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Thread: Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay - The Prequel

  1. #1
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay - The Prequel (日月剑谱传奇之前篇)

    Thanks to tweety and H.Ge-C.Liu, who have so kindly spent time to create the lovely posters below for my prequel story.



    TWEETY'S CREATIONS







    H.GE-C.LIU'S CREATION






    PROLOGUE


    A tall handsome man, his leanly muscled body clothed in a long black gown, sat in front of a grave. At first glance, he appeared to be a statue, his posture proud and tall, immobile and silent, as he simply stared at the tombstone facing him. However, upon closer inspection, one would notice the hint of melancholy mixed with loneliness buried within the depths of his deep brown eyes, the only sign of vulnerability in his otherwise carefully controlled expression.

    Slowly, the man reached forward and gently glided his fingers down the cool granite of the tombstone as if caressing a lover’s cheek. A bittersweet pang pierced his heart as he traced his fingertips across the carefully etched words on the slab of stone.

    Beloved wife

    Leaning forward, the man planted a soft kiss on the words. He closed his eyes and easily conjured up the image of a beautiful maiden, his sweet angel, whose face and infectious laughter had been haunting his dreams ever since she had left him.

    “Are you thinking of me right now as I am thinking of you, my little fairy?” He whispered tenderly to the grave.

    As if acknowledging his question, a gentle breeze swept by, lifting the rose petals he had scattered around the gravesite. One petal floated upward and lightly brushed against his cheek, hovering there for the briefest of seconds, caressing his cheek like the kiss of an angel. Reaching up, the man touched his cheek, his finger barely brushing against the velvety softness of the petal. Then, the petal fluttered away with the wind. As he watched, the petal drifted further and further away from him, leaving him with an empty void that can never be filled.

    As another breeze whipped by, this one more chilly than the first, the man shivered slightly and looked toward the tombstone with concern. Standing up, he retreated into a simple wooden cottage situated a few feet away from the gravesite. Several seconds later, he emerged with a fur-lined cloak. Leaning down, he carefully draped the cloak protectively around the tombstone, stroking the top edge of the stone slab as if rubbing a woman’s shoulders.

    “This should keep you warm, sweetheart. I know you get cold easily.” He smiled at the tombstone.

    Settling down next to the grave again, he removed a journal from his gown pocket. Flipping through the pages filled with poems and drawings of his lovely wife, he stopped at about halfway through the book and glanced over his latest entry, which he had just written earlier this morning after waking up. Smiling sadly, he ran his fingers over the words on the page, lost in his own dream world.

    At that moment, a little boy of about six years of age peeked around the doorway of the cottage, his wide eyes darting back and forth. Spotting his father by his mother’s gravesite, he started toward his father, dragging along with him two swords, one glowing in a cool shade of blue while the other radiating a fiery shade of orange-red.

    “Papa?” The little boy patted his father on the shoulder, jolting the man out of his reverie.

    Turning to look at his son, the man smiled. “Yes, son?”

    “It’s my birthday today!” The boy announced jovially. Turning to look at his mother’s grave, he grinned. “Are you whispering to Mama about what present to get me?”

    The man’s smile, an almost exact replica of his son’s grin, deepened. “Of course!” The man answered, his gaze trailing to the twin swords his son was hugging lovingly. “Your mother and I think you might want to learn some sword skills as your birthday present. Would you like that?”

    “Yes!” The young boy leapt up and down excitedly. For as long as he could remember, he had always wanted to be a famous swordsman like his father. Today, he would finally learn the proper way to hold a sword!

    “Let’s go inside the cottage to feed your baby brother first. Then, we can start your first sword lesson today, all right?” The man patted the young boy on the head indulgently.

    “All right!” The boy beamed. Hauling the two swords behind him, he skipped awkwardly back toward the cottage, his agility slowed down by the large weapons trailing behind him.

    As the boy disappeared into the cottage, the man turned back to the grave and laughed softly. “It looks like our son will become a great swordsman one day, sweetheart. I will make sure he learns everything I know. Are you proud of me, my little fairy? I am keeping my promise to you to live on and raise our sons.”

    Placing the book of images and poems on the ground in front of the tombstone, as if intending to share what he had written with his wife, he caressed the stone slab one more time before walking back toward the cottage, toward his sons.

    As the wooden door to the cottage closed behind the man, a gentle breeze blew by, wrapping itself around the tombstone, stirring the pages of the journal set in front of the grave. The pages fluttered lightly as if an invisible hand was flipping through the book. Finally, the fluttering stopped and the journal opened to the page containing the man’s latest entry...



    Last night, I dreamt of you,
    A single rose, slender and elegant,
    Luminescent in the pearly moonlight,
    Unrivaled in grace and beauty.

    You turned and glanced at me,
    Your skin like dewy petals,
    Your lips curved, innocently yet alluringly,
    Your eyes, deep sapphires, dark and mysterious.

    You walked straight into my embrace,
    Your warmth melting the coldness in my heart,
    Filling my world with just us,
    Your heart against mine, beating as one.

    Seven years of bliss,
    Seven years of heaven,
    Even though you have now left me,
    Not a day goes by that I do not think of our seven years together.

    I shall live on as promised,
    Without you by my side,
    Hoping that when the time comes for us to be together again,
    You’ll be waiting, ready to walk into my embrace once more.

    I love you, my little fairy, in this life and in every life thereafter.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    CHAPTER 1 --- BANDITS!

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Lawrence Yan Chi Keung---Ling Dong 凌東
    Chen Hao---Fa Heung Ling a.k.a. Poison Snake 花香伶
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南


    SEVEN YEARS AGO


    EVENING
    FOREST

    “Help! Help! Please, someone help me!” A muscular man raced haphazardly through the forest, tripping over tree roots in his haste. Panting heavily, he glanced anxiously behind him, his eyes seeing nothing but blackness.

    Within the depths of the woods, a low, throaty laugh echoed. “Where are you going, handsome?” The feminine voice purred. “Don’t you want to cozy up to me anymore?”

    Scrambling up, the man tore off again, screaming frantically, “Get away from me, you bloodthirsty witch!”

    “Witch?” The woman asked tauntingly, her tone deliberately tinged with a trace of hurt. “How could you call me that, darling? Why, just a few minutes ago, you wanted to...” She left the rest of the sentence unfinished, chuckling suggestively.

    “Just leave me alone, you crazy woman!” The man shouted. “Help! Help!”

    Before he was able to continue his cries for help, he heard the approach of excited gasps of breath, the throaty sound sending chills of horror down his spine. Then, from the corner of his eyes, he saw a palm flashing out of the darkness, its bright red color glowing obscenely like fresh blood in the pitch black of night. Before he was able to react, his pursuer somersaulted out from depths of the forest and palmed him on the chest.

    As the deadly poison from her palm percolated through his skin, eating at his vital organs, he screeched in agony, while his life energy drained painfully from his body.

    “The Blood Shadow Palm...” He croaked.

    With wide eyes, he watched his own petrified image reflected in her maniacal eyes. His last conscious thought before he blacked out was how could someone so beautiful be so evil...

    HEAVENLY CRANE SCHOOL
    MAIN RECEPTION HALL

    “Another twenty-five clan members have died under the hand of the Blood Shadow Palm! Another twenty-five members!” Leader Luk of the Heavenly Crane School sputtered with anger. Slamming his fist down on a nearby table, he gritted his teeth. “We cannot just sit around like scared kittens as the wolf continues to hunt us!”

    “Teacher is right! We have to do something before we’re completely exterminated by the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s Blood Shadow Palm!” One Heavenly Crane member shouted.

    Murmurs of agreement erupted from the gathered crowd, growing louder and louder with each passing minute.

    “We all agree we need to act quickly, but WHAT can we do?” A voice of reason within the crowd pointed out. “None of us here is a match for the Blood Shadow Palm.”

    Murmurs again echoed throughout the spacious reception hall of Heavenly Crane School, where the four large orthodox clans and schools had congregated to discuss how to deal with the threat of the demonic Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.

    The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, a very young clan, had originally hailed from Persia, where it had started out with a mere ten members when the group had first formed twenty-five years ago. The original name of the clan was Lung Yat Clan, named after the clan’s founder, Fa Lung Yat. When Fa Lung Yat passed away five years ago, his two beautiful daughters, Fa Heung Ling and Fa Heung Yan, jointly inherited their father’s place as clan leaders. Immediately, within the past five years, clan membership multiplied exponentially, as men flocked from regions near and far to catch a glimpse of the sisters, who were rumored to be the most beautiful women of their time. All men who laid eyes on the sisters refused to leave and ended up joining the clan so that they could feast their eyes on such feminine perfection everyday.

    The elder sister, Fa Heung Ling, possessed a vicious disposition despite her attractive looks. Cruel and with a frightening disrespect for human life, Fa Heung Ling used human victims as experimental subjects to test and concoct new poisons. Within a short five years after taking over her father’s clan, she moved the clan from Persia to the Central Plains in search for new victims. Many nicknamed her Poison Snake, as she specialized in rearing poisonous snakes. Even knowing Poison Snake’s malicious and murderous ways, the male clan members followed her all the way from Persia to the Central Plains, a testament to how beautiful she was.

    If the elder sister, Fa Heung Ling, flaunted a blatant yet fatal kind of beauty, then the younger sister, Fa Heung Yan, exuded an aura of alluring mystery with her gentle, angelic appearance and aloofness. In contrast to her elder sister, who enjoyed poisoning her enemies, Fa Heung Yan was known for her healing abilities. Her healing instrument of choice was her trademark single white rose, which she used to withdraw the poison from her elder sister’s victims. As a result, the white petals would turn black, earning her the nickname Black Rose. With one sister dubbed Poison Snake and the other named Black Rose, the clan soon acquired the name Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.

    Possessing a seductive combination of delicate femininity and stunning beauty, Black Rose attracted countless admirers. Yet, she remained unmoved, choosing to shield her appearance from the world with a veil. Many speculated that her heart was already spoken for, and hence, she would rather demurely hide behind a veil to remain inconspicuous. Very few had the fortune to catch a glimpse of her countenance, but those who had seen her marveled in awe and reverence and likened her to a heavenly fairy disguised as a mortal.

    In fact, the sisters‘ male admirers unanimously agreed that Black Rose’s beauty far surpassed that of her elder sister’s and may even be considered incomparable and otherworldly. Because of this, Poison Snake could never completely forgive her younger sister for stealing her limelight. In addition, because of their conflicting personalities and philosophies, the two sisters bitterly quarreled repeatedly about how to lead the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.

    Initially, Poison Snake feigned consideration for Black Rose’s urging to discontinue the concoction of poisons and return to Persia, but secretly created a series of lethal palm sequences called the Blood Shadow Palm, bidding her time until she could master enough of this technique to overthrow and banish Black Rose from the clan. However, as she continued to practice the Blood Shadow Palm, Poison Snake became increasingly consumed by the thirst for immense power. Before long, she stopped practicing in secret and started to kill blatantly, mutilating and murdering hundreds of innocent and unfortunate victims from the four orthodox sects.

    Hence, in an attempt to thwart any further murdering of orthodox clan members, the four main orthodox schools and clans gathered today to discuss what to do about the menace of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.

    Chaos erupted as a livid discussion ensued in the main foyer of the Heavenly Crane School on Mount Heavenly Crane about how to deal with the threat of the Blood Shadow Palm.

    “We’ve never encountered anything like such a martial arts!” A tall, rotund man from the Golden Tiger Clan burst out. “How can we possibly defeat something we have no knowledge of?”

    “No martial arts in the world is indestructible, not even the Blood Shadow Palm. There must be a weakness in the technique.” A calming voice within the crowd spoke up. All eyes tured to look at the young man who voiced that opinion.

    “Are you saying you can find this weakness, Young Hero Ling?” A stout, ruddy faced man from the Red Raven Clan mockingly asked Ling Dong, the eldest and most accomplished disciple from the Mount Soaring Eagle School.

    “No, I am not claiming such a thing, as I am not talented enough to see through such a powerful technique’s weakness.” Ling Dong responded evenly, refusing to be bothered by the rude question. “However, I know someone who may be able to do so.”

    “And who is this amazingly talented person, may I ask?” The same Red Raven Clan member snorted sarcastically. Sweeping his arm in a wide arc, he gestured to the leaders of the four orthodox schools. “Even our distinguished teachers from the Red Raven Clan, the Mount Soaring Eagle School, the Heavenly Crane School, and the Golden Tiger Clan cannot come up with a tactic to defeat the Blood Shadow Palm!”

    “The person whom I am referring to is Sit Chung Nam.” Ling Dong replied, staring directly into the eyes of his challenger.

    “Sit Chung Nam?!” The Red Raven Clan member exclaimed disbelievingly. “Are you referring to Sit Chung Nam, the leader of the Floating Cloud Sect?!”

    Loud gasps immediately echoed from the gathered crowd. Some muttered incredulously, while some shook their heads at Ling Dong’s ridiculous suggestion.

    “You must be joking, right, Ling Dong?” The Red Raven Clan member scoffed. “Sit Chung Nam is a bandit. He is an infamous, cold-blooded murderer and his band of killers is no better than its leader. He may look like a gentleman, but his actions are certainly not chivalrous! How can we expect such a person to help us?”

    “Sit Chung Nam may not be an ideal choice to help us, but he may be our only hope to defeat the Blood Shadow Palm.” Ling Dong argued. “This man is a martial arts genius. He became the top martial artist in the world when he was merely fifteen years old and has remained unchallenged for over fifteen years. Now at the age of thirty, he has created numerous martial arts techniques that have proved superior compared to the martial arts of the four orthodox schools.”

    “How dare you belittle the martial arts of the four major clans and schools?” The Red Raven member sputtered indignantly. “Do you even remember that you are a member of the four orthodox schools?”

    “Of course, I remember very well who I am.” Ling Dong lifted his chin proudly. “My loyalties certainly lie with the orthodox schools.” He turned to look beseechingly at his teacher, Leader Hong of Mount Soaring Eagle School, silently asking his teacher to back him up. “My words of praise to Sit Chung Nam are not meant to mock or belittle our respected teachers and our brave clan members. A terrible crisis has struck the martial arts world, with the slew of senseless killings by the demonic Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. We have lost countless men to the demonic clan’s Blood Shadow Palm. It is time we wake up and realistically evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. Our fellow clan members are brave and our numbers are large, but the Blood Shadow Palm technique has so far proved to be nearly invincible, whether it is used against one man or a large number of men. Using brute force against such a martial arts technique is not going to work. Instead, we need someone talented enough to analyze and break apart the Blood Shadow Palm technique, stance by stance, and attack it from its weakest point. Only then can we save the martial arts world from complete annihilation.”

    As Ling Dong completed his speech, loud murmurs again broke out throughout the reception hall of Mount Heavenly Crane School.

    “Ling Dong has a very valid point!” Someone shouted from the back of the crowd.

    “Yes, Ling Dong is right!” Another person agreed. “Sit Chung Nam may be the best candidate to defeat the Blood Shadow Palm!”

    “All right, so maybe Ling Dong’s suggestion is somewhat valid,” the disgruntled Red Raven Clan member allowed. “But how will we get Sit Chung Nam and his Floating Cloud Sect to help us? The orthodox schools and clans have not exactly been close friends with the Floating Cloud Sect. In fact, we are enemies. How can we get our enemy to help us?” He glared challengingly at Ling Dong.

    Undaunted by this concern, Ling Dong returned the Red Raven Clan member’s stare without a single flinch. “Like I mentioned before, everything has a weak spot. The Blood Shadow Palm technique must have a weak spot, and so must Sit Chung Nam. We just need to figure out what his is and use it to persuade him to help us.”

    “And how exactly do you suggest we figure out Sit Chung Nam’s weak point?” The Red Raven Clan member questioned pugnaciously. “Perhaps you’re going to waltz yourself up to Floating Cloud Summit and politely ask Sit Chung Nam?” He mocked.

    Ignoring the Red Raven Clan member’s condescending tone, Ling Dong turned to his teacher, Leader Hong from Mount Soaring Eagle School, and placed his hands together in a gesture of respect. “Teacher, I am asking for your permission to send me to Floating Cloud Summit immediately. I will find a way to persuade Sit Chung Nam to help us defeat the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.”

    “Dong, do you realize how dangerous your request is?” Leader Hong sighed, worried as he noticed the determined light in his eldest disciple’s eyes. “Sit Chung Nam is not someone to trifle with. His band of thieves is vicious and will kill you even before you get a chance to step one foot across the threshold of the headquarters of the Floating Cloud Sect.”

    “I am willing to take that risk, Teacher.” Ling Dong countered resolutely. “You have taught me well. I have confidence that I will be able to safely persuade Sit Chung Nam to come to our aid.”

    Giving his stubborn student a hard look, Leader Hong frowned.

    All around, whispers filled the reception hall of Heavenly Crane School, while clan members from the four orthodox schools argued about whether to seek Sit Chung Nam’s help.

    “Silence! Silence, everyone! Please!” The host, Leader Luk from the Heavenly Crane School, held his arms up, calling for attention. “Let’s hear what Leader Ding from the Red Raven Clan, Leader Hong from the Mount Soaring Eagle School, and Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan have to say about Young Hero Ling Dong’s suggestion about seeking help from the Floating Cloud Sect.” He turned, raising his eyebrows questioningly, as he looked at Leaders Ding, Hong, and Ma.

    The leaders exchanged a few uncertain looks, unsure of how to proceed. Initiating an alliance with the Floating Cloud Sect would not be easy, and in fact, may be dangerous to the lives of the orthodox clan members. Known for their ruthlessness and questionable and dishonorable fighting tactics against enemies, the Floating Cloud Sect bandits had been a constant menace to the martial arts world. Although certainly not the only band of thieves in the Central Plains, the Floating Cloud Sect differentiated itself from other groups of bandits with its strong leadership by Sit Chung Nam, the sect’s shrewd ninth generation leader. In addition, every bandit in the Floating Cloud Sect possessed a strong martial arts background, due to Sit Chung Nam’s strict requirement that every member practice martial arts at least five hours a day and must pass a monthly martial arts skills test. If not, the member will be severely punished. However, despite Sit Chung Nam’s unyielding laws, members remained with the Floating Cloud Sect because of the immense riches they can amass under Sit Chung Nam’s leadership. For example, just four months ago, Sit Chung Nam had led his band of thieves on a raid of the Silver Flag Clan, a small but very wealthy clan under the protection of the larger and more powerful Red Raven Clan. Despite reinforcements sent by the Red Raven Clan, the Floating Cloud Sect prevailed, easily defeating the Red Raven Clan members. Even as the Silver Flag Clan members surrendered, begging for their lives, the bandits slaughtered them mercilessly, not willing to risk the chance of a surviving member coming back for revenge.

    “Form an alliance with the Floating Cloud Sect?” Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan voiced uneasily. “I don’t know... This would be like inviting a hungry and fiendish tiger into our homes...”

    “I agree with Leader Ma,” Leader Ding from the Red Raven Clan exclaimed. “You all know what happened to a large group of my disciples just a mere four months ago!” He pointed out, referring to the Floating Cloud Sect’s raid of the Silver Flag Clan incident. “Sit Chung Nam and his bandits do not fight fairly, nor do they recognize any code of honor. They slaughtered my Red Raven Clan disciples and the members of the Silver Flag Clan heartlessly, women and children included, even when my disciples and the Silver Flag Clan surrendered. How can we trust such people to help us?”

    “But what other option do we have against the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan and its Blood Shadow Palm?” Leader Hong from Mount Soaring Eagle School wondered. “My student, Ling Dong, is correct. If we do nothing, then we will be exterminated by the Blood Shadow Palm. If we seek alliance with Sit Chung Nam and his Floating Cloud Sect, then we may at least have a chance of survival.”

    “Yes, our teacher is right!” A member of the Mount Soaring Eagle School shouted.

    “But aligning ourselves with the Floating Cloud Sect is like befriending a demon!” The original Red Raven Clan member who had argued with Ling Dong countered.

    “To defeat a demon like the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, we must unleash another demon upon it!” Someone else from the crowd screamed out.

    Within moments, shouts and loud voices broke out in the main reception hall again, as everyone wanted to make his opinion heard. As heated discussion ensued, the noise level escalated increasingly, nearing the point of near chaos, as members started pushing each other in anger.

    Then, in the midst of this bedlam, a series of ear-piercing screams sliced through the air, shocking everyone into silence. In unison, the crowd turned toward the entrance of the main reception hall, where the screams were heard. At that moment, the lifeless bodies of five orthodox clan members flew through the air like rag dolls before slamming against the far wall of the reception hall. The bodies bounced off the wall once and landed directly in front of Ling Dong and the four clan leaders.

    Staring down at the body directly in front of him, Ling Dong looked right into the unfortunate man’s pair of unblinking, sightless eyes, the terror he had experienced right before his death reflected clearly in the depths of his eyes.

    Even before the orthodox schools can recover from the complete surprise of having several of their members killed unknowingly right in their presence, footsteps raced across the main reception hall. Immediately, the hall filled with approximately fifty men, dressed completely in black. The intruders shifted into formation, with twenty men forming a horizontal line in front, their bows and arrows in position, while the remaining men formed a semicircle in the back, covering their comrades in the front line.

