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Thread: Tale of Phoenix Twins, Mystery of Hidden Treasure

  1. #21
    Member Zhen Yu Cao's Avatar
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    Finished last night, but was to late so didn't post <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">. Anyways... the story is turning out great! All these new characters <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">! Can't wait to see what happens between the newly made couples, and also looking forward to some nice fight scenes <IMG SRC="smilies/starwars.gif" border="0"> along the way <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">!!

    (PS: Don't worry about the introduction being boring <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">. If most people are like me (which they aren't but who cares <IMG SRC="smilies/cool.gif" border="0"> ) then they'll find all these new characters very interesting and will be quite intrigued to find out more <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">

    <font size="1">[ February 03, 2003: Message edited by: Zhen Yu Cao ]</font>
    Wandering the world,
    Sword in hand,
    Searching for a challenge,
    Begging for a loss...

  2. #22
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    Cool

    <IMG SRC="smilies/angrystick.gif" border="0"> to boomspeed site. It just closed my account, so I am out of poster. <IMG SRC="smilies/crying.gif" border="0">

    For some reason, I try so hard to make this story perfect. Hopefully it is all right.

    Zhen Yu Cao, how are the fight scenes so far? Too ridiculous or passable????

    thanks for all your comments, I truly appreciated them all.

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 6
    Ladies from the Past and Present

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Zhao Zhong (Norman Chui Siu Keung)
    Old Luo (Patrick Tse Yin)

    Zhao Zhong had been traveling night and day, hurrying from Chenzhou to Sichuan according to the message that he believed to be from a pugilist friend. When he arrived at the foot of Mt. Emei, an old priestess and couples of young Emei Sect’s disciples were waiting for him. Although the priestess was older than her guest was, she was the first to pay respect to the other.

    “Master has sent us to receive Hero Zhao. We did not have much preparation time, so Hero Zhao please pardon any oversight.” She said softly, and Zhao Zhong bowed back.

    “Not at all, not at all. I should be the one to apologize for causing such troubles. I only pass this area for a personal business and didn’t intend to disturb the peace of Emei.”

    At that moment, they heard a cheerful laughter. “Why these formal manners when we all are good friends? You are wasting valuable drinking time by standing around chatting courtesy.”

    Zhao Zhong looked up at a towering oak tree where an old man with wrinkles around his eyes and long black beard was reclining on its big branch. He flashed his smile and greeted his friend. “Old Luo, if you are looking for someone to drink with, I will volunteer myself.”

    Old Luo lifted a bamboo gourd to his lips and took a sip. Next, he wiped the lips with his hand and inhaled happily. “Ah! Good company always make the wine good, and good wine always brings in good company.” He stared at the other man with twinkle eyes. “You must have some questions for me. Well, come on then. Drink first and talk later.”

    He leaped from the branch and somersaulted twice. Each flip took him at least 20 chi further. Zhao Zhong laughed and bounded into the air. He twisted his body and kicked forth, soaring after the old man. The old priestess watched after the two disappearing men and sighed with awe. “I have never seen such display of high lightness kungfu. It is no wonder that Master gives so much honor to Master Zhao.” She stated and led her fellow apprentices up the mountain.

    An old shack in a middle of nowhere should have been deserted. Yet, the place was crowded with frequent customers. Everyone who was in the shack was drinking quietly, unconcerned of anyone else for this place is only for those who were serious about drinking. There was no waiter. There was not even a proprietor on site, but every customer would pay faithfully according to what they owed in the end.

    Zhao Zhong entered the half-ruined shack and sat down comfortably at the only unoccupied table, while Old Luo went straight to the bubbling pot at one corner and ladled up two full bowls of boiling meat. Then he brought them to Zhao Zhong and went back to the shelf behind the meat pot to fetch two large wine jugs. Finally, he sat down and took a long swig from one jug then used his fingers as chopsticks to pick up the meat into his mouth. Then he repeated the process again until all the meat was gone and his wine was half consumed.

    He then took deep breath and went to the pot for more meat. After that, he started another round of alternate drinking and eating until the wine jug was empty. Zhao Zhong also drank up his wine jug and went to fetch two more jugs. He placed one in front of Old Luo whose face had turned red from alcohol. Old Luo looked at the other through his puffy eyes and roared contentedly. Then he grabbed the new wine jug and drank from it wordlessly. Not until he had finished the third jug that he started a conversation.

    “Today’s wolf meat’s a bit tough but the wine is as excellent as always. Too bad that I can’t come here so often since each wine jug costs a fortune. Luckily, you are buying this meal, so I suppose it is time for me to repay it.” Although his words sounded blurred, Zhao Zhong realized that his friend was as sober as before. He did not reply the other right away but went back to the wine rack and picked up two more jugs. Then he took out a big gold nugget and placed it on the table. After that, he handed one jug to Old Luo and left the shack. Old Luo grinned and hugged his last jug of wine while walking unsteadily after his younger friend.

    They stopped under a tree right outside the shack and sat down on a tree root. Then Zhao Zhong spoke. “You said in the note that you saw Ah Xiang in Sichuan. Where is she now?”

    Old Luo opened the wine jug and took a deep smell of the wine before putting its cork back. He did not answer the question right away but asked to see the note. Zhao Zhong showed him a piece of white paper and waited patiently while the older man squinted at the letter. Then he shook his head.

    “Even if I wrote it when I was drunk, I would never written that kind of sentence. This handwriting is very similar to mine, but it was too neat. Besides, I never own white paper. My brother, you have just been tricked by your naughty nephew again.” He chuckled.

    Zhao Zhong was taken aback. His face was as white as sheet. “I am going to kill that puppy whenever I see him.” He clenched his fist.

    Old Luo shook his head slowly. “Even if you had suspected it to be a trick, you still would have come anyway, wouldn’t you?” The other was silent as a sign of agreement, and the older man sighed sympathetically.

    “Love can really blind one’s eyes and mind.” He smiled and changed the subject. “At least that sly nephew of yours is still living and kicking.”

    Zhao Zhong grunted. “What is the use for him to be alive to pass the time idly? He stubbornly refuses to learn kungfu from me and is lazy in book study. All he does is gambling and visiting brothels.” He sighed. “My sister-in-law is too soft-hearted, so she never punishes him and even spoils him behind my back. It is partly my fault for not being home long enough to look after him. Now it is really too late to put some sense in his brain.” He took a long drink of wine and heaved another sigh.

    Old Luo shook his head. “Good old wine should not be drunk to drown your grief. It tastes the best when you are happy. Brother Zhao, your martial arts may be unequal, but you still have to learn how to drink wine properly.”

    Zhao Zhong’s lips curved bitterly. “Elder is right. I know only how to kick and punch. That is why Ah Xiang left me. Ah Xiang!” He yelled and drank up the rest of the wine then threw the jug to the ground. His eyes were red with sorrow and soon he rolled off to the earth, falling asleep while murmuring a name. “Ah Xiang. Ah Xiang.”

    When he woke up, Old Luo was gone, and the shack was empty. Only thick aroma of alcohol lingered in the air, and an empty pot sat silently on a stool, waiting to be filled with meat again the next night. Zhao Zhong shook his head and staggered to a nearby stream. He then bent down and washed his face. Suddenly, he heard screams of a woman and rushed toward it. About 20 chi away, he found several priests clad in strange bright red robe chasing after a beautiful woman in a purple dress. She screamed once more as one man seized her. “Help!”

    “Tang,” a pebble was tossed toward the assailant and hit right at his wrist. Its owner immediately let go of his victim and held up his injured hand. “Ouch! He broke my wrist.” He yelled to his colleagues who dashed toward the newcomer. Meanwhile, the woman in purple dress reeled backward and knocked her head to a boulder. She was instantly unconscious.

    One of the priests glanced at Zhao Zhong and spoke haughtily. “This lady is our runaway patient. We are to take her back to our healer. Please do not obstruct us.”

    Zhao Zhong took a look at the insensible lady then stared at the group of priests thoughtfully. He then smiled pleasantly. “I am a nosy man by nature, and I can never resist a call from damsel in distress. She evidently didn’t want to go back with you, so I am afraid that I have to interfere.”

    The priests immediately surrounded him and each brandished a metal staff. They could sense high inner power from the opponent, so they decided to finish the battle as quickly as possible by attacking him from every direction at the same time. Zhao Zhong saw multiple staffs coming at him and jumped upward. Then he pulled out a saber from his back while his feet warded off the staffs. Concurrently, he twisted his legs and swept a kick at the faces below him. Some priests were thrown back and knocked down their colleagues in the process, while Zhao Zhong fought the rest with his saber.

    During the melee, one priest suddenly released a signal rocket, and pretty soon, large reinforcement arrived. By then, Zhao Zhong had defeated more than a dozen of his opponents, but there still were many left. Together with the new force, he was now surrounded by fifty or so men in red robes with shiny metal staffs. Then, one of them called out, “Forty-nine Spears Formation”.

    Immediately, all the priests flicked their staffs and their weapons became sharp spears whose tips had been hidden inside those metal staffs. Next, they formed seven small groups; each group had seven or more members. Then three or four groups at a time took turn attacking their opponents continuously, while the rest supported their colleagues from behind and kept their opponent inside the circle.

    The Forty-nine Spears Formation was composed of forty-nine stances, and each of them had at least forty-nine variations. Each move was forceful and aimed to attack only without defense. The formation could be set up by one or more person and the more number of people were in the formation, the more powerful it would be.

    Zhao Zhong busily defended himself from seemingly uncountable and endlessly spears. When he managed to disperse one or more group, the other would come forth and replaced the wearied ones. As time passed, he realized then that if he could not break this formation soon, he would probably lose out of sheer exhaustion. Thus, he put in more effort and concentrated all his inner power against the enemies.

    The opponents seemed to realize his desperation and consequently attacked more viciously. However, although they overwhelmed him in number, their martial skills were not high enough to overcome him right away. Hence, logically the longer they fought, the more chances they had of winning, yet there would also be many more casualties.

    At one point, Zhao Zhong’s saber chopped down randomly and cut an arm off one of the priests. The injured one howled with pain, and without thinking, he pulled out a secret projectile that was supposed to be the last resort weapon and cast it at his enemy before reeling down.

    The projectile was a small spinning top with sharp nail-like tip, and when it was released, it sped through the wind, gathering more force as it flew toward Zhao Zhong’s back. Just then, out of nowhere, a figure in yellow dress soared forth and grabbed one hapless priest from the ground then tossed the latter to the coming projectile. The body hit the top with full force, sending the top to spin backward; the man died right away, and the projectile burst in the air, after injuring many people on its way.

    Zhao Zhong turned around, and his eyes looked right into the newcomer’s. He cried, stunned. “Ah Xiang!”

    The other automatically touched the white cloth that covered her face then smiled inwardly. She then turned her back at him and stepped lively amid the sharp spears; a pair of golden rings in her hands swiftly and ruthlessly swung at the opponents. Wherever she went, the number of dead man would increase. In short time, she eliminated almost half of the existing priests, who looked at one another frighteningly and took on their heels without looking back.

    The mysterious woman in yellow clothes turned around to face Zhao Zhong and smiled. Her eyes danced mischievously but not without tenderness. Without a word, she flew away. Zhao Zhong was on a verge of going after her when he heard a groan from the unconscious maiden. So, he paused his footsteps and turned to her instead, while the woman with the golden rings disappeared.

    Zhao Zhong checked the other’s pulse and slightly shook her shoulders. “Miss, are you all right? What is your name?”

    The maiden (Yu On On) slowly opened her eyes and hazily looked at him. She murmured, “Chunyu. I am Chunyu.” Then she blacked out once more.

    Zhao Zhong was concerned and bent down to lift her up. He then carried her toward a nearby village and went straight to see a doctor. When the maiden came to again, she found her head was bandaged, and a tall stranger was sitting by her bed.

    When Zhao Zhong heard a stir from the bed, he came out of his meditation and turned to the patient with a kind smile. “Doctor said that aside from your head, you only had a shock. So, he wants you to rest and not to think too hard. Don’t worry. You are safe now.”

    The other stared at the man in front stupidly. She mumbled. “Who are you?” Then she groaned from pain at the head.

    Zhao Zhong went to fetch a damp towel and gently put it on her forehead. “My name is Zhao Zhong and I happened to hear your call for help. Those priests who were after you are all gone now, so you don’t need to be afraid anymore. Where are you from?”

    The other slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. What happened?” She closed her eyes then opened with panic. “I can’t remember my name. Who am I?” She asked hysterically and tried to get up, and Zhao Zhong had to press her sleeping pressure point to calm her down for the time being.

    He sat with her through the night, and in the morning, he greeted her with a bowl of medicine. “It is hot, so drink it slowly.”

    The other obediently drank it up although she made a face afterward. “That is very bitter.” She complained but smiled at the sight of sweets in Zhao Zhong’s palm. “You are very thoughtful.” She praised him, and he sighed grimly. “It is just out of habit. My wife dislikes drinking medicine, so I have to lure her with some sweets.” His eyes were so sad that the other could not help asking after his wife.

    Zhao Zhong heaved another sigh. He walked to the window and looked at outside. “She has left home for twenty years now. It was all my faults. At that time, I was an eager young man who wanted to be the best in the pugilistic world. We have just got married then, but I spent most of my time practicing martial arts hence unintentionally ignored my wife. I learned later that she was unable to get along with my mother who was rather hard to please.” He shook his head. “If only I had known of her sufferings at the time, I would not have lost her for the rest of my life.”

    The patient stared at him with interest. “Have you been looking for her these twenty years then?” She asked.

    Zhao Zhong turned around and walked to the table. He poured tea for both of them and sat down, sipping the tea while reminiscing his past. “I have traveled around all these years, searching high and low for her, but the land is big – it is not easy to find a woman if she intends to hide from me.”

    He stopped speaking about himself and changed a subject. “Miss looks better today, so maybe you can tell me who you are so that I can escort you home.”

    The other frowned. She knitted her eyebrows and suddenly touched her head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember anything, and when I try to think, I feel this headache.” Tears ran down her cheeks, and she looked at the other pleadingly. “Who am I?” She asked confusingly.

    Zhao Zhong looked at her pitifully and replied without thinking. “Chunyu. You told me that you are Chunyu.”

    The other repeated the name, “Chunyu.” She let out a smile. “I feel so familiar with the name. Could that be mine? Chunyu.” She said dreamily and nodded to the other. “You can call me Chunyu then.”

    Zhao Zhong agreed. “Miss Chunyu,” he cupped his hands and greeted her. “You probably encountered something unpleasant, so your memory lapses for the present. Just relax and give your mind a rest. I am sure that your memory will come back to you in no time.” He consoled her outwardly but was not so confident of his own diagnosis. The urgent problem for him now was how to find out about her home – providing that she had one – so that he could go on with his quest – the search for his beloved wife.

    He thought of the maiden in yellow dress and sighed. At a glance, her eyes reminded him of his estranged wife, but another glance told him that she was too young to be his Ah Xiang. Nonetheless, he was curious about her. That lady had such vicious kungfu that she could not possibly belong to any orthodox sects that he knew. On the other hand, she had helped him, which was rather odd for a member from the unorthodox world. He thought of the mark on the chest of the dead man that he found and refused to believe that was Ah Xiang’s work. ‘She could not have done that because she did not know any kungfu. That is impossible.’ Yet, something was nagging him from inside. His heart suddenly felt cold. ‘What if Ah Xiang is with Red Phoenix?’ He questioned himself but found no answer.

    He left the room silently and went out for a walk. At the back courtyard, he heard some movements from behind and immediately sprung around but found only shadows sprinting away. So, he quickly dashed after them into the forest. Turned out those shadows were of some maidens’; they led him to a pavilion stood conspicuously in a middle of wooded area. There, they quickly vanished out of sight, leaving some giggles behind. Zhao Zhong inadvertently looked in the direction of the pavilion, and his heart almost stopped. “Ah Xiang!” He called as he quickened his steps toward it.

    However, when he drew near, and a woman inside it turned around, his heart faced a disappointment. Standing in front of him was the lady in yellow dress with dancing eyes. She smiled underneath the white veil and spoke dryly. “You have called me with that name twice, so I think you owe me an apology and explanation.”

    Zhao Zhong cupped his hands politely. “Please pardon my rudeness, but Miss looks a lot like someone I once knew.”

    The other nodded gracefully. Then, she gazed at him unblinkingly. “That person must be a very dear friend of yours.”

    Zhao Zhong’s eyes turned sad. “She is my wife named Ah Xiang. Twenty years ago, she ran away from home and has been missing since.” The longer he looked at this mysterious lady, the more he was reminded of his wife. “May I know Miss’ name?”

    The other turned away from his intent stare. Her eyes were grim. “A name is but illusion. A person can change his identity but can never alter his past.” She abruptly turned around to face him. “I am only here to warn you about the Temple of No Sorrow.”

    Zhao Zhong repeated. “Temple of No Sorrow – that is a new cult led by Priest Meng Kong. Although it has rather strange customs, its martial art style belongs to orthodox side, and it is not known to harm anyone.” He became tense. “Miss means that those priests were from Temple of No Sorrow.”

    The other did not reply but recited a statement. “Temple of No Sorrow has grown very quickly these last five years. Priest Meng Kong also rose rapidly in his pugilistic rank with his formidable pair of sabers. Because of his healing ability, he is revered by many famous pugilists.”

    Zhao Zhong nodded. “Miss is exactly right. I have once met Priest Meng Kong, and he was a kind gentleman who constantly talked of helping commoners from the hands of oppressing government. He could not have been the leader of those villainous kidnapper.”

    The unknown woman laughed for the first time. “Hero Zhao is always an admirer of the braves. Please excuse my boldness then.”

    Zhao Zhong bowed at her politely. “Not at all. I am grateful for Miss’ good intention. Without Miss, I would have died back then.” He sighed. “I am ashamed to be call a hero when my martial skills are still rudimentary.”

    The other gazed at him gently. Her voice was tender. “Hero Zhao is being too hard on yourself. Back there, if you had been fiercer and struck with intention to kill, you would have come out the winner for sure. I, myself, have no fame in this martial art realm, so I don’t need to worry about codes of honor. Hero Zhao probably blamed me for cruelty, but those priests were only underdogs of another scoundrel master, so they could only have bad endings anyway.”

    Zhao Zhong blushed, as the other seemed to guess his mind correctly. He bowed. “Miss has a good insight and has saved my life, so how could I dare to reprimand you?”

    The other turned pink under her white cloth. She decided to leave but all of a sudden had to clutch at the pavilion’s wooden frame. Zhao Zhong sensed that something was wrong and went closer. He noticed the other’s pale hands and sweaty forehead, so, he seized her hands against his palms and started transferring his inner energy into her. After a moment, he pulled back his palms and gently assisted her to a chair in the middle of the pavilion.

    The maiden gazed at him keenly for a moment then closed her eyelids as if to shut down all her emotions. She heard the other’s concern voice and looked up into Zhao Zhong’s gentle eyes. “Thank you for helping me. It’s just my old illness – I tend to feel dizzy after each fight. All I need now is a rest. Good bye, Hero Zhao.”

    Zhao Zhong moved away courteously when the other seemed all right. He sounded guilty. “I feel bad that Miss overused your strength because of me. I shall repay your debt one day.”

    He bowed and retreated away silently. After he was gone, the maiden instantly clutched her chest and coughed loudly. Her maids rushed in and handed her a handkerchief that was soon blotched with blood. “Mistress, Princess has called you back.” They reported, and she waved at them annoyingly. “I know. I know. Bring in my medicine and I will go.”

    Some maidens in red outfit with golden embroidery stepped out and returned with a bowl filled with red liquid. “We found an old Taoist priest living in a cave. He ate only tree roots and wild fruits, so his blood is very pure and can restore your lost energy.”

