It was a palm-sized token Nan Xun couldn’t be more familiar with - he had one very similar to it. He’d commented on how unique the tokens of House of Heavenly Fiends were - like a patch of delicately crafted cloud. From the dirt accumulated over the token, it was clear it’d been here for a while. He trembled and sweat in debilitating dread, collapsing to the stone stairs like all strength had drained out of his body.
He debated over if he should give the token another look. Maybe he’d misjudged. Maybe it wasn’t Jun Huang’s.
The mistress hadn’t gone to bed yet when the maid arrived at her residence. Normally, she wasn’t allowed to visit her master so late at night, but her nervous expression gave the caretaker pause. The caretaker told the maid to wait outside and entered to notify the mistress.
The mistress put down a Buddhist prayer beads bracelet when the caretaker entered. The beads were polished from years of handling and shone prettily under the candlelight.
“What’s the matter?” the mistress asked with a glance at the old caretaker and took a sip of tea.
“It’s the maid serving our esteemed guest, madam. She said she had something important to tell you. She seems genuine, so I came to notify you immediately. If the mistress doesn’t want to see her, I’ll dismiss her.”
The mistress paused and decided to hear the maid out. “Tell her to come in.”
The old caretaker nodded and walked away. Soon, the maid entered the room. She looked nervous as she knelt and bowed to the mistress. “Madam, I heard someone talking in her room tonight.”
She told the mistress everything. The mistress’s face clouded. The maid got more and more nervous as she spoke, worried that the mistress would punish her.
The mistress wasn’t an unreasonable person. She nodded and said, “Good. You did the right thing by telling me. Go back and keep a close eye on her. If you hear anything else, don’t let her notice. Just tell me about it.”
The maid nodded and left. The mistress thought back to how Jun Huang had acted these days. She hadn’t realized it before, but once she put some thought to it, she started to see the warning signs.
She finished her cup of tea and put on a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She had to keep a closer eye on Jun Huang.
She assigned more people to Jun Huang under the guise of keeping her safe, but Jun Huang wasn’t fooled. The mistress must have noticed her wariness. The added guards were to keep her under control.
She huffed. The mistress was more cautious than she’d expected. The webs of manipulation around her were starting to manifest, but she couldn’t yet get the big picture. Unfortunately, the best she could do was to wait for an opening.
Days passed without Jun Huang seeing Yin Yun. They exchanged messages every day. Finally, the opportunity presented itself.
Without hesitation, Jun Huang jumped out of the window. She had thought she’d get hurt, but she landed on her two feet easily. Before she had the time to question that, Yin Yun had come and threw her a look. The two disappeared into the bushes.
There was a path hidden in the overgrowth. Jun Huang crouched down and followed Yin Yun to the back of the Grand Chancellor manor. He stopped her from advancing when they reached their destination.
Yin Yun pointed at the approaching guard and sighed in relief. He snuck past the guard and made sure no one else was around before beckoning Jun Huang over.
They carefully made their way to the entrance of the back building. The door was shut with six guards stationed in the area. They had their arms crossed and were clearly well trained. Jun Huang and Yin Yun had to act smartly.
“There are too many of them,” Jun Huang said calmly with her back to the wall. “If we just barge in, many will be alerted to our presence. Then we won’t be able to get Jun Hao out even if we find him, and we’ll be in great danger. We should first find out if there are more guards in the building.”
Yin Yun nodded in agreement. “But the guards are a problem. They’re split into pairs and covered the entire area. We don’t have a chance to get inside.”
“We have to figure out something.” Jun Huang forced herself to calm down, but no solution came to her. Her forehead creased in contemplation.
“Ah, I remember seeing another entrance leading into the building,” Yin Yun said suddenly, slapping his forehead. “It’s big enough to fit a person, and there’s only one guard there. We can easily take him down.”
Jun Huang shook her head with a grave expression. “That doesn’t seem right. If you saw only one man standing guard, there must be many more inside. It’s a trap to lure people in.”
“What do you mean, princess?” Yin Yun asked.
Jun Huang huffed. “No such design flaw should be seen in the Grand Chancellor manor. Why would they expose their vulnerability like that? If we can spot it, they must have known already as well. It has to be a deliberate design.”
Yin Yun nodded in realization. That took them back to ground zero.
Suddenly, there were footsteps approaching. They whirled around, alerted. A man was rushing toward them.
Nan Xun hurriedly pulled Jun Huang into his arms, his heart pounding almost painfully. All the hard work he put into locating her was worth it at this moment.
Jun Huang widened her eyes when she was wrapped in the man’s arms. She struggled to push him away once she recovered from the shock.
Yin Yun thought they had been spotted by the guards. Eager to protect his master, he clasped his hand on Nan Xun’s shoulder, forcing him to let go of Jun Huang.
Before Nan Xun could react, Yin Yun threw a punch at him. Nan Xun dodged it by a hair and, before Yin Yun could throw another punch, retaliated in kind.
Yin Yun wasn’t as fast as Nan Xun was, and the punch landed. Jun Huang hurriedly ran up to Nan Xun, intending to fight him off, but Nan Xun quickly stopped his attack when he saw her.
Jun Huang looked at him questioningly. Yin Yun quickly stepped between them. Thinking that Yin Yun was going to hurt Jun Huang, Nan Xun drew his sword, and Yin Yun followed suit.
Their blades clashed, the sound sharp and grating. Jun Huang struggled to find an opening to do something, anything.
Footsteps came. Jun Huang narrowed her eyes. They must belong to the guards in the manor. She took a deep breath and throw herself between the two men.
They both halted their swords in panic. Nan Xun grabbed her shoulders, his eyes red. “What are you thinking? Do you know how dangerous that is? You’d have died if I hadn’t pulled back in time!”
Jun Huang considered him and managed a smile. “Are you on our side?”
Nan Xun frowned without a word. Jun Huang wasn’t going to wait for his response. The footsteps were quickly getting close. They had to get out of here. She took a deep breath and grabbed Nan Xun and Yin Yun with each hand, leading them through the hidden path to her residence.
For some reason, the two men remained antagonistic to each other. Jun Huang was puzzled, but it wasn’t of any importance to her at the moment.
“We need to get inside,” Jun Huang said calmly, pointing at the window on the second floor. “The rest can wait.”
Nan Xun nodded and picked her up. With a push of his foot, he flew in through the second floor window. Yin Yun was right after them. Jun Huang didn’t have time to think about why Nan Xun’s embrace felt so familiar to her. She pulled away from him and shut the window.
Guards were coming. She calmed herself and ignored the tension between the two men. She looked around her room and led them behind the screen. She frowned, agonizing how she should hide them..
Perhaps the mistress had foreseen something like this happening. That was why there wasn’t anything the two men could hide in. They had to go somewhere else. She wouldn’t be able to explain their presence otherwise.
Nan Xun chuckled and, without another word, jumped onto the roof, keeping himself out of sight. Yin Yun followed his lead and hid on the other side of the roof.
Jun Huang sighed in relief. There were people coming up the stairs. She quickly jumped onto her bed and pretended to be sound asleep.