    As the members of orthodox schools gawked in consternation, a flicker of movement rushed past them, barely shifting the air in front of them. This person had somehow effortlessly maneuvered with lightening speed through the mass of bodies crowding the main reception hall without any detection. Even before the four distinguished orthodox school leaders could detect any change in the reception hall, an invisible palm thrust forward and punched Leaders Hong, Luk, Ding, and Ma on their shoulders in rapid succession. As the leaders catapulted backward, they knocked full force into their students. All around, orthodox clan members toppled to the floor, like dominoes, one after the other.

    Shocked, the remaining standing members darted their eyes around the reception hall of Heavenly Crane School, trying to locate the source of the insult. However, all they could see was an amorphous form, as the attacker executed a sequence of incredibly light and swift footsteps. Even as their eyes tried to focus in on the shadow, it vanished from sight again, somersaulting in rapid succession over their heads before landing effortlessly and soundlessly onto Heavenly Crane School Leader Luk’s elaborately decorated chair on the elevated platform at the far end of the reception hall.

    A deep chuckle, cultured yet chillingly evil, escaped from the throat of the man now seated on Leader Luk’s chair. Robed completely in white, the man exuded a formidable, commanding aura with his tall, leanly muscled body, poised straight and proud, as he glanced condescendingly down at the orthodox clan members below. His face was handsomely sculpted and tanned with full dark brows accentuating a pair of intense deep brown eyes which flanked a straight aristocratic nose. His clean-cut, suave appearance gave him a deceivingly scholarly air. However, he was far from gentlemanly, as witnessed by his slow, sly smile as he observed the four orthodox clan leaders desperately trying to scramble back up onto their feet after his blow.

    Off to the side, Ling Dong watched in horrific fascination. Whispering to himself, he muttered in a barely audible voice, “Speak of the devil. It’s Sit Chung Nam...”

  3. #3
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking

    CHAPTER 2 --- FAIRY DUST

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
    Lawrence Yan Chi Keung---Ling Dong 凌東
    Yuan Hong---Sung Hin 宋顯
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Chen Hao---Fa Heung Ling a.k.a. Poison Snake 花香伶

    HEAVENLY CRANE SCHOOL
    MAIN RECEPTION HALL

    Off to the side, Ling Dong watched in horrific fascination. Whispering to himself, he muttered in a barely audible voice, “Speak of the devil. It’s Sit Chung Nam...”

    Staggering to his feet, Leader Luk jabbed his finger at Sit Chung Nam, his anger very apparent. “Sit Chung Nam!” He demanded. “What is the meaning of this attack?”

    Sit Chung Nam leaned back against the back of Leader Luk’s chair nonchalantly, while calmly tapping his fingers on the beads sewn onto the fabric covering of the chair’s armrest. Although smiling, his eyes remained chilly, devoid of any sign of humor. Then, without any warning, he tore off two beads from the armrest covering, and with a single flick of his fingers, he sent the two beads slicing through the air, each bead accurately hitting each of Leader Luk’s knees.

    The tremendous force of the impact from the beads nearly knocked the breath from Leader Luk, causing him to collapse down onto his knees. Breaking his fall, he placed his hands down onto the floor in front of him. On his knees and hands in a subservient position, Leader Luk glanced up at Sit Chung Nam. “You...!” Leader Luk sputtered, embarrassed and furious.

    “Kneel when you’re speaking to me.” Sit Chung Nam commanded, his eyes cold and passionless.

    “Sit Chung Nam! Don’t think you can humiliate us here!” Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan exclaimed indignantly. “This is orthodox clan territory!”

    Chuckling, Sit Chung Nam lifted one eyebrow patronizingly. “It’s interesting that you bring up the topic of territory, because that is exactly what I am here to discuss with you.” He leaned forward in the chair, sweeping his arm in a wide arc to encompass the vast reception hall of Heavenly Crane School. “From this moment on, Mount Heavenly Crane and all its properties, including Heavenly Crane School, will belong to the Floating Cloud Sect.”

    With their jaws dropping open, the leaders of the four orthodox clans sputtered in disbelief.

    “What kind of audacity is this, Sit Chung Nam?!” Leader Luk demanded furiously.

    Lifting his brow cooly, Sit Chung Nam curled the corners of his lips in an amused smile. “Membership in the Floating Cloud Sect has increased tremendously in the past few years. Therefore, my people need more space. Mount Heavenly Crane is adjacent to Floating Cloud Summit, hence making it an ideal location for the Floating Cloud Sect to expand to. Leader Luk, you and your disciples should feel honored that I have decided to annex Mount Heavenly Crane to the Floating Cloud Sect.”

    “Why, how dare you?!” Leader Luk pointed a shaky finger at Sit Chung Nam.

    Sit Chung Nam chuckled very briefly, but the laugh did not reach his eyes. “Leader Luk, you and your disciples have exactly one day to vacate the premises. If I come back tomorrow and find you and your students still here, my men will throw every one of you over the mountain side.”

    “Sit Chung Nam!” One Heavenly Crane School member rushed forward to the front of the crowd and raised his sword at the bandit leader. “You’re overstepping your boundaries! Don’t think you can just barge into Heavenly Crane School uninvited with your band of thieves and expect us to bow down to your will! I’ll kill you first before I let you boot me out of my own home!”

    The man charged at Sit Chung Nam, raising his sword in attack position. In the background, one of the bandits directed his bow toward the Heavenly Crane School member’s back, about to release his arrow. Sit Chung Nam, his expression stony, raised his hand to halt the bandit’s intended action. As the man neared Sit Chung Nam, he struck down with his sword, aiming for Sit Chung Nam’s head. However, as his blade came within an inch of his target’s forehead, Sit Chung Nam suddenly gently waved his right hand toward the tip of the blade. A wall of internal energy from Sit Chung Nam’s palm blocked the sword’s advance, the force so strong that it warped the metal of the blade.

    As the Heavenly Crane School disciple stared incredulously at his deformed sword, he suddenly found himself thrown fifty paces backward by an invisible punch of internal energy. Hitting his head hard against the far wall of the Heavenly Crane School reception hall, he died immediately upon impact.
     
    "Sit Chung Nam!"  Approximately ten orthodox school members surged forward, fuming and yelling. "You cannot come here and just murder people left and right! Do not think you frighten us! If we band together, you may not have such an easy time defeating us!"
     
    Smiling smoothly, the Floating Cloud Sect leader simply relaxed back against his chair and stared directly at the group of orthodox school disciples. "Normally, I would have already decapitated you just for daring to say that to me. However, I am in an especially good mood today for some reason."
     
    "We don't care if you're in a good or bad mood!"  The orthodox members retorted boldly. "We demand that you and your thieves leave immediately!" 
     
    Within the span of a few seconds, Sit Chung Nam's expression suddenly changed from congenial to murderous. Raising his arm, he signaled to his Floating Cloud Sect members. "Kill them all."  He commanded curtly.
     
    As the bandits raised their bows in readiness, Ling Dong hurriedly rushed forward. "Wait! Wait!"  Even though he was just as angry as the rest of his clan members, he gritted his teeth and forced himself to speak politely. "Sect Leader Sit," he began, clasping his hands together in a gesture of respect as he looked toward Sit Chung Nam. "There is no need to resort to any further force today. I have a proposition for you."  Taking in a deep breath, he continued. "Under no circumstances will we surrender Mount Heavenly Crane to you. However, I have a much better and more profitable alternative for your Floating Cloud Sect."
     
    Narrowing his eyes, Sit Chung Nam tilted his head ever so slightly. Even though he despised opposition, he was nonetheless a shrewd leader who was always willing to listen to more beneficial options. Gesturing for his bandits to stand down, he turned toward Ling Dong. "What kind of alternative?"
     
    "Mount Heavenly Crane may be the closest adjacent mountain next to Floating Cloud Summit."  Ling Dong began. "However, there is no convenient route that directly connects the two mountains. To navigate between Mount Heavenly Crane and Floating Cloud Summit, one would have to travel through treacherous terrain that could take at least one to two days. On the other hand, the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, which is situated conveniently at the base of Floating Cloud Summit near a three way fork in the road, would be a better territorial addition to your Floating Cloud Sect. By controlling the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, you would also be controlling the entire region that leads up to Floating Cloud Summit."
     
    Knowing very well what Ling Dong was suggesting, Sit Chung Nam chuckled. "Ah, so you are suggesting that I attack the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan instead of Heavenly Crane School?"  Clucking his tongue, he shook his head at Ling Dong. "Do not think that you can manipulate me so easily, young man. You want to use Floating Cloud Sect to help the orthodox schools annihilate the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan?"  Sit Chung Nam asked, seeing right through Ling Dong's intentions.
     
    "Yes," Ling Dong admitted bravely.
     
    Nodding, Sit Chung Nam rubbed his fingers against his chin. "You are quite bold, young man, for even daring to try to manipulate me."  He leaned forward suddenly, his eyes boring into Ling Dong's. "But because I respect your courage, I will tell you that I have briefly entertained the thought of taking over the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan's territory. The only reason I have not done so yet is because the risks outweigh the benefits. The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan outnumbers the Floating Cloud Sect ten to one, and while I have confidence that each of my men can easily take out ten opponents, I have no need to risk the danger of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan's Blood Shadow Palm. They have not bothered me, and so I have no need to incite a conflict at this point. Perhaps in the future, I may revisit the idea of taking over the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan."
     
    "But..."  Ling Dong tried to reason with Sit Chung Nam again.
     
    However, the bandit leader raised his hand to silence any further discussion. "That's enough. I have other tasks to do today and do not wish to waste more time discussing this matter."  Sending Leader Luk a hard look, Sit Chung reiterated, "Have your Heavenly Crane School disciples collect their belongings and leave by tomorrow."

    “Sit Chung Nam! We will not...” Leader Luk called out, with carefully controlled rage.

    Cutting Leader Luk off, Sit Chung Nam sent him a chilling look. “I’m a reasonable man, Leader Luk. I don’t want to kill your orthodox clan members unless it’s necessary, since I don’t want my Floating Cloud Sect members wasting their time cleaning up after the bloodshed.” Smiling as if telling an extremely funny joke, he appeared almost congenial. “Mount Heavenly Crane will be part of the Floating Cloud Sect soon. We like the new addition to our home pristine and spotless.” Then, his eyes darkened dangerously. “However, I will not hesitate to order my men to slaughter every one of you if you waste my time any further.”
     
    As Sit Chung Nam stood and started to leave, Ling Dong quickly pulled out a rolled up drawing from his gown pocket. "Sect Leader Sit! You may want to look at this drawing before you reject the idea of invading the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan!" 
     
    Curious, Sit Chung Nam halted his footsteps. Turning around, he focused in on the drawing of a beautiful maiden dangling from Ling Dong's hand. Though only a painting on paper, the maiden seemed to come alive, her perfect features exquisite, her eyes beckoning to him. At the age of thirty, Sit Chung Nam had known his fair share of women and had met countless beauties, but none had been as heavenly as this one in the painting. If there were such things as otherworldly fairies, then this maiden would certainly qualify as one.
     
    Seeing the interest sparkle beneath the bandit leader's hooded eyes, Ling Dong smiled slightly. "Heavenly, isn't she? I've only seen her once from afar, and she has haunted my dreams ever since."
     
    "Who is she?"  Sit Chung Nam cannot stop himself from asking.
     
    "Black Rose."  Ling Dong answered, sensing Sit Chung Nam’s intense fascination despite the bandit's carefully controlled nonchalance.

    “Black Rose?” The corners of Sit Chung Nam’s mouth lifted ever so slightly in a faint smile. Despite his unfathomable expression, his deep brown eyes darkened with the slightest hint of lust. “One of the leaders of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan?” Coming toward Ling Dong, Sit Chung Nam lightly traced his fingertip along Black Rose’s jawline in the painting. “I have heard rumors that she is incomparably beautiful...”

    “Her beauty isn’t a rumor.” Ling Dong countered flatly. “Rarely do people outside of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan have a chance to meet her because she doesn’t leave the clan’s premises often and outsiders don’t dare to venture into the clan’s territory for fear of the Blood Shadow Palm. I only saw her once while passing by Blue Moon Village on my way back to Mount Heavenly Crane. I stopped to rest by the lake in the village. That’s when I saw her...” Ling Dong paused, as if trying to conjure up the image of Black Rose again. “I didn’t know why she was at Blue Moon Village, but that was where I saw her... Such a heavenly vision, like a fairy disguised as a mortal,” he murmured. “That was all I could think of when I laid eyes on her.” For a few moments, he stared at the painting of Black Rose in his hands, entranced, like Sit Chung Nam.

    “No woman is that exquisite.” Sit Chung Nam’s voice rang loud and clear, pulling Ling Dong out of his reverie. But despite his definitive and disinterested tone, his eyes told otherwise. As Sit Chung Nam turned to leave, Ling Dong’s words echoed after him.

    “Sect Leader Sit,” Ling Dong called after Sit Chung Nam. “An alliance with the orthodox sects will only benefit you. We need your help to take out the Blood Shadow Palm.”

    However, the bandit leader ignored him and continued to walk toward the entrance of the main reception hall.

    “Sit Chung Nam, I would think a man of your arrogance would like to possess the most beautiful woman in the world.” Leader Luk swallowed his pride enough to speak up.

    Slowly, Sit Chung Nam turned around, his eyes narrowed. Smiling coldly, he responded, “Leader Luk, I may be arrogant, but I’m not a fool. The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan is not exactly an easy target. Why would I incite an unnecessary war with a clan nearly ten times the size of the Floating Cloud Sect?”

    “Wars have started over far less attractive women, Sect Leader Sit.” Leader Luk retorted stonily. Glaring at Sit Chung Nam, he took in a deep breath, trying to control the shame flooding over him at having to bargain with the infamous bandit leader. “Sect Leader Sit, please.” He tried an imploring tone of voice. “We need your help. The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan is slaughtering us.” He stared steadily at Sit Chung Nam. “We,” he turned and made a sweeping gesture at the rest of the orthodox clan members, “are dying, one by one, and we are helpless against the Blood Shadow Palm. We need your help, Sect Leader Sit. Please.”

    Smirking callously, Sit Chung Nam leaned down toward the shorter man and placed his face within an inch of Leader Luk’s. “Leader Luk, I don’t run a charity organization. I only help if I benefit from helping. I expect you and your students to evacuate Mount Heavenly Crane by tomorrow. If not, there will be a bloodbath here, and I will be very upset because I don’t like my new home dirtied by orthodox clan members’ blood.”

    With those last words, Sit Chung Nam turned and walked out. Behind him, the Floating Cloud Sect members followed, leaving Leader Luk sighing angrily.

    “Elder, do you think Sit Chung Nam will help us fight the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan?” Ling Dong turned to look at Leader Luk.

    “I think he will.” Leader Luk answered slowly, his expression thoughtful. “He may have denied interest in Black Rose, but we are all men here. And as a man, I can recognize the look of lust on Sit Chung Nam’s face very well.”

    “Let’s hope that you are correct, Brother Luk.” Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan sighed.

    “I just can’t believe that we, as upstanding men and pillars of the martial arts community, now need to stoop so low as to use a woman to help persuade a bandit to help us. I never thought we would have to resort to such unrighteous tactics.” Leader Ding from the Red Raven Clan shook his head in self-consternation.

    “Well, if Sit Chung Nam doesn’t take the bait that we just dangled in front of him, then we all won’t be alive to worry about any dishonorable tactics.” Leader Luk remarked wryly.

    ********************

    At the base of Mount Heavenly Crane, Sit Chung Nam paused. His second-in-command, Sung Hin, walked up to him.
     
    "Is there something wrong, Sect Leader?"  Sung Hin asked.
     
    "Assemble a group of our men here at the base of Mount Heavenly Crane at dawn tomorrow."  Sit Chung Nam ordered. "I have a feeling the majority of those stubborn and foolishly proud orthodox clan members will try to hold their ground tomorrow and refuse to leave Heavenly Crane School. Kill all who refuse to leave. However, there will always be a small subset of cowards who will surrender and then try to flee down the mountain. Let them. I prefer to kill them at the base of the mountain rather than inside Heavenly Crane School.”

    “So that there will be less blood to clean up inside Heavenly Crane School?” Sung Hin guessed wryly.

    “Exactly.” Sit Chung Nam snorted. “Execute whoever makes it down the mountain. I want every Heavenly Crane School member killed, even if he surrenders."  Dispassionately, he stared back up Mount Heavenly Crane. "I don't like to bother with any surviving Heavenly Crane School disciples coming back for revenge."
     
    "Yes, Sect Leader."  Sung Hin noded. He hesitated and then opened his mouth, only to slam his lips shut again.
     
    Raising a questioning brow, Sit Chung Nam glanced over at his second-in-command. "Is there something on your mind, Hin?"
     
    "You're not going to really..."  Sung Hin cleared his throat before continuing. "Sect Leader, you're not really considering invading the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, are you?"
     
    Instead of replying, Sit Chung Nam sent Sung Hin an amused, vaguely mysterious smile before leaping up into the air. Even as his figure whirled rapidly midair, disappearing within seconds, his voice echoed back toward Sung Hin. "Hin, you and the men head back to Floating Cloud Summit first.”

    “Where are you going, Sect Leader?” Sung Hin called out toward the direction that Sit Chung Nam had vanished. Only silence answered him. “Sect Leader? Sect Leader?” He yelled, somersaulting into the air, trying to chase after Sit Chung Nam. However, the bandit leader was already miles away.

    BLUE MOON VILLAGE
    FOREST OF SHIFTING ECHOES
    EVENING

    Moonlight, pale and silvery, splashed down upon the main centerpiece of the forest, an oddly shaped lake resembling a large crane sipping water from a crescent moon. The moon’s reflection in the water rippled gently as a soft breeze blew by, stirring the graceful, light green leaves of the weeping willow trees lining the perimeter of the lake. As the breeze brushed across the water again, the tips of the willow leaves undulated, skimming lightly across the lake’s surface, creating the soft sound of lapping water. Serenity, peacefulness reigned throughout this part of the woods.

    At the eastern border of the lake, the jingling of bells echoed in the balmy night, the hollow, tinkling melody blending in with the sound of the rippling waters. A feminine silhouette, graceful yet temptingly delicious with softly rounded curves, moved along with the music, her right ankle bracelet of silver bells ringing with each step of her bare feet. A thin swath of pale yellow fabric draped loosely over her body, secured at her tiny waist with a golden waist sash. The moonlight peeked through the loose canopy of leaves under which she danced, splashing an alluring pattern of pale light and shadows across her nearly nude body, teasingly hiding some curves, while boldly revealing others. A pale yellow veil with gold lace trimming, matching the color of her thin gown, covered the lower half of the young maiden’s face, revealing only her eyes, which remained closed. Her feathery long eyelashes barely kissed the tops of her delicate cheekbones. With every movement of her head, her long midnight black tresses, slightly curled at the ends, softly brushed against her waist.

    A few paces away, under the dark alcove created by the drooping overhanging branches of the weeping willows, a man stood, his tall, leanly muscled form tense and still, as he watched the young maiden dance, his gaze mesmerized by her every move, by every caress of her nearly translucent gown against her smooth skin. As her hips gyrated to a silent melody, he clenched his jaw, the loud pounding of his heart nearly drowning out the sweet seductive ringing of her ankle bracelet.

    Minutes passed by as she danced, while he watched in lustful silence. Unable to resist, the man walked toward her quietly, as if in a trance. His superior lightness kung fu allowed him to advance without making a single sound. The maiden continued to twirl, blissfully ignorant of his presence next to her. At that moment, a soft gust of wind wrapped itself around the couple. The breeze tugged at her veil, loosening it. The thin piece of fabric playfully fluttered before falling completely away from the maiden’s face. Flowing along with the wind, the pale yellow veil hovered midair briefly before heading directly toward the man, as if waving at him, beckoning him forward. Reaching forward, he grabbed onto the thin piece of fabric, his eyes never leaving the maiden as she now turned around to face him, her eyes still closed, her expression dreamy.

    Realizing that her veil had fallen off, she finally stilled her movements. As her eyes fluttered open, he stared at her in fascination, as he realized that her eyes were not a typical dark brown color but a deep midnight blue, so dark blue that they reminded him of the mysterious depths of the ocean bottom. Tearing his gaze away from her eyes, he noticed her fine facial bone structure, her features so ethereally beautiful that they defied description. As he settled his eyes on her soft pink lips, he focused in on the tiny tan colored beauty mark at the right corner of her upper lip, so miniature and yet so blatantly sensuous.

    “Thank you.” Her soft voice interrupted his thoughts.

    Blinking, he looked back into her midnight blue eyes, momentarily dazed from the effects of the demure yet unconsciously suggestive smile she bestowed upon him.

    “Thank you for catching my veil, Young Master.” She repeated, holding her hand out, expecting him to hand over her veil.