    The lady in yellow slowly took off her blood stained veil and brought the bowl to her lips. She drank the fresh blood with a relish then wiped her lips daintily. After that, she got up and stepped into a carriage that her maids had prepared for her.

    Three days later, she arrived at a large mansion and marched right inside. From the main hall, she walked straight to the inner chamber where a woman was swimming leisurely in a hot pool. She winked at a maid and grabbed a robe from the latter then approached the pool.

    “Your Highness, Phoenix is waiting for you at the main hall.” She said shrilly, holding the robe high to cover her face.

    Princess Xue-xiang (Patrina Fung Bo Bo) stepped out of the pool and let the pretended maid to adorn the robe on her without a glance. Then, all of a sudden, she chided the other. “Ah Xia, you have had enough fun outside already. There is no need to play more prank on me.” She attempted to sound severe but in the end her voice turned gentler.

    Ah Xia (Idy Chan Yuk Lin) stuck her tongue playfully at the other. “I can never deceive you, dear sister.” She brought out a golden ball and placed it on a nearby tray. “Here is your ball. Thank you for letting me pretended to be you for a while. It was great to see how people are terrified of Red Phoenix.” She laughed merrily and gave her elder sister a quick hug.

    The princess held her only sister’s hands lovingly then instantly frowned. “Ah Xia, you have exerted yourself again, haven’t you?” She questioned the other angrily and coldly called for her sister’s personal maid. “I have given a specific order for you to protect my sister so that she does not have to do any fight. Yet, she came home sick. What is your punishment for this negligence?”

    The maid flinched under the other’s icy stare, and Ah Xia quickly interjected. “It is not her fault, Elder sister.” She lowered her voice. “I have met Brother-in-law in peril and did not dare to use our people to rescue him, so I have to do it myself.”

    Her sister turned rigid. She waved at the maid, and the latter thankfully crawled away, glad to still be alive. The princess looked hard at her sister who stared back without fear. “Where did you meet him? Er, how is he?” She fingered her golden ball absentmindedly.

    Ah Xia replied softly. “Just north of Sichuan outside the drinking shack. He was with Old Luo all night. Then the next day, he met some strange priests and fought with them.”

    Her sister released a sigh. Her voice was void of expression although her eyes betrayed some anxiety. “I guess he was trying to rescue some damsels in distress or helpless old men. Hmm, strange priests? With his martial arts, he should have no problem dealing with them.”

    “Well, he had a chance of winning until one of them cast a top-like projectile at his back, so I had to intervene. But, he doesn’t recognize me although he thought I were you a couple of times.” Ah Xia smiled ruefully.

    The princess patted the other’s back affectionately. “Your brother-in-law is a crude man with a heart of stone. He doesn’t deserve to be loved by us, Ah Xia. Now, I want to know more about those priests with the strange projectile. Are they from Temple of No Sorrow?” Her tone held a hint of bitterness.

    Her sister nodded. “I suspect as much, but Brother-in-law refused to believe me. Anyhow, this is the projectile I am talking about.” She took out a top from her pocket and showed it to her sister who turned pale. “That is not just a common projectile. It is very dangerous. Ah Xia, be careful with it.” She nodded, and a maid stepped forward to take away the top. “Where are those priests now? They might go back for him.” She could not help feeling concerned.

    Ah Xia smiled cynically. “I guarantee that they would not. Since they were rude to Brother-in-law, I have arranged a nice last meal for them, and because these projectiles look interesting, I have brought them along for you.” She watched her sister getting dressed interestingly and came closer to touch the latter’s lustrous hair. “Elder sister, you are very beautiful. I wish I can look more like you.”

    The princess turned around and smiled at the other. She pushed Ah Xia to the chair, undid the other’s hair, and combed it until it shone smoothly. She spoke softly. “Ah Xia, you are a beautiful girl, while I am but an old woman. There is no need for you to want to be like me.”

    The other did not agree. “But Brother-in-law loves only you.”

    The princess grimaced. “Either that or he is just too busy saving the world and perfecting his martial arts to care about other women.” She lifted the other’s chin and surveyed her sister’s blushing face. “Ah Xia, you are too young to dwell in the past. Forget about my affair and create your own life. I am sure that you will find your good man some day.”

    Ah Xia did not answer, and her sister finally put down the comb. She sighed. “It is time for you to see Madam Li again. I will have a present prepared for you, and this time, don’t swap it for some funny gift. We cannot afford to offend her.”

    Ah Xia showed annoyance. “Why must we be nice to Huashan and her? I can’t believe that she is the only one who can cure my disease. Besides, if we don’t conquer Huashan School, how can we be the number one in this martial realm?”

    The princess continued to braid her sister’s hair and explained patiently. “Everything has its own destiny. It is not possible to overcome Huashan and Shaolin over a night. We have to proceed steps by steps, cautiously and patiently. In the end, victory will belong to ours. For now, I am only concerned of your illness. Madam Li is the most competent healer in this martial realm, and she has saved your life many times. Being a wife of the master of the leading sect among those righteous clans, she might refuse to cure you if our identities are revealed. So, be careful of what you say and quit being naughty. Act like a proper lady when you see her, all right?” She entreated her sister who reluctantly promised to be good. Nonetheless, she could not help complaining.

    “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I just never like her. Elder sister, I have really caused you so much troubles. I really should not have been born.”

    Her sister instantly scolded gravely. “Ah Xia, don’t ever have that kind of silly idea again. You are the only sister I have, and I will never let you come to harm. You are my most valuable treasure. Nothing and nobody can be compared to you.”

    Their eyes met, and both smiled at each other. Ah Xia rested her head happily on the other’s arm. “Have you heard anything from Ah Liu yet?”

    Her sister nodded. “Yes, I got the news from Shadow, and according to her, he seems to be in good health.”

    Ah Xia nodded understandingly. “Ah Liu is a smart boy, I am sure he will be all right. I will leave for Huashan tomorrow then. It is better to get the bitter medicine out of the way.” She wrinkled her nose distastefully. Her elder sister shook her head at the other’s childishness and gave her last order to her younger sister.

    “When you get to Huashan, look out for Zhao Mengnan. I heard that he has been poisoned and is being brought to see Madam Li.” She did not realize the seriousness of his condition, so she was not very worried. “When I was with your brother-in-law, Sister Lian helped me a lot, and her two boys were nice to me too.” She thought of her past, pictured a face of her deceased mother-in-law, and shuddered.

    She had just finished laundry and was about to enter the room when she heard her younger brother-in-law’s wife talking to her mother-in-law.

    “Mother-in-law, it is not right for me to let Ah Xiang do all the work. She looks rather pale today, so maybe she is too tired from yesterday’s wood cutting. Please let me help her.”

    The older woman snorted. “Lianhua, you are too naïve. Ah Xiang just puts on an act to get you to work for her. She is the eldest sister-in-law, so it is her duty to serve me. Besides, she has no children to take care of like you do. Moreover, she is just a common girl and no doubt used to hard works before she got married with Ah Zhong, so she should not complain about little jobs I give her.”

    She could imagine her mother-in-law smiling sweetly at Lian Xiaohua or the second young Madam Zhao. “You should not compare yourself with her, Xiaohua because you are from a nice family and have received proper education. Let Ah Xiang do what she is good at, and you focus on your music and embroidery. Now, let me see what you are making for my little Mengnan.”

    That night, she tried to tell Zhao Zhong about what she had heard and received a lecture from him as a result. “Ah Xiang, I know that you have to work hard, but Mother is getting older everyday and she needs someone like you to help her. Younger Sister-in-law is not strong enough to take care of the household, so you should be a bit more considerate and more tolerant. A good daughter-in-law should be as filial as her husband is.”

    Her heart ached from his reprimand. His lighthearted attitude at the situation pained her more than the physical exhaustion she received, but she knew better than to argue. The elder Madam Zhao was a widow at young age, and she had suffered a lot to raise her two sons. Zhao Zhong, being the eldest son and had witnessed his mother’s hardships, naturally held a high esteem for her to the point that he would not hear anything against her. He was a filial son but unfortunately a thoughtless husband.

    When she woke up the next morning, he was gone with only a short message explaining that he was going to visit his friend to discuss some martial arts. That day, her mother-in-law had her fetch water from the well for everyone’s bath and made her scrub the floor – in short, any task that servants should have done. Despite her dizziness, she had to comply with all orders without daring to complain. Finally, she could stand no longer and asked for some food before another job. Instead of a bowl of rice, she received a slap and a harsh scolding from the old woman.

    “You are a lazy daughter-in-law. Really, I am so ashamed of you. Why can’t you be like Lianhua? My second daughter-in-law knows how to conduct herself like a lady, but you are so opposite from her like earth and heaven. Your manners are unpolished, and aside from your cute face, I can’t see why my son chose you over other lady I had for him.” Her mother-in-law eyed her contemptuously. She disapproved of her eldest son’s bride from the start but loved him too much to deny his wish.

    After that, she was sent to her room without a dinner. That night, Lian Xiaohua visited her with a tray of food. The other woman sighed sympathetically. “Ah Xiang, please don’t be angry with Mother-in-law. She hasn’t felt well lately, so she tends to be grouchy. Also, she dislikes people to be too direct, and well, sometimes, you are too outspoken. Anyway, I am here to say farewell. Tomorrow, I am leaving to visit my mother, and I am taking the boys with me. So, please be patient and keep cheerful smiles. Mother-in-law can’t abide ill-tempered people.”

    Even the kind-hearted Lian Xiaohua did not understand her. She felt as if the world was turning against her and decided right then that she would not reveal her good news to anyone until Zhao Zhong was back. However, her resolution wavered, as she felt fainted more often. Many a time, she was about to tell the old woman about her pregnancy but her stubbornness held her back.

    ‘She doesn’t like me; therefore, she might not care about this grandchild. I don’t need to use my baby to buy her sympathy. I can do fine by myself.’ She thought inwardly.

    One day, she could not get out of bed. Turned out she had caught a cold and now was bedridden with high fever. When her mother-in-law finally learned of her pregnancy from the family doctor, she almost hit the roof. “You are a stupid girl and a heartless mother. You should have taken care of yourself more instead of risking your baby’s life with your senseless behavior.” She conveniently omitted the fact that she was the one who sent her eldest daughter-in-law to the market in the rainstorm the day before.

    She could only let tears fall down her cheeks silently but at least she did not have to work that day. As she was lying alone on the bed, she suddenly missed Zhao Zhong. Therefore, the next day, she wrote a letter and asked a servant to deliver it. Three days later, she heard shocking news from her mother-in-law that Zhao Zhong was currently visiting the Sun family with a prospect of getting a second wife.

    “He is courting Miss Sun at the moment, and I have to say that his taste has improved after his first marriage. Well, I only want you to know so that you have enough time to behave yourself. It is right for him to get another wife to take care of him while you are burdened with a baby in your belly. Besides, Ah Zhong is acquiring a name in the martial realm, so he needs to have a wife from a good family who knows how to socialize.”

    That was her last straw. That night, she left the Zhao mansion in spite of her feverish state. Later, she realized that the information was just her mother-in-law’s spiteful lie, but by then, it was too late. Happened that the old woman fell ill that night and after some weeks in bed, passed away. Zhao Zhong returned home as soon as he heard of his mother’s condition and was kept by her side until she died. By the time he was free to search for his runaway wife, she had already disappeared from his life forever.

    She was tempted to go back to him at first but whenever she thought of her mother-in-law’s favoritism and his blind devotion to the latter, her heart would turn bitter. She could not forgive him for loving her less than his own mother, less than his martial arts, and less than his friends. On the other hand, she could not forget him. She could not erase their sweet moments of twenty years ago from her memory, and the most important thing was that she still loved him.


    Ah Xia was speaking to her. “Don’t worry, Sister. At least, we were once the same family.”

    The other nodded vaguely. “Take care of yourself, Ah Xia.”
    ----------------------------------
    Thank you for reading. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/bow.gif" border="0">

    <font size="1">[ February 11, 2003: Message edited by: Goofy ]</font>
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  3. #23
    Member Zhen Yu Cao's Avatar
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    Post

    The fight scenes up till now are quite enjoyable <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">. They don't seem to farfetched as this is still early qin, and at this time there still were quite a few martial art masters around the place (although no match for those of previous times). Up till now, the story still seems pretty lighthearted (which is great for me <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">) except for the seriousness of the Zhao's Past. For the most part, the new characters are very well done and show a great contrast from each other so it doesn't get extremely boring. It's also not to surprising that you want to make this one perfect,considering it is the last in a trilogy.

    Anyhoo, nothing but positive comments from me so keep up the good work <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/cool.gif" border="0">
    Wandering the world,
    Sword in hand,
    Searching for a challenge,
    Begging for a loss...

  4. #24
    Member Zhen Yu Cao's Avatar
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    Post

    The fight scenes up till now are quite enjoyable <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">. They don't seem to farfetched as this is still early qin, and at this time there still were quite a few martial art masters around the place (although no match for those of previous times). Up till now, the story still seems pretty lighthearted (which is great for me <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">) except for the seriousness of the Zhao's Past. For the most part, the new characters are very well done and show a great contrast from each other so it doesn't get extremely boring. It's also not to surprising that you want to make this one perfect,considering it is the last in a trilogy.

    Anyhoo, nothing but positive comments from me so keep up the good work <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/cool.gif" border="0">
    Wandering the world,
    Sword in hand,
    Searching for a challenge,
    Begging for a loss...

  5. #25
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    Back at my homeland
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    Cool

    FYI, I have gone through the whole story and corrected some grammars and spellings. hope they are perfect now. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    Have a terrible week with the dentist - sometimes I wonder who invented this profession??? <IMG SRC="smilies/tongue.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/bang.gif" border="0">

    anyhow, enjoy this chapter and have a good week without dentist!!

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 7
    Different Roads to Huashan

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Zhao Zhong (Norman Chui Siu Keung)
    Chunyu (Yu On On)
    Zhao Erlang (Miu Kiu Wei)
    Zhao Mengnan (Adam Cheng Siu Chow)
    Yang Qiu-er (Angie Chiu Ngar Chi)
    Meiying (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk)
    Guo Ming (Terry Fan Siu Wong)
    Yang Ling-ling (Ho Mei Sie)
    Princess Xue-xiang (Patrina Fung Bo Bo)
    Yang Lianyan (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
    Ah Liu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai)

    Zhao Zhong stopped at the inn for a couple more days, hoping that Chunyu would regain her memory during that time. However, his wish was not granted, and he had to change his plan. Since he was not far from Shaanxi province, a location of Huashan School, he decided to take Chunyu to the renowned healer, Madam Li. Accordingly, he hired a carriage and drove a new companion northward. Their destination was Mt. Huashan.

    Meanwhile, Zhao Erlang had arrived home expectantly but was disappointed that his mother was away. The housekeeper, Old Zhao, informed him that his eldest brother had run away from home, and his mother decided to go to Huashan School personally to appeal for help.

    “Why Huashan School?” Zhao Erlang was puzzled.

    Old Zhao brought him a cup of tea and replied, “Young master probably doesn’t know that Mistress and Madam Li are distant cousins. I remember that before she married your father, she first met Master Li Wei and his fiancee at her aunt’s birthday celebration. When Master Mengnan turned seven years old, Master Li had come here with his personal valet. After that, he and your father took off for a long voyage, and that was the last time I have seen the second senior master.” Old Zhao wiped his tears.

    At that moment, a servant came in with a pigeon in his hands. “There is a message from the senior master Zhao.” He reported and handed the note to Zhao Erlang, who opened it immediately.

    It was from Zhao Zhong who asked his sister-in-law to send her youngest son to Huashan School as soon as possible. He said in the message that he needed help from the nephew and hoped that she could spare him for a few weeks.

    Zhao Erlang put down the note and felt that this must be the work of fate. He got up and grabbed his unpacked bag, ready to return to the road. He could not help thinking of Ah Mei’s sweet smile and unconsciously hurried his footsteps.

    Zhao Mengnan opened his eyes and slowly took in the surroundings. “Am I dead or alive?” He asked weakly then saw a face of Yang Qiu-er. ‘Wherever this is, I am glad to be with you.’ He thought then caught a drop of tear in her eyes.

    “Qiu-er, are you crying for me?” He asked without thinking, and the other blinked her eyes with surprise. “No,” she instantly turned away but could not hide a relief from her voice.

    Someone else was sobbing, and Zhao Mengnan’s eyes stopped at Meiying. “Since we are still together, why are you crying? Are we in hell then?”

    Meiying laughed amid tears. “Silly, you are not dead yet, but you surely scared us so by being unconscious for five whole days.” She quickly dried her tears and smiled amiably at him.

    Zhao Mengnan flashed a pleasant grin at her. “I must have been on my way to the underworld but I missed your enchanting voice, so I had to come back.” He yawned and heard noise from his stomach. “I am so hungry that I can eat a whole horse.” He announced.

    The other glanced at him coyly. “I am sure that with this tongue of yours, even the devil will be charmed to let you live again.” Despite her sarcasm, her hands were already at works – wiping the other’s face and combing his hair. Yang Qiu-er watched Meiying fussing over the patient quietly and felt something almost close to envy but quickly chided herself for thinking too ridiculously. Yet, she could not help feeling strangely lonely and used an excuse to get food in order to step outside.

    During the past five days, she had tried to meditate but found that she could not gather her thought long enough. Every time she closed her eyes, Zhao Mengnan appeared in her mind, and she was constantly worried that he would not wake up again. She could not understand herself for the first time and had a hard time remained serene, as his pulse seemed to become weaker every day.

    Finally, she had to remind herself of her mission and her mother’s warning about men. Right then, she had made a resolution to leave Zhao Mengnan as soon as he regained his sense. Having witnessed Meiying’s intimacy with him today made her go through with her earlier decision. Hence, she went to her room and started packing. Then she walked downstairs and ordered a tray of food to be taken to Zhao Mengnan. After that, she quietly left the inn to fulfill her task.

    When the food came, Zhao Mengnan did not lose time to chomp it down. After the meal, he patted his belly contentedly. “I feel like a reborn person.” Then he got up.

    Meiying hurriedly put down the teacup and protested. “The poison inside your body has just been neutralized, and you are still quite weak, so you’d better not exert yourself. Just let me know what you want, and I will get it.”

    Zhao Mengnan sighed. “Meiying, you sound a lot like my mother just now. I only want to cross the hall to see how Qiu-er is. You have just told me that she has kept guard by my bed every night, so I want to thank her personally.”

    His legs were still shaky, but he moved cautiously and slowly toward the door. Meiying blushed from his words but insisted on his leaning on her shoulders. However, he refused, suddenly realizing that Yang Qiu-er might misunderstand his relationship with Meiying if she happened to see their closeness. Meiying could guess what he was thinking, and her heart bled because of that. Nonetheless, she followed him from behind to watch over him with genuine concern.

    Turned out Zhao Mengnan’s caution was too late, as he found only an empty room. With one glance, he then realized that she was gone. Suddenly, his strength was gone. His knees turned weak, and he had to sit down, feeling as if his heart had been snatched away.

    “Qiu-er, where are you?” He murmured, looking up at Meiying’s white hand on his shoulder. “Meiying, I am very grateful to you for taking care of me these past weeks, but I have to go now. I have to find Qiu-er or I won’t be able to live. You understand that, don’t you?” He croaked.

    Meiying swallowed back her tears and forced a smile. “I know. I understand perfectly, Mengnan. Thank you for the good times we had together.”

    She walked him back to the room and helped him pack. Then she went out with him to the gate and watched him walk away until he disappeared from her sight. “Good bye, my dear gentleman.” She uttered sadly.

    On the way back to her room, she picked up a message from an innkeeper. After a quick scan, she threw it away and prepared to leave the inn as well. Her work here was done, and now she was ready to embrace a new task.

