Proofreaders: Gwen, Red and Xiao Yu
Cold Sands ch9
We would like to dedicate this chapter to Persse. She has been working hard behind the scene, making our pdf compilations for our projects, which are amazing so far! And since her birthday is on Halloween...we decided to meet her request this week with a surprise release of Cold Sands. ;)
Happy Early Birthday, Persse! \(≧▽≦)/
The instant I straighten up something metallic flashes from behind. I tilt my head away instinctively and the next moment I feel something cold and rigid against my neck.
“Stay still,” orders a soft yet assertive voice.
I breathe out gently in an attempt to calm my nerves. In the dark of night, I spot several phantom-like figures dressed in black. Their faces are concealed, leaving only the eyes and a shiny dagger in sight.
The person before me looks like the leader. He has his grip on a dagger, emitting an aura of death, and keeps his gaze fixed on me.
“Who are you?” he questions.
I suppress my thumping heart and stay quiet trying to come up with a reply. That they were able to get through the high security and appear here makes them formidable opponents. Are they from Yan or from…?
I don’t know whether this person is a friend or foe so there may be complications if I speak too hastily. I can’t see his face but I can make out some stiffness in his speech, with the tiniest hint of the capital’s accent.
The capital! My heart skips a beat.
My fate depends on this.
“You wouldn’t happen to know who rests in this coffin, would you?”
The next moment, the blade digs in a bit more, forcing me back, but I keep eye contact with him.
“If you have come for His Lordship, please rest assured, I am your friend.”
“How so?” He asks suspiciously.
I feel cold sweat dripping down my back but I steady my voice.
“Who doesn’t know of the duke’s honourable sacrifice? The royal family would not dare risk allowing his remains to go missing. So I’m guessing you have come to bring His Lordship back, right?”
His head tilts the slightest angle but he doesn’t release his dagger. “You’re bright, but unfortunately, those who know less lives longer.”
Hearing this, I can guess the identity of these people—most likely Wraiths, Wraiths managed by Uncle.
I know that Uncle has a group of these people who pledge their lives for the Han clan under his control. They are a formless existence. No one knows who they are, no one knows where they are, but once their master makes an order they immediately materialise and execute it with unwavering loyalty. The Han clan owes it in part to the Wraiths for their rise to power in the imperial court.
“Please, you are being emphatic. I only wanted to pay my respects to the duke for his immeasurable loyalty for his country. It would be most righteous if you can bring his honourable remains back to Great Rui.”
He stays silent, observing me, making the butterflies in my stomach dance.
“I’m merely a prisoner. My life means nothing.” I hold his gaze. “But this place is heavily guarded. It must not have been easy getting in. And considering you have to get out later with the duke, it wouldn’t be wise to cause a commotion, now would it?”
“Are you threatening me?” His gaze is stone cold.
“I dare not.” I shake my head. “I’m just calling it how I see it.”
Uncle’s never been one for mistakes and second chances. I’m afraid the only thing awaiting them should they fail is death.
I restrain myself from showing fear and look him straight in the eyes. His eyes shift; it appears I was right on target. It’s always been my principle to not overdo anything. I’ve said what I needed to, now it’s up to him to decide.
Moments go by as he ruminates.
“How do I know if I can trust you?”
I explain quietly. “I’m a citizen of Great Rui, captured not long ago. I was genuinely here to hold a wake for the duke. Does that make me worthy for your trust?”
He looks at me with a fixed stare which I return.
A suffocating silence wraps itself around every one of us.
Then the coldness disappears from my neck. He flicks his wrist and the dagger disappears too. He takes a few steps back, keeping me in sight.
“Open the casket!”
We’re quite a distance from the camp. The Wraiths are very adept and get the duke’s remains wrapped up and ready to go in no time.
“I give my thanks, though I do not know who you are,” he says with his dagger in hand.
I grin. “I’m sure it is the duke’s will to return to his roots. It was just a hand’s turn anyway.”
He doesn’t respond and slowly steps away from me. The other Wraiths behind him are also backing away, ready to vanish. I feel relief watching them leave.
Suddenly there’s shouting from all around. “Don’t let them escape!”
I don’t even have time to see what is going on when a strong gust whizzes before my face accompanied by a sharp scream.
