211 Unexpected Visitor
Darkness began to settle in heavily between the trees, a group of horses stationed together in the woods. Their riders nowhere in sight.
"Hk!" Before the bandit could shout, a hand covered his mouth as a sword plunged through his chest.
After killing the two bandits in front, An Sun took their clothing and tossed them to two soldiers with the same stature.
"Stand here and don't move until we return."
The two soldiers nodded their heads. When all was said and done, An Sun and a small group of the soldiers snuck into the village. Hiding behind the buildings, they could hear the bandit's voices.
"I'm so fucking tired of sitting here with these pieces of shit! It's been three days! When will they give us the money?"
"Just be patient, I'm sure they received are message already. If they care about these people's lives, they'll give it to us."
"So boring!" The bandit looked in the direction of a certain hut and his eyes shown with a sinister gleam. "You know…maybe we should have some fun while we wait. I'm sure they wouldn't care if we touched a few of them, right? As long as they're alive."
The other bandit noticed the lustful stare in his eyes and snorted.
"Be my guest. I have no interest in dirty swine like them. They smell."
Hiding behind a building, An Sun glanced in the direction the man looked toward.
"That must be where they're keeping the women and children," Fan Mingli whispered behind him.
An Sun nodded in agreement. Looking down at the young man beside him, An Sun's gaze deepened. Noticing his stare, Fan Mingli furrowed his brows in confusion. The longer An Sun stared at him silently, the more nervous he grew.
"Your figure…it's quite small isn't it." An Sun's low voice commented casually.
Fan Mingli looked at An Sun with the expression of a man who devoutly hoped he'd misheard. When he glanced at An Sun, and his discomfort kicked up another notch as the man adopted a painfully neutral expression.
Fan Mingli swallowed nervously.
Inside, a village hut, a group of women huddled in a corner. While some wrapped their arms around the children, consoling them with gentle words, others sat by themselves, trembling with fear. As the door to the hut suddenly opened, the women's bodies shivered even more intensely.
The bandit ignored their looks and let out a big grin.
"Let's see…which one of you would like spending the night with me?"
The women listened to the bandit's words with pale faces. As he walked around the room, their figures shrunk into even smaller positions, as if they were trying to become invisible. When he abruptly stopped in front of a group of three women, his lips curled into a sneer.
"You seem to have a lot of meat on your bones. Some muscles too. I bet your stamina is pretty good." He snatched a young girl's arm and hulled her toward him. When he heard her high pitched yelp, his lower half stirred.
"What a cute voice you have there. I want to hear more of it." The bandit leaned his face close to whisper in her ear. The girl shivered and lowered her head. This pleased the bandit even further.
"I'll take you with me then."
Just before the bandit dragged the girl out, a figure amongst the huddled women stood.
"Oh? Do you want to joi—" Before he could finish, the bandit's throat burst open and blood splattered all around the room like rain.
The women cried in fear but were quickly hushed by the woman who stood up just now.
"Don't make any sounds," The voice that came from the tall woman was deep and husky, causing the village women's eyes to widen.
An Sun looked at the women's shocked expressions and sighed. He wore a village woman's yellow scarf, his arrogant demeanor shining as he slightly raised his head, showing off his sharp jaw. He removed the scarf from his neck and moved his long hair out of his face. Turning to the young girl the bandit tried to take, he squatted down to offer a hand.
"Are you all right, Fan Mingli?"
Fan Mingli felt his face go scarlet under the concealment of his hair. He never felt more humiliated in his life! To dress as a woman and not to mention be picked by the bandit, he felt shame! He looked up at An Sun with a wrongful glare.
"I'm fine, thank you very much!" Fan Mingli ignored An Sun's stretched out a hand and patted down his dress. This proved to be pointless as the blood on it smeared.
"Did you have to kill him so closely? I got blood on my dress now!" Fan Mingli shot An Sun a look of complaint.
An Sun looked back at the young man for several contemplative moments, then cleared his throat. Though he wasn't smiling, his eyes glinted with amusement.
"You still look good in it."
"Whatever…" Fan Mingli muttered with flushed cheeks.
Just then, a few other figures stood up from the huddle women and muttered curses under their breath.
"He's right Fan Mingli, out of all of us you look the most like a woman."
"Captain Sun has a good eye, to think he let that frail body of yours be of use." The soldiers laughed.
Fan Mingli felt his jaw drop, and then bright spots of anger blazed on his plump cheeks.
"Shut up!" He got out through gritted teeth.
A soldier admired the small dress on his body. "Damn, I never thought there would be I time I'd wear women's clothes."
Another man chuckled. "We don't look half bad."
Two of the soldiers look at him with odd expressions and silently stepped away.
"By the way, Captain Sun, what gave you such an idea to dress as women?" Fan Mingli asked curiously.
Immersed deep within his own mind, An Sun unconsciously smiled, bending his eyes.
"Just a little inspiration from an old friend of mine."
Fan Mingli tilted his head in confusion and shrugged his shoulders.
"Now what do we do? How exactly do we defeat all those bandits? We're still outnumbered, aren't we?"
The other soldiers looked at An Sun with bright eyes, awaiting his next order.
"That will be the hard part," An Sun said in a quieter, far more serious tone, and jerked his head at group village women already peering curiously at them.
An Sun glanced at them for a moment, then crossed to the group of women huddled in the corner. As he approached, their bodies flinched. Pausing his steps, An Sun knelt on the ground to look into the women's eyes.
"Don't be afraid. We were sent from the Jinping province to save you."
"R-Really?" An older woman in front looked at An Sun with hopeful eyes.
"Yes," An Sun said with a rare soft smile.
The older woman's eyes watered as she placed a hand to her mouth to stifle a sob.
