The night mist clouded their vision of the future, as the unfamiliar mountain path extended seemingly indefinitely. Li Ce carefully followed the lassie. Having rarely experienced such hardship, the Tang Prince depressingly knitted his brow. "Will the Xia Emperor send men to save us?"
The lassie did not reply. Li Ce had not expected an answer anyways, so in a few moments, he started complaining about how the cold temperature of the highlands was not a place for people to live.
"They will." A low but firm sound replied. Li Ce, stunned, lifted his head in skepticism. "What did you say?"
Those people had not recognized her, so they were definitely not from Da Tong. If that was the case, Yan Xun would definitely be on his way to save her.
"Definitely they will," Chu Qiao replied in a low voice. Her gaze was firm, with a certain glimmer in her eyes.
They continued on the mountain path until they reached a lake.
"Li Ce!" The crisp voice of the young lady reverberated around the lake.
"Qiaoqiao, I am still here." The man stood up, happily waved his arm, and watched Chu Qiao quickly walk over to him. Taking a quick glance behind her, he spoke, "You took out all of them already?"
Chu Qiao remained quiet and approached the waterside. With her hands, she scooped up some water and drank it.
"Qiaoqiao, that was amazing!" Li Ce happily squatted next to her. "Are we going to go find more of them?"
Chu Qiao frowned. Li Ce was slightly taken aback and momentarily was a bit awkward. He explained, "It is just that I feel it would be easier for us to escape if we killed all of them "
The young lady raised one finger and slowly swung it back and forth. With a deep voice, she said, "Firstly, it is just me doing the work, not us. Secondly, there are thousands of enemies, how many do you think I can kill? If you remain like how you were, screaming when seeing a mouse, I will sooner or later be killed as a result. Do not blame me for not warning you beforehand, but when there is no retreat, I will be very happy to give up on you in order for me to live."
Li Ce sulked as if he was really sad and pulled on Chu Qiao's clothes. "Qiaoqiao, don't be so cold."
Chu Qiao groaned, causing Li Ce to quickly draw his hand back, only to see the location he was pulling on had fresh blood seeping out of it. It was apparently a fresh wound. Chu Qiao frowned and checked, only to find an arrow wound in her left rib. The wound was not big but was bleeding steadily and the pain was unbearable. It was surprising that such a wound had escaped her detection.
"Qiaoqiao, you have been injured again. Are you okay? You must hang in there," Li Ce frowned too and worriedly said.
Chu Qiao pressed on the wound, closed her eyes, and leaned on the tree. She quietly said, "Help me bandage it."
"Help me bandage!" Her voice became sharp and caustic.
Startled, Li Ce nodded his head hysterically and clumsily tore off a piece of cloth. He lifted up her clothes to reveal silky smooth skin that had been dyed a bright crimson. The arrowhead was deeply buried under the skin of the left rib, with two sides swollen and red. Li Ce grabbed the broken arrow and sternly cautioned, "Qiaoqiao, if you are in pain, just shout out or you can bite on me."
Chu Qiao closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but did not speak.
Li Ce's face showed a rare glimpse of seriousness as he grabbed the arrow and scowled. With one swift motion, he yanked it out! Blood squirted. Li Ce tightly covered the wound. Chu Qiao groaned in pain and fell forward. Li Ce stretched out his other hand to catch her as she fell.
"Qiaoqiao? Are you okay?" perturbed, Li Ce anxiously asked.
"I won't die yet." Her hoarse voice gradually reached his ears. The lassie took a deep breath and she leaned her chin on his shoulder. Li Ce gave off a sigh of relief as he proceeded to bandage her wound. In the darkness of the night, her body was like ice. It suddenly dawned upon Li Ce that this girl in front of him could no longer fight, even one more battle.
However, at this critical moment, hurried footsteps echoed from afar. The duo instantly tensed and sat up straight. Their faces were brimming with seriousness, as their sharp gaze surveyed their surroundings.
"What should I do?" Chu Qiao scowled deeply. She had already lost all fighting potential. The smell of blood here was so heavy that waiting here would lead to certain death. The only way out was to take down Li Ce and to use her guise to create a mess, such that she could make an escape. Her gaze drifted gradually towards the man sitting beside her, only to see his face filled with a rarely seen solemnity and sternness. She was not a saint, but saving people must also be within her capability. When helpfulness started to encroach on her very safety, any smart person would know what to do.
In addition, with Li Ce's death, Yan Xun would gain a huge advantage. She should have known what to do, she must have known what to do, and she ought to do it as such. She had an even heavier burden on her shoulders as there were people waiting for her. Her life was still precious and not something she should easily forsake. Her heavy fingers felt for the dagger tied to her thighs, and she got ready for action.
"Qiaoqiao!" Li Ce suddenly turned. With an expression of sobriety, he calmly explained, "I will try to distract these people, you should take the opportunity to escape. You must be careful!"
Chu Qiao was stunned and her eyes opened wide. Li Ce took off his coat and covered Chu Qiao with it. Taking out a metallic cylinder from his waistband, he handed it to her hand and said, "I don't know martial arts, so my Father made this self-protective weapon for me. If you pull the trigger string, fifty needles will shoot out, each with extremely potent poison. This can fire up to three times. Keep it. It may save your life in case you need it."