I turn around only to see several more shadowy phantoms appearing in the darkness.
The Wraith leader barks, “Shit! It’s a trap!”
Before he even finishes, everything before me whirls around at the speed of lightning. The two parties have clashed together before I can comprehend what’s happening.
In the blink of an eye, dust and debris are driven up and swirl in the air, blocking my view of the situation. What was once dead silent is now filled with boisterous shouts and clangs of weapons against each other, the tranquil night nowhere to be found.
Blood splashes in all directions. War cries resonate endlessly. Flashes of metal. Criss-cross of arrowheads. Bits of crimson, scarlet and maroon seem to drift amidst the pale moonlight.
Despite being specially trained in their trade, the Wraiths are still no match for the Yan soldiers who’ve bathed in the blood of a hundred battles. I back away, one step at a time, as cold sweat breaks out.
I don’t know what’s going on but it’s probably the best to get the hell out of here. I hunch over and make a break for it with the chaos as cover.
“Kill him! That one!” Someone yells from behind.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Something zips past my face at the same time metallic glisters fly across my vision, freezing my blood over.
It’s still all around me—the yelling, the clashing of blades and clanging of metal. I don’t even get two feet away before something flashes before me and a blade comes slashing down. I feel it hacking into my left shoulder as if to split me in half. Sweetness rushes into my mouth and a gush of blood sprays out. My vision goes dim. My legs are already wobbling like jelly.
The Wraith leader, covered in blood, grabs my collar. His unmasked eyes send chills down my spine.
“You almost had me there.”
Then all I see is a cold icy gleam zooming down towards me. I clench my teeth and pant for air. Blood keeps welling in my mouth and spilling out, and I can’t get a single word out.
I shut my eyes.
I. Am. So. Dead. This. Time.
A wisp of cool air brushes past my temple. I hear a cry of agony and smell a rusty scent. The skin on my neck feels cool for a moment. The expected bone-splitting pain doesn’t come for the longest time. I hesitate and finally crack my eyes open.
The Wraith’s eyes are almost popping out of their sockets. His face is one of disbelief while a wolf-tooth white-feathered arrow sticks out from his forehead. Blood trickles down his face, making the picture all the more ghastly.
I whip around to see Murong Yu standing there with an austere expression, arrow nocked.
The sound of battle is showing no signs of ceasing and the smell of iron only thickens. He strides over with one arm stretched out. My mind is blank as I reach out, arm shuddering.
Quicker than lightning, the Wraith leader rises up, and a stretch of silver light, more brilliant than the moon, carves into the ink black night. Murong Yu draws his sword and blood showers down like rain. The man’s head goes flying.
I try to keep it down but another mouthful of blood comes rushing out. The headless body tips backwards. His surprisingly strong grip tears my collar off and a white object slips out, tumbling on to the ground.
Oh no! It fell!
I immediately reach out for it but Murong Yu steps in front, sword raised, and pulls me towards him.
“Let me go.” I only have that white object in mind.
He looks at me sternly and pulls me in closer. The wound on my shoulder widens. The thick smell of blood rushes to my head and a dizzy spell hits me.
I cannot lose it.
“What’re you doing?” He warns lowly near my ears and pulls me in even closer. “You’re gonna get yourself killed!”
I shake my head wildly. “No. I can’t lose it.”
He frowns, impatience flashing in his eyes. “Now is not the time!”
Before he could even finish, I spot a shadowy figure rushing straight at us with a sword in hand, looking like a shapeless shadow in the night and bringing along with it a gust of wind.
“Watch out!” Caught off guard, I shove Murong Yu aside without thinking.
A cold draft blows by my ears. Then darkness drops over me.
Xiao Qinyun purses her lips, looking all unwilling. “Quit complaining. I wouldn’t even be doing this if my darling Yu didn’t ask me to.”
Spasms of pain run through my shoulders. I’m wrapped up like a mummy but I’m still racked with pain, like the marrow is being pulled out of my bones. I’m really not in the mood to deal with this little girl but I can only put on a smile and ask her politely to leave.
She places her hands on her slender waist and twirls around, smiling mischievously. “Having a duchess deliver medicine is not something you’re worthy of, but on the account that you saved my dear Yu… I’ll be the bigger person this time!”
