296 Phoenix That Soared
"The banquet has ended," Li Chenyang said as he sat beside Xueyue.
They remained seated on the small patch of grass that was between the bridge and the gazebo. They had the perfect view of the banquet, but the people there wouldn't be able to notice them due to the lack of light.
"Once Mother and Father notice we're both gone for a while, they'll come and find us here," Li Chenyang explained.
He could already picture their mother's panic state. Amidst her rambling, their father would remain calm and collected.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. She couldn't bring herself to speak about what had happened. She didn't mean to cry in his arms.
Li Xueyue didn't even think she would be so shaken up. Chenyang had brought out all of her emotions—especially the bottled up ones.
She felt no remorse for killing Duke Li Taojun, nor did she feel sympathy.
"I don't regret it," she suddenly said.
What kind of father would extort a daughter he had just claimed as his own? What kind of man did he have to be to demand so much from her?
Duke Li Taojun spoke as if he knew about the horrible conditions of the Bai Family. Yet, he didn't take the initiative to save her. He was a coward until the end of his time. A greedy, shameless one.
Li Xueyue felt nothing for this man, yet, she had broken down in Chenyang's arms.
Why was that? Was it the guilt of taking a life? Or had the frustrations in the house finally reached its breaking point?
She wept not for the Duke, but for her childhood self. She cried for the bottled up emotions and everything else along the way.
"That's alright. I don't expect you to regret it." He took a look at her appearance.
"But this dress will have to be burned, as well as his body," Li Chenyang said.
Li Chenyang tried to not look in the direction of the limp body. He hadn't properly examined the body, nor did he feel any inclination to do so.
His nose crinkled at the unpleasant smell. He chose to ignore it for her sake.
"Who was it?" he asked.
Li Xueyue hugged her knees tightly. She leaned her chin on her arms and briefly peered at him through her lashes. Her heart raced in anticipation. She was fearful of his responses.
"If I tell you who it was, will you think of me any less?" she questioned.
Li Chenyang let out a humorous laugh. "Did you truly think I was a saint? Murder and death do not faze me. I've gotten rid of people who stood in my way as well. It's just how this world works. The strong eat the weak."
Li Xueyue shivered at his words. His tone was cold and nonchalant. She always knew her older brother was as cunning as their father. A maniac smile rested upon his lips as his eyes flashed with amusement.
"It will be fine," Li Chenyang said. "We will burn his body into ashes. All remnants of this moment will be forgotten."
"Will it be selfish of me?" Li Xueyue whispered. "This is Mother and Father's big day, and I just had to ruin it by—"
"You worry even more than me," Li Chenyang pointed out. He reached over and pinched her cheek. "Stop overthinking, Piglet Number Two."
Li Xueyue was so relieved by his words, she didn't notice him calling her by this horrid nickname.
Li Chenyang smiled in satisfaction. At least she was learning to not be so aggrieved by everything. He was worried about the day she had wrinkles too early.
Deeming she was fine and dandy, Li Chenyang turned his head. He observed the guests who were starting to trickle out of the banquet.
Li Xueyue followed suit. There was something so calming about watching a crowded place slowly shrink in number, until only a handful of people remained.
A comfortable silence settled in between them.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue was informed that the body was burned by a servant named Ling…? Something about him having the most experience when it came to disposing of worthless things? She wasn't sure about the family's reaction towards the newfound discovery.
Once all of the guests had dispersed, Chenyang was the first to make a move. He told her to stay put to make sure no one would walk over the bridge. Next, he approached his father and in a hushed voice, mentioned what had happened.
The new Emperor was certainly surprised to hear the news of his dead brother but was the least bit fazed. He knew Duke Li Taojun had to be disposed of, sooner or later. He was just glad it was done so quickly and without soiling his hands.
"It was such pretty clothes," Li Xueyue mumbled to herself. "What a waste that was burned…"
Li Xueyue wondered what went through her father's head when he saw her disheveled form. His stoic face was filled with concern as he offered her a helping hand to stand back up.
"Father must've thought I was attacked by Li Taojun or something… Well, that was how I wanted to paint it to be," Li Xueyue murmured. She stood up from the newly-made vanity.
The Li Family had officially moved into the Palace this morning. All of Xueyue's belongings were moved into this room, but she didn't think it was necessary to unpack everything since she was leaving for Hanjian very soon.
Li Xueyue's room here was much larger than their house in the Capital. Here, she had an entire palace to herself. She felt out of breath just walking to the other side of this place.
"No matter how much I wash and clean, it's still pink," Li Xueyue wondered out loud.
Li Xueyue lifted her hand to the moonlight, staring at her fingers. No one else noticed it, but she most certainly did. Her skin was pale. Distinctively, she could still feel the heat of Li Taojun's warm blood.
"What's done is done," Li Xueyue said. She wondered if Duke Li Taojun would get a proper burial.
"I wonder what Wen Jinkai is thinking…" Li Xueyue trailed off. She sat beside the windowsill with her arms resting upon it. She leaned her cheek upon her folded arms.
"Now he truly has no one left in this world. No friends, no family…"
Li Xueyue pitied him more than anything. He had the most to lose in this situation. The people he had grown up with, they were all dead.
Despite what the Li Family had done to his closed-ones, Wen Jinkai's attention was still focused on Li Minghua. Throughout the entire banquet, he watched no one else but her. And whenever she was approached by someone, his expression would darken.
"How can he become so possessive over something that's not his?" Li Xueyue asked. She let out a sigh. This wasn't a problem that should plague her thoughts to this extent.
"I should have a final talk with him before my departure to Hanjian… It would only be fair," Li Xueyue decided.
She peered up at the night sky, smiling at the stars that seemed so far, yet so close. She reached a hand out as the moonlight relished upon her skin.
"Am I still a lone flower peering up at the sky…? A useless little thing that sways along the wind… whose petals dream of flying towards the sun?"
Li Xueyue eventually fell asleep by the windowsill. A pale glow basked over her, gently, softly, like a blanket over her small form. That night, she dreamed of the limitless blue sky, and of a phoenix that soared through the clouds.