484 Where Is Your Master?
Li Xueyue continued walking down the hallway until she finally stopped at Yu Zhen's private study. He was always in his study, he might as well live there!
Without permission from the Crown Prince, the guards wouldn't let anyone in. But no one dared to stop her. They already knew she was an exception.
Li Xueyue set foot into the room. Two guards dutifully followed after her and would only leave when they confirmed the Crown Prince was present. Everyone knew the Crown Prince would risk his life to protect her.
"He's not here." Li Xueyue frowned.
Where could he be?
Her thoughts wandered to the words of the maidservants. The Crown Prince did not return the entire night. Their words were troubling, yet her heart never dropped. Her eyes did not flinch with uncertainty.
Li Xueyue trusted him. However, she did not trust the flowers that flock to him. Thus, she turned on her heels and left the study. There was only one location in mind—Lady Ge Beining's estate.
Li Xueyue set foot into the hallway, closing the doors behind her. As she began to walk down the corridor, she realized Lady Ge Beining's estate was farther than anticipated.
But then, a group of servants rushed past her, only to freeze upon hearing a sharp clear of the throat. The guards ran ahead and pointed their swords at the group of servants. Had they continued running, they would've literally ran to their deaths.
"What is the cause of this rush?" Li Xueyue calmly asked. She saw the fear in the servants' gazes when their lives flashed before their eyes.
"C-Crown Princess, we did not see you here! Please pardon our insolence!" The servants hurriedly lowered their bodies into a deep bow.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded her head. "Answer the question."
One of the servants nervously licked his lips. He kept his eyes and head lowered. It was either that, or he would lose them. "T-there was an urgent situation at Lady Ge Beining's estate."
"Oh?" Li Xueyue curiously said. She glanced around her surroundings and noted that they were not that far from Lady Ge Beining's estate.
"What happened?" she added on. Her eyes twinkled with amusement, wondering what could've caused the guards to be out of their breaths.
"T-turn back now!" a servant cried out from behind them. He blindly ran towards the group, clutching one arm. His sleeves were covered in blood. He had been stabbed on the arm.
"There are s-strange men stationed outside of Lady Ge Beining's estate. No one can enter. No one can leave. They were dressed in black, revealing nothing but their l-lifeless eyes!" he stuttered out, his eyes shaking with each word. He was visibly terrified, with labored breaths that tired him out.
"C-Crown Princess!" he gasped out, horrified and surprised by her presence. Despite his bleeding arm, he quickly lowered onto his knees and kowtowed to her. He was ranked below the other servants and was already terrified of offending her with this grim sight.
"Strange men?" Li Xueyue repeated.
Li Xueyue glanced behind her. There were beautiful maidservants and handsome guards. None of them wore black from head to toe. But she looked beyond them. Finally, the sun was high in the sky, shining down on the crimson pillars. Long, dark shadows formed in the distance. She knew what lurked in the darkness.
Not a second later, the sunlight slowly disappeared as another looming cloud of grey swallowed the light.
"Y-yes, Crown Princess! They bear different types of weapons. We shouldn't try to cross them."
Li Xueyue had a hunch who those strange men were. But the servant didn't need to know that. Thus, she vaguely nodded her head, with a disturbed look on her face.
"In that case," she slowly said. "I must investigate."
"W-what?" the servant gasped. His lips parted in horror, his eyes growing large. He placed a hand on his chest. "Princess, you mustn't! It is dangerous and your life could be at risk."
Li Xueyue presented him with a tiny, wry smile. "Lady Ge Beining's estate is located close to the Empress. It would be dangerous if these men were to wander and hurt Her Grace."
The servant gasped at her words. He bowed once again, this time, out of sheer gratitude. The Crown Princess…what a tender heart she possessed! To place her life below the Empress, that was to be expected. But to actually act upon it was a different story.
The Crown Princess's life had just begun. To risk it all for someone triple her age… The servants began to view her in a different light.
