You must take good care of yourself
The carriage veered off the main road and came to a halt in a thick forest.
Cao Yun lit an oil lamp and opened the carriage door, allowing two women to disembark.
Ming Qin, who had been huddled under the seat, finally stood up and stretched her limbs, which crackled satisfyingly.
Spotting the intense conversation between Song Shu Qing and Cao Yun, Murong Yan gracefully retreated back into the carriage, leaving the three shadow guards to discuss matters in private.
Ming Qin seized the opportunity to catch her breath and nervously inquired of her seniors, “What’s happening now? And what about the others?”
“The situation in the capital is dire.
Lin Yan and our other senior shadow guards have dispersed the rest of the Shadow Guard Camp to avoid being hunted down by the Crown Prince,” Cao Yun explained in a worried tone.
“Our Master and Madam will be responsible for protecting the Eleventh Prince, while the remaining shadow guards will blend in with the masses and provide covert aid as circumstances permit,” Cao Yun stated firmly.
He turned to Song Shu Qing, who nodded in agreement, confirming their plan.
There was a moment of silence before Cao Yun spoke again, his tone grave as he addressed Ming Qin directly.
“Qin Qin, listen carefully.
The items Madam gave you – the edict and tiger talisman – are of utmost importance.
They were left by the Emperor before he passed away.”
He took a deep breath before continuing.
“Your mission is to protect the Princess and escort her to the northern border.
It is imperative that you ensure she personally meets with Prince Yu and presents him with the edict and tiger talisman.”
Ming Qin nodded obediently, repeating the instructions to herself.
“Protect the Princess and ensure her safe arrival at the northern border.
She must personally present the edict and tiger talisman to Prince Yu.”
She reminded herself that her mission was to protect the Princess and ensure her safety on the journey.
It was a simple objective, but one that Ming Qin had always desired.
Ming Qin gazed up at the two figures before her and inquired, “And what about the two of you? Where are you headed?”
Cao Yun hesitated, prompting Song Shu Qing to speak up on his behalf.
“I will take on the guise of the Princess and remain behind with Cao Yun, scattering false leads to confuse the Crown Prince’s men and weaken their pursuit.”
Ming Qin gasped in shock.
Such a scheme was fraught with peril and typically reserved for those with the highest level of martial arts, namely herself.
“That’s not possible!” she protested vehemently.
“It’s far too dangerous.
I should be the one to stay behind.”
Cao Yun cut her off, speaking firmly.
“We can’t guarantee success with this plan.
You must accompany the Princess as the last line of defense.”
Cao Yun wasted no time as he produced a map from his pocket and unfurled it on the ground.
“We’ll navigate the waterway to the north.
In the event of a naval skirmish, the Crown Prince’s forces will be numerous but disadvantaged.
This will allow us to stall them for some time.”
Ming Qin’s throat felt parched as she observed Cao Yun indicate a corner of the map.
“You’ll escort the Princess westward first, then proceed northward.
I’ve already made arrangements with the governor here, and he’s reliable.
He’ll send someone to meet you when you rendezvous with Prince Yu.”
With Ming Qin refusing to respond, Cao Yun met her gaze, his eyes unwavering.
“Qin Qin, everything rests on your shoulders this time.
You must remain steadfast in your resolve.
If we succeed, all those in the capital will be safe.
Do you understand?”
Ming Qin nodded slowly, and Cao Yun collected the map before striding toward the carriage to attend to something.
The once lavish vehicle now appeared aged and nondescript, coated in dirt.
He also led out two horses that had been stashed in the forest, loading the carriage’s luggage onto their backs.
Observing the mute Ming Qin, Song Shu Qing reached over and patted her shoulder.
“You can’t deter him.
This is our best course of action.”
“But… it’s too dangerous,” Ming Qin looked glum.
Song Shu Qing smiled.
“It’s strange that you’re saying that now.
Isn’t your mission dangerous? As a shadow guard, we are already walking on the edge of a knife.
We both know that this is a job where we can lose our lives at any time.
Every breath we take is hard-earned.”
She paused and whispered in Ming Qin’s ear, “Furthermore, don’t feel too burdened.
Cao Yun is doing this to repay the debt he owes you.”
“Debt?” Ming Qin was puzzled and didn’t understand what her senior sister meant.
“Yes, a debt.”
Song Shu Qing’s words were brief and ambiguous, her tone only changing as she said, “But don’t worry, I’m here too.
I don’t want to die so early.”
He Jingshou and Song Shu Qing understood that Cao Yun’s plan was the most reliable, despite its dangers.
At first, Cao Yun had intended to carry out the plan alone, with the determination to make the ultimate sacrifice.
However, Song Shu Qing managed to persuade him to let her accompany him.
“You’re a grown man going alone.
The Prince’s men will assume you’re a Princess lured here for them to catch.”
“I must be part of this plan for it to succeed.”
“Don’t worry, when things get dangerous, I’ll leave you behind and run.”
Song Shu Qing had confidence in herself.
She believed that she could seize an opportunity in a critical moment.
Of course, with Cao Yun by her side.
People who have lived two lives should understand survival better than those who have only lived one, right?
“So, instead of worrying about me being smart, you should worry about yourself.”
Song Shu Qing arched an eyebrow and gazed at Ming Qin before releasing a deep sigh and murmuring, “You need to be cautious.”
Her intuitive sixth sense constantly gave her an unsettling feeling.
Ming Qin misread her expression and thumped her chest, asserting, “Do not worry, senior sister! I will flawlessly complete the mission and even sacrifice my life if necessary to safeguard the Princess and the decree.”
Her face conveyed a willingness to heroically die in an instant.
Song Shu Qing regarded the doltish woman before her and couldn’t help but let out a weary sigh.
Helplessly, she said to her, “Let’s not talk about the decree for now.
But sacrificing yourself to protect the Princess isn’t worth it.”
She had a feeling that if the Princess went down, everything else would fall apart as well.
The image of a disillusioned demon with wings and fiery breath burning everyone flashed before her eyes, making her shudder.
She wanted to say more, but Cao Yun urgently interrupted her, “Just take care of the Princess, the decree, and the tiger talisman, no matter what.”
Taking the reins, Song Shu Qing mounted her horse.
As she exhaled mist in the cold air, she gave her junior sister a final glance and raised an eyebrow, asking, “Do you remember when we were young and talked about where we’d retire with our pensions?”
Ming Qin tilted her head, deep in thought, before nodding with a knowing smile.
“Then we’ll meet again someday.”
With a flick of her whip, Song Shu Qing and Cao Yun rode away, their hoofbeats gradually fading into the distance, leaving behind a deafening silence.
Ming Qin stared blankly at their disappearing figures before taking a deep breath and muttering to herself, “Now it’s my turn.”
She opened the carriage door to find Murong Yan patiently waiting on the seat, draped in a fox fur with two bags left by Cao Yun at her feet.
Inside, they found not only daily necessities but also winter clothes, dry rations, a dagger, and several bags of bulky silver and copper coins.
Ming Qin lifted her head, eyeing the supplies before apologizing to Murong Yan whose gaze was clear and serene, “We’ll have to travel far for the next few days, and we may not be able to stay in an inn.
I’m afraid it will be hard on you.”
She didn’t want Murong Yan to be wronged, but the situation left her no choice.
“I don’t mind,” Murong Yan replied.
The woman shook her head, her cold hand touching the warm cheek of the person in front of her.
Her tone was gentle, “Don’t worry, Ah Qin.
This is already good enough.”
“I will protect you,” Ming Qin assured her as she tightened the fox fur around her.
She was afraid that she would catch a cold.
Her inner determination was as solemn as making a vow.
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