"Jinkai, what happened?" Empress Huiyun hesitantly asked, her eyes nervously darting to her son.
Empress Huiyun had never seen him stare at her like that. It was almost as if she had massacred his family. The noticeable hatred in his eyes made her shudder, but what terrified her the most was his calm composure. Taut shoulders and a menacing glower, but his face was aloof and dark.
"What did you do to her, Mother?" Wen Jinkai questioned in a low and controlled voice.
Empress Huiyun was bewildered by his tone that came out in a rumble. There was something in his hand but she couldn't make out what it was.
"What are you talking about, my son? I had spent the entire day in my room making you this handkerchief," Empress Huiyun patiently explained, revealing the silk in her hand.
"Lovely isn't it—!" She gasped when he reached out and angrily grabbed her by the neck. "Jinkai, are you crazy?!" she cried out when he slammed her against the floor.
Empress Huiyun struggled against her son's tightening grip.
"What did you do to Li Minghua?!" Wen Jinkai roared, his voice bounced off the walls.
At the sound of the commotion, the doors started to rattle. The guards outside were frantically calling in, questioning the condition of their Empress whose face paled with horror.
"W-what are you talking—" she couldn't finish her sentence as Wen Jinkai squeezed her tender neck, watching her eyes pop open in horror. The blood had drained from her face and it was painful to breathe, but she could still suck in air. Enough to keep her alive, but not enough to feel comfortable.
"What did you say? What did you do?!" Wen Jinkai screamed, violently picking her up by the neck. He yanked her closer and in a low voice, hissed, "Did you kill her?!"
Empress Huiyun felt like the rug was yanked from under her feet. It was as if cold water drenched her from head to toe. How much did her son know?!
Fear weighed her down as memories flashed before her eyes. That treacherous night filled with fire and provocation. She would never forget the day her hands were tainted with blood for the first time in her life. Despite the life she had ruined, Empress Huiyun was not satisfied, for it wasn't the blood of Duchess Wang Qixing, but her daughter, Li Minghua.
"N-no, I didn't…!" Empress Huiyun choked out, grabbing the hand that could end her life. Tears filled her eyes. He stared at her as if she was a stranger and the vilest creature on Earth. It pained her to see him like this. She suddenly remembered him as a young child—cold and depressing.
"LIES!" Wen Jinkai snarled as he flung her to the ground, growing irritable by the sight of her face. The diary, he had read through each and every entry.
Li Minghua was not in love with Wang Longhe. She was disgusted by Wang Longhe's confession. It was completely unlike the story that Empress Huiyun weaved. Everything about Li Minghua was nothing like how the Empress portrayed.
Wen Jinkai stalked to his mother's fallen form on the ground. She was a mess, her kohl-rimmed eyes left unsightly streaks down her cheeks. A hairpin had slipped from her hair and a few dangled, barely holding on. She quickly adjusted her appearance.
Terror flashed on her face when Wen Jinkai squatted before her, narrowing his eyes. "What the hell did you do?"
"I didn't do anything to her!" Empress Huiyun wailed, reaching up to grab her son's cheek.
Empress Huiyun hoped her tender touch would snap him out of this tantrum. She had raised a violent beast, and now he was lashing out on her. She expected it. This was the result of not putting a collar on him.
"Please, my dear son, you must believe me. I didn't do anything to her that would hurt you!" Empress Huiyun cried out, desperately grabbing his hand. When he made no attempt of pushing her away, hope-filled her.
Wen Jinkai was still her son. He wouldn���t hurt her more than this, would he?
"She brought you great happiness, how could I harm her?" Empress Huiyun whispered in the soft, caressing voice he was familiar with. A voice that was filled with love and devotion for no one but him, the son she had finally come to love. Not because he was useful, but because she had raised him. She had watched him grow up from the boy who clung onto her legs to the man leading this country.
"My dear son, I care about nothing but your happiness—" her voice died off when she felt the prick of a hairpin. Blood drew from her finger, ruby red like the scattered gems on the floor.
And just like that, Empress Huiyun felt as if she had lost the battle. Clenched tightly in her son's hand was Li Minghua's hydrangea's hairpin—the one that wouldn't burn in the fire, so Empress Huiyun took it as a trophy and reminder of her small victory.
"Ah, so you know what this is," Wen Jinkai sneered. With an eerie smile, he mused, "Do you know where you got it from, Mother?"