I chuckle wryly. I don’t even know why I instinctively shoved him away and took the blow for no good reason. Who knows how long I’m going to be stuck in bed this time.
I don’t know why but I have to admit—I guess I just don’t want to see him die or get hurt.
Watching her smile while I lean slantwise on my pillow, I only have one thought going through my mind.
Why such goddamn lousy luck?
“My sweet Yu only got some small injuries. The doctor said he’ll recover in no time.” She beams and claps. “I just know nothing would ever happen to my dear Yu.”
‘My darling.’ ‘My sweetie.’ If I were him, I could probably make a living selling the cheese from all her lovey-doveyness.
“If there’s nothing else, Duchess, please leave.” I point to the door, ignoring the pain. “This is not a place for a royal lady.”
She sits on the edge of the bed as though I haven’t spoken a word. Looking earnestly, she says, “I shall reward you, purely on the account that you saved him. Say your wish, and it shall be granted.”
I pause, an idea forming as I watch her cheerful face.
Entering and exiting the camp should be no problem for a duchess. And I doubt Murong Yu could do anything if I talk her into taking me out and manage to ditch her somewhere.
Once the plan became clear, I take a breath to talk but just as I do I grunt in pain. The wounds that appeared to have healed has split open again, and a piercing pain runs through my body.
Seeing me bent over coughing seems to unsettle her deeply.
“Han Xin! Han Xin! Are you alright? Does it still hurt? Should I get the doctor?”
It feels like the wound has been fully opened again. The white bandages are dyed crimson in an instant. I gasp and clench my jaw.
“I’m fine.” I shake my hand.
She hands me the medicine with a concerned look. “Are you sure? You don’t look too well.”
I take it and open it for a sniff. “Smells like quality stuff, though.”
“Well, of course. I brought the best medicine for my brave Yu.” She looks down, her lashes faintly quivering. Her perky nose looks cute from this angle.
“This is all from the Imperial Palace of Yan. You definitely got the long end of the stick this time.”
“Really?” I grin as I play with the bottle. “Then I must give you my thanks, Duchess.”
She looks satisfied one moment but then she puts on a serious face. “Hey, you haven’t told me what you want yet.”
I chuckle amusingly before answering. “I’ll come right out and say it if you so insist, Duchess.” I sit straighter. “His Highness has kept me on a leash ever since I came here and I’m dying from boredom. I’d love it if you could take me out sometime to have some fun.”
Her eyes go wide and she jumps towards me. “Fun, you say? There’s fun stuff around here?”
I nod. “It might be a military base now but there are towns nearby. That being said, I doubt there’ll be fairs at times like these.”
“Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Her delicate brows knit together. “My sweetie is always so serious that I’m bored out of my mind.”
“I might consider being nicer if you would keep to yourself.”
I jump out of my skin, and even Xiao Qinyun lets out a yelp of surprise.
Murong Yu steps through the door, unfazed, and gives her a cold look as he approaches. She scurries back to the open door and flashes a quick smile before running out with her train in hand.
I’m not sure whether to laugh or feel pity for this girl who’s so full of beans. I wonder when she’ll settle down a little. Judging by his temper, I’m afraid he would only find a patient, generous lady to his liking.
“Why are you smiling? I doubt getting injured is something worthy of a smile.”
Removing my gaze from the door, I see him already sitting on the bed with his brows furrowed discontentedly.
Holding the bottle, I shake my head. “O’course it’s not. But it’s already a thing of the past, what more can I do now?”
His gaze softens and he pauses before asking. “Are you feeling better?”
I nod. “It wasn’t too deep. I’ll probably be back on my feet in a few days. Oh yeah,” I point to him. “The duchess said you’re injured too.”
He shakes his head. “It’s nothing,” he replies nonchalantly.
Then he turns to me. “Take your medicine. I got her to bring it all the way here anyway.”
I shake the nephrite bottle. I can make out faint round shapes rolling inside through the thin, white walls. I twist open the lid and herbal scents waft out. I toss a few into my mouth. Bitter. Bleh. Whatever. I’m used to it by now after eating more medicine than proper food these days.
I feel his grim gaze tracing my face.
