I closed my eyes for a few seconds, my heart was beating out of my chest. I was wincing. I removed my hands from my face and was welcomed by the Emperor’s torso.
I sighed in relief. I stood up, flicking a few strands of hair off my sweaty face. “I almost died.”
”She almost died,” the Emperor barked, still standing in front of me. I didn’t even realise he was there. “What do you want to say for yourself?”
“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty!” one of the men kowtowed to him, continuously bowing in a panicky manner.
“All of you!” he swung the sleeve of his hanfu briskly. “How dare you perform this artistic piece but can’t get it right! How long have you been practising? A day? A week?”
I could tell that he was enraged, but I’ve never seen him like this. His back was still facing me, but I could tell by his tone that he was in immense frustration. His shouting frightened me. Whenever he raised his voice, I jumped a little.
The rest of the performers kowtowed and begged for their lives to be spared. They frantically bowed and I could tell behind their costumes, they were quivering.
As I looked around the room, the Empress had her eyebrow cocked, with a bitter expression on her face. It didn’t take me long to believe that she was apart of this act to get me killed. It’s a shame that it’ll take more than that. The other concubines looked miserable and slightly uncomfortable. The room was filled with unease and I could tell. I doubt the concubines have seen the Emperor like this as well.
“Guards! Escort them out of the palace,” the Emperor roared aggressively. “No rewards for them. I forbid them to ever come back!”
As they were ushered out, I felt relieved.
The Emperor almost died for me.
“Well, it was lovely until I almost died...” I laughed nervously.
The Emperor studied me with a troubled look. The smile on my face slowly faded, as his hand reached for mine. “Ying Yue, are you okay?”
“U-Uh, yes, Your Majesty, haha,” I forced a smile on my face. “Just almost got killed, ha, nothing new...”
I knew I fixed the uncomfortable atmosphere in the room because the Emperor and a few of the girls laughed.
He softly cupped my face, then pulling away to face everyone else. “Time to head back to your chambers, an unexpected accident had come upon Ying Yue, but we must be glad that she is safe.”
“Yes,” the Empress chimed in with a forced frown on her face. “We are glad that Ying Yue is safe, that was terrible.”
As everyone else was ushered out, the Empress, who was the only woman wearing red, was still noticeably waiting for the Emperor.
As I was about to leave, the Emperor gently held my wrist and turned me around. “Ying Yue, would you like to stay and talk for a while? You must be in shock.”
“And you must be busy, Your Majesty,” the Empress interrupted, bobbing her head as her jewellery on her headpiece moved around. “You can talk to Ying Yue another time.”
Jaxon was waiting for me at the bridge and the Empress was already planning my next murder scenario in her head.
I bowed, giving the Emperor an apologetic look. “I would love to, but I’m a bit tired. Please forgive me, Your Majesty.”
“No worries, get some rest,” the Emperor said calmly, then watched me as I headed out of the hall.
As I made my way to the bridge, I was awestruck by the scenery and the sound of the water cascading below me. I spotted the silhouette of Jaxon. He stood gracefully yet boldly, leaning against the handrail of the bridge. I fell silent, refusing to ruin his moment. The owls hooted and the crickets chirped in unison; it was like an invitation to join.
I gradually walked closer to him. His eyes were fixated on the movement of the river. As Jaxon turned to look at me, I couldn’t stop myself from gazing away from him. ”Hey.”
“What took you so long?” he leaned his back against the rail, still making full eye contact with me.
I almost died. I wanted to say, but I was almost speechless.
He was beautiful. He looked so good under the moonlight. His skin, which had a smooth, blemish-free complexion, was glowing, his chestnut brown eyes glistened, and his soft, sultry lips curled up, welcoming me.
”Carmen?” he tilted his head to the side, slanting his eyebrows upwards in confusion.
“S-Sorry,” I stammered as I leaned back on the railing next to him. “The scenery is so beautiful, isn’t it? I could come here every day if I wanted to.”
“It’s all I’ve been staring at for ten minutes... since you were late,” Jaxon whispered teasingly, then turning his head to face me.
