"Fuyao, the bright moon will disappear from sight. If we see it, we must treasure it." From behind her back, Yuan Zhaoxu whispered, "I will wait for you till the day you understand that."
Unexpectedly, particles scattered from the bonfire, and a roasted fragrance of pine nuts was released. A pine nut landed on the hollow of Fuyao's palm. She reached out her hand to grasp it, and it felt as though she was holding a scorching heart.
The flame illuminated the cave and projected a silhouette of that person's back. He was not considered tall, study, or powerful, but he provided her the right amount of warmth. Meng Fuyao looked at the shadow in a daze, as she saw her own hair reach his knees.
The cave's atmosphere was quiet. None of them spoke a word; the dense air of indescribable worry and apprehension increasingly amplified the sounds of the surrounding plain. Wind swept past the entrance of the cave, creating low roars. Amid the austere sounds, a peculiar sound reached them abruptly.
That sound was the combination of an object dropping, someone gasping-for-breath, the rustling of leaves, and an accidental collision of two swords. It was inching closer every second.
Meng Fuyao sat up straight and listened with rapt attention. Yuan Zhaoxu immediately raised his hand to put out the flame before saying, "In the southwest direction, a man is being chased, and he is running toward us now."
Meng Fuyao turned to look at him and asked, "Where exactly is this place?"
Yuan Zhaoxu turned silent, and after quite a while he answered, "I've been here once before. This is the Haoyang Mountain, and it's quite close to the boundary of the Rong's large military camp."
Meng Fuyao stared at him in disbelief. She couldn't understand why Yuan Zhaoxu, a wise, farsighted and an amazing fighter, would take them to such a dangerous place. He gazed at her with no qualms, explaining, "I dashed all the way and forgot about it."
Meng Fuyao was speechless. Some time later, she rubbed her nose, aware that she was the one who started all of this. Yuan Zhaoxu wouldn't have traveled so far in the night if she hadn't angered him.
Meng Fuyao extended her head and looked out of the cave's entrance. She did not know when the torches were lit from the mountain area, but the shimmering light shone like a luminous curtain of glowing starlight. The number of men in the battle array was alarming. The incessant clashing of weapons could be heard as the men from the mountain not far away waved their torches and yelled, "Catch the spies who have barged in!"
With a soft voice, Meng Fuyao said, "So clever? This, they even knew that we're here? Aish, you are entirely to blame for making such a splash in the spring."
She, the guilty party filed the suit first. Yuan Zhaoxu did not argue with her, and his eyes were focused on the darkness. He said unhurriedly, "Beneath this cave is a steep cliff that leads into the escarpment. The vines are covering it. You will go down there later."
Meng Fuyao quickly turned her head and questioned, "What are you up to?"
"The Rong army has been alerted." Yuan Zhaoxu calmly pointed at the speckles from the torches, adding, "It seems that the problem wasn't with us but rather, someone had infiltrated their camp. There are just too many of them. You're poisoned and shouldn't move carelessly. I will send you to a safer place first."
"This won't do," Meng Fuyao refused. "Don't think of fleeing without leaving without me."
Yuan Zhaoxu looked at her, a faint smile surfacing for the first time that night. "When will you change your habit of saying things that you don't actually mean, Fuyao?"
Meng Fuyao wanted to retort but was disrupted by dozens of clattering footsteps. Following which, a tiny shadow dashed across the entrance of the cave while turning her head anxiously. In that moment, the moonlight shone down on her small, bloodstained face.
It was Xiao Dao.
Meng Fuyao almost called out, but she bit down her tongue. The next moment, she caught sight of Xiao Dao missing a step and falling off the cliff.
"Xiao Dao!" Meng Fuyao threw herself out of the cave and off the cliff.
She quickly felt someone grabbing onto her. She struggled but had no energy to go forward. "Go save her..." she muttered, but before she could be heard, someone had already swept past her and jumped off.
Out of the corner of Meng Fuyao's eyes, she caught a glimpse of a purple and blue, two-toned gown. At the bottom of the cliff, a muscular arm held on firmly on the cracks of the rock, and with a fling, Xiao Dao was thrown upward.
Meng Fuyao stepped forward to catch her. The child opened her eyes wide, but she did not cry.
Meng Fuyao sighed and asked, "Are you injured? Why are you here?"
Xiao Dao pursed her lips without answering. She lowered her eyes. The man who jumped off the cliff had on a set of thick, black eyebrows. It was Tie Cheng, the man who had wanted to "marry the mayor," and the man who had hurled abuses at Meng Fuyao in the public square.
He stood up, gasping for breath, and ignored the army, which was charging up because of the commotion. Then, raising his eyebrows and standing by the entrance of cliff, he shouted at Meng Fuyao, who was back in the cave, "You are not trustworthy!"
Stunned, Meng Fuyao replied, "What are you saying?"
"You are not trustworthy" Tie Cheng accused. "You are my woman, so how can you go around liking someone else?"
Meng Fuyao choked, lifting her head quickly and shouting, "Stop following me, you stalker!"
"So what?" Tie Cheng stiffened his neck, emphasizing, "I'm going to marry you!"
Meng Fuyao gritted her teeth. "I did not agree!"
"But I want it, and that's enough!"
Meng Fuyao stared at this rash bull and felt that it would be unwise to trade insults with him. The army was nearing and pestering endlessly.
