While the flower assembling tournament went on, a group of women was gathered at a secluded tent.
"Damn it! That was not part of the plan!" Bai Tianai scowled as she kicked the nearest chair. Her friends jumped back in shock while exchanging irked glances with each other.
Bai Tianai was throwing a tantrum again.
Ning Huabing glanced at her nails and kept quiet. She wanted to head back to her tent but she knew she couldn't disrespect Bai Tianai like that. She rolled her eyes when Bai Tianai slammed her hand on the table.
"How did she dodge those arrows and magically land in the arms of Commander Wen Jinkai?! Why does he even care about her?!" she angrily hissed.
One of the girls, Han Jieru, spoke up. "Tianai, please calm down," she said, despite feeling more nervous than Bai Tianai. After all, she was the one who shot those arrows.
This is only the beginning of the competition, there will still definitely be opportunities to—"
"No. There will be no more opportunities," a chilly, but feminine voice interrupted them from outside of the tent.
Every pair of eyes snapped towards the entrance. When no one entered, the women exchanged curious glances with each other. The wind blew the curtains open slightly, but they weren't able to see outside.
"Well? What are you waiting for? Go look!" Bai Tianai ordered impatiently with a frown, gesturing for one of the girls to take a look outside.
Ning Huabing sighed. She was so bored that she decided to stand up and investigate. She glanced condescendingly at the useless girls.
But Han Jieru beat her to the chase and flung the tent curtains open.
Sharp gasps echoed and pure silence ensued. The airy tent suddenly felt suffocating. The breeze from previously felt ominously eerie.
On the ground were a bunch of men knocked out cold. They were the guards that Ning Huabing assigned to protect the tent and keep out intruders. They didn't have visible injuries that the eyes could tell. They were simply unconscious.
"W-what's going on?" Han Jieru spoke up as her eyes scanned the ground before her head whizzed around. The tent was in a very secluded spot in the back, almost invisible. How could anyone have spotted them? Moreover, who could've done this?
Suddenly, something caught Bai Tianai's attention. She instantly pointed out, "There's a note and arrow on the ground."
Han Jieru immediately glanced down, her face paling. It was the arrow that Bai Tianai had ordered one of the girls to use. The family symbol was already scratched off the arrow before it was shot at Xueyue, yet oddly enough, the note had the family symbol of the Han Family.
With shaky hands, Han Jieru picked up the note and arrow. "T-they know." She trembled, turning around to reveal the note.
"What does it say?" Bai Tianai was too curious to care about Han Jieru's frightened expression. It wasn't like Bai Tianai even cared about the girl. She was just a pawn that needed to be sacrificed.
Han Jieru gulped as she unfolded the paper. Her hand was quivering so hard, the arrow slipped out of her hand. She jumped when it thumped onto the ground. "The next time you lift a finger will be the last time you have hands."
Bai Tianai pressed her lips together. "Using empty threats? How boring." She reassured, "Nothing is going to happen to us." Raising her chin in the air, she sneered, "We have the power of the Bai Family, Han Family, Ning Family, and so much more. Who'd dare to hurt us?"
Ning Huabing bit her bottom lip. She wanted to go back to her tent. She didn't want to harm Xueyue anymore. All she wanted to do was garner Li Chenyang's attention. Bai Tianai had gone too far.
The curtain blew again, and something caught Bai Tianai's attention.
"Wait. What's that?" Bai Tianai narrowed her eyes when something glistened. She flicked her hand and motioned for Han Jieru to go check outside.
"There's something on the ground beside the guard." Bai Tianai gestured towards the closest one to her.
"They're not dead are they?" Ning Huabing warily said. She didn't feel like explaining the situation as to why they were dead to her family.
Han Jieru was beginning to grow annoyed by Bai Tianai's bossing. 'If she's so curious, why can't she investigate herself?' Nonetheless, she stomped towards the tent entrance. Surely enough, something was laying next to the guard.
A single hairpin.
Han Jieru picked it up in confusion, turning around to show Bai Tianai. "It's a hairpin."
Bai Tianai asked, "Whose does it belong to?"
"Well, it can't be one of ours. If it was dropped outside, one of the guards would've notified us." Ning Huabing frowned.
"Which means… The hairpin belonged to whoever delivered the note and arrow," Bai Tianai concluded, her face paling at the realization that a woman could do this to grown men. Only one woman came to mind.
