.\"Finally some peace and quiet,\" Crown Prince Wang Qianghao sighed, rubbing his forehead. His parents turned to him with equally displeased frowns, but he smiled, showing he meant no harm. He was merely lightening the dreary atmosphere.
\"Oh look, the finalist round is taking place. Who do you think will win, Mother dearest?\" Wang Qianghao's smile became a grin, just for the Empress.
The Empress's tense shoulders softened. Her sour expression improved. \"I suppose Marquis Ning's daughter will have a higher chance of victory. She's been resting the entire time Duke Li Shenyang's daughter was sparring.\"
\"True, true.\" Wang Qianghao thoughtfully nodded while turning to Commander Wen Jinkai. \"Jinjin, what do you think?\"
Wen Jinkai casted the Crown Prince a disgusted glare before returning his attention to the last round of the tournament that had just begun.
\"Aw, does my nickname bother? Nevermind...\" Wang Qianghao trailed off when the air around them thinned. \"Heh, best to not tease the dragon,\" he said with an easygoing smile.
Duke Li Taojun silently contemplated what just happened. His eyes were narrowed in dissatisfaction. The Commander was riled up by the mere mention of a woman. It was pathetic because he behaved nothing like his brutal teachings taught the young man to be.
\"Oh dear,\" the Empress murmured when Xueyue's foot smashed against Ning Huabing's side.
Ning Huabing buckled in surprise, her eyes widening when Xueyue didn't give her time to recover. Instantly, another kick flew towards her head, knocking her to the ground. She made the mistake of standing back up because Xueyue raised her left leg.
Ning Huabing smirked, ready to block the predictable move, only to be caught off guard. Xueyue had lifted her left leg but actually used it as leverage to send a flying right kick.
Ning Huabing's life flashed before her eyes as the kick connected with her jaw. Instantly, it sent her onto the floor yet again, gasping for air. Stars dotted her vision, but the victory was simply too sweet. She wanted it more than anything.
\"Stay down,\" Li Xueyue whispered. \"You can't fight in this condition.\"
\"No, I-I can still fight…\" Ning Huabing groaned, struggling to stand. \"It's going to be so embarrassing that I didn't fight for three rounds and I still lost to you.\"
\"I held back on you,\" Li Xueyue softly uttered when Ning Huabing stood back up. \"Now, I'm forced to.\"
\"You talk too much,\" Ning Huabing snarled before slamming her fist straight into Xueyue's stomach. \"Wince more. Bai Tianai is watching.\" Then, she swung her foot directly into the side of Xueyue's stomach.
Li Xueyue grounded her teeth, infuriated. She didn't have to fake her buckle or wince. Han Jieru had already left a nasty bruise on her stomach and Ning Huabing had punched the same spot.
Ning Huabing softly apologized, \"I'm sorry, but I need to put up a good fight or else Bai Tianai is going to be suspicious of me. She knows I'm a good fighter.\"
\"Fair point,\" Li Xueyue mused before adjusting her position. \"But you wasted a good opportunity to knock me down for good.\"
Ning Huabing didn't get to respond. In the next second, Xueyue twisted her entire body into a thunderous side-kick. Her entire weight was placed into this finishing blow. In an instant, Ning Huabing lost her balance, slightly swaying before Xueyue swung again. This time, she had the upper hand. She grabbed Xueyue's ankle and yanked her to the ground, stunning both of them.
Ning Huabing whispered, \"I'm sorry for this,\" and raised her fist and slammed it down. Xueyue's eyes widened in shock.
However, just as Ning Huabing's fist was a hair away from Xueyue's face, the drums loudly banged in the distance, concluding the tournament.
Ning Huabing forced herself to halt. She could've easily ruined Xueyue's perfect features, but she didn't. And Bai Tianai had seen that. Instantly, she rolled off of Xueyue and struggled to get to her feet.
Xueyue felt her chest heave up and down with adrenaline. She felt her stomach clench in pain when she attempted to stand. She couldn't. Everything was hurting beyond belief. She swallowed hard, attempting to use her hand to hoist herself up. Her arms shook and trembled at the attempt, the pain of guarding so much punches and kicks was finally settling in. Eventually, she collapsed back down, her eyes straining to focus.