Yuan Zhaoxu, who was behind her, unenthusiastically interrupted, "Finished bickering? Catch up with me when you are done."
He grabbed onto Xiao Dao, who had been staring at him strangely the whole time. He then reached his other hand out to pull Meng Fuyao over. "Follow me. Don't leave my side no matter what."
Tie Cheng snarled, "I am not going to..."
"You're excluded," Yuan Zhaoxu responded simply without looking back.
The Rong man leading the mission was an assistant general from the army. Someone had secretly entered the camp at midnight and had dared to release flaming arrows from high grounds. The arrows had narrowly burnt the general's tent, and the Rong people deemed it inauspicious to have their tents destroyed before a battle. Therefore, the general had appointed him to hunt the perpetrator down and bring him back to camp to be slaughtered.
This assistant general was considered to be a cautious person. He had clearly noticed that the perpetrator was petite and had a weak martial art background and had managed to escape because of his familiarity with the terrain. Nevertheless, he released thousands of troops and horses to scour the whole area, eventually reaching Haoyang Mountain.
Having seen Xiao Dao falling off the cliff and being rescued, the Rong soldiers passed on the news, and all the torches gathered close in tight layers on the mountaintop.
The assistant general went up to the mountain with guards protecting him all around. He wasn't afraid of Xiao Dao, but the man who had saved her as he wasn't an easy opponent. As for Meng Fuyao and Yuan Zhaoxu, he wasn't even aware of their presence.
Small white lights flashed past as he approached the cliff. The assistant general looked down and vaguely saw an animal that resembled a plump, white rabbit or mouse scuttling past. Not minding it much, he continued sealing the path by advancing forward.
Little did he know that ball of plump, white creature had gone down the mountain, found his horse and hopped onto it. With its claws grabbing onto the horse's mane the creature repeatedly tugged vertically at it.
The horse hadn't been trained in the Shangyang palace and thus did not respond to Lord Yuanbao's order. Lord Yuan Bao became worried. His owner had ordered for his bodyguard not to follow him that night, and Yuan Bao was left to shoulder the heavy responsibility of passing on messages. Yet, this wretched dog of a horse did not understand his prompts.
Frustrated, Lord Yuan Bao jumped and viciously bit the neck of the horse. Pain sunk in and the horse released a long neigh and started galloping forward. Just as Lord Yuan Bao loosened his jaw, he nearly flew forward, but speedily grabbed hold of the horse's mane and continued on his shaky journey.
As a result, the hardworking villagers who woke up early got to witness the strange scene of a horse galloping through the wilderness with no rider on it, save for a fluffy white ball that fluttered greatly along with its mane.
Lord Yuan Bao went on his way, doing what he was supposed to. Unbeknownst to the assistant general, this guinea pig was extremely useful. He scanned about his surrounding, guessing the direction in which the perpetrator was hiding.
The soldiers hid in the grass and waited to spot his whereabouts, but to no avail. The assistant general turned his focus to the shallow cave, which aroused his suspicion.
'They had a chance to escape so why didn't they? Isn't hiding in this cave, and lighting a match and producing smoke no different from seeking their own death?'
There was not a sound made in the cave. The extinguished embers of the firewood released deep-red sparks at times, but they weren't as bright as the eyes of those in the cave.
Not allowing any more explanation from Meng Fuyao, Yuan Zhaoxu took her in his arms. His faint scent, along with the fresh vapor, entered her nostrils in a second. It was a smell that made one feel comfortable. Meng Fuyao shifted her body slightly, which led Yuan Zhaoxu to tighten his embrace.
While inhaling his scent, Meng Fuyao secretly wrote on Yuan Zhaoxu's palm, 'Why don't we leave?' With Yuan Zhaoxu's strength, he should be able to escape easily. However, he had two burdens to carry.
Yuan Zhaoxu quietly replied by writing back, 'Since they have come, let's kill them all together to save time later on.'
Meng Fuyao smirked. 'What a bold statement. One versus 3,000?'
Cheek to cheek, they stuck close, and Meng Fuyao could feel Yuan Zhaoxu smiling. Amid the darkness, his eyes sparkled. At an even slower speed, he wrote, 'I alone can kill 3,000 people. You alone can kill me. You're more powerful.'
Meng Fuyao felt the urge to laugh as Yuan Zhaoxu was writing so gently that it felt more like she was being tickled. Sensitive to it, she bit her lip to prevent herself from laughing out loud. Her lip was turning redder each moment.
All of a sudden, she heard a groan from above her head. It was Tie Cheng, who had seen their interaction. He glared at them, full of resentment, and started carving on the wall. 'The enemy is before us, and you two are flirting!?'
Meng Fuyao choked again, somewhat uncomfortable with the word 'flirt.' Yet, she wasn't going to lose to Tie Cheng. Immediately she gestured in midair with her fingers. 'It's none of your business!'
Tie Cheng was infuriated and had almost wanted to leap down when Yuan Zhaoxu suddenly waved his sleeves.
A purple flash struck abruptly, and the air was thinning and cooling down. Tie Cheng only felt his knees freezing up like ice cubes as he rigidly stood rooted to his spot. Terrified, he glared at Yuan Zhaoxu.
Yuan Zhaoxu turned to the wall, a look of satisfaction flashing across his eyes. He reached his hand out to correct Tie Cheng's carving.
'On the 8th of December, the scattered clouds were condensing as it was about to rain. Zhaoxu and his lady were flirting here.'