The night air was humid and sweltering hot. The sun had set below the horizon hours before but the temperature had yet to cool. Creatures of the day had long retired to their burrows or nests, the only sound came from the crickets and toads or from the occasional wild animal hunting in the cover of the night. The stillness of the night was interrupted by the glint from the sword that shone sharply through the dark, slicing across and tearing into fabric – missing the flesh by a mere hair breath. Pulling back, the sword slid vertically across the length of the attacking steel, aiding its master in evading the killing blow.
Although the masked man was surrounded, he was still able to skilfully parry every attack that came his way; save for one slash across his abdomen. Apart from that, he had still manage to draw blood from his three opponents, each swing of his sword left a trail of blood in its wake. Adrenalin coursed through every fibre of his being and heightened his senses, he could predict every move his opponents made to return the blows.
He was agile and undoubtedly smooth in his dance. There was little room for any excessive movement – each strike he made was shaped and catered to be as lethal as possible with limited energy expenditure. He had been trained in the dance of swords since he had been able to lift a sword. His opponents were comparable to yearlings; they may have the training, but they lacked the experience and capability of killing. And he, he killed his first man in his ninth winter and his record had only grown since then.
Flicking the hidden mechanism in his arm guard, a short knife slid into place followed by the click from the locking mechanism. Within a heartbeat, he embedded the knife into abdomen of his opponent – the knife was short therefore the cut was shallow, but it delivered its purpose. As he was about to pull back, the injured man before him grabbed his arm in a steel grip as one of his companion slashed at his back.
Releasing a breath, the man’s body went straight into action. A powerful kick sent the man grasping onto his arm crashing into the metal cage behind him. As the sword came down, the man swerved his body fluidly to evade the blow, but felt the metal cut deep into his shoulder. The sting from the fresh wound threw him off balance momentarily as it had been ages since he had last been wounded.
But it was only for a moment. The feeling passed even before his brain could register it as pain. The man felt the corners of his lips lift slightly as he glanced at the man who managed to land the attack.
Lifting his sword up, the man flung it expertly at the offending man and while his opponent dealt with the flying weapon, the man turned and escaped towards the army barracks.
“Fuck!” Lang growled as he struck the flung sword away with his own.
Lang had been momentarily occupied with the sword that had been thrown at him, and the assailant had managed to escape. Throwing a quick glance at Zhao who had been slammed against the cage, Lang quickly took off after the masked man.
“You still alive?” Lei asked breathlessly as he placed his hand on the shoulder of Zhao.
Apart from having the wind knocked out of him and the slowly widening circle of red on his abdomen, Zhao nodded exasperatedly back at Lei.
“Go get the bastard.”
Giving the shoulder a tight squeeze, Lei quickly took off after Lang. Another pair of arms started pulling on his clothes from behind as a frantic voice took over. Zhao felt like laughing at the gibberish the girl in the cell was suddenly sprouting as she fussed over him through the bars.
“I’m fine Yue. It’s nothing but a flesh wound. The blade was not long enough to cause any devastating effects.” Zhao acknowledged as he examined the wound.
“Oh god. Oh god. Are you sure? Are you sure?” Yue questioned hurriedly as she tried to stem the bleeding with whatever amount of Zhao’s top she could manoeuvre with.
His laughter was slightly strained as Zhao pushed himself off the ground whilst holding the scrunched up remains of his top over his abdomen. He scanned the perimeter for any signs of movement – and when there was none, he released the breath that he had been holding. Looking into the cell, his facial features softened from the scowl he didn’t know he had when he saw the worry etched on his childhood friend’s face.
“I told you! I told you there was a murderer out there!” Yue cried, the I-told-you-so tone dripping heavily from her words.
Unable to stop himself, Zhao felt a ripple of laughter erupt from is throat at the slightly pouting face before him.
“We believed you. It’s just that we didn’t expect him to act this quickly.” Zhao explained. “Not since we increased the number of guards and all.”
“Yeah, those two men were assigned here. They are – no, were elite soldiers.” Zhao said, his expression darkening as he turned his gaze onto the crumpled bodies of his men.
The masked assailant had run them through as though they were nothing. After the murder of Tien, Lang had assigned two men from his personal contingent to guard Yue in the guise of prisoners. These two men were part of a group of elites fondly addressed as The Chrysanthemum Wolves by other soldiers as they were a squad associated with the personal army of the King’s. And here they were - one with glazed wide staring eyes, a look of confusion forever etched onto his face, a wound spanning the length of his neck, deep enough to expose bone; the other had a pained expression, his eyes brimming with unshed tears, a clean cut running down from his left shoulder to his abdomen, blood only just beginning to turn dull.
