"The Empress always confides in you, especially the things that are bothering her," Wen Jinkai began. "Has she ever spoken ill of Minghua, especially during her stay in the Palace nearly three years go?"
The Second Prince pursed his lips. "You know I can't reveal the conversations I shared with Mother, just like how I don't let her know what you say."
"Just tell me."
"I know you've spoken ill of Minghua when she stayed in the Palace," Wang Jing deadpanned. He stared disapprovingly at his close friend.
Wen Jinkai abhorred Wang Jing's resemblance to the Empress. They shared the same crinkle of their brows and how they tightened lips when things didn't go their way or simply when they were upset.
Staring at Wang Jing was like staring at the Empress. Perhaps that was why she wanted to shelter the Second Prince more than anything. It convinced her that there was still good in this world, that perhaps, she wasn't using her children to secure her position on the throne.
"Only when we had fights."
"You neglected her in the Palace," Wang Jing slowly said. "All because you convinced yourself friendship mattered more than her."
Wang Jing didn't even blink when Wen Jinkai swiped the entire tea set onto the floor. It loudly clattered on the wooden floor, the porcelain pieces shattered upon impact.
Calm as an ancient tree, Wang Jing didn't even react when Wen Jinkai shot out of his chair with a livid expression on his face. Wen Jinkai looked as if he was prepared for war but the only battle was the inner conflict he had within himself.
The truth was too hard to hear, to swallow, and bear. He could not process the reality of his behavior towards Li Minghua in the Palace. It was the only thing he had ever regretted, but what could he do? He could never turn back time.
Wang Jing didn't stop there. "How could you do that to her? She was a young woman all alone in the Palace, tortured by father's harem. She had no other friends except for you and Longhe. She didn't have a single companion."
"I heard she was easily one of the most beautiful women in the Palace. When she stepped through those doors, everyone complimented how bright-eyed and joyous she appeared, like a glimmer of hope buried beneath the darkness."
"Wang Jing, I swear if you don't shut up—"
"What did you do to her, Jinkai? She left the Palace a shell of the girl she used to be. I've never seen someone so defeated and heartbroken. You took what little happiness she had and trampled over the heart she gave you."
Wang Jing stood up. "Perhaps Mother was also at fault, for she never liked the woman her sons chose. She enjoyed choosing the bride for her children. Not the other way around. You knew that," he said, his gaze hardened.
"You knew Mother would be merciless towards Li Minghua. She's the daughter of Duke Li Shenyang and Duchess Wang Qixing. You knew of the history that took place before the start of our lives. You knew the Empress would despise Li Minghua."
"Wang Jing, I will never ever see you as a friend again if you don't shut your trap!" Wen Jinkai roared, storming to his friend. He roughly grabbed the Second Prince by his collar and yanked him closer. "Another word and I'll slit your throat."
"You knew so much," Wang Jing said and shook his head, disappointed at his beloved friend. "Yet you didn't protect her. You believed the malice that Mother fed to you. You believe Minghua was a wanton woman who played with the Fourth Prince's heart. But you also knew—"
Wang Jing gasped when Wen Jinkai grabbed him by the throat, strangling the Second Prince into silence.
"SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!" Wen Jinkai roared, glowering deeply into the glistening eyes of the Second Prince who didn't know any better. Staring into those eyes was like staring into the pleading ones of the Empress.
His thoughts spiraled and flashed to the past when he, too, had grabbed his mother by her collar. She had stared up at him, tears in her eyes, desperate for her favorite son's obedience.
"Son, she will ruin you! She doesn't love you, she loves the freedom you offered her! She loves the Fourth Prince but couldn't get to him, so she got to you instead! The only reason she agreed to marry you is because she wanted to be closer to the Fourth Prince!"
Her wails echoed in his head, forever taunting him. He was forced to remember all of the things he desperately tried to forget. The memories coursed through him, unexpectedly and mercilessly.
Shortly after she had made her audacious comment, Wen Jinkai had stormed out of her room in search of Li Minghua. In search of his woman, his wife, his everything. And he found her. In the exact situation his mother had warned him.
He would never forget the confession that took place. He would never forget the sheer horror on Li Minghua's expression when she was caught by Wen Jinkai. Whether it was horror at being caught or horror at the confession, Wen Jinkai never knew. He didn't have to. He already made up a conclusion for her.
"Run away with me, Minghua! Please, I beg of you. I will treasure you more than Wen Jinkai ever can! You do not have to live in this suffocating palace anymore, I will bring you out of it."
The Fourth Prince had tightly grabbed her, "I know you do not love Wen Jinkai. I know he was your ploy to escape the Duke. So please, come with me. I will offer you a freedom like no other. All you have to do is accept this ring of mine, and I will take you out of this hell."
Wen Jinkai's blood boiled. He could not stand another second in this Palace filled with scums greedy for power. He could not stand another minute beside the Empress who smiled and laughed as if she hadn't ruined the one thing Wen Jinkai cared about.
Wen Jinkai knew he would never leave the Royal Family. Not now. Not ever. He was indebted to them—a couple who took in an abandoned child and raised him to a Commander. How could he turn his back on the people who sheltered him? Gave him everything he had ever wanted? Loved him when his blood and flesh didn't?
How could he?
Abruptly, Wen Jinkai remembered something that Li Minghua once told him. "I love you," Li Minghua confessed, "I crave for you more than I crave for air. When I'm with you, I see no one else but you. I do not want anything in return for marriage, I only want you and your endless adoration. Can you promise me that?"
Wen Jinkai had readily agreed to that promise, but never honored it. He had promised her the world, and treated her like scum.
Wang Jing's expression softened. He watched as Wen Jinkai slowly released him and slid onto the ground in utter defeat. The Great Commander of Wuyi, the Demon Lord of the Battlefield, sank to his knees.
"You broke her," Wang Jing muttered. "Why did you do it?!�� he cried out, grabbing Wen Jinkai.
Wang Jing was stunned by the haunted look on Wen Jinkai's face. It was as if there was nothing in the world that could make him smile. It was as if all hope was lost and happiness was a mere delusion.
"Was Li Minghua nothing to you all along?" Wang Jing's voice cracked, but he did not care. He was overwhelmed with emotions that he had held back for too long.
"She never fathomed the thought of betraying you. Whatever lies Mother spewed to you were never true! She did nothing but love you, and craved for your attention! You scoundrel!"
Wang Jing shook Wen Jinkai roughly and frantically.
"And damn you!" Wang Jing roared, "How can you ruin her like this? How can you ruin her for loving you unconditionally?! Are you even human?!"
Wen Jinkai let out a cold, lifeless laughter. Everyone viewed him as the villain when he was a victim. 'If Wang Jing viewed me as the antagonist, then so be it, I will play that role to his heart's content.'
Wen Jinkai's mouth twisted into a sadistic smile, his eyes wide with insanity. "I enjoyed destroying the only beautiful thing in my life."
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