    On a main street in a quiet town, a wedding parade had just left the bride’s house and was on its way to the bridegroom’s. At one fruit stall, a good-looking woman about forty years of age was selecting oranges. She looked up as soon as she heard the music and unhurriedly paid for her fruits. After that, she straightened her back and quietly walked after the caravan. When they entered wooded area, the middle-aged woman suddenly stopped. She put down a bag of oranges and reached for a red cloth that she tied around her face. Next, she grabbed an orange from its bag and leaped up. Instantaneously, she tossed the orange toward the groom that was riding a horse in the front. Before everyone realized, the groom had fallen dead from the horse with an orange buried in his chest. The next second, everyone else outside the palanquin collapsed; their throats were lodged with phoenix shaped projectiles.

    The assailant then sprang forward and alit outside the still palanquin. She opened its curtain and looked at the terrified bride. “All husbands are heartless. You should be glad that I have rescued you from lifetime suffering today.” She spoke with expressionless voice and put a pill in the other’s mouth. The hapless bride was too scared to speak, let alone resist this strange lady, who leisurely picked up the bag of remaining oranges and walked away.

    When a woodcutter came upon the shocking scene, only the bride was the sole survivor. Alas, she could no longer speak for her throat had been destroyed by poison. In this season of autumn, most leaves had turned red and orange. When gentle wind caressed them, they shyly dropped down to the black earth. Now, some of them fell on top of the corpses. Red hue of those leaves was a contrast to pale faces of the deaths and black blood that oozed from their throats. On the other hand, it brought out the ghastliness of the bride’s red palanquin, the groom’s red wedding robe, and red bows in the matchmaker’s hands.

    That night, a lady holding a bag of oranges arrived at an old temple. She walked in, and a young man immediately stood up. “Aunty, what brought you here?” He cupped his hands and bowed politely in spite of his ragged costumes.

    The older lady stared at the other hard. “I am here to take you home.” She said softly.

    The young man shook his head, moving backward. “No, I don’t want to go back. I am taking a friend to Huashan then I will go to the capital to join the rebels against Qing.”

    His aunt’s eyes flashed. “Weren’t you happy enough at home? Wasn’t I good to you? Why must you waste your life away for some hopeless cause?”

    The nephew shook his head stubbornly. “I have decided, and I won’t change my mind. Everyone has been very kind to me, but I am a grown man now. I want to see the world, and be a hero. I want to use my martial arts to help others.” He explained seriously, and the other sighed desperately.

    “There are many ways to see the world and save others without getting kill. Ah Liu, I can set up a business for you so that you can be a trader and travel to strange lands. As for being hero, it is just a plain nonsense idea. There is no real hero in this world, and there will never be. All of those that call themselves heroes are actually coward lots who only know how to use brutal force to get what they want. I have taught you kungfu so that you can protect yourself, not to use it against the government. Qing Dynasty is too powerful to be taken down by a few mere groups of greedy thieves. You will only waste your life unneccessarily.”

    Ah Liu flushed. “Aunt just doesn’t understand. Although we may fail today, there are always tomorrow with a new generation of Han. Besides, it cannot be that hopeless since even Hero Zhao is an active member of this operation.” His tone was full of admiration, and the other snapped back angrily.

    “That is because Zhao Zhong has no sense. He is just a fake hero and a boastful man.” She glared at him then heaved a sigh when he did not flinch. “I guess even if I take you back by force, you still will run away again at first chance, won’t you?”

    Ah Liu nodded. “Aunt understands me the most, and I hope that you will allow me to live my own life.”

    The other fixed her eyes on him for a long time. Her voice was almost sad. “A bird has to learn to fly some day, and eventually it will leave its nest to build its own. Twenty years are so long yet so short. You take after your father so much that this must be your destiny to choose this road.” She looked past him and noticed a sleeping maiden on a pile of straw. “Who is she?”

    She did not wait for an answer but stepped forward. Quickly and precisely, she reached out and pressed the younger woman’s pressure points. Ah Liu hurriedly rushed to her side and explained nervously. “Aunt, please don’t hurt her. She has no kungfu. She is lost and I am helping her looking for her sister. On the way, she got sick, and I have been taking caring of her.”

    Suddenly, his eyes lit with hope. “Aunt, you know a lot about medicine. Would you please cure her?”

    His aunt grunted. She touched the sleeping maiden’s wrist and mentioned unconcernedly. “Her internal organ has a trace of poison from birth or childhood. She is very lucky to live this long.”

    Ah Liu confirmed her diagnosis then besought her help eagerly. “That is exactly as she told me. Please help her, Aunt.”

    The older woman coldly questioned him. “Why should I help her?”

    Ah Liu took deep breath. “Because she is my friend, and I want her to live.”

    The aunt glanced at him briefly then smiled a little. “She is a very pretty young lady. All right, I will transfer my energy to her for now. Here is a pill called ‘Soul Restoring’. It cannot get rid of her poison but will give her strength until Huashan School. Go there and ask for Madam Li. She is the best doctor in China. Tell her that Ah Xiang has sent you.” She gave him a black pill and propped the young maiden up. Then she started to transfer her stream of energy into the other.

    After that, she took out a small red bag and handed it to him along with the oranges that she had bought. “The money in this bag should be enough for your traveling fee.” She frowned at his beggar clothing. “Surely, being a hero doesn’t require dirty garbs.”

    Ah Liu flushed at the other’s mocking but cupped his hands thankfully. “I am grateful for what you have done for my friend, Aunt. Please take care of yourself.”

    The other waved a hand at him. “I have not finished yet. I will let you stay with one condition. I will send Ah Xiao to keep you out of harm. A road to Huashan is a long way, and it is full of danger.” She noticed his frown and hardened her voice. “If you don’t agree, then I will take this young lady away, and you will never see her again.” His reproachful look at her almost tore her heart, but she had to be firmed.

    “Ah Liu, I only want the best for you. Don’t hate me.” She pleaded softly, and Ah Liu’s anger vanished. “I know that you always wish me well.” He admitted and smiled at her brilliantly. The other’s heart skipped at the uncanny similarity to the man she once loved. Without another word, she turned away and disappeared into the dark.

    Ah Liu watched his aunt left unsurprisingly. She acted oddly sometimes, but he knew that she really was fond of him. He shrugged and turned his attention to Yang Lianyan, whose cheeks seemed less pale than before. He checked her pulse and smiled with relief. It seemed normal now. The cold wind blew by, and he gathered more straw to pile around her and sat by her side all night to guard her in case his aunt had changed her mind and came back to take her away.

    The next morning, Yang Lianyan woke up and inhaled the air deeply. “I felt so refreshed and strong. I think I can go back to the road now.” She got up and Ah Liu immediately put out his hand to help her. Their hands touched, and Ah Liu’s cheeks burned hot, but Yang Lianyan smiled at him guilelessly. “You must be very tired looking after me.” She thanked him sincerely then blushed as he held her hands still. At that moment, someone coughed loudly, and the young couple awkwardly pulled their hands away and stepped apart.

    A young woman in white stood at the entrance and looked at them half amusingly, half annoyingly. “Mistress sent me to prevent you from any mischief.” She stated while surveying the other maiden curiously.

    Ah Liu furrowed his eyebrows. “I think her actual word was for you to be my bodyguard.” He smiled as the other flushed.

    However, the new maiden would not be defeated easily. “That is a testament of your inefficient martial arts.” She countered, and it was Ah Liu’s turn to ire.

    He glowered at her, and she smiled calmly, knowing that she had hit at the right spot. Yang Lianyan looked at Ah Liu then at the newcomer and smiled cordially at the other maiden. “My name is Yang Lianyan. Nice to meet you.” She curtsied gracefully.

    The other maiden scowled. “That sounds odd.” She criticized, and Ah Liu quickly interposed. “Lianyan, this is Ah Xiao. She is my aunt’s personal maid. She is bad-tempered, but she can be tolerable with certain amount of patience.”

    Ah Xiao stomped her feet angrily. “Foolish boy, who said I am the maid? For your information, I am your aunt’s apprentice and your SENIOR martial sister.”

    Ah Liu stuck his tongue at her; he had his revenge and continued to taunt her. “Who to say you are my senior when we are the same age, and Aunt has been teaching kungfu to me the same time as to you? Besides, if you are not her maid, then why do you sometimes call her ‘Mistress’ in front of me?”

    Ah Xiao could not reply to that question, but she would not give up. “Anyhow, I am better than you are in martial skills, so you have to call me your senior martial sister.”

    Ah Liu crossed his arms on his chest and shook his head firmly. “No, I won’t.”

    Ah Xiao shouted at him crossly. “You have to.”

    The other made a face at her. “Never.”

    Ah Xiao opened her mouth then suddenly changed her mind. She stared at the other icily. “I will give you a last chance. Say it!”

    Ah Liu laughed at her. “Are you going to beat me up?” He winked mischievously at her. “Aunt won’t forgive you if I get hurt.” Her cold attitude did not bother him at all for he was used to it from his aunt.

    Ah Xiao wanted so much to choke him but realized that he was right. As she was wrecking her brain how to get back at the other, she happened to notice Ah Liu’s tender look at that sickly looking girl. Instantly, Ah Xiao jumped forth and gripped Yang Lianyan’s wrist tightly.

    She announced with a wicked smile. “If you don’t listen to me, I will twist her hand until it breaks.” She pressed her hand harder, and Yang Lianyan cried out with pain.

    Ah Liu was furious, but he knew that he could not win by force. Therefore, he had to bend down for the sake of Yang Lianyan. “All right. All right. Don’t hurt her.” He said hurriedly.

    Ah Xiao smiled victoriously. “That’s a good boy. Now, my junior martial brother, your elder is waiting for an apology.”

    Ah Liu grounded his teeth but spoke aloud. “Please pardon my rudeness, Senior martial sister.”

    Ah Xiao laughed. “Ha-ha. The last one to laugh is the loudest.” She released the other maiden’s wrist and strode briskly out of the temple. “Mistress said that you need to get to Huashan as quickly as possible, so I brought three horses for us.”

    Ah Liu paid no attention to her but turned to Yang Lianyan anxiously. “I am sorry about Ah Xiao. It’s my false that she picked on you. Are you all right?”

    Yang Lianyan smiled at him. “I am fine – actually, I was more surprised than hurt.”

    Ah Liu looked at the direction of Ah Xiao and lifted his fist. His eyes narrowed. “I am not going to let her bully us and got away with it.”

    Yang Lianyan hurriedly caught his hands. “No, don’t be too hasty. It was nothing significant, and I am all right now. Ah Liu, I will feel bad if I cause discords between you two. Please be calm.” She pleaded him with her eyes, and he reluctantly nodded. “If you wish, then I will forgive her this time, but I am not going to endure another obnoxious behavior of hers.”

    Outside, Ah Xiao shouted impatiently. “At this rate, I will get old before reaching Huashan. Hurry up!”

    Ah Liu could only murmur. “That is because you are already an old woman!” Luckily, Ah Xiao did not hear him as she was busily harnessing the horses. At that moment, Yang Lianyan pulled his sleeve timidly. “Ah Liu, I never ride on horses. I don’t know how.”

    Ah Liu looked at her kindly. “Don’t worry. It is not hard at all. I will show you.”

    The other was uncertain. “Really?” She hesitantly followed him out of the building and suddenly clutched his arms with fear. “I…I don’t think that I can ride it. They look so big. I am scared.” Her face immediately lost color.

    Ah Xiao snickered openly, but Ah Liu smiled at her reassuringly. “If you don’t want to ride it alone, you can sit on this horse with me.”

    Ah Xiao widened her eyes, not entirely pleased. “It doesn’t sound proper. Mistress might not approve of it.” Then, she grudgingly proposed the other maiden to ride with her instead.

    Ah Liu shook his head. “I am not going to give you more opportunities to pick on her. As for propriety, Aunt always trusts my judgment, and she is a caring person, so she surely won’t object to my conduct.” He implied to her that his aunt’s personality was opposite from hers, and Ah Xiao could not find right words to argue without showing disrespect to her mistress, while he lifted Yang Lianyan to the saddle and sat protectively behind her. Ah Liu turned to his fuming martial sister and winked at her. “Come on, I don’t want to see you fall dead out of old age right before me.” He chuckled and rode away, and Ah Xiao could only follow him crossly.

    For the moment, Guo Ming and Yang Ling-ling was on their way to Huashan as well. Yang Ling-ling’s concern was of her second sister, Yang Lianyan. She brought out a jade green bottle and showed it to Guo Ming. “Mother gave this to me and said that it is important to find Yan-er before her own supply of medicine will run out. My second elder sister has a chronic disease since birth. Her heart is weak, and she often faints. If she comes to harm, Mother will never forgive me.”

    “How about your brother then?” Guo Ming asked.

    The other sighed. “Ah Biao is a man and has some kungfu, so he can take care of himself, but if I can’t find Lianyan soon, she can die, and I can never go back to the island again.”

    Guo Ming remarked keenly. “You sounds almost as if she doesn’t love you.” Then he hastily cupped his hands. “Pardon me, I didn’t intend to sound rude.”

    Yang Ling-ling shook her head. “Not at all. You are quite right. My mother loves my second sister the most. Sometimes, I even wonder whether we other three are really her children or not.” She looked at the golden rice field ahead and inhaled the fresh air. “On the other hand, my father is fair and judge. He loves all of us equally although he takes special care for my eldest sister, Qiu-er. That’s probably because she receives the most punishment from Mother.”

    She turned to Guo Ming and smiled at him innocently. “I like your mother despite her locking me up in order to make me your bride. She is warm and cheery, and it would be great to have such loving mother.”

    Guo Ming couldn’t help blushing. “You are too kind.” He mumbled.

    Yang Ling-ling knitted her eyebrows thoughtfully. “But I don’t know where to start. Oh, you are Shaolin’s disciple, so could you ask your master to help us?”

    Guo Ming slightly shook his head. “My master never leaves the temple. Besides, Shaolin doesn’t allow presence of female, so I cannot take you there.” He chewed his lips thoughtfully. “Hmm, I think we should go to Huashan instead. Master Li Wei is my master’s good friend, and he has a wide circle of acquaintance. He is a nice man, and I am sure that he will help you find your sister within a short time.” He hesitated for a moment then said, “moreover, Mother is sure to look for us. She has a respect for Master Li and will listen to him if we ask him to persuade her to drop this marriage arrangement.”

    Yang Ling-ling gazed at him trustingly and beamed widely at him. “I believe you, so let’s go to see this Master Li.” She was looking forward excitedly to the ahead adventure, and her face reflected her eagerness. In that moment, she looked so pretty that Guo Ming almost forgot to breathe. He turned pink and clumsily lifted his water flask to drink to cover his bashfulness but ended up choking because he could not take his eyes off the other’s sweet face. <IMG SRC="smilies/love.gif" border="0">
    -------------------------

    thank you for reading
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  6. #26
    Senior Member Bubeng's Avatar
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    Bravo, bravo <IMG SRC="smilies/clap.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/clap.gif" border="0"> Very interesting storyline, very intriguing, makes me want to read some more.
    Btw is Ah Liu's aunt the Phoenix princess?

    Sorry that you had a bad experience with the dentist office. Just think that you're having a tooth massage/gum massage that way it's a pleasure, not a torture <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">.
    There's a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

  7. #27
    Junior Member yuehyin's Avatar
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    "Just think that you're having a tooth massage/gum massage that way it's a pleasure, not a torture."

    Never thought of it like this before. Heheheh. <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> I'll have to keep that in mind when I go to the orthodontist this saturday. As my teeth are being tightened, I'll think to myself, 'tooth massage, tooth massage, tooth massage...' <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> The orthodontist will wonder why I'm grinning sillily to myself with my eyes closed.

    Hi Goofy, <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> this is my first time reading your writing and I think it's really really good. Sooo descriptive. I can't wait to read more!

  8. #28
    Senior Member Bubeng's Avatar
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    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><table border="0" width="80%" bgcolor="#dcdcdc" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1"><tr><td width="100%"><table border="0" width="100%" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="10" bgcolor="#DCDCDC"><tr><td width="100%" bgcolor="#eeeeee"><font size="1">Originally posted by yuehyin:
    <STRONG>"Never thought of it like this before. Heheheh. <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> I'll have to keep that in mind when I go to the orthodontist this saturday.
    Hi Goofy, <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0"> this is my first time reading your writing and I think it's really really good. Sooo descriptive. I can't wait to read more!</STRONG></font></td></tr></table></td></tr></table></BLOCKQUOTE>

    Glad that you like my suggestion <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">. How long have you had your braces? Btw, when they cut the wires, be sure to be very picky. Move your mouth all around, if the wire still poking, ask the doctor/assistant to trim the wire more. Life will be much more comfortable that way.
    Sorry Goofy for being sidetracked. Will send you some durian as a peace offering <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">.
    There's a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

  9. #29
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    Bubeng, can I have rambutan instead of Durian? <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    Actually, my dentist was very nice and quite good, but I never like going to dentist office. I feel like all my dignities have been exposed in front of strangers. <IMG SRC="smilies/angrystick.gif" border="0">

    Ah Liu's aunt is Ah Xia's sister - hope that answer your question. <IMG SRC="smilies/wink.gif" border="0">
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  10. #30
    Junior Member yuehyin's Avatar
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    Hi Goofy, I'm sorry too for getting your thread all sidetracked. Heheheh, I couldn't resist replying to Bubeng's message about the teeth massage. It was so funny when I first read it. lol

    To Bubeng, I've had braces for two years and I hate them. <IMG SRC="smilies/frown.gif" border="0"> Grrrrr.

  11. #31
    Member Acidbeastonfire's Avatar
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    Hi Goofy,

    I've not posted anything for a while but i'm still reading ur good work. Just been very busy to comment. Keep it up!! I got a feeling this 3rd story is gonna be a very long one...even longer than Quest.
    "Man is his own star; and the soul that can
    Render an honest and a perfect man,
    Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
    Nothing to him falls early or too late.
    Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
    Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."

  12. #32
    Senior Member Bubeng's Avatar
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    [QUOTE]Originally posted by Goofy:
    [QB]Bubeng, can I have rambutan instead of Durian? <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    Sawatdii!
    Sorry Goofy, I searched high and low for Rambutan in Chiangmai and didn't find any. Would you believe that there wasn't any durian either. They said that it's not the season. Someone told me to go to Sompet Market, but I got there around noon time and the sellers were all gone. Sigh, life is tough.
    Anyway, I like how your story is unfolding, who's who, etc. It's very fascinating. I think this one is so far your best one. Waiting for your next posting. <IMG SRC="smilies/smile.gif" border="0">
    There's a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

  13. #33
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    hey Goofy... what happened to ur story! it's was great! plz update soon... i need something to do!!!
    Looking into the future.... memories of the past, what will become of life??

  14. #34
    Member Acidbeastonfire's Avatar
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    hi goofy!

    just to let u know tht i'm still keenly waiting for the continuation of this story. i bet there are a few thousand others feeling this way but just too busy to express it! <IMG SRC="smilies/wink.gif" border="0">
    "Man is his own star; and the soul that can
    Render an honest and a perfect man,
    Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
    Nothing to him falls early or too late.
    Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
    Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."

  15. #35
    Member Zhen Yu Cao's Avatar
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    Guys, I think Goofy is on a vacation or perhaps just a hiatus from the internet. Haven't seen her around the jin yong forum or anywhere else on spc for awhile. But ya, I'm still waiting as well, it was turning out to be really good.
    Wandering the world,
    Sword in hand,
    Searching for a challenge,
    Begging for a loss...

  16. #36
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    I am just lying low and turned into the reader and audience for awhile. Have three chapters written, will post some time this week.

    thank you for remembering me. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0"> tears flow down with gratitude....
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  17. #37
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    thanks for all your patience. Enjoy all long chapters. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/catroar.gif" border="0">

    This chapter is dedicated to Jane Austen, the author whose style I always dream to have.