"Y-you are too gracious, Princess," the servant murmured with his lowered head. "However, we are your humble servants, so there is not much we can do to stop you. Please be safe, Princess, and may the Heavens shine brighter on you."
Li Xueyue wondered what caused the change in heart. She noticed the servants' gaze towards her had changed. Initially, they were terrified of her, but now they were in awe. Why was that? She could not understand why.
Without another word, Li Xueyue brushed past the servants and treaded towards Lady Ge Beining's estate. If she had not known these men, Li Xueyue would've gone the other way.
'Danger is attracted to me, even when I am careful,' she thought to herself.
But judging from the description, she was certain of the guards' identities. Dressed in black, from head to toe, carrying weapons of varying styles…they could be no one but the Crown Prince's Shadow Guards.
They lurked in the shadows and rarely came out in the day. For them to be publicly seen, it must've been for a good reason.
When Li Xueyue stopped in front of the tall, rectangular archway leading to Lady Ge Beining's estate, there was not a single sound except the rustling of leaves in the wind.
In the distance, she saw them. Men dressed in black, with nothing but their eyes revealed. Lifeless and bleak, she could feel their deadly presence from afar.
However, it was nothing compared to Yu Zhen's. Yu Zhen's presence was even more intimidating. Looking him in the eye was equivalent to staring into a lion's gaze. Fear and death were the only outcomes.
"Step aside." Li Xueyue held up Yu Zhen's pendant. Nowadays, she always carried it with her. Most of the time, it was tucked in the pocket near her waist. The pocket was a small slit that was not visible to the eye unless they were standing close.
The men did not even move. They acted as if they didn't see her. Chins up, eyes forward, they were on high-alert, ready to kill anyone but her.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. It seems there were some things that this pendant could not do.
But then things changed. In the blink of an eye, they stepped to the side and parted for her. She was surprised when they bowed their heads, eyes closed, like an obedient pet.
"Where is your Master?"
No one answered her. They remained in their position—arms firmly tucked to their sides, and upper body slightly bent.
Li Xueyue shrugged. Where else could he be but inside of Lady Ge Beining's estate? She set one foot forward and then another.
Abruptly, the men moved back to their position. They formed a barrier, cutting off her guards and servants from entering.
"A fair warning, Mistress," one of the men said. "Master is not inside."
Li Xueyue sharply turned her head to them. Then, where was Yu Zhen? Was he playing hide and seek or what? She pressed her lips together and wondered why these men even let her through then.
"Then where is he?"
Li Xueyue glanced towards Lady Ge Beining's estate. If Yu Zhen wasn't here, then why were they guarding this place so heavily? Who were they preventing from entering?
Unless…they were actually preventing someone from leaving.
Her body jolted with suspicion. Was Lady Ge Beining inside, being tortured to death? Li Xueyue swallowed. It was something Yu Zhen would do. But she did not want to believe he would personally lay a hand on a woman. However, someone else would do it for him.
"We do not know, Mistress."
Li Xueyue turned around. Immediately, they parted like the Red Sea. They stood in a straight line formation, like a human barrier. She walked past them, where the guards stared at her with wide and worried eyes.
Li Xueyue knew they had been puzzled about what to do. It was difficult to stand properly in the presence of these heartless men, much less go against them. After all, they were simple guards compared to the barricade of men who were clothed in black.
The actual demons were lurking in the shadows, studying each and every danger before it ever happened.
Li Xueyue wondered why they did not show up when she was in Lady Ge Beining's room. Was it because the Shadow Guards had never studied Lady Ge's corridors before? It would make more sense, since this was a part of the palace they were never expected to set foot in.
"In what direction did he walk off to after giving you the command to stand guard here?" Li Xueyue asked whilst facing them.
They did not raise their heads. Obedient and sharp as always.
"You will never get an answer out of them."
Li Xueyue jumped at the voice. She turned around, her face paling at the sight in front of her. She was not prepared to see them this early in the morning. Although Li Xueyue would never show it, uncertainty shrouded her heart.
After getting through her initial shock, Li Xueyue clasped her hands towards the side of her hips and curtsied.