The stench of spilled blood hung heavily in the air, Yue felt as though she could taste the blood on her tongue as she nervously licked her lips. It was the second night in the cell and she had been introduced to two new cage mates that same morning. She had thought they looked a little too clean shaven to be the type to rebel against their commanding officers or do anything stupid. When nightfall came about, Yue wished she had been given the option to skip whatever happened next.
After dinner, Yue was ready to settle back down onto the same spot she had slept in the night before when the masked man stepped out from the shadows. She knew a scream was about to erupt from her throat and at the same moment, two sharp clings accompanied by the noisy swing of rusted hinges from the cages next to her sounded. The two new inmates withdrew swords from beneath the straw in their cages and positioned themselves back-facing Yue. One of them quickly slashed at a nearby fire torch; his sword moving expertly as he flung the torch onto a stack of hay.
The flames spread quickly and a column of dark grey smoke rose high up towards the sky. They had managed to fend off the attacks from the masked assailant by working together – it was evident that these two men often trained together as their attacks support the other.
It all crumbled when the masked man efficiently landed a fatal strike onto one of the elites, his sword running smoothly down the man’s chest as though there was no bone or muscle in the way. The other elite had been stunned by the killing of his partner but was pulled out of it when Lang, Zhao and Lei entered the fray. He didn’t know when nor did he know how, but the masked assailant managed to step up from behind him, his sword lying horizontally across his neck. Before he could register anything, the sword was pulled across the base of his neck swiftly, severing both carotids almost instantaneously. He was dead before his body even hit the ground.
The sound of metal keys pulled Yue out from her memory. Zhao pulled open the cage door and beckoned for her to follow him. As a man and as one of the commanding officers, Zhao did not want to miss out on the chase, nor did he want to lose the opportunity of sticking his sword down the bastard’s throat.
“Come on. Hopefully Lang’s got that bastard cornered.” Zhao said as he gathered a small handful of earth – ignoring the pain, he swiftly stuffed the dirt into his knife wound.
He needed it to stop bleeding and this was an efficient way to stop it. He could always wash it out after when everything was settled. Looking up, Zhao sighed in exasperation at the horrified look on Yue.
“I cannot leave you here. Lang will kill me. Plus we don’t know if there are other accomplices of his,” Zhao explained as he pulled the reluctant girl out from the cage. “Besides, who’s gonna look after me should I faint along the way?”
Laughing, Zhao pulled Yue along as he immediately gave chase after the three men before him. The pair entered the entrance of the camp to a scene of confusion. Soldiers who had retired earlier had been roused awake by the shouts and the clashing of metal on metal. Hurrying through the crowd, Yue couldn’t help but stumble over her own feet as she could dragged along by Zhao.
If there was a murderer in front, wouldn’t the smartest decision be to run in the opposite direction as fast as you can? She wished she could knock out the idiot in front who was pulling her by her wrist. Looking up to the sky, Yue asked the gods why oh why do I have the worst of lucks?
Weaving through the labyrinth of tents, Zhao’s feet came to an abrupt stop to prevent body slamming into the man before him. The body weight slamming hard on his back indicated that Yue had not followed suit.
“Commander!” Zhao yelled out as he rushed forward to the injured male before him.
Kang turned around and took in the sight of Zhao and Yue. His eyes narrowing upon seeing Yue out of her cell. However, his military training and experience reminded him that the priority now was not the release of an ignorant runt, but the presence of an unknown individual in his camp.
Yue released a gasp when she noticed the long slash wound diagonally across Kang’s entire back. Blood soaked through Kang’s entire top and was dripping steadily onto the ground from the frayed bottom edges. Nearby laid the body of another soldier, his heart stabbed through.
“He appeared out of nowhere and took Fei out.” Kang said, his voice hard as nails as his eyes shifted to the body of his soldier.
“Sir, we need to get the physician to look at your wound.”
“No. I will wait for Lang to return with news. Get yours looked at.” Kang ordered.
Kneeling down next to the body, Kang reached forward and closed the eyes of the dead man. His hand rested on the dead man’s eyes for a moment, his face grim with anger before he brought it back to his side, balling it into a tight fist.
“That son of a bitch has to die.”