Chenyang worriedly asked, his brows drawing together in confusion.
"I-I want to go back to the tent—"
"Li Xueyue, please step forward to be personally awarded by the Emperor and Empress for being the first winner of today's archery competition!" the Eunuch added on, his eyes focused on the girl surrounded by two handsome men.
Li Chenyang frowned at the sight of her complexion that had become even paler, to the point of where she looked ghostly. He looked closer and saw the cold-sweat that broke out on her forehead.
Xueyue turned towards Chenyang, her eyes suddenly wide with fright.
"Xueyue—" Before Li Chenyang could even say anything, Xueyue was already walking away from the ring. She didn't look at where she was walking and instantly, she bumped into something hard again.
'Damn it!' she cursed in her head. 'Why is there a wall here—'
"Are you alright?"
For the third time, Xueyue made eye contact with the man that saved her. Wasn't this the same man that spoke boldly to the Emperor earlier?
"I'm fine..." she trailed off when she realized how many people were staring at her.
She swallowed hard. They were all waiting for her to step forward to claim her prize. Xueyue knew running away and delaying the acceptance would only cause more confusion.
"Xueyue, come with me. I'll walk you to the award table, you don't have to be afraid of the crowd," Li Chenyang offered, noticing her fearful gaze towards the crowd.
"Come on, let's not delay time for the next competition to start. It's alright, you have me beside you," he added on, not noticing distress in her eyes.
There was a clear reason why she didn't want to walk towards the award table. Because the table was directly in front of the Emperor and Empress who were seated atop an enormous raised platform for the people to see, everyone would be able to get a good view of Xueyue...
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