Afraid to delay a second, the guards hastily opened the door for Tang Li. But although the outer lock was open, Ning Jing had also locked the room from the inside.
“Tell her to open the door!” he said icily without making a move himself.
The guards called out, waking Ning Jing up, but she ignored it. Turning over in her bed, she buried her head in the pillows and continued to doze.
“Clan head, something couldn’t have happened, right?” the guard asked worriedly.
Tang Li understood Ning Jing all too well. If she didn’t want to open up, then the guards could shout themselves hoarse for all she cared. Without a word, he crashed through the windows on the side! He had already jumped into the room, but Ning Jing was still curled up inside the covers without moving a muscle. She knew that he was the only possible person who had charged inside.
Tang Li rushed to Ning Jing’s bed like a man gone insane, but seeing her peacefully sleeping face turned him sane again. Even if he knew she was only pretending to sleep, he didn’t call her out. Why did he rush in here? He didn’t know either, but continued to stand here. After an hour had passed, Ning Jing finally turned around. “Do you need something?”
“I’m giving you one last chance. Hand over your stamp, or else I’ll send you to the dungeons right now,” Tang Li said coldly.
“Do as you like,” Ning Jing said again.
Tang Li suddenly took her hand and pulled her out of the covers. Ning Jing allowed him to pull her towards the door, but it wasn’t until the guards abruptly turned their heads away that he realized she was still improperly dressed and baring her skin.
His gloomy face turned even more sullen as he sent the guards flying with a kick and ran back to grab some clothes. Tossing them at Ning Jing, he cried, “Shameless!”
“This is all thanks to you!” Ning Jing retorted.
“Get dressed!” he demanded.
“I like it like this! What’s it to you?!” she snapped back. If Tang Li hadn’t been yielding to her constantly in the past few months, their personalities would have clashed and fought every single day by now!
“Don’t forget that you’re still this clan head’s proper consort! I married you and brought you back, so don’t disgrace me before you die!” Tang Li as he reached for Ning Jing again, but she stopped him with a shout.
“Let go, I agree!”
She was waiting for her chance and he’d delivered it right to her door. Of course she was going to seize the opportunity. Her “do as you like” was just for show in the end.
“At least you’re sensible!” Tang Li immediately extended his hand for the stamp.
Ning Jing looked at him from head to toe before chuckling. “Tang Li, I thought you were smart since you could act, but I never expected you to be such an idiot!”
“Stop with the nonsense and hand over the stamp!” Tang Li said coldly.
“Would I keep something as important as that on my person?” Ning Jing rebutted.
“After you married into the Tang Clan, you retained jurisdiction over everything related to the arms trade routes. If you didn’t have the stamp on you, then how could you maintain correspondence with the trade routes?” Tang Li challenged.
Members of the trade route would only recognize the officiating stamp before they did anything. Without it, Ning Jing’s letters would be useless to them.
“I only sent my letters to one person, who stamped them for me before delivering them to the arms trade routes! It’s up to you whether you believe me or now,” Ning Jing explained.
“Where are they?” Tang Li asked.
“Northern Li,” Ning Jing answered.
“Have him deliver the item here immediately!” Tang Li ordered.
“You really are stupid!” Ning Jing cursed him again. “The only reason the stamp is in his hands is because my big brother suspected relations between the Tang Clan and Long Feiye. Acting like this now will only make him even more suspicious.”
“Where in Northern Li is him? Who is he, and what does he look like?” Tang Li wanted to send someone to find him.
“His name is Ouyang Jing, my big brother’s trusted aide. He oversees Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s businesses in Northern Li,” Ning Jing feigned carelessness as she spoke. “The trade consortium doesn’t have much business in Northern Li to begin with, so although he’s a businessman, he’s more like my Di Clan’s agent in the country. His identity is the foster son of Northern Li Trade Consortium’s president.”
“Pack your things, I’ll take you down the mountain tomorrow so we can find him together. If you try anything, you’ll have to shoulder the consequences!” Tang Li got straight to the point.
Ning Jing played with her pretty fingernails as her voice turned cold. “I won’t go with you…”
“Tell me your terms! Whatever it is, I’ll fulfill them as long as it doesn’t include letting you go! That’s impossible!” Tang Li understood her all too well.
“After getting my stamp and gaining Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s arms trade routes, you have to agree to save my life. And you have to supply me with all sorts of good food and drink!” Ning Jing said seriously. She didn’t notice the flash of joy that flitted past Tang Li’s eyes at her words.
He had been waiting for her to give way and compromise for far too long. As long as she was willing to yield a single step, he would protect her life--even if it meant earning the ire of all of the Tang Clan’s elders, or falling out with his father, or offending the entirety of the East Qin factions! He didn’t want her to leave, much less see her die.
“Then that’s settled!” Tang Li stuck out his pinky.
Ning Jing glanced at it in disdain. She refused to pinky-promise with him, but raised his hand for a high-five. And yet, she’d hardly touched his palm when he pulled her into his lap. He lowered his head to give her the same familiar kiss, his tongue working past her lips and teeth to **.
But it wasn’t long before Ning Jing shoved him aside, her eyes filled with dissatisfaction and incomprehension. Tang Li immediately recovered his senses before pursing his lips. With a cold laugh, he declared, “I hope our cooperation goes smoothly. To have an extra woman warming my bed, this clan head--”
Slap! Ning Jing had struck him across the face before he finished. She used so much strength that Tang Li’s cheek swelled up, but her tone was even and measured as she smirked. “Impossible. You might as well kill me now.”
“Tomorrow morning, I’ll definitely come pick you up!” Tang Li tossed back before he left.
