Chapter 142: Spies
Jun Huang ducked her head to hide the emotions flashing through her eyes. A faint smile tugged at her lips. She stared at the pitch black river and said, "If possible, I want a love that will last for a lifetime. It doesn't have to be with an important official or someone from a rich family. I hope only to have a companion when I retired to somewhere peaceful. I hope to live freely and stay true to my heart."
Nan Xun was silent for a moment. He tried for a laugh, but it sounded bitter. "Who doesn't want to lead a peaceful life? Yet we are trapped in such chaotic time. We will never be truly at peace."
Jun Huang nodded without a word, but in her heart there was a storm brewing. There was an answer she would like to get, but she struggled to find the right question.
With the darkness of the night as her cover, she gave Nan Xun a smile and asked jokingly, "If you were a woman, would you be willing to be my wife?"
Nan Xun's eyes crinkled. He responded with a crooked smile, "I don't have to be a woman. As long as you are willing to take my hand as your husband, I am more than willing to marry you as a man."
Jun Huang averted her gaze. She knew how Nan Xun felt about her. She could have joked back to Nan Xun, but –
Jun Huang sighed. With her eyes fixed on the river, she said, "The world is not yet in peace. Our words can't be anything other than jests."
Jun Huang didn't dare to continue with this line of conversation. She was planning to provoke a war between Northern Qi and Eastern Wu! If that led to lives being lost and people losing their homes… someone with a strong moral compass like Nan Xun would never forgive her. How could she ever hope for a future with him?
Nan Xun couldn't read Jun Huang's thoughts. Her response worried him. Was Jun Huang still possessed with revenge and had no room in her heart for anyone else? A hint of hurt flashed through his eyes. He didn't say anything.
The change in his expression did not escape Jun Huang's attention. She suddenly felt at loss. Everything she had done to this point was for her revenge, but how would she feel if Northern Qi as they knew it was destructed in the process? Should she really go through with her plan? Northern Qi was Qi Chen's home. If she destroyed the prosperity Nan Xun had risked his life to protect, what would he think about her?
Nan Xun could tell Jun Huang was troubled. She always put up walls whenever she started doubting herself. His heart ached for her.
He tightened his fists and swore to himself that he would help her achieve her goal despite his responsibilities as a general. He would help her even if he would be a laughing stock for generations to come.
Jun Huang suddenly realized how quiet it had been. She turned away from Nan Xun and looked up. The bright moon hung high in the sky, surrounded by a great many stars. The world looked peaceful like this, and time seemed to have come to a halt.
It took a moment for Jun Huang to recover. She couldn't stop herself from agonizing over her choices. She took a deep breath and schooled her expression into one of indifference. She put on a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "I need some time on my own today. Please excuse me. I'll return to my place for the night." She cupped her hands and walked away.
She walked with silent steps and navigated through the streets on autopilot. She was familiar enough with the city to not have to think about where she was going. Under the moonlight, everything seemed to be glowing a faint silver light.
Jun Huang turned into an alley. The moonlight wasn't bright enough to illuminate the path. She slowed down her pace and kept to the side, her robe brushing against the wall, casting a faint shadow.
"…Western Que…Northern Qi…"
A man's voice broke the silence. Jun Huang frowned and followed the sound while holding her breath.
Her training with Nan Xun had not been in vain. She was able to make her way to the man without making a sound.
She let her ears guide her to a house. Through the half-open door she could see there were three people inside. Even from afar, Jun Huang could tell that they were well-trained in martial arts.
She stayed hidden at the corner of the wall, as silent as a ghost. She was undetectable.
"You both are cowards," said the man who had his back to the door. He was dressed in all black. "It's such a simple task. Yet you overcomplicate it."
"Simple?" another man scoffed. He had a face that demanded respect. It was obvious that he considered his companion a fool. "Then how about you do it on your own? Do you really think it's that easy to do what we need to do in the imperial city of Northern Qi? This is the city where the emperor resides in. If you are found out, our enemies will be alerted."
"Agreed," said the man standing by the authoritative man. "Do you really think it's that easy to infiltrate the palace and poison the emperor?"
