"This is too hilarious!" Yu Zhen howled, wiping away imaginary tears. "What a pathetic move that was!"
Wen Jinkai clenched and unclenched his jaw. His fingers curled into a fist so tight, his skin turned a deadly shade of white. "I was merely following tradition by asking for his blessings. I'm going to marry Xueyue whether or not he gives me her hand."
"Tradition this, tradition that," Yu Zhen scoffed. "Sounds like excuses to me."
Wen Jinkai's eyes narrowed, opening his mouth to speak, until someone interjected.
"What's with all of the ruckus?" Lu Tianbi stormed out of her sleeping corridors dressed in her nightgown and a thick cloak hanging off her shoulders.
Hu Dengxiao tiredly yawned beside her, a pillow tucked in his arms and one hand rubbing his eye. They were shaken awake by the unsettling laughter of Yu Zhen and another man.
Lu Tianbi came to a screeching halt when she saw Wen Jinkai. Her gaze snapped to her Commander, Yu Zhen who was handling this situation quite well. As expected of him, he was always the most level-headed person out of all three of them. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate him. The wrath of a calm tide could wreak havoc to the world.
Hu Dengxiao reached for his dagger at the same time Yu Zhen held up a palm, halting him.
"This discussion is already over," Yu Zhen declared, keeping his back to his peers. He trusted them enough to not backstab him.
At his Commander's words, Hu Dengxiao relaxed his hand, but not his defensive stance. He was prepared to spill blood tonight if necessary.
"Indeed." Wen Jinkai pressed his lips together. "This is my last warning, Yu Zhen. Keep your distance from my woman."
Yu Zhen slowly smiled, resembling that of a cheshire cat. His eyes crinkled, but his smile did not reach his eyes. He was humored by the Commander's words but had zero intent of fulfilling it.
Wen Jinkai took that as his response. He turned his back and was prepared to walk off when suddenly an aloof voice piqued.
"She will never be your woman. Ever."
Wen Jinkai's body went rigid, hard as stone. He was barely able to restrain his anger when he swiveled around, prepared to end it all tonight.
Yu Zhen's smile widened. "You will never be able to tie her down."
"Watch me." Wen Jinkai glared daggers into Yu Zhen whose impeccable defense never cracked. Calculated and cunning, he stood there defenseless and relaxed—as if he was already declared a victor.
"I will enjoy your spectacle." Yu Zhen softly chuckled before turning his back and leisurely walking off, his steps light but meaningful, crunching on the organized stones beneath his feet. Once he finishes his business in Wuyi, he would leave no stone unturned.
Lu Tianbi stole a final glance towards Wuyi's Commander who was simmering with rage, his blood boiling from the provocations. She let out a small "hmph," and followed behind Yu Zhen, purposely walking in a way that shielded her Commander's back.
Hu Dengxiao mimicked her actions. From the guards' perspective, he seemed too lethargic to fight. In reality, his senses were heightened and he could catch a flying arrow out of nowhere if he had to.
Once the trio was in Yu Zhen's highly guarded bedroom, everyone sat around the table except for Yu Zhen who was shrugging off his white coat. When he felt something heavy in his pockets, his brows scrunched together.
Sticking his hand into his pocket, he felt something cold and pulled it out. His lips parted upon seeing the golden topaz, shining fiercely like a cluster of stars. He smiled to himself, slipping the item back into his pocket. He had another reason to see her now.
"What is that man's problem?" Hu Dengxiao complained whilst resting his head on Lu Tianbi's shoulder.
Lu Tianbi was sitting as still as a tree, her shoulders tense and awkward. She didn't think he would behave like this. It was the first time he had made an initiative to be so affectionate with her, beyond that of a friend. He didn't seem to mind, even though he had to lower his body into an uncomfortable position.
"I think that Commander is a sociopath in the making!" Hu Dengxiao whined on, snuggling into Lu Tianbi's shoulder.
Hu Dengxiao had a foolish little smile on his face when he caught a whiff of her scent of freshly washed linen.
It was way past his bedtime and he was struggling to hold onto his rationality. Now that he was in the safe company of his friends, he was free to relax and mope like a child all he wanted.