Her lips still held traces of his scent as Ning Jing smiled mockingly to herself…
The same late night, Long Feiye was in his distant barracks. He wasn’t aware that Tang Li had just fallen for Ning Jing’s snare, but was personally interrogating the three female dancer spies. The tallest and the lead dancer had been tortured to death without saying a word, leaving only the green clad dancer left. She too, was on her last breath, but still refused to confess. This was the biggest failure in Long Feiye’s history of interrogations. Despite this, he rather admired Bai Yanqing’s agents. After all, he’d been using nothing but the cruelest tortures all night.
As he walked out of the jail cells, Han Yunxi immediately approached him. She had been watching the entire night without revealing herself.
“Your Highness, you should still leave that woman alive. Interrogate her again after a few days,” Baili Yuanlong coaxed. He stood in front of Han Yunxi, blocking her from advancing any further.
Long Feiye didn’t speak, but extended his hand towards Han Yunxi. Despite his displeasure, Baili Yuanlong was forced to make way. The water cells were located in a limestone cave beneath the army camp and the river than ran through it. The mermaid soldiers stood guard over this extremely secret spot, which was hard to navigate. Long Feiye held Han Yunxi’s hand until they came ashore aboveground. Baili Yuanlong followed after them, but he’d hardly spoken when Long Feiye spoke first.
“This crown prince will depart in secret tonight. I’ll have to trouble General Baili to take care of affairs at camp.”
“Is Your Highness planning to move on that previous clue?” Baili Yuanlong murmured back.
Han Yunxi was a little alarmed, but she didn’t ask Baili Yuanlong what he meant.
“Mm,” Long Feiye instructed, “Have everything proceed as before in the army. Both the soldiers on land and in the water should prepare to fight at any time. Also, keep an eye on Tianan and Western Zhou’s movements.”
“Yes,” Baili Yuanlong next glanced at Han Yunxi, figuring that His Highness would probably bring her along. He was debating on how to persuade him otherwise when Xu Donglin suddenly ran over.
“Your Highness, general, multiple soldiers from the kitchen camp have been poisoned. They don’t know what it is, but all of them are frothing nonstop from their mouths! The military doctors don’t know what to do.”
Long Feiye and Baili Yuanlong were both alarmed, but Han Yunxi simply ran towards the kitchen camp without a word. Long Feiye immediately followed while Baili Yuanlong stood in place with a complicated expression on his face.
“General Baili, shall we follow them?” Xu Donglin probed.
Baili Yuanlong glared at him before swishing his sleeves to give chase. By the time he arrived on the scene, he had a great fright! Xu Donglin, who was right behind him, was shocked as well. When he first left, the soldiers were only frothing at the mouth and having spasms. But now their skin had turned completely black along with their faces, making for a terrifying sight!
Han Yunxi had each of the soldiers take an antidote pill before turning towards Long Feiye. “We can only save one, who’ll it be? Quickly!”
Long Feiye was about to speak when Baili Yuanlong cut in. “What do you mean?”
Han Yunxi took acupuncture needles and medicine from her bag as she explained. “They’ve been afflicted with White-Lipped Krait poison. After 45 minutes, they’re certain to die. Besides taking antidote, the only way to cure this poison is by expelling it with needles. We don’t have enough time to treat everyone now, so I can only save one patient. Hurry and choose, or else I won’t be able to save anyone. And also, General Baili better hurry and send word for the soldiers to be on high alert. The White-Lipped Krait snake rarely moves except in swarms, and each swarm has at least 1,000 snakes. They couldn’t have just targeted these handful of soldiers. There must be a huge snake den somewhere nearby!”
As she finished, she tossed Baili Yuanlong a huge bag of antidotes. “Boil this in two vats of water and distribute them amongst the soldiers to drink as a precaution!”
Baili Yuanlong was torn between 70 percent trust and 30 percent doubt. His Highness trusted Han Yunxi, so he would too. For all his stubbornness, His Highness wouldn’t risk the lives of the entire army. But Han Yunxi was the West Qin princess in the end! If he was holding poison in his hands, then he’d lose his entire army!
Long Feiye chose the strongest looking soldier amongst the bunch. “That one!”
Xu Donglin quickly helped the man take off his clothes while Han Yunxi nimbly used her acupuncture skills to treat him. She was professional, domineering, and enchanting while she worked. Baili Yuanlong had already sent men to spread the word, but he still hesitated with the bag of antidote in his hands. Long Feiye creased his brows at him.
“What are you still dawdling for?”
Baili Yuanlong quickly turned to leave. He went to his own tent and personally boiled the medicine into two huge vats of water, but didn’t immediately divide them amongst his troops. Instead, he found a soldier to test it first. When nothing major happened to him, the two military doctors waiting on standby took turns taking his pulse at intervals.
Baili Mingxiang ran in at this time. When she saw the soldier testing the medicine, she grew restless and made to coax her father, but was interrupted by Deputy General Zhao dashing inside instead.
“General! General, terrible news! A huge swarm of poisonous snakes has appeared in the west camp! All of the soldiers there were bitten, leaving only a dozen survivors! We’ve only discovered 300 snakes so far, but I don’t know if there’s more hidden away.”
Most of the soldiers were still sleeping this late at night, so they were completely defenseless against a snake swarm! Moreover, Baili Yuanlong had only recently sent word for them to be on guard, so the soldiers were still making preparations. When he recalled how Han Yunxi had said “at least 1,000 snakes” existed in each swarm, his vision turned dark as he almost fainted away.
This was the end!
Alright, here's today chapter, which heralds the start of a mini-arc! Hold onto your seats, because...we're not going to get out of this pickle unscathed. :)