“Don’t run! Stop! Just one slash!”
Su Xiao chased a relatively wild boar around with his sabre raised, albeit in clumsy fashion – evident from him losing it before he could get within range.
“What are you running for?! You just ate my bait, yet you refuse to stand still for me to chop you?!”
After five laps, the boar outran Su Xiao, rendering him short of breath. Pouting, he sulked, “How does a boar run so fast?!”
I dusted a big rock: “Come over and catch your breath.”
“All right, once I’ve caught my breath, I’ll go after it again.”
Su Xiao smiled as if the exhaustion was nothing to fret about. He carelessly threw aside Ancient Cold and skipped over to sit next to me, heaving a big breath.
“It’s getting dark. Catching boars will be even harder because we’ll barely be able to see where we’re going.”
The moon and stars plus a torch were enough to traverse the mountain, though barely. We weren’t poor hunters, but that didn’t miraculously lull animals out of hibernation.
Su Xiao moped, “How lame. I don’t understand why the boars were so afraid. They ate my bait for crying out loud.”
Little did Su Xiao know animals bolted… as soon as they sensed my presence nearby.
“It must be because your ugly looks scared them off,” I lied as I touched my nose.
“Me? I don’t look good?!” Su Xiao pointed at himself with his eyes wide. Convinced due to my stare, he lowered his finger in defeat: “My mother used to always call me ugly and forbade me from playing with other kids… After I left home, however, people stopped saying I was ugly… Does that mean animals can still tell?”
Su Xiao’s head sunk more and more as his speak. The last few words were literally hums. I laughed in response his adorable reaction, scaring off the birds in the woods.
“Big Brother Ming, how come your laugh is so loud, while my voice can’t travel so far? Haha… Hahaha…”
Su Xiao’s attempt was laughable.
“You didn’t use the method I taught you. That’s why. If you use it, your voice will travel much further than that.”
Su Xiao wasn’t totally convinced, but he didn’t try again. He ran his eyes from my head to my toes. He looked as if he comprehended something; he actually didn’t. He leaned over and grinned: “What’s the matter?”
I sighed: “Xiao, if it wasn’t for you, His Majesty and I would’ve taken the confrontation much further.”
Su Xiao looked surprised for a second. Smiling, he responded, “His Majesty was in the wrong in the first place. Nobody could stand him trying to force a girl against her will. That said…”
Su Xiao grabbed my hand, speeding up my heart rate. I stuttered, “Wh-What?”
“Is that what you’re not happy about?”
“Yeah. What else, otherwise?”
“You’re dealing with something tough again, aren’t you?” Su Xiao mercilessly exposed.
I tilted my head and farcically asked, “What do you mean? Why would working for His Majesty be bad?”
“There are plenty of examples!” Su Xiao argued. He extended his fingers and flexed them as he listed, “Liu Shan Men’s uniform is hideous, and we only have one set. I asked Vice-Captain if we could switch it on many occasions, but she said no. When we go on patrol, I notice plenty of citizens living in damaged homes. I’d still be sleeping on the ground on your room if we weren’t on this job. Also, I think I’ve gained weight since joining them…”
Smoke whisked from Su Xiao’s head: “A lot! Stop asking!”
“I must,” I folded my arms and responded with a smile. “As the head of the family, I must keep track of every child’s wellbeing. Tell me, Miss, how much heavier are you?”
“Who you calling Miss?! … I gained… half a kilo.”
Half a kilo? You mean… you weighed yourself after eating two miniature buns?
“What’s with that reaction?! Half a kilo isn’t enough for you?!”
“That’s hardly anything. There’s more than a five kilo discrepancy before and after I eat.”
“That’s because you stuff your face with too much! Vice-Captain even said you’d eat Liu Shan Men into bankruptcy if we didn’t raise our income!”
“Now I’m feeling hungry with all this talk about eating. Xiao, catch a boar already.”
“All you do is eat! Learn to contribute! Why don’t you do something?!”
“That’s all because you couldn’t catch anything, isn’t it? You stayed too upright when you chased the boar. We’re on a mountain, not a plain. You need to move in a crouched position. You also forgot to adjust your breathing. Use the breathing technique I taught you, and you won’t feel tired even if you run ten laps.”
Su Xiao puffed his cheeks: “Then, the blame falls on your laziness! You’re helping out this time no matter what!”
Su Xiao dragged me as he ran into the dark woods.
Long Zaitian was first to return to the rendezvous point after approximately an hour since the Emperor gave them an hour to hunt. They wouldn’t dare to let him starve, after all. They were to report back in time even if they didn’t catch anything.
Long Zaitian had several catches and was grinning from ear to ear. He spotted a female silhouette off in the distance and assumed it had to be Su Xiao or Ye Luo.
“How’d you go, Missy?”
Ye Luo answered, “Not much and not too few. I got something, I guess.”
“More than me?” Long Zaitian dropped his catches onto the ground: “Night has nothing on Ol’ Long. These eight rabbits can only blame fate for dealing them bad l-”
Seeing a rain of something, Long Zaitian jumped back. There was a mountain of birds on the ground.
“No need to count. There are forty-seven,” Ye Luo stated with a smile. They hid themselves, but it made no difference to me.”
Ye Luo didn’t necessarily need arrows with her archery proficiency. The birds weren’t adepts, at the end of the day. With just her true qi, she was able to knock them unconscious.
“Damn, you started with a cheat skill. Unfair bet. I’m not interested.”
Ye Luo giggled: “I never betted with you. Where’s everyone else?”
“Coming, coming!” Su Xiao called from afar. “We’re back.”
Long Zaitian wore on a smug mug: “Her gums work full time and over time. What did you catch?”
Thud! Long Zaitian heard the bones of his rabbits crack. He griped, “The hell?!”
When Long Zaitian looked down, he saw a bear.
“My back aches. My whole body is tired. Ol’ Tie still not back?” I grumbled and asked as I sauntered over.
Ye Luo laughed: “I just saw him. He said he was going to hunt a bear, as well. He should be back soon since you two caught one.”
Out of nowhere, a bloody body dropped down from above. We didn’t even get a good look, but Ye Luo screamed, “Brother Tie!”
I took a deep breath. What I feared became a reality, and I was faced with a critical decision.