The final second arrived at long last.
“Go!” Mr. Hsiao ordered while the grandfather clock made its routine ringing to announce a new hour.
The men standing at the door streamed out rapidly–their pace matching one another, maintaining a sense of orderliness that they were trained for.
“Ba!” Joanne yelled out suddenly.
“Jacky!” Mr. Tseng called out–though his eyes were on his daughter.
“Yes, sir,” Jacky replied, knowing the obvious instruction from his boss’ glare. “Miss, let’s go.”
It had already been planned out that the three–no four–bodyguards would escort the princesses to a safe place to wait for them. The mansion was no longer safe because it had been discovered by the enemy not too long ago hence the inevitable battle.
“Let’s try to stay together as much as we can,” Calvin spoke up when they were outside.
“All seven of us?” Joanne questioned, her expression showing apparent doubt.
“Not impossible,” Chun said. “Let’s take the south side.”
“But that wasn’t the plan,” Sharon objected.
They were hurdled against the stone steps of the castle.
“The more we should use this strategy,” Jiro jumped in.
Sharon turned to Jiro. “Why?”
“Let’s get out of here first,” Calvin urged.
Cyndi and Joanne exchanged a look. Only Sharon still looked reluctant. Then they followed the guys toward the south side of the mansion. Jiro and Chun were the ones covering the front base while Calvin and Jacky fallback. Joanne, of course, stayed behind with Calvin and Jacky on purpose. Not because she had picked them, but because she was learning the trades from them.
“Stay in the shadows when we pass the gate,” Jiro instructed them.
“Why?” Sharon asked.
“Just do it,” Chun said.
The only reason why Sharon even asked was because she knew she could. The three men were under her father’s command after all. She was supposedly their responsibility regardless. It was possibly the reason why the men seemed more comfortable with scolding her. If that was what it was supposed to be.
“Why do you always ask when we’re in such a situation?” Joanne asked Sharon as they were descending the steps. “They know what they’re doing. If not, why would Uncle Hsiao let them protect us?”
“They never show any signs of alertness when they’re at home, you know,” Sharon reasoned. “I just want to make sure.”
Joanne sniggered. “Anyone would go crazy with your questions. I’ll bet they were busy concentrating on not losing their temper around you.”
Sharon stopped walking and turned around to point at Joanne. “What are you implying?”
“You’re not actually easygoing, you know,” Joanne continued, not backing down just because Sharon was gawking at her with much hatred in her eyes. “You’re not exactly sweet like our Cyndi here. Or…”
“Hey!” Sharon had advanced on Joanne.
Jacky had grabbed a hold of Sharon’s arm, not letting her attack Joanne. “This is no time for it, Miss.” He had broken his rule of not speaking. Yet he had to silently file it away as part of his duty.
Sharon yanked her arm away from him and turned to continue down the path. She was still fuming yet she knew Jacky was right.
“Don’t you find it senseless to joke around in a time like this?” Calvin asked, turning to Joanne.
“Hey, I wasn’t joking about her horrible attitude,” Joanne clarified. “I’m just saying it so she could tone it down. I’m helping you guys here.”
They had reached the gate so Calvin stopped to let the others passed first.
“Stick to the shadow,” Jiro reminded them.
“I know,” Sharon grumbled.
“Jacky ge,” Joanne called out after Calvin already passed by her. She had stayed by the gate on purpose, wanting to wait for Jacky.
“Go ahead,” Jacky said. “I want to check something first.”
Joanne nodded, following Calvin and the others. They stopped a distance down the path.
“So can you tell me why we’re changing course now?” Sharon demanded.
“We have a traitor among us,” Jiro answered.
“What? That’s impossible!”
“That’s how they found our base,” Calvin explained.
“This place looks so creepy anyway. Of course, they would figure it out without trying.”
“You’re talking about my house,” Joanne jumped in, crossing her arms in front of her.
“I’m telling the truth.”
The others knew it was an attempt to get back at Joanne for defending the three men earlier.
“We have to change course again,” Chun said, ignoring Sharon’s comments on purpose.
“If we keep changing direction, when in the world will we arrive at our destination?” Sharon asked. She was crossing her arms in front of her now.
“It would guarantee our safety,” Calvin said.
Jacky arrived at their spot at that time. “We’re good.”
“What did you do?” Sharon asked, her voice less stern than used on the other three men.
“Making sure no one saw us,” Jacky said, breaking his rule yet again–and reminding himself it was in the crucial area.
“Let’s go,” Jiro urged.
