Chapter 180: Trust
Nan Xun jumped onto the tiger’s back from behind. While the tiger was distracted, Jun Huang yanked her sword out of the tiger’s mouth without hesitation, cutting off the tiger’s tongue at the same time. Blood gushed out of the tiger’s mouth.
Neither Jun Huang nor Nan Xun spared a glance for the grotesque mess they had made. Nan Xun plastered his body along the tiger’s back and held onto its neck as Jun Huang stabbed at the tiger’s stomach.
Right before Jun Huang’s sword could hit the tiger, Nan Xun was thrown off the tiger’s back. A pained huff escaped his mouth.
His heart clenched when he saw the tiger’s furious eyes. Before it could stomp on his face, Nan Xun rolled to the side and scrambled to his feet. Jun Huang threw him his sword. He caught it and drove it into the tiger’s stomach.
In, and out. Crimson blood splattered out of the cut. The air was filled with a sickening metallic smell. Jun Huang started retching while supporting herself against the wall.
Nan Xun let out a deep breath after the tiger had collapsed. His vision went dark for a moment. He inhaled deeply and struggled to Jun Huang’s side with a hand on the wall. He patted her on the back.
“I… I’m fine,” Jun Huang said with a trembling voice. She waved a hand at Nan Xun, trying to assure him, but she couldn’t stop her legs from shaking. She fell to the ground. Nan Xun wanted to help her up, but he felt light-headed as soon as he bent down. He collapsed as well.
They lay on the ground and exchanged a smile. Tension drain out of their bodies. The adrenaline rush left them exhausted. They couldn’t even utter a single word. The pain was now dull, but the exhaustion had overcome them.
It took a while for Jun Huang to recover. She propped herself up and got to her feet. A search around the room yielded no results. She didn’t find another exit. Her focus shifted to the cage at the center of the room.
An idea came to her mind. She walked into the iron cage and felt around. There was a trigger on the cage.
She wasn’t going to just push it. After a bemused pause, she walked out of the cage and pushed the trigger. Click! A small trapdoor revealed itself at the bottom of the cage. She let out a sigh of relief.
“There’s a door here, Nan Xun,” Jun Huang said, turning to Nan Xun.
Nan Xun got to his feet and brushed away the dust on his clothes. He walked up to her. Jun Huang took a step back to let Nan Xun look at the door. Her gaze settled on Nan Xun’s injured fingers. Her heart ached thinking of how Nan Xun had fought the tiger with bare hands. The thoughts alone made her wince in sympathy.
Nan Xun turned to her. Realizing that she was staring at his wounds, he casually hid his hands under his sleeves and said, “I’ll have a look first.”
Jun Huang nodded. She didn’t want to argue with him over this again. Nan Xun told her to be careful before jumping down the small trapdoor.
The room underneath was again empty. The walls were not made of stone, but of iron. There were skeletons left on the floor. It was horrifying to be faced with the hollow eyes of the skulls.
“What’s down there?” Jun Huang asked. “There’s no exit in the room up here. The room below should be our way out.”
Nan Xun agreed with Jun Huang. “Jump. I’ll catch you.”
Jun Huang entered the cage and looked down. The floor was about two meters away from her. She took a deep breath and leaned forward.
She jumped. Nan Xun caught her in his arms.
Jun Huang slowly opened her eyes when she stopped falling. Her gaze met Nan Xun’s. She coughed and pulled away from him.
She was faced with the skeletons as soon as she turned around. Startled, she backed away. Nan Xun put a hand on her shoulder and said reassuringly, “Relax. We’ll look around for an exit.”
“Alright,” Jun Huang said with a nod.
The door above them was suddenly slammed shut. Jun Huang and Nan Xun shared a look. Realization dawned on them. Nan Xun leaped into the air, trying to push the door open, but the door was sealed. He landed on the ground and shook his head.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as trying to find a switch,” Jun Huang said. She quickly calmed herself down. “There must be a catch.”
Nan Xun nodded. He didn’t have a clue what the right thing to do now was.