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 8
    New and Old Friendships

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Ah Xiao (Margie Tsang Wah Sin)
    Yang Lianyan (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
    Ah Liu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai)
    Zhao Zhong (Norman Chui Siu Keung)
    Ah Xia (Idy Chan Yuk Lin)
    Chunyu (Yu On On)
    Madam Zhao/Lian Xiaohua (Au Yeung Pui San)
    Li Wei (Damian Lau Chong Yun)

    Ah Liu was far from happy in having an additional companion, but Yang Lianyan thought that constant bickering between Ah Xiao and him was quite amusing. “You two remind me of my younger sister and brother. Although they don’t quarrel often, Ah Biao is fond of playing tricks on Ling-ling and Qiu-er, and Ling-ling would end up chasing him around the island.” She smiled at the joyful memory and sighed inwardly. “I miss my home so.”

    Ah Liu’s heart went for her. “I understand exactly how you feel. When I first left home, I missed my foster parents too, but after a while, I get used to being alone. Although I lost a loving home, I gain my freedom.” Then he sighed, glancing irately at Ah Xiao who was busily grilling chicken.

    “Well, now I have neither a home nor freedom.”

    Yang Lianyan giggled. “I think that each of you enjoys tantalizing each other. As a matter of fact, in your inner heart, you are quite fond of her, aren’t you?”

    Ah Liu considered her question for a long time and finally admitted rather surprisingly. “Yes, in a way since she is my closest acquaintance aside from my foster family and my aunt. Aunt has taken care of her since she was a baby, and we grew up more or less together. She was the only playmate I had from childhood. However, because she spends more time with Aunt, she gets to learn more martial arts than I do, and she always uses this advantage to gain upper hands on me.” He frowned but a faint smile unwittingly appeared on a corner of his mouth.

    The other noticed that and smiled gently. “I think that you like to be picked on by her. Either of you probably will feel lonely without the other.”

    Ah Liu snorted loudly. “When she is around, I pray three times a day to the heaven to take her away as soon as possible.” He announced with all intention for Ah Xiao to hear it.

    He succeeded, and Ah Xiao immediately threw the chicken to the fire in rage. “Ah Liu, don’t you think you can bully me then get away with it. I will report this to my mistress, and I will watch her punish you.” She shouted.

    Ah Liu instantly dove forth and reached out, saving his dinner just in time before it becomes cinder in the fire. Under the other’s glaring eyes, he leisurely tore out half of the chicken and gave it to Yang Lianyan. Then he tore a chicken leg from the other half and munched it with relish. “Hmm, this meat is done just right. Too bad that you don’t want to eat it. Well, all the more better for us because there will be more shares left.” He glanced at the angry maiden serenely as if not hearing her threat.

    “Besides, I think you are getting a bit thick around the waist, so you might want to watch your figure more carefully.” His eyes twinkled with amusement, and the other was livid beyond description.

    Ah Xiao stomped her feet. “Ah Liu,” she screeched and walked away furiously.

    Ah Liu chuckled and winked at the other maiden. “Now that I successfully chase her away for the night, we can take the best space for our beds and have a peaceful sleep. For a small person, she sure can snore very loud.” He added some wood into the fire and said goodnight to Yang Lianyan.

    Yang Lianyan watched after Ah Xiao worriedly. “Are you sure that she will be back? I think you have teased her too hard. Shouldn’t you go after her and make an apology?”

    Ah Liu shook his head. “Absolutely not! Lianyan, you are just too nice. She doesn’t deserve this kindness of yours.” He smiled at her tenderly. “Don’t worry. She will be back. She is like glue – sticky and hard to get rid of.” At that moment, the tree above him suddenly shook, and its leaves showered down onto Ah Liu, who soon was buried under layers of leaves. Yang Lianyan looked up and discerned a shadow moved from one tree to the other. Laughter floated to her ears, and sweet voice rang out. “Goodnight, Miss Yang.”

    Yang Lianyan shook her head at her two companions’ childish pranks at each other. She replied aloud, “goodnight to you too, Ah Xiao.” She yawned and selected a place near the leaf pile for a bed. “Goodnight, Ah Liu.” Only a sleepy grunt came from underneath the leaves. Yang Lianyan smiled and closed her eyes.

    The next morning, Ah Liu found his way out of his leaf bed successfully and went straight to nearby stream for a bath. For some reason, he felt very itchy and cannot seem to stop scratching here and there. However, after a long dip in cold water, he felt better like a new person. When he got out of the stream, he found a set of new clothing on the bank instead of his tattered outfit. Left with no choice, he put it on and sighed blissfully as its soft silken material rubbed against his skin. He took time walking back to the camp where he saw Ah Xiao tidying up the area while humming a tune in a good mood. Yang Lianyan was nowhere in sight.

    Immediately, he leaped at Ah Xiao and pushed her to the ground roughly. Towering over her, he asked with harsh voice. “What did you do to Lianyan? Where is she?”

    Ah Xiao stared at him hard then replied with icy voice. “I have no idea, but if I meet her next time, I will cut her legs so that she cannot move away from you.”

    At that moment, Yang Lianyan appeared, chewing a petal of flowers in her hand. “Good morning. I have just found some delicious flowers for you to taste…” She paused uncertainly at the sight of the two glowering people.

    Ah Liu looked at her then back at Ah Xiao. He flushed uncomfortably and extended his hand to the latter. “I misunderstood you, sorry.”

    The other didn’t reply. She distantly pushed his hand away and sprang up, intentionally talking to Yang Lianyan instead. “Time to set out.” Then she swung onto her horse and galloped away without casting another glance at Ah Liu.

    “What happened?” Yang Lianyan asked Ah Liu who attempted a weak smile. “She is just trying to copy my aunt’s manner.” He grumbled. “What more does she want from me? I was wrong and I apologized to her. Do I need to kowtow to her and beg a thousand pardons?” He shrugged and pretended not to bother about the departed maiden. Nonetheless, he hurried the horse after her without further ado.

    In the meantime, Zhao Zhong and Chunyu had arrived at an inn. They asked for two rooms and accordingly were escorted to the upstairs. After refreshing themselves, they came downstairs again for dinner. They took a table and before they could have ordered any food, dish after dish of delectable cuisine was brought out of the kitchen to their table.

    Zhao Zhong looked at the waiter astonishingly. “We haven’t order anything yet. You must have got a wrong table.”

    The waiter shook his head. “No, Sir. A lady has pre-ordered this meal for you. She had also paid for the meal and for your rooms.” He bowed courteously and went away to fetch a calabash of wine. “This is our best quality of wine.” He told his customers proudly.

    Zhao Zhong surveyed him keenly then decided that he was speaking the truth. “Brother, can you tell me then what she looks like?”

    The waiter pondered. “Hmm, I didn’t see her face because it is covered with white cloth, but she dressed in a nice yellow gown with red embroidery at the hem. She came to our inn this morning, described your description, and ordered the food and room for you. Then she put down a bit nugget of gold and quietly left the inn without waiting for the change. I’m afraid that it is all I can tell you, Sir.” He then retreated to let the guests enjoy this lavish meal.

    Zhao Zhong scanned at numerous dishes on the table and told Chunyu to go ahead and eat. He himself strode out of inn into the wilderness outside town. There, in a middle of forest, he found the same pavilion with a lady in yellow dress and white veil.

    “Hero Zhao should be enjoying the food at the inn with the beautiful lady at this moment. Are you not satisfied with the food or the choice of the companion?” The strange woman uttered with a cold smile on her lips.

    Zhao Zhong cupped his hands and bowed slightly. “I can’t accept what I didn’t earn. Miss has rescued me once, and I am in debt with you. I wish not to owe Miss more than I have already had.” He bowed again gracefully. “This bow is from Miss Chunyu for your hospitality.”

    The other raised her eyebrows. “In all four seas, we are friends, isn’t it so? But I did not do this from my kindness. I merely paid my debt to you for helping me the other day.”

    Zhao Zhong waved his hands. “That was only a trivial thing – cannot be compared to what you did for me.” Suddenly, he understood. “Miss wants to keep the first debt because you want something else from me.” He stared at her warily. “Without Miss, I would have died already; therefore, my life belongs to Miss. However, my mind and morale doesn’t. In the future, I would be glad to repay this debt with my own life as long as for righteous cause.”

    The other laughed and clapped her hands. “That is a word of a real man indeed! I am glad to make your acquaintance.” She looked at him almost tenderly and sighed faintly. “I can promise you that when the time comes, you will not regret what you are told to do.” She lifted her right palm and smiled. “Let’s clap our hands to seal our promises.”

    Zhao Zhong raised his right hand, and her palm clapped at his once. She then withdrew hers and turned away. “I will take care not to cross your path again so that you will have no chance to repay my debt before the right time.” She said but did not move.

    Zhao Zhong cupped his hands and bowed once. Then, he left the pavilion and returned to Chunyu.

    In the middle of the pavilion, Ah Xia stood still as if she were made from stone. Finally, she sighed and whispered to herself. “Sister, Brother-in-law has promised me one thing, and I will use it to bring you two together.” She coughed, and her maid hurried into the pavilion.

    “My lady, we should set out for Huashan immediately. Your cough has been getting worse these last few days.”

    Ah Xia nodded. “I know. Let’s go then.” She leaned against the other to awaiting carriage. Once inside the coach, she closed her eyes tiredly. Her last thought before she fell asleep was an image of Zhao Zhong holding her sister’s hands.

    When Zhao Zhong arrived back at the inn, he was surprised to see that Chunyu was still waiting for him at the table. The food was still uneaten. “There is no need to wait for me. You should have eaten the food when it was still hot.” He frowned.

    Chunyu’s eyes lit up with gladness as he stepped indoors. She hurriedly poured him a cup of wine. “I prefer to eat the cold food with you because I can’t bear to see you go hungry while I am full.” She smiled at him guilelessly with her beautiful eyes.

    Zhao Zhong could not help smiling at her reply. “All right. Let’s eat then.” He picked up a pair of chopsticks and the other eagerly followed his suit.

    Meanwhile, a horse carriage came to stop outside the entrance to Huashan School, and a lady stepped out. She was in early forties with a youthful face and maternity air. She walked toward the gate uncertainly and sighed with relief when it was opened by a servant. An old man behind the servant stepped forward and bowed to her politely. “Our mistress is away for the present, but Madam Zhao please come in and take some tea while I fetch the master.”

    It was hard to determine either Madam Zhao’s pink cheeks were caused from long journey or from agitation or from bashfulness. “Thank you.” She murmured and followed the housekeeper to the main hall. Tea was brought to her along with some sweetmeats, but she was unable to sit down calmly. As she paced the floor nervously, a middle-aged man of late forties appeared. He had a charming smile and kind eyes with handsome features and gentleman countenance. He was Li Wei, the master of Huashan School. He cupped his hands and bowed gracefully to the guest.

    “Greetings, Sister Lian, er, pardon me, Sister-in-law Zhao. It had been closed to thirty years since we had made our acquaintance. May I inquire after your family?”

    Madam Zhao’s color heightened at the other’s warm smile. “My brother-in-law and my second son are in good health, thank you.” She swallowed saliva then suddenly burst out. “But, my eldest son, Mengnan is perhaps in troubles at the moment.” She forced the tears down. “You see, he has run away from home, and since his constitution is weak and he has no martial arts to protect himself, I truly fear for the worst.” She looked pleadingly at the master of Huashan, and words just flowed out of her like water from broken dam. “For the sake of my deceased husband and relationships between our two families, please help me find my son before it is too late.” Her voice trembled and a mist of tears was covering her eyes.

    Suddenly she stopped, drained. Her courage was gone, and she dropped herself on the nearest chair shakily. She was exhausted and very much worried over her eldest son. Li Wei nodded at her sympathetically. He called for his housekeeper and ordered the latter to prepare a room and dinner for their guest. “And come back for my letters too. They will need a prompt delivery.” He added and turned to Madam Zhao.

    “Sister-in-law Zhao, you must feel tired after the long journey, so you should rest here until we hear news about your son. I need only your description of the young nephew, and I will send it to my apprentices and friends around the country. Unless he has gone to foreign lands, we would soon find him. Don’t worry. I am sure that he will be all right.” He smiled at her gently, and her heart beat faster.

    Madam Zhao lowered her eyes and replied softly. “My eldest son, Zhao Mengnan, is twenty-seven years old this year. He is tall and handsome. He has charming smiles and lively eyes.” Her hands twisted a handkerchief agitatedly as she thought of her son’s frail health. “His health is not good, so he cannot practiced any martial arts, but he is a good boy, always kind and attentive to me.” She ended up sobbing. “He is so naughty to leave me in this manner, but Brother-in-law is making him go to Shaolin against his will, so he probably had no choice.” She reprimanded her son then gave him an excuse.

    Li Wei surreptitiously shook his head at the hysterical woman in front of him. He put a teacup in her hand and encouraged her to eat something. “Empty stomach always makes everything look bleakly. Although the martial world is full of strange people, not all of them are bad. Your son has no kungfu, so he surely cannot have any dealing with them.” He reassured her. “My daughter, Yingzhun, often travels alone and never comes to harm although her martial arts are just rudimentary.” He sighed heavily. “My wife and I spoil her too much, but we cannot help it. She is the only daughter left to us, and we naturally wish for her to be happy.”

    He then took leave into a library to write several letters. After that, he gave them to the housekeeper. “Let me know when Madam is back.” He ordered and went to check on his guest. He found her standing in a small pavilion in a garden. She was singing softly a familiar melody, and Li Wei was reminded of a young maiden of twenty-eight years ago.

    He was sent to visit his fiancee’s relations and was invited to stay for her aunt’s 60th birthday celebration. Everyone was nice, but he was bored. So, he quietly strolled away to a garden. There, he came upon a beautiful maiden singing under a pavilion. She had on a blue gown with a single fresh flower decorated her hair. She was but seventeen years old then and looked as lovely as a spring blossom. Her voice was clear and sweet like a songbird, and he was enthralled by her voice that he did not announce himself on the spot.

    The song was about a young girl wondering about love. She tried to compare love to sweets, flowers, perfumes, butterflies, jewelry, and finally came to conclusion that love was only air of emptiness – one could feel it but could not hold it in one’s hand. Love was not to be possessed but rather possessed one who loved. Love could not be put in a jar to keep but it had a way to fill one’s heart with happiness.

    After the song ended, he took a deep breath and clapped his hands in awe. She turned around, and their eyes met. Admiration was plainly shown in his eyes as he stared at her intently. She blushed and lowered her eyes shyly as she curtsied to him.

    Li Wei bowed back and introduced himself. A formal greeting then turned into a lengthy conversation. He learned that her name was Lian Xiaohua, a distant cousin of Tian Fa, his betrothal. He also discovered that she loved music like he did. Therefore, he promised to compose a song for her. Just then, they were interrupted by his servant, Ah Ping. The host requested for his presence, so he had to reluctantly take leave.

    The next day, he met her again in a garden in front of a fishpond. He presented to her the music he wrote and brought out his flute to accompany her singing. The time seemed to fly, and the day seemed so short when one spent with a delighted companion. After that day, they had not met each other again for almost three decades. The following morning, he had to leave for home. Three weeks later, he married to Tian Fa, and a month later, he heard of Lian Xiaohua’s nuptial to a young man named Zhao Kang.

    He had an occasion to visit the Zhao Mansion twenty years ago, but Madam Zhao was away at the time. After that, he was persuaded to take a voyage with Zhao Kang and another friend. Unfortunately, they met violent storm, and he was the only survivor.

    Right after he had returned home miraculously, he became ill and was bedridden for many months; therefore, he missed both of his friends’ funerals. Later on, he paid a visit to both families to express his condolences. He found only Zhao Zhong and two nephews at home for the widowed wife of Zhao Kang had gone to pray in a temple. That was the last time he had been to the Zhao mansion.


    Many years had passed, yet Li Wei still recognized the tune of the song. It was the one he wrote himself and gave to young Miss Lian who was now the second Madam Zhao. She looked older but was the more beautiful from maturity and maternity. For Li Wei, time seemed to take him back to the past – to when his eyes first fell upon her.

    However, his present status and age prevented him from exhibited himself in the same manner as that from thirty years ago. He could only smile and praise the excellence of her voice.

    Madam Zhao turned to face him. She must have been brought back to the past too for its shadow still lingered in her eyes. “Do you still remember this song?” She murmured.

    “Yes, of course. I wrote this song especially for you. Now, I am quite ashamed to think how badly it was written. Had it not been because of your singing, this song would be quite intolerable.”

    The other’s cheeks darkened as she lowered her eyes modestly. “It has always been my favorite song for it reminds me of the happiest time in my life.” She looked away at a grove of bamboo.

    Li Wei did not know how to answer to that statement. He coughed a few times and at length started a new subject. “I am sorry that I have been neglecting my duty to the Zhao for so long. I assumed that I was not needed for the eldest Master Zhao was there to take care of everything.” He flushed. “Well, as a matter of fact, I was too shameful to face you and the children. I was somewhat responsible for Brother Zhao’s death. Had I not invited him to share that voyage with me, he would still have been alive, and the boys would not have been orphans.” He cupped his hands and bowed lowly. “Sister-in-law, I wronged you and your family. Please forgive me.”

    Madam Zhao gazed at him tenderly with her lovely eyes. “I never blame you for the death of my husband. It was fate, and nobody can stop it. At least, you survived, and there is one less orphan in this world.”

    Li Wei blushed deeper. He lowered his eyes and sighed deeply. “Your generosity only makes me more ashamed of myself.” His voice shook a little. “Please be assured that I will do everything to my utmost ability to find your son for you. Brother Zhao was my sworn brother, and his son is like my son.”

    Madam Zhao’s color heightened. She was about to say something but in the end changed her mind. Instead, she thanked him for the warm welcome and bade him goodnight.

    The next day, Madam Li (Lau Suet Wah) came to greet her. The former had just returned from her herb-gathering trip. She gave the other a hug and launched into a conversation. “My! I am so glad to see you again after these years. I hope that everyone in your family is well.” She then noticed the other’s pale face and cleverly changed the topic. “The housekeeper said that you hardly ate anything, so I brought you this soup. It is my special recipe with some medicinal herbs. I guarantee that it will restore your strength immediately.”

    She put a bowl in her cousin’s hand, and the other obligingly drank it. The soup tasted very good, and Madam Zhao found herself asking for more. Madam Li nodded satisfactorily while giving her the second serving. “This soup alone is not fulfilling but it did give you an appetite back. I will order a tray of real meal to deliver to you right away.”

    She went out, and a few minutes later, a maid brought in some food. Madam Zhao took a look at the dishes in front and suddenly felt very hungry, so she picked up chopsticks and did not put them down again until all plates were empty. After that, she drowsily went to bed. All anxieties over her son seemed to disappear for the time being.

    In the library, Li Wei was studying a piece of map carefully. At length, he folded it and put it away in a safe behind a wall portrait. After that, he heaved a long sigh, walked to a window, and looked up at the pale moon in the sky. The past rushed through his mind, and he heaved a long sigh.

    The voyage had been pleasant due to excellent navigation of Guo Bing (Alex Man Chi Leung), who was the only one with some seafaring experience. The weather was also cooperative, and everything was uneventful until one evening when storm brewed without warning. From small gale, it turned into violent squall, and the ship was blown across the raging sea like a piece of toy. In the morning, the storm left as sudden as it had come, and the wearied crew dropped to their knees with relief.

    However, they now were lost, but after a while, he was the one who sighted an island from afar.

    “Ahoy! Land ahead!” He joyously shouted to his two colleges, and they hurriedly unfolded the main sail to receive the wind. Half an hour later, they anchored the ship and stepped onto sandy beach after three whole months at sea. Unbeknown to them, their destinies had taken another turn.

