Chapter 98: Shutting down Yangzhou
Without hesitation, Nan Xun vaulted over the wall and scouted out the manor. Not long after, he reappeared and landed next to Jun Huang without a sound. "The place is heavily guarded. Even the royal soldiers posted in Yangzhou are here. We will have to be careful."
"We have to get inside even if the entire army is here," said Jun Huang. "This must end here."
Something flashed through Nan Xun eyes. Despite his reluctance, Nan Xun decided to be honest with Jun Huang. "I also saw someone we know."
Nan Xun's expression worried Jun Huang. She stared into his eyes. "Who was it?"
"The clerk at the inn."
Jun Huang broke into cold sweat, but her expression remained calm. She took a deep breath and scoffed. "If so, we will not show anyone mercy. If we don't get the evidence today, we will not find any tomorrow."
Nan Xun agreed. He thought back to the route he had just found. Without another word, he put an arm around Jun Huang and leaped over the wall, landing behind the fake mountain, hidden in its shadow.
Nan Xun could feel how thin Jun Huang was with his arm around her torso. He felt a pang in his heart. Jun Huang put some distance between them and looked away. Her face was a perfect mask of aloofness.
After the patrolling guards had passed through, Jun Huang and Nan Xun hurriedly made their way to the study. Nan Xun made sure to keep her safe along the way.
Outside the study, they saw the silhouette of a man walking around in the room. Jun Huang shot Nan Xun a look and made a gesture at him. Without missing a beat, he took off the dagger he kept on his waistband and quickly picked open the lock. When they got inside, the man was nowhere to be seen. He must have gone through a secret door.
Jun Huang surveyed the room carefully and thought back to where the man had been standing. There was a Buddha statue in the area. While everything else was covered in dust, the statue was perfectly clean. She rotated the statue with both hands and clink! The bookshelf next to the statue slowly moved aside.
Jun Huang turned to Nan Xun. He shut the door and nodded at her. They went inside the secret tunnel together.
The tunnel was almost pitch black. The only light source was the luminous pearls attached to the wall. The dim light they emitted was just bright enough for the two of them to see the floor beneath their feet. They walked further inside, keeping near to the wall.
As soon as Jun Huang saw a door, she felt something beneath her foot. A bell chimed. Jun Huang's pupils contracted.
The man inside had heard the sound. He shot up to his feet and asked, "Who's there?"
In that split second, Nan Xun lunged at the man with a push against the wall and hit the man in the neck with a knifehand strike. The man passed out before he could get a clear look at Nan Xun's face. His head hit the wall as he collapsed.
Jun Huang walked up to them. The prefect lay on the ground, unconscious. She huffed and walked around his body, stopping at where the prefect had been a moment ago.
There was a brazier on the floor. Next to it was the evidence he had yet to destroy. Jun Huang picked the documents up and browsed through them. The more she read, the colder her expression became. The prefect must never have expected that one day, these records he kept would become the evidence that had him imprisoned. Now, it was too late for him to cover his tracks.
Jun Huang looked over at Nan Xun and whispered, "Here's everything we need. Let's go."
Nan Xun nodded and followed her out.
They returned to the inn as quickly as they could. As expected, the clerk who had been in the prefect's manor earlier was at the door, his eyes darting around looking for them. Jun Huang scoffed and took out a silver needle. From his blind spot, she threw the needle at him.
The clerk felt a sting, but he didn't see or feel anything when he checked over his body. He didn't realize that the needle had gone into his flesh. In an hour, it would cause all the energy pathways in his body to collapse, and he would die a painful death.
This was the kind of person Jun Huang could be. If someone dared to conspire against her, she would make them pay. She would not lay a finger on people who had not hurt her, but with people who had? She would pay them back double.
Nan Xun didn't know what was on the needle Jun Huang had just thrown. He thought that she only wanted to teach the clerk a lesson, so he didn't pay it any mind. They entered their rooms from the back of the inn.
Before they did, he said, "It's been a taxing night. You should rest. We'll leave early in the morning."
Jun Huang nodded. It was late. The gate had already been shut. They couldn't leave the city even if they wanted to. Their only choice was to rest and leave tomorrow.
The clerk waited for a long time for Nan Xun and Jun Huang to return. He quirked his lips into a wicked smile. They must have been caught by the prefect! Tomorrow, he would go to the prefect's manor for his reward. In his excitement, he failed to notice the dull pain in his body.
He happily returned to his room. The moment he came in contact with the bed, a sharp pain shot through his body. He couldn't help crying out. His scream was so loud it cut through the night sky. One after another, the customers in the inn cursed out loud. Jun Huang opened her eyes without getting off the bed.
