Chapter 143: Just in Time
With a plan in mind, Jun Huang pretended to be losing her strength and staggered backward. The men moved forward and struck at her with killing moves, but the alleyway stopped them from performing at their usual standards.
Jun Huang seized the opportunity to leaped into the air and made a play at striking at them. The two younger men dodged reflexively. Jun Huang smirked and made a run for it.
With his years of experience, however, the leading man had seen through her pretense. He propelled himself against one of his companions' shoulder and flung himself toward Jun Huang.
Jun Huang had not expected any of her foes to react so quickly. Without a good alternative, she stepped on the wall and tried to fly past the man.
As if he could read Jun Huang's mind, he grabbed Jun Huang by the ankle when she moved past him and, before Jun Huang could react, throw her to the direction of his companions. Jun Huang knocked into a pile of bamboo sticks when she landed. The pile of sticks toppled to the ground, preventing Jun Huang and the three men from moving.
The leader used his sword to cut down the bamboo sticks obstructing his way. Jun Huang got up on her elbows. She felt as if her organs had been rearranged inside her body. The immense pain made cold sweat break from her forehead, drenching her hair. She coughed and spat out a mouthful of dark blood.
The man was going to get to her soon. Jun Huang knew that this was her only chance. She looked around and noticed a way out: There was a piece of wood protruding from the building beside her. It wasn't much, but it was something she could use to help her escape.
Jun Huang swallowed down her discomfort and picked up a shorter bamboo stick to use as a crutch. She got to her feet. The leader arched an eyebrow at her and said mockingly, "Got a backbone, haven't you? I didn't think you'll be able to stand up in this state."
Jun Huang spat out some blood and looked at the man with narrowed eyes. Moonlight covered the man's face with a veil, obscuring his features, but she could see how pronounced his temples were – it was a clear sign that he was trained in martial arts. Popped up veins crawled along his tanned arms. She wondered how tight his grip around his sword was.
"I will not fall before you scums do." Jun Huang smiled at him. It was the first time tonight that her eyes shone with the intent to kill.
The man paused. He didn't understand the underlying message of Jun Huang's words. After a brief moment of silence, he let out a guffaw. "If that's the case, you truly cannot be allowed to leave this place alive."
He struck at Jun Huang with his sword. Before the blade could hit her, Jun Huang attacked the man with the bamboo stick in her hand, which had longer reach than the sword.
The man had thought that she was merely using the stick as a support. Now he knew the true reason Jun Huang had picked it up.
He turned sideway to dodge the attack, his attack interrupted. Taking the opportunity, Jun Huang leaped into the air and held onto the piece of protruding wood before the men could react. The two other men who had been watching their leader fight exchanged a look. One of them nodded and jumped toward Jun Huang.
As soon as the man approached her, Jun Huang swung up and kicked him in his chest. She then threw the bamboo stick at him.
The man was forced to land in order to dodge the bamboo stick. Jun Huang used the piece of wood as leverage and swung herself to the other side of the road. She knew that she wouldn't be able to win if she continued fighting. Before the men could catch up to her, she whipped out a few silver needles and threw them at the men.
The needles were quick, but they weren't quicker than those men's reaction. They knocked the needles away with a whip of their wrists. Jun Huang immediately whirled around and fled.
She ducked into another alleyway, which didn't lead to a dead end but to a broader street. The men were right at her heels. If she ran onto the street and they spotted her, there was no chance that she would be able to fight her way out. She could not win in a duel with the leader, let alone winning a fight with all three of them.
Jun Huang made her way to a dark corner outside a house. There were piles and piles of firewood tall enough for her to hide behind as long as she stayed down. She would be able to keep an eye on the outside while she remained unseen.
Jun Huang had disappeared from the men's view. They didn't see where she had gone. The most hot-headed one was going to rush into the alleyway to look for Jun Huang, but he was stopped by the leading man.
The leader shook his head and looked at the complicated web of narrow paths before them. This wasn't a good place for them to fight in.
He gave his two companions a pointed look and said in a aloof tone, "The old proverb says that one should not chase after a bandit who has been backed into a corner. This man is quick and clever. If we continue our chase, we may not come out on top. We might as well let him live for another day and discuss what we are going to do next."
The youngest man stomped his feet in annoyance, but he was in no place to argue with the leading man. He nodded.
When they turned around, the door to one of the houses opened.
Their fight had made quite a lot of sound. Many households had woken up and lit their lamps. They knew, however, that the commotion must have been caused by a feud between people trained in the martial arts. They didn't dare to leave the protection of their houses lest they got burned trying to satisfy their curiosity. None of them expected someone to be bold enough to open the door.
Out came a man approaching his forty. It seemed that he had been woken up from his slumber. Dressed in an outer robe, he walked up to the three men with an annoyed expression. "Who are you? Why are you here – "
Before he could finish, the youngest man slit the man's throat with his sword. Blood splattered along the grey wall and formed a pool on the ground.
The man's wife was wondering why her husband had not returned. She fixed her clothes before walking outside, just in time to witness her husband's murder. She widened her eyes in shock and fainted at the door.
The youngest man was going to kill the woman too, but the leader stopped him with a glare. The leader didn't say anything. And yet his authoritative aura was strong enough for everyone around him to feel it.
The men threw a glance at the alley Jun Huang was hiding in. They didn't get closer, but Jun Huang flinched reflexively. The men had murdered two witnesses in cold blood. They would not hesitate to kill her as well.
She didn't allow herself to relax, worried that she would put herself in danger again. She couldn't help feeling guilty for the deaths of the two witnesses. If not for her, they wouldn't have been killed.
She hadn't realized that someone was approaching her from behind until the man was at her side. Panic paralyzed her for a moment. She struck at him with her fan when the man reached out for her, but the man took her fan easily.
"It's me," whispered Nan Xun. His voice was like a calming breeze at her ear. Jun Huang let out the breath she had been holding. She realized then that both her clothes and hair was drenched in sweat.
Nan Xun looked at the mouth of the alleyway before turning back to Jun Huang. It was the first time he had seen her this afraid. His heart ached. He never wanted to see her like this again.
It took some time for Jun Huang to tamp down her fear. She took a deep breath. "Why are you here?"
"I just remembered that you hadn't had your medicinal bath," Nan Xun said. "You would be so sore that you wouldn't be able to get off your bed."
His tone was calm, but his heart was filled with fear. He could tell that these three men actually intended to wait for Jun Huang to come out. What would happen if he had not come for Jun Huang? He couldn't help shudder at the thought that he might not see Jun Huang again.
Jun Huang stayed crouched down behind the firewood pile. Nan Xun frowned. He realized that Jun Huang's pale complexion wasn't due to her fear, but her injury. He stepped toward her and asked, "Are you hurt?"
Jun Huang shook her head and propped herself up by the wall, but her legs had gone numb from the prolonged crouching. She stumbled. Nan Xun quickly steadied her with a hand.
Jun Huang straightened up. The metallic taste of blood rushed up her throat. She spat it out. Nan Xun's hands trembled. He asked again, "Are you hurt?"
"It's nothing serious," Jun Huang said. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "Come on."
Nan Xun was still concerned, but he knew Jun Huang was stubborn. If she said she was fine, there was nothing he could do to stop her from doing what she believed she had to do. The most he could do was to find a good doctor to check on Jun Huang later. He couldn't bear to lose her.
Nan Xun helped Jun Huang walk to the other side of the alley.
They came to a halt at the corner. The three men were waiting for them.