    He could never forget that moment. He was joyous to be alive and after managing to survive last night’s fierce storm, he felt that he was ready to conquer everything. He was but a young man who was hungry for adventures, so eager to prove himself to the world then. The other two men were slightly older than he was. Guo Bing was thirty years old at the time and was the most matured one of them all. He was a son-in-law of a former master of a well-known escort agency in Hangzhou. His grandparents were ones of those Ming patriots that died in a hand of Manchu, and his great-grandparents were Ke Jing and Tian Xin-er; therefore, he was a cousin to the two Zhao brothers and distantly related to Li Wei through the latter’s wife.

    The third man, Zhao Kang (Eddie Cheng Siu Fai), was the youngest son of the Zhao family. He had the mildest, gentlest temperament. He was known to others as ‘Gentleman Zhao’ due to his consistent civility toward everyone. He was twenty-nine years old and a grandson of Di Yi and Tian Xiang-er. His wife, Lian Xiaohua was Madam Li’s distant cousin on maternal side, and Madam Li whose maiden name was Tian Fa was his distant cousin on paternal side. Therefore, he related to Li Wei by marriage and to Guo Bing by blood, their ancestors, Tian Xin-er and Tian Xiang-er, being the half-sisters.

    He, Li Wei, was the youngest of them all, about twenty-seven years old. He met the other two at his master’s seventy-two years birthday ceremony last year. They immediately became close friends and finally sworn brotherhoods. When they discovered that they were more or less akin, they were jubilant beyond words, and from then on, their loves and friendships toward one another grew stronger and deeper…


    Li Wei strolled to the garden, hands behind his back, looking up at the sliver moon thoughtfully. Madam Zhao’s appearance at Huashan had stirred a certain emotion that he had long forgotten. He recalled the youthful Lian Xiaohua and smiled unwittingly.

    ‘If only I had met her before I engaged with Tian Fa…’ He could not help thinking and immediately reprimanded himself. ‘She is now a widow, and I am a master of Huashan School. It is wrong to entertain such silly thought.’

    Behind a willow tree, a pair of eyes was following him from shadow of the night. The eyes were cold and without expression as they vigilantly observed his movement. After a while, Li Wei returned to his room, and the mysterious watcher vanished into the dark.

    A moment later, Madam Li entered her husband’s bedroom to serve him a cup of herb tea. “I am sorry to be gone for so long.” She smiled at him as he gulped down the hot liquid eagerly.

    Li Wei flashed white teeth at his wife, feeling refreshed. “I should be the one who apologize to you. I have neglected you for a long time, and I did not keep the promise to meet you at the foot of Huashan.” He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and put his lips on her cheeks tenderly.

    Madam Li pushed him away coyly. “I know that you were busily taking care of Cousin Xiaohua, so how can I blame you on this matter?” She quickly picked up the tray and said goodnight to him. “It has been a long day, and I am tired. Have a sweet dream, dear husband.”

    Li Wei sighed but did not detain her further. Nevertheless, he grumbled to himself. “How can I have a good dream when even my wife ignores me?” He only received the other’s apologetic smile as an answer. After she was gone, he undressed himself and went to bed, unconsciously dreaming of Madam Zhao’s tearful eyes and her sad face.
    --------------------------------------
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  18. #38
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    seem that the winglin site is not working. Is it down or closed?

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 9
    Footprints and Hoof Marks

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Zhao Mengnan (Adam Cheng Siu Chow)
    Ah Xiao (Margie Tsang Wah Sin)
    Yang Lianyan (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
    Ah Liu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai)
    Zhao Erlang (Miu Kiu Wei)

    Zhao Mengnan had been wandering for many days and came to realize that he would never find Yang Qiu-er alone with this aimless search. He sat down on a bench at a wayside teashop, sipping a cup of tea quietly and contemplated thoughtfully. At length, he got up and marched in the direction of Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. He intended to solicitude his younger brother, Zhao Erlang, for help but met with disappointment when he got there for the latter had left Shaolin for home already. Stunned and disheartened, he ambled carelessly at the middle of the road when he was suddenly knocked down by a passing by horse that was galloping with high speed. Its rider would have rode on had her companions on the following horse not stopped and got down to check on the victim.

    Turned out that the second rider was Ah Liu. He had been riding speedily behind Ah Xiao in order to catch up with her, and his mount barely avoided stepping on Zhao Mengnan’s still body.

    “Whoa!” He shouted and held back the reins with all his might as soon as he discerned an injured man on the ground. The steed lifted his front legs but obediently stopped just inches away from the lying stranger. Ah Liu agilely jumped down from the horse and helped Yang Lianyan to dismount. Then, he turned toward Zhao Mengnan and checked the latter’s condition. He saw a large gash on the other’s forehead; it was bleeding profusely at the present. Other than that, it was hard to tell as the unconscious man’s face was covered with dust and dirt.

    Yang Lianyan who had been observing him nearby took out her white handkerchief and handed it to him. “You’d better clean his face first. I will go look for some herb to stop his bleeding.” She then skipped away before Ah Liu could have stopped her.

    “Lianyan, do be careful,” he shouted after her and carefully cleaned the area around the other’s wound then the entire face. By the time that Yang Lianyan was back with long blades of glass in her hands, he had been able to see a few more cuts on the other’s cheeks.

    “What do you have here?” He asked the excited young maiden with pink cheeks curiously.

    Yang Lianyan did not answer at once. She put the grass in her mouth, chewed it a few times, then put it on the wound. Zhao Mengnan came through and let out a groan as something cool touched his skin. He opened his eyes hazily and saw a sweet face. Immediately, he cried out gladly. “Qiu-er. Qiu-er.” He then slipped back into oblivion.

    Yang Lianyan raised her eyebrows with surprise. ‘He mistook me for Qiu-er, so he probably knew her.’ She thought while busily tending to other cuts.

    “He has gone unconscious again.” Ah Liu remarked.

    Yang Lianyan shook her head. “That is not good because it means that he might have some internal injury that we don’t know about.” She fingered Zhao Mengnan’s skull gently but found no other wound. “His head seems all right, but he should not be left alone here.” She turned to consult with Ah Liu. “Can we take him along with us? This man has just uttered my sister’s name, so he might be able to tell us where she is. Besides, I am concerned about his relapse. He needs someone to keep him awake for at least twelve hours in case of blood clot in the brain.” She shook Zhao Mengnan’s shoulders. “Please wake up. You cannot sleep here.” She said softly.

    Zhao Mengnan’s eyelids fluttered and he looked up. Immediately, he grabbed the young maiden’s hands, croaking. “Qiu-er, please don’t leave me. Qiu-er. Qiu-er.”

    Ah Liu frowned and about to intervene when Yang Lianyan shook her head at him. “Young brother, I am not Qiu-er but her sister. Can you tell me where I can find her?” She asked Zhao Mengnan while gently pulled her hands from his grip.

    At that moment, Ah Xiao appeared. She looked annoyed. “Why did you two stop? We have to get to border of Shaanxi by tonight.”

    Ah Liu looked at her crossly. “We stopped because of you. Didn’t you know that you have stamped on a man and almost killed him?”

    Ah Xiao glanced at Zhao Mengnan and looked away grumpily. “Who asked him to saunter in the middle of the road? He should have taken care to get away from my horse when he heard us coming.” She argued.

    Ah Liu glowered at her. “Well, nonetheless, you have to be accountable for hitting him. Lianyan said that he needs constant care, so you have to take him along for the time being.”

    Ah Xiao looked at him incredibly as she heard her martial brother’s command. “How can I let a man share my ride? Why don’t you let him ride with you instead?” She smiled slyly. “And I will take Miss Yang for you.”

    Ah Liu narrowed his eyes at her proposal then shook his head. “Nay, you will only pick on Lianyan behind my back. Besides, this is your doing, so you will have to look after him yourself.” He lowered his voice; his eyes sparkled mischievously. “Don’t worry. I promise I won’t tell Aunt about him.” At the same time, he lifted the half-unconscious Zhao Mengnan up to Ah Xiao’s horse and positioned the latter in the back despite her protests. After securing the man on the saddle, all of a sudden, he yelled loudly into the white mare’s ears and slapped its thigh. The horse neighed and set off fast amid Ah Xiao’s curses. “Ah Liu! I will never forgive you for this!”

    Ah Liu shouted after her with a chuckle. “Remember, don’t let him fall asleep.”

    Just then, he caught Yang Lianyan’s concerning expression and jealousy entered his heart. “Are you worried so much because of that man? Do you know him?” He questioned her and held his breath for her reply.

    The other shook her head. “No, but I am sure that he knew my sister. Moreover, he is hurt because of us, so I can’t help being anxious over him.”

    Ah Liu slowly released his sigh. “Ah, that is right. You are a kind-hearted girl unlike Ah Xiao, so naturally, you are nice to him.” He gently placed her on his saddle and swung up after her. “Let’s follow Ah Xiao then. Otherwise, she might decide to throw him off the horse this minute.” He kicked stirrups and his mouth galloped forth.

    Zhao Mengnan vaguely realized that he was on a running horse, so he grasped the nearest rein to prevent his slipping off the saddle. Turned out ‘the rein’ was Ah Xiao’s belt, and she immediately turned around and slapped at his face hard. “How dare you!”

    Zhao Mengnan winced but he stubbornly held tight at the other’s waist, and Ah Xiao was unable to do anything else beside uncomfortably slapped left and right wherever she could lay her hands on him, trying to push him off the horse. Although she meant to get rid of him, she actually saved his life by keeping him alert during his bouts of faintness.

    They rode past a young man on a brown colt who immediately pursued the white mare and its riders. “Please stop.” He shouted.

    Ah Xiao paid no attention to his call but jabbed her right elbow at Zhao Mengnan’s eye, causing the latter to instinctively let go her belt to shield his eye. As soon as she felt free from his clutch, she hit him hard at his shoulder, sending him to fly away from her mare. The youth from the brown horse then leaped up and intercepted Zhao Mengnan in time. Then he flipped his feet, using lightness kungfu to return to his mount. After that, he placed Zhao Mengnan carefully on the saddle and told the colt gently to stop.

    “Little Li Bai, wait with your master here while I catch his assailant.” He then soared forth after the white mare’s rider. Midway, he twirled his body in the air like an arrow shot out forcefully from a bow; his palms stretched out and clasped Ah Xiao’s shoulders. Then he yanked her from her saddle and spun toward the ground.

    Ah Xiao felt that she was grabbed from behind, and she immediately twisted her shoulders and turned around to retaliate. However, the other’s grip was too strong, rendering her upper torso immovable for the moment, so she kicked at her attacker’s legs, thinking that the other would loosen his clutch.

    Meanwhile, Ah Liu rode past a brown colt with Zhao Mengnan lying on its saddle. He sensed that something was wrong and asked Yang Lianyan to stay with the unconscious man while he went ahead to investigate the matter. He came upon the scene at which Ah Xiao was struggling against a stranger, and he instantly concluded that the latter must be a bandit. So, he dashed at the young stranger while demanding the latter to release Ah Xiao.

    Zhao Erlang frowned. He quickly sealed Ah Xiao’s pressure point and dropped her to the ground. Then he turned to face Ah Liu. Thinking that this young man must be the young woman’s accomplice, who he presumed trying to rob his elder brother, Zhao Mengnan, he encountered the other’s fists with his Shaolin kungfu with no reservation. While the two men were fighting furiously, Yang Lianyan checked on Zhao Mengnan and found him in a worse shape than before. Consequently, she ran to inform Ah Liu who was about to be defeated.

    “Ah Liu, that gentleman looks really bad. We must take him to the doctor quickly.” She shouted and stopped abruptly, stunned by the scene in front.

    Zhao Erlang suddenly retracted his palms and sped back to his brother. Ah Liu followed right on his heels, warning the former not to touch the sick man. “Can’t you see he is very sick? Isn’t it enough that you have hurt my martial sister?”

    Zhao Erlang wheeled around and looked at the other incredibly. “Why should I hurt him? I am his own brother. You and your martial sister are the ones who tried to kill him.”

    Ah Liu opened his mouth wide astonishingly. “But it was all an accident, and we…” Suddenly, he understood. “Oh, my martial sister must have been rude to your brother which led us to this misunderstanding.”

    Zhao Erlang eyed the other warily but became less tensed when he perceived Yang Lianyan’s innocent expression and Ah Liu’s honest eyes.

    “Well, the lady was pushing my brother to the road. If I had not happened to be there, he would have been dead either from the fall or from being stepped on by another passing horses.” He stated.

    Ah Liu shook his head grimly. “I am sorry. I didn’t know that Ah Xiao could be this cruel and mean. I won’t interfere with your dealing with her then.” He bowed at Zhao Erlang and suddenly smiled. “You have quite powerful fist stances. They must be those famous 72 Shaolin arts.”

    Zhao Erlang cupped his hands. “Yes, young brother is very sharp. I am a disciple of Shaolin. My name is Zhao Erlang.” While talking, he hastened his steps toward the colt and examined his elder brother anxiously.

    “How is he?” Ah Liu asked.

    Zhao Erlang sighed with relief. “He just fainted probably from a shock of being thrown from a horse.” He explained. “My elder brother is not very healthy and has no martial arts.” He knitted his eyebrows at the gash on Zhao Mengnan’s forehead. “Has he been injured?”

    Ah Liu could not help flushing. “Yes, he was run over by Ah Xiao’s horse, and I made her take him along with us to the next town, thinking that we will find him a doctor there.”

    Yang Lianyan nodded. “Yes, I can vouch for that. Ah Liu is telling you the truth.” She then stepped forward to wipe sweat from Zhao Mengnan’s face gently and checked his pulse again. Her eyebrows furrowed puzzlingly. “He was very sick the moment ago, but now he is all right.” She looked up and smiled at Zhao Erlang brightly. “Nonetheless, he should see professional doctor as soon as possible. I am not qualified enough to judge his symptoms.”

    Instantly, she had an idea. “We are heading to Huashan School to see a renown doctor there. Why don’t you take your brother to see her too? We can travel together. The more is the merrier.”

    After what Ah Xiao had done, how could Ah Liu protest this suggestion? He nodded reluctantly. “Yes, please do.”

    Zhao Erlang flashed his smile at the pretty maiden in front. Somehow, she reminded him of Ah Mei. “Actually, I am going there myself concerning my elder brother here. Since now I have found him, I will have to take him to meet my mother there, and I should listen to Miss’ suggestion too about getting him a doctor. Madam Li is my mother’s cousin, so she will see to him.”

    Yang Lianyan clapped her hands joyously. “Very well, let us set out then.” She looked around for Ah Xiao. “But where is Ah Xiao?”

    Zhao Erlang exclaimed. “Oh, I totally forgot all about her. I will have to go unseal her pressure points.” He was about to depart but Ah Liu held his arm. “Ah Xiao should be taught a lesson. Just leave her there for a few hours until her pressure points open themselves.” He chuckled.

    Yang Lianyan cried out, protesting. “Ah Liu, that is a naughty idea. She will be very mad.”

    Ah Liu shrugged. “I don’t care. She should be punished for what she has done to a defenseless man. Her horse is a swift runner, and she knows where we are going, so she can catch up with us in the next town for sure.” He smiled at Yang Lianyan. “Don’t worry. She will be all right though might feel a bit stiff.”

    Zhao Erlang was finally persuaded to agree with Ah Liu but not without expressing some concern. “At least, I will unseal her mute point so that she can yell out for help.” He took off and returned with a flushing face. “I explained our misunderstandings to her and unsealed her mute point, but she cursed me nonstop.” He shook his head. “A lady should not know so many swearing.”

    Ah Liu laughed. “Well, I have warned you to leave her alone. After a few hours of reflection on her sins, her manner probably will improve.”

    He guided his horse along the road, and Zhao Erlang followed with his elder brother on his saddle. From afar, they heard Ah Xiao’s abusive words but after awhile, her voice was drawn away with the wind.

    Ah Xiao screeched until her throat ran dry. At length, she stopped and tried to unseal her pressure points but Zhao Erlang used more refined energy than she did; consequently, she had no choice but to wait until her points opened themselves. If thought could be a dagger, Ah Liu and friends would probably have died a thousand times from Ah Xiao’s anger by now. Instead, Ah Xiao could only curse them silently amid a rainfall. Even heaven seemed to desert her for the sky suddenly darkened and soon rain fell down steadily, soaking her to the bone despite a shelter above her. Ah Xiao opened her parched mouth, drinking in raindrops and perhaps couples of her own tears; coolness of rain could not douse her fire of fury.

    At that moment, she heard several footsteps and men’s voices. In a mist of rain, she discerned a group of rough looking men running miserably to seek a shelter. Her heart skipped as they approached the tree that Zhao Erlang so considerately placed her under. Lightning flashed and her presence was immediately detected. In a blink of an eye, the whole gang gathered around her, ogling lewdly at her figure under the wet clothes. One of the men roared loudly. “This must be a present from heaven for us.” His fingers playfully touched Ah Xiao’s cheeks then her lips, and she instantly bit down. He yelled and pulled back his bleeding fingers amid his colleagues’ laughter. He swore angrily and reached to rip off her blouse. “Let me be the first to tame this wild witch.” His eyes were full of lust.

    At that moment, thunder roared, and lightning struck at a nearby tree. The man paused, uncertain, and one friend shouted, “this tree is too dangerous. Let’s take her back with us for it is going to be a long night of pleasure.” The former nodded and ran swiftly from the tree with Ah Xiao on his shoulders, followed by his fellowmen. Five minutes later, they all heard a crack and when they turned around to look back, the big tree that they had just left began to split from the force of lightning. Small fire sparked in the middle of the tree then quickly spread to consume it entirely before being put out by the rain, leaving only blackened roots and green grass around it.

    When a tree died, its seeds sprouted into a new tree. It would grow and mature. One day, its flowers bloomed to attract butterflies and bees. After that, flowers withered into fruits. Fruits ripened and eventually were eaten. Their seeds then were carried to another place or they were merely dropped nearby. Thus, a new cycle of life and birth began. The old tree then went on aging toward death, but it knew that it had left new lives behind.

    Death and birth had always come in pair. Without death, birth could not be so joyous occasion, and one would never realize the importance of being alive. Without birth, death would never come, and one would never know the joy of youth. Then after one passed away, one reborn into a new form. Death and birth were forever together – opposite yet could not separated.

    Death was regarded as a sad occasion, but it should be celebrated for one life that left the world, a new one was born. Without death, life would have no ending. Men would suffer endlessly without relief of death for despite immortality, everybody aged, and it came with illness and feeble mind. Therefore, death was not to be afraid but should be blessed.

    The sight was both horrific and weirdly beautiful. Everyone was stunned, and thunder suddenly roared. Instantaneously, everyone woke up from the trance and sprinted away out to the rain as fast as he could. At length, the gang reached its destination, which was a large cabin hidden behind a big boulder. The men filed inside with relief and at once turned their attention to their prize that had just been dumped on the floor. Fire was lit and the light showed their captive’s youth and beauty beyond their expectations. “Wow! She is the prettiest woman we have ever had here.” One man cried out hungrily; all hands eagerly reached toward her.

    Out of the blue, each man screamed and fell down; his both eyes were mysteriously poked with a sharp projectile in a shape of a white dove. Ah Xiao slowly got up and pulled back an almost invisible thin chain and the dove-like projectile flew back to her hand. Turned out her pressure points opened in a nick of time, and she immediately protected herself with this strange weapon. Ah Xiao looked around at the blinded men on the floor coldly and grabbed a sword from a table then chopped down. The captors now turned victims yelled loudly with pains as their hands were cut to the wrists. When Ah Xiao reached the last one who was the first man that dared to touch her, she stopped and stabbed the blood stained blade right into his heart. Then she left the sword there and walked out of the house silently.