    When he remained stunned and silent, she reached forward and slowly pulled the piece of fabric from his hand. Although he can feel the smooth silky fabric sliding across his palm, he cannot bring himself to move or speak, as if paralyzed by the full force of the maiden’s beauty. Then, just as the last inch of fabric was about to leave his hand, he reflexively clenched onto the veil and yanked forward, pulling her into his arms.

    Yelping softly in surprise, she fell into his waiting arms. Trapped within his embrace, the young woman placed her palms against his hard, muscled chest. Her fingers curled slightly as she slid her hands up his chest. She peeked upward at his tanned, chiseled features. Looking steadily into his dark, intense gaze, she pushed against his chest, trying to escape his grasp.

    “Let go.” She demanded firmly, a stubborn fire starting to burn in her eyes.

    Ignoring her request, he tightened his embrace, his arms like an immovable iron vise around her. With her warm, pliable body pressed up against his, his breathing rate quickened. Leaning downward so that his lips were barely an inch away from hers, he whispered, his breath hot and moist against her skin. “You’re so exquisite, so ravishing... So the rumors about you are true. I just never imagined such divine beauty existed in this world... ” He whispered harshly. Nuzzling the corner of her lips, he breathed in her enticing fragrance. “You smell like roses. Are you a human or a fairy? Huh?” Rather than wait for her answer, he started to gently nibble at her lips, his love bites becoming more aggressive as she struggled against him.

    “Let go!” She gasped against his lips, her voice muffled as he continued to press his lips firmly down upon hers. Furious, she bit down on his lower lip.

    “Ugh!” Grunting, more from surprise than from pain, he lifted his head and licked at his bleeding lip, his breaths short and labored from arousal. Noting her defiant glare, he laughed with amusement. “You’re quite feisty, aren’t you? I like it.” Then, he suddenly stopped laughing, as he found himself again entrapped within the depths of her midnight blue eyes. Enthralled, he reached a hand toward her face and caressed her silky smooth cheek. “You must be a fairy from heaven. No human is this ethereally beautiful.” He murmured to himself. “You look just like the painting that orthodox clan member showed me earlier today.” Sit Chung Nam marveled, referring to Ling Dong’s drawing of Black Rose. “Except...you’re much more desirable and lovelier in the flesh. I’ve heard of your legendary beauty, Black Rose, but I have never imagined that the legend is true.”

    “Then you know who I am. If you don’t let go of me right this minute, you will regret it when my clan comes looking for me.” Fa Heung Yan warned calmly, her voice slightly frosty yet dignified, despite her compromising position.

    Smiling slightly, Sit Chung Nam played with her hair, running his fingertips through the silken strands. When she pushed against his chest challengingly, his smile deepened as he forced her closer to him with his more superior strength. “I don’t frighten that easily. You don’t know martial arts do you, my little fairy?” He asked rhetorically, already sensing her lack of martial arts skills from the way she moved. “If you promise to be my woman, I will protect you.” He tried to kiss her again but ended up nuzzling the side of her neck when she turned her face away from him.

    “I don’t need your protection. Find someone else to be your woman.” Fa Heung Yan retorted coldly, as she strained against him.

    His expression chilled by a few degrees. “Being my woman is not an option. Sit Chung Nam always gets what he wants.”

    At the name Sit Chung Nam, Yan stopped struggling momentarily. “You’re Sit Chung Nam, the leader of the Floating Cloud Sect?” She eyed him suspiciously.

    “Yes,” he responded, as he resumed playing with her hair. “We’ve been neighbors all this time and haven’t met before. If I had known sooner how beautiful you are, I would have stopped by the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan earlier for a neighborly visit.” He joked.

    “The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan and the Floating Cloud Sect have always coexisted in peace. I’m magnanimous enough to overlook this insult if you let me go right this minute.” She informed him haughtily. “However, if you refuse to let me go, my Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan will exterminate your Floating Cloud Sect.”

    Amused by her threat, Sit Chung Nam smirked. “I suppose I should be shivering in fear right now.” Stroking the small of her back through the thin fabric of her gown, he trailed his eyes suggestively down her body. “Possessing a fairy like you is definitely worth the wrath of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. I’ll be waiting on Floating Cloud Summit if your clan is foolish enough to come claim you back.”

    “Take your hands off me! Men from the Central Plains are such arrogant, hardheaded barbarians! I demand that you release me this instant!” Yan wriggled furiously, trying to dislodge Sit Chung Nam’s wandering hands. While he tried to tame her, she managed to wiggle one hand free. Sliding her free hand into a pouch attached to her waist sash, she snatched a handful of medicinal powder and flung the fistful of dust into his face.

    Reacting immediately, he turned his face to the side, just swiftly enough to avoid being hit with the golden colored powder. Despite narrowly avoiding a face full of unknown powdery substance, the stench from the dust nearly suffocated him, clogging his lungs. Momentarily releasing his captive, Sit Chung Nam covered his nose and mouth, coughing. “Why you little spitfire!”

    Turning, Yan raced toward her travel sack lying on the ground, which contained an assortment of herbal plants and powders she had gathered on her three-month-long trip. Quickly sticking her hand into two separate pouches, she threw the two powders simultaneously at Sit Chung Nam. As the two substances collided midair, they burst into flames, forcing the bandit to execute two backflips to avoid getting burned. Taking advantage of Sit Chung Nam’s momentary distraction, Yan picked up her travel bundle and tore off through forest, leaving her shoes behind. Very familiar with this particular forest, she darted into its dark confines, disappearing within the foliage within seconds, her light and petite frame making almost no sound.
     
    Behind her, Sit Chung Nam placed his palms together, closing his eyes to concentrate. Channeling his internal energy toward his palms, he abruptly separated his hands. An invisible energy field started to vibrate between his palms.  As the pulsating energy mass gathered force, a current of wind, fierce and turbulent, rushed toward the ball of internal energy.  With a flick of his hand, he sent the ball of wind and energy toward the wall of flames in front of him, dousing the flames immediately. 
     
    With his obstacle extinguished, Sit Chung Nam somersaulted through the air, his heightened senses picking up the distant tinkling of bells on Yan's ankle bracelet. Following the sound, he raced through the dark, his figure flashing in and out so rapidly that he appeared almost ghostlike.  Finally, he stopped as he approached the tinkling sound, his expression furious.
     
    Hanging from a low tree branch, Yan's ankle bracelet jingled, swaying softly in the breeze, its tinny sound mocking at Sit Chung Nam. Swearing, he yanked the ankle bracelet from the branch and dangled the delicate chain between his fingers.
     
    Eyes narrowed, he brushed some residual specks of golden powder from his shoulder. “Fairy dust,” he muttered before letting out a self-deprecating laugh. “I can’t believe she caught me off guard with some colored powder.” He smiled sardonically. "I'll find you, little fairy.  And when I do, I'll chain you up so that you won't get away ever again..."
     
    AT THE FAR END OF THE FOREST
     
    Yan stood still, attentively listening closely for any signs of Sit Chung Nam. After many minutes, she finally relaxed when she heard only the gentle blowing of the wind and the rustle of the trees. Reaching into her travel sack, she counted the medicinal pouches within, smiling slowly. Securing her bag, she looped the sack diagonally across her chest, giving it one last loving pat as her mind plotted what she had to do when she returned home. For the past three months, she had traveled near and far, venturing through dangerous terrain, gathering the necessary materials to aid her in her plans. Finally, after months of hard work, she had finally accomplished her mission. To reward herself, she had stopped by the Forest of Shifting Echoes, her beloved sanctuary since moving to the Central Plains from Persia, and allowed herself to dance away the tension. Unfortunately, her encounter with that barbaric bandit leader earlier had ruined her inner peace. Getting riled up just thinking about him, she consciously shoved his image out of her mind.

    To calm herself down, she reached up again to pat the precious powders stored in her travel bag. Even though she had wasted a tiny portion of her precious explosive powder to escape from Sit Chung Nam, she still had more than enough left to accomplish her task. Clenching her fists in anticipation of what awaited her back at the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, she mentally reviewed her plan, step by step, for she understood that if she made even one misstep, she will die at the hands of her elder sister, Fa Heung Ling.   
     
    Turning, she made her way toward the edge of the forest, heading toward the direction of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. After traveling for three miles, she stopped briefly to dust the dirt from her bare feet.  However, even as she rubbed her tired feet, her heart quickened for some unknown reason. Uneasy, Yan held her breath, listening vigilantly. Although not hearing a single suspicious sound other than the rustle of leaves and the occasional call of a cricket, she felt an ominous sense of danger. Trusting her instincts, she slowly reached her hand into her travel bag, clenching a fist around a handful of powder. Then, without warning, Yan swiveled swiftly to her left and flung the powder into the darkness. A scream, horrific and full of agony, resonated from somewhere to her left. As the wail continued, a crash was heard as a man collapsed to the forest ground, writhing from the burns on his face and upper chest. From the fallen man’s location, twenty men in black emerged from the foliage and surrounded Yan.

    Recognizing the men, Yan narrowed her eyes. “So you have finally come. I have been expecting Elder Sister to send you, but I never thought you would come this soon.”

    “I’m sorry, Clan Leader Black Rose.” The leader of the group, Uncle Mo, a man of medium build and height, stepped forward, his expression stoic.

    Closing her eyes briefly, Yan sighed, knowing that she could very well die this night. “Uncle Mo, how many years have you known my father? How many years have you known me?”

    “Your father and I have been friends for nearly twenty years, and I have known you since the day you were born.” Uncle Mo answered solemnly.

    “Then why are you siding with Elder Sister? Why are you helping her kill me? Surely you must know that if my father were still alive today, he would prefer that I, rather than Elder Sister, take over leadership of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. Being my father’s good friend, you must know that if he had to choose between me and Elder Sister, then he would choose for me to live and for Elder Sister to die.” Yan tried to reason with Uncle Mo.

    A flicker of regret flashed fleetingly across Uncle Mo’s eyes, but that glimmer quickly passed. “I’m sorry, Clan Leader Black Rose,” he repeated again, his expression indifferent.

    “You’re afraid of Elder Sister’s Blood Shadow Palm, aren’t you, Uncle Mo?” Yan insisted. “What if I told you I have found a method to defeat her palm technique?” Yan bluffed.

    “No, you have not found a way to stop Poison Snake’s Blood Shadow Palm.” He saw through her fib. “You cannot lie to me, Yan Yan,” Uncle Mo called her by her given name, just as he had always done since she was a little girl. “After your mother died, I have practically helped your father raise you. You are like a daughter to me, and a daughter can never lie to her father. If you could stop your sister, then she would not have been able to destroy your martial arts. You were fortunate that you were able to escape several months ago alive, losing only your martial arts skills.” Sighing, he shook his head. “You really shouldn’t have come back, Yan Yan.”

    Forcing down the fury rising within her as she remembered how her elder sister, Fa Heung Ling, had destroyed all her martial arts skills a few months ago, Yan took in a few soothing breaths, carefully keeping her expression neutral. Giving Uncle Mo a pleading look, Yan walked up to him. “Uncle Mo, if you truly think of me as a daughter, then let me go this once.”

    Uncle Mo started to shake his head in regret. However, at that moment, Yan suddenly stuck her hand into her travel sack. Before Uncle Mo could react, he found himself staring into a curtain of thick red powder. As Yan quickly leapt out of the way, a breeze rushed by, dispersing the red substance. Uncle Mo and his group of twenty men waved their arms about in alarm, in an attempt to scatter the powder. Unfortunately, the more they thrashed about with their arms, the more rapidly the substance adhered to them, melting their skin, eating them alive.

    Observing the men’s suffering with indifference, Yan walked up to Uncle Mo. Crouching down next to Uncle Mo, she shook her head at him, while he writhed in agony, his face now burned beyond recognition. “You should have sided with me, Uncle Mo, like I nicely asked you to. This is the price you pay for helping my sister.” Standing up, she gave the other Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan members a brief, unsympathetic glance. “This is the price you all pay for betraying me.”

    With those words, she turned and walked away. Behind her, she heard her clan members’ continuous screams of torture, but she did not look back. However, before she was able to take another step, a soft chuckle from within the darkness halted her. Recognizing that laugh, her heart thundered wildly. Swiftly, she twisted around, directing her attention toward the location of the sound.

    Smiling bitterly, she spoke toward the direction of the laughter. “I knew you would personally make an appearance. You would never leave such an important task as killing your sister to your subordinates.”

    The laughter died down to a soft chuckle. “You understand me so well, Little Sister. Then, you should know that I won’t be satisfied until I see you take your last breath with my own eyes.” The voice paused, taking on a falsely caring tone. “I do love you, Little Sister. How about this? I’ll let you commit suicide and spare you an excruciatingly painful death by my Blood Shadow Palm. It’s the least an elder sister can do for her baby sister.”

    Backing up slowly, Yan frantically tried to come up with an escape plan, even though her demeanor remained outwardly composed. In the distance, a breeze swept forward, bringing with it the gentle tinkling of bells. The musical sound, although barely audible, brought a wave of relief to Yan.

    Relatively sure of imminent reinforcements, Yan smiled beautifully, confidently. “Elder Sister, if you want to murder your own little sister, then come down and do it. But if I were you, I would run for dear life before my new friend comes.”

    “Your new friend?” Fa Heung Ling, otherwise known as Poison Snake, nearly choked with mirth. “And who is your scary new friend, may I ask?” She smirked sarcastically.

    The tinkling of bells rang again, bringing a smile to Yan’s lips. “Go ahead and laugh, Elder Sister. You know what your problem is? You overestimate yourself and underestimate others. Furthermore, you refuse to accept the fact that Elder Brother doesn’t love you. You know very well whom he loves the most in this world.” She goaded Fa Heung Ling. “I’m amazed at the thickness of your skin, begging a man to love you when he clearly wants nothing to do with you.” Yan stopped her insults long enough to laugh at her elder sister. “If I were you, I would just commit suicide and put myself out of misery.”

    “Why you little pest!” Fa Heung Ling raged. “I’ll give you a taste of my Blood Shadow Palm!”

    With that threat, Ling shot out from the darkness from where she was hiding, her palms raised. Midair, she swept her right palm forward, the glow from the palm’s energy like a red beacon in the night.

    Standing on the ground below, Yan backed away, her heart thundering as she prayed that her gamble that help was coming was correct. As her sister dived toward her, she closed her eyes. However, instead of the expected fatal palm on the forehead, the slightest whisper of movement brushed against her cheeks. Opening her eyes, Yan spied a thin spear of white light shooting past her. Nearly weak-kneed from relief, she watched in fascination as the bolt of internal energy headed toward her elder sister.

    As the spear of light energy neared Fa Heung Ling, it pierced through her right palm, halting her execution of the Blood Shadow Palm. Gasping in pain, Ling backflipped in the air before landing onto a low hanging tree branch. Darting her eyes around, she noticed an amorphous shadow zigzag in front of her. As the shadow flashed forward, as soundless as an apparition in flight, Ling, ignoring her wounded right palm, rotated her palms around each other, channeling all her internal energy toward her hands. With her hands glowing with maximum intensity, she pushed her palms forward. As the shadow catapulted toward her, a pair of invisible palms thrust out from the darkness and met Ling’s Blood Shadow Palm.

    The impact from the meeting of palms thundered throughout the forest, the energy from the contact rippled outward from the battling duo in concentric rings of white and crimson light. As both combatants backflipped away from each other, each landed with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

    Finally able to get a clear view of her opponent, Ling stared across the darkness at the tall, handsome man, who smirked back at her, his dark eyes mocking at her. Showing no signs of being injured by the Blood Shadow Palm, he crossed his arms across his chest, his carriage arrogant and confident. From his waist sash, her younger sister Yan’s ankle bracelet dangled, the tiny silver bells on the bracelet jingling in the breeze.

    “So you’re my little sister’s new friend.” Ling spat.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking

    AUTHOR'S NOTE REGARDING CHAPTER 3 - CHUNG NAM SHADOWLESS SWORDS:

    I would like to thank Crystal for generously taking the time to help me proofread CHAPTER 3 - CHUNG NAM SHADOWLESS SWORDS. Her invaluable suggestions have made this chapter flow more smoothly. Thanks, Crystal!



    CHAPTER 3 --- CHUNG NAM SHADOWLESS SWORDS

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
    Chen Hao---Fa Heung Ling a.k.a. Poison Snake 花香伶
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Wallace Huo Jian Hua---Kuk Wai 曲偉
    Yuan Hong---Sung Hin 宋顯

    BLUE MOON VILLAGE
    FOREST OF SHIFTING ECHOES
    EVENING

    “So you’re my little sister’s new friend.” Ling spat.

    Sit Chung Nam observed the woman standing a few paces away from him. Unlike the gently curvaceous and daintily built younger sister, the elder sister, while certainly not heavy, was more voluptuous and hardier in body frame. A few years older than Fa Heung Yan, Fa Heung Ling might as well be decades older. She wasn’t old and wrinkly, but her eyes reflected a hardened, age-old experience with the destructive and vindictive side of human nature. Her lips, curved provocatively, suggested her voracious appetite for men. While the younger sister was a beguiling contrast of alluring innocence and sensual elegance, the older sister exuded pure hedonistic lustfulness. Although some men may consider such obvious sex appeal and experience attractive, Sit Chung Nam found such blatant experience in a woman distasteful. He preferred class and subtle sexuality combined with breathtaking, incomparable beauty in his woman, a combination nearly impossible to find...until now.

    “New friend?” A deep chuckle escaped from Sit Chung Nam’s lips. “Is that what my little fairy calls me now?” His eyes shifted sideways briefly to glance with amusement at Yan, who returned his gaze challengingly and unapologetically despite fibbing about his relationship to her. “Just a while ago, I was the hardheaded barbarian from the Central Plains. Now my status has suddenly upgraded to ‘new friend.’” He laughed uproariously, starting to like his stunningly beautiful fairy more with each passing second.

    Keeping her eyes trained on Sit Chung Nam, Ling sent him a scornful look. “I should have known that Yan would soon find herself a lovestruck man to fight for her cause, just like she has always done in the past. If you don’t want to die, then I suggest that you do not interfere with the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s internal affairs.” Even as she threatened him, her mind balked as her opponent did not seem one bit injured by her Blood Shadow Palm. “I don’t care who you are! This is our family business, between my sister and me. If you don’t mind your own affairs, I will execute you, too!”

    “Family business?” Sit Chung Nam smiled calmly. “Well, this is perfect, since I will become your brother-in-law soon. In fact, after we conclude our business here, I will be taking your sister home for our much anticipated wedding night. I would invite you to our wedding ceremony, but you’ll just dampen my good mood with your sour attitude.” He grinned affably, even though his stony eyes reflected complete lack of humor.

    Glowering at Sit Chung Nam, Ling crossed her arms across her chest, trying to act unruffled. However, hidden behind her left arm, her right hand, the one injured by Sit Chung Nam’s spear of internal energy, shook uncontrollably. “I’ll give you one more chance to make yourself scarce and leave my younger sister and I to our family affairs.” Although outwardly glaring at her opponent, inwardly she hoped desperately that he would leave before he realized that he had severely injured her.

    Undaunted, Chung Nam stared back at Ling, his expression unfathomable. Narrowing his eyes at Ling, he noticed the color gradually draining from her face and her lips trembling ever so slightly, despite her determination to appear uninjured. Chuckling, he kept his eyes trained on Ling, while speaking to Yan, who was standing a few feet away to his left. “Little Fairy, what would you like me to do?”

    Smiling sweetly, Yan took a few steps closer to Sit Chung Nam. Placing her small, soft hands on his shoulder for support, she lifted herself up onto her tiptoes and whispered into his left ear, all the while keeping her deep midnight blue eyes focused on her elder sister. “Kill her,” her gentle voice commanded, her hot breath sending pleasurable chills down Chung Nam’s spine. “But before you do, I want you to strip her of her martial arts, and make sure she feels every minute of excruciating pain before she dies.”

    Grinning slyly, Chung Nam lifted one eyebrow as he briefly glanced sideways at Yan. “A fairy with bloodthirsty tendencies, huh? And what do I get in return for helping you?”

    Coquettishly lowering her eyelids halfway, she glanced up at the bandit leader with the barest hint of suggestiveness. Holding his gaze for barely a second, she bestowed him with a smile that was part coyness and part shyness. Then, without explicitly answering his question, Yan backed away from Chung Nam.

    Answering her unspoken promise with a charming smile, Chung Nam nodded slightly, “Remember what you just promised, Little Fairy. I will be collecting my dues very soon, and if you renege on your promise, I will be very upset. When I am upset, I will take what I want without asking nicely for your permission.” He warned Yan, his expression dark and threatening. Then, within a matter of seconds, he smiled like a perfect gentleman again. Turning his attention back to the older sister, he shook his head at Ling with feigned regret. “It appears my little fairy wants you dead, and unfortunately for you, her wish is my command.”

    Forgetting her ruse to appear uninjured, Ling backed away reflexively as Chung Nam took a threatening step forward. “Wait! Whatever she just promised you, I will give you the same thing! No, wait! I’ll double the offer!”

    Twisting his lips mockingly at Ling, Sit Chung Nam rejected Ling’s offer flatly. “I’m sorry, but what I want, I only want from your younger sister.”