Still astonished, Chu Qiao took the metal cylinder, her brows still furrowed. Unable to comprehend what just happened, she stared at Li Ce, as if to scan his brain to uncover his true intentions.
"Haha, did you suddenly fall in love with me?" Li Ce suddenly flashed a smile, exposing his pristine white teeth. He patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, when you return to Zhen Huang, you will still have a chance."
"Li Ce! Keep it, I won't need it." She held him back and tried to return the weapon.
"I don't need it either. Actually, I really don't know how to use it. Hearing how scary it is, I can't help but imagine accidentally shooting myself. Wouldn't that just spell the end of me? You can keep it and test it out. If it is really good, I will go get another when I get back."
Chu Qiao bit her lips. Finally letting go of his hand, she responded, "Be careful."
Li Ce smiled. "You too, I am still going to learn martial arts from you when we get back!"
Chu Qiao nodded.
The man stood up. Clumsily brushing away the thorny overgrowth, he walked towards the direction of the footsteps.
"Oi! Bring a weapon!"
Li Ce did not even turn around and casually waved back. In the soft glow of the moonlight, she saw an uneven piece of rock that was covered in blood in his hands. His clothes tattered, his footsteps uneven, there was not the slightest trace of the Tang Prince's elegance left in him. He was, in fact, more like a beggar.
As Chu Qiao stared at his silhouette, the hand that grabbed the dagger loosened.
Still some time left before dawn, darkness covered the land. Tiny ripples on the lake reflected minute amounts of light, it felt desolate and miserable. It had been six hours since Li Ce had left. Footsteps on the two banks, as if life-seeking specters, finally closed in. With bloodied shoulders and pale lips, the continuous fighting and running had pushed Chu Qiao past her physical limit. But when she smelled the presence of hostiles, with great determination, she stood up, her two eyes shining like an agile panther.
In the darkness, she was like a phantom, quickly traversing the dense jungles. She ran for two whole hours before she came to a stop. The hill in the distance was filled with light from the flames, and the curves formed by the lines of torches looked like a reaper's sickle that was approaching quickly. Chu Qiao roughly estimated the time before it would arrive, and she inspected her wounds. She then rubbed her aching head from the excessive blood loss and finally sat down, leaning on a tree to quietly rest.
The crisp sound of birds chirping echoed. Chu Qiao suddenly opened her eyes and leapt up. The slightly warm morning sunlight shone through the leaves and onto her face, while the cool dew droplets condensed on her nose like crystal. A few sparrows dived down from beyond the clouds and curiously examined her, while not forgetting to still let out refreshing chirps. The singing of the birds was so pleasing to the ear, the sounds seemed to have originated from the most skillful musicians in Sheng Jin palace.
Chu Qiao was again stunned. She could not believe she had slept for so long. Touching her forehead, she confirmed it was burning up as if it was a piece of hot charcoal. Her throat felt sore, making it hard to breathe as if there was something stuck inside. Without a doubt, at this critical juncture, she had fallen sick. Luckily, these people had not yet come for her.
Just as Chu Qiao was about to heave a sigh of relief, footsteps suddenly echoed. As she lifted her head, a soothing voice asked, "Are you awake?"
Zhuge Yue, his back facing the winter sun, appeared from within the depths of the forest. He wore a dark purple robe, which was fashionable among the rich sons in Zhen Huang City. With a drooping robe and huge sleeves, lined with layers and layers of golden fleece, the purple robe was decorated with complicated patterns that made use of multi-colored thread that delicately formed many blossoming roses. Under the sun, the clothing looked all the more vibrant and colorful. His long hair was tied up and flowing down his back. His eyebrows were well defined, decorating his eyes that were so dark they seemed like an abyss. His neck was pristine white, not unlike a lady, and his chin was slightly lifted, his lips bright red. Just like that, he stood back, facing the light. His eyes stared at her with indifference, as if looking at a just another lifeless stone.
Even if it were the same piece of clothing, Li Ce would give off a different aura if he wore it. This man had a kind of devilish beauty, but the malignant and frosty aura that emitted from his eyes would remove any thoughts of befriendment from others.
Chu Qiao kept her head up, examining this uninvited guest. "Why are you here?"
"Where is the Crown Prince Li? Escaped? Dead? Or…murdered, by you?" he asked indifferently, raising his eyebrows.
Chu Qiao ignored his question and inquired directly, "How long have you been here?"
"Since you fell asleep like a pig. Do you want some water?" Zhuge Yue shook the bottle of water on his waist. But seeing how Chu Qiao stared at him without any intention to speak, he put it back down.
"Why are you helping me?"
Zhuge Yue coldly smiled and looked at her from the corner of his eyes. "You think I am here to help you?" With arms crossed, he lazily leaned on a nearby tree trunk. Calm and composed he laughed. "Xing'er, who did you think I was? Zhao Song? Yan Xun? That just by living in the small room for over a decade, I started to believe you were the number one woman in the world? Or," he paused and leaned over slightly and continued, "you thought I was the number one idiot in the world, to be cajoled by you again and again?"
With a sneer, he looked up at the sky and nonchalantly stated, "I just wanted to see what crazy stunt Li Ce was trying to pull and to see how miserable you and Yan Xun were. I had not expected how the heavens would help you this time, ruining the show right when it was getting good."