After a while, the air in the sealed room started to feel thin. Jun Huang leaned against the wall, trying to stay calm. Even so, it started to become difficult for her to breath. It was not merely a psychological reaction, no. The room was custom made to keep outside air from coming in. It was completely sealed off.
Nan Xun was a lot more well trained, but he was exhausted from the fight earlier. The air was getting thinner and thinner. Jun Huang’s face had become pale. He moved to Jun Huang’s side and caught her cold fingers in his hand.
Jun Huang stared at the skeletons on the ground. She could tell that these people were murdered. The cuts on the bones were the proof. She was suddenly struck by realization.
This was a test on their trust toward one another. Deprived of oxygen, people will do anything they can to survive. Only one person could leave this room. To survive, one of them would have to kill the other.
Of course, this was Jun Huang’s speculation. She couldn’t be sure only by observing the skeletons. Some of the skeletons had broken necks. They might have killed themselves.
Nan Xun had come to the same conclusion. This was the most difficult of all the challenges. The first two were nothing in comparison. He knew that this room was set up to test if they truly trust one another.
They had both figured out what the challenge was, but neither of them knew what conditions they would have to fulfill to be considered qualified. They remained silent to conserve their strength.
Jun Huang breathed slowly, lying against the wall with her eyes closed.
Nan Xun had been injured, but he had years of training behind him. His breathing was slow and deliberate. He had not yet reached his limit.
He took Jun Huang’s hand and felt her pulse. It was getting weaker and weaker. He froze and turned to her. Her face was so pale it was as if she was going to vanish in the next second. He panicked.
“Don’t fall asleep!” Nan Xun patted Jun Huang’s cheek. “Look at me.”
Jun Huang’s eyes fluttered open. Her gaze was dull and distant. Her lips had lost all colors.
Nan Xun held his breath and helped Jun Huang to the ground. He sat down cross-legged behind her and pushed his inner energy into Jun Huang’s body. He stopped after the moment for a pot of tea to brew. Jun Huang fell into his embrace bonelessly, but her face had become less pale.
As the air grew thinner, Nan Xun’s composure started to break. He forced himself to calm down. After a moment of silence, he took out a dagger and handed it to Jun Huang. “This can’t go on,” he said calmly. “We’re both going to die in this state. One of us has to live. Perhaps they will let you out once you kill me. Take care of yourself once you’re out.”
Jun Huang looked up at him with eyes filled with cold fury. It was the first time Nan Xun saw Jun Huang like this. A shudder ran down his spine.
Jun Huang knocked the dagger off his hand and scoffed. “What do you think you’re doing? You want me to live with the weight of your death on my conscience? By your logic, you should be the one to live. The poison in my body means that I don’t have a lot of days left. You are a prince of Northern Qi. Your country needs a hero like you. You are the one that cannot be replaced.”
She took a deep breath and continued, “Listen, if you really think one of us must be killed to let the other live, kill me. I won’t complain. I ask only for you to find my brother and… and protect him.”
Her breathing became shallow and erratic. The lack of oxygen made her dizzy. Her vision started to blur.
Nan Xun fell silent. He had anticipated Jun Huang’s reaction. This was how she was. She would not live at the cost of other people’s lives.
He let out a resigned chuckle. At times like this, he would rather Jun Huang be more selfish. He didn’t want her to treat everyone with such genuine heart.
It was an exhausting way to live.
“We live together, or we die together,” Jun Huang said in a steely voice. “No argument.”
Nan Xun looked down at her and nodded. He held onto her hands and closed his eyes. His breathing grew shallow, and his temples started to throb.
After the time for an incense stick to burn, they both went into coma. They had not let go of each other. Jun Huang lay against Nan Xun’s chest with his arms around her shoulders. Both their faces were as pale as sheet.
Click! On the wall a door suddenly opened. Out came two men - it was Ji Bo and the old man in charge of the House of Heavenly Fiends. They exchanged a look before approaching Nan Xun and Jun Huang. After separating them, the old man helped Nan Xun up while Ji Bo picked Jun Huang up and carried her out.
When Jun Huang regained consciousness, a sharp pain shot through her chest. For a moment, she wondered if she was alive or dead. If she was dead, how could she feel pain? The room, however, had run out of air; how could she come out alive?
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