I simultaneously retreated and pushed Sisi back, eyes an extra size larger. She wore a smile of bliss as she did before. Her beauty was still surreal, yet she appeared as a hideous fiend to me… The moonlight and shadow split her face in two. The side enshrouded in shadows stared at me as if it wanted to eat me whole… I didn’t want to believe it in spite of Sisi, personally admitting to it.
“Why did she do this to me…? I trusted her. I thought she loved me…” I inwardly questioned.
“Ah, Dongqing, I know what your next question is.”
Sisi giggled and latch onto me. I couldn’t help stepping back, bumping into the wall. She touched my face with a smile and hugged me around my waist. Then, she sniffed my face and gave it a few kisses. She muttered to herself, “It really is Dongqing’s smell… This is Dongqing’s smile. The smell and warmth that has lingered in my mind all this time is finally here…”
I yanked Sisi off and thundered, “Tell me what happened! Why did you do this?!”
Sisi wasn’t rustled. She, instead, wryly smiled and pressed a hand on my lips: “Why are you asking me that? Don’t you already know? Dongqing, you went back on your word and abandoned me alone here. Shouldn’t you have expected this? You reinstated me but turned around and left. Isn’t it clear what I’d do in response? Or, did you think that you found women’s weakness with Lucia, leading to you believing that all women in the world were as fragile and weak as Lucia? Sorry, but I’ve never been a weak woman, Dongqing. I am a Queen. Either I get what I want or I destroy it. I like the way a bird looks when it takes flight. Even so, I didn’t regret my decision when I saw its corpse. Understand now, Dongqing?”
I seized Sisi’s neck with one hand. She didn’t panic in the slightest, not even when I began to tighten my grip. After a brief moment, I released her and stepped back: “Come after just me alone, then. Veirya is innocent. Why did you hurt her?”
“What did you say?!” It was the first time Sisi revealed such a surprised gaze, reacting as though all of her preparations had been destroyed. She gripped my arm and exclaimed, “What did you say? Why is Veirya hurt?”
I ripped my arms out of Sisi’s grasp and snapped, “Why are you asking the obvious?!”
“No, no, Dongqing, I… I really don’t know anything about that!” Sisi who then anxiously took a step forward, denied. She pointed at herself and questioned, “Dongqing, let me explain! I wanted to make you go bankrupt to have you come to me. I never wanted to harm Veirya. You can ask the merchants and Achilles. Although I ordered them to deceive you, I never gave the order to kill Veirya! Veirya is your lover, and she’s also my important friend. How could I possibly order her assassination?! What happened to Veirya?! Dongqing, how is Veirya?!”
I mused, “Does SIsi really not know? I’m cognisant of the fact that she’s a stellar actress. There are no tell-tale signs of acting; even her lips are trembling. I can’t think of anything to refute her explanation, either. She just needed me to go bankrupt. I’d come to the imperial capital once I was bankrupt. I’d come no matter if Veirya was alive or not. There’s no motivation for her to harm Veirya. Who hurt Veirya, then? Did the workers really attack us of their own volition? So… Sisi only made me bankrupt but didn’t hurt Veirya?”
Sisi advanced and cried, “Donqing, what exactly happened?! Say something! Tell me. Think, think, who hurt Veirya, Dongqing?!”
“If she’s telling the truth, Veirya’s injury was my fault… It’s all my responsibility. I have nobody I can blame… My arrogance led to my downfall. It was my idea to block the road… I refused to go to the elves due to fear… It was me who tried to entertain the workers and failed to appease them… It was all my fault… This is all my fault…
“I am the source of Veirya’s pain… I should’ve been the one to bear all of the consequences. The pitchfork should’ve pierced me that night… Veirya got hurt trying to protect me. She had to bear the repercussions of my errors… I can’t blame anyone but myself for all of this… Nobody stole what I loved from me. It was I who personally destroyed everything I cherished…”
“Dongqing, was it your fault? Did you fail to protect Veirya? Veirya wouldn’t possibly get hurt on her own. Why did she get hurt? Dongqing, did you do something wrong?”
I inwardly beat myself up, telling myself, “Because of my greed, I got involved with the chapel and Achilles, causing Veirya to end up getting burnt. This time, I caused her to get hurt… It’s always been my fault… Had I chosen to stay at home, none of this would’ve happened… Had I been calmer and smarter, I would’ve deduced the coal mine’s issue and not stuck my nose in there… Had I gone to see Lucia, nobody would’ve been kidnapped… Had I not avoided Veirya, this wouldn’t have happened… All of this is a result of my selfishness, my arrogance… I’m not worthy… of Veirya…
“Veirya won’t be happy with me. I’ve never given her any happiness, warmth or bliss. All I’ve done is hurt her time and time again. I took advantage of her naivety to do selfish things, hurting her over and over. Veirya… sorry… sorry… sorry… It’s all my fault… It’s all… my fault…”
“Sorry… Sorry… Sorry… Sorry… I’m truly… sorry…” I weakly fell to my knees and dug my head into the carpet. My tears burst forth from my eyes, taking along my despair and angst. Alas, my apology wouldn’t reach Veirya…
“Okay, okay now…”
Sisi knelt down to hug me, gently stroking my neck and back. I hugged her back and wailed. Nothing came to mind, and I didn’t want to think about anything. I could only see Veirya in my mind and her final gaze on the ground.
“Didn’t I tell you before? Dongqing, some birds are bound to not belong in a cage. Sometimes you don’t need to be with someone because you love them. Sometimes the world is just cruel that way. Some people like cactuses despite it pricking them. Dongqing, you understand, right?”
Queen Sisi’s voice sounded indistinct next to my ear. It sounded as though it came far away, yet as though it was a voice in my head.
Queen Sisi licked my ear, bit it, unbuttoned my shirt and stroked my chest. Whilst gently panting, she asserted, “Exactly, Dongqing. You are the same as me. We’re the same, aren’t we? I want to hold you, but I always hurt you… You do the same thing, don’t you? You only keep hurting Veirya at her side. It’s not your fault or mine. It just happens to be our nature… Nobody in the world will feel blissful with us. We can only find warmth with each other.
“Dongqing, stay with me. Don’t go and hurt Veirya or anyone else. Do you still remember how we will able to overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge when we were together…? Though you are bankrupt in name now, in reality, I have the rights to the coal mine. Marry me and become Prince Consort. Then, you will be the real major shareholder of the coal mine. That means that you didn’t trick the bank, and they won’t ask you for the coal mine. Veirya can continue ruling in the North, while you’ll have the black gold that can bring you wealth. I have steam engines. Steam power will shake the foundations of the entire world. We can change the entire world together, and we can collect the entire world’s money. Dongqing, come to me, okay?”
I rationalised, “Do I have any other choice now that it’s come to this…? I’m… out of options… I can’t… return to Veirya’s side… Sisi is right… I’ve only ever been hurting her… And… I’m bankrupt… I… can’t reverse my situation… All I can do… is…”
Sisi pecked the same way a mother hugged her child: “It’s all right now. It’s all right now. Dongqing, just return to me and all will be fine… I’ll protect you… I’ll always protect you. Forever and ever. I’ll always love you… Just stay with me…”
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