Chapter 292: Deep in the Mountains (II)

Qin Yining could draw some conclusions from the conversation between her pursuers yesterday.

One: Their accents gave away that they were from the north, from Great Zhou.

Two: They were following the orders of a marquis to kill the Qins.

Three: They’d stayed behind to conduct a thorough search and probably couldn’t complete their mission if they didn’t kill anyone surnamed Qin.

Four: Their martial arts was on a level that enabled them to go toe-to-toe, but nothing more, with the Valiant Tiger escorts.

So therein lay the question. Which army commanded these men with rigorous coordination and advance martial arts skills?

Who was the marquis who’d ordered the death of the Qins?

Which marquis in Great Zhou had the ability to lead three hundred adept soldiers to ambush them?

Qin Yining didn’t think for half a second that the Zhou emperor had sent the attackers. He needed the surrendered Yan officials to be a counterweight to the two parties at his court. If he didn’t want the Yan officials, he could’ve refused the surrender to begin with. There was no need to send out men to intercept them halfway.

Therefore, the ‘marquis’ behind the operation this time must be someone in high authority, wielding authority over troops, and had done this behind his liege’s back.

The answer was jumping up and down in Qin Yining’s mind. Could it really be the Marquis of Northern Stability, the sworn brother of Pang Xiao and the Zhou emperor?

Wasn’t he supposed to be stationed on the Tatar border with his Dragon Riders? What was he doing here at this time?

And if the assassins were targeting only the Qins, why had they killed so many innocents at the front of the caravan?

If they weren’t targeting the Qins, how would that explain the conversation she’d overheard?

The myriad of thoughts scattered in her mind wasn’t something that could be sorted through quickly. But of one thing she was certain, and that was she needed to hide carefully over the next few days. She couldn’t descend the mountain no matter what.

The assassins had their marching orders. Their mission wasn’t complete if they didn’t go back with a head, so they’d show up again sooner or latter. There was only one of her. She couldn’t fight them, so she had to hide.

Thankfully, she could draw on her experience surviving in the wilderness. Though it was the barren season of winter, she was confident that she’d be able to survive.

Pleasant joy thrummed through her when she thought of how dejected and anguished Lian Shengjie must be at the moment.

Lian Shengjie was the imperial representative overseeing the surrender. Since he was heading back to the capital with the Commandery Prince of Yan and a large cohort of surrendered officials, he naturally had to protect them well.

Now that such a tragedy had occurred on the road, imperial wrath would be mighty. Most importantly, it was a tremendous loss of face for that old fart!

It wasn’t the first day that Lian Shengjie had been at odds with Pang Xiao. He was the secret envoy behind her being kidnapped and used as bait. When that plan had failed, he’d brazenly sauntered in to seize Pang Xiao’s opportunity of honor and glory.

There’d been a hundred Valiant Tigers left behind for him, but he’d managed to fall to bandits halfway along the way and lose so many of Great Zhou’s new subjects.

He wouldn’t be able to explain himself to the emperor even if he had ten mouths to speak with.

Since the ‘marquis’ had taken pains to disguise his men, the Zhou emperor wouldn’t be able to glean any clues.  Thus, Lian Shengjie failing to properly escort the new Great Zhou subjects and being powerless in the face of mere bandits — that was a scandal just waiting to break.

Running through the current situation again greatly cleared up Qin Yining’s mood and alleviated her gloom. Having thought it all through, she went out in search of food.

In the absence of tools, she used suitable branches as a substitute and foraged plenty of dried grass to weave traps for small animals. But even still, it was very difficult to hunt in the snowy mountains in the dead of winter.

Qin Yining spent an entire day trying to figure out how to get food. There were no wild vegetables or fruits during this season, and no nets or lure to catch birds. It’d be easier to scale the heavens than to actually catch some small prey with her simplistic traps.

Hunger gnawing at her, she combed the woods extremely cautiously. She didn’t find any prey, but found four corpses instead.

They’d already been reduced to skeletons. She could vaguely make out from their clothing that three of them were Great Zhou soldiers, and the fourth just an ordinary commoner. From their positions and poses, as well as broken arms and necks, Qin Yining could tell that this was the tragic story of one fighting three, but all four falling in the end.

Troubled times had descended for many years, and tragedy like this could be found anywhere. But to think that she’d stumble upon this deep in the isolated mountains!

Emotions rippled through her. But it was also a great stroke of luck that useful weapons lay next to them!

She picked up a machete, a dirk, two daggers, a bundle of rope, an empty water skin, and a satchel containing unknown medicine pills. Newly equipped, she went off in search of food again.

Thankfully, she found a source of water before long — part of a creek yet to freeze over. After much effort, she caught a hibernating frog at dusk and returned to her shelter to roast it.

No wonder those of this world would use any method to fight for power and wealth. Only with these two would life be comfortable.

Although this lifestyle wasn’t comfortable, Qin Yining pleasantly endured it as if she was eating sweets. As she took in the fragrance of roasting frog, she reflected optimistically that the weather had been good today. Perhaps I’ll be able to catch a wild rabbit tomorrow. I won’t have to worry about starving to death then.

As her thoughts ran wild, the snow suddenly crunched nearby.

Startled out of her wits, she almost threw away the frog in her hands. She hastily picked up the short sword and and looked warily in the direction the sound had come from.

Just at that moment, a strong gust of wind travelled past, shaking the shrubbery. A furry, roughly one meter tall thing swiftly ran away.

What animal was that?

Qin Yining stared intently at where the creature had vanished and heaved a sigh of relief when she noted that there wasn’t anything there.

Thank goodness it wasn’t a wild fox. I’d be in even more danger then.

Munching through a bony, tasteless frog, she felt warmth return to her body. When laying down dry straw in her shelter, she heard a soft rustle nearby. The corner of her eye caught another shadow flitting past.

Gravity descended on the girl.

What kind of animal was that? Why was it so fast, like an agile leopard?

She picked up a weapon without a change in expression and quickly grabbed the torch she’d made from the fire. If it was an animal, it should be afraid of fire.

She maintained her frozen position for a while, but the creature didn’t appear again.

It looks like the little thing’s run off.

Qin Yining went back to carpeting her shelter.

But this time, she suddenly felt something behind her!

She whirled around and saw a figure right in front of her.

It was a child about seven or eight years old with a dirty face and matted hair. It was wearing thick animal pelts and pushing a wild rabbit with half-charred fur next to her campfire. 

Not anticipating that Qin Yining would turn around, the child jumped, wide-eyed with surprise.

Qin Yining spoke with surprise, “Eh, you…”

The child turned and ran off before Qin Yining could finish, as fast as a breath of wind.

Realization struck the Qin fourth miss. The creature she’d seen earlier was this child!

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etvolare's Thoughts

Sorry about the mix-up with 291! Y'all know the regular length of the chapters, please poke me if the length seems off!