Azure Justice was in much worse shape. Having never received special training, they had no experience with developing an indomitable will. They gathered together in collective pursuit of profit, so when surrounded on all sides by highly trained soldiers, the desire to retreat blossomed in many of them.
Once the notion to withdraw occurred at such an important juncture, their fighting spirit dissolved as well. Add to that injuries suffered from the previous fight, that left only two loyal followers at Madame Liao’s side who could barely hang on. The rest were either injured or dead.
In the gloom of the cavern, Qin Yining’s bloodstained back came into clear view. The leader of the Dragon Riders roared, “Look sharp, everyone! The emperor's orders are to take the princess consort alive! We won’t be able to complete our mission if she dies!”
“Understood!” The men shouted back.
Jingzhe and the others were caught up in battle frenzy. Their attacks grew ever more reckless and desperate when they saw their mistress injured. They would do anything possible to carve out a path for her.
People like them lived on the edge of a blade to begin with. If it hadn’t been for Qin Yining saving them when they’d accidentally injured an official’s son, and then using Li Qitian’s obsession with the treasure to keep all of the Silver Masks safe, Jingzhe alone would’ve been brutally interrogated many times, to say nothing of the others.
Though their relationship was that of mistress and servant, Qin Yining had always shielded and protected them, and saved Jingzhe’s life in particular. Now that the enemies were numerous and strong, and they few and weak, they wouldn’t stand for their mistress losing her life in front of them. Momentary carelessness had already led to her back injury. This was the line in the sand, the enemy would cross it over their dead bodies!
Of one mind with Jingzhe, Cao Yuqing, Xiaoxue, Xiaoman, and Dahan flared with intense battle spirit and grimly threw themselves into the fray.
Cao Yuqing specifically felt this even more than the others. She loved Qin Huaiyuan more than life itself, and she didn’t think that he was such a lump of wood that he wouldn’t perceive any of her sentiments at all. He’d undoubtedly sent her to protect Qin Yining because he believed she would do everything in her power to protect his only daughter.
If anything happened to Qin Yining while in her care, Cao Yuqing would rather die than face Qin Huaiyuan again! She could die or never see him again, but she couldn't stand to see him sad.
Qin Huaiyuan had only this one child, and it’d been such a long and hard road for Qin Yining to return to his side. Cao Yuqing knew full well how important this daughter was to him, and how much he loved her.
Even setting him aside, Cao Yuqing herself wouldn’t bear for anything to happen to the girl. Qin Yining hadn’t returned home all that long before being dragged into trouble after trouble. If she did fall to their enemies, Cao Yuqing didn’t dare imagine how heartbroken Qin Huaiyuan would be.
My life is cheap and meaningless to begin with, so why should I drift along and live in disgrace? Qin Yining is suffering right in front of me!
The guard captain hacked and slashed with ferocious gusto, forcibly hewing a way to the princess consort’s side. She grabbed the girl’s arm and shoved Qin Yining behind her. “Don’t worry, Auntie Cao will protect you!”
Pain darkened the scene in front of Qin Yining eyes and her lips were ghastly white from lack of blood. She shook and shivered, but she grimly hung on and nodded. “Don’t worry, I’m not afraid. They won’t kill me, so leave while you all can!”
“What kind of nonsense is that? What good are any of us for if we leave you to them?”
“Your Highness, we swear to protect you to our deaths!” roared Jingzhe and the others.
The Dragon Riders threw their heads back with laughter to see this and jeered, “This is the only bit of time left in your pathetic little lives. Make good use of it! Say your goodbyes, you won’t be able to run your mouths later when you fall to our blades!”
The provocation inspired the other soldiers resting at the mouth of the cavern to howl with laughter. Their raucous braying reverberated in the enclosed space, making the hearts of their enemies tremble from enormous fear and pressure.
Ji Zeyu had trained his Dragon Riders personally. Given the prince consort’s reputation being on par with Pang Xiao’s, it was easy to imagine that his men would be on the same level as the Valiant Tigers. Whether it came to individual skill and strategy or psychological attacks, these men deftly employed it all.
In the face of their enemies’ absolute advantage in strength and the mental barrage, even someone as coolly composed and unafraid of death as Qin Yining shrank back and hesitated a bit. Perhaps she really wouldn’t make it out of here alive.
She sighed softly, but was no longer afraid. Life and death were preordained, what was the use of fear? It was better to keep a clear mind to evaluate the situation and possibly identify a way out. Otherwise, she’d be laying her neck down on the guillotine.
New developments occurred at this moment as several muffled grunts sounded from the cavern entrance.
Distracted, the two squads charging at the front looked back to see a group of armed men clad in gray, slaughtering their comrades resting at the entrance. The newcomers then made for the Dragon Riders in the field!
A bit of warmth returned to Qin Yining at this sight, was it Pang Xiao? Pressure instantly lightened on Jiyun, Cao Yuqing, Jingzhe, and the others. They slowly fought their way back to Qin Yining’s side.
The sneak attack from the men in gray scattered the unprepared Dragon Riders, but a familiar figure emerged from the throng. Escorted by the men in gray, it held a lantern aloft and rushed to Qin Yining.
“The Lu second master?” It was Lu Heng, the poor soul who’d been tricked by her fake map and apparently buried underground when the earthquake hit!
“Are you alright?” Lu Heng rushed up to her with a face full of worry. “Are you hurt?”
Qin Yining swayed on her feet, remaining upright only through the help of the equally injured Jiyun and Cao Yuqing. She shook her head, “I’m alright, what are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story, I’ve only just learned that you’re trapped here and immediately came with my people. The emperor’s men are outside, but I’ve restrained them. Let’s hurry and get to the surface. We can talk more then!”
Qin Yining nodded wearily. “Alright, get Bingtang and we…”
A deep rumble sounded before she finished speaking, combined with the sounds of rock fragments crumbling to the ground. The ground beneath their feet was shifting!
All sounds of fighting immediately ceased as everyone looked at each other, then peered around their surroundings with terror.
After a brief moment of quiet, an even louder rumble sounded out like a clap of muffled thunder. The ground shook violently, knocking everyone in the cavern helter-skelter.
“The earth dragon’s turning over!”
“Run, get out of here!”
Furious roars echoed and rang by her ears. Qin Yining didn’t know who’d grabbed her hand to sprint ahead and had no idea who gave her a helping hand when she stumbled and almost fell.
The wound on her back burned with a fiery pain, and the sticky, warm sensation was her blood.
Already fading in and out of consciousness to begin with, Qin Yining came to the end of her tether in the face of such violent geological movement. The shrieks of horror and groans of fissuring earth sounded further and further away from her, replaced by an uncomfortable ringing in the ears and an increasingly foggy consciousness.
The last thing she remembered seeing was Cao Yuqing hanging tightly onto her hand.
“Auntie Cao, go. Go now. Just leave me,” was the last thing she said before losing consciousness.Previous Chapter Next Chapter