They used the same strategy as before. Chun and Jiro were in front. Cyndi and Sharon were following them closely as the other three followed from a distance. Joanne was the one walking in between the guards. When they reached the edge of the hill, they heard sounds echoing everywhere. The princesses paused briefly and stared back at the spot where the mansion stood. The battle had begun. And they were on their way to hide from it. Being captured was not an option they would want to play in this whole struggle.
“Hurry,” Jiro yelled out.
The others unfroze themselves from their state and continued down the path.
“They’re going to be okay,” Chun said.
It was then that the others realized how scared Sharon was. Her hands were shaking. Not because she was afraid they would be found, but because her father was back there, fighting for his life. Cyndi stepped forward and locked arms with Sharon, guiding Sharon along the path. Joanne turned to Jacky and saw him nodding. She stepped forward and joined hands with Sharon also.
Their peaceful walk ended when they covered another block from the leveled ground. It was the section leading into town. Signs of civilization weren’t heard yet there were rapid footsteps nearby.
“Careful,” Jiro said, his eyes scanning the area cautiously.
The other three guards placed their hands on their guns located near their belts. They had also changed their place by forming a circle around the girls. Joanne had let go of Sharon’s arm and was scanning the area also.
“Are we changing course again?” Sharon asked, her voice low and unchallenging this time. In fact, it sounded a bit shaky.
“No,” Jiro muttered. “We’ve been found out.”
“What do we do now?”
“Scatter apart,” Chun answered. “It’s the only way.”
“The more divided we are, the less powerful.”
“No, we gain speed.”
“Go,” Jiro instructed, his voice barely a whisper yet still retained a sense of authoritativeness.
Chun pulled Sharon away while Jiro grabbed onto Cyndi’s arm. Joanne followed Calvin and Jacky, dodging from various objects as they were heading into different directions. The rustling from the three groups’ movements soon stopped. It was replaced with some gunshots nearby.
“Ba!” Sharon yelled out from somewhere.
“Boss,” Chun called out.
“You go help the others,” Mr. Hsiao instructed Chun. “I’ll take Sharon with us.”
It was obvious Mr. Hsiao had made it through the battle site with some of his guards. Chun did not need to question his boss. He headed toward the path that Jiro and Cyndi had taken a minute ago. He knew he would catch up to them eventually.
Chun found Jiro and Cyndi when he entered the market. The other group was there as well. He heard shots and someone screamed. It might be Cyndi or Joanne. He was not sure. He stayed low and tried to adjust his vision before making a move. As he was making his way toward the left after detecting sounds of their own gang’s weapon being fired, he stopped. He was puzzled as to why there were four sets of guns being fired when there were only Calvin, Jiro, and Jacky. It was possible they had some backups but…could it be one of the girls? Was it Cyndi or Joanne?
“Reload,” Joanne’s voice said from somewhere to the right.
Then Chun knew. He made his way toward the left, knowing Calvin and the others could take care of it. Chun found Jiro and Cyndi hurdled against some firewoods.
“I’ll cover you,” Chun announced as he joined them.
“Where’s Sharon?” Jiro asked.
“Boss Hsiao came and took her with him,” Chun answered. “He told me to go help you guys.”
Chun observed the surroundings real quick. “You guys go first. I’ll take care of this.”
“No time to hesitate.”
“Let’s go, Miss Cyndi,” Jiro called out, grabbing onto Cyndi’s arm.
Chun made sure they were out of sight until he decided to make himself seen. The others took the bait and he was on the run, heading straight ahead.
Within the labyrinths of the market, Calvin and the other two weren’t doing so well like Chun had thought. They were surrounded by a larger group than they thought.
“You two go first!” Jacky yelled out above all the gunshots.
“Jacky ge!” Joanne returned, her voice reluctant.
“You know we have to! You’re in your last round. If we don’t go, we won’t be able to make it at all.”
“He’s right!” Calvin shouted. He grabbed onto Joanne’s arm with his free hand.
“Miss!” Jacky called out.
Joanne turned around in time to see Jacky tossed an object toward her. She caught it and studied it in her hand. It was his backup gun. It was smaller than his current one. She stared at it, knowing it was his last hope. And…her thoughts were broken by Calvin’s tug.
“Go!” Jacky yelled out.
Calvin pulled her to one side and out of harm’s way. She regained herself again, helping him with their getaway. They found themselves away from the market after fifteen minutes more of running, leaving behind the echoes of the shooting. Joanne turned to Calvin then.
“Where to?” She asked.
“Left,” He answered.
They veered in that direction and slowed their pace. It was past midnight and the road was so dark. They had to be extra careful with their movements, knowing they can’t give themselves away. It was then that they let go of one another’s hand.
© Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
Posted: December 18th, 2011