    Without further words, he clasped his palms together. Immediately, his hands glowed with a blinding white light. As his palms separated, two spears of luminous light extended from the fingertips of both hands. Within seconds, each beam of light from each palm split into nine swords of pure energy, totaling eighteen swords in all. With a wave of his palms, the beams of energy twirled in unison before fanning out, slicing through the air soundlessly before vanishing from sight. The spears of internal energy, while invisible to the naked eye, made their presence known through the thick and impenetrable force field radiating from them, stilling the air and halting the wind.

    Somersaulting toward Ling, Chung Nam executed one precise cut downward with his invisible swords, slicing through the force field that Ling tried to erect in front of her as a shield with her internal energy. As her force field evaporated, he burst through, his palms extended forward. Forced to parry, Ling swiped her palms forward also, the crimson glow from her palms deepening as she unleashed her Blood Shadow Palm. However, unlike with her previous opponents, she couldn’t easily bring her palms close to Chung Nam’s as the energy field emitting from his hands acted as a solid barrier. Unable to make contact, the poison from the Blood Shadow Palm remained trapped within the confines of her palms.

    At that moment, Sit Chung Nam deliberately allowed the force field surrounding his palms to soften. Mistaking this sudden weakening from Sit Chung Nam as a sign that his inferior internal energy cannot hold up to the power of her Blood Shadow Palm, Ling easily fell into Chung Nam’s trap as she immediately channeled her internal energy toward her palms, intensifying the power behind her Blood Shadow Palm. Pushing swiftly forward, she aimed right for her opponent’s hands, intending to transfer her lethal poison to him. Right at that instant, barely an inch from making contact, the internal energy from Chung Nam’s palms strengthened. Without warning, his swords of internal energy again extended from his fingertips. As sharp as physical sword blades but a thousand times more lethal due to their invisibility, Chung Nam’s invisible swords pierced and sliced ruthlessly. Shrieking wildly, Ling withdrew her mutilated hands back in time to prevent complete dismemberment. Executing a series of backflips, she tried to flee.

    Sensing imminent victory, Sit Chung Nam went in for the kill. Somersaulting in rapid succession, he gave chase. Nearing his prey, he lunged forward midair and caught Ling in mid-flight. Impaling her right shoulder with his energy sword, he then mercilessly slashed the tendons of her right wrist. Even as she howled in agony, the tip of his invisible sword rapidly reversed direction and cut a large gash from the middle of Ling’s forehead down to her nose.

    In the background, Yan stared at Sit Chung Nam in horrified amazement as she watched the bandit leader in combat. “Chung Nam Shadowless Swords,” she whispered with awe to herself as his energy swords sliced soundlessly through the air.

    She had heard of his martial arts prowess, especially the most powerful of his martial arts technique, his invisible energy swords, but never had she imagined such strength and supremacy until she witnessed the technique today. A martial arts genius, Sit Chung Nam, although certainly not known for his honor and fair fighting tactics, had earned the grudging respect...and fear...of friends and foes alike with his shrewdness, incomparable internal energy at the mere age of thirty, and uncanny talent for inventing some of the world’s most powerful and lethal martial arts techniques.

    Of his many techniques, the most deadly consisted of a unique series of sword strikes, referred throughout the martial arts world as Chung Nam Shadowless Swords, aptly named as the swords were not physical weapons but invisible, shadowless blades generated purely from the practitioner’s internal energy. Rumored to be impossible to emulate, the sword sequence not only required the practitioner to possess a formidable cultivated store of internal energy, but also required that the energy be channeled appropriately through the practitioner’s eighteen main accupressure points. One who had truly mastered Chung Nam Shadowless Swords will attain the ability to move as one with his weapons, as the energy swords were essentially an extension of the practitioner’s hands. With a combination of the energy swords‘ invisibility and the incredible swiftness and accuracy of the sword strikes, Sit Chung Nam’s Shadowless Swords had been virtually unchallenged throughout the martial arts world. Some even feared Chung Nam Shadowless Swords more than they feared the Blood Shadow Palm.

    As the bandit leader continued to battle with her elder sister, Yan carefully scrutinized Sit Chung Nam from a completely new perspective. Narrowing her eyes, she realized that she had finally found a person who could potentially go up against her sister’s Blood Shadow Palm and could help avenge her suffering at the hands of her elder sister. Clenching her fists tightly, her temper gradually boiled to an almost uncontrollable level as she recalled how she had suffered at the hands of her elder sister three months ago.

    Since Fa Heung Ling’s invention of the Blood Shadow Palm five years ago, she had murdered countless innocents, leaving a bloody trail from Persia all the way to the Central Plains. In the beginning, when the palm technique was still in its beginning stages, the Blood Shadow Palm’s victims still had a chance of recovery if the victim’s internal energy was strong enough. However, as Poison Snake perfected her technique through experimentation on thousands of captives, children included, her victims’ likelihood of survival diminished significantly.

    The palm's venom originated from three of the world's deadliest poisonous blooms soaked in the fresh blood of one hundred live children born on the ninth month of the ninth day of the ninth hour. In combat, the Blood Shadow Palm killed by transferring poison from the practitioner to its victim through contact between the two combatants. Once transferred, the poison would eat at the victim’s internal organs, crawling internally through the body like worms gnawing at the flesh. Even more disturbing was, once the poison infiltrated the victim’s blood circulation and tissues, the poison then can seep out through the skin pores of the victim, spreading through the air as poisonous fumes, thus infecting others surrounding the victim by contact and airborne routes.

    As Ling’s martial arts prowess multiplied, her disregard for human life increased as she killed indiscriminately, eventually attacking her own Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan members, including those ten original members who were her father’s friends and confidantes. As tensions grew and discontent spread within the clan, Yan demanded that Ling stop her senseless killings, insisting that her actions will eventually bring destruction to the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan if the orthodox clans of the Central Plains banded together. Yan wished to return to Persia, whereas her elder sister wanted to remain in the Central Plains to continue preying on the orthodox clan members. Because of their differing views, the sisters quarreled bitterly. Yet despite the disagreements, Ling initially tolerated Yan’s presence, because Yan’s martial arts skill, though not the best in the world, was still sufficient to defend herself against Ling’s attacks. Bidding her time so that she could master enough of her Blood Shadow Palm sequence to ensure a guaranteed victory against Yan, Ling lied and assured Yan that she will cease practicing the palm technique if Yan will agree to remain in the Central Plains, a compromise which the younger sister grudgingly agreed to.

    Then, three months ago, after mastering level two out of three of her Blood Shadow Palm, Ling ambushed Yan. Knowing that the vast majority of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s male members lusted after Yan, Ling sent the entire clan on a manhunt, promising Yan as a prize to all who would help her overthrow her younger sister. The few members who refused to betray Yan, especially the ten original elder members who had served under her father, were threatened with death at the hands of the Blood Shadow Palm if they did not turn against Yan.

    Hence, with the entire clan on her side, whether coerced or voluntary, Ling easily captured Yan, and using the most destructive and painful method, destroyed her martial arts. Then, instead of killing Yan, she planned a fate worse than death for her younger sister. Resentful of Yan’s beauty and purity, Ling intended to throw Yan to the group of lecherous, hungry male clan members before permanently scarring her younger sister’s face and body. However, Ling’s plans were thwarted by none other than her very own husband, Kuk Wai, who could not stop the destruction of Yan’s martial arts in time but succeeded in saving her from rape and disfigurement.

    For the past three months, since escaping from the clutches of her elder sister, Yan had been on run, hiding in obscure caves and forests to avoid detection. With no martial arts, she was almost captured twice by the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan members sent by Ling. Only by sheer luck had she managed to escape both times.

    Thinking back to those events, Yan started to grind her teeth in fury, vowing to make her elder sister pay for her actions. Snapping out of her reverie, she focused back on the fight between Sit Chung Nam and Ling.

    Twenty stances into the battle, the bandit leader brought his hands together, combining all eighteen energy swords, nine from each hand. Although invisible, the twirling swords created a vortex of wind and energy. With a flick of his wrists, he sent the whirling bursts of energy toward his opponent.

    As the swords approached, Ling felt her breath literally forced out of her lungs, as the wall of internal energy socked her in the chest like a large iron fist. Catapulting backward, she skidded across the forest ground. When she finally screeched to a halt, she leaned forward and retched a mouthful of blood.

    Sprawled on the forest ground, she looked up with very real fear at the man now looming above her, his tall muscular form unyielding, his eyes with restrained violence. Finally realizing his identity from his martial arts, she gasped, “The martial arts technique you just used... It’s...it’s...Chung Nam Shadowless Swords!” She stuttered. “You’re Sit Chung Nam, the leader of the Floating Cloud Sect!”

    Without admitting or denying what she had exclaimed, Sit Chung Nam took a step forward, looking down upon Ling without any compassion.

    “Ugh, don’t come any closer!” Ling scooted backward fearfully. Swiping at the blood from the corner of mouth, Ling glared over at Yan’s direction. “Congratulations, Little Sister.” She laughed bitterly. “You’ve found yourself a winner this time.” She jerked her head toward Sit Chung Nam, who towered over her menacingly, his expression unsympathetic. “He’s a handsome one, isn’t he? My dear husband would be heartbroken to know that you’ve forgotten about him so quickly and have replaced him with someone else.” She spat at Yan.

    At the mention of her brother-in-law Kuk Wai, Yan’s angelic features turned murderous. “Be quiet,” she warned her elder sister in an enraged, yet soft, voice. “I don’t want to talk about Elder Brother anymore.” Turning to Sit Chung Nam, Yan stated loud and clear, “If you kill my elder sister for me right this instant, I will grant you three wishes.”

    Grinning slyly, Chung Nam gave Yan a sideways glance and raised an eyebrow at her, amused that she thought she was in a bargaining position. She will belong to him tonight, whether he helped her finish off her elder sister or not. However, since he would prefer a cooperative bride rather than a spitting angry one, he will humor her.

    “Three wishes, huh? May I wish for anything?” He asked in a mocking tone.

    Laughing with sarcasm, Ling swallowed a groan of pain as she shifted a few more paces away from Sit Chung Nam. “You believe her?” She snorted incredulously. “My beautiful little sister promises every man three wishes when it suits her. Yet when it comes time to grant the wishes, she will somehow find a way to renege on her promises. I, on the other hand, always keep my word. If you help me get rid of Yan tonight, I promise that my Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan will be the Floating Cloud Sect’s ally forever. With our two clans joined as friends, we could dominate the entire martial arts world!”

    Smirking maliciously, Sit Chung Nam shook his head at Ling’s ludicrous proposition. “What makes you think I want the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan as an ally? I don’t like sharing my ruling power with anyone. I have a better plan. After I kill you, I will take over the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan as its new leader.”

    With those threatening words, Sit Chung Nam moved forward. With every step he took forward, Ling scrambled backward two paces. Then, without warning, she lunged upward and ran toward her younger sister Yan. Pivoting around, Chung Nam grabbed onto her shoulders from behind in an attempt to prevent Ling from harming Yan. Without warning, she suddenly swung around and surprised him by thrusting her palms forward. With Ling’s proximity and rapidly approaching palms, Chung Nam was forced to parry without having a chance to first block off his major accupressure points to prevent advancement of the Blood Shadow Palm poison through his circulation upon contact with Ling’s palms. As he received her Blood Shadow Palm, he sent a surge of internal energy forward through his palms, throwing Ling through the air and immediately breaking contact with her poisonous palms, thus minimizing his exposure to the poison.

    Already feeling the Blood Shadow Palm’s poison beginning to seep into him from his unavoidable contact with Ling’s palms, Chung Nam immediately and inconspicuously diverted fifty percent of his internal energy toward his palms, hoping to impede further advancement of the poison from his palms to the rest of his body. Outwardly, he remained calm, appearing uninjured and well.

    As Ling reeled uncontrollably through the air, a nearby tree trunk finally stopped her flight. Bouncing off the tree trunk, she landed unceremoniously onto the ground. At that moment, a flurry of arrows shot out from within the darkness. Reacting swiftly, Sit Chung Nam pushed Yan out of target range and somersaulted agilely through the air, single-handedly catching all the arrows. With a flick of his wrist, he flung the arrows back into the dark foliage, killing the two dozen Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan members who had just arrived to rescue Fa Heung Ling.

    From his peripheral vision, he saw a flash of crimson approaching from his left. Swiveling around just in time, he spied Ling flying toward him, her palms aiming for him. Reflexively, he somersaulted backward to avoid her poisonous palms. When he landed back onto the ground, Ling had disappeared into the darkness.

    Yan rushed forward at that moment, tugging on Sit Chung Nam’s arm. “Go after her! She’s injured! This is the most opportune time to finish her off!”

    However, Chung Nam remained inert, his posture stiff and tense, as he ignored Yan. Staring cautiously in the direction in which Ling had escaped, he waited. As seconds and then minutes passed without any indication of Ling’s return, he gradually relaxed his posture once he realized that she had indeed disappeared and won’t be returning. His breaths started coming in rapid, labored spurts as he abruptly doubled over, his face grimacing in agony. Staring down at his palms, he swore profusely at the purplish black discoloration starting to form on his hands. Pulling up his gown sleeve, he noticed that the discoloration had spread up his arm. With a resolute expression on his face, he swiftly ripped apart his gown. Stripping down to only his pants, he saw that the purplish black discoloration had tracked up from his arms to the center of his chest.

    Consciously keeping his breaths controlled, he immediately settled himself down into a meditation position on the ground, with his legs crossed. Placing his palms together, he gathered his internal energy toward the core of his body, nurturing it, allowing it to exponentiate in power. His upper body muscles tensed and contracted from the extreme effort, while tiny rivers of sweat trickled down his bare torso. After several minutes of complete concentration, he quickly swept his palms upward, forcefully ejecting the poison from the Blood Shadow Palm out. Retching up a puddle of tarry black blood, he coughed and spat out the last drop of poison.

    Even as he swiped at the blood on his lips, a feminine hand reached toward his face, the slender fingers trailing down his cheek in wonderment. Catching hold of that hand, Chung Nam turned to face Yan, who kneeled next to him on the forest ground.

    “Admiring my handsomeness, Little Fairy?” He joked, despite the beads of sweat glistening on his forehead and his strained breathing from the effort of expelling the Blood Shadow Palm’s poison from his body.

    Grabbing his discarded gown, he carelessly dabbed at the slick sheen of perspiration covering his naked torso. In his mind, he grimly replayed his encounter with Ling’s Blood Shadow Palm. Aware that the Blood Shadow Palm attacked by injecting its poison into the victim through contact between the practitioner and the victim, Sit Chung Nam had taken particular care in avoiding direct contact with Ling’s palms during the fight, until the very end, when Ling had surprised him by feigning an attack on Yan and then unexpectedly turning onto him instead. Fortunately, he had blocked off his major accupressure points swiftly enough to contain the poison. Even with containment of the poison, if he had not possessed enough internal energy to expel the poison, he would have died anyway. Tonight’s encounter with Fa Heung Ling proved that the Blood Shadow Palm’s poison was especially virulent and unique. Immediately, he started to mentally devise a counter palm technique designed to ensure guaranteed victory over the Blood Shadow Palm without having to risk possible injury like this time. Preoccupied with his thoughts, he paid little notice to Yan, who continued to gawk at him.

    “Amazing!” Yan muttered to herself, afraid to believe that she had finally found the help she needed. “You’re the first person I know who has survived my elder sister’s Blood Shadow Palm!” She mumbled, talking more to herself than to Sit Chung Nam.

    “Of course, I survived.” Chung Nam answered wryly. “I need to stay alive to collect on that promise you made.” He gave her a meaningful sideways glance, while flinging aside his sweat-soaked gown.

    Abruptly, out of nowhere, Yan slapped Chung Nam across the cheek, as if to prove to herself that this man, who had survived her elder sister’s poisonous palm technique, was not a figment of her imagination.

    “Hey!” Chung Nam turned his head completely toward Yan and gawked at her in complete shock.

    Still unsure if she was in a wishful dream, Yan stared speculatively at Sit Chung Nam, who rubbed at his stinging cheek with a disgruntled scowl on his face. Momentarily forgetting that he was a formidable enemy, Yan, against her better judgment, leaned toward Sit Chung Nam and pinched his cheeks hard, shaking his head from side to side like a rag doll. Then, with the lightening speed of a curious child, she slapped his cheek again.

    “Ouch! Hey!” Chung Nam growled, more from extreme indignity than from pain.

    Oblivious of his protests, she furrowed her brows and peered at him curiously. “You’re not a figment of my dream? I have finally found someone who can defeat the Blood Shadow Palm? Do you know how long I have been waiting for this day?” Without waiting for Chung Nam’s answer, Yan reached up and tried to slap him again, thinking that if she slapped him enough times and she still didn’t jerk awake, then this must not be a dream.

    This time, however, Chung Nam swiftly intercepted her hand, saving himself from getting whacked on the cheek again. No one had ever slapped him before. No one had dared to even poke a finger at him without having to suffer consequences. Yet somehow this dainty maiden had managed to catch him off guard long enough to take two swings at him and pinch his cheeks. Unsure if he should be laughing or screaming in anger, he opted to glower silently at her instead.

    Still in a dazed state of disbelief, Yan wriggled her hand from his grasp and again tried to take a swing at his other cheek. Sighing with exasperation, he grabbed onto her wrist more tightly this time and yanked her forward into his arms. With a quick twist of his body, he pinned her to the ground. “Just what are you doing, sweetheart?” He leaned close to her face and whispered against her lips.

    “You’re not dead? You really survived the Blood Shadow Palm?” Oblivious of her compromising position, Yan, her expression laced with disbelief and wonder, peered up at him as if he were some oddity.

    Unable to stop herself, she made a move to slap him again. Anticipating her intentions, Chung Nam hastily pinned her wrists above her head, immobilizing her arms. “No more slapping,” he warned her, his eyes flashing dangerously. “No one has ever dared to slap me before.” Even as he admonished her, his heart relented a bit when he gazed into her wide, mesmerizing eyes. Leaning down, he breathed softly into her ear. “I’ll overlook your actions just this once,” he stated magnanimously as he nuzzled her ear with his nose before trailing his lips down the side of her slender neck. “Mmm, my beautiful prize...” He murmured, closing his eyes in pleasure.

    However, while Chung Nam was occupied nibbling at her neck, Yan snuck her hands free from his grasp and delivered a resounding slap to his cheek. “Get off me!” No longer in awe with his martial arts prowess, she glared venomously at him while stubbornly suppressing her urge to scream.

    Lifting his head up, he swore furiously. “All right, that’s it! That’s one slap too many!” He snarled at her. “Time to grant me my first wish, sweetheart.”

    Immobilizing her with his much heavier weight, he nailed her body to the ground. Pressing his lips down hard upon hers, he aggressively forced her mouth open with his tongue and devoured her. Ignoring her muffled screams and struggles, he caught her flailing arms and pinned them above her head with one hand, while his other free hand found her waist sash in a matter of seconds and yanked it apart. Ripping her gown at the neckline, he revealed one smooth shoulder. Fascinated by her warm and soft skin, he let go of her wrists, allowing his hands to wander freely over her body. While keeping his lips firmly against hers, he caressed her exposed body with his hands, her buckling and squirming exciting him even further.

    Finally managing to rip her lips away from his, Yan jerked her head to the side. Undeterred, Chung Nam simply angled his head sideways and sucked at the warm tender skin at the underside of her jaw. Fighting viciously, Yan clawed at his bare shoulders, digging into hard muscle with her fingernails. However, despite drawing blood with her nails, Sit Chung Nam did not even flinch from the pain, as he continued doing as he pleased. Desperate now, she frantically hammered at his back and pushed hard at his chest. Unfortunately, her actions only encouraged him to press himself down more securely on top of her. Finally, out of breath, she allowed her body to go limp under him. Her sudden compliance caused him to stop his assault on her.

    Lifting his head up, Chung Nam stared down at Yan, his head still spinning from arousal. However, her soft cry of distress doused his passionate haze.

    Sniffling daintily, Yan announced in a quivering voice, “You’re so heavy you’re hurting me.” As she gazed at him imploringly with her large, midnight blue eyes, one large fat tear rolled down her cheek.

    Alarmed that he was crushing her, he elevated himself and supported his weight on his forearms, thus giving her some wiggle room underneath him. Breathing heavily from lust, he leaned his forehead against hers, his lips rubbing against hers as he apologized, his voice hoarse and breathless. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. Don’t cry.”

    Suddenly, without any warning, she kneed him in the groin. Though her aim was slightly off target, she was nonetheless able to inflict enough damage. As he doubled over in pain, she pushed hard against him, dislodging him off of her. Immediately, she rolled away from him and scrambled up, taking off at a run while hastily adjusting her gown and retying her waist sash. Unfortunately, he recovered quickly. She had barely traveled ten feet before he somersaulted over her head and landed in front of her, blocking her escape path.

    “Uh, uh,” he wagged his finger at her warningly, his expression livid. “Where are you going, my little fairy? I just risked my life to save you. You haven’t conveniently forgotten your promise to me, have you?” He gave her a hard, threatening stare.

