Hu Dengxiao glanced around Lady Ge's estate. His lips curved down into a deep frown. He had brought the intruders here as instructed.
They were battered and their bodies twitched every second, their eyes large and wild. Rocking on their heels, they murmured incoherent words under their breaths. Some of them couldn't even stand properly, for their toes were broken into weird shapes.
"Where's Zhenzhen?" Hu Dengxiao mumbled under his breath, confused by the turn of events.
Hu Dengxiao could've sworn the Crown Prince would be here first. Did something happen? He pressed his lips together and looked around again.
These men, their breathing were turning shallow, and they wore a haunted expression on their faces. It had been at least three days since they last slept. Their eyes were bloodshot and frantic.
Hu Dengxiao scrunched his nose at the odor emitted from their bodies. He noticed one of them had a hole near the side of their body. When he squinted, he nearly gagged. There were bugs crawling in the wound.
"White dove…pretty white dove…"
Hu Dengxiao sharply turned around, a vicious look on his face, as he nearly pulled out a knife. Even now, they were dreaming of the Crown Princess?
Before he could cut off one of their tongues, one of the guards hurriedly ran up to him.
"A-Advisor Hu," the guard breathed out. He hurriedly bowed his head and gulped. "The Crown Prince was unable to make it here. He was reportedly running back to his private study."
Hu Dengxiao slowly lowered his knife. He let out a small "tsk." The invader's life had just been spared.
With a curt nod of his head, Hu Dengxiao motioned towards the intruders. "Keep them here, chained like a dog. I will be back."
Hu Dengxiao slid the knife back into its sheath. He slipped it into his pockets and headed towards the direction leading to the Crown Prince's private study. Did something happen?
Hu Dengxiao rarely saw the Crown Prince run in the palace. It was unlike his calm, and composed nature. Hu Dengxiao had only seen the Crown Prince lose his composure when his Wangfei was involved.
Thinking back to the gentle smiles of the Princess, and the twinkle in her eyes, Hu Dengxiao lowered his gaze. She was kind, but spoiled. She was intelligent, but too kind. He let out a small sigh.
"Why does Lu Tianbi remind me of the Princess…" Hu Dengxiao quickly walked down the hallways, wondering what could've happened this time. If the Crown Princess was involved, then things would always escalate.
Hu Dengxiao could remember the deadly pale expression on the Commander's face that rainy night. It was as if the rug was yanked from under him, and cold water was splashed onto his face. The Crown Prince had never looked so terrified.
"Please let her be okay…" Hu Dengxiao silently prayed to himself with clasped hands. If anything were to happen to the Commander's Wangfei, then this entire nation will suffer.
It was a toxic relationship, but no one dared to tell the Crown Prince this. He was infatuated with her, far beyond healthy levels. But who would dare tell the fearsome Commander that? The entire palace courts had personally witnessed his cruelty, one way or another.
Hu Dengxiao could still picture it. The first time he had seen the Crown Prince take the throne. He sat cross-legged, a devious smirk on his lips. His eyes were cold and vicious, as everyone kowtowed to him, praying as if he was the embodiment of Heaven in itself.
Hu Dengxiao blinked back to reality. He noticed the guards were stationed outside, but they seemed a bit confused. What happened?
"The Crown Prince had entered the private study in a rush, but there was pure silence afterwards, Advisor Hu."
Hu Dengxiao curtly nodded his head. "I see."
Hu Dengxiao raised his hands and knocked. Silence.
His brows unknowingly knitted together. That was strange. Wasn't the Crown Prince inside? Usually, there would be a faint response of "Come in," or "Scram." But neither of these were said.
Hu Dengxiao slowly slid the doors open and stepped inside. He didn't want to anger the Crown Prince, but he was also worried about what was happening.
Hu Dengxiao was caught by surprise at the sight before him.
The sunlight shined upon her. She glowed like gold near a lantern. A black cloak was draped over her shoulders. It fluttered in the wind, creating the illusion of crow wings. When she turned to him, wide-eyed and perplexed, Hu Dengxiao instantly bowed his head.
Hu Dengxiao snuck a peek at her. He wondered if she was alright. First it was the unfortunate miscarriage, and then she was drugged with aphrosidiac—all in the span of a few weeks. Her enemies lurked in every corner of the palace. Everyone was out for her head and demise.
How was she dealing with all of these turmoil? He would not blame her if she'd want to run away from the palace. There were many tales of people losing their sanity in the palace and demanding to leave. Would the Crown Princess be one of them?
"You may rise."
Hu Dengxiao raised his head at the soft sound of her command. When their gazes met, his heart was filled with uncertainty. What was she doing here? Not that she wasn't allowed to roam this place, but she was all alone and wearing the Crown Prince's cloak?
"Are you alright, Princess?" Hu Dengxiao worriedly asked in a slow, and beckoning voice. He peered at her hand, where she tightly clutched a paperweight. He recognized it as the one that always rested on the Crown Prince's stack of documents.
The paperweight was made of gold, forged into a barren tree. There was nothing but sharp branches whose foundation was a solid block of heavy gold.
The Crown Princess was cradling it like a baby.
"Have you seen the Crown Prince?"
Li Xueyue wondered why Hu Dengxiao was pretending like he was treading on thin ice. He was looking at her with caution, as if she would do something reckless.
"Can you gather all of the available townspeople down the streets that lead to the Imperial Palace?"
Hu Dengxiao gawked at her in disbelief. "Are you certain of this, Princess?"
Li Xueyue nodded her head.
Hu Dengxiao seemed like he wanted to refute her request. However, he bowed his head.
"Your wish is my command, Princess."
Li Xueyue knew there would be consequences to this. But what was the point of having powerful tools if she did not use it? She took a step forward and placed the paperweight down.
"Oh, and keep my name out of it."
"Of course, Princess."
Li Xueyue glanced down at the documents resting on Yu Zhen's desk. She was surprised to see letters. Out of curiosity, she picked up one of them.
"When the crowd is gathered, bring Lady Ge to the main entrance of the palace."
Hu Dengxiao nodded his head. "As you wish, Princess—" his voice died off. "Wait, Princess, you shouldn't!"
Hu Dengxiao rushed forward, ready to take the confidential letter from her hands. But she abruptly sank to her knees.
Her face paled in horror. Her fingers trembled in response. Her lips were parted in astonishment.
"This…" she trailed off, her voice a ghost of a whisper.
The edges she gripped crumbled as her nostrils flared. A murderous glint surfaced.
Hu Dengxiao was surprised by her expression. She looked bloodthirsty. What was written in the letter?
"Princess, please let me see the letter and perhaps I could provide an explanation for better clarity," he said.
Hu Dengxiao wondered what could've been so worrisome for her gentle features to morph into a sinister snarl.
"Tell me it's not true."
Hu Dengxiao didn't know what she meant. He opened his mouth, ready to say something. But she shoved the letter in front of his face, holding the top and bottom of it.
'I have secured the oils you have requested. Lavender, peppermint, and the exquisitely rare Jasmine and Rosemary oil. They are ready to be picked up whenever you are ready.
Your loyal friend.'
Hu Dengxiao was floored by the letter. What?
Then, the Crown Princess showed him another one in the same manner.
'The infertility poison has been delivered. Please fetch it as you see fit.
Your loyal friend.'
Hu Dengxiao opened and closed his mouth. Where could he even begin with this story? How could he even spin the lies to conceal the Crown Prince's actions? What could Hu Dengxiao say at this moment to save the Crown Prince?
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