    Regardless of the downpour, she trekked back to her white mare that was waiting impatiently not far from the burning tree. It neighed a welcome as she rubbed its ears gently. “Let’s follow Ah Liu. Although he doesn’t want me, I still have to protect him.” Her tone was almost sad then turned icy. “Also, if I can’t torture that dog who caused me this humiliation to death, I won’t be deserved to be one of the four guardians of the Winter Palace.” She smiled cruelly as she swung onto the horse. It trotted then increased speed into a gallop. In no time, both the mare and its young rider disappeared.

    Above, stars came out from the clouds and shone brightly. After a while, heavy rain turned drizzle then finally stopped. Night animals then started their hunt, and the forest again was peaceful.
    ---------------------------------------

    If there are any development in the vocaburary department, then I shall have to thank all great wuxia translations on the net - Meh, Athena, Lanny, and Moinlleion.

    Have learned a lot about proper wuxia terms by reading their work. Hope that they don't mind if I reuse the knowledge. <IMG SRC="smilies/hatoff.gif" border="0">

    thank you for reading.
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  19. #39
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    Just a note for those who might visit Thailand in the future - tv series vcds there are cheap, and all Taiwanese and Mainland come in dual languages (L+R speakers), in new series will have chinese subtitle too. Don't forget to buy some for me too. <IMG SRC="smilies/tongue.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 10
    Spear and Arrows

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Zhao Mengnan (Adam Cheng Siu Chow)
    Ah Xiao (Margie Tsang Wah Sin)
    Yang Lianyan (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
    Ah Liu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai)
    Zhao Erlang (Miu Kiu Wei)
    Guo Ming (Terry Fan Siu Wong)
    Yang Ling-ling (Ho Mei Sie)

    Ah Liu was thrilled to make an acquaintance with Hero Zhao’s nephews. He was further delighted to hear that his revered hero was going to Huashan School as well, but Zhao Erlang was worried for his elder brother who had not yet regained his sense. After some talks, he agreed to travel with Ah Liu and Yang Lianyan to see Madam Li, especially after he had learned that Yang Lianyan knew an art of disguise. She had promised him to change Zhao Mengnan’s appearance so that his uncle would not recognize the latter when they reached Huashan. Zhao Erlang realized too well of Zhao Zhong’s character and was concerned that even if his elder brother’s life was saved by Madam Li, as soon as they met their uncle, Zhao Mengnan would not be able to escape severe punishment from Zhao Zhong.

    ‘Elder brother has run away from home to avoid going to Shaolin by using trick with Uncle, so Uncle is probably very angry at him at the moment. If I can somehow prevent Uncle to discover Mengnan’s presence at Huashan, maybe after a while, he will forgive Elder brother and let him go home unharmed.’
    He contemplated a way to help his brother and accordingly asked Ah Liu not to mention about Zhao Mengnan in front of Zhao Zhong.

    Although curious, Ah Liu did not ask for the reason. “Of course, my martial sister has inflicted the injury to your elder brother, so I should do everything to protect him as her repentance.” He turned to Yang Lianyan. “By the way, when will this Brother Zhao wake up?” He asked.

    The young maiden sighed and shook her head. “I did everything I could, but I don’t know how to wake him up. When he was first hit by Ah Xiao’s horse, he most likely received some internal injury. Then afterward, I think that he probably received another hit at the same point on the skull, and that caused him to lose his sense.” She said in low voice, and Ah Liu immediately bowed to Zhao Erlang with flushing face.

    “If I hadn’t put your brother on Ah Xiao’s horse, knowing how she is, this would never have happened. I am sorry.” He blamed himself, feeling grief and shamed.

    Zhao Erlang waved his hands. “Please don’t mention it again. We can’t change the past. Our meeting is by fate, and I am grateful for your sincerity.” He bowed back and smiled at Ah Liu, somehow feeling at ease with the other young man.

    Ah Liu also felt the same way. Zhao Erlang was like a brother that he never had. He was impressed with the other’s kungfu and gentlemanly manner and would love to know the other better. So far, it was as if he had gained a family that he had always dreamed of – an aunt who was like a mother to him, a new acquaintance who he thought of as an older brother, and a pretty maiden who he hoped to become his soul mate one day. Ah Liu could hardly believe how lucky he was. So, it was a right decision to run away from home after all.

    Yang Lianyan tried a few more methods to rouse Zhao Mengnan but at last admitted that she was defeated. The doctor they found in the village was also no better than she was. Therefore, they agreed to continue their journey that night without waiting for Ah Xiao; therefore, when the latter reached the inn, she found only a brief note from Ah Liu informing her that he and other needed to get to Huashan right away. Although the message was simple, Ah Xiao took the hint that Ah Liu did not wish to see her for a while, and that added to her fury.

    “Ah Liu, you take side with strangers and never cease to pick on me. Now, you are abandoning me for new friends and intentionally want me to be in trouble with Mistress. The Turtle!”

    She tore up the note into pieces and strode out of the inn into the dark, heading toward Huashan School. Regardless of Ah Liu’s wish or her feeling, she dared not disobey her mistress, Princess Xue-xiang of the Winter Palace. Ah Xiao’s lips unwittingly curved a smile when she thought of this elegant lady. Her mistress was the most beautiful woman with the most powerful kungfu in her opinion, which was also shared by Ah Xia, her mistress’ younger sister. Ah Xiao sighed happily as she imagined her mistress’ enchanting smile – a smile that probably could bring down a nation in her opinion.

    Meanwhile, Guo Ming and Yang Ling-ling were on a run from their pursuers. Ten days ago, they were unfortunate enough to run into the Guo’s escort agency people who were sent to search for Yang Ling-ling. Although surprised to see their young master with the wanted maiden, the group demanded the young couple to return to Hangzhou immediately with them. Guo Ming in vain tried to persuade his elders in polite manner to let him and his friend go but in the end had to injure the other side to protect Yang Ling-ling from being dragged away by force.

    At that moment, the two youngsters were facing a short man holding a long silver spear and clad in simple clothes. He was in the late fifties with a right limping leg. There was a long scar running from his left temple to his right cheek. Guo Ming gazed at him surprisingly. “Uncle Lu!” He then realized that his mother would stop at nothing for Yang Ling-ling. ‘If Uncle Lu comes in person, then things must be very serious indeed.’ He chewed his lips nervously while eyeing the older man warily.

    Unexpectedly, Master Lu smiled warmly at him. “Ah Ming, you know that I always regard you as my son, but I am also Mistress’ servant. I have followed her from the Tang family into the Guo household, and the late master was kind enough to let me work in the agency. Twenty years ago, before Master had gone on the voyage, I have sworn in front of him to take care of Mistress and you until he was back.” He blinked back his tears. “However, heaven was cruel to us. Master passed away at sea – even his body could not be found to these days.”

    Guo Ming murmured. “Yes, Mother has come to Shaolin to inform me of my father’s funeral. I was barely seven years old then.”

    Master Lu hummed. “Yes. Since then, I have been helping Mistress in managing the agency business, but because I have too low skill, I am unable to maintain our agency’s glory.” He kneeled down, facing east and kowtowed three times. “Sir, please forgive your worthless servant.”

    Then he turned around toward Guo Ming. “Young master, as the only heir of the Guo, it is your duty to go back to Hangzhou and settle down. Everyone at the agency is looking forward to serve you in the future just as we have served your father in the past.” He turned to Yang Ling-ling and bowed to her politely.

    “Please pardon my boldness, but I have noticed that you two youths seem to get along rather well. So, although Young master did not agree with Madam’s choice of bride then, I am sure that you feel different now. Therefore, there should not be any excuses for Young master not to return home anymore.”

    He glanced at the youngsters’ embarrassment and smiled pleasantly. “There is no need to by shy. Naturally, a young hero is paired with a pretty maiden like dragon with phoenix. I can see that Young master and Miss Yang are born for each other; heaven has already written your future, so you should not try to escape your own destiny. Miss Yang, Madam wishes to send you an apology for any past inconvenience. She was just too anxious about the young master’s bride and might have been a bit inconsiderate. Now, she hopes that Miss will return to the Guo’s mansion as our special guest and allow us to show our sincerity in this matter.”

    Yang Ling-ling’s cheeks burned hot as she understood the older man’s hint, but she calmly replied to the latter. “I am grateful for your invitation, but I have a task to complete and cannot be delayed. Besides, marriage is an arrangement by parents. I cannot make such important decision alone. At the present, my mother resides at a remote island, and my father is somewhere on this Central Plains. If Madam Guo is genuinely satisfied with me, then please wait until I find my missing siblings and my father. Then I will inform my parents about Brother Guo, and let the elders talk this out.”

    Master Lu sighed. “Aside beauty, Miss is also clever. No doubt why Madam takes a liking on you.” He smiled gently at the youths. “However, China is a big country. How can you two find a handful of people by yourselves? Luckily, our agency still has many friends inside and outside of the martial realm, so it should not be too difficult to find Miss Yang’s sisters and brother. I am sure that Madam would love to help Miss Yang.”

    Yang Ling-ling knitted her eyebrows. “Elder means that I have to go back to Hangzhou in order to get help from Madam Guo, and by doing so means that I might have to marry her son.” She shook her head. “I don’t want to get married just yet, and I don’t need help from her.”

    She turned to Guo Ming. “I think we should separate here. Otherwise, I shall be forever pestered by your people. Thank you for everything.”

    She cupped her hands and started walking away. Guo Ming frowned at Master Lu and chased after her, calling, “Miss, please wait for me. I have made a promise to you, and I will stick to it.”

    Master Lu immediately somersaulted over them and landed in front of Yang Ling-ling. “Miss seems to misunderstand my intention. Madam wishes for Miss to be her guest, and I am here to escort Miss to her no matter what.” He was smiling threateningly at the young maiden.

    Guo Ming stepped protectively in front of Yang Ling-ling. “Uncle Lu, Miss Yang really has an urgent business to do, and I have promised to help her. A man cannot go back on his word, so please give face to me this time.”

    Master Lu did not move. “Ah Ming, once you bring Miss Yang home, Madam will send letters to all our friends to search for Miss Yang’s siblings. Isn’t that a better way than your trying to accomplish this task alone?”

    Guo Ming hesitated. He looked at Yang Ling-ling then took a deep breath. “But Miss Yang doesn’t wish to go back to Hangzhou, and I will stand by her side come what may.”

    Master Lu shook his head. “Then I will have to beg a pardon from Young master ahead.”

    Instantly, he lifted his spear and pointed at Guo Ming’s pressure point on right shoulder. The latter twisted his torso and encountered with his fists in a move ‘An Eagle Grabbing a Sparrow’. Master Lu was the man Guo Ming respected, so he only aimed to disarm the other. However, the older man was not a veteran fighter for nothing. He swiftly flicked his spear away from Guo Ming’s clutch and stabbed forward at Yang Ling-ling. As he had expected, Guo Ming intervened, leaving an opening for him to attack.

    Master Lu moved slightly, avoiding Guo Ming’s coming fists, and tried again to press the other’s acupuncture point. However, the youth agilely jumped over him while his palms shot out to intercept the spear. Naturally, Master Lu did not wish to harm his young master, so he quickly pulled back his weapon when he saw the other’s bare hands were about to meet the spear’s sharp point.

    ‘Is the young master thinking that he can disarm me with one move?’ He thought with a frown. In the Guo’s escort agency, he was only inferior to Madam Guo in rank, so although he modestly called himself her servant and had humbled himself in front of others just now, he was in fact very proud of his status. Added to that, he was widely known and well respected in the pugilistic world, so of course, he did not wish to be defeated easily by a green horn from Shaolin – not to say that he had an explicit order from Madam Guo to use force with Guo Ming if necessary.

    Bearing that thought in mind, he resumed the attack, and Guo Ming quickly dodged the coming spear; his right hand then reached again for the other’s weapon. Master Lu stepped aside and brought down his spear toward the young man’s abdomen, intending to seal the other’s pressure point with ‘Seven Divine Stars’ technique. Immediately, Guo Ming saw seven spears coming at him at the same time from different angles, covering his body totally. Suddenly, Yang Ling-ling’s voice rang out. “Exit is at the north position.”

    In a flash, Guo Ming’s one palm grabbed for the spear from the northernmost angle and caught the actual weapon while his other hand froze Master Lu with the move ‘One Brush Two Points Three Hours’. Yang Ling-ling clapped her hands excitingly, praising her friend. “Good work, brother Guo.”

    Guo Ming flashed a smile at her and turned to bow lowly at Master Lu. “Uncle Lu, I apologize for showing this disrespect. Next time, I will serve tea to you with a hundred kowtows. Please tell Mother not to send anyone after us again. When I fulfill my promise to Miss Yang, I will go home to receive punishment from her myself.”

    Master Lu sighed; his face paled. “It is true that new waves chase away the old ones. All my life, I have always been the one who seals other people’s pressure points. Who would have thought that today, I will be beaten by two children?” He smiled ruefully at his young master.

    “Ah Ming, you have not forgot what I have taught you, and Shaolin has trained you well. Ah, former master would have been proud.” He sighed again and called out to Yang Ling-ling. “Miss Yang, may I ask who your master is? How do you know the secret of my pressure point sealing technique?” He then concluded confusedly. “Nobody else but me could have known about the ‘Seven Divine Stars’ for I am the one who created it.”

    Yang Ling-ling laughed. “That is absurd. Can’t anyone with brain think up this simple trick of yours? This technique is in fact based from Seven North Stars Formation, isn’t it?” Her eyes shone lovely. “I knew all about this formation since I was seven years old. When I was eight, I had invented a trick similar to your technique but disregarded it because it exhausted too much of its user’s inner power. Besides, why go for those acupuncture points when you can easily seal the one under armpit with less amount of energy?”

    His eyes lit in enlightenment then turned dull with shame. “Miss is right in every word.” He murmured. “As long as I live, I will never use this technique again.”

    Yang Ling-ling shook her head. “Then Elder is sillier than I thought. Because you were lenient to brother Guo, I decide to give you some pointers, but you want to be stubborn and proud instead.” She sighed and pulled Guo Ming away. “Let’s go, brother Guo. After three hours, his points will open, and he might still come after us.”

    Master Lu closed his eyes tiredly. “You need not worry. I have failed my mission once and has no face to attempt it again, but I would like to warn you that Madam will not give up so easily. Go!”

    Guo Ming hesitated, but Yang Ling-ling tugged his sleeve, urging him to leave, and he bowed at the older man for the last time before going away. They traveled nonstop for more than three hours and finally sat down to rest under a shaded tree. Yang Ling-ling glanced at Guo Ming who seemed to be in deep thought and offered him some water, but the latter shook his head gloomily. After a while, he broke the silence. “Uncle Lu was right about my mother. She is likely to appear in person, and I don’t know if I still can protect you then.”

    Yang Ling-ling raised her eyebrows. “Why? Is her kungfu so formidable?” She cocked her head at the other. “From what I’ve noticed, your martial arts are pretty good, and your mother cannot be that much better than you are. Otherwise, she would have trained her servant better than this.”

    Guo Ming shook his head. “My mother’s kungfu is only ordinary, but she’s from the Tang family, which means that she is an expert in poison. Even if I am willing to go against her, I am not sure if I can.”

    Yang Ling-ling wrinkled her nose. “But you are her son, so you should know a few things about poison too.”

    The other blushed a little. “Father thought that using poison is not a way of hero, so I am not allowed to study from my mother although I was told that I have natural poison immunity in my system.”

    Yang Ling-ling considered the statement. “Hmm, but I have snow lotus pills that can neutralize most types of poison.” She showed him a jade bottle. “However, I have to save them for Lianyan, so unless it is absolutely necessary, I won’t bring this medicine out again.” She then put the bottle away carefully in her blouse.

    Guo Ming released his breath with relief and could resume the trip with lighter heart after hearing her reply. At the same time, he felt hollowed inside, thinking that Yang Ling-ling might not need him around any further with all the troubles he had brought to her. As if she had read his mind, she consoled him with a smile. “Brother Guo, no need to feel bad about what happened. Your mother seems to determine to have me by all means, so your presence here has nothing to do with the hunt. Besides, without you, I would have been lost in this vast Central Plains long time ago. I should thank you for taking good care of me throughout this journey.”

    Guo Ming blushed shyly. “I’m only doing what is right.” He murmured awkwardly.

    Yang Ling-ling nodded approvingly. “You are like my father. Besides him, you can be called a good man.”

    She then started to sing. “On a hill sat a lonely maiden, waiting for her loved one to return. Year after year, she waited until she turned into a stone. Oh, what a pity! Her beauty and youth was wasted because of that heartless man’s sweet promise. All men are cruel. The better looking they are, the more lies they feed to you. Ah, is there such true love?”

    Guo Ming was charmed by the other’s sweet voice but could not help disagreeing with the verses. “There are many good men in this world – my father for instance…” He did not get to finish the sentence as a projectile flew toward his shoulder. Immediately, he raised his index and middle fingers and caught it accurately. This was Shaolin’s move, ‘Iron Fingers’. At that point, he heard Yang Ling-ling’s cry just to receive her body in time. Turned out that she was hit by another projectile that had anesthetic poison, rendering her to be temporarily unconscious. Just then, a group of bald-headed men appeared. They took a look at Yang Ling-ling and quickly surrounded both youngsters.

    “Who are you?” Guo Ming asked, eyeing around warily.

    The leading man with a pipe in his hand laughed evilly. “Young brother, we only want your pretty friend. If you will put her down and leave here quietly, you may survive another day. Otherwise, you will die horribly like this.” He struck a nearby tree, leaving a bloody palm print on its trunk. Five minutes later, the tree began to wither, and its leaves turned brown and finally fell down to the ground. The stranger looked at his work proudly. “I will give you five minutes to think.” He roared.

    Guo Ming clenched his fists and surveyed the situation. He realized that the other had powerful kungfu aside from the fact that he was outnumbered by his opponents. Also, he had disadvantage of having to protect the unconscious Yang Ling-ling. The only way left for him was to use lightness kungfu to escape.

    Having made a decision, Guo Ming took a deep breath and charged forth. He swept a swift kick at the nearest opponents then twirled upward, holding Yang Ling-ling securely in his arm. Suddenly, multiple chains were thrown from his besiegers and caught at his wrists and ankles, rendering him immovable in the air. Guo Ming shook his arms and legs and tried to apply his inner power to break the chains but did not succeed. The whole time, he thought only of Yang Ling-ling’s ill fate and blamed himself for it. ‘I am really a bad luck for women. I should not have stayed with Miss Yang. Please let the miracle happens and save her from these men, and I won’t regret dying.’ He could only pray to heaven with sinking heart.

    The gang leader sneered at his captives. “Boy, I have warned you at the beginning, haven’t I?” He stared at the young maiden satisfactorily. “We have got a fair chick this time; Master will be pleased.” He hardly finished speaking when, out of the blue, an arrow launched right at his heart, killing him on the spot.

    ‘Twang, twang, twang.’ Three more arrows cut past the chains and hit three more men. Successively, more arrows were shot from seemingly out of nowhere and never missed their targets. One by one, Guo Ming’s captors fell down like withered leaves, and the rest began to panic. They let go the chains and took to their heels to find covers from the endless shower of arrows. Thus Guo Ming was able to free himself and landed softly on the ground. However, not knowing where the arrows were coming from, he did not dare to move away, so he just flattened himself on the ground after pulling Yang Ling-ling down with him. After awhile, the shooting abruptly stopped with the last cry of its victims, and eerie silence reigned the entire area.