    “No, I haven’t forgotten what I promised you.” Yan raised her chin proudly. “I recall the condition of the promise is that you have to disable my elder sister’s martial arts and then kill her, neither of which you have done.” She pointed out challengingly.

    “Ah, those are only minor details, which I will accomplish eventually.” Reaching a hand forward, he caressed her cheek. “However, since I risked my life for you, I want compensation now. Whether you are willing or not, you will be mine. Don’t force me to drag you kicking and screaming back to Floating Cloud Summit.”

    Swatting his hand aside, she hurriedly backed away from him. Darting her eyes left and then right, she forced herself to calm down enough to evaluate her options with a clear mind. She knew very well it would be impossible to escape Sit Chung Nam. She was able to evade him earlier because she had the element of surprise on her side. It would be difficult to catch him off guard a second time. Even if she were able to somehow elude him tonight, her elder sister would find her soon and execute her. Unable to return home to the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan and without any allies, she would die eventually, especially without any martial arts to defend herself. With only one feasible option, she made an unorthodox decision at the spur of the moment.

    “Fine!” She retorted with bad temper. “I’ll go willingly with you to Floating Cloud Summit, but you have to promise me three things.”

    Chuckling incredulously, Chung Nam crossed his arms across his chest. “You aren’t exactly in the position to negotiate, sweetheart.”

    Responding with a saccharine smile, she unexpectedly squatted down quickly and picked up a jagged piece of rock on the ground near her feet. “Sure I have negotiating power.” Holding the sharp edge of the rock to her cheek, she glowered at him challengingly. “I know you like my beauty. How would you feel if I scratch up my face with this sharp rock?” She moved her hand, as if to scrape the pointy edge of the rock against her soft skin.

    “No, don’t!” Chung Nam called out urgently. He took a step closer to her, only to have her yell out at him.

    “Don’t come a step closer, or I’ll scratch myself!” Yan warned him.

    Scowling, he nodded reluctantly. “All right, all right.” He clenched his teeth, enraged. “What are the three things you want me to promise you?”

    “First, I want you to help me dethrone my elder sister and regain control of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. After we regain control of the clan, I will be clan leader, not you.” Yan held his gaze steadily.

    “Fine.” Chung Nam answered curtly.

    “Second,” Yan continued, “my elder sister destroyed my martial arts skills. I’m completely defenseless and cannot effectively rule as clan leader without any martial arts skills. Therefore, I want you to teach me your martial arts.”

    Raising one eyebrow with amusement, Chung Nam smiled at Yan. “I don’t take students, but for my lovely bride-to-be, I’ll make an exception.”

    Unamused, she glared back at him. “Third, even if I agree to become your woman, you’re limited to only two conjugal visits each month.” She bargained with him daringly.

    “WHAT?!” Chung Nam exploded.

    “All right, fine! Is that too many conjugal visits for you? How about just one visit each month?” Yan suggested impudently.

    “WHAT?!” He hollered even louder this time. Steam could have puffed out of Sit Chung Nam’s ears if that were possible.

    “Fine! Zero conjugal visits it is then! You don’t have to marry me at all.” Yan retorted, deliberately baiting the incensed bandit leader. “I will be perfectly happy being your disciple only.”

    Before she finished her statement, Chung Nam flashed forward so quickly that she didn’t even have a chance to react. Encircling his hand around her wrist, he exacted enough pressure to force her to release the rock in her hand. “Enough of this nonsense!” He growled at her as the rock bounced harmlessly to the ground. “I’ve humored you long enough with your first two conditions, my little fairy. But I want unlimited access to my own wife! You can think about what you want for your third promise after we’re married.” Drawing her close to him so that he could feel her soft body next to his, he leaned down so that his lips almost touched hers. With his breath hot and moist against her lips, he warned, “And there will be plenty of conjugal visits.” With that very suggestive threat, he started pulling her along behind him as he stated in a firm tone. “Time to go to Floating Cloud Summit. We don’t want to miss our own wedding night.”

    When she tried to dig in her heels, he sighed and leaned down. Easily swinging her petite form up into his arms, he walked off toward Floating Cloud Sect, disregarding her indignant squeals. “Stop squirming, or I may drop you accidentally. It’ll hurt and you might break a leg. Then how are you going to try to escape from me, hmm?”

    Ignoring his advice, Yan flipped and buckled defiantly in his arms anyway, heedless of the fact that she might crash to the ground. Unwilling to go down without a fight, she whacked at his bare chest, refusing to wince at the stinging pain shooting up her arm as her hand contacted hard muscle.

    “Ah, it seems that I have kidnapped a feisty little devil instead of a gentle little fairy.” Sit Chung Nam remarked with sudden good humor.

    “Hmph!” Yan muttered before whacking at his shoulder again.

    Carrying her, he disappeared further into the dark night, his laughter, rich and deep, trailing behind him.

    DAWN
    THREE HOURS LATER
    FLOATING CLOUD SUMMIT
    MAIN RECEPTION HALL OF FLOATING CLOUD SECT

    Fifty men, cloaked in complete black, stood to attention in the main reception hall of the Floating Cloud Sect, their posture straight and tall. Strapped to each man’s back were a bow and a quiver filled with arrows. A the far end of the hall, Sung Hin, Sit Chung Nam’s second-in-command, paced back and forth, nodding in satisfaction at the men’s readiness.

    “Sect Leader wants us to split up, thirty men will head up to Heavenly Crane School, while the other twenty men will stay at the base of Mount Heavenly Crane.” Sung Hin reiterated the plan of attack. “Our mission is to kill every Heavenly Crane School member, even if he surrenders. Like always, we do not want to leave any survivors who could come back for revenge. Once Sect Leader returns, we will set out.”

    The fifty bandits answered with a collective yes. At that moment, a set of footsteps strode firmly across the floor. The bandits, including Sung Hin, turned toward the entrance of the reception hall. Noticing their leader, they straightened and greeted him in unison. However, their eyes were immediately drawn to the exquisitely beautiful maiden in Sit Chung Nam’s arms. Blatant desire flashed in every bandit’s eyes, while some swallow involuntarily.

    Unaware of her audience, Yan rested in deep slumber, after having struggled strenuously in Sit Chung Nam’s arms for an exhausting three hours on their journey to Floating Cloud Summit. Her eyes closed, she leaned her cheek against her captor’s chest and drowsily nuzzled against his warm, bare skin. Sighing gently in sleep, she unconsciously tightened her arms around Chung Nam’s neck, before becoming still again.

    “Sect Leader,” Sung Hin approached Sit Chung Nam. “We are ready to attack Heavenly Crane School.” Even though he tried to stare straight ahead into Chung Nam’s face, he nonetheless found his gaze trailing downward to the young maiden in his sect leader’s arms. So awed by her angelic looks, he cannot stop himself from ogling for just a few seconds. Clearing his throat self-consciously, Sung Hin quickly darted his gaze upward, just in time to find Sit Chung Nam staring coldly at him. Fearfully, he lowered his gaze to the floor.

    His lips curled slightly at the corners, Chung Nam continued to glare at his second-in-command. Sweating profusely, Sung Hin kept his gaze directed at his feet, his heart thundering anxiously, regretting having dared laid eyes on the heavenly maiden sleeping in Chung Nam’s arms. Finally, after five unbearable seconds, the bandit leader slowly turned toward the fifty other men in the hall, all who have discreetly kept their eyes away from Yan, apprehensive of Chung Nam’s wrath.

    After another five intense seconds of silence, Sit Chung Nam finally spoke, his voice firm, with an underlying menacing tone. “You may all look up now. I know you all want to just stare at her.”

    His men shifted uncomfortably before lifting their heads warily.

    Smiling affably, despite the very obvious chill in his eyes, Chung Nam deliberately remarked, “Heavenly, isn’t she?”

    When no one dared to respond, he slowly scrutinized each member of his sect, his belligerent carriage and dark expression an unspoken challenge to any man who dared to stare at Yan lasciviously. Silence, tense and thick, hovered over the reception hall of Floating Cloud Sect, like a heavy blanket, suffocating every man. Finally, after one unbearably long minute, Sit Chung Nam spoke again.

    “This young woman is my new bride. Many of you may have already heard of her. She is Clan Leader Black Rose from the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. From this day on, you will refer to her as Mistress. She belongs to me only.” Chung Nam stated emphatically. “If I so much as catch you eying her with desire, you will be executed immediately without being given an opportunity for explanation. Am I clear?”

    “Yes, Sect Leader!” His men answered with apprehension.

    Nodding with satisfaction, Chung Nam walked toward a dark cherry wood bench at the far wall of the reception hall and gently laid Yan onto it. When she rolled toward him in her sleep, he lightly ran his fingers through her loose hair, smiling slightly to himself. Then feeling his sect members’ stares, he caressed Yan’s cheek briefly with one hand, his thumb lingering on the softness of her skin, before reluctantly leaving her side.

    Chung Nam walked toward the center of the reception hall, where Sung Hin waited for him. Turning to Sung Hin, he instructed, “After I settle her in, we will head off to Mount Heavenly Crane. I want you to lead a back up contingent of twenty men to surround the base of the mountain. The other thirty men will come with me.”

    “Are we to attack Heavenly Crane School as planned?” Sung Hin inquired.

    Smiling grimly, Chung Nam shook his head slightly. “No. We’re going to Mount Heavenly Crane as previously discussed, but we are not going to attack. I have a different plan. Send two scouts out to the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. I want them to report back to me all possible routes leading into and out of the clan, including routes leading to dead ends. I also want to know how many sentries are stationed at each entrance and exit at any given moment. Most importantly, I need the scouts to report back the condition of Poison Snake’s injury and how the morale is within the clan.”

    “What’s going on, Sect Leader?” Sung Hin asked, puzzled.

    “Apparently, the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan is suffering from internal strife.” Chung Nam explained. “The clan members’ loyalties have split between the two sisters. The elder sister, Poison Snake, has killed most of her younger sister’s supporters. The rest have surrendered, intimidated by Poison Snake’s Blood Shadow Palm.” A sly glint entering his eyes, he smiled slyly. “United, they stand; divided, they fall. This is the opportunity I have been waiting for to invade and take over the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.”

    “But even with a civil war brewing within the clan, the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan still outnumbers us ten to one.” Sung Hin expressed his concern.

    Turning so that he stared straight into his second-in-command’s eyes, Chung Nam answered, “Which is why I’m holding off our attack on Heavenly Crane School.”

    “Sect Leader, are you considering an alliance with the orthodox schools?” Sung Hin looked surprise.

    “For now,” Chung Nam smirked, his expression calculating. “I want to use the orthodox clans’ man power to help us invade the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. That way, we won’t have to needlessly sacrifice our own men. After we gain control of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, we turn on the Heavenly Crane School and take over Mount Heavenly Crane as well. Although there is no direct and convenient route connecting Mount Heavenly Crane and Floating Cloud Summit, Mount Heavenly Crane nonetheless sits right at the intersection of two of the most well-traveled roads used by merchants and trading companies. If we gain control of Mount Heavenly Crane, we’ll be able to easily ambush these traders.”

    “I see...” Sung Hin nodded with understanding now. “Then what do we do now?”

    “We head out to Heavenly Crane School to discuss with the orthodox schools the conditions of our alliance.” Chung Nam’s smile deepened, his clean-cut, handsome countenance belying his dishonorable intentions.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking

    CHAPTER 4 --- THE ALLIANCE

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
    Lawrence Yan Chi Keung---Ling Dong 凌東
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Yuan Hong---Sung Hin 宋顯

    DAWN
    ONE HOUR LATER
    HEAVENLY CRANE SCHOOL
    MAIN RECEPTION HALL

    Outside, the first rays of pale light burst through the thick layer of fluffy clouds, splashing the sky with a silvery brightness as night started to recede. Gradually, brilliant streaks of pink, orange, and red colored the horizon, filling the sky with a kaleidoscope of radiance, readying it for the arrival of the rising sun. A bald eagle burst through the clouds at that instant just when the horizon blossomed fully with vibrant hues, the bird’s feathery head a resplendent powdery white against the tapestry of blazing reds, oranges, and pinks.

    To many, a new dawn represented a new day, a new hope. However, for the two hundred Heavenly Crane School members standing stiffly at their posts inside Heavenly Crane School, this particular dawn signaled a day of impending bloodshed as an inevitable attack from the Floating Cloud Sect loomed over their heads. Leader Luk of the Heavenly Crane School sat unflinchingly on his chair at the far end of the reception hall, his eyes trained intently on the entranceway of the hall, as if expecting Sit Chung Nam’s bandits to rush through any minute. To Leader Luk’s right, the leaders of the other three orthodox schools, along with a handful of their best disciples, had gathered to lend the Heavenly Crane School their support. Grimly, they all knew what they had to do this very day; they shall fight until their death rather than relinquish control of their home to the bandits.

    Then, as the first rays of sunlight peaked in through the windows, a flurry of footsteps pounded just outside the reception hall entrance. Within seconds, thirty men, clothed in black with bows and arrows strapped to their backs, somersaulted rapidly into the main hall in two rows of fifteen men each. As they landed, forming two perfect rows flanking each side of the long reception hall, a flash of white streaked through the air between the two rows of bandits.

    Recognizing Sit Chung Nam’s approach, Leader Luk raised his arm to signal to his disciples to attack. The orthodox clan members charged at the Floating Cloud Sect bandits. Immediately, the bandits shifted into a two-level octagonal formation. As the bandits stationed at the outer layer of the bottom tier of the formation fended off the attack from the orthodox clan students, several bandits from within the interior of the bottom tier unexpectedly emerged, shooting triple arrows at the orthodox clan members. Meanwhile, the bandits composing the top tier of the octagonal formation sprayed arrows down from above.

    At the same time, Sit Chung Nam shot through the air at lightening speed toward Leader Luk. Forced to vacate his chair to receive the bandit’s palms, Leader Luk somersaulted into the air. The minute Leader Luk’s palms contacted those of his opponent’s, he felt a surge of internal energy that threw him backward through the air like a rag doll. Luckily, before he crashed to his death, Leader Hong from the Mount Soaring Eagle School flew forward and raised his arms up to support Leader Luk from the back, boosting his comrade back up into the air. With the extra help, Leader Luk flipped twice and was able to safely land onto the floor.

    Immediately, Sit Chung Nam lunged forward, prompting Leader Luk to also advance forward with his arms outstretched. As both men’s palms clashed again, Leader Hong slammed his palms against Leader Luk’s back, giving Leader Luk an extra boost of internal energy. Behind Leader Hong, Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan lent his support, also. Finally, rounding up the rear, Leader Ding from the Red Raven Clan slapped his palms up against Leader Ma’s back. With their combined strength, all four orthodox clan leaders entered into a battle for dominance with Sit Chung Nam. However, this combined power only managed to buy the orthodox clan leaders an additional five minutes before Sit Chung Nam’s more superior internal energy pushed them backward.

    Breaking contact with Leader Luk’s palms, Sit Chung Nam thrust his palms forward and punched Leader Luk on the chest, causing him to fly backward and knock into the other three clan leaders behind him. As they toppled against each other like falling dominoes, the bandit leader leapt upward and tore off a long piece of fabric from a nearby window curtain. With a brisk flick of his wrist, he lassoed the four orthodox clan members together and flung them through the air. Just before they crashed to the ground, he flashed forward with lightening speed, kicking four chairs forward, just in time for the orthodox clan leaders to land perfectly right into the seats of the chairs. Realizing that they did not crash to the ground, the four leaders huffed and puffed. Even before they could recover, Sit Chung Nam leapt over the heads of several orthodox clan students who foolishly tried to barricade his path and landed smoothly onto Leader Luk’s chair.

    Leaning calmly against the chair’s back rest as if he belonged there, Sit Chung Nam chuckled deeply, his gaze directed at the orthodox clan leaders struggling to stand up from their seats. “Oh, please take a seat.” He gestured graciously, as if he, rather than Leader Luk, were the host. “I have something I would like to discuss with you.” He smiled congenially, while the four leaders gaped at him in disbelief.

    In the background, the orthodox clan disciples and the bandits continued to battle.

    As Sit Chung Nam continued to smile, unruffled, he suggested to the four clan leaders, “Perhaps, you would like to order your students to stop their attack so that we can discuss a very important matter?” Raising a questioning eyebrow at the four leaders, he waited for an answer.

    Glancing at each other uncertainly, the four leaders slowly sat back down onto their chairs. As they signaled for their students to stand down, Sit Chung Nam also waved aside his men.

    As both sides ceased fighting, Leader Luk limped forward and demanded, “What game are you playing now, Sit Chung Nam?”

    Smiling agreeably, Chung Nam spread his arms apart in a friendly gesture. “This is not a game, Leader Luk. I’ve given your talk of an alliance between my Floating Cloud Sect and your orthodox schools some thought and feel that it is indeed a marvelous suggestion that will benefit both parties.”

    “You’re saying...” Leader Luk spoke hesitantly.

    “I will agree to an alliance and help you go up against the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s Blood Shadow Palm if you will lend me your men for additional man power.” Chung Nam clarified. “As you know, the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan outnumbers my sect ten to one. Even though I have absolute confidence in my men’s ability to win in battle even if outnumbered, I am unwilling to take unnecessary risks and blindly lead my men to their death. If you will provide me with ten orthodox clan students for every one man I have, I will take care of Poison Snake’s Blood Shadow Palm.”

    “Why have you suddenly agreed to help us, Sit Chung Nam?” Leader Hong from the Mount Soaring Eagle School questioned skeptically.

    Behind Leader Hong, his top student Ling Dong, looked on with interest. However, in the deep recesses of Ling Dong’s mind, a warning bell sounded off. Instinct told him that someone as devious as Sit Chung Nam would not so easily offer his help. There must be a catch.

    “Very simple.” Chung Nam responded in a matter-of-fact voice. “I have decided that the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s territory is much more beneficial to my sect than Mount Heavenly Crane’s territory. However, I want to ensure a guaranteed victory and do not want my sect’s smaller numbers to become a possible disadvantage.” Raising a questioning eyebrow at the four orthodox clan leaders, he asked. “So what do you say, Leaders? If we form an alliance and succeed in destroying the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, I will gain that clan’s territory, while you will be rid of the menace of the Blood Shadow Palm.”

    Exchanging uncertain glances with each other, the four leaders hesitated.

    “And what of my Heavenly Crane School?” Leader Luk demanded.

    “I will leave your school in peace. Once I gain control of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan’s territory, I will no longer have any interest in Mount Heavenly Crane and your school, Leader Luk.” Chung Nam retorted, giving the orthodox clan leader a smooth smile.

    Huddling together to conference with each other about this unexpected offer from the bandit leader, the four leaders muttered back and forth. Meanwhile, to their right, Ling Dong frowned at Sit Chung Nam, somewhat distrustful of the bandit, but willing to defer to his elders’ decision.

    After a few minutes of intense discussion, Leader Luk finally broke away from the group and nodded at Sit Chung Nam. “On behalf of the four orthodox schools and clans, Leaders Ma, Hong, Ding, and I accept your offer of alliance.”

    Beaming, Sit Chung Nam leaned back against Leader Luk’s chair. “Fine, it’s settled then. I do have one condition. For optimal and efficient functioning, the alliance needs one unifying leader, not several separate leaders. Since I will be the one going up against the most dangerous member of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, I am establishing myself as Alliance Leader, with supreme control over the four orthodox clans and with full authority over the tactical deployment of the clan members during the attack.”

    “What?!” Leader Hong from the Mount Soaring Eagle Clan burst out indignantly. “You’re declaring yourself leader of all the orthodox schools and clans?!”

    Just as angry as Leader Hong, Leader Ding from the Red Raven Clan exclaimed, “This is outrageous!” He pointed an accusing finger at Sit Chung Nam. “I knew it was too good to be true when you agreed to help us destroy the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan!”

    Leader Ma from the Golden Tiger Clan slammed his fist down on a nearby table. “Ever since the establishment of the four orthodox schools and clans, each clan has always maintained its sovereignty. Now you, a notorious, unscrupulous bandit, dares to suggest that we hand over control of our clans to you?!”

    “Yes,” Sit Chung Nam answered unflinchingly. “Do you have a problem with that?”

    “Do I have a problem with that? DO I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT???” Leader Ma bellowed at that ludicrous question. The veins at his temples bulged out, showing his extreme agitation. “Who do you think you are, Sit Chung Nam?”

    Leader Ma took a challenging step toward the bandit leader, but Leader Luk grabbed onto his shoulders in time before another fight ensued. “Wait, Brother Ma!” Leader Luk tried to reason with the furious Leader Ma. “Sit Chung Nam is the only hope we have against the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. Without his help, we are defenseless against the Blood Shadow Palm.”

    “Brother Luk is correct. Unfortunately, this bandit leader is our only hope for survival.” Leader Hong sighed.

    Turning to whisper furiously to his other fellow orthodox clan leaders, Leader Ma asked incredulously. “But he’s demanding that we surrender control of our clans to him! It would be synonymous to hailing him as Chancellor! The orthodox clans and schools must not serve under the rule of a dishonorable bandit!”