\"It's better to stay down,\" Ning Huabing whispered when she finally got to her feet. She peered down at Xueyue and waited for the Eunuch to come forward. He was rushing to them, ready to declare a winner.
It was evident who had more points, but the real question was, could the victor stand up to claim it? She couldn't.
It didn't take long for darkness to completely shroud Xueyue's vision and without warning, she blacked out.
Ning Huabing controlled her astonished expression. Her hands trembled with the realization that she had won. She was the victor. Her head snapped in Bai Tianai's direction.
Bai Tianai nodded in approval before shifting her face away. She returned her attention to her younger brother, a small toddler barely above the age of two. He was needy and everything she loathed. Because of his damn birth and gender, her inheritance was robbed.
\"Miss Li, are you able to stand?\" A Eunuch sternly asked Li Xueyue whose eyes were shut. \"In a count of three, if you're unable to stand, the victory will be handed to Ning Huabing.\"
\"Out of my way,\" a harsh voice snarled from behind them.
Ning Huabing's entire face paled upon seeing who it was. She cowered back when he stormed past her and shoved the Eunuch aside.
\"C-Commander,\" was the only word that she managed to say.
Wen Jinkai swiftly bent down and carefully lifted Xueyue. His face was eerily calm, but his eyes were violent and thunderous. His glower was piercingly vicious and struck fear in anyone bold enough to look him in the eye.
Ning Huabing struggled to say something. Her voice dried up in her throat when she saw someone approaching in the distance. Her body quivered when she made the mistake of directly staring at the Commander. Instantly, she dropped her gaze to the floor. Her teeth chattered from how much she trembled.
But to her surprise, someone stood in front of her. Whether it was to defend her from the Commander's wrath or not, Ning Huabing was instantly gracious of whoever it was. When she raised her head, she felt her heart skip a beat. She let out an uneasy breath, her hands shaking when she covered her mouth.
\"Put her down, this instant,\" Li Chenyang seethed, his fingers curled into a white fist. He dug his fingers so hard into his palms, it cut through his skin. \"What the hell are you doing, Jinkai? Do you realize the consequences of your actions?!\" he hissed.
Wen Jinkai tightened his hold on Li Xueyue, his eyes darkening by the second.
Li Chenyang was beyond pissed. Words couldn't describe his rage. He abhorred the Commander to hell and back. He wanted to snatch his little sister back from the Commander's clutch, but physically couldn't. No one had the guts to touch the dragon's treasure, not even Li Chenyang himself.
\"God damn it, she's my sister. Hand her to me, I'll take care of her–\"
Wen Jinkai held Li Xueyue closer to his body, \"Is this how you take care of her? By allowing her to participate in this abomination of a tournament?!\"
Li Chenyang was stunned by the Commander's words. He… he actually cared for Xueyue…? \"I tried to talk her out of it–hey where are you going?!\"
Wen Jinkai stormed past Li Chenyang and began heading towards the exit of the tournament before Li Chenyang roughly grabbed his shoulders. \"Listen here, you brute of a man, if you walk out of here, I'll take that as a declaration that you care for my sister. And if you care for her, that means you're able to love her.\"
Li Chenyang's eyes flashed and he warned, \"If you walk out of here with her, I expect you to confess your feelings to her and marry her.\"
\"I don't have feelings for her.\"
\"And birds can't fly!\" Li Chenyang growled. \"If you're going to be a coward who can't admit his feelings, then you don't deserve to walk off with her.\"
Wen Jinkai hesitated. He glanced down at Xueyue, his frozen heart lurching at the sight of her. His thoughts flashed back to the unconscious nights that he felt her presence close by his side. The gentle graze of her fingers against his forehead when she switched his towel. The alluring voice that demanded for him to be brought back to the manor.
He spiraled back to her words, \"If you can't love me, then don't marry me.\" Bold, but adoring.
\"Believe whatever you want. I couldn't care less.\" Without another word, Wen Jinkai left with Xueyue nestled comfortably in his arms.
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