Li Xueyue had just entered the house when she noticed servants were speed walking down the hallway. They bowed upon seeing her, but would quickly excuse themselves.
The corner of her lips turned upwards into a slight smile. Someone was home! She excitedly rushed down the corridors, ignoring how unladylike she behaved. She reached the front entrance in time to see Li Chenyang walking down the stone pavement leading into the Li Manor.
"Chen-ge!" she called out, stepping outside with her indoor shoes. She would probably get scolded for it but she didn't care.
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang gently called and smiled upon seeing her. He seemed visibly exhausted but still had the energy to place a warm pat upon her head.
"You look like a mess, as usual," he said and chuckled upon seeing her messy hair and crumpled training robes.
"You're home later than usual, Chen-ge," Li Xueyue said as she noticed the sky had finally darkened into nighttime. But where was the Duke?
"I am," he agreed. "It was a very tiring day in court today," Li Chenyang said in a heavy voice. He had argued so much with the other Ministers in court, enough for his voice to be slightly hoarse.
"You've been biting your nails too much," Li Xueyue muttered when he retracted his hand and she caught a glimpse of his fingers. "Was today that hectic?"
"Yes, we were arguing about who'd take over the position of the throne," Li Chenyang wearily said. "It's such a stupid argument since the Second Prince was known to be sickly. Everyone still has high hopes that the Fourth Prince would recover."
"The Second and Fourth Prince are still alive?" Li Xueyue asked. She was astonished by this news, her eyes growing wide. Wouldn't this mean there were two more people in line for the throne?
"Unfortunately, they are. But you don't have to worry about these kinds of things. They won't affect you at all, so you should put your mind elsewhere," Li Chenyang reassured her.
"Nonetheless, I'd still like to help in any way I can. Please inform me if there's something I can do," Li Xueyue argued.
Li Chenyang placed a thumb in between her eyebrows and let out a soft chuckle. "If you keep worrying like this, you'll get wrinkles," he chided.
Li Xueyue blinked. She touched her forehead and didn't realize her brows were scrunched together. "I can't help it. I want to give back to you guys for all that you've done for me."
"There you go with that stupid talk again," Li Chenyang mused. He smiled a bit at her determined expression. "The only help you can give is enjoying your life with a smile."
"But—ow!" Li Xueyue grumbled when he flicked her forehead. She clutched the burning spot and glared at him.
"I was just checking that it's still working," Li Chenyang snickered as he knocked upon it. "Hello? Anyone home?"
Li Xueyue angrily kicked him in the shin. He let out a loud laugh at her reaction.
"You act like a feral animal," Li Chenyang commented. He had never seen a lady as unruly as her. Well, she pretended to be a lady quite well.
"I hope that hurt," Li Xueyue mumbled under her breath.
"What was that?" he asked whilst cupping his ear towards her.
Li Xueyue rolled her eyes. "Just come inside already."
Li Chenyang simply shook his head at her attitude. "And here I was, hoping for a cute little sister."
"Well, I wanted a good-looking brother. Guess we both didn't get what we wanted, huh?"
"You brat," Li Chenyang retorted.
Li Xueyue stuck her tongue out at him. She let out a yelp when he launched forward, no doubt to flick her forehead again. She made a mad dash into the house, only for him to come chasing after her.
"Come back here, I haven't returned your kind present yet!" he hollered from behind, but she kept on running.
Their footsteps were loud and echoed throughout the quiet house. Many servants rushed towards the hallway railings, in fear of getting in their way.
Li Xueyue let out a taunting laugh upon seeing him struggle to catch up to her. She was grateful for her training clothes, or else she would've tripped over her long dresses had she worn them instead.
When she turned a corner, she nearly bumped into someone. "Mother!" Li Xueyue exclaimed as she came to an immediate halt.
Huffing and puffing, Li Xueyue nervously adjusted her messy clothes. "Chen-ge came home," she said in between breaths of air.
Duchess Wang Qixing stared at her daughter in disapproval. She took out a handkerchief and roughly wiped Xueyue's face. "How many times do I have to tell you children to not run in the hallways?"
"Uhm… just a few more times?" Li Xueyue responded, which earned an angry pinch on her cheek. "Ow…" she grumbled, rubbing the sore spot.
"There you are!" Li Chenyang called out when he saw her. He, too, came to a screeching halt upon seeing his mother.
"Mom," Li Chenyang greeted with a teasing grin. "I'm home."
"You were so loud, our ancestors in Heaven heard you come home," Duchess Wang Qixing bit out. "And now you look like a mess. Both of you do. Go clean up."
"No, I'd rather eat dinner in dirty clothes," Li Chenyang sarcastically responded only to let out a howl of pain a second later. "Mom, not the ear, not the ears! It's already big enough."
"I might as well give you monkey ears," Duchess Wang Qixing hissed as she dragged her son by his ears. "You shouldn't be talking back to your mother. And in such a sarcastic tone, too."
"Okay, I won't," Li Chenyang groaned. She finally released his ears as he began to rub the sore spot.
"Now, get yourself fixed up. Both of you."
Li Xueyue didn't need to be told twice. She hurried off before Chenyang caught up to her.
"Why don��t you run faster?" a voice called out from behind her.
Li Xueyue turned around and stuck her tongue out to Chenyang who narrowed his eyes at her. He pretended to advance towards her, and she quickly ran off before he did.
Li Xueyue ignored his mocking laugh as she hurried into her room where the servants were already waiting for her. They rushed her into the bathroom located on her side of the house. A bath was initially already drawn, for when she would return from training, but since she took so long, they had to reheat the water.
Li Xueyue slowly entered the large bathing pool in the center of the room. She let out a sigh of content and sank deeper into the water.
It didn't take long for her to be cleaned and prepped for nighttime. The servants braided her hair behind her and woven it on top of her head. She slipped into her night clothes and was sent off to dinner.
Li Xueyue realized the winds were quite rough tonight. The pale moon hid behind a thin curtain of clouds. There was a silence in the air. Despite being surrounded by servants on her walk to the dining hall, she had a gut feeling that something was off.
Unsure of what it was, Li Xueyue brushed it off.
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