Chapter 35: The Hunt in the Woods
Translator: Novel Saga Editor: Maggie
The Wu riders didn't take long to rush into the woods. A triangular-eyed middle-aged man was in the lead. He held a wooden case in his hand. It contained a pink beetle. It resembled a longicorn beetle. It flapped its wings incessantly as it 'buzzed' weakly.
"They've fled from here... as expected," a man stepped forward. He snorted sardonically after he glanced at the deserted carriage and the two black horses. He seemed to be around forty years old, and was adorned in glamorous clothes.
This man was Wu Tong; the Third Master of the Wu Clan.
"Then what are we waiting here for? Go! Hunt them! We won't let them off!" the proud young man behind the Third Master urged. He was overjoyed at finding Shi Mu's trace.
"Ha ha! Just relax. They were in the cart long enough for the 'fragrance of Qian Li' to have soaked into their clothes. The fragrance will only fade away after an entire night has passed. What? You think we can't catch a mere Martial Disciple in one full night? You two - stay here; watch the horses and guard Little Hua. The rest of you - come with me," Wu Tong ordered his men as he grinned complacently.
The two Martial Disciples obediently bowed on hearing the orders, and took a step back towards their horses. The others drew their weapons and followed the man into the woods. They were all remarkably skilled even though they were only Martial Disciples. They moved with much agility in the darkness. Wu Tong wandered into the woods only after he had cautioned the proud young man.
*One hour later, deep inside the woods.*
Shi Mu was running at a fast pace; he still held the girl in his arms. Contact with branches had long-since torn his shirt; in fact, there were numerous bloody cuts on his arms and legs. However, this did not worry Shi Mu. He was still soldiering on; as if he felt no pain. He would abruptly change his direction after running a certain distance in order to make his routes as complex as possible.
The girl had curled-up in Shi Mu's arms. She had her arms around his neck, and remained silent as she blushed faintly. A strange and irresistible sensation could be felt because of the dim starlight and the hazy mist. A strong temptation floated in the air owing to the faintly stirring fragrance the girl's soft body emanated.
However, there was no time for Shi Mu to savour the beauty in his arms. Enemies were chasing him. He could only rely on his superhuman eyesight to find some good places to hide in. His body was moving through the trees like a leopard.
Suddenly, he rushed to a huge tree and hid behind it in the efforts to hear something. He took a deep breath and tilted his head to a side. Zhong Xiu's eyes gleamed with affection when she lifted her beautiful face. It seemed as if she had lost herself for a while, for her eyes were fixed upon Shi Mu's grave face.
Unfortunately, noisy footsteps mixed with some low curses were heard from their rear after a short while. Shi Mu's color changed, and he turned around abruptly without a word. Once again, he began running as fast as he could; with the girl still in his arms.
"It was just as I had thought. They must possess some peculiar ways to track us. Otherwise, there is no explanation for how they were able to find us after we changed our routes so many times. Brother Shi, please put me down. You should run away alone. I'm a burden, and you'll have a much better shot at escaping without me," Zhong Xiu suggested in a low voice. She had come to herself when she heard the approaching footsteps.
"Miss Zhong, don't bring this topic up again. I'm not a hero, but I'll never leave a woman or a child in the way of dangerous enemies. Besides, Uncle Zhong had asked me to protect you in his last words," Shi Mu answered without hesitation.
"What's with all the 'buts'? My strength and stamina ensures that you don't prove to be a burden. I have the ability to run all-night and still have some spare energy left. I'm only wondering if our pursuers are blessed with as much endurance," Shi Mu said calmly.
"I see. Then, I won't talk about this topic again. In the worst case... I will die with Brother Shi," the girl spoke in the softest voice after hearing Shi Mu's heroic proclamation. Her beautiful eyes glittered, and her arms gripped Shi Mu's neck a little tighter.
However, Shi Mu couldn't afford to lose himself in her gentle words. He had no option but to run. Suddenly, he stopped when he noticed something. The trees were increasingly thinner ahead, and one could vaguely see large patches of open fields. They had reached the end of the forest after having been on the run for so long.
"It's too late for us to go on another route," Zhong Xiu was surprisingly calm despite the desperate situation they were in. There wasn't a speck of fear in her heart.
"It looks like I will have to fight them. Miss Zhong, please hold onto me as tightly as you can," Shi Mu said to the girl with a sombre look on his face.
"Yes," the girl said in an excited sound.
Shi Mu then darted to a big tree, and began to move his arms like an agile ape. Momentarily, he had climbed up a branch which was about fourteen meters off the ground. He placed the girl on the branch, and told her to hold on to it.
He then earnestly said, "Wait for me here. I'll come for you if I succeed in killing the enemies."
He finished speaking and 'whizzed' down from the tree. He then turned and ran back into the thick forest.
Zhong Xiu had no option but to lean against the branch. She stared in the direction where Shi Mu had disappeared. Her anxious face had turned rather pale. This made the blue birthmark on her forehead indistinct. She looked gentler than words could describe...
Shi Mu narrowed his eyes and abruptly knelt down after he had put some distance between Zhong Xiu and himself. He hid his body behind a thick bush. He raised his arm and grabbed the purple steel bow from his shoulder as he observed about ten black silhouettes running towards his spot. They were still over a thousand meters away.
The Wu Clan members could never have expected that Shi Mu would be waiting for them. No one would have thought that someone could've clearly seen them approach from a kilometre away; and that too on such a dark night. Unaware, the riders continued to run forward. Most of them were as tattered as Shi Mu since they had been chasing their target for over an hour. Their clothes were torn, and some of them had even started to grasp for breath.
Shi Mu lamented as he saw this. He realized that he could've easily outstripped them after running a longer distance.
He acted quickly even though this thought lingered on his mind. He took a long arrow from the pack over his shoulder, and proficiently nocked the arrow at the speed of lightning.
"The Fragrance-sensing beetle is reacting fiercely! We must be close!" someone shouted in surprise after a moment. All the Wu Clan members came to a halt.
One of them protested, "Reacting again? Younger brother, could something be wrong with the beetles? We haven't been able to find a soul around us every time you have said 'we're near them'... How is it possible for this guy to run in such a manner the entire night?"
"Humph. We may be mistaken, but the beetle can't be wrong. We haven't been able to catch him because he's very crafty. And it seems that we're too slow! But judging by the beetle's reaction... I don't think he can escape this time. He's exhausted. You guys just go and catch him. It will be better if we finish the task before Master Tong comes. Otherwise, Master Tong will definitely be upset by the outcome; especially after all this running..." the man with the triangular eyes replied bluntly; he still held the case in his hand.