“Sorry,” I looked away with a smirk on my face. “Did you find anything while I was gone?”
Jaxon sighed as he scratched the back of his head. He fumbled around some more, pausing for a few seconds before speaking. I patiently waited for an answer.
“Yes but,” Jaxon hesitated. He looked away from me. I could tell he tried to avoid eye contact with me. This wouldn’t sound good. “It’s..”
”Jaxon, spill it,” the words came out of my mouth quicker than I could stop myself. It burst like low-budget fireworks in the dark sky. “I’m not going to go and cry like a pathetic little girl anymore. Please tell me, I promise I can handle it. Tell me anything.”
I was desperate. He could tell by the tone of my voice. The atmosphere was serene and soothing, yet I ravaged it with my outburst. I scanned around to make sure no one was lurking in the distance.
”Carmen, there’s a way out but,” Jaxon paused, then looking down at me. “We need the Emperor’s spit.”
A laugh escaped from my lips, I threw my head back and shrieked. “What a comic relief! You can’t be serious.”
”Carmen, I-” Jaxon began.
Seconds after, our bodies shook as we couldn’t help it. We both let out hideous laughter. It was so intense that I had to lean on the rail for support. My stomach hurt, I felt as if abs were forming. It was almost nighttime, many would feel tired but I felt so alive.
“Y-You’re not serious, are you?” I chuckled again, replaying his words in my head.
“I am,” Jaxon’s smile faded, and as well as mine. A sinking feeling in my heart occurred and the darkness suddenly began to scare me.
We both stood there, taking everything in. As we both started to taste a spoonful of reality, I broke the silence. “Isn’t that easy?”
“Carmen we’re not going to ask the guy for his spit, that’s weird," Jaxon replied.
“Why not? Get him to spit into a cup for a test or something, we never know if we don’t-”
“We’ll be under surveillance. It’s suspicious... to say the least.”
”What the heck are we even going to do with the Emperor’s spit?”
“I found a book in the library, it’s a fairytale,” Jaxon explained. “I can show you tomorrow, but it’s about a boy wanting to time travel, and he made up this formula from a dream he had. It has the Emperor’s saliva and a strand of hair belonging to the Empress, bird’s nest soup, jasmine green tea, and a jade bangle. It was like propaganda hidden in a fairytale because when the boy got all of the items, he bathed into it and passed out. I guess it was like a ′don’t disrespect the Imperial family’ bullshit.”
“How are we going to get the Empress’s strand of hair? Her hair isup every single day,” I whined.
“That’s the point. We need to start thinking small, the tea we could get first, then the bird’s nest soup, and then the bangle.”
“Where are we possibly going to get the bird’s nest soup?”
“The kitchen? Pop in and ask them to put it in a bowl, say it’s for you.”
“The fact that you came up with that really fast, concerns me.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
I laughed. ”Okay, tomorrow, I guess we’ll try. The Emperor’s spit and the Empress’s hair part... That is what I’m extremely worried about.”
“We’ll figure something out when we get the rest of the stuff.”
“Or I can flirt with the Emperor and try to get his spit.”
“That works too.”
“How did we even get in this situation?” I exclaimed with irritation as I buried my face into the palms of my hands.
“Car accident for me.”
Jaxon chuckled. “I remember, that was the first thing you said to me... I think.”
“Mhm,” I rested the side of my face on my overlapping arms. “God, I just... I just wish this would be over by now. This place would’ve been interesting if we could eventually leave.”
“I know. It’s too late to talk about this, we can do this tomorrow?” he smiled at me, but I knew it was an act. His false smile of reassurance won’t convince me anymore, but I quietly wished it did.
As we walked back into the palace, I couldn’t help but think about the Emperor. He was a charming, kind individual and I had to seduce him. Yet, I felt guilty. He’s been nothing but good to me.
Then again, this was his feelings versus my life, and I had to make a choice.
“Goodnight, Lan Yun.”
“Goodnight, Ying Yue.”
I watched him walk away.