The innkeeper knocked on the clerk's door, cursing and muttering. No one responded. He forced the door open and there the clerk was. The man who had been alive and well during the day now lay dead on his bed with a terrified look on his face. Blood gushed out from all seven of his orifices, and his limbs were twisted into unnatural angles. His eyes were wide and the eyeballs had rolled back into his skull. Under the candlelight, he painted a horrifying picture.
"He's dead! He's dead!" The innkeeper cried out as he ran outside. Hearing the commotion, Nan Xun walked out of his room and followed the crowd to the scene. He was a soldier who had fought in many battles. He was no strangers to broken limbs and dead bodies. The way the clerk's body looked, however, still managed to make him frown.
He thought back to the needle Jun Huang had thrown. His expression stilled. He didn't expect Jun Huang to be capable of cruelty such as this. Of course, he wasn't foolish enough to question Jun Huang now. He pretended nothing had happened and returned to his room.
Jun Huang lay on the bed with a blank face. Her heart was numb. It was as if she hadn't been the one who had caused all the chaos. She slowly closed her eyes. Tomorrow, there would be a storm awaiting her.
When the prefect came to, he was still on the floor. His forehead was throbbing in pain. He touched the skin and felt the half-dried blood. He gasped as a stabbing pain spread from the wound. He cursed out loud. He looked over at where he had kept the documents. Nothing was there. The fire had been put out. And the things he was trying to destroy had disappeared as well.
Before his anger could register in his brain, he felt panic rising from his heart and his clothes were drenched in cold sweat. The evidence must not be delivered to the emperor! He quickly recovered and rushed outside. He summoned his confidante and ordered him to shut down the entire city.
The confidante didn't know what had happened yet. He frowned. "You must not do this, sir. Yangzhou is the biggest city in Northern Qi. The emperor has decreed that the gate must be kept open unless there is no other choices…"
"What does it mean to have no other choices?" the prefect said through clenched teeth. "If we don't act now, the scums who attacked me will escape. Then what awaits us will be the army the emperor send in to arrest me."
The confidante quickly grasped the situation. The records of Yangzhou's tax revenue must have been stolen. That was a disaster waiting to happen. They couldn't afford to waste any more time. He rushed to send a messenger to the guards stationed at the city gate. They were to shut the gate immediately and to search through every inch of the city.
Fortunately, the clerk had reported to the prefect earlier. He said that there were two handsome men asking questions about the prefect. They appeared to be from outside Yangzhou. They were likely to be investigators from the imperial city.
"As expected, they shut down the city with no concerns to the law," Nan Xun said with a serious expression. Now that the gate was closed, they would have to go through thorough questioning in order to leave the city.
Jun Huang's eyes were dark. She huffed. "He is getting desperate. If the news reached the imperial city, do you think Qi Chen would be able to protect him?"
Nan Xun was surprised by her attitude. Her calm smile puzzled him. Why could she maintain her composure no matter what she was faced with? He had never seen her lose her cool.
Jun Huang had noticed his odd look, but she didn't explain. Her smile dropped from her face as she looked out at the unusual number of soldiers walking the street. She sighed. "Let us leave immediately. They will find their way to this inn in no time."
"However, we will have a target on our backs if we leave the inn looking like this," Jun Huang said with a smirk. "Wait for me outside. I'll put on some disguise."
Nan Xun didn't know what she was planning, but he left without a word. From the rucksack Little Girl had packed for her, Jun Huang pulled out a dress she had told Little Girl to prepare. She did so just in case an emergency arose. She hadn't been sure she would need it.
Little Girl was young. She preferred light yellow and pink. Jun Huang huffed out a laugh at the light yellow dress. She supposed beggars couldn't be choosers.
She put on the dress and took off her white jade cap, letting her hair fall on her shoulders. Looking at the young woman in the bronze mirror, Jun Huang felt lost in time all of a sudden. When she dressed as a woman in the brothel, she hadn't had the time to really look at herself. Now, seeing her own reflection, it felt more like she was looking at a stranger.
She didn't have time to dwell on her feelings further. She made her hair into a bun and put on a hair pin. Then she put on some makeup before walking outside.
Nan Xun stared dumbly at Jun Huang. He had had the honor to listen to Jun Huang perform that time in the brothel, but now he was given the opportunity to spend time with her when she was dressed as a woman.
There was a faint smile on her face, but her eyes remained distant. The way she moved her body was elegant, but there was also an air of determination about her that ordinary women did not possess.
"Is something wrong?" Jun Huang asked with a frown. Nan Xun had been staring at her in silence for too long.
Nan Xun came to his senses and gave her an awkward smile before looking away. "Nothing." He coughed. "I'm just wondering what you're planning…"