    Guo Ming cautiously lifted his head and looked around, and he saw a man standing among the corpses about some meters away. Within a flash, the latter appeared in front of the youths, showing his excellent lightness kungfu. At closer inspection, he was a hunchback clad in a hunter’s garb with a youthful face, contrast with his white hair and shriveled skin. His hands held a large bow touted with a sharp arrow. At that moment, the stranger stared at Guo Ming keenly for some minutes then gave an order with clear voice. “Get up and help me collect my arrows. They should not be wasted on these rogues.” Then he moved lightly as if he were a piece of feather; his feet hardly touched the ground. In a few minutes, he retrieved many arrows from dead bodies. Guo Ming had never seen such display of lightness kungfu and could not help acclaiming aloud. “Awesome!”

    The hunchback glanced at the young man and smiled. All of a sudden, he ran past the latter and grabbed Yang Ling-ling from the other then vanished away. Guo Ming was stunned for a few seconds then quickly ran after the strange man but his lightness kungfu was no match with the other’s. After a few meters, he totally lost the stranger’s track. “Miss Yang! Elder!” He shouted but received no answer.

    Just when he was about to sit down dejectedly, a hand reached from a bush and clasped at his shoulder. Instantly, he was lifted from the ground and felt as if he was flying. Happened that the hunchback had returned to take Guo Ming along with him. A few minutes later, the hunchback stopped in front of an old temple. He suddenly dropped the young man who picked himself up and quickly followed the other inside. He found Yang Ling-ling lying on the ground and immediately rushed to her side, but the hunchback intercepted him and easily sealed his pressure points.

    Guo Ming hurriedly addressed the other. “Elder, this young lady is my friend. She had been hit with a poisonous projectile, so please let me tend to her.”

    The hunchback took no notice of the other’s plea. He walked to the unconscious young maiden and pulled out the projectile from her shoulder, smelled it, and nodded. “Don’t worry. It only made her unconscious for a moment.” He murmured and gently massaged Yang Ling-ling’s shoulder. “This will help her gain consciousness faster.” He continued talking to himself. “What is she doing here? Why is she alone with a stranger? “Did anything happen to Xiu-xiu?” He turned to Guo Ming and asked softly. “Can you answer my questions?” Then he shook his head. “Nevermind. How would I know if you are telling me the truth? I will wait till Ah Ling wake up, and she will tell me all.” He yawned widely and put down his bow. “I’m taking a nap. Just yell if she comes to.” A few minutes later, Guo Ming heard a loud snore from the other.

    ‘What a weird man!’ Guo Ming criticized inwardly. He could see that the other meant no harm to Yang Ling-ling, so he began to relax. However, due to the other’s strange behavior and appearance, Guo Ming could not trust him. ‘I shall make an escape with Miss Yang at first chance.’ He planned.

    Dusk came, and finally when the poison’s effect wore off, Yang Ling-ling woke up. Guo Ming was afraid that she might make noise that would awake the hunchback, so he called out to her softly. “Miss Yang, shuh.”

    Yang Ling-ling took a look at him and went to release his pressure points. “What happened?” She whispered.

    Guo Ming only shook his head and seized her hands; he wanted to get away from here first. Suddenly, he heard the voice behind him. “If you want to leave, why do you have to kidnap my daughter too?” Simultaneously, a hand pushed at his back, sending him to fly outside the temple. Guo Ming landed just in front of the entrance and immediately tried to get up but found that his pressure points had been sealed again. From inside, he heard a chuckle and Yang Ling-ling’s surprise and delightful cry. “Father!”

    The hunchback hugged his daughter happily. “Ling-ling, what are you doing in the Central Plains? Did something happen to your mother?” One second he smiled, but the next he was worried about his wife.

    Yang Ling-ling made a face at her father. “Mother had gone mad and put me and Ah Biao on a raft to chase after Lianyan. She said that we cannot go home unless we find her. Then we met the storm, and the raft broke. I was separated from Ah Biao and landed on a beach in Hangzhou. Then I met Brother Guo who suggested that we should go to Huashan. He has been accompanying me since.” She intentionally omitted the part about Madam Guo, realizing that her father would treat Guo Ming roughly if he had known about it.

    Yang Zheng (Liu Kai Chi) grunted. “Lianyan again.” He heaved a sigh and caressed his young daughter’s hair with love. “Don’t worry. Father is here, and everything will be all right.” Suddenly, his hands froze. “Did you say his name is Guo? Who is his father? What’s his connection to Huashan?”

    His eyes turned wild and he rushed outside with Yang Ling-ling at his heels. “Father, don’t hurt him.” She cried, but he did not seem to hear her. Swiftly, he clutched Guo Ming’s throat, asking fiercely like a mad man. “Is your father’s name Guo Bing? Are you from Huashan?”

    Guo Ming choked, and the other release his grip a little. When Guo Ming could speak, he asked with surprise. “Does Elder know my father?” He then introduced himself politely despite his awkward position. “My name is Guo Ming, and Guo Bing was my father, but I am not from Huashan School.”

    Yang Zheng glared at the other man without seeing. His hands turned limp. He murmured dazedly, “the man named Li must have sent you for her.” All of a sudden, he knelt down and kowtowed to the younger man. “Please don’t take her from me. Please don’t take her from me.” He begged repeatedly.

    Guo Ming was sure that the older man had gone mad, but Yang Ling-ling was used to her father’s outburst. She gently pulled her father up and assured him softly. “Nobody will take her from you, Father, right brother Guo?” She looked at the young man, and he responded confusingly. “Yes, that is right. I won’t take her from you.”

    The words seemed to have a tremendous effect on the hunchback for he immediately regained his sense. Nonetheless, he eyed the younger man with distrust. “But you might tell ‘him’.” He raised his palms but was restrained by Yang Ling-ling. “Don’t kill him, Father. He has saved my life several times.”

    Yang Zheng chewed his lips, looking from his daughter to Guo Ming then nodded. “All right, but if he let out our whereabouts, I will give him the most horrible death.” He unsealed the other’s pressure points and pulled his daughter indoors with him. Yang Ling-ling looked backed at Guo Ming and reluctantly followed her father. “Goodbye, brother Guo.”
    --------------------------------------
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

  20. #40
    Senior Member Goofy's Avatar
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    Cool

    hope that this chapter will last the readers until the next update. It turns out to be quite a long chapter. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    Book I
    The Youths

    Chapter 11
    The Guests

    Character List (not in any particular order):
    Zhao Zhong (Norman Chui Siu Keung)
    Chunyu (Yu On On)
    Zhao Mengnan (Adam Cheng Siu Chow)
    Ah Xiao (Margie Tsang Wah Sin)
    Yang Lianyan (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
    Ah Liu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai)
    Zhao Erlang (Miu Kiu Wei)
    Ah Xia (Idy Chan Yuk Lin)
    Li Wei (Damian Lau Chong Yun)
    Madam Li nee Tian Fa (Lau Suet Wah)
    Yang Qiu-er (Angie Chiu Ngar Chi)

    Guo Ming was at a lost. He could only watch Yang Ling-ling disappear from his sight. Finally, he sighed desolately and walked away slowly. He was shocked to hear that the hunchback was actually a father of Yang Ling-ling for they were like heaven and earth in appearance. He eventually concluded that she must have taken after her mother. That night, he gave a long thought on what Master Yang had said and became intrigued more and more.

    ‘Could the man named Li mean Master Li Wei of Huashan School?’ He wondered. ‘Also who is the woman that Elder Yang referred to? Is she Yang Ling-ling or someone else?’ Then he was struck with an alarming idea. ‘Elder Yang is heading toward Huashan to search for his other daughter. If he is really Master Li’s enemy, then he might be dangerous to Huashan School’s people. I ought to warn them of his coming as a precaution.’ He could no longer sleep and took off without delay.

    That day, Zhao Zhong and Chunyu were sitting in a restaurant and happen to hear a piece of interesting news. A couple of men at the nearby table were discussing about a mysterious murder case at an inn in the neighboring town.

    “I heard personally from the waiter there that he still has a nightmare about those horrible corpses he discovered. There were forty of them, and everyone died from poisonous wine.” One man mentioned.

    His friend nodded. “It is a sad business all right, but why did those priests have to break the prohibition and drink that wine? I say that they were punished for their sin.”

    The other shook his head. “They did not deserve to die just because of that. I think the murderer must have some guts against those priests. Otherwise, why their corpses were also mutilated?”

    His friend was curious. “How so?”

    “Well, their right hands were missing, their eyes were pulled out, and their tongues were cut at the tip. I have a cousin who is a police officer, and he confirmed the waiter’s statement.”

    The conversation went on, but Zhao Zhong heard enough. He paid for the food and told Chunyu to wait for him at a local inn. Then he sped to the nearby town with his lightness kungfu. There, he waited until dark and sneaked into the morgue to check on the condition of the priests’ corpses. He found they were as the man at the restaurant described and also recognized them as those who had fought with him over Chunyu some days ago.

    Zhao Zhong knitted his eyebrows. This was a puzzle indeed. Instantly, he thought of the lady with a pair of golden wheels and felt concerned. Although she had good martial arts, she was ill and might not be able to take care of herself had she met powerful villain. However, he had no idea where she was at the moment, so he could only pray to heaven for her safety. After that, he returned to his inn to find that Chunyu had not gone to bed yet.

    “It is late, and we are leaving early. Why didn’t you get some sleep?” He asked with surprise.

    Chunyu lowered her eyes and replied softly that she had been waiting for him. “I have ordered lotus seed dessert for you. Please wait here, I will go and heat it up in a jiffy.” She hurried to the kitchen, leaving Zhao Zhong to smile with unexplainable feeling. It had been so long that someone would wait up for him and brought him a bowl of dessert before bed. He thought of Ah Xiang’s smile and sighed forlornly. ‘When will I find you?’

    The following day, he and Chunyu left for their last leg of journey. They arrived at Huashan School in the afternoon about the same time as Ah Liu’s group did. Zhao Zhong scanned at the youths and was temporarily stunned. Instantly, he rebuffed himself inwardly. ‘Zhao Zhong, you have been thinking too much of Ah Xiang that you begin to see her in every new face.’ Nonetheless, he could not help but glanced at the youngsters again, and Zhao Erlang was sweating inside, expecting to hear his uncle call out his name any moment. However, Yang Lianyan’s disguise skill was as she boasted. Zhao Zhong did not recognize his nephew, and Zhao Erlang could sigh with relief when his uncle turned away to address the housekeeper Li.

    “My name is Zhao Zhong, and I wish to pay respect to Master and Madam Li.” Zhao Zhong cupped his hands.

    The housekeeper bowed lowly and invited the guest to come in. “My master received a report about your missing nephew and has gone down to look for him, but Madam Zhao is here. She did not feel well and now is resting in her room. My mistress is at her cottage in the back, seeing a patient. Sir, please enter and wait while I send someone to fetch her.”

    Zhao Zhong smiled, courteously turning down the invitation. “I won’t dare to disturb Madam during her work. So, my sister-in-law has been trespassing Master Li’s hospitality then. I am ashamed that he had to be bothered with my worthless nephew. Please give him my sincere apology.” He bowed. “As a matter of fact, I have brought a patient for Madam Li, and I wonder if you would be kind enough to show us the way.”

    The housekeeper nodded wisely. “Certainly. Many people come to see Mistress everyday to be healed, so Master built her a cottage separately for this purpose. It is at the back of Huashan.” He pointed toward the west.

    Ah Liu looked at his companions and stepped forward. “Please, we need to see Madam Li too. I have two friends here who require immediate care.” He pointed at Yang Lianyan and unconscious Zhao Mengnan who was under a disguise.

    Zhao Zhong looked at the pale youth on a stretcher and offered to help. “I can carry this young man to Madam Li first if you would escort my friend here after us, but I can do nothing for the young lady.”

    Ah Liu smiled, feeling like meeting a long lost pal. “That is no problem. The young lady will ride with me on this speedy horse, and my other friend can escort your friend leisurely behind.”

    Zhao Zhong laughed. “Sound almost as if we are having a race.” He picked up his own nephew from the stretcher and sprinted away. Ah Liu chuckled and assisted Yang Lianyan to the horse then galloped swiftly in the same direction. Left alone with an unknown lady, Zhao Erlang gentlemanly invited her to his horse and led its rein after the others.

    Madam Li was in front of the cottage, talking to a lady clad in yellow dress when Zhao Zhong got there. The latter stared at Madam Li’s patient with an unconcealed surprise mixed with relief. “How do you do, Miss? I was just wondering about your health.”

    Ah Xia’s eyes sparkled. She smiled, and Zhao Zhong thought for countless times of how much she looked alike his wife. He stepped closer as if in trance and suddenly realized what he was doing.

    Awkwardly, he dropped his hands and turned to greet Madam Li instead, inwardly suppressing his turmoil feeling. “This little brother seems to be in a coma. Would you please take a look at him?”

    Madam Li was a tall and thin woman with fine bones and intelligent face. She was wearing plain white robe with simple hairdo, not very becoming as the head mistress of the renowned Huashan School. On the other hand, her manner was graceful that one could not help mistaken her otherwise.

    With professional air, she examined Zhao Mengnan and concluded that there was minor inner injury inside his head. “But I can heal him with golden needles.” She reassured Ah Liu and Yang Lianyan who had just arrived and briskly began the procedure. Ah Liu sighed with relief then noticed Ah Xia. He was about to greet her aloud but had a second thought. He did not know that she was also another patient; therefore, he assumed that she had received an order from his aunt to spy on him and decided that as long as he pretended not to know her, she would not be able to order him around. Besides, they are at Huashan, and he trusted that she could not easily intimidate him in front of Master or Madam Li.

    Hence, he paid no more attention to her but described Yang Lianyan’s symptoms to his hostess. “My friend here has a chronic disease, and my aunt said that you can help her. My aunt is…”

    He was interrupted by Ah Xia who spoke coldly. “This boy has no manner, talking arrogantly about his aunt as if she were Madam’s friend. Maybe this patient also exaggerates about her illness. Let me see.” She reached for Yang Lianyan’s wrist, and Ah Liu instantaneously waved her hand away. “Don’t touch her.” He shouted, afraid that the other might plant poison on his friend.

    Ah Xia quickly raised her palm and slapped at his face. “I give you this instead of your aunt.” She said aloud then softly hissed to him. “Don’t speak my sister’s name in front of Zhao Zhong.”

    Ah Liu rubbed his cheek puzzlingly. He then yelled, “what is the reason for it? How dare you to claim yourself equally to my aunt?” The first question was for her second sentence. He struck his fists at Ah Xia who dodged them nimbly. She reached out again and slapped at his other cheek. “Some people are born to be enemies. I can’t bear to hear about her.” Hopefully, Ah Liu would understand her hint. She then countered his fists with another slap. Just then, her wrist was caught midair by Zhao Zhong.

    He gazed at her eyes and said gently. “He is just a boy. Please give face to our host here.”

    Ah Xia tried to shake off from the other’s clutch but sensed numbness on her hand instead. Suddenly, Zhao Zhong released her wrist, and then he cupped his hands to the angry maiden. “Please pardon my liberty.”

    Ah Xia turned away icily. “I should thank Sir Zhao for being too lenient to me. It’s such an honor to be taught by a gentleman like you.”

    Zhao Zhong blushed but he replied calmly. “I have caused you embarrassment, and I am sorry, but this little brother has already received two slaps from you. Even if you don’t like his aunt, it is not right to pass it onto him. We are all here as Madam Li’s patients. There are lives to be saved, so let’s rest our differences in order not to cause discomfort for our host.”

    Ah Xia hummed and walked back to the cottage after staring warningly at Ah Liu for the last time. Ah Liu gingerly touched his cheeks and moved his tongue around to feel if all his teeth were still in place. He groaned softly, and Zhao Zhong asked him if he was all right. “Thank you, Sir. She would have taken out all my teeth if you hadn’t stepped forward.” Ah Liu smiled at the older man, and Zhao Zhong felt some warmth for the other somehow reminded him of the sweet memory that turned bitter.

    It was the annual Lantern Festival. He was walking leisurely among rows of brightly-lit lanterns and arrived in front of the local temple without knowing. There, he saw a young woman with the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She was holding a lantern with painting of a pair of phoenixes, reading a poem on a hanging lantern.

    “A pair of lovebirds fly together.
    The male fell into a hunter’s nest.
    His mate would not leave,
    And when he was killed, she flew down to die with him.”

    At first she smiled then frowned, and at the end of the poem, tears dropped from her eyes. For Zhao Zhong, he wished in that instant that he could hold her in his arms and protect her from all sorrows of the world. Right then, someone lit firecrackers, and the maiden startled. She looked in his direction, and their eyes met. It was clearly love at first sight. They got married the following month despite his mother’s objection due to the bride’s family status.

    Zhao Zhong was a shy young man then. He was interested only in martial arts, leaving the task of carrying on the family name to his younger brother, Zhao Kang (Eddie Cheng Siu Fai), who had already married with a young lady from a good family. Zhao Kang did not disappoint his mother for he soon produced two sons, Zhao Mengnan and Zhao Erlang.

    As for Zhao Zhong, despite his mother’s wish to see him settle down, he preferred traveling and meeting new friends. He had intended to remain a bachelor the rest of his life; matrimony never entered to his mind. But his plan of life was altered when he met Ah Xiang (Patrina Fung Bo Bo). He naively thought that he could combine his old lifestyle with marriage life then, but things did not turn out as he had expected. Ah Xiang had troubles getting along with his mother, and vice versa. Every time, he went out to meet friends, he would find problems waiting for him at home on his return. He could no longer practice martial arts peacefully for Ah Xiang would feel lonely if he was not with her.

    Many a time, he realized that his mother was at fault, but how could one reprimand his own mother? It was a duty of a daughter-in-law to comply with her elder’s wish, not the other way round. Besides, his sister-in-law never seemed to have such problem with his mother. So, he could only blame Ah Xiang for not trying hard enough.

    As time passed, he began to feel tired of the domestic problem between the two women whom he loved most. He started to embrace his old lifestyle to get away from the house with an eager support from his mother. Little did he realize that he had made the biggest mistake of his life. In the end, he lost his mother, his wife, and possibly his child.


    Zhao Zhong blinked his eyes. He tapped the younger man’s shoulder with overwhelmed feeling. He felt as if Ah Xiang were standing in front of him again, but reality was always cruel. Ah Xiang was still missing, and he was a failing son and husband. His hand pressed harder unintentionally, and Ah Liu winced, not understood why the other looked so forlorn and lonely.

    Zhao Zhong released his grip and apologized to Ah Liu with a smile. “Sorry, little brother. I was thinking of something else and forgot myself. Er, you have a good foundation of kungfu. Who is your teacher?”

    Ah Liu knew what Ah Xia meant and was alert. It was possible that Zhao Zhong wanted to test him. “My teacher has no name in the martial realm, not likely to be Sir Zhao’s acquaintance.” He could not comprehend how his aunt could become Zhao Zhong’s enemy, but he did not want to risk her safety, so he only skillfully evaded the subject. At the same time, he decided to keep an eye on Ah Xia, not wishing her to harm either Zhao Zhong or Yang Lianyan. Strangely enough, he felt very fond of Zhao Zhong within the first moment they had met.

    He entered the cottage and found that Zhao Mengnan had already come to. Madam Li was also about done with Yang Lianyan. After the session, she turned to him and smiled gently. “Your friend is out of danger, but he needs to rest quietly for a while. He is complaining of headache which is normal for the sudden recovery, but I want him to stay here until I am sure that it is not a side effect.”

    Ah Liu bowed and murmured thank you. Madam Li waved her hands kindly. “It is a duty of doctor. One life saved is one more merit to me. My cottage here opens for everyone.” She pointed at the back of the cottage. “There are several cabins behind this cottage. Your friend can stay in one of them until he is fully healed. Ask my housekeeper for everything you need.”

    Her face was more serious. “As for this young lady, I have treated her with acupuncture, and she is better now. But to cure her entirely, I will have to do some research. For now, she can stay here as well.”