    “Brother Ma, we all understand exactly what Sit Chung Nam is demanding, but desperate times call for desperate measures.” Leader Ding injected. “Even if we aren’t afraid of dying at the hands of the Blood Shadow Palm, at least think of the livelihood of our students and their families!”

    “What makes you think he’ll leave us in peace after he gets rid of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan?” Leader Ma fretted.

    “We can’t predict what will happen after the fall of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, but we all know exactly what will happen now if Sit Chung Nam doesn’t help us. The Blood Shadow Palm will annihilate us.” Leader Luk laid out the cold facts. “We have no choice but to align ourselves with Sit Chung Nam and his Floating Cloud Sect. Besides, wasn’t this what we wanted when we dangled Black Rose in front of his nose?”

    As the four leaders continued to debate in whispers, Sit Chung Nam’s irritated voice intruded upon their discussion. “Hey! Are you four finished with your little conference over there? I don’t have all day. If you don’t wish to form this alliance, then I want everyone to vacate Heavenly Crane School now, because my Floating Cloud Sect is taking over it. After all, if we aren’t friends, then we’re enemies.”

    “Sit Chung Nam!” Leader Ma swung around and pointed his sword at the bandit leader. “I’ve had enough of your pompous, mightier-than-thou attitude!”

    He took a step forward, as if to charge at Sit Chung Nam, who simply relaxed arrogantly in Leader Luk’s chair, unconcerned with Leader Ma’s anger. However, before Leader Ma could do anything rash, all three of his fellow clan leaders quickly blocked his way, holding the infuriated man back.

    “Think! Stop and think calmly for a moment, Brother Ma!” Leader Hong muttered urgently.

    “We all understand how angry you must be, Brother Ma, but we need this alliance!” Leader Luk whispered hurriedly before Leader Ma could antagonize Sit Chung Nam any further.

    Throwing his fellow clan leaders a questioning look, Leader Luk silently asked for a decision on the alliance. Leaders Ding and Hong noded readily. The angry Leader Ma, on the other hand, hesitated for a split second before also agreeing reluctantly.

    Taking a deep breath, Leader Luk stepped forward and held Sit Chung Nam’s gaze steadily. “Sect Leader Sit, we agree to an alliance between the four orthodox clans and the Floating Cloud Sect. We also agree to make you Alliance Leader.”

    Nodding with satisfaction, Sit Chung Nam leaned back against the chair, and throwing his head back, chuckled, his deep and sly laugh echoing through the Heavenly Crane School’s reception hall....

    MEANWHILE
    FLOATING CLOUD SECT

    “Let me out! Let me out!” Fa Heung Yan pummeled her fists against the locked door of her chamber.

    “I’m sorry, Mistress.” One of the men guarding outside her chamber replied. “Sect Leader gave strict orders before he left for Mount Heavenly Crane that you must remain inside your chamber. He asked us to tell you that he will be back shortly after he negotiates an alliance with the orthodox clans.”

    “I’m not your mistress! Your sect leader kidnapped me! I demand that you release me this instant!” Yan rattled the door incessantly. “I’m going to turn your sect leader into a toad!” She threatened. “I can do that, you know! I’ll turn you all into toads if you don’t let me go!”

    Outside the chamber, one of the guards, a stout man with a ruddy complexion, grinned with amusement as he exchanged a look with his fellow Floating Cloud Sect member, a man with lanky build and a long face.

    “It looks like the little beauty inside has a quite a fiery temper.” The stout man remarked facetiously. “I’ll bet you two gold ingots that she’ll manage to injure Sect Leader.”

    Choking with mirth, the lanky man raised his eyebrows at his companion. “I have yet to see an opponent easily injure Sect Leader. Besides, Sect Leader warned us about accidentally harming her because she doesn’t know martial arts. How can a little angel without martial arts skills injure Sect Leader?”

    “That ‘little angel‘ in there,” the stout man gestured toward Yan’s chamber, “is not just any ordinary opponent. She has the sharp claws of a devil. She is probably in that room right now plotting Sect Leader’s death.” He guffawed.

    As the men chuckled, a loud crack sounded from behind the wooden door of Yan’s chamber, causing both men to wince.

    “Mistress, please stop kicking at the door. You’ll only hurt yourself.” The tall man called out to Yan through the door.

    On the other side of the door, Yan ignored the guard’s advice. Infuriated, she backed away from the door slightly and kicked at the thick solid wood, only to feel stinging pain shooting up her leg from the impact.

    “Ouch!” She leaned down and rubbed at her toes.

    Unwilling to give up, she hobbled over to the locked windows and gave the shutters an angry, ineffectual whack. Pursing her lips together, she scanned the room for something to throw at the windows. Unfortunately, Sit Chung Nam had apparently anticipated her attempt to escape before he left to negotiate an alliance with the orthodox sects on Mount Heavenly Crane and had ordered her room cleared of all objects that Yan could use to barricade herself inside the chamber or use to break out of the chamber. Other than the large bed nailed to the wooden floor and two wooden flower pots on her windowsill blooming with colorful blossoms, the chamber was devoid of all furniture, accessories, or decorations.

    She had been hollering for at least a couple of hours now, demanding for release. Two hours ago, she had woken up in this chamber alone. Even though she was initially disoriented, she quickly recalled nearly dying at Poison Snake’s Blood Shadow Palm. She remembered Sit Chung Nam’s intervention and his subsequent kidnapping a mere few hours ago. As the memories flooded back, she tore around the room, yanking at every window in the room. Finding the windows locked, she pounded on the door, insisting on seeing the bandit leader, only to be ignored by the two Floating Cloud Sect members stationed outside her chamber door.

    Now after hours of fruitless screaming, Yan finally sighed with frustration as she sank down onto the bed and exhaled with defeat. Staring glumly off into space, she sniffed faintly, tears of desperation threatening to spill from her eyes. Sniffing one more time, she straightened, refusing to collapse emotionally.

    “Of all the bad luck to run into that bandit leader...” Yan mumbled angrily to herself as she evaluated her situation. “I would teach that horrible man a lesson if only I had my bag of powders! That egotistical, pompous, arrogant, tyrannical man!” She stopped herself before she resorted to swearing inelegantly.

    Scowling, she scanned the room aimlessly, her gaze carelessly passing by the pots of plants on the windowsill. Suddenly, she leapt off the bed, her expression brightening as she ran over to the blooms. Examining the brilliant bulbs of crimson red nestled within sprigs of minty green leaves, Yan grinned mischievously, her eyes sparkling with laughter...

    ONE HOUR LATER

    “Hey,” the shorter Floating Cloud Sect member whispered to his taller companion. “How come it’s so quiet in there?” He plastered his ear against the cool, smooth wood of the door to Yan’s room. “She has not yelled once for an entire hour.”

    “Maybe she fell asleep after tiring herself out from all that kicking and screaming.” The tall man shrugged.

    “No, she couldn’t have fallen asleep. Someone as enraged as she is would not simply go to sleep.” The stout man objected. “Something is wrong! If something happens to her, Sect Leader will execute us!”

    With sweat beading his forehead from anxiety, he fumbled with the lock on the door and burst into Yan’s chamber, expecting to find her either somehow missing or dead. However, to his utter shock, he found her perched prettily on the edge of the bed, holding a dainty bloom of vibrant red.

    Looking up at the two confused men, Yan graced them with an angelic smile before turning her attention back to the flower in her hand. Stroking the petals, she ignored the two guards.

    Clearing his throat, the stout man blinked several times, a bit dazed at finding their previously very vocal and hostile hostage now sitting docilely on the bed, playing with a flower. “Um, we apologize for intruding into your chamber, Mistress. Please pardon our rudeness.”

    He turned to leave but stopped when he realized that his tall friend was still staring at the lovely Yan with fascination. Clearing his throat again, the shorter man tugged at his fellow sect member, his eyes shifting nervously around the room, as if expecting Sit Chung Nam to return any minute from Mount Heavenly Crane and strangle them for salivating after his beautiful prize.

    “Let’s go, Ah Fu. Let’s go before Sect Leader gets back!” The stout man whispered anxiously, pulling the taller man with him.

    “Do you know these flowers are edible?” Yan’s sweet voice halted the men’s footsteps. Raising her eyes slowly in a planned seductive move, she smiled slowly, the innocence in her eyes an alluring contrast to the provocative curve of her lips. “Would you like to try one? It tastes very sweet, like honey.” Daintily peeling off a petal from the bloom in her hand, she offered the petal to the lanky man named Ah Fu, immediately singling him out as the easier target.

    When Ah Fu blushed at her, Yan placed the petal on her tongue and chewed slowly. Then, removing another petal from the bloom in her hand, she handed it to him, giving him an expectant look. Wishing to please the comely maiden in front of him, the lanky guard reached over and took the petal from Yan’s hand. Imitating her action, he started chewing on the petal, surprised by its sweetness.

    “See?” Yan beamed at the tall man. “It tastes good, doesn’t it?”

    Nodding stupidly, Ah Fu mumbled something incoherently as he continued to chew.

    Offering a petal to the stout man, Yan smiled amicably. “Why don’t you try one, too?” When the stout man fidgeted nervously, she lowered her eyes dejectedly. “I know you don’t trust me, but I’m trying to make some friends here.”

    Seeing Yan’s disappointment, Ah Fu jabbed his fellow sect member in the ribs. “Try it, Ming! It has this very refreshing sweetness to it!” When Ming continued to regard the flower petal suspiciously, Ah Fu sighed. “Mistress is trying to befriend us.” He turned and grinned at Yan, his expression anything but friendly as his eyes roved down her body lasciviously. “Isn’t that right, Mistress?”

    Only curving her lips slightly in response, Yan offered the petal to Ming again.

    Shaking his head, Ming hesitated. “Sect Leader won’t like this.”

    “Sect Leader will be more upset if we ignore Mistress‘ gesture of friendship.” Ah Fu countered. “Eat it!”

    Sighing, Ming, against his better judgement, took the petal from Yan and sniffed at it before stuffing it into his mouth. As he chewed, he started to drag a reluctant Ah Fu out of Yan’s chamber. “All right, let’s go, Ah Fu. Sect Leader won’t be too happy if he finds us in here when he returns.”

    However, even before Ming could complete his statement, he heard a loud thump as Ah Fu dropped like a dead weight to the floor. “What is going on?!” He gasped, staring at his unconscious fellow sect member, bewildered. As realization dawned on him, he jerked around toward a smug Yan. “You!” He managed to exclaim before his vision turned gray. Right before he lost consciousness, he saw Yan’s blurry form approaching him...

    ONE HOUR LATER
    FLOATING CLOUD SECT
    MAIN HALL

    A cascade of freezing water rained mercilessly down onto Ming and Ah Fu’s faces, jolting both awake unceremoniously. Both men jerked upright to a sitting position immediately, confused and disoriented. Ming looked down at himself and gasped. In place of his black assassin’s robe, he was now wearing the feminine flowing pale yellow robe that belonged to Yan. Next to him, Ah Fu leapt up and swung toward the culprit responsible for his surprise bath. Sung Hin, holding an empty wooden bucket, stood to the right of the drenched Ah Fu, his expression solemn.

    “What is the meaning of this, Sung Hin?” Ah Fu demanded angrily.

    When Sung Hin only stared back at him silently, Ah Fu swiveled around, belligerent and ready for a fight. However, he stopped in his tracks the minute he spied the tall man at the end of the main hall. Gulping, Ah Fu backed away slightly, his eyes downcast.

    At the far end of the main hall, a tall man sat on an ornately carved chair from solid oak. Despite the chair’s large size, the man seated upon it somehow dwarfed it with his impressive, dominating presence. With his chiseled facial features and his muscular physique, he would have been considered pleasing to the eyes, if not for the disturbingly stormy expression on his tanned face. The carefully controlled fury burning behind his eyes and his taut posture reminded Ah Fu of a predatory animal, circling its prey with barely suppressed restraint, waiting for the right moment to pounce and devour.

    “Where is she?” Sit Chung Nam asked in a frighteningly composed voice.

    Ah Fu gulped nervously as he started to shake. Beside him, Ming, appearing ridiculous in Yan’s feminine gown, dropped down onto his knees, begging for his life.

    “Sect Leader!” Ming implored, knocking his forehead to the floor repeatedly, pleading for forgiveness. “Mistress...Mistress tricked us! She made us eat some flower petals and then we passed out! She must be wearing my clothes right now to avoid detection!”

    “Where is she?” Sit Chung Nam repeated his question calmly, but his eyes darkened dangerously.

    “We..we...we’re not sure.” Ah Fu stuttered, as he, too, fell down onto his knees next to Ming.

    “You’re not sure?” Sit Chung Nam whispered menacingly. “Weren’t you guarding her like I told you to?”

    “Ye...yes.” Ah Fu’s teeth clattered uncontrollably.

    Next to Ah Fu, Ming started to shake, his heartbeat echoing through his head like a death toll.

    “Then how did she get away?” The bandit leader inquired. “How did a petite maiden with no martial arts skills escape two trained assassins? HOW DID SHE LEAVE FLOATING CLOUD SECT TERRITORY WITHOUT ALERTING ANYONE’S NOTICE?” He slammed his fist down onto the wooden table next to his chair, splintering the wood neatly down the middle.

    Behind Ming and Ah Fu, twenty other sect members knelt down simultaneously.

    “Forgive us, Sect Leader!” One man spoke up. “After you and the majority of the members left for Mount Heavenly Crane at dawn, we received news of a contingent of wealthy merchants traveling by the base of Floating Cloud Summit. We didn’t want to let this opportunity slip by, so we left to raid that merchant group, leaving only Ah Fu and Ming to guard over Mistress. When we returned, we found Ah Fu and Ming unconscious in Mistress’ room. By that time, Mistress was already missing.”

    “It was the flower’s fault! We didn’t know those flowers blooming in Mistress’ chamber were poisonous! They had always been there! No one knew they were poisonous!” Ming babbled hurriedly. “I told Ah Fu not to eat those petals! I warned him that it was a trick.”

    “Mistress was smiling so prettily at us and offering us the flowers.” Ah Fu desperately tried to explain himself. “She even ate a petal first, and when nothing happened to her, I assumed the petals were safe to consume!” Scrambling toward Sit Chung Nam on all fours, the terrified man begged, “Please spare me, Sect Leader!

    “Yes,” Ming chimed in, sweat pouring in sheets down his ridiculously clothed body. “We didn’t know Mistress would be that clever! Please, Sect Leader! Give us a chance to rectify our mistakes!”

    “Yes, please, Sect Leader!” Ah Fu blubbered.

    “Silence!” Sit Chung Nam commanded. Disregarding Ah Fu and Ming temporarily, he directed his gaze toward the twenty assassins still kneeling down. “I will spare you this one time since I would have done exactly what you did and would have attacked the merchant group. However, in the future, if I emphasize that I want my future bride guarded, you are to leave enough men behind to watch her so that she cannot escape so easily. Understand?”

    “Yes, Sect Leader.” The twenty men nodded. “Thank you for sparing our lives.” Relieved, they retreated to one side of the main hall.

    “As for you two,” Sit Chung Nam snarled in a quiet voice, glaring at Ah Fu and Ming. “You know what you have to do.”

    Understanding the bandit leader’s meaning, Ming and Ah Fu exchanged horrified glances.

    “Sect Leader,” Ming began in a thin, shaky voice. However, he stopped when Sit Chung Nam stared back at him dispassionately. Knowing that further pleading will be futile, he swallowed hard and raised his hand. Cursing his misfortune, he brought his palm down hard onto his forehead, ending his own life with one blow.

    Beside him, Ah Fu shuddered uncontrollably while he watched in petrified silence as Ming’s body crashed to the floor. Unwilling to surrender to his fate without a fight, he scrambled up and tried to dash toward the entranceway. Immediately, Sit Chung Nam twisted through the air, reaching Ah Fu within seconds and palmed him on the top of the head. Spewing blood, Ah Fu died even before he slumped to the floor. Meanwhile, Sit Chung Nam executed a one-hundred eighty degree twist in the air and landed neatly back onto his chair. As he settled himself in, he stared indifferently at Ming and Ah Fu’s bodies for a moment before turning to Sung Hin.

    “Hin, I want you to dispatch a small group of our men to Mount Heavenly Crane.” Sit Chung Nam ordered. “I want the orthodox clans’ every move reported back to me. The orthodox clans may be our allies now, but once we reach our common goal of destroying the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, our next target will be Mount Heavenly Crane. Also, send out two scouts to survey the comings and goings of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan. Tell them to be discreet. I don’t want to alarm the enemy yet.”

    “Yes, Sect Leader.” Sung Hin nodded. “Umm...Sect Leader....” He paused for a second before continuing. “Would you like me to send out a search party for Mistress?”

    “No need.” The bandit leader replied curtly. “I believe I know where she is...”

    BLUE MOON VILLAGE
    FOREST OF SHIFTING ECHOES

    “Where is that travel sack?” Yan murmured impatiently as she rummaged around the bushes, searching for her travel bundle of medicinal powders that was left behind when Sit Chung Nam literally carried her off to Floating Cloud Summit.

    Earlier, after tricking those two foolish Floating Cloud Sect members into consuming the flower, dubbed by many as the Siren’s Kiss due to its poisonous and sleep-inducing properties, Yan had changed into Ming’s clothes, hoping to be less conspicuous disguised as a man. With luck on her side, she had slipped out of her chamber and discovered Floating Cloud Sect practically empty, apart from the drugged Ah Fu and Ming. Sending a brief prayer of gratitude to the heavens, she had easily escaped. Returning to the Forest of Shifting Echoes, Yan had planned to retrieve her bag of precious powders first before deciding on her next course of action regarding her elder sister, Poison Snake. Now, however, after an extensive search of the area, she started to lose hope for finding the bag.

    Frowning, she retraced her steps through the forest one last time but still could not find her sack. Starting to suspect that animals must have carried off the bundle, Yan sighed with frustration. About to leave, she turned around and walked into a wall of solid muscle.

    Yelping softly, she nearly toppled backward, but an arm hooked around her waist, steadying her. “It’s you!” Yan gasped breathlessly as she glanced up at the man holding her close.

    “Hello again, my little fairy.” Sit Chung Nam gave her a crooked grin full of charm. “Are you looking for this?” He dangled her travel sack of powders in front of her with his free hand.

    “My powders!” Yan exclaimed, immediately reaching for the bag.

    “Uh uh!” Sit Chung Nam quickly raised his arm up higher, keeping the sack safely out of Yan’s reach.

    “Give me my property back!” Yan glowered at him.

    “No,” he denied her request flatly. “You and the powders within this sack are a lethal combination.” He strapped the sack to his back, thus allowing him to wrap both arms around Yan securely. “We haven’t even had our wedding night yet, and you’ve already tried to run away.” He gave her an admonishing look.

    “Well, who told you to abandon me so quickly after you brought me to Floating Cloud Summit?” Yan purred with feigned sweetness, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

    Amused at her retort, Sit Chung Nam raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t abandon you, sweetheart. I went to Mount Heavenly Crane to negotiate an alliance with the orthodox clans so I can fulfill my promise to you. You want me to help you kill your sister and regain control of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan, don’t you?” Lowering his voice, he leaned down and pressed his lips lightly to her smooth cheek. “Had I known that you couldn’t stand being apart from me, I would have brought you along to Mount Heavenly Crane. From now on, we stick to each other closely.” Smiling suggestively, he tightened his hold around her, making sure their bodies touched from head to toe. “Very closely.”

    Suppressing her urge to strain against him, Yan instead snuggled against him, rubbing her cheek against his chest and wrapping her arms around him tightly. Surprised momentarily by her sudden compliance, Sit Chung Nam did not feel Yan’s arms reaching behind him for the travel sack strapped to his back. Unfortunately, the minute she started dipping her hands into the sack, he realized what she was attempting to do and immediately reached behind himself and grabbed onto her wrists.

    “Let me go!” Yan glared at him angrily, wriggling her wrists against his firm grasp. “Give me back my travel sack!”

    Trying to control her squirming and twisting, Sit Chung Nam trapped her arms between their bodies as he embraced her tightly. “Stop wriggling, little wildcat.”

    Paying no heed to him, Yan strained and arched her back against him, finally managing to sneak one arm free. Raising her freed hand, she tried to slap him, but he intercepted her hand, twisting her arm gently behind her back, taking care not to hurt her.

    “Let’s kiss and make up, sweetheart.” He laughed breathlessly, highly amused by her antics and fiery temper.

    Before she could object, he pressed his lips firmly onto hers, pulling her possessively against him. While he nibbled at her soft lips, a heady sensation filled his head, making him slightly dizzy. As if inebriated, he stumbled slightly, his hold on Yan loosening a bit. Too late, he realized that she had somehow poisoned him.

    Lifting his head and breaking the kiss, Sit Chung Nam stared at her, blinking his eyes rapidly as his vision blurred. “You...” His voice trailed off drowsily as his concentration wavered, his strength weakening. Shaking his head as he tried to clear his mind, he squinted at Yan, her image becoming increasingly fuzzy.