"More like he's already a sociopath. He's also delusional and brash..." Lu Tianbi said stiffly, her eyes lingered on Hu Dengxiao's face. He was barely able to keep his eyes open and any minute now, he was going to drift to sleep.
"What are we going to do with him, Commander?" she asked Yu Zhen who finally joined them at the table.
"We'll keep an eye on him for now."
Lu Tianbi tilted her head. "I think Xueyue's family is doing a great job keeping her away from him and the Palace, but they're both impatient to see her."
"I fail to understand what the Emperor and Empress are thinking. Why do they want to see her so much?" Hu Dengxiao sighed.
He forced himself to straighten up and be serious, but the only thing he could do was lay his head on the table, dreaming of sleeping.
"They're basically obsessive with her at this point. Don't they have a country to run? I pity whoever their advisers are." Lu Tianbi sighed in disappointment.
"Who are their advisers anyway? The Empress's only role is controlling the harem, which means the Emperor has the most power?" Hu Dengxiao wondered out loud.
"I reckon it's the Prime Minister," Lu Tianbi boldly declared. "It's suspicious. After his sudden return to court, everything was running smoothly again. Every minister praises him like he's some god."
Hu Dengxiao scratched the back of his head. "Hm, that means the ministers are fiercely loyal to the Prime Minister. That's surprising. Usually, power-hungry ministers would support the weak-minded Emperor and rule through him with persuasive words."
Lu Tianbi nodded in agreement. "This is what makes Wuyi so strange and different from Hanjian. Any changes or laws affecting the country and its citizens must pass through the Emperor, but the one approving or denying it would be the Prime Minister who has the final say."
Lu Tianbi felt like she was missing something. What was it?
"Who's the Prime Minister again?" Hu Dengxiao asked, even though the answer came to mind a second later. "Oh right, what was his name… Uh, he's a Duke… Oh! Li Shenyang!"
Lu Tianbi nodded. "But isn't he—"
"The father of the ex-candidate!" Hu Dengxiao snapped his fingers, finally energized by this juicy discussion. He turned to Yu Zhen who was silent the entire time, allowing them to play the conversation out.
Lu Tianbi and Hu Dengxiao were already used to his frequent silence. He spoke only when it was necessary. He was like this in Court as well.
Yu Zhen's nonchalant expressions and ability to hold back his tongue was what made him so likeable, yet dangerous at the same time. It was impossible to understand what he was thinking. It was a wonder why the Emperor didn't choose Yu Zhen as the Crown Prince, especially when he had the most potential of helping Hanjian flourish further.
"I see now... Is that why you like her, Zhenzhen? Because she'll be useful?" Hu Dengxiao would have sounded offensive, but his wide eyes and innocuous expression showed it was a genuine question.
Yu Zhen calmly said, "I've said it before. I'll never use her."
"But she'd be so useful…" Hu Dengxiao trailed off, sulking to himself.
"I don't care." Yu Zhen hummed, crossing his arms whilst continuing to observe them.
Lu Tianbi decided to change the topic to more important matters. "When you visited the Prime Minister's house for a private discussion, did you confirm your speculations? You returned so late that night that I forgot to ask you this."
"I'm certain about it, but it's not confirmed yet." Yu Zhen pressed his lips together, thinking back to his conversation with the Duke and then Xueyue.
Li Xueyue was oblivious to the idea that there was anyone behind the curtains in the first place. She must've been sheltered by the Duke and Duchess regarding their affairs, as most daughters were. Parents never wanted to make their children worry.
"You went to the Capital today after suggesting it to one of the Prime Minister's sons. Do you think he'd know?" Lu Tianbi asked, vaguely recalling seeing Yu Zhen converse with one of the twins.
"Even if he does, he'll never tell." Yu Zhen knew what type of man Li Chenyang was. He was definitely closest to the Prime Minister and wise enough to see past the illusion in the court. Without a single doubt, Li Chenyang should know about a man ruling behind a curtain.
In a lowered voice, Hu Dengxiao brazenly asked, "Do you ever think the Prime Minister might want to become the Emperor one day?"
Lu Tianbi scrunched her brows together. She still felt like something was missing. This Li Family was mysterious, but what was it about them that felt familiar? Yes, they're an old tree, but damn it, what was she forgetting?!
Yu Zhen glanced at Hu Dengxiao. "For now, it's uncertain."
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free