An Sun nodded and looked at them grimly. "To get you out of here, I'm going to need to know where the other villagers are being held."
The moment he finished speaking, An Sun and the soldiers noticed a shift in the women's expression.
"T-The b-bandits…they killed all of them. The men, all of them." The woman's voice broke near the end as she covered her face. Other women beside her patted her back reassuringly.
"What?" The soldiers looked surprised. Their expressions immediately turned into a frown upon hearing this.
Fan Mingli's face turned somewhat overcast as he asked, "They killed all of them? Why would they do that? Don't they need to keep all of them alive for their plan to succeed?"
"They thought the men would fight back, so they killed them." An Sun said calmly while standing up.
"Even if they were outnumbered, it would still cause damage to their plans." An Sun looked at him and the other men grimly. "As long as some of the villagers are alive, they can still succeed."
The room fell into a cold silence. Only the muffled sounds of women's sobs could be heard. The soldiers looked at the women, the expressions on their faces were all grave and serious. Fan Mingli bit his lip with a terrible look on his face.
"But we can still save those that live." An Sun's deep, low voice sounded through the men's ears and souls.
Looking up, they saw the man wore no expression at all, and yet the aura around him was more imposing than ever.
"As soldiers and brothers, let's work together to kill those bastards." An Sun said with a slow, lurking smile.
The soldiers nodded their heads with determined expressions.
"Yes, Captain Sun!"
Morning came, and An Sun's troops had yet to return from their mission. In the barracks army hall, Bo Guozhi in silence ate his millet among the generals. His expression was unreadable, but from his finger tapping on the table and the nibbling of his bottom lip, he appeared impatient.
"Are they not back yet?"
"No, sir." A general beside him shook his head.
"Hmm…" Bo Guozhi reached up to scratch the tip of one ear and frowned. "Perhaps it was too soon."
Just then, the general tapped on his shoulder and raised a hand to point.
Bo Guozhi followed the direction of the general's index finger, and both eyebrows rose as he took in the figures walking down the room. Others were turning to look, as well. Actually, gawk was a better word.
Striding into the room was none other than An Sun and his troops. He wore no expression at all as he halted in front of Bo Guozhi, helmet in the crook of his right arm, kite-shaped shield on his left. The hilt of his sword thrust up over his shoulder, and even Bo Guozhi and the other generals hushed their murmured conversations as the lantern light fell upon him.
An Sun lowered himself to his knees. "My men and I have completed our mission, Commander Bo. The bandits have been killed. The women and children were taken safely to recover by the province doctors."
It took a while for Bo Guozhi to recover himself from his rare moment of shock. He looked down at An Sun with an unreadable look. From his words, he could guess what happened to the men in the village.
A handful of seconds trickled past, and then Bo Guozhi reached his hand to pat An Sun's shoulder.
As An Sun rose to his feet, he was surprised to see the gratified expression on the commander's face. Bo Guozhi looked at the men behind him and noted their slightly tattered appearances. It was a clear sign they had engaged in a battle.
"How many bandits?"
"Around one thousand."
This number shocked Bo Guozhi. That was more than he thought. The smile on his face faded, and his voice turned more serious, "How many casualties?"
"Ten injured, zero dead." An Sun calmly replied.
"Oh? How many men did you bring?" Bo Guozhi asked and let his smile grow a little broader.
"One hundred, commander." An Sun answered.
There was silence for a while, as everyone who listened blinked in fresh astonishment. One hundred men against one thousand bandits, and there were only ten injured?
They all looked at An Sun in awe, especially the new recruits who stayed behind in the barracks.
"I would like to hear a full report in my office this afternoon. But for now, …enjoy your victory lads." Bo Guozhi chuckled and looked at the men behind him. His smile grew. "You all fought well. You may clean yourselves and come to the hall for breakfast."
"Yes, commander!" An Sun and the soldiers spoke in unison.
When An Sun turned to leave, Bo Guozhi stared after him for several long seconds, then looked back at the generals at the table. He grinned impudently at them, ears weaving gently back and forth.
"So, how much do you all owe me?"
The generals at the table muttered and set bags of gold coins on the table.
The weeks passed by peacefully. By now, many of the troops grew accustomed to An Sun as their captain. While some were still resistant, the number was small. Ever since his last mission, Bo Guozhi assigned more assignments for him to complete – challenging An Sun even further.
There were many victories, but also losses. In the end, An Sun trained his men even harder. Everything was going well. The strength he yearned was already within his grasp.
One night, after An Sun completed a session of training; he was returning to his room to change. While passing the halls, he encountered the admirable glances of other soldiers. He was accustomed to that reaction and inclined his head at precisely the right angle—enough to acknowledge their admiration but not enough to appear overly proud—as he headed to his room.
When An Sun arrived in his room, he shed his sweaty clothing and dropped them to the floor. Just as he changed into clean clothes, he noticed a figure at the corner of his window. An Sun blinked in astonishment.
The brown falcon looked at him with beady eyes and tilted his head.
Ju flapped his wings toward the table in his room and landed gracefully. The falcon looked up An Sun and stepped forward.
It took only a few seconds for him to recover his shock before An Sun noticed a rolled piece of paper attached to his ankle. The eyebrow on his face rose. He carefully took the paper from Ju's ankle and watched the bird step back as if to admire him.
When An Sun recognized the familiar handwriting on the paper, he fought hard to suppress the smile threatening to appear. After reading the contents of the letter, his thin lips swept down in a cold arc, indicating his foul mood.
The light from the moon reflected on his face. An Sun's face was chilling. His originally soft eyes were slowly being tinted a dark color, and he began to emit a very dangerous aura.
An Sun lowered his eyes and his fingers closed into a fist, crushing the letter between them.