Xuan Tian Ming’s imperial carriage rushed in pursuit of Zi Rui; however, the hidden guards escorting Zi Rui back to Xiao Zhou were also feeling a sense of urgency, thus they were moving extremely quickly. Because of this, they could not catch up even after the sun went down.
That night, the imperial carriage stopped in a small town. Bai Ze bought another carriage and decided to send two people to bring Song Kang over to the military camp. First, it was to reduce the amount of weight on the imperial carriage. Second, there was no point in having him stay with them, and someone would need to protect him.
The people of this small town slept early, and only the lantern in front of the inn remained lit. Xuan Tian Ming asked for Feng Yu Heng’s opinion: “Will we rest for the night or continue chasing? If we continue chasing, we will need to get new horses. Having rushed about for an entire day, we may be fine, but the horses cannot continue.”
Feng Yu Heng truly wanted to continue chasing. That feeling of uncertainty became even stronger, but Xuan Tian Ming was right. People may be fine, but horses would not be. The imperial carriage only needed two horses, but what about the hidden guards following along? When traveling for long periods of time, it would be impossible for a hidden guard to continue using qinggong the entire time. They would need to also ride horses. This small town was only so large. Where could they go to find these horses.
“Rest for a night.” Her voice was rather helpless. Lifting the curtain, she looked at the inn with the lit lantern. She began to think about asking around the town in the morning to see if they had any good horses to sell.
Xuan Tian Ming helped her out of the carriage, while Huang Quan and Bai Ze went forward to knock on the inn’s doors. Very quickly, the innkeeper came out. It was a young man not yet in his 20s. That person looked out, and when he saw them, he could not help but be startled. He then said, “Would you please wait.”
With a thunk, the door was closed once more.
Xuan Tian Ming and Feng Yu Heng looked at each other, both feeling that something was not quite right.
Not long later, the door to the inn was opened and an old man came out to wave to them. Bai Ze walked in first then ran back out not long later. He said to Xuan Tian Ming: “Master, come in, quickly.”
The others quickly entered the inn and followed the old man to the backyard. After arriving at the backyard, they found a carriage sitting there.
Feng Yu Heng’s heart went “thunk” as that “bad feeling” became even stronger.
The old man from the inn told them: “Before the sun went down, a group of people came by with a young master. They said that they were in a rush, and this carriage was too slow, thus they used this carriage and some more money to trade for some faster horses. Right before they left, a man informed us, saying that if two young people, one male and one female, came to this town in a very ornate carriage, I was to show them this carriage and tell them about what had happened. This old one sees that it should be the two of you that he spoke of. Take a look. Do you recognize this carriage?”
Bai Ze pointed at the carriage and said: “This is the one that we prepared for the Feng family’s young master.”
Feng Yu Heng urgently spoke up and asked the old man: “Did they leave behind another message?”
The old man said: “They did not mention anything else. They just said that they were going to Xiao Zhou, and they were in a bit of a rush. But this old one heard them say that something seemed to be too late. They were indeed in a great rush when leaving. It’s currently dark outside. To rush from this town to the next, the soonest one could arrive by horse is dawn. Thinking about it, they must be traveling overnight.”
The old man was only responsible for passing along the message. He had operated this inn for many years, and he had also seen many people. Although he felt that these people before him were quite extraordinary, he thought to himself that he had not done anything to feel guilty about. These people also did not seem to be evil, thus he was not very afraid.
Xuan Tian Ming dragged Feng Yu Heng over to the carriage. His gaze stopped on the wooden from of the carriage. Feng Yu Heng also looked over and saw that there was a small mark engraved on the frame. It looked a bit like a fully drawn bow.
Ban Zou also came forward. Upon seeing this, he could not help but feel shocked. He explained on his own to Feng Yu Heng: “This is a special mark used by his Highness’ people to indicate… danger.”
“Danger?” She repeated it and began to ponder.
What sort of danger could there be? There were ten hidden guards escorting him; however, it was dangerous enough for them to trade in a carriage for a horse. This made it clear that they were increasing their pace to escape. Exactly what sort of danger could cause ten hidden guards to become so panicked?
She cast an inquisitive glance toward Xuan Tian Ming; however, he was also furrowing his brow. He seemed to have absolutely no clue. But Xuan Tian Ming still made the decision: “We cannot rest. We will continue our pursuit.” He immediately asked the innkeeper: “I will pay you triple the cost to prepare enough horses for all of us. Remember, we need good horses. The faster the better, understand?”
The old man had a bitter expression and helplessly spread his arms, saying: “My lord, even if you gave this old one ten times the amount, this old one would not be able to find any fast horses. Not to hide it from you, but after the group with the young master left, another ground arrived not one hour later. There was a total of 20 people. They bought every single fast horse in the town. There are still some other horses, but they are mostly old horses. They can pull some luggage, but it’s impossible for them to carry people.”
Feng Yu Heng screamed in exasperation: “All of the horses? Could it be that this town only has 20 fast horses?”
The old man shook his head: “Not at all, that group remained in the town for roughly two hours and bought 50 fast horses. That is indeed the limit for this town. You also saw it. Our town is too small. It’s called a town, but it’s really just a transit point between the capital and Xiao Zhou. To be able to get 50 horses together is already pretty good.”
