The woods of the mountains were blanketed in darkness as rain poured down from the sky. Roads sabotaged by the earthquake were now reduced to mud. Massive thunderclouds loomed overhead as if pressing down on hearts, disquiet devolving to panic.
Pang Xiao raced posthaste to Qin Yining’s location with Huzi and four other Elite Tigers.
“Highness, slow down, the princess consort will be fine!” Huzi urged anxiously.
The prince’s lips were pressed into a fine line, his jaw tight and every knuckle on his clenched fists as prominent as could be. “Is the report we received to be trusted? Was the princess consort really kidnapped, taken to a cavern, and encountered another earthquake?”
Huzi swallowed hard. “From what I’ve heard, yes.”
Pang Xiao punched the air viciously, overcome with the urge to smite himself dead. He shouldn’t have let Qin Yining risk herself. So what about the treasure? Was it more important than her? Forget the silver—he wouldn’t trade her away for anything, not even the entire nation!
If Qin Yining was to be taken in exchange for such trivialities, Pang Xiao had half a mind to take his own as punishment!
He and his entourage quickly arrived at the location mentioned in the tip.
The downpour had flooded the roads, making it impossible to make out any footprints. At present, there were also a group of Dragon Riders clothed in silver and white digging away at the collapsed cavern.
Beneath a large, golden umbrella stood Li Qitian, dressed in deep blue casual attire, his hands crossed behind his back. Shielding him from the wind and rain was head eunuch Li Guanwen, standing upwind with an oil paper umbrella.
The sound of horses galloping caught the emperor’s attention. He and his men looked up to see who was approaching.
Seeing that it was none other than Pang Xiao, Li Qitian frowned involuntarily. His pupils contracted ever so slightly as he met the prince’s eyes, unable to suppress his apprehension and dread. Wait, he was the emperor—what had he to fear?
Li Qitian straightened his back once again; Pang Xiao and his entourage were now before him.
The prince hauled on Thundercloud’s reins to a sharp stop, eliciting a protest whinny from his steed. He unmounted his horse with a flourish, rainwater spraying from his soaked robes.
“Your Majesty.” Pang Xiao and his men knelt before the emperor without any regard for the muddy ground.
Li Qitian helped the prince to his feet with both hands and addressed him as if deeply pained. “I only received word when I arrived that née Qin was on her way to the capital when she happened upon a fissure. After burrowing her way in, an earthquake struck.”
This kind of description...
What, was the princess consort a mole? Would she just burrow into any hole she came across? His Majesty truly knew no shame!
Pang Xiao’s countenance remained impassive, but Huzi and the other Elite Tigers behind him were a hair away from throwing punches.
The prince’s voice dropped an octave when he spoke. “Disaster relief funds and supplies never arrived after the previous earthquake. Driven to desperate measures, some took to robbing those passing through the mountains. Née Qin was only assigned four guards and two maids to escort her back to the capital. If she were to be kidnapped by said bandits, who knows what would become of them.”
It was as if Pang Xiao’s imposing presence had sprouted large hands to squeeze the life out of someone’s throat. As emperor, Li Qitian shouldn’t have felt fear—yet, the prince’s cutting glare had him standing even straighter.
Though he felt a twinge of guilt, a voice inside him screamed that all land beneath the heavens belonged to the emperor, all men who walked the earth were his subjects. Be it riches or the lives of his subjects, everything was his for the taking.
As the saying went, there was no escaping death for whomever the emperor wanted dead.
Qin Yining was but a mere woman—if he ordered Pang Xiao to die, the prince wouldn’t dare to disobey. As something that belonged to Pang Xiao, it went without saying that the same went for Qin Yining.
There was no deep love between Pang Xiao and his wife. When she’d just arrived at Great Zhou, he hadn’t shown her any mercy. Hadn’t the prince carried her off and abused her within an inch of her life?
Now that she was dead, it was a perfect opportunity for him to get a new one. He should consider himself fortunate.
These thoughts gave Li Qitian a boost of self assurance and confidence, assuaging his guilt and unease. As a matter of fact, he very much wanted to ask Pang Xiao why Qin Yining suddenly decided to return to the capital—was she truly unwell, or was she feigning illness?
Did they secretly plan to take the treasure for themselves, which was why she just so happened to get herself buried inside that hole?
In the span of a single breath, Li Qitian’s thoughts spiraled a thousand times over.
By then, Pang Xiao had already led Huzi and his four Elite Tigers to the hole and joined in the digging efforts. Seeing their commander take action, the twenty Dragon Riders searched for tools to help as well.
Li Qitian raised his voice to call to the prince. “Pang Xiao, come back. Leave the manual labor to them.”
The prince turned a deaf ear to his words and continued digging.
Seeing him ignore the emperor so brazenly, Li Guanwen rushed forward the prince and held his umbrella high to shield Pang Xiao from the rain. “Your Highness, His Majesty wishes to have a word with you. Why don’t you take a break? Leave the heavy labor to the others.”
Pang Xiao placed a foot on his shovel to stamp it into the earth. He didn’t even lift his head as he replied, “I must ask gonggong to thank His Majesty for his kind intentions. However, just as a raging fire must be put out as soon as possible, time is of the essence when it comes to saving lives, and every man counts. If His Majesty wishes to speak with me, he can wait until I’ve rescued these people.”
Having been rejected in a roundabout manner, he scanned Pang Xiao’s profile with conflicted emotions before coming back to his senses and returning to Li Qitian.
Though the emperor hadn’t heard what Pang Xiao said, it was evident that the prince meant to disobey his orders. Li Qitian’s face darkened as he moved to reprimand the prince.
Li Guanwen hastily interjected, “Your Majesty, the roads are muddy and the air clammy with humidity. You are in good health, but this can’t be good for you. Might I suggest you return to the carriage to rest and warm yourself with hot tea?”
Chilly winds happened to sweep by, leaving Li Qitian shivering from the cold. His hands also felt icy to the touch. “Very well.” He turned back to his carriage, his face a storm.
Pang Xiao saw Li Qitian leave out of the corner of his eye and turned all of his attention back to the task at hand.
Darling Yi, darling Yi, where are you?
Are you buried inside?
If so, that can only mean.......
No, no, no, she can’t be dead.
She’s so young—how can she be dead?
He was only digging with all his might to prove she wasn’t here!
“Your Highness!” Just then, Huzi gave a panicked cry.
Pang Xiao’s heart jolted. Throwing down his shovel, he rushed over to take a look. He was greeted by the sight of a dismembered arm, frightfully pale and dripping with fresh blood......
It was the hand of a man, not Qin Yining.
Even so, he couldn’t relax.
Having confirmed there were indeed people beneath them, he led the group onward and furiously dug like a madman, using shovels and their own bare hands.
The rain stopped.
Being drenched in rainwater, sweat, dirt and mud left Pang Xiao feeling rather uncomfortable, so he stripped himself of his clothes up to the waist like the other men. As the line of corpses grew, his face fell further. His mounting despair was matched by Li Qitian’s increasing rage.
“These are all Dragon Riders I’ve ordered to search for the treasure! Why are they here, dead?”
A shadow crossed Pang Xiao’s face. “Does His Majesty expect this subject to have the answers? This subject would very much like to impose a question of his own—why have your Dragon Riders kidnapped my wife?!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
My goodness, now it's poor Pang Xiao. :(