TOMAS Chapter 75

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Chapter 75 Remembrance: Quicksand Town

Quicksand Town was situated thirty miles away from Yunzhong Pass, in no man’s land. As a result of its unique geographical location, it became a trading hub for merchants and civilians of all countries. That, naturally, made it into a hotspot for the various fortune seekers that looked to strike their lucky bounty by recognising the potential relics in the waves of goods traded in the Town. For those who knew what they were looking at, the desert was a treasure trove. With its proximity to Yunzhong Pass, the citizens of the Xuan Kingdom that ran into trouble at the chaotic town often turned to the government at the Pass for help and protection.

Situ, Feng Luodi, Zhang Xin and a few soldiers from the camp came to the town that day, intent on investigating the disappearance of the citizens. Feng Luodi glanced around curiously. It seems like that the biggest physical difference between those of the other races and us are their eyes of colours and the sharper contours of their faces. They seem a little stockier than us too. The group of them entered an inn and sat down at the table, pretending to dine but quietly eavesdropping on the conversations in the common area.

“Is the rumour about the treasure in the depths of the desert true? I’ve been asked by a few people to join their expedition!”

“I guess it is. Haven’t you heard of the folk tune ‘remembrance of the desert, treasures of the sand’?  We wouldn’t have to work another day for the rest of our lives if we can find that treasure!”

“I’m sure it can’t be found so easily. I’ve heard that many expeditions have already been lost searching for the treasure!”

“He’s right. Too many have disappeared in the desert these couple of months, all in search of that treasure.”

The group exchanged looks. Is that what we’re looking for? Zhang Xin got up and raised an eyebrow at the rest of them. “Let me try.” He hopped over to the adjacent table and joined in their conversation, and it wasn’t long before he changed to another table. Blending in perfectly with the environment, he looked like the rest of the inn’s patrons: desperate men hoping to strike their pot of gold.

“Do you guys do this often? He seems very well practised.” Feng Luodi looked at Zhang Xin in admiration.

“Such information gathering is mostly left to our agents and spies.” Situ poured himself a cup of tea, but quickly decided that the muddled looking beverage was not to his liking. Seems like I’ve spent too long resting on my laurels in Chang’an.

“Have you done this before?” Feng Luodi raised an eyebrow, a playful smile on her lips.

Situ rolled his eyes inwardly. How can I forget how playful she can get at times?

“He can’t.” Zhang Xin returned to his seat and answered her question. They had their back against the wall, to better hide Situ’s identity, for he was famous around these parts.

“Why not?” Feng Luodi’s curiosity was piqued. “Because he’s the boss?”

Zhang Xin laughed raucously as if at a joke, but lowered his voice again. “His very presence is overwhelming. No matter how well he tries to hide his identity, he still stands out from the crowd.”

“I understand.” Feng Luodi nodded vigorously. Situ naturally emanates a powerful aura, and he draws attention to himself even if he isn’t trying to. The other patrons are shooting glances at him even now!

“We have to leave.” Zhang Xin stood up. “Some of the patrons here are Huns – don’t cause any unnecessary trouble.” The group of them followed suit and quickly left the inn, leaving some silver on the table. They had barely eaten anything, but had to leave because of Situ’s overwhelming presence.

On their way out of the town, Feng Luodi could not contain her laughter anymore, snickering and shooting glances at Situ all the way.

Situ turned expressionlessly to Zhang Xin. “What did you find out?”

Zhang Xin masked his laughter with a cough. “They were all saying the same thing. There’s a place in the desert called the Remembrance of the Desert, where treasure lie in wait for the lucky hunter.”

“Is that all?” A cold smirk crossed Situ’s face, a smirk that Zhang Xin and his buddies knew all too well.

“Of course not!” Zhang Xin quickly tried to redeem himself. “The Remembrance of the Desert is a legend that has been passed down through the ages, rumoured to be the treasure that has fallen from the heavens as a gift for the people of the desert. The details have long since been lost, but rumours about the treasure have been spreading again. Some even say that people have returned alive to tell the tale, with more treasures than they could carry. Of course, it was never possible to pinpoint the source of the rumours.”

He continued. “In my opinion, it’s best if we could send the older soldiers in the Pass to investigate this matter. The older soldiers are more level-headed than the younger ones, and they are less likely to run into the desert in search of a rumour. Even if we set aside the possible dangers of the treasure, the desert itself is a dangerous place – where people often lose their way and never return. The disappearances of the civilians may not even be linked to the Remembrance of the Desert at all.”

Situ nodded approvingly. “Assign some men on the job, then. Keep it under wraps for now.”

“I understand.” Zhang Xin nodded, and noticed Feng Luodi staring blankly into space. “Miss Feng, what are you thinking about?”

