Intrigue

 Jiang Bai looks at the dead servant girl still barely cold on the ground outside the door. He bends over to examine her and sees a tiny hole in her neck where a dissolving poison dart must have entered. The entry wound has not yet sealed itself there is still a hint of blood.

     I have only seen this type of poison once before and it was used by a practitioner of demon arts when I was a General. Who in this palace would know this ancient art?

     He leaves the girl’s body, I will deal with that after I check on Xiaolian. He knocks on the outer door he can hear her in the bath but there is no movement. Should I enter to see if she is unharmed.

     She was enjoying her warm bath and slowly fell asleep. Visions and flashes of memories kept colliding in her mind,Wang Li Jie, her parents, flames everywhere. Then strange glimpses of another world, people dressed in unusual clothing, buildings that were beyond her imagination. So noisy. A woman’s voice that seemed familiar telling her to finish her bath it’s time for school. A sense of excitement as she was in the warm water dreaming of a boy’s face, he was laughing calling her XiXi.

   Suddenly she was awakened by Jiang Bai, he was standing at the edge of the bathtub staring at her, calling her name frantically. He was looming over her as she abruptly was jolted from her dream.

     “Ahhh! Jiang Bai you scared me half to death!” She slips down into the water spreading the flowers around her body. “Why did you barge in here? Is His Highness all right?”

     Jiang Bai’s face turns red looking at her beautiful face, water droplets on her long black eyelashes, her blue eyes wide, her long wet hair hanging over the back of the bathtub. Two delicate snow white arms are holding onto the side of the bath. The intoxicating  fragrance of red lotus that is hers alone drifting up to him.

     He shakes his head to bring himself out of the trance,“There was a disturbance outside and I had to leave your door for a moment, I was concerned about you.”

     “Turn your head!” She can feel the intense gaze from his Phoenix eyes, he really is a handsome man, but he always looks so serious.

    Also, if Wang Li Jie knows Jiang Bai saw me in the bath he might make me get rid of him. “Wait outside, I’m fine.” Wuhuu..except for my embarrassment, why would you rush into the bathing room!

     Jiang Bai realizes how inappropriate entering unannounced was but was worried whoever was behind this had put something in the herbs that Xiaolian put in the bath. He wipes the sweat from his brow, “My apologies” He quickly heads out of the room.

     Xiaolian feels a little anxious as she steps out of the tub. What was he thinking! She grabs a cloth and wipes down her body. That was unlike Jiang Bai to be so impulsive. What was going on out there?

     He takes this time to go outside to deal with the dead servant girl. When he enters the hallway there is no evidence the servant girl had even been there. This is very strange, he rubs his head. They have ability to remove all traces of the dead girl. Who would want to cause Xiaolian such disgrace. 

     Xiaolian  puts on a light green dress with a cloud pattern, it accentuates her ethereal beauty with its simplicity. She puts her wet hair up in a white jade hairpin as she breathes a deep sigh, feeling invigorated from the bath but at the same time weak. I don’t even have the internal energy to dry my hair!

     She needs to ask Wang Li Jie if they can go back to the Ice Flower Cave. Oh, but he is injured, I can’t impose on him. Well, I’m hungry I will deal with all this after I eat. I always can think better on a full stomach.

     Xiaolian sees Jiang Bai as she comes out into the outer room, he is looking out the window. She decides to ignore the fact he rushed in and saw her in the bath,“What kind of disturbance, I didn’t hear anything.”

     He turns around and sees her gliding over to him, the pastel colored dress swaying with her light steps. She is such a delicate girl and appears so weak how is she going to survive the palace intrigue, he still has the image of her in his head from a few moments ago. “I’m sorry to have bothered you, I will need to investigate further and then inform you.”

     Jiang Bai notices her hair is still wet, why didn’t she dry it she could get sick, the temperature here is freezing outside. She doesn’t seem to have very much common sense I’ve noticed, should I dry it with my internal energy? He decides he will just wave his palm past her head.

     Xiaolian notices a burst of warm air encircling her head  and turns to see Jiang Bai who has his arms at his side acting innocnet. She starts giggling, “I’m hungry let’s go to the kitchen.” He is such a strange man… haha.

     Xiaolian and Jiang Bai silently walk through the hallway towards the kitchen. Her stomach is grumbling she hasn’t eaten all day. She hears voices in there and she recognizes them as Yang Cang and the servant girl Lan An she met yesterday.

     “Greetings” she smiles and enters the kitchen followed by Jiang Bai. They jump up from their stools and hurriedly bow towards her. Isn’t she the noble girl from yesterday? Who is that tall man with her? He must be her guard.

     “Please sit back down! “

     “Miss, can I fix you something to eat?” Yang Chang doesn’t know what to say, why didn’t His Highness send a request by a servant.

     “I would like to prepare the meal myself if you don’t mind.”

      “…” How could we mind? That pouch of gold made everyone ecstatic and we know it was because of you. “Please let us prepare you something delicious!”

