Chapter 99: Two against the an Army
Jun Huang looked down at the dress she was wearing. With a chuckle, she said, "This is to prevent others from getting suspicious of us. If anyone asks, we are a married couple leaving Yangzhou to visit our family. Do not tell them our destination is the imperial city. Do you understand?"
"What?" Nan Xun could not believe his ears. Had he heard Jun Huang wrong? She looked perfectly serious though. It didn't seem like she was joking with him.
Jun Huang knew that Nan Xun had heard her. She walked towards the front door without sparing another glance at him. After a brief pause, Nan Xun jogged up to her with a smile he could not suppress.
As they expected, there was a crowd waiting at the city gates. The doors were only half open in case someone decided to make a run for it. There were more guards stationed here than usual. Some of them were holding the portraits of Jun Huang and Nan Xun – made according to the description the clerk had given before he died. They used the portraits to screen through the crowds.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun exchanged a look. Jun Huang was now dressed in women's clothes, which softened her appearance considerably. Nan Xun, however, had not put on any disguise. Jun Huang quickly pulled him into an alleyway.
Nan Xun was dragged away before he could react. Jun Huang put something under his nose. He touched the skin and felt a coarse patch of hair under his fingers.
"What is this?" asked Nan Xun.
Jun Huang quirked up her lips. "A fake mustache. Keep it on." She pulled away and looked behind her. Seeing that no one had noticed them, she let out a relieved sigh.
"Come on. We have to return before the metropolitan exam." Jun Huang made her way out of the alley before Nan Xun had recovered from his surprise.
"Alright." Nan Xun nodded and caught up with her. They walked towards the gate shoulder to shoulder, but there was a noticeable distance between them. They were neither close nor distant from one another. It was the distance Jun Huang was comfortable with. Her aloofness had always kept others at arm's length.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun were stopped at the gates as everyone else. One of the soldiers compared them to the portraits. Seeing that they didn't match the drawings, he asked, "Where are you going? What is your relationship? Where are you from?"
"Visiting our family. Husband and wife. Born and raised in Yangzhou." Nan Xun gave an answer to every question the soldier had asked. The fake mustache made him look older, which added to the credibility of his words. The soldier didn't think anything was wrong.
Their belongings had gone through thorough scrutiny. The soldier let them go. Jun Huang thanked him before walking away with Nan Xun. She let out a silent sigh.
"Wait, they don't seem like a married couple at all." One of the soldiers suddenly said. He pointed at the distance between Nan Xun and Jun Huang. It was wide enough for another person to pass through.
The soldier took a look at the portraits again. The more he looked, the more he saw the similarities. "They are the ones we're trying to find!" He called out for the other soldiers to chase after Jun Huang and Nan Xun. The two of them shared a look before breaking into a run.
The prefect had taken measures to stop them from escaping. Worried that they might disguise themselves and run away, he prohibited anyone from riding on a horse. Jun Huang's and Nan Xun's horses had been confiscated. They could only rely on their feet. The soldiers, on the other hand, chased after them on strong horses. The dust they brought up were so thick people started coughing.
The soldiers would soon close in on them. Nan Xun stopped and looked back at their pursuers. Fleeing wasn't always the best strategy. He took out the evidence he had hidden under his clothes. Jun Huang came to a stop as well and looked at him.
"This won't work. They are riding on horses. They will soon be upon us. We must not let them get hold of the evidence, or our efforts would have been in vain. Take this. Run away on your own." Nan Xun spoke in a steady voice. He handed the evidence to Jun Huang.
Jun Huang knew that he was right. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at Nan Xun's determined eyes, then at their pursuers. They were getting closer. If she didn't leave now, it would be too late. She ground her teeth together and took the evidence. Without a word, she whirled around and left.
Nan Xun felt a faint sense of loss as he watched Jun Huang running away. He felt a little troubled by Jun Huang's lack of hesitation. Nevertheless, he knew that they had no other choice. If Jun Huang stayed, neither of them would be able to escape. This way, he would be able to buy Jun Huang some time.
"Running away? Neither of you are getting out of our grasp today." The general leading the soldiers scoffed. He rode on a white horse with a crimson red spear raised. He cut a formidable figure.
Nan Xun leveled him with a cold stare. He took out his dagger. It was a custom made weapon. With a whip of his wrist, it transformed into a long sword.
The design was only possible with the engineering teachings of Mohism. The blade could be contracted into the hilt of the sword. The dagger form took up less space, and it was useful in avoiding detection.
Gradually, Nan Xun found himself being circled by the soldiers. They were all on their horses, while he stood on the ground with his own two feet. No matter how one looked at this situation, Nan Xun was the clear underdog here.
Nonetheless, he was a general who had fought in countless battles. He would not be intimidated by these men.
"Be prepared. I will not hold myself back." His tone was as harsh as his cold sword. The soldiers flinch involuntarily.
