“He’s drunk on power, so what does he care about love and relationships? Maybe he never felt anything for me, and everything he’s done was to mislead Anari. He wanted Anari to misunderstand there was something between us so that she’d go crazy with jealousy. She’d then move in ways that would benefit his plan—he was using her love all along!
“No wait, he wanted her to die to begin with! We didn’t hurt her out of consideration for diplomatic relations between our two nations, but Siqin’s goal was to shift the blame to us to begin with!”
The more Qin Yining thought things through, the more horrified she grew. Siqin’s deep machinations reached unfathomable depths of incredulity. It was more than likely that he’d traveled to Yang County and kidnapped them during the earthquake so that he could set into motion the situation of today.
Lu Heng’s brow was knit tightly. “It’s not good if things progress down this path. Once Siqin ascends to the throne, it’s highly likely that his next move will be to make demands of Great Zhou, with Anari as an excuse.”
“What should the two of you do now?” Mu Jinghu’s expression grew increasingly uglier.
He was a pure-hearted man who valued loyalty and relationships. Not only could he not even fathom Siqin’s inhumane and perverse plan, but he could barely bring himself to harm others. He would never kill a woman who deeply loved him in order to pursue power and the throne! What kind of person did this?!
“We can’t stay here. If they search the city, they’ll find us soon enough,” Lu Heng worried.
Mu Jinghu nodded and placed the large bundle in his hands in front of Qin Yining. “Apply medicine to yourself first and change into these clothes. It’ll be more convenient for you when dressed as a man.” He turned to Lu Heng. “Let’s step outside.”
The Lu scion nodded and followed Mu Jinghu, hashing out their next steps in murmured conversation.
Qin Yining disrobed and wetted the old clothes to wipe off the majority of her bloodstains. She cleaned her wounds and quickly dressed them with medicine and fine cotton. Slipping into a male outfit, she swept her hair up in a neat hairstyle and slipped a leather, winter Tatar hat over her head.
She rolled up the discarded silks and brocade into a ball, intending to burn them later. After repacking the water pouches, dry rations, medicines, and others, she called the two back in.
“I went out scouting just now and found that soldiers are already searching this neighborhood,” Mu Jinghu said urgently. “Let’s leave, right now.”
Qin Yining bobbed her head and followed the taciturn man, Lu Heng at her side. When the three reached the mouth of the alley, they heard far-off sounds of soldiers yelling, people gasping, children crying, adults shouting as their abodes were searched. It was utter chaos.
Qin Yining could tell what was being said even with the language barrier. The soldiers must be asking if anyone had seen the Great Zhou visitors. Mu Jinghu tugged on her wrist and gestured at Lu Heng to follow.
The three quietly backed up and ran off in the other direction.
Through the twisting and turning streets, their panting and footsteps were the only sounds to be heard in the deep of the night, as well as the search conducted by the soldiers.
“We’ll be caught sooner or later,” Lu Heng whispered. “They’re searching the houses one by one. They’re even looking into the wells.”
“The city gates are closed now.” Mu Jinghu’s expression was very solemn. “Our pursuers are right in front of us. They really will find us sooner or later.”
“Do you have any other hiding places in the city?” asked Qin Yining.
Mu Jinghu shook his head with a trace of shame. “I usually live in the palace with my uncle-master. I’ve never thought about moving out, so I don’t actually have any real estate to my name.”
“With this situation, it wouldn’t matter if you did have any.”
Hunkering down in a corner, Mu Jinghu’s forehead was knitted together in a tight frown. Given the circumstances, he might not make it out unscathed even with two highly trained experts by his side. Lu Heng at best knew a bit of basic horse riding and shooting, and Qin Yining was a woman covered in injuries.
The three looked awkwardly at each other when Mu Jinghu suddenly rose to his feet. “I’ll go draw those men away.”
“No.” Qin Yining caught his robes in a vice grip. “I know you’re very skilled in martial arts and that none of them can put up a proper fight against you, but can you kill them all? Even if you’re a slab of hammered steel, how many nails can you suffer? We can’t be brash, we need to rely on our smarts.
“If we look at this from a holistic perspective, we don’t need to worry even if we’re recaptured. They won’t kill me or the Lu second master. With Siqin’s personality, he won’t rest until he’s squeezed every last drop of value from our bodies. They’ll use us to negotiate with Great Zhou.”
Mu Jinghu shook his head. “He’ll use you to negotiate, but with Pang Zhixi’s current standing in the nation, what ability does he have to persuade the emperor of Great Zhou? Won’t the two of you die if his emperor doesn’t allow it? It’s better for me to lure the men away and for you to think of a way out.”
Lu Heng also pulled Mu Jinghu back. “No, you’ll expose yourself if you go and you might even lose your life. If our lives are built upon the foundation of your sacrifice, then we won’t rest easy for the rest of our lives.”
“Sir Mu, you weren’t a part of this affair to begin with, and you’ve done everything called for by humanity and duty in saving us. Hurry on back before the soldiers catch up to us. The Soothsayer must’ve deduced that something is afoot with all the great disturbance. If she discovers you’re gone, she’ll absolutely suspect you. Wouldn’t you be a traitor to your sect then?”
Being a loyal person, Mu Jinghu frowned deeply when he heard the word ‘traitor’.
“Go now, and pass on a word onto Pang Zhixi if you’re able to. Tell him that the Lu second master and I are still alive. Don’t do anything else, lest you bring down trouble upon your head.”
Looking down, Mu Jinghu thought deeply for a while, but stubbornly shook his head in the end. “No, I’m keeping you company. With me present, I can force a way out if it comes down to that. If the two of you are captured, then there’s really nothing more to be done.”
They wove in and out of alleyways as they spoke, sometimes pausing to avoid soldiers. But based on the sounds around them, it was apparent that the distance between the two groups was narrowing.
“Go on, Sir Mu. The window is closing for you to leave,” Qin Yining urged.
Mu Jinghu clenched his teeth and shook his head again, pulling his two companions along in the continued chase of cat and mouse.
They were now in the most impoverished part of the neighborhood, home to the poor and slaves. The alleys were narrow and crisscrossed in a mad web, with many ending in dead-ends.
Mu Jinghu pulled them left and then right, panting as they advanced to the depths of an alley. When they found it was a dead-end, they quickly turned back, but the sounds of footsteps and conversation between soldiers had drawn near. In fact, torch light could be seen from where they’d come from!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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