Her speculation was proven right when the owner mentioned Nan Xun. She nodded. “I was sent by him.”
The owner sighed. “You must have realized that our operation base has been occupied by other people. The owner you met is an imposter. They must be waiting for Prince Nan’s people to arrive.”
Jun Huang had come to that conclusion earlier. What she didn’t get was why the real owner was still alive and kept here. Weren’t they worried that the owner would flee or be rescued?
Jun Huang asked the question. The owner paused and looked around to make sure no one was listening before leaning closer to Jun Huang to explain. “They haven’t killed me because I’ve hidden a good fortune somewhere. They are looking for it.”
The owner sounded proud of himself for being clever.
Jun Huang didn’t rain on his parade. She looked at the room full of firewood. There was only a door and a window that was too high up for them to reach in this state. She cursed at herself for being careless, but she didn’t let it show. She couldn’t be sure that the man was trustworthy. She had to keep some secrets to herself.
She silently considered the man, who didn’t seem at all bothered as he explained what had happened in the tavern. Jun Huang thought for a moment before saying, “Do you have any idea how we’re going to escape? We can’t stay here forever, can we?”
The owner nodded in understanding and said quietly, “Be patient. We’ll be able to escape.”
A door creaked. Jun Huang and the owner exchanged a glance before she lay down like she was still unconscious and he put the cloth back into his mouth.
She closed her eyes and held her breath. There were footsteps approaching. She snuck a glance and saw a burly man with aggressive features entering the room with food in his hand. He put the plate on the floor and approached them.
Jun Huang froze. She wasn’t a coward, but things weren’t looking good. She stayed absolutely still and shut her eyes.
The man didn’t come to her and instead made his way to the real tavern owner. She was both relieved and nervous.
The man held the owner up by the collars and patted his cheek. “Still resisting? Haven’t you had enough pain?”
The owner struggled and protested, but his words were muffled and unintelligible. The man didn’t care what he was saying. He punched the owner right in the stomach. The owner grunted and paled.
“Where did you hide it?” The man threw him to the floor and, without giving him any breathing room, kicked his torso. Color drained from his face further.
Jun Huang tensed and prepared to move, but the owner gave her a pointed look and shook his head. She stayed put with her brows furrowed. The man’s action was in line with the owner’s story. The lingering doubt in her mind disappeared.
The man failed to get anything from the owner. He kicked him again to vent his anger and only stopped when the owner was about to blackout. He spat out a curse before walking away.
Once they were left alone, Jun Huang struggled to sit up and moved toward the owner, asking in a worried tone, “Are you alright?”
The owner opened his eyes and grinned, the movement pulling a muscle and making him grunt in pain. He lay on the floor for a long time before nudging the cloth out of his mouth with his tongue. He exhaled deeply. “I’m fine. I’m used to it. They take their anger out on me every once in a while. Don’t be reckless, or you’ll get yourself hurt without being of any help.”
Jun Huang nodded. The owner’s words made sense.
Three days passed. The owner never once mentioned leaving, but Jun Huang was patient. Although their kidnappers came to beat up the owner every three hours to interrogate him, they never once lay a finger on her. Jun Huang wanted to stop them, but there was nothing she could do. She had to stay calm in this situation and waited for an opening.
She wasn’t a reckless person. It was in her nature to be composed.
The third day afternoon, the door slammed open, startling both Jun Huang and the owner. The whole group had come this time with wooden sticks in their hands. The torment was going to be even worse today.
Jun Huang’s eyes twitched. Before she could think properly, the owner was held up by two men and dragged to the center of the room. The leader of the group scoffed and asked him where the treasure was again. The owner refused to answer.
Infuriated by the owner’s stubbornness, the leader hit him in the stomach with the wooden stick without hesitation. The owner grunted, and Jun Huang had had enough.
“What are you trying to do? If you kill him, you’ll never get what you want. Don’t you understand that?”
She couldn’t stand it. Her morals didn’t allow her to watch someone suffer and do nothing.
The men were surprised that she’d suddenly spoken up. The owner blinked at Jun Huang, trying to stop her from talking. He’d told her not to take a stand for him.
However, Jun Huang scoffed and looked at the kidnappers derisively. “I don’t know what you’re trying to find, but what you’re doing is unforgivable. Why must you resort to violence when you can have a civil negotiation?” She scoffed. “You fear the strong and exploit the vulnerable. How shameful.”
“Oh, you sure have a mouth on you. You better shut it. If you dare spout off any more nonsense, we’ll beat you up as well.”
The leader walked up to Jun Huang and yanked her hair upward. “We haven’t done anything to you simply because it’s not going to benefit us. If you’re looking for a beat up, we’ll grant you your wish.”
Jun Huang paled in pain. She saw the owner shaking his head at her over the man’s shoulders. The owner’s reaction made her even angrier. He wasn’t doing anything! If he didn’t intend to save himself, she wasn’t going to stand up for him.
She took a deep breath and shot a glare at the leader. He let go of her hair. She turned her back to the owner’s torment, which also caused her to miss the exchange of glances between the owner and the leader of the gang.
This time, the torture lasted longer. Perhaps it had something to do with Jun Huang’s intervention. When the men left, Jun Huang turned around to see the owner laying on the floor, seemingly at the brink of death.
Jun Huang didn’t know how to describe this messy ball of emotions in her chest. She gritted her teeth and lay down to sleep.
Night had fallen when she woke up. She heard the owner talking to someone. She tensed and maintained her breathing pattern, pretending to be asleep.
The conversation ended. Sweat streamed down from her forehead. Her entire body went taut. She cursed at the rope keeping her restrained.
Not long after, the owner knelt before her and patted her cheek with a sigh. She widened her eyes, which were bright and steely in the dark, temporarily transfixing the owner.
He cleared his throat. “Since you’re up, there’s no need to pretend to be asleep. Come with me.”
He untied her. Jun Huang was on high alert once she regained her freedom. She tightened her jaw to endure the numbing pain in her legs from a lack of circulation and narrowed her eyes at the owner inquisitively.
The owner didn’t intend to explain. He threw her a cool glance and opened the door. In came a few men. He led those men to a hidden trapdoor opening to the cellar. A click, and a set of stairs emerged.
The owner motioned at his men to take everything out of the cellar. One after another, a good number of wine barrels were carried outside.
Jun Huang frowned. Were those the treasure the kidnappers were looking for?
The owner peeled off the seal on one of the barrels. There was a faint glow of gold under the dim light.
Realization struck her. She inhaled deeply and approached the barrels, widening her eyes when she got a good look. There were real gold and silver hidden inside, and the amount was considerable. No wonder the kidnappers were so eager to find the owner’s hidden fortune.
“What are you doing?” Jun Huang asked in a steely voice. “Aren’t you worried that they’re gonna see all these? They’ll kill you after taking the barrels.”