Seeing that they were retreating into the forest, the enemy dropped their bows and drew their swords, charging towards them.
There were enemies everywhere, rushing towards them like a swarm of locusts. Chu Qiao's swordsmanship was astonishing as she ran like the wind. She pulled Li Ce along as Tie You and the others struggled to catch up. At this moment, no more than 50 men were left. Everyone was drenched in blood and severely wounded. They could no longer fight.
Chu Qiao's thought quickly as she glanced at the enemies around her. She ruthlessly killed six of them with a swipe of her sword. Two lives worth of martial arts experience, coupled with tireless years of training paid off in this guerilla battle, allowing her to have the upper hand. Although she was petite, she was able to use the terrain to her advantage as she sliced her way through the forest. No one could match her.
"Qiaoqiao! Qiaoqiao!" Li Ce cried out all of a sudden. Chu Qiao turned towards him as she saw a huge warrior closing in on him with a huge blade in his hand. Tie You was covered in blood. He could not hold on any longer.
Chu Qiao leapt into the air, kicking his shoulder. The sword she wielded sliced through the air, cutting through the man's cheek and reaching his shoulder. He groaned as he flopped to the ground, cracking his skull. blood splattered everywhere.
Suddenly, a sharp pain shot through her shoulder. She raised her brow as she used her the back of her left palm to feel for the dagger that was hidden below her ribs. Instantly, she stabbed it into the eyes of her attacker. With her right hand, she grabbed a spear that was being thrust right at her. As her opponent was reeling back, she took the opportunity to stab him with her sword. She then leaped into the air, landing a roundhouse kick right on his head while thrusting her sword right through his heart.
"Qiaoqiao!" Li Ce's expression paled with fright. He ran forward, pulling Chu Qiao into his arms. "You are hurt!"
"Don't worry about me! Tie You, take your Master with you and head west!"
"No! I will not leave you behind!" Li Ce was stubbornly rooted to the spot as he picked up a sword, playing around with it as he said sternly, "Little thieves! Come at me!" Before he could attack the enemy, he smacked himself with the sword, causing it to fall to the ground.
"Fool!" Chu Qiao roared as she pulled him along. She ordered, "Follow me!"
The Sword of Moon Shatterer was incredibly sharp. It sliced through the enemy's sword as if it was butter. All that was left in his hand was a short steel stub. The rest of the troops finished him off as they rushed past. He tumbled to the ground in a bloody mess.
Stepping over the enemy's corpses, Chu Qiao ran through the forest, leading everyone to a hilltop. A river raged beneath them as waves hit the banks. The layer of ice covering the river had just broken as shards of ice slushed within the water.
"Jump down!" Chu Qiao screamed as she stuck her foot into an assassin's gut.
"Ah?" Li Ce frowned as he stood by Chu Qiao's side, stretching his neck as he looked over the edge. "Qiaoqiao, we will freeze to death!"
"You can stand here if you want to die!"
Li Ce hesitated as he stood on the hilltop. After several attempts, he still couldn't muster his courage. Suddenly, a man charged towards them as he brandished his blade, trying to ambush the girl that was currently engaged with the enemy. Not knowing where his courage came from, the Tang Prince picked up a huge rock and hauled it at the man's head. With a thud, his skull was crushed as he rolled down the hill, unconscious.
"Haha!" Li Ce was delighted that his attack had worked as he continued tossing stones at the enemy.
When his men saw their Prince displaying his prowess, they all started to follow suit. The enemy's momentum started to be suppressed.
"Leave, quick!" Li Ce was engrossed in the battle as Chu Qiao turned and held onto him, dragging him down the slope. With a plunge, everyone jumped into the water and was faced by the bitter cold. Chu Qiao and Li Ce instantly sank beneath the surface.
Chu Qiao remained calm as she swam upstream. However, no matter what she did, she could not get to the surface. She was enraged as she looked down. Li Ce was holding a huge rock between his arms, as though it was a golden brick.
She threw a punch at his back as she snatched the rock from him. Before they could reach the surface, they heard a barrage of arrows entering the water. Wails of pain could be heard from all sides. Tie You and the rest had perished. Chu Qiao thought, a fool may be lucky at times. Tugging Li Ce along, she continued to dive along.
The current was incredibly fast. After a while, both of them resurfaced. Although the enemy was trying their best to keep up, they were not quick enough. Before long, they were nowhere to be seen. Chu Qiao's lips started to pale as her shoulders were drenched in blood. Her strength was draining from her body.
"Qiaoqiao, Qiaoqiao?" Li Ce's voice started to become increasingly blurry. Chu Qiao struggled as she turned her head towards him. As he paddled hard, he said, "You have to hang on. We are going to be out of danger." This was the first time Li Ce spoke to her with a serious tone. His expression was pale and his lips were ghastly. His gaze lacked the happiness of his usual self, but in its place was a tinge of seriousness. He exuded a completely different aura.
Chu Qiao wanted to talk to him. She tried to open her mouth, but nothing came out. She shivered in the cold. The immense blood loss had taken a toll on her.
The river was dyed red as the cries of the enemy echoed continuously from afar. Gradually, the beacons on other hilltops started to burn. In that moment, it seemed that they would be in trouble no matter where they went. The large scaled assassination led by the enemy had mobilized an unimaginable number of men.
