Qin Yining quickly ushered Cao Yuqing to a seat. "You haven’t eaten yet, have you? Have something to eat with me.”
Cao Yuqing shook her head. "I had a bite earlier. I found clues left behind by a Silver Mask."
Seeing the heavy expression the guard captain wore, Qin Yining also grew solemn.
With Cao Yuqing’s abilities, she would be able to sniff out any clues the Silver Masks left behind. Nevertheless, it was surprising that there really had been any to find. Did this mean there was something off about the Azure Justice members?
Qin Yining felt as if she were wandering in a fog of confusion; she had no idea which side to believe. How nice would it be to have unquestionably loyal subordinates under her direct command! If she had such a group of people, would they be in this mess now? Would she be this caught between a rock and a hard place?
Sensing Qin Yining's inner turmoil, Cao Yuqing patted her shoulder in comfort. "The clues led me to a fissure in the ground caused by the earthquake. It’s located on the road from the old capital to Yang County. It’s very big, and there’s no trees to bridge it, so most find a way to get around it. I pretended I was just passing by and snuck a quick look, but didn't get too close to avoid attracting unwanted attention. I suspect that’s where the treasure has been hidden."
Qin Yining pale hands clutched at her skirt so tightly that her cherry blossom pink nails grew white. The taste of betrayal was hardly a savory one—especially when lives were at stake.
She didn't fear death, but this was a life-or-death situation for both the Pangs and Qins. In a constant state of panic, she couldn't help but blame herself.
If she hadn't gotten full of herself and proposed that plan, would Pang Xiao have involved Azure Justice? Would things have devolved to this point?
As Qin Yining's eyes grew distant, Cao Yuqing looked into the girl’s elegant face. She reached out to put an arm around Qin Yining’s shoulders and pat her comfortingly.
"Don't think so much. This isn’t your fault. What's done is done, so we just need to figure out how to make up for it. Come what may, we will find a way. The prince and I will protect you, and your father will ensure the safety of both your families in the capital. You may not have faith in yourself, but you surely believe in your father, no?"
Qin Yining drew a deep breath, nodding slowly. “You're right. My father is the Wise Pan An—even if I make a colossal mistake, he’ll be able to come up with a solution." Despite her words, she wondered if she was merely trying to comfort herself.
However, Cao Yuqing smiled. "Really, don't say such a thing. On the contrary, I think you normally handle things so well that your father actually wants you to stir up some trouble—that way, you'd go crying to him for help. Though your father doesn’t have many children, he loves his little ones dearly. His brilliance may be out of this world, but he has his childish side."
When she spoke of Qin Huaiyuan, her voice grew exceptionally gentle.
Qin Yining knew the guard captain had been carrying a torch for her father for many years. In Qin Huaiyuan's greatest moments of need, she remained steadfast by his side without asking for anything in return. Such devotion was highly admirable.
At times, such feelings left her feeling at odds with herself; she should’ve treated Cao Yuqing as her enemy for her mother’s sake.
However, Cao Yuqing hadn't continued professing her feelings upon discovery that Qin Huaiyuan didn't feel the same way. She redefined herself to be his most loyal guard and subordinate instead, content to serve him in the shadows without seeking any reward. Truly, Qin Yining couldn't find it in herself to hate her.
"Auntie Cao." Qin Yining gazed at Cao Yuqing and uttered this heartfelt honorific. “Thank you so much."
Cao Yuqing's lashes fluttered slightly. Seeing the sincerity in Qin Yining's eyes, a gentle smile slowly blossomed across her face. "Silly girl. Your father and I are good friends, so it’s only right that I help him. What are you thanking me for?"
Qin Yining shook her head. She didn't elaborate any further, but she was deeply moved.
As a Silver Mask, Cao Yuning could’ve done away with née Sun in a hundred different ways and claimed the senior madame’s position. She wouldn’t have left a single trace behind if she had any impure intentions.
Yet, she hadn’t.
Qin Yining sighed and shook her head. She dropped the subject, not wanting to sadden Cao Yuqing or cause her further discomfort. "I understand the situation now. I will confer with His Highness before coming to a decision."
"Very well. His Highness' views are highly valuable, and he excels at grasping the bigger picture. You two discuss while I investigate some more. I’ll report back if I find anything." With that, Cao Yuning stood.
Qin Yining attempted to urge her to stay. "It isn't safe outside. You should stay here for the time being."
"No need, I can look after myself out there. What's more, I must keep an eye out for the Dragon Riders' whereabouts, which will be difficult to do if I stayed."
Finally, Qin Yining nodded in understanding. She walked Cao Yuning to the window and watched her swift exit.
After Pang Xiao returned, Qin Yining updated him on what she had learned, as per usual.
"You say the earthquake caused the fissure? That enormous hole we passed by when we traveled to Yang County from the old capital?"
"Indeed," Qin Yining sighed. "If Auntie Cao hadn't found those clues left by the Silver Mask, no one would’ve thought the treasure was there."
Pang Xiao noticed she addressed Cao Yuqing in a different manner from before. He wrapped his arms around her waist so that she sat on his lap. "I see you have grown quite fond of née Cao?"
"I hold her in high esteem." Qin Yining faced sideways in Pang Xiao's lap and pillowed her head against his shoulder. "I may be disrespecting my mother, but objectively speaking, I feel Auntie Cao has done a great deal for my father. Not once has she harmed my mother through petty tricks, nor did she invite herself into my father's bed. Rather, she’s content with serving as his bodyguard. Were I in her position, I don't think I could do the same."Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Absolutely not my dearest Yining lol! You'd kick ass and take names!