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Chapter 26: Bed Captive
Bright spots of light blurred her vision as she fell face-first and impacted heavily with the mattress. The hand that had been on her neck for only half a second, but she felt searing pain all the way down to her bones. The air had been knocked out of her lungs, and she gasped when she landed on the bed, filling her airways with fresh oxygen.
She had barely replenished her lungs when a heavy body suddenly pressed on top of her back. The air was knocked out of her again, and she groaned as she shifted her body helplessly, desperate for reprieve.
She felt his steel-like fingers grasp the back of her throat again, and although she understood what he was implying, she began struggling against his hold. Her attempts were futile against him — his body was like the legendary Mount Tai, its immensity impossible to overcome. She failed to make him move even a few centimeters.
Qi Mo grabbed her struggling hands with one hand, pinning them behind her back. He held her legs down with his own and tightened his other hand's hold on her neck, all the while staring down at her closed eyes expressionlessly.
Li Xin could see his callous eyes watching her out of the corner of her eye. There was no air going into her lungs at all, but she glared defiantly at the man on top of her and grit her teeth. She would not beg him for her life. She'd always been a generally laid-back person, but deep down, there was an inherent obstinance and rebelliousness — she did not ever lose. Negotiations, she could do. But if he thought he could make her submit through sheer force, then he was dreaming.
Qi Mo observed the tenacious expression on her face. Li Xin's life was completely in his hands in that instant, yet he could find no trace of tears, panic, or fear; all he could see was determination and a stubborn, steely refusal to submit to her loss. The sight made the corners of his mouth unconsciously quirk up slightly into a cold smirk. He tightened his fingers around her neck.
Below him, Li Xin was beginning to feel the effects of lack of oxygen. Her throat was burning as she panted, her breath coming in short desperate gasps as her lungs yearned for fresh air; sound was no longer coming out of her. The effort was making her face turn red, and as her oxygen depleted, her vision began to blur.
She wasn't going to give up. That much was clear to Qi Mo as he watched a blueish hue take over her face. He was aware and in control of what he was doing — the tightness of his grasp, and whether or not it would kill her. She was certainly close to death then, but showed no sign of forfeiting their silent battle.
A glint of humor sparked in his eyes. He had done this to countless men, yet very few of them had lasted this long. With that thought in mind, he slowly loosened his grip on her neck.
Fresh air immediately filled her lungs, and she lay still, completely paralyzed, staring up at Qi Mo. Li Xin was fully aware that she had just nearly stepped over the threshold of death and how narrow of an escape it had been.
He stared directly back at her. "You are in no position to be bargaining with me," he said slowly. "You have to do whatever I ask of you."
She said nothing, her breaths still coming in short gasps, but her gaze hardened resolutely. Her mouth opened to respond, but she found that her voice was completely gone and all she could emit was a faint wheezing sound. Qi Mo had been serious with his deadly grip.
The peculiar juxtaposition of her physically weakened state paired with the deadly determination in her eyes struck Qi Mo; it was almost dazzling. An indescribable expression flashed across his eyes. "You have spirit," he observed languidly. He rolled over so he was no longer on top of her and reached an arm to pull her over to him.
Li Xin's brain was moving slowly, her body still recovering from being depleted of oxygen for so long. His words reached her from far away, but she was still unable to respond to him, nor did she have the energy to react to his arm.
"Having backbone is a good thing, but if you choose to use it on me…" Qi Mo paused for a second, looking at her quietly, "then you've chosen wrong."
After a while, he lowered his head to his face was close to hers and added, "I don't accept any refusal of my orders. Take your temper tantrums elsewhere. There's no concept of male or female here — only comrade and enemy. As one of my people, you'd better understand that. I don't go easy on women, and I am not sympathetic towards the weak. People who serve me must comply with two rules: One, they must be skilled; two, they must obey me. Following these two rules will ensure you live longer. Understood?"
His wintry voice made it clear that he was not asking. It was a demand akin to that of an undeniably forceful ruler.
Li Xin felt her body stabilizing, and raised her brows slightly upon hearing his excessively audacious demand. "One, I'm not particularly skilled, and two, I'm not going to obey you," she deadpanned in a slightly hoarse voice. "All I did was steal a piece of jade. I can pay you back whatever it's worth. Why do I have to be your servant? I find it hard to believe you're short of them."
Qi Mo lowered his gaze to her neck, which was beginning to darken with finger-shaped bruises. He reached a hand out, slowly smoothing over the dark splotches and felt her stiffen at his touch, shifting away. He grabbed the back of her head with his other hand and stopped her from moving. He continued running his hand over the bruises and replied, "You stole our reputation and our prestige. Can you afford to pay them back?"
She lay in silence, at a loss for words. If she had known at the time that the jade belonged to Qi Mo, she wouldn't have gone on the errand, no matter how much she was being offered or even if the thief organization boss himself was ordering her to go. Everyone knew Qi Mo was protective of both his clan and his assets. Anyone who touched anything that belonged to him would be chased to the ends of the earth until they were captured and dealt with. She would never have voluntarily gone after anything of his.
At her momentary speechlessness, Qi Mo pressed down harder on the bruises on her neck, successfully causing her face to cringe in pain. He let out a humorless laugh. "If it weren't for the fact that your racing skills won me the Southeast Asian territories, I wouldn't have shown you the mercy of letting you serve me even if you begged."
He wasn't threatening her — not, that was not it. Instead, Li Xin heard a somewhat entitled tone in his voice, as if her serving him was just a matter of course. She considered his words for a moment, peering into his face. "You're trying to increase your likelihood of survival," she concluded at last.
He burst out laughing and patted her on the cheek. "I like smart people. This is one of the reasons why I let you go."
She bit her lip, the wheels in her mind turning. The Qi Clan's influence was always in Europe and the United States — there, they ruled the underworld. Contrary to that, Southeast Asia's territories had always been fought over by various syndicates. Control of the region constantly exchanged hands; it was like a planet in perpetual orbit, and thus, not so easy to take over.
The Qi Clan had gained control of the region, but they were trying to beat the native serpents in their own territory*. Despite their immense influence, Southeast Asia was still a new territory for them, and they had already suffered numerous losses. This was likely the reason Qi Mo had chosen to come in person this time, and for good reason, considering the fact that it had only been two days and so many attacks had occurred already. The Qi Clan could not underestimate this region.
Consequently, having the winner of the underground racing tournament be their driver was an efficient decision. It ensured that their leader would always be able to run from a scene of danger, increasing his chance of survival in dire situations.
Li Xin rolled her eyes.
Her disdain must have been obvious, for Qi Mo's eyes turned frosty again and he increased the pressure he exerted on her neck bruises. "You're looking down on me," he said.
* 强龙难压地头蛇 / “the mighty dragon is no match for the native serpent.” (idiom)