Truly, the heavens didn’t want to consign her to doom!
With the hot spring beneath her, she wouldn’t have to worry about covering her footprints anymore!
Qin Yining ran along the snow-covered ground for a while, purposely leaving a set of tracks going in the other direction. Then, she pushed off a shrub to land in a patch of soil covered in pine needles, taking a few careful steps forward.
White steam wafted out from the ground, warming even the soles of her feet. Afraid of leaving new footprints and seeing that the way ahead was carpeted with snow again, she shoved her cape into her waist and adroitly climbed up a large, tall pine tree. Picking a denser patch of leaves, she settled herself on a more-or-less sturdy branch.
The crown of the tree shook slightly when she did so, shaking some snow loose. However, it melted into nothingness as soon as it touched the ground.
Finally, Qin Yining dared take in a few deep and silent breaths.
Footsteps sounded as she did so.
She quickly held her breath and focused, forcing herself as rigid as a block of wood. She didn’t dare move at all and became one with the pine.
Two masked bandits came into view not too far away. One was wielding a steel blade, the other a wooden club as thick as a wine jug. Their heads were lowered as they tracked the footprints on the ground, advancing on the decoy trail that Qin Yining had just left.
They came back before long, likely because the trail abruptly disappeared. No other prints were to be found after searching the area covering the hot spring. The two were walking around randomly as they looked for clues, so it didn’t take long for the scene to be an utter disarray of their own footprints. The trail was cold.
The two met each other’s eyes and cursed loudly.
“How could a wench just shake us off like that!” The northern accent marked him as someone from Great Zhou.
“The marquis told us we had to find and wipe out all the Qins. I have no idea if we’re chasing one!”
“Doesn’t matter if we are or not, we can’t let her easily get away like this.”
“There’s no way she really vanished! Let’s keep looking, maybe she’s hiding in a tree?”
The two started searching all the nearby tree cavities and naturally occurring caves and holes.
To everyone’s surprise, they did find a patch of snow that had fallen in, revealing an enormous water hole below. That looked to be the source of the hot spring. A faint, pungent odor emanated from it, and there was no guessing how deep it was. Only a dense shroud of mist could be seen, the mist turning the snow around the hole into ice.
The two didn’t dare inch any closer, deathly afraid as they were of the snow beneath their feet suddenly giving way. What if they too fell into this water hole of unknown depth? There was danger lurking around every tree in the mountain. They were already so far in that not even the hunters dared venture into this area.
They circled around the danger zone and looked closely at the surroundings again.
Qin Yining was just fine where she was, perched on the tree. She waited two hours before cautiously sliding down the tree, finally assured that the two weren’t returning.
She didn’t dare remain here either, turning instead to head deep into unexplored forest. She broke of a branch of withered leaves, paying attention to clear away her traces as she ran.
This circumspect journey continued until nightfall, upon which she really was too tired to run anymore.
A tree trunk made for a good spot to lean against. She heaved for breath as she looked around. Everywhere looked the same to her. The only bearings she could get were whether she was going up or going down.
Winters in the north pierced straight through to the bone; body temperature dropped rapidly whenever one stopped moving. Qin Yining shivered whenever the wind blew past her sweat-soaked back.
She assessed the surroundings, dragging her weary body to the leeward slope of a large tree. The trees roots formed a semi-circle in this spot. A branch jutted out strikingly overhead, forming an overhang, and two large rocks were on either side of her. They managed to break the wind slightly. The bonus was that there was no snow on the ground.
Qin Yining gathered firewood, kindling, and pine needles. Her shaking hands fumbled out a fire starter from her clothes, first igniting the kindling and pine needles, then feeding the dry firewood to the flames so that a small campfire was built behind the rocks.
Her recently recovered body was extremely exhausted; coughs shook her frame as well. But she knew that she could only rest here temporarily. If she did nothing and stayed by a campfire that could burn down at any time, she’d certainly freeze to death.
She hugged her knees and wrapped the cape tightly around herself, warming up by the fire for a bit. When nimbleness returned to her limbs, she went out searching for more flammables. She also spent a great deal of effort in breaking off many branches from shrubs.
Qin Yining smiled wryly at herself. She was worse off than her eight-year-old self. At least she’d had some tools then, not just the bare pair of hands that she could wield now.
Thankfully, experience was on her side.
Two hours later, she’d woven the branches into curved shelter. It was just enough for her to huddle inside and build a small fire.
She hauled it to the big rocks again, to the patch of ground that had been slightly warmed by the campfire. Undoing the scarf around her neck and an outer layer of clothing, she wrapped them around snow and placed them over the fire.
The melting snow moistened the fabric, which was quickly flung over her makeshift shelter. They were just large enough to cover it.
Qin Yining immediately fetched more snow and scattered her haul over the still-wet fabric. The snow stuck firmly to the wet fabric and hardened into ice.
Over the next hour, she alternated between coating the shelter generously with snow and melting it with hot branches from the fire. As water melted and froze, an extremely study ice shelter slowly took form.
Qin Yining rubbed her reddened, chafed hands together. They were so cold that they’d almost lost all sense of feeling. She covered her mouth as several coughs shook her body. It was already late, and it was impossible to hunt in the mountains with no tools available. Going hungry for one night won’t kill me.
Putting the thought of food outside her mind, she fetched more firewood and pine needles, piling the latter onto the campfire outside the shelter and building a small fire inside as well.
Finally, she shrugged off her cotton jacket and hung it in front of the entrance. The size was perfect.
Wrapping the cape tightly around herself and her feet inside her cotton skirt, she faced the fire, leaned against the branches, and dozed off with peace of mind.
Although the occasional wind would steal in through the cracks, and the fire inside produced smoke, the smoke could also be vented through the same cracks. It was better to deal with a bit of smoke than freeze to death overnight in the open air.
So Qin Yining spent the night in light slumber. Warmth slowly returned to her limbs, and though she was hungry, it wasn’t too difficult to bear.
Danger lurked everywhere in the mountains at night, and the distant howl of wolves could be heard as well. She didn’t dare relax her guard, but didn’t drive herself too hard either. Apart from some aches and pains from sleeping in a sitting position, she felt fine the next morning.
A night of recovery under her belt, Qin Yining analyzed whether she should descend the mountain now, or keep hiding.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
 HOLY! I'm so sorry half of the chapter didn't get released! I have no idea how it happened, this week's been kinda crazy. Tremendously sorry!
Man, it's great that she's so self-sufficient. I feel like most FL would've helplessly awaited rescue, or somehow injured themselves and would be face down in a ditch somewhere...