612 The Secret About the Past 230
It would be a tall order to make it through the door. Thinking that it would be difficult for the two of them to walk together, An Xiaoning squatted onto the ground and said, "Mother, let me piggyback you, it'll be faster that way."
Shi Qingzhou conceded, well aware that she would cause a delay in their escape since she could barely walk. Thus, she latched onto An Xiaoning's back and allowed the latter to carry her.
The door on the stone wall closed automatically, after which the two walked along the narrow passageway.
There were no lights in the pitch-dark passageway. However, the darkness did not pose a problem to An Xiaoning since she was wearing the night vision goggles.
Having already followed Tuoba Gucheng around throughout the day, An Xiaoning was long since exhausted.
However, she had never once loosened up, perhaps because she was rather motivated.
She strode forward extremely quickly while carrying her emaciated mother on her back.
The passageway was not a straight path and instead had a lot of bends along the way.
Fortunately, it was not too long.
They had already been walking for more than ten minutes by the time they reached the entrance.
An Xiaoning first let Shi Qingzhou down and put on her mask again before whipping out the pistol, which she gently pushed against the convex spot on the wall. Another door soon opened.
There was not a single soul outside.
An Xiaoning helped Shi Qingzhou out before the door closed again.
She scanned her surroundings in the room.
It was obviously a kitchen. They could not afford to waste any time idling about and peeked through the crack of the door to look outside.
To their surprise, it was where the gardeners were lodging in.
It seemed that they had prepared themselves fully, to have stayed undiscovered for more than a few decades.
The night was dead silent, and humans were scarce, giving An Xiaoning the perfect chance to leave with her mother.
An Xiaoning exited the door with her back facing Shi Qingzhou and hurriedly ran toward Tuoba Shuo's mansion.
Tuoba Shuo had been anticipating An Xiaoning's return, filled with worry and anxiety as he paced back and forth around the mansion to check if An Xiaoning was back yet.
He immediately rushed forward to welcome them the moment she saw a figure appearing from the darkness.
In that very moment, he burst into tears of joy and surprise. This lass actually has the capability to rescue her mother, he thought to himself.
It had never occurred to him that Shi Qingzhou would still be alive.
Shi Qingzhou could not believe her eyes. "S… Shuo…"
"It's me. Let's go inside first."
The three of them hurriedly entered Tuoba Shuo's mansion, after which Tuoba Shuo said to An Xiaoning, "Carry your mother onto the bed."
"No, my clothes are soiled and I smell horrid. Don't…"
"I don't think you do," said Tuoba Shuo.
Shi Qingzhou refused vehemently and got down from An Xiaoning's back before saying, "I'd like to take a shower."
Tuoba Shuo was rather surprised to see what his lover had become after years of not seeing each other. She could not bring herself to face him for she was ashamed of how disheveled she looked, a stark contrast to what she used to be like during her younger days. She had always been vain and conscious of her appearance.
Tuoba Shuo gazed at her with a look of pity in his eyes. He took a deep breath and said to An Xiaoning, "The bathroom is over there. Bring her to take a shower. I'll prepare a set of clothes for her."
An Xiaoning agreed with a nod, "Alright."
The two of them entered the bathroom while Tuoba Shuo walked toward his closet, in which there was a wooden crate at the bottom.
The crate contained the clothes that belonged to Shi Qingzhou thirty years ago.
He had been keeping them intact throughout all these years.
Tuoba Shuo picked out a set of clothes from his closet and handed it to An Xiaoning.
Shi Qingzhou looked like a whole new person when she came out of the shower.
Her initially unkempt tresses had been washed thoroughly and were now cascading down her back. Her face had also been rid of soot and dirt, allowing her delicate features to be seen clearly.
However, her skin was abnormally pale and fair due to the fact that she had been locked underground for decades, with no exposure to the sun at all.
During her days in the secret chamber, she had barely had enough to eat or wear. The temperatures during summer were still tolerable since the basement would not get too warm or humid. However, the weather would become unbearably chilly and freezing during wintertime.
She was now in her fifties and suffering from a string of health issues and ailments.
She had lost so much weight, such that the clothes that used to fit her seamlessly were now way too loose on her thin frame.
An Xiaoning helped her onto the bed and said, "When he first heard the news of your death, he decided to become a monk and lived alone, until I found him."
Upon hearing her words, Shi Qingzhou was moved to tears and gazed at Tuoba Shuo longingly. "I'm sorry."
Tuoba Shuo pulled her into an embrace and said, "I should be the one saying sorry. You've been suffering for so many years, and yet I was clueless about the torment you had been subjected to. Thank Heavens you're still alive and for allowing me the chance to see you again."
An Xiaoning felt as if a huge rock had been lifted off her chest.
She whipped her mobile phone out to look at the time, only to realize that it was already past four o'clock in the morning. "I have to head back now. It's going to be daybreak very soon."
"You had a long day at work and haven't rested even until now. Hurry and go back to get some rest. Now that your mother has been rescued, I'll take good care of her while she's here with me. I'll take your mother with me and leave this place when the time has ripened. We'll discuss that further when the time comes," Tuoba Shuo said gently.
"Quick, go back and get some sleep," Shi Qingzhou chimed in.
Staring at them, An Xiaoning said, "Father, I shall leave Mother in your care then."
This was the very first time she addressed Tuoba Shuo as her father, causing him to tear up for he was deeply moved. "Alright, rest assured."
After watching An Xiaoning vanish out of the door, Shi Qingzhou explained, "Actually, this child…"
"Doesn't belong to me," Tuoba Shuo finished her sentence.
Shi Qingzhou was rather taken aback to see that he had already found out. "Turns out you already knew…" she said, feeling ashamed and guilty.
"I can't decide if I should resent my brother for violating you or thank him for saving your life. While I detest him for putting you through so much pain and suffering, I'm still rather grateful to him for choosing to spare your life. At the end of the day, it's all my fault for being unable to protect you well."
"No, it's not your fault, but mine. Everything happened because of me. But regardless of what happened, you have been and always will be the only person I truly love. No one can replace your status in my heart, no one…" Shi Qingzhou said, sobbing.
Tuoba Shuo hugged her and laid her down in bed before covering her with the blanket and lying down beside her. He had dreamt of this day countless times before.
Yet, this time, it was real.
Shi Qingzhou had an endless spew of questions, and Tuoba Shuo would answer all of them patiently, showing no signs of fatigue at all.
Shi Qingzhou was incredibly upset to hear that An Xiaoning had been divorced thrice and felt immense pity for her daughter. Be it in the present or the past, divorce would inevitably have a detrimental effect on women. On top of that, she also felt sorry for An Xiaoning, who had yet to meet a man who can truly bring her happiness.
After hearing that her daughter walked out of all three marriages without any material possessions or property and had even given up the rights to her son's custody to her ex-husband, Shi Qingzhou sighed and said, "Be it me, my mother, or Xiaoning, none of us could escape our destiny of failed marriages."
"Xiaoning's plight is not that bad. She's a strong, independent, and clever girl. She's only thirty years old now anyway, things are going to get better for her."
Shi Qingzhou was still plagued with woes, despite having heard his words of comfort.
"Shi Xiaoyu will definitely carry out detailed investigations once she finds out that I've escaped. Besides, the election is going to take place very soon. I'm afraid it won't be easy for us to leave this place since security is going to be tightened around the palace. I don't wish to stay here a second longer," said Shi Qingzhou.