If there was one thing that kept Xu Jiaqi going, it was the Crown Prince. No man had ever played her heart like him, tickling and crushing it without qualms. In his eyes, everyone was disposable. But she wanted to be the one thing he could never discard.
The Crown Prince had saved her life three times now. It belonged to him. She'd do everything in her power to ensure he realized that. Even if it meant taking a life.
So, when he didn't even spare her a glance, Xu Jiaqi was floored. She saw his shoes, black like his soul, stop directly in front of her, but not pointed at her. Instead, his boots were facing Li Xueyue, the crazy Princess.
"Your palm is bright red," Yu Zhen chastised. He gingerly grabbed her wrist, flipping it over to reveal her burning hand.
"How can you treat yourself like this? It is horrendous," he added on, gently blowing upon the skin.
A breeze drifted through the room. Xu Jiaqi's hair swayed, like the flicker of candlelights. Despite the strands of flyaway hair that framed Xu Jiaqi's forehead, blinding her vision, she watched on.
Seeing his treatment towards the Crown Princess, a part of her knew. She refused to acknowledge or believe it, but she understood. His frigid heart melted for no one but the Crown Princess, a woman so vile, she would run this country to the ground.
Yu Zhen's attention was all over Li Xueyue. His brows were wrung together, forming temporary creases upon his forehead. His gaze was concentrated on her fleeting pain.
"I will handle the rest. You should not tire yourself like this." Yu Zhen tucked her hand towards the side of her body, holding it in place.
Li Xueyue could feel the glower of Xu Jiaqi, who dreamed to be in her position. Vinegar seeped from her very being. The stench of jealousy was too difficult to ignore.
Yet, Li Xueyue pushed his hand away. She walked past him, much to his displeasure and surprise.
"Don't be so foolish," Li Xueyue mused. She reached a hand down, skimming Xu Jiaqi's jaw. The lady-in-waiting flinched at the touch as if it had frozen her skin. It might as well have, for the Crown Princess's touch was icy cold.
Without warning, Li Xueyue painfully gripped Xu Jiaqi's jaw, her fingers pressing into the delicate bones.
"I won't ask you again," she whispered. "For the next time I do so, you will be hanging from your hands."
Xu Jiaqi's eyes widened in sheer horror. This woman was insane! She rapidly shook her head, refusing to part with her stubborn ways. The Crown Princess loved to bark, but she would never bite. She never had fangs in the first place.
"Like I've said, Princess, I don't have the slightest inkling to what you're talking about—"
PAK! Another smack sounded through the room. This time, it was on the other side of Xu Jiaqi's face.
She trembled under the sheer force, as blood formed in her mouth. The crimson liquid dribbled from the corners of her mouth, much like the tears flowing down her cheeks.
Li Xueyue, on the other hand, stood there incompletely unscathed. She didn't even blink. The pain in her palm never registered in her. Her foot remained planted in the same spot.
Sadistically, she lifted Xu Jiaqi's head by her chin. Her nails dug into the sensitive flesh, as a Cheshire smile formed.
"Such a beautiful face you face," she murmured, turning Xu Jiaqi's head side by side. "What a shame it'll be skinned off."
A chill ran down Xu Jiaqi's spine. The Crown Princess was far more composed than anyone had ever expected her to be. Xu Jiaqi's teeth chattered, but they could shake all they wanted. She'd just clench it and suppress the pain.
"P-please have mercy on me, Princess! The Empress will not be pleased by such violence!" Xu Jiaqi shrieked, placing down her trump card.
"You must listen to me, Princess. We can fix this. We can silence the maidservants who will speak of this morning's incident. No one will know. It is not too late to prevent this from reaching His Majesty and Her Grace's ears!"
Li Xueyue quirked a brow. Such confidence…
"If you do not silencce the maidservants right now, everyone will be rushing here, Princess! Once word spreads, everyone will know! There is already a stigma against Wuyi's women, and now news of your miscarriage will spread. People will point fingers, blaming you for being careless, for being weak—"
"But that's what you wanted, isn't it?" Li Xueyue mused.
Xu Jiaqi rapidly blinked her eyes. She was stunned by the Crown Princess's lack of reaction. She thought the Crown Princess would have panicked in fear. Maybe, even stagger backward a step or two.
But there was none of it. Li Xueyue remained rooted to the ground, sturdy as a tree.
"You've heard her motives, Yu Zhen," Li Xueyue said, turning to her husband. There was a silent rage in his eyes. A vein popped on from his neck, as his fingers curled into a fist.
"And now she wants to stir a battle in the palace," Li Xueyue murmured. "Well, aside from the war she attempted to spark between Nanhui and Hanjian."
"A-a war between N-Nanhui and Hanjian?" Xu Jiaqi feigned confusion. She placed a shaky hand upon her chest and rapidly shook her head.
"Princess, I would never dream of it!" Xu Jiaqi pleaded. Her voice was hoarse and broken, so believable that Li Xueyue pitied her for a brief second.
"What did you say again?" Li Xueyue hummed. She placed a finger upon her chin, pretending to ponder.
"Oh right, you said, and I quote, 'Among the presents from Nanhui, there was a rare oil not found in Hanjian.' Isn't that right?"
Xu Jiaqi paled. Her lips quivered, thinking of a way to refute this statement. She hadn't thought this far in advance about what she would've done when the Princess realized this crucial flaw in her act.
Xu Jiaqi didn't think this was serious enough to declare a war between Nanhui and Hanjian, but it would've broken down the hard work of the Crown Princess on the day of the foreign envoy's arrival.
Like killing two birds with one stone, but now, it seemed the bird being killed would be her.
Li Xueyue knew no amount of beating would satisfy her thirst for blood. Even if Xu Jiaqi was executed before her, there would be no happiness. She wouldn't even find closure in it… For how could one do so? Only time would heal the stolen piece of her heart.
She wasn't even able to affectionately touch her belly before the little bundle of hope was robbed from her.
"Please, you have to believe me… Like I said, it will not be too late to fix all of this mess before it reaches the ears of the Imperial Family!"
Even if Xu Jiaqi was tortured to no point of return, it would not bring back what was lost. But the thought of seeing her in pain… Li Xueyue wanted that. She never believed she was the type of sadistic, crazy woman to enjoy the sight of someone screaming for their dear life, but for the life that Xu Jiaqi had taken… Li Xueyue was willing to watch.
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