Han Yunxi’s group trekked down the mountain unimpeded. From a long distance away, Han Yuxni could already tell there was a circle of poison around Tiger’s Prison to prevent the vipers from coming in. The circle was three-meters away from the front gates, while a large swath of vipers had already died within the ring. However, more and more snakes were pouring in. Thanks to the venom, they couldn’t control themselves from charging forward despite the deaths of their peers.
Because Han Yunxi’s group had taken an antidote, they weren’t targeted by the poison vipers. They simply stood outside the ring of poison and watched the countless snakes pour forth. Besides dead snakes, there was a full five rows of archers standing scattered about the premises, all of them with bows cocked. They formed a dense wall of arrows as they aimed their weapons at the group of five. Heaven knows what would happen if these 10,000 some arrows flew at the same time? The door to Tiger’s Prison was shut tight with no sign of Jun Yixie.
Han Yunxi stood in the center of her group with Long Feiye and Tang Li on her left and Gu Beiyue and Gu Qishao on her right. Despite spotting the archers, they had no fear. Since they chose to break in, they had prepared themselves. Even if there were ten rows of archers instead of give, they wouldn’t even crease their brows!
“Jun Yixie, it hasn’t been long since we last met, but you’re already such a coward? What now, afraid to face this old man?” Gu Qishao shouted loudly.
At this, a single arrow came flying their way. Gu Qishao smirked and only turned his head sideways so the weapon could whistle past his ear.
“You’re afraid to come out, aren’t you? Big bro, let’s kill our way in!” Tang Li said icily as he raised a specially designed crossbow. At this moment, Jun Yixie’s voice spoke from within.
“Long Feiye, Han Yunxi, your lordship’s appointment is for tomorrow night. What now, are you so eager to drink tea with this lord?”
Gu Qishao laughed out loud. “Lord? Hasn’t the Northern Li emperor long removed your status as duke? What now, you still didn’t know?”
“Jun Yixie, if you can still live until tomorrow night, this crown prince doesn’t mind condescending to drink tea with you,” Long Feiye gave a cold snort.
With Gu Qishao and Long Feiye singing their lines, Jun Yixie was rendered both angry and humiliated! He flipped onto the roof and loomed over them.
“Long Feiye, Han Yunxi, if you want Ning Cheng to live until tomorrow night, you better wait well!”
“Where’s Ning Jing? And the child?” Tang Li couldn’t help demanding.
Jun Yixie laughed out loud. “Tang Li, if you kneel down and beg me, I might consider letting you see the baby.”
Tang Li was furious beyond belief. He was about to launch his crossbow when Han Yunxi moved to shoot a needle first! Although Jun Yixie didn’t see the needle, he did sense its poison and hastily got out of the way. When the needle pierced the roof, it broke off one of the roof tiles, leaving him stunned. He never expected Han Yunxi’s internal energy to be so potent!
How long had it been since they last met? Just what had Han Yunxi experienced recently? Wasn’t she a waste at martial arts? If he hadn’t sensed the toxin, he could’ve died with one shot from Han Yunxi!
Han Yunxi said coldly, “Jun Yixie, you have to act the part if you want to negotiate. Let’s take a look at all the hostages first, or else prepare for the consequences!”
Jun Yixie was afraid they’d find out he only had Ning Cheng in his hands. Moreover, not a single Di Clan member was amongst the people here tonight. He had to take precautions in case Han Yunxi and Long Feiye abandoned Ning Cheng in favor of killing him. As things stood, even if he wanted to perish together with the couple, it was possible he couldn’t kill them at all.
“Who wants to negotiate with you?” Jun Yixie sneered.
“Then what do you want?” Tang Li was getting desperate.
Jun Yixie suddenly laughed out loud. “Someone come open the door. The rest of you, make way!”
At his orders, the five rows of archers in front of Tiger’s Prison parted to both sides to make a wide lane, though their arrows were still pointed at the open space. The doors to Tiger’s Prison gradually opened while Jun Yixie descended from the roof to land in the courtyard beyond the gates. His mouth curved in a wicked, insolent smirk as he said, “Long Feiye, Han Yunxi, the hostages are in the room behind me. Do you dare to enter?”
Long Feiye’s group was instantly on guard. At least they could see the archers outside and guard against them, but Heaven knows what kind of traps Jun Yixie had laid within the tiny Tiger’s Prison?
Instead of replying, Long Feiye gave orders. “No one’s allowed to take a single step inside until we see the hostages--especially Tang Li!”
Bai Yuqiao’s letters had said that Ning Jing and Mu Linger lived in the big courtyard right behind Jun Yixie! When Tang Li thought of Ning Jing and the child inside while he was only steps away, his eyes turned misty. Ning Jing had to know he was here, right? Was she holding their child right now and waiting to see him?
Tang Li’s tears didn’t fall, but his heart was about to break into pieces. Still, he steadied himself and said, “This subordinate obeys the order!”