The man in black huffed. He didn't care if they would alert anyone in Northern Qi. "What if they are alerted? Our spies have infiltrated the palace. Once the emperor is poisoned and a civil war is started, we will be able to catch them off guard."
"We have to think long and hard about what to do," said the authoritative man. "Northern Qi is not like Western Que. Western Que had a traitor amongst their rank. Northern Qi doesn't."
"How are they any different?" The man in black snorted derisively. "Qi Chen and his brothers have been at one another's throat for the throne. I'll say it's exactly like how Western Que was."
They continued to argue. Jun Huang clenched her fists, her breathing quickening in fury. Her eyes went icy and her jaw tightened. There was nothing she wanted more than to strangle these Eastern Wu scums right now.
Her heart ached at the mention of what had happened in Western Que. If not for her traitor of a brother, her beloved country would not have fallen overnight. She had woken up from nightmares of that night many times. She wanted to kill all those despicable men from Eastern Wu in return for the lives that had been lost. She wanted them to experience for themselves what it felt like to lose their country.
She only realized that her nails had bitten into her palms when she felt the warm blood streaming down her hands. It took a moment for her to break from her thirst for blood. She knew she couldn't do anything now. She didn't know the identities of these men, and she didn't know how well-trained they were.
"It's better to be safe," said the authoritative man in a determined voice. His tone allowed no argument. "We are not in a hurry."
The man in black was not pleased, but he didn't dare to argue further. He bit down his words.
In the silence, he heard a faint rustle. He narrowed his eyes and looked outside.
Jun Huang had brushed against some fallen leaves. The rustling sound was barely audible, but the men inside the house were trained fighters. They heard it loud and clear.
From the moving shadows she knew she had been spotted. She held her breath and moved away slowly.
Cold sweat dropped from the side of her face. It made a sound when it hit the ground. The men quickened their pace and got to the front door.
Jun Huang didn't have enough time to escape. She gripped her foldable fan. This was the only weapon she had on her.
The three men showed up before her. The authoritative man appeared to be the oldest, and it was clear from the way the other two deferred to him that he was the leader. Once he saw that Jun Huang was alone and noticed how slim she was, he let out a mocking laugh. "I don't know why you were listening in on our conversation, but it doesn't matter. Since you have heard us, I'm afraid we cannot let you live."
The man took a step forward and struck at Jun Huang with his palm. Before the hit landed, Jun Huang pushed her foot against the ground and flew backward by a few meters, escaping his deadly strike. The man didn't expect a frail-looking man like Jun Huang to be a trained fighter. He put aside his first impression of her and looked at her seriously.
His cold gaze were frighteningly focused. Jun Huang tensed up. She could see the killing intent in his eyes. It was going to be a difficult fight.
It wasn't the first time she faced her foes on her own, but she had been getting used to having Nan Xun on her side. Without him, she suddenly felt off-kilter. She, however, was glad that Nan Xun wasn't here. She had burdened him too many times. She would get out of this mess on her own tonight.
The leading man didn't give Jun Huang too much time to think. His drawn sword reflected the cool moonlight. It was blindingly bright. Jun Huang whipped the fan open to shield her eyes.
The man seized the opportunity to stab at Jun Huang. She used the fan as a shield and parried his attack. She staggered because of the sheer force put into the hit. It took a few steps for her to regain her balance. Her fan, on the contrary, remained undamaged.
In theory foldable fans shouldn't be able to match the power of swords, but Jun Huang's fan was made of sago palm wood. It was forged after countless failed attempts. There was no other fans like it. Jun Huang was a woman of high taste. She wanted only the finest things. She had gone through great lengths to acquire the fan.
Jun Hung managed to hold onto her fan despite the strong force the man had put into his attack. The other two men realized that Jun Huang wasn't the easy prey they had expected her to be. They exchanged a look before coming at Jun Huang with their weapons drawn.
The alley was narrow. It was difficult for the two men to navigate through at the same time. They bumped into each other as they made their way to Jun Huang.
Maybe this location can be used to my advantage, Jun Huang thought.
The narrow alleyway was a double-edge sword. The trio would be tripping over each other as they chased after her. Jun Huang, on the contrary, was on her own. She could flee at her own pace.
She had always been agile. After her training with Nan Xun, she was confident that she would be able to escape these three men on her own.