    Smiling smugly, Yan tapped against Sit Chung Nam’s chest with one hand, easily knocking him to the ground. “Do you like my new lip balm? I concocted it myself just a couple of hours ago from those lovely blooms you so foolishly left on the windowsill of my room at Floating Cloud Sect.” Crouching down next to the drowsy and weakened Sit Chung Nam, she gloated. “Sect Leader Sit, you took such care in removing every piece of furnishing in the chamber so that I couldn’t use it to aid in my escape that you forgot to take away the flowers. Of course, you couldn’t have known that those vibrant red flowers are Siren’s Kiss blooms. The petals are edible and as sweet as nectar. When eaten along with the flower’s leaves, nothing happens. However, if taken alone and without the leaves‘ counteracting chemical agent, the petals, which contain a transient neurochemical agent, can induce immediate drowsiness and temporary weakness. The neurochemical agent is so potent that merely contacting it without consuming it will cause symptoms.”

    “Since I was locked up in my room for hours with nothing to do, I passed the time mincing the petals to produce a clear liquid, which I painted on my lips.” Leaning down toward the livid Sit Chung Nam, Yan curved her lips invitingly and whispered in his ear, deliberately repeating his earlier words, “Let’s kiss and make up, sweetheart.”

    Weakened by the toxin, Sit Chung Nam can barely move as Yan pressed her lips firmly against his, rubbing back and forth, intentionally transferring more of the poison to him. Satisfied with her revenge, she lifted her head and smiled smugly at him. “Well, it is such a pleasure seeing you again, Sect Leader Sit.”

    Grabbing her sack of powders strapped to Sit Chung Nam’s back, Yan stood up and began to walk away. A few steps away, she stopped and turned around to find Sit Chung Nam assuming a meditating position as he attempted to force out the Siren’s Kiss toxin circulating through his bloodstream.

    “I wouldn’t do that,” she warned him. “The poison from the Siren’s Kiss bloom will only spread more quickly through your circulation if you try to expel it with brute force. Don’t worry. The toxin is not lethal and will only temporarily weaken you and make you drowsy for a few hours. I don’t intend to kill you. After all, you did save me from my elder sister. Just don’t try to kiss me again, Sect Leader, or next time, I might decide to paint a more lethal poison on my lips.”

    Smiling at him sweetly, she waved at him before walking off, leaving an infuriated Sit Chung Nam behind...

  6. #6
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking

    CHAPTER 5 --- UNLIKELY HERO

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
    Chen Guan Lin---Ng Pao 吳豹

    ONE MILE AWAY
    BLUE MOON VILLAGE
    FOREST OF SHIFTING ECHOES

    Despite the late morning hour, shades of gray colored the heavens. A thick layer of storm clouds blanketed the entire sky, blocking out the weak rays of sunlight desperately trying to peak around the gray curtain of clouds. The distant rumble of thunder echoed throughout the woods just seconds before a flash of lightening slashed across the heavens. Within seconds, the heavens opened, pouring sheets of rain so heavy that the droplets felt like sharp needles stabbing into Yan’s flesh.

    Unstrapping her sack of powders from behind her back, Yan hugged it tightly, hunching over the bundle protectively. Swiping the water dripping from her face, she sighed with frustration as the rain washed away any remnant of the Siren’s Kiss toxin painted on her lips and soaked through the thin material of her travel bundle, rendering her precious powders ineffective temporarily until they dried. The boom of thunder reverberated again, this time bringing along with it the pounding of hooves. Squinting into the distance, Yan made out the blurry silhouettes of two figures on horseback. As the two strangers approached, she recognized the two-headed demon embroidered on the front of their robes.

    “The Twin Demon Clan,” Yan murmured to herself, referring to an infamous bandit clan, only second in notoriety and ruthlessness behind the Floating Cloud Sect.

    Led by two vicious brothers, Ng Fu and Ng Pao, the Twin Demon Clan had been locked in an ongoing power struggle with the Floating Cloud Sect for decades. Both bandit groups had fought over territory and trade routes, their war often leading to countless casualties on both sides, along with deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent peasants and bystanders.

    Before Sit Chung Nam took over as the Floating Cloud Sect’s leader fifteen years ago, the Twin Demon Clan had greatly outnumbered the Floating Cloud Sect and had been just as powerful and influential in the martial arts world as its rival, the Floating Cloud Sect. When Sit Chung Nam became Floating Cloud Sect leader fifteen years ago, Old Man Ng, the former leader of the Twin Demon Clan and the father of Ng Fu and Ng Pao, mocked the then fifteen-year-old Sit Chung Nam, offering to spare his young, worthless life if he would surrender the Floating Cloud Sect to the Twin Demon Clan. When young Sit Chung Nam merely raised a cool eyebrow to such an audacious request and instead challenged Old Man Ng to a duel to the death, the martial arts world thought they would finally see the extinction of the Floating Cloud Sect, as Old Man Ng was far older and more experienced than the arrogant newly crowned leader of the Floating Cloud Sect. However, Sit Chung Nam shocked all when he emerged as winner, beating his opponent in just ten stances. Ridiculed, Old Man Ng committed suicide in front of Sit Chung Nam, with the entire martial arts world watching. Sit Chung Nam further humiliated the Twin Demon Clan by declaring its clan members too weak and unfit to be assimilated into the Floating Cloud Sect, if their defeated leader, Old Man Ng, represented the best of the bunch. Infuriated, Ng’s two sons vowed to kill Sit Chung Nam to seek revenge for their father’s shame and their clan’s dishonor.

    In the past fifteen years after Ng Fu and Ng Pao assumed control of the Twin Demon Clan, the clan’s numbers dwindled from failed attempts to attack the Floating Cloud Sect. Repeatedly, the Ng brothers openly declared war on the Floating Cloud Sect, but never managed to outsmart Sit Chung Nam. Other than being reckless and excessively boastful, the Ng brothers could not even get past the Floating Cloud Sect members, let alone get near Sit Chung Nam to exact their vengeance.

    Knowing this history between the Floating Cloud Sect and the Twin Demon Clan, Yan quickly backed away as the two horses approached, remembering that she was wearing the Floating Cloud Sect robe she ha stolen from that sect member, Ming. Unfortunately, the trees in this part of the forest were sparse and could not provide adequate cover.

    Sighing, Yan muttered under her breath. “Of all the bad luck... I escape Sit Chung Nam only to run into the Twin Demon Clan brothers.”

    As the horses neared, Yan hunched her shoulders and lowered her head. Trying to stay inconspicuous, Yan casually walked away from the fast approaching horses, forcing herself to walk rather than run for fear of drawing attention to herself. Unfortunately, the pounding hoof beats slowed to a trot as the two riders brought their horses to a stop in front of Yan, blocking her path. The rain continued to pour down, fat droplets splattering onto the large muddy puddles, the loud plopping noise rivaling the pounding of Yan’s heartbeat.

    “Well, well, Pao, look at what we have here.” The taller man with the short beard smirked, pulling back on the reins as his horse pranceed and neighed, splashing muddy rain water everywhere. “It looks like our friendly neighborly Floating Cloud Sect member.” He sneered as he turned to his younger brother, the second man on horseback next to him.

    The second rider, younger and slightly shorter than the first man but much more handsome with his clean-cut looks, cocked his head slightly as he stared down at Yan intently. His eyes noted her Floating Cloud Sect robe, before resting for an indeterminable amount of time on her soft curves accentuated by the clingy, wet fabric.

    “No, Elder Brother.” The clean-cut man named Ng Pao narrowed his eyes at Yan, his lips stretching slowly into feral smile. “This pretty little thing here is not a Floating Cloud Sect member.” He bent down at the waist, reaching toward Yan, attempting to caress her cheek. “The Floating Cloud Sect is an all male group, and Sit Chung Nam doesn’t tolerate any female members wandering about his sect.”

    Angrily swatting Ng Pao’s hand aside, Yan swiveled to the side, trying to run. However, Ng Pao and his elder brother Ng Fu quickly blocked her path with their horses.

    “Not so fast.” Ng Fu glared at Yan. “What’s your relationship with that scum, Sit Chung Nam?”

    Throwing the bearded Ng Fu a challenging glare, Yan answered defiantly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    As she tried to walk away again, the younger brother, Ng Pao, swung his horse around and barricaded her way. “Darling, you must know Sit Chung Nam. Why else would you be wearing a Floating Cloud Sect robe?”

    “I found the robe. I like collecting outfits from different clans and sects, not that my hobby is any of your business.” Yan retorted impudently. “Now get out of my way.”

    Without waiting for a response from Ng Pao, Yan easily darted between the two horses with her petite frame. However, before she could go far, Ng Pao leapt off his horse and somersaulted once into the air before landing in front of Yan, preventing her from escaping.

    Stretching his arms apart, he smiled at the hostile Yan. “Where are you going, my beautiful?” Ng Pao leered at her.

    Immediately, Yan spun around and tried to run in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, without her lightness kung fu, Ng Pao easily outran her and grabbed her waist from behind. As his hands clasped around her waist, Yan swiftly reached into her travel sack and pulled out a short stemmed rose. Swiveling around, she stabbed the sharpened end of the rose stem into Ng Pao’s arm, causing him to release her as he squawked indignantly.

    “Why, you little...!” The younger Ng brother screeched.

    Before he could finish swearing, Yan sent a flurry of sharpened rose stems at Ng Pao. Unfortunately, without the backing of her internal energy, the flower darts fell short of their mark and dropped to the ground harmlessly.

    In the background, Ng Fu narrowed his eyes at Yan’s choice of weapon. As he stared at the fallen rose darts, realization dawned on him as he recognized the weapon unique to only Black Rose. “You’re Black Rose from the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan!” Holding his hand up, Ng Fu signaled to the infuriated Ng Pao. “Younger Brother, wait! It might not be so wise to antagonize the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan!”

    Improvising, Yan straightened, crossing her arms across her chest as she smiled confidently, trying to bluff her way out of this situation. Keeping her eyes steady on the Ng brothers, she boldly declared, “If you don’t want a taste of the Blood Shadow Palm, then I suggest you two leave now.”

    After contemplating the situation, Ng Fu nodded and gestured to his younger brother. “We should be on our way, Pao.” Jerking his reins to the left, he started to lead his horse away from Yan. However, Ng Fu stopped as he realized that Ng Pao was not following. “Pao!” He called out to the younger man.

    Ignoring his elder brother, Ng Pao narrowed his eyes at Yan, recalling clearly that she had missed her mark with her rose stem darts just moments earlier. “No, wait, Elder Brother.” Smiling slyly at Yan, he allowed his eyes to rove up and down Yan. “Something tells me that Clan Leader Black Rose no longer has any martial arts skills.” Raising his eyebrow at Yan, he smirked, “Am I correct, darling? This is a big and dangerous world for a helpless, beautiful maiden without any martial arts skills. Why don’t you come with me?” He ogled her. “I can protect you.”

    Without warning, he lunged forward and tackled Yan to the ground. Crying out, Yan pummeled her fists at Ng Pao, her feet kicking furiously. Reaching blindly to the side, she grabbed a handful of mud and flung it at her attacker’s face. As the mud hit him unceremoniously in the eyes and filled his mouth with gritty wet dirt, Ng Pao growled, and grabbing a fistful of Yan’s hair, yanked hard, bringing tears to her eyes. After swiping the mud from his face, he thrust his face toward Yan, his lips puckered obscenely, aiming for her lips. Disgusted, Yan jerked her head to the side, nauseous.

    “Get off me, you animal!” She screamed, pushing at his shoulders. “Sit Chung Nam will kill you!” She threatened, mentioning the Floating Cloud Sect leader in desperate hope of scaring off Ng Pao

    “Stop lying, my beautiful.” Ng Pao jeered. “You probably don’t even know Sit Chung Nam. Even if you do, he’s not here to save you, is he?” He taunted her.

    He ripped open Yan’s robe at the neckline, revealing her thin, nearly translucent white undergarment. As he drooled with lust, Yan clawed at his cheek, drawing blood. Rearing his head back, Ng Pao screamed in pain. Raising his hand, he slapped Yan across the cheek. Wrapping his hand around her throat, he choked her.

    “I really hope you’re Sit Chung Nam’s woman.” His handsome face contorted into an ugly expression as he leaned down and whispered at Yan in a raspy voice. “I would love to see the expression on that arrogant bastard’s face when he finds out I have been cozy with his woman.”

    Amidst Yan’s yelling and Ng Pao’s maniacal laughing, the loud pounding of the rain echoed like a thousand drums, nearly drowning out Ng Fu’s annoyed voice in the background.

    “Enough, Pao!” Ng Fu hollered with disgust. “We don’t have time for this! You should know better than to ridicule Sit Chung Nam openly. If that woman truly belongs to him, then he will hunt us down like animals! Let’s leave!”

    “No!” Ng Pao yelled back defiantly. “Even if Sit Chung Nam were right here, I would still defile his woman right in front of him! I’m not afraid of him!” He bragged brashly, as he leaned down and tried to kiss Yan, slapping her again to silence her screams.

    Suddenly, a flash of white streaked past the elder brother Ng Fu. Shocked, Ng Fu watched the flash of white head toward his younger brother. Before Ng Fu could call out a warning to Ng Pao, the figure in white ripped Ng Pao away from Yan and sent the man flying across the air. As Ng Pao crashed to the ground, he landed hard onto his left arm, producing an ugly, horrifying popping noise as bone cracked.

    While his younger brother howled in pain, Ng Fu gasped as he identified the man in white. “Sit Chung Nam!”

    Training his eyes cautiously on the Ng brothers, Chung Nam, still weakened from the effects of the Siren’s Kiss toxin, tried to keep himself from staggering unsteadily on his feet. When he had heard Yan’s screams, he had forced his weakened limps to move toward the direction of her voice. Having already expended a large portion of his internal energy racing to Yan’s aid, he was now starting to feel the little remaining strength he had left rapidly draining from his body. Desperately, he attempted to mask any sign of weakness from his opponents.

    Stumbling to his feet, the injured Ng Pao raged at Sit Chung Nam, while he cradled his injured arm. “Sit Chung Nam, you broke my arm, you bastard!”

    Ignoring Ng Pao, Chung Nam leaned down and helped Yan up. Putting his arm protectively around her shoulders, he hugged her closely. Rage, simpering below the surface initially, erupted uncontrollably the second he saw the finger imprints on Yan’s neck. With a hand shaky from barely suppressed anger, he gently touched the slender column of her throat before moving his hand upward to cup her cheek with his palm. An angry red palm print from Ng Pao’s slapping started to form on her otherwise flawless complexion. As he stared at that palm print on Yan’s soft skin, something twisted painfully in his heart, a novel sensation he had never felt before.

    Jerking abruptly toward Ng Pao, Chung Nam snarled. “Did you do this to my woman?”

    Sneering at the bandit leader, Ng Pao sent Sit Chung Nam a gloating look. “Oh, I did a lot more than slap your woman around, Sit Chung Nam.” Sighing, he closed his eyes as if he was in ecstasy. Then, he opened his eyes and stared directly into Sit Chung Nam’s. “She is heavenly, isn’t she? When I caressed her soft, supple skin...”

    Before Ng Pao was able to finish his sentence, Chung Nam roared with fury and somersaulted forward. Twisting midair, he pushed his palms forward, aiming for Ng Pao. His opponent backed away, while raising his arms upward to receive Chung Nam’s palms. However, Chung Nam suddenly disappeared as he approached Ng Pao. Confused, Ng Pao darted his eyes around, searching for Sit Chung Nam.

    Swinging around, Ng Pao screamed, “Where are you, Sit Chung Nam? You coward! Come out!”

    Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, an amorphous shadow leapt out.

    “Watch out, Pao!” Ng Fu screamed from his perch on top of his horse.

    Urging his horse forward, the older Ng brother galloped toward Ng Pao, intending to help his younger brother. About ten paces away, an invisible palm emerged through the curtain of wind and rain and slammed against Ng Fu’s forehead. Dead from the fatal strike, Ng Fu’s body slumped off the horse and dropped to the ground in a heap of tangled limps. Terrified, the animal neighed and reared up on its hind legs. As the horse lowered its front legs, its hooves stamped directly onto the dead Ng Fu’s chest, crushing his ribcage. Then, in a frenzy, the horse trampled over the body and raced into the forest.

    A few paces away, Chung Nam landed onto his feet unsteadily, his vision starting to blur intermittently, as the world started to spin in front of his eyes. Weakened by the effects of the flower toxin, he nearly dropped to the ground, his legs feeling rubbery and limp. Only sheer will kept him standing.

    “Elder Brother!” Ng Pao called out before rushing toward the dead Ng Fu. Finding no pulse on his elder brother, Ng Pao turned to Chung Nam, murderous intent reflected clearly in his eyes. “You killed my elder brother, Sit Chung Nam! He’s the only family I have left after you forced my father to commit suicide fifteen years ago!”

    Charging in Sit Chung Nam’s direction, Ng Pao feigned an attack on Chung Nam but instead lunged at the easier target, Yan, who was standing a few paces away to Chung Nam’s right. Realizing Ng Pao’s intent, Chung Nam mustered up enough energy to dash toward Yan.

    “Get behind me.” Chung Nam barked, positioning himself protectively in front of Yan, while pushing her behind him.

    Despite the bitter chill sweeping by along with the pouring rain, sweat drenched Chung Nam’s body, his level of consciousness wavering even though he willed himself to stay awake. Having already drained most of his energy during his fight with the elder Ng brother, Chung Nam only managed to raise his arms weakly in defense as Ng Pao rapidly approached, a crazed light burning in his eyes as he wildly waved a short dagger around in the air. As the blade flashed forward, Chung Nam grasped onto his attacker’s wrist, preventing Ng Pao from slicing downward with his dagger. Unfortunately, with sluggish reflexes, he failed to avoid Ng Pao’s kick to his abdomen. As Chung Nam stumbled backward a few steps, Ng Pao swerved toward Yan again, intending to injure Sit Chung Nam’s precious darling.

    Realizing Ng Pao’s intentions, Chung Nam urgently called out to Yan, “Watch out!”

    Rushing over to Yan, he threw himself in front of her, taking the stab to the shoulder for her.

    Behind him, Yan cried out in surprise as she reached out, trying to catch him as he staggered backward. Quickly, Chung Nam steadied himself, and clenching his teeth, he grabbed hold of the hilt of the dagger still protruding from his left shoulder and pulled out the blade. Grunting, he weakly flung the dagger at Ng Pao, but his opponent easily swatted away the weapon.

    Sensing Sit Chung Nam’s imminent defeat, Ng Pao lunged forward and palmed the bandit leader on the shoulder. With Sit Chung Nam’s feeble state, Ng Pao managed to send his enemy catapulting backward even with just one good arm. As Chung Nam skidded backward, a tree trunk stopped his flight. Gathering what was left of his strength, Chung Nam somersaulted into the air and sent a flying kick at Ng Pao’s chest, knocking his opponent back several paces. Before Ng Pao could recover, Chung Nam rushed toward Yan and hooked an arm around her waist. Somersaulting through the air in rapid succession, he landed onto Ng Pao’s horse and raced off with Yan in his arms, leaving a swearing Ng Pao behind.

    TEN MILES AWAY
    OUTSKIRTS OF BLUE MOON VILLAGE
    CAVE

    The low rumble of thunder echoed in the distance, the sound startling a flock of pigeons. The frantic flutter of wings as the birds took flight was soon replaced by the steady clicking of hoof beats upon the forest ground. The rain had calmed to a gentle patter, the droplets sprinkling softly onto the couple astride the horse. As the man pulled onto the reins, the horse slowed down to a canter before stopping a few feet away from a cave opening obscured behind a thick curtain of vines and loose branches.

    Lightheaded from blood loss from his shoulder wound, Chung Nam blinked rapidly, fighting to stay conscious. “We’ll stay here to rest until the rain stops.”

    Seated sideways on the horse in front of Chung Nam, Yan glanced up at his pale face, all the while keeping her hands pressed firmly against his shoulder wound, holding pressure to prevent further blood loss. “You’re bleeding profusely. Ng Pao must have nicked a blood vessel. Are you sure you can get off the horse? Maybe I should get off first and then help you down?”

    He started to laugh but ended up coughing instead. “You can’t help me down, sweetheart; I’m too heavy. I can dismount myself.”

    The minute the words left his mouth, his vision blackened and he slid off the horse in a dead faint. As he hit the ground, Yan swiftly dismounted and rushed over to Sit Chung Nam.

    “Hey! Hey!” She lightly slapped his cheeks, trying to rouse him, but he remained unresponsive.

    Swiping her wet bangs away from her forehead, Yan glanced around helplessly. Eyeing the cave entrance a few feet away, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and slowly dragged his body toward the cave. After struggling for what seemed like an eternity, she finally managed to reach the cave entrance with Chung Nam’s unconscious body. Breathing heavily, she looked over at Chung Nam pensively, briefly considering rolling him inside the cave and leaving before he regained consciousness. However, a tiny voice inside her head scolded at her, as if shocked that she would even think of leaving the man who had just risked his life to save her. Sighing, Yan glared at the slumbering bandit, her eyes drifting down to his gaping, bleeding shoulder wound.