     “Actually I am in a bit of a gloomy mood, I need to wait for His Highness and cooking is relaxing for me”

     Yang Chang and Lan An look at each other, she does look upset. “Anything we can help with please allow us to assist you”

     “Thank you I will need you to help me with the fire and gathering the ingredients! Jiang Bai just sit, you don’t need to keep standing”

     He sits down watching her move around the kitchen talking and laughing with the servants. They begin chopping and frying. She is asking them about spices and sprinkling flour into a sauce. It is the first time Jiang Bai has smiled in over five hundred years since that day. I can’t believe she is really back and I have a second chance to protect her. This morning proves she is in danger being around Wang Li Jie that bastard.

     It looks like she is preparing a feast, he hasn’t eaten, when he is in his human form he needs nourishment. The aromas floating through the air smell delicious, he used to love sitting at the table with Xiaolian. He would forget his troubles and enjoy her company. She loved hearing the stories from his youth and his life as a General. She would sparkle as she laughed always begging for more adventures like a small child.

     Jiang Bai gets snapped out of his thoughts when he sees flames leaping about over at the stove. He rushes over as Xiaolian is removing the pan with the oil on fire. He grabs the pan from her, Yang Chang is across the kitchen getting some mushrooms and runs over, “Miss..Miss “ If anything happened to her in the kitchen they wouldn’t live a moment after His Highness heard about it.

     Jiang Bai puts out the fire and grabs Xiaolian then examines the burn on her hand. Silly girl! Why didn’t she let the cooks make the food.

     She surprisingly laughs, “Whew… that was close. Can you imagine Wang Li Jie’s face if I burnt down his kitchen the first time I cooked!”

     All three of them look at her in disbelief, she is laughing? Yang Chang rushes to get the healing lotion hoping His Highness doesn’t blame him. Lan An grabs the lotion from him to apply to XiXi’s hand. Jiang Bai is still holding her delicate hand staring at the red burn marring its perfection.

    She looks up at Jiang Bai with her beautiful blue eyes watering, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt”  He thinks no.. you are hurting, I can see the pain in your eyes.

     Reluctantly he let’s go of her hand and Lan An applies the lotion, instantly the burn fades and so does the pain.

     “Maybe you should let the cooks finish.”

     Yang Chang and Lan An are thinking about taking their gold and running away…She notices the fear on their face and knows Wang Li Jie can overreact. “Please don’t worry! It was my fault I won’t tell His Highness, he won’t let me cook again!”

     Who is this girl? She treats us well and is protecting us with that statement. Both Yang Chang and Lan An decide right then no matter what they will do whatever she needs of them.!

     “Xiaolian, they should cook”

     “Pfft, the fire was a little too hot, in the time it takes to brew a pot of tea it will be ready”

     “What will be ready” Wang Li Jie enters the kitchen and sweat forms on Yang Chang’s brow.

     “I’m cooking for us Your Highness!”

     He sneers at Jiang Bai “I thought I commanded you to return…”, he stops in mid sentence the servants don’t need to know he is the Astral Void Beast.

   “Your Highness I wanted him to stay with me”, she  coquettishly tugs at Wang Li Jie’s sleeve. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

     Jiang Bai glares at Wang Li Jie, only Xiaolian can command me you bastard. He wants to investigate Wang Li Jie’s servants, should he tell him of the incident earlier. No, he will blame me for not protecting Xiaolian and definitely force me back into the bracelet.

     Huang Howan has decided to dissolve the dead girl’s body, that guard looked efficient. It wouldn’t have taken him long to figure out some details just from asking the girl’s name. She was a servant everyone knew did Huang Howan’s bidding. Now being unfamiliar with the palace and the fact the maid had ordinary looks similar to several other maids it would hinder his investigation. Why was I so hasty? It’s that sluts fault!

    Huang Hua noticeds the grimace on her daughter’s face.“Howan, what is wrong?”

     “Nothing mother, I have some work to do.” She hurries away, her mother can always sense when she is up to something. Dammit! I am worried that guard will expose me, what should I do?

     Huang Howan is rushing by the kitchen when she peers inside after hearing Wang Li Jie’s voice. She wants to stop and greet him but the slut and the guard are there, I shouldn’t take a chance….right now it is best if the guard doesn’t see me.

     “It’s ready let’s eat”, Xiaolian starts placing some bowls on the table.

    Wang Li Jie looks around, “In the kitchen?” 

     “Why not?’

       “…”

     XiXi smiles while the kitchen servants place the other dishes down, “ Yang Chang and Lan An, thank you for your hard work!” They bow in unison and glance over at His Highness who is glaring at them.

     “If you don’t need us we will go out.” They want to leave as soon as possible, His Highness’s aura is very oppressive right now.

     He waves his hand gesturing for them to leave.

     Wang Li Jie gazes at Xiaolian with a pampering look, why does she thank servants, when she is my Empress she will need to be more fierce.

     He has just picked up his chopsticks when a eunuch rushes into the kitchen. Bowing the eunuch exclaims, “Your Highness.”

     “What? Speak!” He wants to enjoy the flavor of Xiaolian’s cooking he hasn’t tasted it in so long he is excited.

     “Err.. I think Your Highness you need to hear this in private, if I may be so bold”

        Wang Li Jie slams down his chopsticks, “Say it!”

       Eunuch Sun  bows, “Your brother, Wang Chao Han has returned to the Capital”

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