Xuan Tian Ming coldly snorted and pinched Feng Yu Heng’s hand. At this time, they already understood that those 20 people would not be able to make use of 50 horses; however, they had successfully cut off their pursuit. Put plainly, this was their true goal.
Feng Yu Heng feared someone taking action against Zi Rui the most. Yao shi was already in her current state, and she hoped to not make any mistakes with Zi Rui. Otherwise, not only could she not face the body’s original owner, she could not face her own conscience.
But it had to happen that whatever she feared most would happen. It was clear that Zi Rui was in danger, and even ten hidden guards were running away. Who exactly were the 20 people giving chase?
Xuan Tian Ming knew that she was worried, thus he made a prompt decision, informing Bai Ze: “Unharness the two horses pulling the carriage. Feed the horses. Feed all of the horses and have everyone rest here. We will leave after one hour.” After saying this, he said to the old man: “I will trouble you with preparing some hay. Also, have someone prepare some food. We will only be staying for one hour. The faster the food can be prepared, the better. The payment will not be low.”
This innkeeper had taken care of two odd groups in a row. Counting them, they were the third wave. His initial curiosity was smothered. After hearing Xuan Tian Ming’s orders, he did not say a word and immediately brought the waiter back to the inn.
Xuan Tian Ming also brought Feng Yu Heng back into the inn to sit. The waiter poured some water for them, and Feng Yu Heng brought out some tea leaves from her space for to make some tea for everyone. She brought out two packs of instant coffee for herself. When pursuing others, she had to ensure that she would be able to remain fully conscious. She could not allow for both horse and person to be tired.
Xuan Tian Ming quietly analyzed the earlier happenings with her: “It’s currently unknown what sort of people are chasing after Zi Rui, but it seems that it’s possible for them to be from Qian Zhou or the northern provinces. In fact, the possibility that it is yet another group cannot be excluded. Right now, there is nothing that we can do aside from giving chase. Who knows how long these horses can endure, but thinking about it, they should be fine to endure until the next small town.”
But Feng Yu Heng was still worried: “What if the horses in the next town are also bought out?”
Xuan Tian Ming said, “Then that at least means their group has not yet caught Zi Rui. We would still have a chance.” He patted her shoulder: “Things will eventually sort themselves out.”
Feng Yu Heng frowned while slowly sipping her coffee. Xuan Tian Ming then said to her: “The reason that the North and Qian Zhou do not dare to mobilize their soldiers is that they do not have any ability to win in an offensive to take our capital. They are all waiting for us to take the initiative and attack. Like that, they can make use of the cold to exhaust Da Shun’s army. But not mobilizing the army does not mean that they will not use secret attacks. Heng Heng, I was thinking. Those ten hidden guards could each take on three experts of similar strength, but why did they seem to be in such a sore spot when running? WHy had they left behind a military mark indicating that they were in grave danger?”
Feng Yu Heng’s heart sank, as she blankly said: “Could it be… that it’s Qian Zhou’s divine archery?”
“It’s possible.” Xuan Tian Ming said: “No matter how good a hidden guard’s body is, Qian Zhou has its tracking arrow. Once that arrow is shot, who is able to avoid it?”
Feng Yu Heng wanted to say that she could, but there was no need for her to brag at a time like this. She just regretted that she did not teach those hidden guards the method to avoid those tracking arrows. If Qian Zhou had truly dispatched its divine archery team to chase Zi Rui, this would truly be a difficult matter.
“Don’t worry.” Xuan Tian Ming’s hand rested on her shoulder and gently began to massage her, “Even if they get caught, Zi Rui’s life will not be in danger. They should be using that child to negotiate with us. They will not try to do anything with his life at first. It’s just… a pity for those comrades.”
The so-called comrades that he spoke of were the ten hidden guards escorting Zi Rui. Xuan Tian Ming never viewed those hidden guards as servants. To him, whether it was hidden guards or attendants like Bai Ze, he always considered them to be comrades. Their lives were just as valuable as his. He could never do something like use his comrades to block an arrow. Naturally, he could not do anything that would send his comrades to die.
But even if they were in a rush, there was nothing that they could do. Animals were different from people. If a horse was not given rest or food, it truly would not move.
The innkeeper very quickly finished preparing the food. The old man said to Xuan Tian Ming: “There are some dishes that were prepared during dinner and were not sold. It’s all good to eat. There’s no time to prepare anything else. Just eat a bit. This old one has prepared plenty of dried food for my lord to bring along. If you get hungry along the way, just eat it.”
Xuan Tian Ming nodded and gave Bai Ze a glance, telling him to pay up. Bai Ze brought out two silver ingots and stuffed them into the old man’s hands. The old man did not push back, receiving and putting them away.
One hour later, everyone got up to set out once more.
This pursuit lasted the entire night. When the sun came up, they were finally able to see the town up ahead. The group tentatively found a horse vendor and asked; however, they heard a shocking bit of news: “My lords, you arrived a little late. Right before dawn, a group of people came and bought all of the horses at my ranch. Not only did they buy my horses here, they also took away all of the good horses from the large families around here.”