The smoothest part of the road from Great Zhou to the Tatar capital wasn’t as harsh as this. However, trouble was inevitable along the way, what with all the thieves and bandits that sprouted out of nowhere. They were left with no other choice but to proceed through the desert.
The coarse fabric of Qin Yining’s clothes were so covered in filth that its original colors were indiscernible. Her head wrapped in thick cloth and a thick, curved branch in hand, she arduously trudged along with the group.
Her wounds were fully healed, but she was still considerably weakened. It had been ten days since they entered the desert. If they hadn’t had the misfortune of running into a sandstorm, their circumstances wouldn’t have become so dire. At least they’d brought enough food and water with them.
Sadly, the heavens seemed to love toying with them. Never did Qin Yining expect the Tatars to trek thousands of miles to Great Zhou in search of treasure, and it seemed they’d been at it for quite some time.
When the world itself shook from the earthquake, she and her group had almost reached the entrance of the cavern, only to be stopped by Siqin, consort to the Tatar khan.
Siqin had the appearance of a handsome scholar and a genteel bearing that seemed to set him apart from the typical Tartar. Yet beneath that sophisticated façade was a merciless man who killed without a thought.
He hadn’t spared a single Dragon Rider. Afterwards, he had Lu Heng and his men dragged into the desert, along with Qin Yining and Madame Liao’s remaining group of three. After they entered the desert and encountered the sandstorm, he promptly left all of Lu Heng’s men behind.
They weren’t killed—instead, they were driven into the yellow haze of sand and abandoned there to perish.
Their current merry band consisted of Tatar khan consort Siqin, twenty of his deathsworn, Madame Liao, her two Azure Justice subordinates, Lu Heng, and Qin Yining.
Qin Yining’s legs felt like lead, her parched lips cracked beyond repair. She was so thirsty that she couldn’t utter a single word.
They were last allowed water at the crack of dawn, each person only given one sip to wet their throats. Qin Yining had held that sip in her mouth for as long as she could before swallowing to make it last as long as possible. Yet try as they did to conserve water, there wasn’t enough.
“Halt.” Siqin stopped the group.
Qin Yining panted harshly as she leaned on her stick for support and waited to see what Siqin was up to. He walked straight to Madame Liao and her two subordinates, addressing them fluently in the language of Great Zhou. “We do not have enough water. You will tell me where the treasure is, or I shall leave you here.”
Madame Liao remained silent. The two Azure Justice members were on the verge of tears, their willpower long since crushed. They had already been given the least amount of water to begin with—now they were to be abandoned here?
“Tell him, just tell him already!”
“Yeah! Why are you still holding back at a time like this?! If you don’t talk, we’re goners!”
“What’s more important, our lives or the treasure?! You’ve already sent so many of our brothers to their deaths! Are you sending us to ours now?!”
The two were so parched that their hoarse voices grated on the ears of everyone present, yet they exerted the last of their strength to plead with Madame Liao.
Haggard as Madame Liao was, her cheeks sunken in, she continued to smile with utmost confidence. “I'll be frank with you—I’m the only one who knows where the treasure is. If you let me die, you’ll never find it for as long as you live.”
Siqin adjusted his scarf and responded without so much raising a brow. “So? In other words, you will not speak?”
“I will not, unless you agree to my terms.”
Hearing this, Siqin cocked a brow and smirked. His handsome face dimpled slightly, giving him the appearance of a friendly and agreeable man.
“Truth be told, we don’t covet the treasure. I will let you live if you speak. If you don’t, then we can do without the treasure.” He summoned two stout men with a wave of his hand, who dragged the boneless Azure Justice members a hundred steps backward before throwing them onto the sand.
The two took in a mouthful of yellow sand each, yet they didn’t dare stay there. With great difficulty, they crawled to their feet and stumbled back to the group even as they spat out the sand.
Seeing the two return, Madame Liao’s smile grew even more self-assured. “The emperor of Great Zhou, the past emperor of Great Yan—all of you need and want to take the treasure for your own. You say you don’t covet it, but I don’t believe you. How do you deign to prove you don’t care for it?”
Siqin found himself tickled to laughter by Madame Liao’s words. “You’re an interesting woman. Even without the treasure, my army remains under my command. It makes no difference to me. If you wish to remain silent, so be it. We shall continue onward, but you will not be given any more water or food. You are on your own from now on.”
Finished, he nodded smilingly at Madame Liao before turning to lead the group onwards.
Does he really mean to pass over the treasure? Qin Yining very much doubted this.
The treasure had been hidden by Madame Liao. Apart from those tasked with transporting it—who had undoubtedly been permanently silenced—it was very possible that she was the only one who knew where the treasure was. Was it a bluff to threaten to leave Madame Liao behind?
Madame Liao had thought she could negotiate terms for herself with the treasure, yet he was outright stating that he did not want it!
In all the time Qin Yining had spent observing him, Siqin was a truly bizarre person. He had the appearance of a scholar, yet his fighting skills were superb. He wasn’t weak in the slightest.
According to the soothsayer’s prophecy, the Greedy Wolf of the three violent stars was among the Tatars. Considering Siqin’s military achievements and the rumors surrounding him, he was very likely the general Li Zeyu had battled for so many years.
When the young Tatar regent prince that Anari placed on the throne died of illness, the princess followed the wishes of the people and stepped in as the female Khan, Siqin becoming her consort.
Even so, Siqin continued overseeing all matters concerning the Tatar military. He only had to keep Anari happy to retain the freedom of doing whatever he pleased. This treasure hunt and his kidnapping of all these people was one example of that.
This was precisely why Siqin giving up on the treasure seemed so odd. Didn’t he need to procure more army provisions to keep his soldiers fed?
However, Qin Yining had no desire to speak up as she wanted to conserve her strength.
In the meantime, Siqin kept true to his word. Madame Liao and the two Azure Justice members trailed behind the company, stumbling with every step they took, as if they would collapse any second.
He didn’t give them a single drop of water, nor did he give them even a morsel of food. Finally, the three fell behind and could not keep up any longer.
Qin Yining wanted to save them. However, she had neither water nor food. The manner in which Siqin rationed the remaining water had her seeing him in a whole new light.
He would first have his twenty deathsworn drink. Exercising considerable restraint, he would then take a single sip from what was left. Only then was rest proportioned to the hostages. Lu Heng was given the most, as Siqin valued him the most. Qin Yining was second after him.
Now that Madame Liao and her two subordinates had been left behind, she would likely be next if they didn’t exit the desert soon. Qin Yining knew this with extreme clarity, prompting her to calm down even further to consider her next move as she walked.
She was so silent, obedient, and resilient that Siqin felt himself drawn to walk beside her time and time again.
“You were severely injured before you came with us into the desert. How have you endured until now?” He inquired with a smile.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
After hearing about them for so long, the Tatars have arrived!