Chapter 7: Counterattack
“I know.” Jun Huang didn’t have time to speak further. She’d made up her mind, so she didn’t hesitate any longer. She yanked Nan Xun’s cloak’s off him and tugged it into place around her, adopting a cat posture as she prepared to leave the cave. Nan Xun had held a rich funeral for her parents; it was a debt she had to repay. Saving his life would count as her discharging said debt.
Nan Xun hadn’t thought that Jun Huang would set out without a second’s hesitation. An inexplicable emotion flashed through the depths of his eyes. “Why?” he heard himself ask lowly. He had rampaged through the field of battle for years, killing and maiming without hesitation. His heart had long since cooled to a lump of iron, but something stirred right then, deep within.
“Think of it as thanks.” Jun Huang’s footsteps paused as she responded seriously. “You’re a good person.”
A good person? He had spent a good half of his life in command of the army. To him, a human life was no different than a stalk of wheat to be reaped. He didn’t even frown at the sight of a dying man. Was he still worthy of being labeled a good person? Nan Xun wanted to say something, but by then, Jun Huang had already disappeared from view.
“Over there!” He heard a loud shout that was quickly followed by scattered footsteps. The one who’d been drawing close to the cave mouth took off running in another direction. Silence once again descended on the cave, but that of a different kind. Nan Xun closed his eyes, the faint smile from the girl when she left appearing once more in his mind, as well as that heartfelt, “You’re a good person.”
There were a dozen enemy troops, and Jun Huang drew them far away whilst wearing Nan Xun’s cape. Once they were far enough, she put on a burst of speed and concealed herself in the dense forest. In the latter half of the month she’d spent below the cliff, she’d gone out to pick herbs with Ole Cragfiend everyday. She was exceedingly familiar with mountain terrain, and it was an easy feat for her to hide within the flora.
Having lost sight of her, the soldiers decided to take advantage of their numbers to split up into search parties. “You, you, and you! Go over there. You guys come with me, and the rest go that way.”
Jun Huang could see from her hiding place that the enemy had split into three groups, roughly four or five to a group. She started formulating a plan. She wouldn’t have been able to take any action if they’d stayed grouped together, but now that they’d split up, she had an opportunity to take them out one by one.
The three groups went off into different directions, with one group just so happening to come Jun Huang’s way. She’d actually already formed a rough strategy when she was drawing the enemy away. Armed with the confusion powder from Ole Cragfiend and the knowledge from the medicinal tomes, she felt that she had a decent chance of victory. She fished out the powder, ripped off part of her hem and coated it in the powder. She stilled as the soldiers grew closer, and after a long tense moment, picked up their trail as they passed her hiding spot.
The skies had darkened, and the soldiers were clearly not enthused about their mission. They were a bit weary from the day of searching. Jun Huang quietly snuck up behind the last soldier. Her hand moved like lightning and covered the solder’s nose and mouth with the cloth. Ole Cragfiend’s powder was certainly potent. The soldier didn’t even have time to cry an alarm before he went limp, falling softly to the ground.
Jun Huang silently lowered him to the ground and drew the sword at his waist. When the sword brushed past the soldier’s neck, he died a soundless death. She hid the body behind a bush. No one in the group noticed that they had lost one of their own. Jun Huang went through two of the pursuing groups using the same tactic, annihilating them both.
RUMBLE. Thunder ripped through the sky and lightning snaked across the horizon. Heavy rain started to cascade down. The remaining group was just ahead! Jun Huang wiped the rain off her face and slowly crept up behind the last group.
“Damn it, it started raining! It’s freaking pitch black here, is there anywhere we can get out of the rain?” A soldier cursed loudly. Jun Huang could recognize the speaker as the one who’d suggested splitting up. He must be the leader of the group.
“Boss, I think I saw a cave back when we first split up. It’s dark now and with so much rain, we won’t be able to make it back to camp tonight. Let’s just take shelter in the cave tonight.” One of the soldiers suggested.
Jun Huang’s heart sank. The soldier was talking about the cave Nan Xun was hiding in. She’d thought that these soldiers would go back to their camp when night fell, but if they headed for the cave instead, Nan Xun was dead beyond a doubt. He was still too injured. I can’t let them pass!
Jun Huang made up her mind in a split second. There were only five in this group, and although she had strengthened her body, she wasn’t completely assured of success if she were to face five at once. She decided to continue using the same strategy. After all, it had served her well up to this point.
The rain poured down as thunder and lightning raged across the skies. Jun Huang had silently ghosted in behind the last person in this group, and suddenly clapped her hand over the nose and mouth of the soldier. The longsword in her hand flashed towards the soldier’s neck, but the powder didn’t take immediate effect this time. The soldier actually whipped around after Jun Huang had clapped her hand over his face and stared at her with widened eyes.
“Found him! He’s here!” Everything went black in front of his eyes when he finished speaking and he collapsed onto the ground. Jun Huang’s expression changed drastically. She’d used too much of the powder earlier and hadn’t factored in the dosage being diluted. She hadn’t immediately knocked this one out!
“Who’s there!” The four ahead instantly turned around when they heard the noise and saw Jun Huang wearing Nan Xun’s cloak.
She had no time to think as she quickly turned her wrist and slit the throat of the unconscious soldier. She then lifted her head and coldly stared down the four enemy soldiers.
Another bolt of lightning split the skies, illuminating the scene of Jun Huang wielding the longsword and her robe stained with blood. She was quite bedraggled, but her eyes were those of a demon from the abyss, cold and cruel.
The crack of thunder, jagged stripes of lightning, and thunderous downpour of rain all pounded on Nan Xun’s heart. The fire within the cave had long since extinguished because of lack of fuel, and the dying embers reflected the owner’s uneasy emotions. It’s been eight hours hours already, why hasn’t she come back if she’s alright? Can it be… Nan Xun’s heart spasmed when he thought of the unknown girl perishing because of her decision to save him.
The curtain of night rolled back and the rain finally ceased. White was already being slowly brushed onto the horizon in the distance.
Jun Huang still hadn’t returned.
Nan Xun hadn’t been able to sleep all night, and he could no longer sit still. He dragged his leg behind him and limped to the cave entrance. Even a girl thought nothing of life or death. He was a man amongst man, how could he cower behind others and let a woman risk her life for him?
His wounds were not yet healed, and had in fact worsened after a night of cold wind. The bandaged wound on his leg split open again and crimson red dyed his shirt, the bright red hue creeping quickly through the cloth. He used the wall for support as he moved, taking almost fifteen minutes for just a few meters to the cave entrance.
“General, General! Are you here?? General!!” A shout suddenly sounded from outside.
“Meng Yao!” Joy flashed through Nan Xun’s eyes after a momentary pause when he recognized the voice.
“General!” The voice became agitated, and a figure barreled in through the entrance after a short while. It belonged to a tall and fit young man. He was wearing blue armor, equipped with a longsword, and had a thick, fierce aura about him that wasn’t aggressive.