Wen Jinkai felt so much disgust towards the woman in front of him that he couldn't fathom to look at her any longer. He dropped her to the ground, finally having enough of her sickening tricks. It was all too familiar to him, that sweet beckoning and plea.
"Son…" she trailed off, in a broken plea.
When was the last time she was this desperate? When was the last time the Empress wanted him to do something? He could still recall the days she invited him to the tea room, whispering lies into his ears until it tainted his heart.
It was the same voice, the same despair that convinced him Li Minghua was the villain in his life.
Believing the Empress's lies before had already harmed him for the rest of eternity. He refused to fall into that same cycle over and over again. Enough was enough.
Wen Jinkai stared at her cowering form on the ground. What had happened to her? He used to think she was the most pitiful woman in the palace. She had everything but love. Now, he saw her as nothing but the vermin that crawled up the water drain.
Wen Jinkai drew his sword. If he ended her life, then Li Minghua's death would be avenged. A life for a life. That was how it was on the battlefield. For honor and glory, he would sacrifice the Empress's life.
"What are you doing?!" Empress Huiyun lowered her voice. Her hands trembled upon seeing the glint of the weapon. A flick of his wrist and she'd bleed out.
"Don't do it, Jinkai!" Empress Huiyun exasperated. "You will be hanged for this treason. The Emperor will not let you out of here alive."
"You should be worried about yourself," Wen Jinkai muttered as he stalked towards her.
Empress Huiyun crawled backward, struggling to get away from him. Death used to not fathom her, but now that she's meeting it eye-to-eye, she was truly terrified. Duchess Wang Qixing hadn't paid for her crimes yet.
'It's not my time to die yet!' Empress Huiyun screamed inside of her head. She had to avenge her broken heart. She had to help the tearful Princess two decades ago who begged for the Duke's heart.
"This is how a mother behaves, Jinkai. We care about no one but our children, even until our last breath," Empress Huiyun whispered. "To a mother, nothing else matters but her children!"
Wen Jinkai cocked his head. He tightened his fingers on the hilt of the sword. "It's funny that you think of me as your son when all you've done is used me."
"That's not true!" Empress Huiyun pleaded, "I cared about no one but you!"
"If you cared for me, why did you kill Li Minghua?"
Empress Huiyun's eyes teared up. She wanted to forget the sins of the past that stained her hands red. That fiery night wasn't supposed to happen. But Li Minghua resembled her mother too much. That same smile, same haughtiness, same face. All of it repulsed her.
Watching Li Minghua get closer to Wen Jinkai was like witnessing Duchess Wang Qixing and the Duke. Having her son marry that wench's daughter was the same as living in Hell. The Palace would be upturned.
"I didn't want to do it," Empress Huiyun whispered. "That woman, she's crazy! She set her own room on fire, declaring she would kill both of us instead of only taking her own life. You have to believe me, you must!"
Wen Jinkai's expression darkened. "And why was Li Minghua suicidal? What made her that way?" he seethed, bringing the tip of his sword to her chin. It would only take a final motion to end it all.
"Because of you!" Empress Huiyun shrieked. "You made her that way! Your neglect led to her self-destruction. Your inability to love her had ruined her happiness. You left her to wallow in that cold room, all alone. Remember, Son, I might've provided the sword, but you swung it."
Wen Jinkai had heard enough. He curled his lips and dove the sword forward. In the nick of time, Empress Huiyun dodged just as the doors swung open.
The Second Prince stood there furious and out of breath. He rushed to his mother, hugging her. He glowered at Wen Jinkai with a look filled with nothing but hatred and animosity.
"Are you out of your mind?!" Wang Jing demanded.
Wen Jinkai's attention wasn't on the Second Prince. It was on the scene beyond the door. Where were his men? He turned and saw they were all oppressed by hoards of soldiers.
"Mother, are you alright?" Wang Jing whispered, horrified at her injured body. There were bruises on her neck, but the pain went deeper than that. What hurts the most was her shattered heart.
Empress Huiyun had just lost a son today—the only one she loved. The tears wouldn't stop flowing.
"My son…" Empress Huiyun trailed off, watching as Wen Jinkai stumbled backward. She reached for him, but Wang Jing grabbed her hand.
"Mother, please," Wang Jing begged. "Give up on him. It's no use."
Empress Huiyun rapidly shook her head. She shoved the Second Prince away and quickly approached Wen Jinkai. "Drop your weapons, my boy. With the commotion that we've caused, the Emperor is going to come any moment now."
Wang Jing was stunned and quiet. He stared at his empty hands, numb and broken by her rejection. Even in her last moments, the Empress cared for no one but Wen Jinkai.
Wang Jing was the one who came to the Empress's aid but she only focused on her killer.
"Jinkai, listen to me," Empress Huiyun whispered as she grabbed the hand. She shook the sword out of his grip, the weapon loudly landed onto the floor.
Wen Jinkai's attention lingered elsewhere. A woman. She was standing by the edge of the door, her horrified eyes meeting his. He had seen her before; in the Palace, when Li Xueyue was rudely slapped on the hand by a servant.
At that time, Li Xueyue was all that he saw. No one else mattered. But now, it was that woman. The eyes of the veiled woman brought back memories of Li Minghua.
"Minghua?" Wen Jinkai muttered, taking a step in the woman's direction. She showed no reaction to the name.
"What?" Empress Huiyun whispered, turning to the servant. She grabbed onto her son and desperately tried to place his sword back into the hilt that rested on his waist.
"This is not important right now," Empress Huiyun desperately said. "Hurry, leave this place before your father comes here."
Wen Jinkai swung her off of him. "Minghua, is that you?" he said, rushing to her.
The servant freaked out. Who wouldn't? The man that had once harmed her was now advancing towards her.
"Stop it, Jinkai!" Wang Jing hollered, stopping in front of Wen Jinkai. "You've caused enough damage today!"
"Get off of me," Wen Jinkai snarled, pushing the Second Prince away.
"Son, please!" Empress Huiyun cried out, her voice hoarse from all of the screaming. She knew the bruises were becoming more visible now, but that wasn't important to her.
The Emperor could walk in any minute from here. If anything happened to Wen Jinkai, she would fling herself off the nearest cliff. His actions today were worthy of death. Everyone knew that.
"Listen to Mother," Empress Huiyun said. She grabbed Wen Jinkai's hand but he slapped it away. She glanced up, despair written all over her face.
"My dear son—"
"I'm not your son," Wen Jinkai growled. "And you're not my mother. You disgust me."
He didn't wait for her reaction before storming out of the room, his Shadow Guards immediately following after him.
Wang Jing let out an irritated sigh. That stupid friend of his! Wang Jing knew Wen Jinkai would walk out of here unscathed. No one could ever lay a hand on him.
"Mother, forget about him—" his voice died in his throat when he saw her.
Empress Huiyun had dropped to her knees, her face pale and blank. There were enough tears to form a river to drown herself in. The pain was inevitable. The heartbreak was evident. She looked utterly defeated and lost.
She let out a loud sob that filled the empty room, echoing off the walls. Hugging herself, a heartbroken wail shrilled out.
Empress Huiyun had lost the only son she loved—the only person who filled that void in her heart.
And it was then Wang Jing knew: None of the other Princes mattered. Only a single Commander had the Empress's true affection. She did not cry for anyone but herself and Wen Jinkai.
To the Empress, if there was one thing that was worse than death itself, it was the thought of losing Wen Jinkai. That was exactly what happened. And nothing brought her more agony than that thought.
Wen Jinkai had given up on her. The idea of that shattered her more than the reality of the situation. She would no longer be the same.
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