"What do you mean she's gone?!" Hu Dengxiao loudly whispered, gesturing for Lu Tianbi to lower her voice as well. He surveyed his surroundings, and luckily, no one had heard them.
"Go see for yourself!" Lu Tianbi hissed. She angrily flicked her wrist at the tent's entrance which was a thick and unwavering curtain.
Hu Dengxiao poked his head inside, and sure enough, the little lady was nowhere to be seen. "How did she escape?"
"It must've happened when I was talking to you. I couldn't look over your shoulder, so I must've not seen her sneak off."
"This is bad, she can't be wandering around," Hu Dengxiao worriedly said, his brows scrunching together.
"I know," she snapped, "It's Xiao Juzi's  feeding time!"
"I still can't believe our Second Prince literally named the tiger 'little orange'!" Hu Dengxiao scowled. "First he names his horse the color of her chestnut coat and then—"
"You're digressing from the important topic at hand!" Lu Tianbi exasperated. "Come on, we have to find her before Xiao Juzi does."
"Y-you don't think Xiao Juzi would eat her right? I mean, our Commander feeds him so well."
Lu Tianbi cringed at the bloody image that flashed in her mind. "Let's hope Xiao Juzi doesn't want fresh prey today."
- - - - -
Li Xueyue didn't mean to wander off. She wanted to use the bathroom and thought it would be in a secluded spot somewhere in the forest. But now she was lost in the said forest. Turning left and right, everywhere looked the same. Which direction did she come from again?
Li Xueyue let out a frustrated sigh. "Way to go, you idiot," she mumbled.
Li Xueyue walked around a bit. A gentle breeze blew past her and she caught a whiff of something delicious. Her eyes lit up. That must be the direction of the campsite!
She began to hurry in that direction, following the mouthwatering scent of food. That is, until her path was blocked by the same tiger she had seen with Li Wenmin.
Instantly, Li Xueyue froze, her eyes grew wide. She was petrified at the sight of the enormous tiger who had lazily crossed her path.
The tiger glanced at her and bared his bright yellow fangs. Li Xueyue saw her life shrivel before her eyes.
"G-good tiger," she stuttered out.
Li Xueyue almost facepalmed herself at how stupid she seemed. It was a tiger for goodness sake, not a dog! Besides, why was this tiger continuously showing up everywhere she went? First, it was the fields and now it was in the forest.
Who did this temperamental animal belong to? She doubted anyone would be crazy enough to raise a beast as their pet.
The tiger growled in warning, daring her to take a step forward. It guarded the path leading back to the campsite.
Li Xueyue had no other choice but to slowly back away, heading in the other direction. The tiger watched her movement with sharp eyes.
Li Xueyue was mindful of her steps. She was careful to not step on a branch and irritate the animal. Was that blood on his lips? She gulped.
"I-I don't taste good," she said, even though the tiger probably didn't understand her. "Really, I'm all bones and skin."
The tiger continued staring her down as she slowly backed into the forest. Li Xueyue made sure they didn't make any eye contact. She was mindful to not turn her back on him.
Inch by inch, she began disappearing into the forest. She backed away until the tiger was no longer in sight. Even so, she continued walking backwards, her eyes trained in the direction the tiger was most likely resting.
Eventually, her lack of awareness of her surroundings caused a massive trip. She let out a loud yelp before falling directly onto her backside. Slapping a hand over her mouth, her eyes grew wide. D-did the tiger hear her?
Li Xueyue held her breath. The only noise she could hear was the furious thump of her petrified heart. A few seconds went by and there wasn't any reaction.
"I get to live for another day," Li Xueyue gasped, patting her chest.
Li Xueyue observed her surroundings and decided it would be better to walk in the same direction she intended. Except, this time, it would be a few feet away from the tiger. She hoped and prayed the tiger wouldn't have a heightened sense of smell like Heiyue.
Speaking of her horse, she suddenly felt a sense of dread. What if Heiyue got lost on his way back? What if he was stranded in the forest right now, frightened and hungry? She chewed her bottom lip, antsy that something could happen to her beloved friend.
"Please be okay, please be okay," she repeated under her breath as she began the trudge back to the camp.
Just then, she saw something shifted out of the corner of her eyes. Li Xueyue's head snapped in that direction and it was then she saw him. His tall figure was unmistakable. Through the evergreen trees, he stood out the most in his dark clothing.
Where was he going?
Li Xueyue decided to follow him. If there was anyone who knew their way back to the camp it would be Yu Zhen. Thus, she picked up her pace and began to tiptoe ahead.
Her footsteps were light and airy. She took extra care to not step on a twig. He was heading somewhere she least expected. He was strutting deeper into the forest.
It was too late to go back to where they came from. Li Xueyue had no choice but to follow him, hoping he'd guide her back to the camp.
However, they reached a different spot that was heavily guarded. The campsite was just a few feet away. It was then she realized how large the campgrounds were. It must've stretched at least a mile.
How was this possible? How did no one see Hanjian's soldiers out here?
Li Xueyue finally realized these were unclaimed territory. It didn't belong to the Duke and was far from the manor walls. The Li family guards didn't need to patrol here.
"So many soldiers here…" she muttered, noticing there were at least two layers of soldiers surrounding an inconspicuous tent.
Li Xueyue watched from the trees as Yu Zhen began approaching the tent. He disappeared into it and shortly after, a bloodcurdling scream pierced the air.
Terrified at the noise that sounded like a pig being slaughtered, she tripped over her footing. Luckily, she was able to slip behind the tree, pressing a hand to her mouth. Her breathing quickened, her eyes growing wide.
Being discovered was the least of her worries. In the distance, she could see the looming figure of a striped animal. The tiger was coming this way, most likely attracted by the animalistic screams.
"NOOOOO!" a high-pitched voice shrieked. It was accompanied by another wail so terrifying, she nearly fainted.
Li Xueyue trembled at the horrific sound. She could not control her heart that slammed against her rib cage. The fear was simply too much and the tiger was approaching closer to her now.
She had made direct eye contact with the orange beast. This was it. She was going to die today.
The tiger was just an arm's length away from her.
Li Xueyue suddenly made the decision. "I can't die young like this! Not before I start a family, with adorable children, and a lazy dog who loves snacks as much as I do!" she whispered.
Li Xueyue was left with no choice but to reveal her position. As the tiger approached her, she slipped out of the trees.
"HALT!" a voice screamed at her. "Turn around."
Li Xueyue shakily pointed to the tiger. "W-we can't turn our backs on a tiger. I read it somewhere they'll pounce on you."
She heard the shuffling of feet as guards departed this place. She turned her head a bit and saw two soldiers disappear into the tent.
Li Xueyue felt like she had jumped from the pan to the fire. Yu Zhen had emerged from the tent no less than a second later. Stormy eyed and lips curled in a sneer, he looked far from pleased.
 Juzi is Mandarin for orange (the color and the fruit)! Xiao means "small" or "little," so the tiger's name roughly translates to "Little Orange" xD
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