"Please, Son," she whispered, "You're not thinking rationally. Have you been drinking? Come to me, my son, I will fix you a warm cup of tea and guide you to bed."
Empress Huiyun tenderly touched his face, her eyes wide with falling tears. She caressed his cheek with her thumb, believing her coaxing worked. It did as a child when he was startled by the demons under his bed. She was the one who reassured him everything was okay. What happened to that trembling little boy who clung onto her dearly? What happened to that little cub?
"Tea?" Wen Jinkai repeated in a soft voice.
"TEA?!" His tone rose an octave. Furious, he grabbed her by the collar until she was yanked towards him. "Even at a time like this, you dare to manipulate me?!"
Empress Huiyun felt her heart shatter at his treatment. He had never raised his hand to her like this. Never yelled at her. Never hurt her. That wasn't how little cubs should react to their mother bear.
"You have to calm down, my dear son—"
"Did. You. Kill. Her?" Wen Jinkai gritted out, his eyes were wide and furious. There was so much he wanted to say, but that was all he cared about.
Who was the one that started the fire? Who was the one that pushed his beloved away from him?
"I didn't kill her!" she cried out, "You did that yourself, Son. You ruined her!"
"I didn't!" Wen Jinkai bellowed.
Empress Huiyun saw a vein had popped out on his forehead. He was restraining his anger, but all of that bottled up emotions would soon explode. She feared the glass had already cracked. Any moment now, she would suck in her last breath. She was fine with that. Better to die at his hands than live with the idea that he hated her.
"You did," Empress Huiyun whispered. "You were the one who neglected her in the Palace and left her alone to rot in that room. When she needed you the most, you turned your back to her. When she had no one but you as her companion, you shunned her."
A shadow passed over Wen Jinkai's face. "I only did those things because your wicked words twisted me into hating her."
Empress Huiyun let out a scoff. "I merely told you what I thought of her. I can't control your behavior or actions. I'm not you."
Wen Jinkai ground his teeth. Irritably, he threw her back onto the ground. Lies. She was feeding him more lies. He would never hurt Li Minghua. He would never lay a hand on her. He loved her more than he loved himself. She was what kept him sane.
Li Minghua was the one person who loved him the most in this world.
"I would never, ever, hurt her," Wen Jinkai gritted out.
"No, you didn't hurt her," Empress Huiyun agreed. "But do you want to know what you did to her? You tore apart her heart and soul. It's worse than laying a hand on her."
Empress Huiyun watched as Wen Jinkai's frustrated expression morphed into confusion and then sheer horror at what he had done. She knew he was finally growing conscious of his actions. But how did he know of this? Who told him? How did he find the hairpin?
There were too many unanswered questions.
Empress Huiyun's arms trembled as she struggled to stand up. She cursed her guards outside to hell and back. They couldn't get inside, not because they didn't want to, but because they were obviously held back by something. She had no doubt Wen Jinkai mobilized the Shadow Guards.
"Now, listen to me, Son," Empress Huiyun gently muttered. She approached the Commander, calmly and slowly. She knew his temperament.
"I didn't hurt her. You did," she whispered. "But that's okay. The past is in the past. We can never go forward if we continue to look backward."
Empress Huiyun saw a flicker of humanity on his sharp features. Her hopes soared. Her son, he was still there. That little boy she had come to love was still inside him. All Wen Jinkai needed was a small push. The obedient beast would come back to her.
"Forget about her, everything will be fine as long as you trust me," Empress Huiyun gently said. "Mother knows best, my dear son. I only want the best for you."
Empress Huiyun lovingly touched his face, cupping it with her palms. "I love you, my dear boy. A mother can never pick favorites, but you bring out that side in me," she murmured.
"Now, come and have a cup of warm tea with me. All of this," she gestured to the turned tables and fallen accessories, "Means nothing to me. I forgive you."
"Forgive…?" Wen Jinkai murmured in an unreadable expression.
"Yes, my dear son, mother forgives you—!" He grabbed her by the neck again, this time, with both hands. She cried out in pain, her feet dangled off the floor.
"S-s-son…!" she squeezed out, choking for real this time.
"I will never forgive you," Wen Jinkai seethed, yanking her closer. "Not even your death can wager for my forgiveness. But I'm sure it can avenge Li Minghua."
Empress Huiyun's serene expression morphed into fear. For once in her life, she was terrified of death. She had never come so close to those daunting doors of death. And who would've thought, he would be the one knocking on death's doors for her?
Who would've thought her own son would murder her?
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