Feng Luodi snapped out of her reverie. “Nothing…I was just spacing out.” Unbeknownst to the rest, her thoughts had wandered to the Guqin when they were talking. One of the 10 Guqin is called Remembrance! But I doubt things can be so coincidental…the Remembrance of the Desert that they’re talking about is a place, not an object.

“I shall take my leave first then. Please enjoy your time with General Situ.” Zhang Xin nodded to the two of them, and waved to the soldiers. The men hurried to their horses and headed back to the pass. That left Feng Luodi standing with Situ, Whirlwind waiting for them tied to a nearby post.

“What do we do next?”

“It’s still early.” Situ untied Whirlwind and beckoned to Feng Luodi. “Let’s teach you to ride now. If we’re lucky enough, we might even be able to see the wolves of the plains.”

Feng Luodi tried to change his mind. “Why don’t we go back to the camp instead? I’m sure it’s not good for you to be neglecting your responsibilities, seeing as how you’re here on official duty.” She knew she could not let their relationship develop any further. Our misunderstanding will deepen, and I will no longer be able to control myself. Argh! How I wish last night didn’t happen! But there is no room for regret now; the only thing I can do is to stop it from developing anymore.

Situ did not reply, but mounted Whirlwind silently. He stretched out a hand to Feng Luodi, looking down at her. Feng Luodi raised her head, but the bright sun made it impossible to make out Situ’s expression. Feng Luodi stood motionlessly, unwilling to move. Situ’s patience ended and pulled her onto the saddle, seating in front of him. He kicked Whirlwind gently, and the stallion slowly trotted forward.

“Why are you being like this?” Situ hugged her close to his chest. Feng Luodi immediately squirmed away from him, keeping a distance between them. She did not speak. Situ spared a hand and gripped Feng Luodi’s wrist, angling her head towards him. Feng Luodi frowned, but still did not speak. Beneath them, Whirlwind slowed down into a walk.

Situ’s hand let go of her wrist, and moved to her chin, holding her head in position. Slowly, he leaned closer to her lips. Feng Luodi’s eyes wavered for a moment, but it was quickly replaced by anger. She put both hands against him, and shoved hard.

“I don’t want this.”

Situ’s face darkened.

Feng Luodi shuddered, but gathered her courage. “Don’t do this. You’re scaring me.”

Situ was silent for a long while. Then, he sighed. With a hard kick to his stomach, Whirlwind surged forward into a gallop.

“We’re going back.”

Feng Luodi wrapped herself tightly in her scarf, hiding the conflict on her face. Suddenly, Whirlwind veered towards the woods in the west, without any steering by Situ. He entered the woods at a full gallop, baying loudly in excitement.

Feng Luodi spoke up. “Why does he look so excited?”

“I don’t know.” Situ shook his head. “He likes to come into these woods on his own.”

Feng Luodi leaned out of the saddle, trying to catch a glimpse of the source of Whirlwind’s excitement. Suddenly, her searching gaze was met with green eyes that glinted in the sunlight.

“Ahhhh!” Feng Luodi fell backwards in surprise, but was quickly caught by Situ.

Holding her firmly on the saddle, Situ looked in the same direction, and confirmed her suspicions. “It’s the wolves. A whole pack of them.”

Feng Luodi smacked Whirlwind lightly. “You were excited to lead us into a pack of wolves?” By now, Whirlwind had sensed the impending danger and slowly backed out of the woods. What happened to the rabbits that I’ve found here the other time? Did they suddenly turn into these wolves? He reared up in defiance at the wolves, pawing at the ground furiously.

Situ held onto his reins tightly. “I see you’ve gotten a lot more bold, huh? Daring to charge into a pack of wolves.” Whirlwind snorted in response.

The pack of wolves slowly advanced, as Whirlwind retreated. At the head of the pack was a huge wolf, his eyes calm and devious compared to the others.

“I thought wolves only roamed about at night!” Feng Luodi leaned into Situ involuntarily. This…this is scary indeed.

Situ was stoic. “They’re just showing their power. We’ll be fine as long as we leave the area.” He tugged onto the reins to turn Whirlwind around, but the stallion was having none of it, snorting furiously at the wolves.

The snarls from the pack became louder.

“What’s happening? Is there bad blood between them?” Feng Luodi looked at Situ. “He’s ignoring your command!”

Situ shook his head. “He’s too wild.”

Luckily, Whirlwind understood their predicament and soon turned to leave on his own accord, not without a last haughty snort at the bristling wolves. That episode left Feng Luodi confused with Whirlwind’s behaviour. I’d always thought that Whirlwind was a docile steed! Seems like I was wrong…

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