There was no longer the sound of guards by their sides. The waves started to get louder by the second as night began to fall. The river was bitterly cold and was starting to pick up speed. Chu Qiao and Li Ce gasped as they fell over the edge of a waterfall. They tumbled through the air and Li Ce tightened his grip around the girl.
Yan Xun closed his map as he looked at his men that were around him. "There are merely two objectives of this mission. The first is to successfully rescue Chu Qiao. The second is to never expose your true identity. If you are caught, you should know what to do."
AhJing and the rest nodded and said, "We understand."
Everyone rose in unison. Leading their men, all of them were gone in an instant.
AhJing stayed behind to guard Yan Xun. He whispered, "Master, do you know who had ambushed the Prince of Tang?"
Yan Xun shook his head and replied, "I don't know. There is insufficient intelligence. There are just too many suspects. It is no longer important. Once Li Ce is dead, the Xia and Tang Empire will be at war with each other. We have nothing to lose from that war. Since we all have similar objectives, why don't we give them a helping hand? Besides, if Li Ce was with AhChu, he would already be dead." After which, a grin spread across his face. He whispered as he raised his head, "Even the gods are helping me."
Even though they were incredibly used to navigating the jungle, the sight of countless torches on their heels every time they ascended up a hill made it seem like there were predators biting on their tails. They did not have any time to rest, nor have other escape options. They could only run deeper into the dense jungle and traverse the steep mountain ranges. When they had finally got those men off their tails, it was already pitch black. They were finally lost with no idea where Zhen Huang was.
The night was cold and foggy. Earlier in the night, there was even a light shower, causing the temperature to drop drastically. To prevent them from being discovered, they did not dare start a fire. Chu Qiao and Li Ce sat in a dense bush. The frail and skinny girl laid by the tree trunk. She felt as though her bones were falling apart. The numerous wounds on her body were bleeding continuously; the pain was simply unbearable. The arrow wound on her shoulder was especially serious; a slight move would cause excruciating pain. The immense blood loss caused her to be tired and weak. All she wanted to do was to sleep. However, years of experience told her that this was the crucial moment of escape. If she slept, she would not wake up.
"Qiaoqiao?" Li Ce's voice rang by her ear as he draped a coat over her shoulders. Chu Qiao frowned as she raised her head to look at the man kneeling by her side. He was still smiling as he said, "My clothes are dry."
Li Ce's clothes were no longer fragrant. After being soaked in the river and escaping through the jungle, only a crumpled and ragged cloth remained. There were dark red spots that stained his red clothes. Which unfortunate assassin did it belong to?
With a slight movement, Chu Qiao's shoulder started to bleed once again. Li Ce gasped as the smile vanished from his pale face. He hurriedly applied pressure onto her wound as he said, "You're bleeding again. What can we do?"
"It's nothing," Chu Qiao's brow was tightly knit together. She tore of a piece of his shirt as she dressed the wound hastily. She said, "Sit down."
"Ah?" Li Ce's eyes widened with confusion.
"Sit down!" The girl started to frown impatiently. Although she sounded weak, it was incredibly forceful. "We do not have much time. We have to rest while we can."
"Okay." Li Ce sat down earnestly. After pondering for a while, he asked, "Qiaoqiao, do you know those men?"
"If you have that much energy, can you save it for later? That would save me a ton of trouble. I'll kill you if you dare disturb me while I rest."
The Tang Prince fell silent as he sat on the ground, his eyes darting around restlessly.
Of course she wanted to know who did it! However, there were just too many targets. She was unable to find a clue in that moment.
If Li Ce were to be assassinated on the outskirts of Zhen Huang City, the Tang Empire would be first to attack. The war between the Tang and Xia Empire would be inevitable. If these Empires were to go to war, looking at the big picture, the empires that would benefit would be the Song Empire that bordered the eastern sea, Da Huang in the south, and Quan Rong in the northwest. Especially the Song Empire their prosperous economy and plentiful resources would definitely be the target of the countries at war. The Tang and Xia Empire would try their best to get the Song Empire on their side, causing the military might of the Song Empire to increase by leaps and bounds, occupying a strategic position.
From the perspective of internal politics, Li Ce's death would mean that there would be no successor to the Tang throne. The religious sects that had royal lineage would then have the chance to ascend to the throne. The brothers of the Tang Emperor could also succeed the throne. All of them wanted a part of the vast Tang territories.
From the perspective of the Xia Empire, only the Imperial and Royal families had the ability to pull of this act. However, with the recent downfall of the Muhe clan, Yan Xun killing both Muhe Xifeng and Wei Jing with a borrowed knife, the royal families were plunged into paranoia and fear. The political stability within the Xia Empire had originated from the equal distribution of power between the Imperial and Royal families. Once the balance had been broken, it would inevitably lead to a series of bloody coups.
Wei Guang, Zhuge Muqing, and the rest were incredibly sly and cunning; they would never be able to notice the crisis hidden beneath the cover of prosperity, single handedly instigating chaos. Hence, the Xia Emperor had no choice but to rely on the powers of the royal families. However, there was also the possibility that the royal families had used this opportunity to consolidate their power over the military.
What worried Chu Qiao most was that Yan Xun was behind all this, with the Da Tong Guild supporting his plans. If that was really the case, things would get pretty awkward.