Bai Tianai resisted the urge to laugh at the events unfolding before her. She just needed a little bit more confirmation before her suspicions were proven correct.
- - - - -
Xueyue adjusted her appearance, straightening her top before briskly walking towards her tent as if nothing happened. She gritted her teeth when her fingers slightly quivered.
It was her first time using her lessons against someone that wasn't her sparring partner. She swallowed. Was it adrenaline kicking in? Or was she scared? She couldn't pinpoint the exact reason as to why she quivered like a brittle leaf would during the beginning of winter.
"You seem to be in a rush," someone spoke up from behind her, forcing her to halt in her footsteps.
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Pausing, she swiveled around, her lips threatening to tilt into a slight frown.
"Why the hurry?" he asked her.
Xueyue glanced towards her left, then her right, and behind her, before picking up her pace.
"Hey, I'm talking to you."
She continued walking as if his words were a breeze that bristled past her.
She ground her teeth in irritation. 'I was hoping he was talking to himself.'
Forcing her lips into a strained smile, she easily turned to face the Fourth Prince. Slowly, she curtsied. "Your…" she struggled for the proper word, "Grace."
Wang Longhe's lips twitched in amusement at her subtle jab. Luckily for her, he found her adorable. He liked toying with little animals, such as herself. "It seems you're not deaf after all."
'It seems you're still annoying,' she thought to herself before standing straight. "I would love to stay and engage in small talk about the weather or the sky, but I'm afraid I must head back to my tent."
"You received such a precious gift. I've yet to congratulate you. There's no need to rush back so quickly," he said with a slight smirk.
From a distance, three pairs of eyes were sharply watching the scene unfold. One man, in particular, was already preparing to leave the tent, his face a mixture of curiosity and irritation.
"There's no need to congratulate me. It's but a simple wish," Xueyue replied in the most polite voice that she could muster. "If that is all, Your Grace, please excuse me–"
"That is not all," he shamelessly said, raising a brow when her smile widened. He found it highly entertaining that the more frustrated she was, the larger she smiled.
"I, too, have a simple wish to request." He nodded towards her hands. They were neatly tucked in front of her, but at his gaze, they instantly fell to her sides.
'Why don't you go win a tournament then,' she snarkily thought to herself. Her smile slipped when she saw his serious expression.
"You seem puzzled, let me inform you–"
"There's no need," she cut him off and raised her chin. "I do not need to be informed of your intentions, nor do I wish to hear it."
"You're so cold towards me today," Wang Longhe mused. "What happened to the scared little girl from two years ago? The one that likes to play the stupid hero, or perhaps damsel-in-distress."
"I'm only being polite. If you have mistaken my respect for aloofness, I must apologize."
"Don't dodge the subject." He chuckled, stepping towards her while a man in the distance was swiftly heading their way.
"You're a Prince," she suddenly deadpanned. "Is that how you should behave?"
Wang Longhe was momentarily caught off guard by her sharp jeer. He didn't think she was capable of such a thing. She had a feisty tongue to her. He didn't know if he wanted to force her to curb it or cut off her tongue. He wasn't fond of loud and talkative women, especially sassy little things such as herself.
"You're playing with fire."
Xueyue tilted her head before slowly closing the distance between them. In a soft voice, she uttered, "I hope it burns us both then."
"Have a good day, Your Grace," she said before dipping into another curtsy and storming off. When the Prince's guards blocked her path, she let out a quiet and aggravated sigh.
"I did not excuse you yet," Wang Longhe warned her and it was then she realized he was right behind her.
"No, but I have the right to excuse myself."
"On what right?"
"That a gentleman is harassing a lady," she calmly retorted, flashing him a sickeningly sweet smile. She surveyed her surroundings and noticed not many people were glancing their way. Well, it wasn't like they could. The Prince's guards had formed a human barrier the second he struck up a conversation.
"A lady? Where?" He glanced around, feigning bewilderment.
"Why don't I bring you a mirror?" she retorted over her shoulder.
Completely caught off guard by her baffling words, Wang Longhe could do anything but stare at her when she roughly stomped on a guard's foot. The guard twitched, but it was enough for her to shove past them.
Wang Longhe scoffed as he watched her form disappear into the distance. Her hair boldly swayed with each haughty step she took. He wondered what gave her the confidence to do as she pleased. What made her change? Or had she always been like this?
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