“Why did you go there? Instead of sleeping?” He asks sharply.
Spotting his darkening mood, I quickly gulp down the medicine.
“I was just there to keep vigil for the duke! Don’t take it the wrong way. I’m not one of them.”
He continues observing me and I quickly change the subject.
“What happened to them in the end? What about the duke?”
“Only a few got away. They would have all died if I wasn’t so tied up.”
I let out a light sigh, not sure how to feel about it. The Yan soldiers obviously had the upper hand from what I remember and Murong Yu isn’t the type to let them off the hook so easily. So…
“What’s on your mind?” he gently asks as he tilts my chin up.
I shudder and pull back, but he only grins, unperturbed.
“I’ve said many times, Your Highness.” I swat his hand away, frustrated. “Please be mindful of your actions.”
His brows arch up. “You don’t have any right to ask that of me. Don’t forget that you still owe me.”
I shake my head and uncover my shirt.
“Not anymore, I don’t think so.” I point to the blood-stained bandage on my left shoulder.
His face turns gloomy and his brows knit together once more. “Are you going to tell me that that’s why you saved me?”
I tentatively tilt my head. It happened so quickly that there was no time to think anything over, let alone consider the debt I owe him. I only pushed him away out of instinct.
He’s staring so intently that I feel like he’ll swallow me up if I don’t give him a satisfying reply.
I purse my lips. “Well, are you gonna deny it? If it wasn’t for me-.”
He scoffs but his cool fingers are already caressing my face. They slowly move downwards, towards my lips, and gently wipe away the residue of herbs at the corners.
“You’re so naïve.” He speaks slowly and lightly but I can hear every sound clearly. “For thinking you can wipe the slate clean just like that. I’ll make sure you never do.”
He rushes forth and traps me on the bed. I snap my head to the side and I feel my shoulder ripping open again.
Pain. Shooting through my limbs no matter how much I try to stay still. I painstakingly push my arm against his chest but he grabs it and pulls it aside. My arm is aching and beyond useless which aggravates me more.
I see his eyes trailing down from my face to my chest—my shirt has come undone, baring my shoulders.
His breathing seems to quicken.
I take the opportunity and jab my elbow into his chest. Whump. He shoots back like a spring. He squints, as if in pain, and freezes. I’m panting for air when I notice his frown and tightly clipped lips. It seems like he’s trying very hard to hold something in.
The two of us stay in that position, our breaths the only sounds that can be heard. He looks worse by the minute. Colour is draining out of his face and small beads of sweat pool on his forehead.
“Wh-what’s wrong?” I ask quietly.
He bites down on his lips and pulls air through them, his body shaking like crazy.
Wh-what’s wrong with him?
Could it be…
I don’t know how I got the strength to but I snap up and rip his shirt open. What I see gives me a fright. His chest is bound by white bandages with red spots mixed in here and there. I can pick out some dark red scabs on his clear skin. His undershirt has been stained dark red too.
“You-!” I whip my head up.
He coughs and pulls his clothes back.
“What the hell is this?” I demand. “I thought you said ‘nothing’?”
I reach for his collar but he catches my hand. “I thought you said you don’t owe me anymore. Why the concern?”
Tongue-tied, I’m not sure whether to pull my hand back or grab his collar. My hand stays frozen in midair and I don’t even notice that he had my hand in his.
“Could it be that you don’t want to see me die?” He smirks amusingly.
Then I realise he’s playing with me. And at a time like this.
He leisurely straightens his clothes out before fixing mine. I shudder when his cold fingertips scrape across my skin.
I clear my throat. “Did those people do that?”
He flashes a fleeting smile.
“And you said you’re clear of your debt. I guess not.” He points to his own chest. “You know how I got this?”
I shake my head. He simply kicks off his boots before sitting cross-legged across from me.
“Didn’t you drop something that night? I wanted to get it back for you ‘cause it seemed really important to you. Then before I knew it, all this happened.”
I peer at him dubiously. How is it even possible that he’d do that for me?
“But,” he sighs, “someone was faster than me. Took it and whisked away without a trace.”
I can only feel disappointed hearing his words.
“So, what was it?”
“A jade pendant,” I casually answer. “It’s the only thing I have of my parents.”
