"Don't move," Li Wenmin commanded, his eyes focused on the striped beast. What the hell was a tiger doing out here?! In the middle of Wuyi?
This was practically impossible. Last time he checked, tigers weren't a species found in Wuyi. The only place it could be found in was Hanjian. He had heard many accounts of soldiers mauled during forest training in Hanjian.
Li Xueyue swallowed. Her eyes lingered on the bleeding rabbit that was less than two steps away from her. She had finally rounded her prey, but so had the actual predator.
"W-why is there a tiger in Wuyi?" she breathed out, "How could it get here from Hanjian?"
"Hush, Xiao Yue," Li Wenmin demanded. He slowly uncapped his sword, knowing this would be dangerous.
They were eye-to-eye with a beast that could rip them to shreds before they could even blink.
The tiger bared his large teeth at them, his body lowered, ready to pounce. He snarled in their direction.
Li Xueyue had never seen a tiger in person, but she knew this one was abnormally large. On top of that, there was something peculiar about him. His coat was shiny. It gleamed under the sunlight, bright and powerful. The tiger was healthy and well-fed. This was strange. Does this mean there's more of them in this forest?
"Take slow steps backwards, do not run from it. Lower your eyes to the ground," Li Wenmin instructed.
Li Xueyue could feel a cold sweat dribble down her forehead. She was terrified. Nonetheless, she shakily took a step backward, then another. Until suddenly, she stepped on a twig, and it loudly cracked.
The tiger growled louder, snarling his teeth at her.
"Careful," Li Wenmin warned. He was about to climb off of his horse when the tiger's ears unexpectedly twitched.
Li Wenmin had heard it too.
It echoed in the forest. The sound was faint and he almost missed it.
Someone had loudly whistled.
Who was it?
Li Wenmin's attention shifted in the direction the sound came from. The tiger, too, was focused elsewhere.
"Back away right now, Xiao Yue. Quick."
Li Xueyue didn't need to be told twice. She began to walk backwards again, keeping a steady eye on the distracted tiger. He wasn't focused on her anymore. When she was at a safe distance from it, she instantly climbed onto her horse.
The tiger sniffed the air. He took a step towards the lifeless rabbit. This time, he was back to watching them again.
Li Xueyue squeezed her eyes shut when she heard him bite directly into the rabbit.
Li Wenmin watched as the tiger began to dig into the rabbit. Then he stopped. There it was again, that faint whistle.
This time, the tiger had not mistaken it. He picked up the rabbit, took one last glance their way before racing into the forest, disappearing into the direction it came from.
Li Wenmin let out the loudest sigh of relief he ever had. He placed a hand on his chest, rubbing it. The stress had shaved at least a decade from his life.
"What the hell was that?" he hissed, "Anyway we should head back now."
Li Xueyue instantly nodded. "We have to report this to Dad. This forest is very close to the Capital as well. It will be bad if the tiger shows up when one of the town folks comes here searching for herbs."
"I will inform Dad immediately. It's bizarre to see a tiger out here. They're not native to this part of the country." Li Wenmin scowled and urged, "Let's just leave. Now."
- - - - -
By the time the duo returned home, the Duke and Li Chenyang were already back home.
Oddly enough, Li Chenyang was already waiting for them at the stables. Anxiously, he paced back and forth, chewing at his fingers. When he finally saw their horses emerge in the distance, relief coursed through him.
"Chen-ge, you wouldn't believe what I saw!" Li Xueyue said as soon as she approached him.
Li Xueyue climbed off of her horse. Heiyue snorted in response, nudging at her, waiting for a treat. The stable boy was quick with his response and handed her a slice of apple with the cores removed.
The stable boy was too frightened by the unpredictable Heiyue to feed him treats by hand. It was always tossed or placed into Heiyue's food container.
Li Xueyue placed her hand out and Heiyue bit into the apple, happily chomping on it.
"I have urgent news," Li Chenyang said, ignoring her earlier statement.
"What is it?"
"In regard to the—"
"Chenyang!" Li Wenmin exclaimed. He had already dismounted his horse and was beginning to approach the two of them.
"I need you to inform Dad to tighten the security around the forest," Li Wenmin rushed out, not caring that he had interrupted his younger brother.
"What? Why?" Li Chenyang sighed, "Wait, that's not important right now. I was trying to say—"
"Look, this is really important," Li Wenmin interjected. "We ran into a tiger in the forest. With fangs and everything!"
"A tiger?!" Li Chenyang hissed, "Stop joking, Wenmin. The chances of tigers being spotted in Wuyi is little to none."
"No, I'm being serious! There really was a tiger and it looked well-kept."
"Gosh, Wenmin, I don't have time for this," Li Chenyang said. "At the least, you should read some geography books. There is no way a tiger would show up in Wuyi, especially not the forest you came out from."
"Chen-ge, Wenmin is right." Li Xueyue added on, "We really saw one."
"Are both of you in on this prank?" Li Chenyang scowled, crossing his arms. "This isn't funny."
"No! We're being serious," Li Wenmin exasperated, letting out a frustrated groan. "Fine, if you won't believe me, I'll just tell Dad myself."
"No use. Dad has been in his private study with someone ever since he returned home."
Li Chenyang's expression was grave. "Wenmin, family matters to you right?"
"What a stupid question. Of course, it does!"
"Then tell me, where does your allegiance lie?" Li Chenyang inquired.
"What do you mean?"
"Does the military matter to you more than this family?"
Li Wenmin was stunned by his brother's questions. He suddenly had flashbacks to what his mother had said the day Li Xueyue went to meet Wen Jinkai.
"M-mom asked me something similar. Why? What is it? She didn't tell me anything else, but I hate being kept in the dark like this." Li Wenmin glanced at Xueyue, wondering if she knew what was happening.
Like him, she was sharing an equally confused expression. She scratched the side of her head and tilted it.
"Don't look at me, I don't have a single clue as to what's happening right now."
Li Chenyang pressed his lips together. If his mom and dad didn't tell Wenmin and Xueyue, then it meant they shouldn't know. It was too much of a confidential secret to be leaked.
"Just answer my question, Wenmin. Do you value our family more than your oath of loyalty to the military?"
"Being involved in the military is all I've ever wanted to do since I was a child, Chenyang. You know that." Li Wenmin groaned. "Why is everyone being so secretive? What exactly is going on? Is there something I should know?"
Li Chenyang shook his head. "Nevermind. You'll have to ask Mom and Dad about it."
"Just tell me. I have a feeling I know what you're talking about."
"I can't. You said Mom asked you that question before." Li Chenyang's eyes became frigid and guarded. "And since you didn't tell me what she said, I'm assuming it was nothing we wanted to hear."
"Chenyang, we're brothers. We shouldn't keep secrets like this. It's unfair."
"It's not a secret." Li Chenyang sighed. "It's not the right time to talk about this. I didn't come to the stable to ask this question."
"I'll answer you honestly," Li Wenmin began, "If you answer my question."
Li Chenyang weighed his options. "Depends."
"So, what's the question?"
Li Wenmin's expression hardened. "Will the Li Family commit treason against the Crown?"
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free