    She turned to smile at Ah Xia. “I haven’t thanked your sister yet for sending me yards of beautiful materials. Maybe you can help me select the pattern for Yingzhun.”

    Ah Xia smiled uncomfortably. “I will try my best.”

    Madam Li nodded. “Good. This time, you shall stay with us a little longer. I will be making you a new batch of pills, so in the meantime, I will treat you with acupuncture and herbal medicine instead.” She turned to her housekeeper who had just appeared with Zhao Erlang and Chunyu.

    “Open a room in the east wing for Miss Xia, and take care of the guests here too.” She ordered, and the housekeeper led Ah Xia back to the main building while Zhao Erlang and Ah Liu escorted Zhao Mengnan and Yang Lianyan to their temporary residence.

    Finally, she turned to Chunyu. “What can I do for you?” She asked compassionately.

    Zhao Zhong stepped forward and cupped his hands. “Miss Chunyu is a friend of mine. She has lost her memory, and I wonder if Madam can help her.”

    Madam Li pointed at a bench for her patient to sit then examined the other’s eyes and pulse. “Hmm, everything seems normal. I think she probably has some terrified experience and unconsciously blocked her memory as a result. I will make up herbal medicine to calm her inner spirit, and we’ll see how she is doing from there.”

    She looked at Zhao Zhong and Chunyu with keen eyes. “If Hero Zhao doesn’t mind, please accept my invitation to stay at our humble house. Your sister-in-law is with us and will be pleased to see you. I will arrange a room for Miss Chunyu too.” She added considerately.

    Chunyu blushed. “I can stay at one of the cabins here.”

    Zhao Zhong disagreed. “I think it is safer for you to be at the main building.” He explained to Madam Li. “I rescued Miss Chunyu from a group of bandits, and since her identity is still unknown, she might still be in danger.” Although the culprit priests were dead, their murderer was still at large, and he was not sure what that person’s intention toward Chunyu.

    Madam Li concurred. “You are right. We have tight security there, and my husband shall be back soon. Under the protection of him and Hero Zhao, I’m sure that no one would dare to come near her.”

    She got up from her bench. “All settles then.” She then accompanied Zhao Zhong and Chunyu to the main hall and instructed the housekeeper to prepare rooms for them.

    At that moment, Li Wei was on a wild goose chase after a young man whom he mistook as Zhao Mengnan. After the tiresome day and fruitless search, he headed back to Huashan, looking forward to good dinner and hot bath. On his way, he passed a valley and heard weapons crashing then a cry of a woman. Instantly, he turned his horse toward the noise. This valley was in the area of Huashan, and he can’t allow some misfits happening within his jurisdiction.

    When he arrived at the scene, he saw a young woman in yellow outfit fighting with five men in bright red robes. Her right shoulder was bathed in blood, and she was hardly able to hold her sword. There were four dead men in the same color robes on the ground, indicating that the young maiden must have struck down her opponents prior her injury. Right then, she gave a cry as one of the men’s ringed saber slashed down at her left shoulder. She countered the stab with her sword but was too weak to put force on it. Consequently, her weapon broke in half as her opponent pressed harder. The other four men then rushed forth, raising their weapons to finish her off. At that moment, they felt refined force on their backs and instantly turned around only to see an outline of a thin sword moving with incredible speed. They retaliated to the newcomer but only succeeded in stabbing into empty air. Within the first move, Li Wei easily disarmed two of the four men and moved on to rescue the wounded maiden from the man with ringed saber. Turned out the latter had better kungfu than the rest did. As soon as he saw a new intruder, he promptly left his victim and turned to attack the stranger with viciousness. He could not match speed with the new opponent but his force was tremendous. However, his technique still had many flaws, and Li Wei could wound him within fifteen moves. The other four looked at one another and took to their heels, leaving their colleague to face dilemma alone. At that point, the young maiden fell down, and Li Wei reached out and caught her.

    The man holding the ringed saber breathed heavily. He glared at the stranger in front and spoke roughly. “This is none of your business. Do not mess with the priests of the Happy Valley.” Indeed his clothing style was similar to that of a priest’s.

    Li Wei frowned. Lately, there had been rumors of a new unorthodox cult movement that many suspected to be the cause of several missing women around the border. Its members were said to garb in bizarre robe, which matched the costume of the man opposite him. He could well be that cult member. Besides, he was on an act of hurting a woman within Huashan area, so either by duty or to uphold righteousness, Li Wei had to interfere even he had to become the strange cult’s permanent enemy.

    Unperturbedly, he replied with a smile. “Everything that happens within Huashan School’s jurisdiction is my business. Your cult is very bold to dare to commit a crime in the Central Plains. If you repent now, I’ll think about letting you live.”

    The other cursed and charged forth. He executed over fifty stances and still could not touch his opponent although the latter stood still, moving only his thin sword. Toward the last move, Li Wei flipped his wrist lightly and stabbed straight into the other’s heart. Midway, he suddenly changed direction and pointed it at the shoulder instead. The move was so swift that his target was unable to dodge it.

    “Ouch!” The strange priest cried as the blade pierced through his flesh. Blood drained from his face for he realized that the other could have easily taken his life just then. Sweat ran down his forehead, and he decided to ask for mercy. He immediately threw away his saber and kneeled down, begging with trembling voice. “Hero, please forgive me.”

    Li Wei nodded. “If you can answer my questions, I will let you go.”

    The other saw hope. He stammered more happily. “I will. I can.”

    Li Wei hummed. “First, why are you here? Who is this maiden? And who is your master?”

    The other wetted his lips uneasily. “I…we were sent to scout the area for the woman in yellow dress. She had killed many of our men, and…we happened to come across her, so we just want to capture her for our leader.”

    Li Wei glared. His voice hardened. “You are just lying. The move that you have used to the lady meant to kill. If her kungfu had not been very good, she would have died then. Besides, her techniques seem to be above yours, so you must have used some tricks to overcome her. Speak the truth!”

    The other was shocked with Li Wei’s astute observation. He quickly kowtowed several times fearfully. “Hero is absolutely right. Please forgive my slipping tongue. It is true that we wanted to capture her alive at first, but because she had killed four of our friends, we were blinded with rage for a moment. Also, we had put poison in her food back at an inn and have been following her from there, but she detected our presence and challenged us out to fight.”

    Li Wei was angry. “Only cowards resort to poison trick. The world should be a better livable place if there is less people of your kind. Tell me, who is your master?”

    The other was near tears. He shook his head. “That…that I cannot tell.” Then his eyes widened as Li Wei lifted his sword. “I…he…ouch!” He fell down and died instantly. Instantaneously, Li Wei threw his sword toward a bush, and a man stumbled from it; his chest was lodged with the thin sword. He uttered, “Happy Valley is the greatest,” and died. He was one of the four men that had run away earlier.

    Li Wei sighed and bent down to search the dead bodies for antidote. He found it inside the shirt of the priest with ringed saber and immediately forced it down the throat of the unconscious lady. “Miss,” he called, but she did not respond, and he realized that she had lost too much blood.

    Without thinking, he picked her up and jumped on his horse, galloping to the nearby stream. There, he ripped her blouse open and cleaned her wounds efficiently then dressed them with the herbs he found in the area and a piece of cloth torn from his sleeve. After that, he took off his cape and wrapped it gently around her then wetted his handkerchief to bath her feverish face.

    The coolness of water and herbs woke her up. She looked right into his face, and each froze for a full minute. Li Wei felt as if the treasure had been returned to him while she felt a piece of her life had just been completed. She didn’t ask who he was, knowing instinctively that he would not harm her. She also did not feel shy in front of him but felt strangely warm inside.

    She tried to get up then had to sit back down from dizziness and Li Wei told her gently. “You have a large wound on each shoulder and have lost a lot of blood, so you’d better rest still.” He reached for his package and brought out meatless buns. “Here are some food to restore your strength.” He hesitated a little then proposed to take her to see a doctor. “There is a good doctor right at Huashan School. She is Madam Li. It might be best if you let her inspect your wounds.”

    Yang Qiu-er immediately shook her head. “No, I am all right. I don’t want to go there just yet.” Inwardly, she did not want to be in debt to anyone of Huashan School for she did not forget that her target was Madam Li’s own daughter.

    Li Wei was secretly relieved that he did not catch the dubious meaning of her last sentence. Somehow, he did not wish to share her with anyone else for fear that she would disappear forever. He felt as if he had known her for a long time, and just by talking to her, he could recall his youth.

    “But you need a place to stay overnight.” He looked at the sinking sun and the darkening sky then scanned around carefully and smiled. “I know a cave nearby that we can use. It’s quite nice for I have meditated there once.” He gazed at her kindly. “I will carry you there.”

    Without waiting for her reply, he gently lifted her in his arms and used lightness kungfu to the cave he spoke about. Inside, he looked for the most comfortable spot and placed her on the ground with care. Then he gathered dry sticks in the area to build a fire. That done, he turned to ask her, “how are your wounds? Was the trip too rough?” His face was concerned.

    Yang Qiu-er (Angie Chiu Ngar Chi) smiled at him gratefully. “Your lightness kungfu is superb. I didn’t feel a thing. Thank you for saving my life.” Toward him, she was unusually docile as if her coldness had been melt by his charming smile.

    Li Wei shook his head. “Everyone would have done the same. I believe that it’s just our fates to meet each other.”

    Yang Qiu-er smiled. “That is right. Our paths cross probably from the deeds we have done in our past lives. I’m called Qiu-er.” She omitted her last name so not to expose her identity. She had been thinking of her mission and had concluded that Master Li of Huashan and her mother must be great enemies. She came to Huashan to assassinate Li Wei’s only daughter on the sly, and she could end up being dead or hunted by the other pugilists.

    Yang Qiu-er heaved a sigh inwardly. Her savior was a handsome man with heroic countenance, and for unknown reason, she did not wish him to think less of her. She was indifferent to death until she had met Zhao Mengnan. He had taught her the joy of living. And now this gentleman made her wish to be a perfect person – a young lady worthy to be his friend.

    Li Wei repeated the name fascinatingly. “Qiu-er. I take it that you are born in autumn.” (Author’s note: Qiu means autumn.)

    The other nodded. “My father said that he got my name when he held me in his hands among the forest of red leaves in the season of autumn.”

    Li Wei was amused. “I take it that you home must be a very beautiful place.”

    Yang Qiu-er replied eagerly. “Yes, I live in a place that is warm all year long. There are clear waterfalls, lovely flowers, and delicious fruits.” Then her face turned gloom at her childhood memory.

    “Qiu-er. Qiu-er!” The caller came out of a small cottage; her face showed anger.

    “I’m here, Mother.” A young girl of twelve appeared with a heavy kettle.

    The elder woman eyed the other almost with dislike. “Hurry up. You know that Lianyan has to take a bath at this hour for forty-nine days in a row in order for the medicine to work best. Are you late intentionally so that she won’t be cured? You see that I am good to her and are jealous of her, aren’t you?” She picked up a stick and whipped the young girl’s thin legs all the while ranting. “Even if Lianyan dies, I will never love you. Never! You should not have been born, Qiu-er. You have taken away everything that my Lianyan should have had.”

    The words still resounded in her ears until now. Lianyan was no better, and the blame was put onto her. Her mother was so furious that she would have been beaten to death if her father would not have stepped in. “You know that it has nothing to do with Qiu-er. Lianyan is just too sick. You should know why.”

    She remembered that her mother threw out the stick and shouted loudly. “You are the other one who hates my Lianyan. You can’t stand that I love her the most, can you?” She stomped her feet and ran away with tears.

    Her father sighed, picked her up, and brought her inside the cottage. It was the medicine storage and Yang Lianyan’s bedroom because she sometimes needed instant medication.

    Lianyan who was lying on the bed, listening to the conversation outside, looked up at her with guilt. “Qiu-er, I am sorry. You are punished because of me again.” Her eyes were glistened with tears, and her face looked so fragile and angelic that Yang Qiu-er’s heart melt. She moved with pain to the other’s side. “Lianyan, I promise to find a cure for you even if I have to die ten times.”

    Yang Lianyan wept. “Qiu-er, you are my best sister.”

    “And you are mine too, my sweet sister.”


    “I will go taking care of my horse for a moment, and I will be back with more food.” Li Wei was talking to her, and she was back to the present. In a flash, he was gone.

    In no time, he returned with a big bundle in one hand and a rabbit in another. He put down the rabbit and untied the bundle, talking with soothing voice. “Luckily, I have brought a blanket along in case of an overnight journey. You’ve just said that you’re from the warm climate, so the night on the mountain could be too cold for you, especially at this time of year.” He wrapped the blanket around her gently, and she murmured thank you, feeling much warmer.

    Then she knitted her eyebrows. “How about you?”

    Li Wei laughed. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve spent many nights outdoors without blankets before, and am used to it. Besides, I can always meditate and moved the flow of my inner energy to warm myself.”

    Yang Qiu-er nodded. “I forgot that you practiced martial arts. Judging from your lightness kungfu, your kungfu must be at the top level.”

    The other beamed, showing wrinkles around his eyes. “I’m not that worthy of your praise yet although I’m working diligently for it.” With her, he threw away the propriety and all flowery talks that he was so familiar with. She had roused his wild spirit, making him want to be free and young again.

    He stared at her unblemished face and was alarmed at his thought. Quickly, he turned toward the rabbit and started to prepare it for dinner. “Meat is good for wound healing, especially snake’s gull bladder, but at this time, all snakes have gone into hibernation already.”

    Inside, the meat was roasting, smelling appetizingly. The fire glowed on the young maiden’s face, reflecting her beauty, and Li Wei was enthralled. After dinner, he arranged a bed for her and moved toward the cave entrance. “I will guard you all night. No need to worry.”

    Yang Qiu-er was surprised. “Are you going to stay out in the wind the whole time?” Nobody had ever been this attentive to her before aside from Zhao Mengnan and her father. She frowned and shook her head. “It will be freezing at night. Please sleep inside.” She smiled at him trustingly. “I am just a common girl, not a lady and have no good name to lose. As long as our intention is innocent, no need to think of the decorum.”

    Li Wei’s heart swelled. He smiled back at her. “Yes, as long as we are sincere to each other.” He looked outside. “I think it is going to snow.” He commented.

    Outside, the first snow drizzled down slowly and went on all night. Wolves came out and sang their hunting songs, and their preys took to hiding. Above, the sun had disappeared, and the moon came out. The night was chill, and the ground was hard, but for Li Wei, it was like sleeping on a cloud.

    In the morning, the ground was white, and the air was crisp. Yang Qiu-er got up with tingling feeling. She went outside and was excited to see snow. Gingerly, she touched the white flake and put it in her mouth. “Oh, it is cold.” She cried with delight, and Li Wei who had just come back from the river chuckled.

    “This must be your first time seeing snow. Do you like it?” The other nodded, and without thinking, he said. “If you live here, you will get to see a lot of it.” Then he blushed.

    Yang Qiu-er did not notice his embarrassment but reached for the fish in his hands. “They look delicious already.” She rubbed her stomach. “The air must have given me appetite. I am awfully hungry.”

    Li Wei smiled at her words. “I am glad to hear it. That means your wounds are healing very well. Actually, I have gone to the river to find more herbs for you. They were buried under the snow, so while I dug, I decided to do fishing at the same time.”

    Yang Qiu-er grinned. “Your medicine is very effective. I know about some herbs myself but never realize that the grass ‘dragon tongue’ can heal wound.”

    Li Wei started cleaning up the fish while explaining. “The dragon tongue grows exclusively at Huashan, so it is no wonder that not many know of its healing ability.” He raised his eyebrows. “But you know its name. Have you seen it before?”

    The other shook her hand. “No, but I have read its description from a book which said that dragon tongue is used for inner injury.” She looked at Li Wei admiringly. “You seem to be more knowledgeable than my medicinal manual.”

    He blushed again. “It is actually the work of my…” He stopped and swallowed the word ‘wife’. “Well, a friend of mine taught me.” He hastily led her inside the cave. “This fish are ready. Let’s go inside to roast them.”

    During the breakfast, Yang Qiu-er asked the other of his name, and he promptly replied, “Long Wei.”

    “Master Long, thanks again for helping me yesterday.” She cupped her hands, and Li Wei instantly answered that it was nothing. “It is a duty of a man to protect the opposite gender.” Then he changed the subject. “Did you know the people who attacked you?” He would like to learn more about her.

    Yang Qiu-er denied. “No, I have never seen them or heard about the Happy Valley before. They claimed that I have killed their colleagues and said that they would take me to their master to get a reward.”

    Li Wei considered the information thoughtfully. “Hmm, then it must be a case of wrong identity then.” Yang Qiu-er’s answer matched with the strange priest, so he could rest assure that she had no connection with the evil cult. As the leader of the pugilistic realm, he could not be too cautious, especially after the event that had taken place last spring.

    Three lamas of Tibet had sent a letter of challenge to Huashan School, and because they had slaughtered several Chinese top pugilists to prove their prowess, Li Wei decided to have a duel with them to stop the further killing. Who would have thought that the three lamas resorted to trick, using a pretty girl as a bait? He almost lost his life but managed to win in the end. Nevertheless, he came back with severe injuries and some even rumored that he had died under the hands of the three lamas.

    Li Wei got rid of the unhappy memory and turned to his pretty companion. “The snow means that winter is approaching soon, and in my family, we will sing a song to farewell the old season and welcome the new one.” He whistled the tune, and the other listened attentively. After a while, she murmured, “it sounds very familiar.” She then hummed along with him, and Li Wei was amazed with her. “You have very good ears for music. Do you play any instrument?”

    Yang Qiu-er instantly thought of Zhao Mengnan and Meiying. “My father taught me to blow few tunes from grass leaf, and a friend of mine taught me how to play flute, but my younger sister, Lianyan, is a talent in music and poetry. She can play and sing very well.”

    “She could be no more perfect than you are.” Li Wei responded sincerely.

    Yang Qiu-er turned red. “I am not even half as good as she is.” And Li Wei could not take his eyes from her face. His feeling was in turmoil, and he had to control his desire with difficulty.

    He avoided her eyes and muttered that he needed to take leave. “But I’ll be back before dark with more food and clothes.” He then proposed to take her to somewhere else that was more comfortable but was turned down.

    “I like the scenic here, and the cave is not bad. Besides, if I stay in a public place, I might meet those weird men again.” She reasoned wisely, and he agreed.

    “All right, see you tonight then.” He left reluctantly and went straight back to Huashan School. Once he got there, he gave an order for the housekeeper to fetch various medicine and ginseng. “And ask Madam to come and see me too.”

    A moment later, Madam Li entered her husband’s room with surprise. “Are you preparing to leave again? Did you find Hero Zhao’s nephew? We have many guests here today, and…” She could not finish her sentence for the other wrapped his arms around her tightly and kissed her with wild passion. “Ah Fa, we haven’t been together for a long time.”

    Madam Li tried to shake him off. “But everyone is expecting you, and it is daylight.” Her mouth was again sealed, and the other carried her to his bed. “The other can wait. I just want to show you my love.” He disregarded her protests and pulled away her inner garments…

    Some time later, he got up and changed clothes then went out to greet his guests. He was in better mood and hummed a song as he left the room.

    On the bed, Madam Li closed her eyes tiredly. He seemed to be very forceful today. She wondered what happened last night. “Maybe the brothel downtown didn’t open the business.” She sighed ruefully before getting dressed to meet her husband at the main hall. She did not feel well, but she had a lot of work to do.
    --------------------------------------------

    Thank you very much for still reading this long-winded story. I will keep trying to write. <IMG SRC="smilies/hatoff.gif" border="0"> <IMG SRC="smilies/alien.gif" border="0"> Please feel free to comment in anyway. I am eager to hear from you all. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">

    <font size="1">[ April 07, 2003: Message edited by: Goofy ]</font>
    "History's third dimension is always fiction."
    -- The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse

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