"Huh, Zhenzhen, what are you doing here?" Hu Dengxiao remarked upon seeing the Crown Prince standing in front of his private study. A second later, he flinched back and cursed inside of his head.
On the spur of the moment, Hu Dengxiao forgot where he was. There were guards stationed outside of the private study. The nickname he had for Yu Zhen could only be uttered in private.
The Crown Prince shot his friend an irritated glower before slamming the doors to his private study open.
"Where else am I supposed to be?" he snapped.
Hu Dengxiao hurriedly ran after his friend like they did in their youth. Even now, he could still remember it.
Lu Tianbi walked a step behind the Crown Prince, making small jokes as Hu Dengxiao trailed behind them with a bounce to his footsteps. Despite being the last in line, he was still excited to see them, for they were his only friends.
"Wasn't Your Highness supposed to be in a meeting with the Emperor? Did it conclude so quickly?" Hu Dengxiao asked whilst closing the doors behind him.
He glanced at the small hallway that separated the first entrance from the second one that actually led to the study.
The Crown Prince paused for a brief second before continuing to walk to his desk. He took his seat, revealing the dark, gloomy expression on his face.
"If you brood so much, no one will like you, Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao warned with an amused smile. He was familiar with the Crown Prince's permanent glower. It was as if nothing in this world pleased the Crown Prince.
"I still think it's a miracle that you were able to capture the heart of the Crown Princess, Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao said and snickered. He noticed his friend touching the first parchment of the stack.
"Here, let me grind the ink for you, Zhenzhen!" Hu Dengxiao cheerfully said as he skipped forward, eager to help.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. His friend was in a great mood. But at the expense of Yu Lingluo. It wasn't Hu Dengxiao's fault. Even so, Yu Zhen was still irked.
"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, the Crown Princess's autumn and winter clothes have arrived! We had the new closet brought to your bedroom yesterday when no one was in there, Your Highness."
Yu Zhen's finger twitched. "You know the rules."
Hu Dengxiao's shoulder slumped. "Y-yes… But you wanted to surprise her. The only way to do it was putting the closet there when no one was around, that way—"
"Your Highness, there is an urgent issue!" a voice called from outside of the door.
"Come in!" Hu Dengxiao called out, wondering what could be so important for a person to sound so stern, but worried.
Yu Zhen tensed. What could be so urgent this late in the afternoon? Did the Emperor finally pass? From their discussion this morning, Yu Zhen was certain the old man was hanging onto the last thread of his life.
Yu Zhen swore that man was a cat with nine lives. By now, death must've been the Emperor's old friend. They'd greet each other at the gates of Diyu, but the Emperor would never enter.
"The Crown Princess has been drugged!"
Yu Zhen flew out of his chair. He stood up and stormed toward the soldier that entered the room. Not a second later, the soldier dropped to his knees and cupped his fists, bowing low.
"Drugged?" Yu Zhen viciously repeated in a voice barely above a whisper. He yanked the soldier by his shoulder.
"By whom?" he growled.
The soldier could not look the Crown Prince in the eye. He did not shake in fear, for he no longer felt such emotions.
From a young boy, he was bred for war. Bred to kill. Bred to protect the Crown Prince. He had trained from dawn to midnight, with only meals as break time. But his life history was not unique or uncommon, for there was an entire squadron who did the same.
Even so, he nearly shook in his boots. The presence of the Crown Prince was lethal. The air was thick and choked at him. A cold chill wafted through the room, and it was not because autumn was approaching.
"We do not have clear evidence yet, but the Crown Princess was in Lady Ge Beining's estate."
Yu Zhen's hands trembled with rage. His eyes narrowed into slits.
Yu Zhen tossed the soldier aside. He stormed out of the room. It was as if the room was on fire. His blood boiled. His jaws clenched. He took large footsteps down the hallway. He walked as if he was on his way to murder someone. And he might as well have been.
- - - - -
Yu Zhen stepped into his estate. It was deathly quiet. No one spoke. No one breathed.
Everyone saw the Crown Prince, and they parted for him like the red sea. Heads bowed low, tails tucked in between their legs, they tried their best to not faint from nervousness.
Yu Zhen heard nothing until he approached their shared bedroom. It was as silent as a mouse. So, where was she? It was only after he pushed the doors open did he hear her screams.
His heart plummeted.
Yu Zhen rushed into their bedroom, and the cries were much louder now. She yelled as if she was being murdered. Wailing, screaming, she sounded so desperate, so terrified of everything in this world.
"Princess, Princess, please!" a maidservant called out as she held the Princess down on the bed.
The Crown Princess, elegant and beautiful, was a crying mess. She fought for her life on the bed, despite the numbness of her limbs, and the tears that never stopped.
"They're gone, those men are gone! So, Princess, I beg of you!" the maidservants pleaded, as two held down her arms, and another two held down her legs. She struggled as if she was possessed, thrashing about.
Her words were a jumbled mess, but one phrase rang like bells.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she repeated, again and again, her body choking with hiccups. Suddenly, she coughed, choking on her own tears.
The maidservants gasped, as they wondered if they should help her up or not. Her entire body was trembling from the violent cough.
"Everyone, get out!" Yu Zhen roared, as he rushed to the bed.
The maidservants held back their sighs of relief. They stepped away from the bed, shaken and traumatized by what they had witnessed. Who exactly was that woman in the bed? Where did their graceful and gentle Crown Princess go? Who was that maniac in her place?
They did not dare to voice their questions. Everyone ran out of the room. They closed the doors behind them, but saw a glimpse of the Crown Prince approaching the Crown Princess.
What took four people only took the Crown Prince's two arms. He had the Crown Princess on his lap, embracing her tightly, despite all of her heartbreaking screams.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she repeated again and again, like a sinner before the shrine, begging for forgiveness.
"Let's go," a maidservant whispered as the doors were fully shut behind them. And then they were met with stunned silence, as everyone glanced at each other.
If the Crown Princess was like this, then what about Xiao Hua?
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