Li Minghua was alive…? Was Wen Jinkai hearing Xue Yue correctly? His head shot upwards and he stared at her, astonishingly. His lips were parted and he felt dizzy from the information.
"You heard me correctly," Li Xueyue said. "Li Minghua is alive."
"And how do you know?" Wen Jinkai said as he took a step closer to her.
Li Xueyue jutted her chin in the air, not once shrinking back from his intimidating glare. He continued walking towards her and she remained rooted. She knew his ploy. He was attempting to scare her into telling the truth, but that was the truth—Li Minghua didn't die in that fire. She survived it because the Empress allowed her to.
"I will tell you, but not here," Li Xueyue said.
Her eyes shifted to the Shadow Guards. She knew revealing this information would put her at risk. People might accuse her of being the Empress's murderer, but something told her Wen Jinkai would not rat her out like that.
Or would he…?
Li Xueyue stared into his eyes. They were heartbroken and lost, but strong and determined. They were the eyes of a soldier who had killed more lives than the years he had lived.
"They won't tell anyone what happens between us," Wen Jinkai said. "How do you know—"
"You just have to trust me," Li Xueyue responded.
Li Xueyue decided that telling him the truth was too dangerous. Even though she should trust him, she couldn't. His ties with the Royal family were simply too deep. What if he learned of the Empress's death and deemed her the killer all because she had eavesdropped?
Li Xueyue had a disturbing feeling that the murderer was Li Minghua. She bit her bottom lip. If she recalled correctly… the murder weapon was a hairpin.
Wen Jinkai couldn't trust her. He couldn't trust anyone in the Palace. Someone had broken into his room. How the hell they did it, he did not know. But they had stolen the hydrangea hairpin that belonged to Li Minghua. His entire morning was spent searching for it.
To no avail, he couldn't find the hairpin. Who else would know of its existence except for the Empress and the Second Prince? He doubted the Li Family would go to such lengths to break into his room. Only the Empress would have enough power to enter his room, but he doubted it was her. Then who else would come for the hairpin?
Without warning, Wen Jinkai's body jolted. He realized something. There was someone else who had seen him with the hairpin in his hand the night he stormed into the Empress's bedroom. That female servant. The one whose eyes were just like that of Li Minghua.
"We shouldn't stand here all day," Li Xueyue bit out. "You will find out the truth soon enough."
Wen Jinkai narrowed his eyes. "Tell me the truth right now. Or else you're not going home."
"I'll die with this information if I have to." Li Xueyue crossed her arms. "Once I'm dead, you'll be left to wonder everything I know."
"When enemy soldiers are captured, there is more than one way of making them talk," Wen Jinkai hissed. He continued advancing towards her until their chests touched.
Not once did she flinch under his scathing glare. Li Xueyue thought she was invincible. The thought humored him. He lifted a hand, reaching for her chin but she flinched.
Wen Jinkai froze. He saw fear flash in her eyes—fear of being struck by him. Did she think he'd hurt her? The mere thought pissed him off. What a stupid thing to be scared of. She reacted like she grew up in an abusive family of some sort.
"Get over yourself," Wen Jinkai snapped. He turned his back to her and began walking down the hallways again much to Li Xueyue's surprise.
Li Xueyue was unsure what caused the sudden shift in his attitude, but she decided to not question it. Whether or not she would tell him what happened, it'd all depend on her. She chewed on her bottom lip anxiously. She didn't know what forced her to tell him that information.
But when she raised her eyes and saw his broad shoulders, hunched and depressing, she knew the reason why. She pitied him too much. She had hoped the small piece of information would give him hope. She thought it would make him happy, even if it was just a little bit.
Li Xueyue didn't know what inclined her to feel anything for him. Maybe it was because he had always tried his best to help her, or maybe it was because she was an idiot. She decided it was the latter.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue thought Wen Jinkai would only lead her to the palace gates where she'd have to struggle to find a way home. He surprised her with his courtesy of actually escorting her home. Granted, they rode on his horse together, with his arms on either side of her body, but he didn't speak or touch her inappropriately.
"Xiao Yue!" Li Wenmin called out when he saw her on top of a large horse.
"There you are," Li Wenmin breathed out. When she slid off the horse, he engulfed her. "I was so worried you were stuck in the chaotic courts."
Li Xueyue could hear the worry in his voice before she saw it on his face. His arms shook around her as if he was terrified by the thought of losing her.
Li Xueyue wrapped her arms around her brother, hugging him tightly. It had been a long day. His tender embrace reassured her that everything would be alright, even if it wasn't.
"Where are Mom and Dad?" Li Wenmin asked as he pulled back. He was too distracted by her to see Wen Jinkai urging his horse away from the manor. Only when the horse galloped off did Li Wenmin saw something.
"Who was that—"
"N-nevermind him," Li Xueyue said, knowing what his reaction would be if he found out the truth. "I haven't seen Mother and Father anywhere."
"What do you mean?" Li Wenmin asked, "How could you have returned home without their help?"
Li Xueyue opened her mouth and explained the entire story. She started with her court summon and then progressed to the unidentified soldiers barging into the Throne Room, then getting lost in the Palace chasing after Duchess Wang Qixing, and lastly, waking up unconscious near the Empress's lifeless body.
Li Xueyue thoroughly explained everything and didn't leave out a single detail, except the one about Wen Jinkai.
"I don't know what to say," Li Wenmin muttered. He felt like he needed to sit down with the amount of information revealed. "The Empress is dead… and you think Li Minghua is still alive?"
"Yes," Li Xueyue said and nodded. "I thought Mother was crazy when she said she saw Li Minghua in the distance. But when I got lost and wandered into the Empress's quarters, I clearly heard her address someone in the room as Minghua."
Li Wenmin didn't even know where to begin. He was ecstatic at the news that Li Minghua was alive, but a part of him didn't believe it. The coincidence of her surviving that fire was surreal. It was a dream come true. He needed to see Minghua for himself to believe it.
"Are you sure the Empress is dead?" Li Wenmin asked as he began to usher her into the manor.
"I saw her dead body with my own eyes." Li Xueyue cringed at the memory of the Empress's pale and blue body. "Mother had rushed me out of that room when I woke up. Even now, I still don't know who attacked me from behind. It seems like they were trying to frame me for murder."
Li Wenmin slowly nodded. "The identity of that person is a mystery, but I agree." He angrily clenched his fist, his face morphing into a deep scowl. Who the hell was trying to harm his precious sister? Whoever it was, they better prepare themselves. He won't leave them unscathed.
"Let's head inside now," Li Wenmin said. "Chenyang has been worrying himself to death at home. With the amount of pacing he did, there might as well have been a dent on our floors."
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. "I think none of us expected things to go south that quickly."
"Yeah." Li Wenmin let out a reluctant sigh. "The plan was to get you and everyone else home as soon as possible. It's already nightfall. Mom and Dad still aren't home. I'm worried."
"Mom had rushed me out of the Empress's room which was less than an hour or two ago. I think she'll be fine. It'll only be a matter of time before she and Dad return home."
Li Wenmin placed a hand on her upper back and began to guide her inside the manor. "I hope so."
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free