Before anyone could react, Nan Xun kicked the man away and deftly kept everyone else from getting close. They came to the realization that this mission wouldn’t be a simple one.
Nan Xun clearly had the upper hand, but Jun Huang couldn’t stop herself from worrying for him. A mere spectator might find the battle thrilling. Jun Huang, however, noticed only how close the blades were to Nan Xun. Soon, her hair was drenched with sweat.
Suddenly, there was rustling behind her. She whirled around and saw a pair of dark, focused eyes. She tried to run, but the man easily caught her by her wrist and pulled her close, putting a dagger to her throat to stop her from struggling.
“Halt, or she dies,” the man croaked, his grating voice echoed in the woods.
Nan Xun couldn’t keep his calm when he saw the dagger threatening to cut her throat. He tightened his grip around his sword and held his breath, his eyes fixed on her.
Jun Huang frowned, her expression unreadable. Nan Xun hesitated. He didn’t want her to get hurt. His concerns stopped him from making a move.
Noting his hesitation, the men decided to catch Nan Xun alive. Nan Xun, meanwhile, had made up his mind to drop his weapon in exchange for Jun Huang’s safety.
Jun Huang was overwhelmed by waves of memories. Dark alleyways, cries of the dying, the woods at night. The images blurred together in her head. The wind was deafening by her ears.
She remembered something. She had once been caught as a hostage against Nan Xun. She couldn’t stop thinking about the way Nan Xun had looked at her then.
She opened her eyes. Nan Xun backed away from his enemies, weighed down by his concern for her. The attackers advanced and kept close to him.
Jun Huang took a deep breath to calm herself. She could tell the man holding her hostage was focusing on Nan Xun as well. She gritted her teeth and bit the man’s hand hard. The man dropped the dagger in pain. She stomped on his foot and pulled away.
The man quickly recovered and drew his long sword to attack Jun Huang, grounding his teeth together. Jun Huang bent backward, dodging the slash by a hair. Before the man could make another attack, she rolled away and picked up the dagger from the ground.
Seeing that Jun Huang had gotten away, Nan Xun made quick work of the assassins circling around him and rushed to Jun Huang.
The man wielded a long sword, while Jun Huang only had a dagger. If they fought, it was clear who the winner would be.
Seeing that Nan Xun had come this way, the man slashed at Jun Huang again. She blocked the blade with her dagger, but it was too small to be effective. It flew out of her hand, cutting off a strand of her hair.
Nan Xun got close enough to throw his sword just in time, the blade burying into the man’s chest. The man widened his eyes and collapsed to the ground.
Jun Huang dropped to her knees like all the fight had left her suddenly. She took a deep breath,wiping off the sweat covering her forehead.
Nan Xun helped her up and, before Jun Huang could speak, snapped, “You’re too reckless! If I’d been a little slower, you’d have died!”
Jun Huang knew how much danger she’d been in, but his words hit her where she was most tender. She didn’t want to be his burden, didn’t want him to get hurt because of her. And yet he dismissed her attempt so easily.
Her eyes stung. She averted her gaze. Nan Xun didn’t know why she was angry. They had had their fair share of arguments before, but Jun Huang rarely treated him so coldly. In panic, he stepped to face her and grabbed her shoulders. “I… didn’t mean to snap at you. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Jun Huang refused to say anything or even looked at him. The moon shone on her face and made her look even colder. It scared Nan Xun in ways he couldn’t explain. It was as if she’d disappear if he didn’t catch her.
Nan Xun stepped to her front again and said, “I apologize. It’s all my fault.”
Jun Huang finally met his gaze, but her expression was still impassive. “Your Highness can do no wrong. I’m the reckless one. I’ll never trouble you again.”
Nan Xun paused, a little thrilled by her attitude. That was how Jun Huang had treated him before. Had she recovered her memory?
He realized that he was wrong, though, when he looked at her eyes. He laughed bitterly, disappointed, but he still had to say something to quell her anger. It took a moment for him to come up with something. “I know you’re worried about dragging me down. You were thinking about my safety when you were held hostage, which I appreciate. I’m glad you care about me. However, you’re the most important thing in my eyes. Not even my life is worth enough to - ”
Jun Huang covered his mouth to stop his nonsense, her brows furrowed. “Stop that! Don’t talk about yourself like you’re expendable. I don’t like it.”
“Like you, I simply don’t want you to get hurt.” Nan Xun took her hands. “I always worry, Jun Huang. I worry you’ll get hurt because of my carelessness. Please, for the peace of my mind, always put your safety first.”
“I get it.” Jun Huang softened and cracked a small smile at his earnest request. Nan Xun sighed in relief. He knew being forceful wouldn’t do him any good. Jun Huang had a big heart and responded better to emotional pleas.
He decided it was best for him to put aside his pride and beg her for forgiveness. The pitiful look clashed with his sculpted and handsome face. Jun Huang couldn’t help but laugh.
Her eyes crinkled and her face relaxed, her lips pulled into a genuine smile. She was beautiful, her bright laugh intoxicating. Nan Xun stared at her, entranced.
Jun Huang fixed her hair and looked up after she’d finally stopped laughing. Nan Xun was still staring at her.
She arched an eyebrow and grinned. “Is there something on my face? A flower blooming, perhaps? Why are you still staring at me?”
“Nothing of the mundane world can compare to you,” Nan Xun said without thinking. “If you were a flower, you’d be the blood lotus in Southern Mu, found only in the snowy mountains and standing tall and proud in isolation.”
They both fell silent after that. Jun Huang looked at Nan Xun owlishly, who realized belatedly he’d voiced his thoughts and embarrassed himself.
He cleared his throat and turned away, but his reddened earlobes didn’t escape Jun Huang’s attention. She felt warmed, her heart fluttering.
She wasn’t going to laugh at him for that. She took a deep breath and asked, “Do you know who those people are?”
Nan Xun was hesitant, but in the end, he decided to tell her the truth. “I don’t recognize them, but I suspect the House of Heavenly Fiends to be involved. I visited their operation base earlier today and talked to the old man in charge. They were suspicious. They must have realized why I went there and decided to take us out.”
Jun Huang considered his words. Nan Xun wouldn’t lie to her, so she didn’t doubt anything he said. She contemplated on the kind of an organization the House of Heavenly Fiends was. She wondered if it was somehow connected to her identity.
Neither of them had an answer. The fact that Jun Hao was still missing stopped them from dwelling on the issue.
“Alright, let’s go back first. This isn’t exactly a safe place.” Nan Xun looked around. There was no telling how many assassins had been deployed. They made it out intact this time, but it was better not to tempt fate by staying.
Jun Huang nodded and followed Nan Xun back to the manor. When they entered through the window, there was a man inside. They relaxed when they got a good look and realized it was Yin Yun.
“Where were you?” Yin Yun frowned. He could smell blood from them.
Nan Xun gave Jun Huang a look and told Yin Yun the truth. Yin Yun didn’t say anything, but it was clear he was displeased. Nan Xun knew he’d put Jun Huang in danger, so he didn’t attempt to defend himself.
Jun Huang noticed the tension between them. She coughed and said to Nan Xun, “It’s worrying that Jun Hao is still missing. Do you have any ideas? We can’t just stay here and wait for clues to drop in our lap, can we?”