“Oh.” He pauses, his composure wilting. “No wonder. I had thought…it was a love-token.”
His voice gets quieter and quieter but his face says delight.
“Huh?” I ask, puzzled. “How did you get that? Idiot.”
“No way. I refuse to believe that a man your age doesn’t have one.”
“Hmmph. I ain’t like you. Got all the noble ladies of Yan jumping into your arms, and tons of love tokens lying around.” I wiggle my brows. “Even got Duchess Xiao chasing after you all the way from the capital.”
“Xiao Qinyun?” His brow arches up. “That silly girl? I can’t even bear to look at her.”
I lie back on my pillow and chide absentmindedly. “Now, that’s not nice of you. She went through all the trouble of making you pastries but you don’t even appreciate it. Not to mention you’re bad-mouthing her. She’ll be heartbroken.”
“You think that she can ‘make’ food? You mean ‘eat’, right?” His mouth scrunches up in disgust. “I didn’t die from the rock-hard army rations back when we were trapped in the desert, but when I ate her pastries I actually thought I was a goner.”
I burst out laughing after seeing his grumpy expression. I clap him on the back empathetically. He starts laughing too. He looks up with his head against the wall and straightens his legs. His eyes flutter shut.
“Do you have a girl back home?” He looks at me.
I think about it for a moment. “Nope.”
“It’s not that I haven’t been with one.” I add after seeing his wondrous expression. “If I said I haven’t gone to the red-light districts, now I wouldn’t even believe that myself. But there hasn’t been one I truly liked.”
Hearing these words, I get a tight knot in my stomach.
All the desperation and challenges I’ve had to face has somehow made it impossible for me to trust anyone. Not my closest family. Not my dearest friends. Or my most respected colleagues. It’s hard for me to express emotions and trust human relationships.
“I dunno. Maybe it’s my experiences as a kid. I can’t trust a person with all my heart so naturally I can’t truly like a person.”
His gaze draws away after a bit and he sighs.
“I remember, when I was about fifteen, Father bestowed upon me a concubine.” He looks straight out the open door. “She was an excellent cook but I was always too afraid to eat what she made.”
“Afterwards,” he recalls coolly with a grin. “Things happened and it turned out she was working for the imperial noble consort. Fortunately, Lady Luck was on my side. So I guess I’m kind of like you in a way.”
My stomach tightens uneasily as I eye his striking silhouette. I look up after a short silence to meet with his gaze. No words as our four eyes stay connected.
I purse my lips and then flash a smile. “I still have to thank you even though you didn’t get the pendant back for me.”
His body tenses before he glances up and studies my face. I maintain my gentle smile. Something unusual glistens in his eyes and his lips curve upwards. They form a good-looking arc that radiates joyfulness.
We chat about some random stuff for a while, and soon I start feeling sleepy. I nudge him several times.
“Go away. I’mma sleep. It’s too squishy with you here.”
“I’m sleepy too.” He mumbles lazily. “I don’t wanna go.”
I gather my blankets and roll into a comfy position. Just as I’m about to meet the Sandman, however, an icy draft sneaks in and makes me shiver. I look up to see Murong Yu lifting the blanket.
“What’re you doing?”
“Sleeping.” His eyes flash with mischief.
“Go back to your own room.” I glare at him. “This bed’s too small for two.”
I reach out for my blanket but he takes hold of my hand.
“What?” He rolls his eyes. “Are you kicking me out?”
“I like sleeping alone!”
He hangs on to the blanket, unwilling to let go. “Why does it seem like you’re playing hard to get?”
I choke on my own spit.
What the hell is this guy thinking? He has a humongous bed but he wants to squish in here with me. Even if he is too tired, it’s only a few steps away from here. If looks could kill, he’d be pushing up daisies.
I let go and roll to the other side of the bed. “Fine! It’s just two men sleeping on the same bed. I ain’t scared of you.”
He snickers and lies down. I can’t care less about him so I turn my back to him and wrap the blanket around myself. I feel drowsy almost right away.
It’s too squishy.
But then again, it’s not that bad being all warm and cozy either.
Dairytea's comment: I hope you all like the surprise~ See you again on Halloween! <u<
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.