Technically speaking, he was Long Feiye’s subordinate. This was probably the first time he’d say such words to him, however. Whether or not Jun Yixie was willing to talk terms, this scene was already the start of their negotiations. Whoever held out longest would gain the upper hand in the deal. After all, victory and defeat now would affect the safety of themselves as well as the hostages. It would even determine whether the northern expedition could keep going! If they fell into Jun Yixie’s hands, then the expedition would be over.
Jun Yixie laughed coldly and said, “Long Feiye, I have so many hostages in my hands. Which one do you want to see?”
“All of them!” Long Feiye replied frostily.
Jun Yixie gave a snort of contempt. “On what grounds do you have to talk terms with me, Long Feiye?”
Long Feiye replied, “This crown prince can still kill you without entering Tiger’s Prison.”
Before Jun Yixie could react, Long Feiye had already drawn his sword. His movements were so fast that Jun Yixie couldn’t even see them. The time it took for the sword to rise and fall gave way to a massive sword awn that snapped all of the arrows in the archer’s hands. However, the bows remained intact! The archers stared blankly at the fallen arrowheads while Jun Yixie’s heart gave a lurch. Han Yunxi’s martial arts skills were already beyond his expectations, but he never thought that Long Feiye’s skills had grown so consummate!
Back in the past, he and Long Feiye were on par with each other! They hadn’t fought in two or three years, but Long Feiye had already reached a level he couldn’t even dream of. Actually, even their status had long grown part. Long Feiye was the crown prince of the East Qin Dynasty, while he was a former subordinate of its royal clan. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were no longer their old selves, but he himself had even regressed from his former status. He couldn’t help but wonder what he’d been doing for the past few years.
His original jealousy now wrecked havoc in his heart and swallowed up all reason. If he couldn’t surpass these two, he’d destroy them instead!
Loudly he shouted, “Someone come, bring Ning Cheng here!”
At this words, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi instantly exchanged looks while Gu Beiyue and Gu Qishao glanced towards them. Back at Celestial Mountain, they’d been threatened with hostages as well, but still snatched them out of the enemy’s hands. If Jun Yixie let them see all his hostages, they didn’t mind grabbing them outright. After all, none of them wanted to waste words with the man.
Very soon, the guards brought out Ning Cheng, but the sight of him stunned Han Yunxi and the rest. He was all tied up and a pack of gunpowder was strapped to his back.
“Ning Cheng!” Han Yunxi cried out.
Ning Cheng slowly raised his head. Sometime ago, he had removed the phoenix wing mask covering his right eye. Although his wan, sallow complexion was covered with stubble, he was still as handsome as ever. His features were raised and regular, his contours deep and curved. The beginnings of a beard on his chin made him gave him an added mature, masculine air instead of making him seem downtrodden.
His robes had been reduced to tatters from obvious whip scars. Heaven knows what Jun Yixie had done to him! Unless they looked closely, no one could tell that his right eye had no luster. But Han Yunxi and the rest well knew Ning Cheng was blind in that eye and could only see half of what he used to. His eyesight rested at once on Han Yunxi.
Then he actually broke into a small smile. Han Yunxi never knew that Ning Cheng could look so attractive and brilliant when he grinned. She suddenly recalled Ning Jing’s tear-streaked words back at Medical City and suddenly didn’t dare to meet Ning Cheng’s eye. Even if the whole thing was an accident, even if she never meant to hurt him, she still lacked the courage to meet his gaze.
Damned Bai Yanqing, damned Jun Yixie, damned Black and Wind Clans! Damned enmity between East and West Qin! If there wasn’t so many misunderstandings, things wouldn’t have turned out like this.
Ning Cheng’s mouth was gagged, leaving him unable to speak. He could only move his head, but his smile quickly faded into a respectful nod at Han Yunxi in place of a bow. He slowly shook his head at the group, warning them not to come in. He wanted to let them know that Ning Jing and the rest weren’t here at all, but that he was his only hostage. Jun Yixie had not only strapped explosives to his back, but hid more in Tiger’s Prison. As soon as they stepped in, Jun Yixie would kill them all with him!
Meanwhile, Jun Yixie held Ning Cheng by a rope around his waist while fingering a match in his free hand, his threat obvious. Naturally, Han Yunxi’s group had seen Ning Cheng shaking his head and understood it was a warning to keep out from the traps. But how could they retreat just because of that?
Gu Beiyue silently walked to Long Feiye’s side to communicate with him in hushed tones. They were debating whether they’d have enough time to snatch the hostage out of Jun Yixie’s hands? Of course, this was pure conjecture. That was because they’d yet to see any of the other hostages yet.
“Where’s the rest of them?” Long Feiye demanded.
Jun Yixie laughed coldly. “Long Feiye, I never expected to see you afraid! What, afraid to come in?”
“If you only have one hostage, then we can only send one person in,” Gu Beiyue spoke up.
But Jun Yixie only retorted with, “Han Yunxi comes in first!”
Although he despised Long Feiye the most, he naturally wanted Han Yunxi to accompany him in death. He would make Long Feiye taste the flavor of loss and helplessness!
1. Please note that JYX at this point does not know that the baby is Ning Jing and Tang Li’s; the author later acknowledged in a later chapter that she forgot this fact, so simply treat JYX’s lines here as generalized mocking.