“Yu Zhu, do you hear that?” Hua Er panted and winced in pain, the gash on her leg bled sluggishly. They had abandoned their horse and were on foot, running through the endless houses and corridors. The ghostly music of a xun wafted though the damp night air. Hua Er grabbed Yu Zhu’s hands and they scrambled towards the sound, leaping silently over rooftops and trees.
They flew down cobbled sided streets lined with wooden houses and closed shops, past creamy white walls and indistinct windows. Hua Er listened; they were definitely close to it, whoever was playing it might be able to help them. Hua Er and Yu Zhu bounded up a high wall separating them and the sound, landing on the soft green grass of a hilly embankment of the river.
Hua Er spied a tall figure in cloud white robes playing the Xun, by the small gleaming river lined with whispering willow trees. She ran with the princess in tow, listening for the silent footsteps of assassins. The rich notes of the xun faded as Hua Er came nearer to the figure in white. The music stopped and the young man looked up. He wore the clothes of a rich young noble, a soft white robe edged in silver cinched with a silver and jade embroidered belt.
“Young sir, I don’t know who you are but please, please help us. We’re being chased by men who want to harm my young master.” Hua Er’s leg was bleeding profusely but she paid no heed. Her knees buckle in exhaustion and supplication. Gentle but firm hands gripped her arms like iron, lifting her up before she could touch the ground. Hua Er looked up into the most beautiful face she had ever seen. His jaws and cheekbones looked as if they had been carved out of the finest white jade; his strong nose and full mouth were inches from hers. Coal black eyes framed by dark lashes and jet black brows bore into hers as he asked her in a quiet and rich voice, “How many men?”
“Seven” she blurted as she tried to avoid those intense eyes. He was looking into her eyes unabashedly, his staggeringly beautiful face unmoving in contemplation. She tried to swallow and calm her increasingly frantic heart, “the men are highly trained assassins, they’ve killed all our guards.”
The young man smiled, “ I will assist you.” He gently scooped up Hua Er and before she could protest, placed her in-between the roots of a nearby willow. He took an icy blue handkerchief from his pocket and began ripping it to bandage her leg. Hua Er tried to protest but he ignored it. Then, with fluid grace, he picked up his reed-like long sword and turned to the princess. He bowed, “Young master, for my services, should you choose to take them, you will owe me a debt. My name is Xu Long Hui”
Yu Zhu looked at Hua Er, whose eyes were closed in pain, and replied without hesitation “Very well, Xu Long Hui. We have a deal.”
A few moments later, the assassins came silently across the stream to find the unearthly handsome youth smiling humorlessly at them, holding a silver edged black halberd.
“It’s too late in the night to be carousing in dark clothing; some might think you have dishonorable intentions.” Xu Long Hui remarked casually to the assassins, his cold eyes measuring each man with careless distain.
“Our intentions are none of your business so move or die.” The chief assassin spat at the youth.
Nothing indicated fear on the youth’s sharp face. One of his brows rose slightly as he continues to smile derisively at the assassins.
“I was taught a thousand and one ways how to skin a man without shedding an ounce of blood” the youth coldly told the men, “Shall I show you how? Or will you leave while I am still in a good mood?” The assassins hesitated, they were seasoned killers, and they knew the stance of a formidable opponent when they saw one. The youth’s pale face and delicate features only enhanced his cold and merciless eyes. Here was someone who can kill without getting any blood on his snow white robes.
“We just want the boy.” The head assassin grunted, “Leave and we won’t harm you.”
Xu Long Hui sighed, “I tried to be nice. You will be dead before you lift your sword.”
Xu Long Hui shifted, and suddenly leapt towards them, unsheathing his sword in one wide arc and cutting two of the men down before he lands in their midst. He swept down gracefully, the sword flashed like lightening, and he cut three men through their knees before they knew they were hurt. He betrayed no emotion as he carried out his deadly dance, his cloud white sleeves floating around him, hiding his true strength and fatal intentions.
And as he rises from the ground, his sword glides like bamboo leaves in the wind, slicing through the throats of those he injured. There were no sounds as he weaved around each man, flowing like a ribbon of water, snaking around each man as if he rode the winds. One unharmed man had managed to put his sword half way out of his sheath as his companions dropped like flies. A silver and blue dagger appears in the white robed youth’s hands as if by magic. He flicks the knife and it lands hilt deep in the chest of the man. With an incredulous look, the man fell, his half-sheathed sword hanging still clutched in his lifeless hands.
Before the chief assassin could even count the dead among his men, he realized he was the only one left. The youth was not even out of breath as he points his sword, which was as clean as if he had never used it, at the last assassin.
“Now, I’ve been very polite. So answer me if you do not want to die, who sent you?” The young man asked conversationally, as if they are having a casual chat between friends.
The chief assassin realized that he could not outrun a man who had just killed six men in the time it took to drain a glass of wine. He took a pellet from his sash and threw it in his mouth, crushing it in with his teeth as he backed away.
Xu Long Hui’s brow furrowed in sudden understanding but before he could react, the chief assassin was death.
The sword snapped back into the scabbard with a silent clink. The young man walked back to Hua Er, who, along with Yu Zhu had been gaping at the youth.
Xue Long Hui knelt down by Hua Er, who tightly gripped her dagger in one hand and Yu Zhu’s hand in the other. He smiled reassuringly, “I know a doctor who owes me, he lives near here. We need to get your leg looked at.” They still looked at him, still too shocked to understand what he said.
The young man sighed and swooped down to picked up Hua Er, ignoring her weak protests, “I can walk, young master, please put me down.” Hua er gulped as he held her tighter to his chest. His chest rumbled as he chuckled.
“Hush, you are injured. Are women always this noisy?” Hua Er shut up. She and Yu Zhu exchanged a look of astonishment.
“How did you know?” Yu Zhu piped in. They were still dressed as men.
The young man smiled as he started walking alongside Yu Zhu. “Men are not as unobservant as they say we are. We aren’t idiots”
“I know one who is” Yu Zhu grumbled to herself as she thought of Shan Ying Lang.
“Thank You,” Hua Er whispered, she was so tired, it seemed that she was slowly falling into a pool of linden flowers, her limbs melting heavily into the warmth of the man carrying her. The sweet and spicy smell seemed to lull her deeper and deeper into darkness. Long Hui glanced at Hua Er and quicken his pace, “She doesn’t have long. We have to hurry.”