They charged at Nan Xun. Nan Xun dodged the first strike by a small margin and did a front flip, kicking the man off the horse. The man survived the fall, but he was then trampled to death by his horse.
Outside the city, the wind was strong and the air was filled with sand. It was difficult to keep one's eyes open. The men on the horses had troubles seeing what was happening on the ground. That was a weak point Nan Xun could exploit. What was more, the horses appeared to be agitated when the wind got strong.
With that in mind, Nan Xun was having a much easier time fighting back. He focused on dodging when the air was still. Whenever there was a strong wind, he seized the opportunity to take out the soldiers one by one. He was sure he would be able to get out of this alive.
After another soldier had been knocked off the horse, the general realized his mistake. He ordered everyone to dismount before engaging Nan Xun in a fight.
Nan Xun had been fighting all his life, but not even he was able to take on this many trained soldiers on his own. Little by little, his stikes became weaker and weaker. The general noticed the change and hit Nan Xun's arm with the spear, forcing Nan Xun to let go of his sword.
Clank! Without a weapon, Nan Xun had no choice but to back away. The general made another stab at him with the spear. It was too quick for Nan Xun to move out of the way. He tried to go with the blow to lessen the damage.
After hiding the evidence, Jun Huang hurried back to where Nan Xun had been. She saw that the spear was going to hit Nan Xun and, without thinking, she leaped forward and blocked the attack with her arm. Blood streaked down her hand and dripped to the ground, dying the earth red.
In rage, Nan Xun kicked the general in the chest with all his force. The general didn't have the time to react and he flew backward. Nan Xun quickly steadied Jun Huang with a hand. His tone was harsh when he said, "I told you to leave! Why did you come back?"
Jun Huang forced herself to ignore the pain and tried to put on a smile. "We came here together. We're leaving together. I'm not going to abandon you."
Someone came up from behind Nan Xun and slashed at him with a sword. Jun Huang caught the blade with her bare hand, grinding her teeth together. The cold metal sliced into her palm. After the initial coolness came a burning pain.
Nan Xun rushed to pick up his fallen sword and threw it at the attacker. The man died after coughing out a mouthful of blood. Jun Huang took a deep breath. She took the sword she had caught and stood back to back with Nan Xun.
Nan Xun tilted his head back to glance at Jun Huang. Her light yellow dress was splattered with blood. Her arm was still bleeding. And there was a long gash on her palm.
In contrast with her battered appearance, her eyes remained bright and beautiful. Her face was free of emotions as she raised the sword like a bloodthirsty demigod.
She came back for me. Nan Xun was both ecstatic and angry. The fact that Jun Huang had taken two hits for him without hesitation put a heavy weight on his conscience.
He was supposed to protect her! She deserved to be treasured and cared for. And yet he allowed her to get hurt because of him.
The sound of blade cutting fabric open broke him out of his trance. He felt pain shooting through his body from the open wound on his arm. Jun Huang threw him a glare. She didn't say anything since she couldn't spare him the effort.
Before his attacker could get another strike in, Nan Xun slashed his sword horizontally and decapitated the man, his eyes flashing with killing intent. The man fell to the ground. Blood gushed out from his neck.
Jun Huang had gone into a killing rage. She wasn't that well-trained in swordsmanship. Her attacks were messy and unskilled. Still, she was able to kill quite a few men and keep her enemies away from her.
These men were trained soldiers. They were meant to be the guardians of the land. And yet they were trying to kill the very people they had sworn to protect. Desperate time calls for desperate measures. They were willing to sacrifice their comrades' lives in order to get close to her.
Jun Huang was forced to move out of the way. She, however, refused to let any attacks land on Nan Xun, who was right behind her.
In the end, her guard was broken. A sword was about to hit her face. In her wide eyes were the reflections of the blade.
At that moment, Nan Xun covered Jun Huang's body with his own and took the hit. Blood gushed out from his wound and painted her vision red. She froze in Nan Xun's arms, her body tensed.
Nan Xun looked down at her and saw how pale her face was. She must have been terrified, he thought. He patted her on the shoulder and gently said, "Don't worry. I'm by your side." With that, he let go of her and rejoined the fight.
She stared at Nan Xun's wounded back. A wave of emotions roared to life inside her heart. The situation, however, didn't allow her to think too much about her feelings. She narrowed her eyes and charged at the enemies.
Seeing the murderous light in Jun Huang's eyes, Nan Xun threw caution out of the window and killed everyone who stood in his way. He would not let Jun Huang get hurt again. He kicked the man who tried to block his way and sent him flying. The man knocked off a few of his fellow soldiers as he landed.
Nan Xun had fought until he was covered in blood before. They were greatly outnumbered, but he was able to engaged a dozen men in a fight at once. His injury pushed him to fight with no regard for his own safety. One by one, the soldiers' bodies hit the ground.