    “Fine,” she muttered to the unconscious Chung Nam. “I’ll just stay until I can get the bleeding from your wound under control.”

    Wrapping her arms around his shoulders again, she dragged his body along the ground, backing her way into the cave opening, all the while swiping away the overhanging vines and loose branches covering the entrance.

    “I know I’m going to regret staying.” She mumbled to herself, disgusted at her sudden good conscience. “He’s going to wake up and cause all sorts of problems for me again.”

    Continuing to mutter to herself with ill temper, Yan did not notice that the cave did not have a floor until it was too late. As she pulled Sit Chung Nam past the cave opening, her feet touched nothing but thin air.

    Screaming, she toppled backward into the dark abyss, dragging Chung Nam with her. Her heart nearly stopped from fright as she fell deeper and deeper into what seemed like a bottomless pit. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the crashing of water. Unconsciously, she squeezed her eyes shut and tightened her arms around Chung Nam, somehow feeling safer huddled up against another person.

    Then, without warning, they plunged straight into a large, deep pool of rushing water. At the far end of pool, a magnificent waterfall cascaded down and emptied into the pool. As she sank to the bottom of the pool, Yan kicked and floundered about frantically for a few seconds before regaining her senses. Surging toward the surface, she gulped in a breath of much needed air before diving down again. Locating Chung Nam, she dragged him to the surface. Huffing and puffing from exertion, Yan hung onto the edge of the pool with one arm while keeping her other arm looped around Chung Nam’s neck.

    “Wake up! Sit Chung Nam, wake up!” She panted in between bouts of coughing from aspirated water. “I don’t have the strength to heave you out of this pool!” Placing her lips right next to his ear, she yelled out his name. “Sit Chung Nam! Sit Chung Nam!”

    “Huh?” Chung Nam mumbled, finally rousing as he heard Yan’s sweet voice calling to him, like in a dream. Furrowing his brows, he slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus in on her face. “Wha...?” He muttered incoherently as his eyelids drooped.

    “Wake up!” Yan screamed anxiously, her grasp on him beginning to slip. When he started to drift off again, she shook her head frantically. “No! No, don’t fall asleep! Wake up!”

    With one arm holding onto the edge of the pool and the other clutching onto Chung Nam, Yan cannot shake him to wake him up. At first, she tried to get his attention by knocking her forehead against his. However, after several fruitless bouts of head butting, her forehead started to throb. Desperate, she leaned forward and bit his bottom lip, hard enough to rouse him.

    Wincing from the pain, Chung Nam opened his eyes and stared blankly at Yan, dazed. Frustrated with his drowsy state, Yan chomped down on his lower lip again, this time more aggressively, drawing blood.

    Now fully awake, Chung Nam grunted and pulled back slightly, gaping at Yan. Licking at his throbbing bottom lip, he stared at her, disoriented, before recognition set in.

    Curving his lips, he drawled, “Hello, sweetheart. You don’t have to bite to get my attention.”

    “Apparently, I do.” Yan glared at him, peeved.

    Despite his weakness and slight dizziness from the blood loss, he grinned at her miffed look, finding her not only beautiful but inexplicably endearing.

    As her grasp on him slipped further, Yan hissed at him. “Will you stop grinning at me and hoist yourself out of this churning water? You’re heavy!”

    Flashing her a charming grin, Chung Nam obliged her request and lifted himself out of the water. Leaning down, he reached into the pool and pulled Yan out. With her safely out of the pool, he lay down onto the wet cave floor, exhausted. By now, the weakening effects of the Siren’s Kiss toxin were beginning to wear off. Unfortunately, his weakness persisted due to his blood loss.

    His injured left shoulder throbbed painfully. Gnashing his teeth together, he closed his eyes, willing the pain to go away. When he felt Yan’s hands at the neckline of his robe, he opened his eyes to find Yan hovering over him, her eyes filled with concern.

    “I need to take off your robe.” Yan gave him a solemn look as she unstrapped her soaked travel sack of powders from her back.

    Giving her a crooked grin, which seemed incongruous with his ghostly pale complexion, he joked, his voice slightly faint from fatigue. “You know I could never say no to you, sweetheart, but I’m not exactly in the position to consummate our marriage right now.” Grabbing hold of her hand, he held it close to his heart. “How about tomorrow? I should be well rested by then.” He tried to wink at her but only ended up wincing as his shoulder wound seemed to burn more intensely with each passing second.

    Scowling at him, Yan yanked her hand back. “Will you be serious?” Poking a finger at his shoulder wound, she frowned as she leaned down closer and examined it. “Your gown is filthy with dried blood and dirt. I need to remove your gown and clean your wound or it will become infected.”

    Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, she tried to pull him up to a sitting position, but she was unable hold up his heavy weight. As he collapsed back down onto the ground, she was unable to disentangle her arms from around him quickly enough and crashed down onto his chest. Chung Nam grunted with pain as Yan bounced against his raw, open wound.

    Sheepish, Yan swiftly scrambled up to a sitting position. “Sorry! Sorry!”

    Glancing around, she spotted her travel sack. Pulling her cloak from the bundle, she folded it, and lifting up Sit Chung Nam’s head slightly, she stuck the folded cloak under his shoulders and head. Then, she untied his waist sash. As her hands hovered at the neckline of his robe, she paused and glanced down at him.

    “This will hurt a bit, since the clotted blood has melded the gown fabric at the edges of the wound to your flesh.” She warned him.

    When he nodded in acknowledgment, Yan gnashed on her lower lip in concentration and carefully peeled back his gown, wincing in sympathy while Chung Nam clenched his teeth as some of his skin near the wound ripped as the gown was removed. With the gown off, Yan tore a strip of fabric from the hemline of her robe and washed the swath of cloth in the pond. Squeezing out excess water, she dabbed the moist fabric at his shoulder wound, brushing away debris and old dried blood. Examining the cleaned wound closely, she frowned, observing that the area was swollen and purplish-red. The bleeding had diminished considerably, but the blood that continued to seep from the wound was an ashy gray color. Placing a hand over the injury, she frowned even more deeply as she noted how hot the area was.

    “Judging from the appearance of your wound, the dagger you were stabbed with is poisoned.” Yan murmured to Chung Nam. “But don’t worry. I have yet to come up against a poison that I cannot cure.” She beamed at him. “From the color of the blood at the wound and the progression of the injury, I know exactly what type of poison is on that dagger.”

    “So do you have the antidote?” Chung Nam asked, starting to feel groggy.

    Grinning, Yan pulled out from her travel sack two leafy plants, one with red leaves and the other with blue leaves. “In fact, I do have the antidote!”

    Taking the red leaf plant, she picked off half of the tiny leaves at its tip and placed them into her mouth. Chewing slowly, she swallowed the leaves. She then took the remaining leaves and rubbed them on her lips until all the pigment from the leaves was transferred to her lips.

    When Yan leaned down toward Chung Nam’s shoulder, he asked drowsily. “What are you doing, sweetheart?” He reached a hand upward to play with the tips of Yan’s long tresses.

    “This Sapphire Finger plant is the antidote for your poison.” She pointed to the blue leafy plant with feathery finger-like projections lying next to her. “However, before you take the antidote, I need to suck out the blood around the area of your wound, where the greatest concentration of poison is. Removing that blood will facilitate healing of your wound.”

    When Yan leaned down toward Chung Nam’s shoulder again, he stopped her by cupping her cheek with his palm. “Wait, sweetheart.” Despite his earlier jests, his expression was dead serious for the first time. “I don’t want you to suck the poison from my wound if it means you will become infected, too.”

    Upon hearing his words, Yan paused, bewildered. Her eyes softened for a split second, before a mask of indifference fell over her face. Smiling sardonically, she cocked her head slightly, raising an eyebrow. “So you’ve suddenly acquired a heart, Sect Leader Sit?”

    He smiled at her, the expression in his eyes surprisingly genuine and devoid of any flirtatious intent or deception. “I’ve always had a heart, my little fairy. I have just been waiting patiently for the right woman to reveal my heart to.”

    Despite her wariness toward the notorious bandit, Yan cannot stop herself from blushing. Her heart did an involuntary flip-flop, and for the first time, she realized how boyishly handsome he was when he smiled sincerely. Before she could fall in love with him foolishly, Yan averted her eyes quickly, avoiding his gaze.

    “If I don’t suck out the poison from your shoulder, your wound might take a lot longer to heal, even with the antidote.” Yan warned. She picked up the few remaining red colored leaves lying next to the red plant. “These leaves that I have just ingested and have painted on my lips neutralize the poison from your shoulder. Therefore, I won’t contract the poison when I suck at your wound.” She gave him a wry look. “Don’t worry. I don’t intend to die.”

    “No, I’d rather you not take that risk.” He reached up and caressed her cheek. “You’re mine, and as long as I am alive, I won’t let anything or anyone harm you.”

    Starting to feel herself soften towards him, Yan quickly turned her face away from his hand, deliberately hardening her heart. “All right. If you don’t wish for me to suck the poison from your wound, then at least take the antidote.” Tearing off a single leaf from the Sapphire Finger plant, she handed him the leaf. “One leaf is enough to cure you.”

    After he ingested the antidote, Chung Nam turned and stared dreamily up at Yan, his eyes already starting to droop from fatigue. Her skin, still wet from the drop into the pool earlier, glowed with a dewy, soft sheen. A few wet loose tendrils of hair framed her delicate facial features, the soft curls lightly feathering against her cheeks each time she moved her head. Drowsily, he imagined pressing his lips against the smooth, warm skin of her cheek, inhaling her sweet scent.

    Unaware of Chung Nam’s thoughts, Yan leaned over the pool and dipped a long strip of fabric she had torn from the hem of her gown. Meticulously washing the fabric strip, she then wrung it dry and turned toward Chung Nam.

    “Can you manage to sit up? The bleeding has stopped, but I still need to bandage your shoulder wound to keep debris from getting in.” She looked at him expectantly, but he continued to stare up at her, as if in a trance. “Sect Leader Sit? Sect Leader Sit?”

    Shaken out of his reverie by Yan’s voice, Chung Nam blinked, confused. “Yes?”

    “Can you manage to sit up?” Yan repeated her question, puzzled by his earlier lack of attention. “I need to bandage your wound.”

    “Oh, sure... All right...” He mumbled distractedly, part of his mind still fantasizing about kissing Yan.

    Doing as she instructed, he pulled himself up to a sitting position with her help and scooted over to lean against the wall of the cave. As Yan knelt in front of him and began to wrap the wide strip of fabric around his bare torso, looping it over his left shoulder to cover the wound, Chung Nam snaked his arms around her miniscule waist and pulled her into his arms suddenly.

    Taken by surprise, Yan yelped as she fell onto his lap, her forehead knocking gently against his. With her face so close to his that she can feel his warm breath caressing her skin, she stared into his eyes with her deep, midnight blue ones.

    “What are you doing?” She asked breathlessly.

    “I’m cold.” He murmured, as he lowered his eyes to focus on her soft, rosy lips. “Will you keep me warm by letting me hug you? Please?” He added, when he saw the indecision in her eyes.

    Frowning at his mention of being cold, Yan touched his forehead with the back of her hand, checking for fever due to wound infection. When her hand touched cool skin, she hurriedly slid off his lap and gave him an admonishing look as she stood up.

    “Shame on you for pretending to be feverish!” She wagged her finger at him like she would at a recalcitrant child. Picking up her cloak, which he had been using as a pillow earlier, she threw it over him. “The cloak can keep you warm if you’re cold.” She informed him huffily.

    As Yan turned to walk away, Chung Nam grabbed her hand, looking up at her. “Yan Yan!” He called her by her name for the first time, causing her to hesitate. When she glanced down at him, he hurriedly asked, “Will you sit with me and keep me company?”

    She paused, eyeing him distrustfully.

    “Please?” Chung Nam asked again, tugging on her hand gently. When she continued to stare at him suspiciously, he reassured her quickly. “If you’re worried I’m going to attempt anything inappropriate, I can assure you that I’m too tired and weak from the blood loss to wrestle with you.”

    Sighing, Yan finally relented. “All right, I’ll sit with you. But if you don’t keep your hands to yourself, I’ll poison you myself!” She warned him sternly.

    Even as he flashed her a charming smile, Yan continued to frown with suspicion. Picking up a short twig from the ground, she sat down next to Chung Nam, leaving a wide gap between them. Using the twig, she drew a line in the dirt.

    “There!” Yan pointed at the line on the ground. “You stay on your side of the line and I’ll stay on my side. If you dare come over to my side, I’ll poison you with the powders I have in this sack.” She dangled her travel sack threateningly in front of Chung Nam’s face, leaving out the pertinent fact that her powders had been rendered useless by the moisture from the rain.

    Amused by her line, Chung Nam grinned at Yan. “All right, I promise to stay on my side of the line.” Then, he raised one eyebrow teasingly at Yan. “What if you cross the line?”

    Offended, she gasped at him. “Why would I do that?”

    Shrugging with nonchalance, Chung Nam pretended to give her question some deep thought. “I don’t know. Maybe you might want to sneak in a kiss while I’m sleeping.”

    Her mouth dropped open as she sputtered indignantly, speechless.

    Laughing uproariously at her piqued expression, he leaned against the cave wall and closed his eyes, already starting to drift off.

    Sitting beside him to the left side of the line, Yan scowled at Chung Nam, annoyed that he can fall asleep so easily after riling her up. Listening to his even breathing for a few minutes, she sighed at her own mixed feelings for the tyrannical and incorrigibly arrogant Sit Chung Nam. Leaning against the wall, she, too, closed her eyes and allowed herself to doze off...

  7. #7
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Talking

    CHAPTER 6 --- CHARMED

    Characters appearing in this chapter:
    Sun Fei Fei---Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
    Wallace Chung Hon Leung---Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
    Chen Hao---Fa Heung Ling a.k.a. Poison Snake 花香伶
    Wallace Huo Jian Hua---Kuk Wai 曲偉

    SEVERAL HOURS LATER...
    NIGHTFALL
    CAVE

    Water cascaded down from the waterfall, crashing violently into the pool beneath, frothing and spraying cool droplets of moisture onto the couple leaning against the cave wall a few feet away. As sprinkles of water landed onto her face, tickling her, Yan wrinkled her nose in her sleep and snuggled closer to the warm body next to her. Squirming, she rubbed her cheek against the muscled chest she was using as a pillow, finding comfort in the steady heartbeat against her ear. A hand, slightly rough textured, lightly stroked her long tresses, before settling onto her cheek. As a callused thumb caressed her cheek gently, Yan frowned at the disturbance. Whimpering softly, her lower lip poked out into a pout while she unconsciously squeezed her eyes tightly. Frustrated at being disturbed in her sleep, she turned away from the hand and grumbled while her hand whacked at the bare chest. At her actions, an amused, deep masculine laugh escaped from the throat of the man she was nestled against, causing his chest to move slightly, rousing Yan from her slumber.

    Miffed, Yan woke up pouting. Rubbing her sleepy eyes, she glared at the handsome face just a few inches away from her. As the traces of drowsiness cleared from her mind, she suddenly popped her eyes wide open, her expression almost comical as she realized that she was sitting on Sit Chung Nam’s lap and cozily cuddled up against his chest. She leaned back in horror, a deep blush creeping up her neck and spreading rapidly across her face, coloring her cheeks a lovely shade of rosy pink. When she tried to scramble off his lap, he tightened his arms around her, keeping her locked within his embrace.

    Giving her a lazy smile, he rubbed the small of her back with familiarity. With a few hours of rest, his healthy tan returned and his strength improved considerably. “Hello, sleepyhead. Did you sleep well?”

    Attempting to hide her awkwardness behind anger, she shot him an accusing look. “You promised to stay on your side of the line!”

    His eyes twinkling with laughter, Chung Nam raised his eyebrows. “I did stay on my side of the line.” Gesturing toward the ground, he said, “See? I’m sitting on my side of the line.”

    As Yan looked down at the ground, she noticed that the line she had previously drawn in the dirt was now smudged as if someone had scooted over the line. Mortified, she realized that she was on Chung Nam’s side of the line.

    Scowling, she peered at him suspiciously. “Did you pick me up while I was sleeping and put me on your lap?”

    “Do I look like the type of person who would do such a thing?” He asked somberly, the epitome of innocence and propriety.

    “Yes,” she responded flatly, crossing her arms across her chest, giving him a pugnacious stare.

    A low chuckle escaped from his throat. “Sweetheart, I didn’t have to do such a thing. You were the one who slept fitfully and couldn’t find a comfortable position on the ground. Finally, you crawled onto my lap a couple of hours ago. After that, you fell sound asleep and didn’t wake until now.”

    Upon hearing his words, her indignation crumbled, replaced by acute embarrassment. With flaming cheeks, she whispered shyly, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to...sit on you and...disturb your rest.” Her face couldn’t get any more flushed. “I’ll go sleep on the other side of the cave so that you can rest.”

    She tried to scoot off his lap, but he hurriedly hugged her close. “No, Yan Yan. Don’t go.” His tight embrace caused her to slide on his lap toward his chest and bump into his left shoulder wound. Groaning a bit, he winced.

    An involuntary giggle escaped from Yan. “Serves you right.” However, she stopped laughing when she noticed sweat beading on his forehead as he tensed up. “Are you all right? Did your wound reopen? Let me see!” She shot the concerned questions out in rapidly without giving him a chance to respond.

    Gently lifting his makeshift bandage, she angled her head and peeked underneath. “I don’t see any bleeding...” Yan murmured, her nose pressed up against his chest as she tried to see underneath the cloth bandage more clearly. “Hmm... Maybe we should take the bandage off, but that’ll risk exposing the wound to the dust floating around this cave.” Lifting her head, she looked up at Chung Nam, intending to suggest that he lean forward so that she can unwrap his bandage. But before she can utter a single word, he leaned forward and kissed her on the tip of her nose.

    Reflexively, Yan reached up and touched her nose, shocked. “What are you doing?!”

    “You’re adorable.” Chung Nam grinned at Yan, charmed by her lovable personality.

    Pursing her lips together, she raised her chin and looked down her nose at him, extremely offended. “I am NOT adorable. I am a highly regarded healer. You make me sound like a child who doesn’t know how to take care of your wound! If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even know what poison was on that dagger! I am a competent...!”

    Before she could finish spouting her indignation, Chung Nam pulled her tightly against him and sealed her lips with his, effectively silencing her. Suckling and tugging gently at her upper lip, he lingered lazily there for a few heartbeats. Then he trailed his lips upward, slowly meandering across her smooth cheek before finally reaching her forehead, delighted that for the first time she was not resisting him.

    Placing a soft kiss on her forehead, he smiled at her. “I know you’re not a child and that you’re an excellent healer.”

    His quick acknowledgment of her skills without any argument confused her, and she simply gaped at him, momentarily speechless.

    Sensing her gradual softening toward him, he shifted her on his lap slightly so that he can embrace her more closely. While his hands stroked her back, his right hand lingered boldly at the side of her breast before moving on as he decided to not push his luck. His warm breath gently stirred the hair at the top of her head as he tucked her head underneath his chin.

    “I didn’t mean to offend you by saying you’re adorable, sweetheart. What I mean is that you’re so sweet. I’ve had many stab wounds over the years, some more serious and some less serious than the one I have right now. However, I’ve always had to tend to my wounds myself. It’s nice to have my beautiful little fairy fret over my injury.” He smiled to himself over the top of her head, surprisingly happy, a feeling he had never experienced before.

    Slightly mollified and somehow finding comfort in his embrace, Yan allowed Chung Nam to hold her. Idly tracing her finger along a jagged old scar running from his right shoulder to the center of his chest, she asked curiously. “How come you have to tend to your own wounds? What about your mother? Didn’t she take care of you when you were injured?”

    Pausing, Chung Nam tensed marginally. “I don’t have a mother.”

    Surprised at his sudden taut posture, Yan pulled back and looked up at Chung Nam. “Everyone has a mother.”

    “Not me.” He answered curtly with his eyes averted, avoiding her probing stare. “My father died when I was seven years old. A year later, my mother met another man, who wanted my mother but didn’t want me around. When forced to choose between her own child and that other man, she chose him. My mother abandoned me for that man when I was eight years old. She left me like sack of unwanted garbage at the first convenient location, the base of Floating Cloud Summit. She tricked me, told me she was going to get some water at the river close by, and asked me to wait for her return. The first few hours when she didn’t come back, I paced around and wondered if I should go find her. But I didn’t want her to find me missing when she returned. So I waited for a few more hours...then a few more...and then some more. Finally, nightfall came and I fell asleep. My grumbling stomach woke me up, and I ran around in the dark screaming for my mother, but nobody answered...”

    He stared at the crashing waterfall, as if in a trance. “For five days, I sat there, where my mother dumped me at the foothills of the Floating Cloud Sect, waiting for her, still foolishly grasping onto the belief that she would return for me. I made up all sorts of excuses for her. However, deep down, I knew she had left with that man. I was a child, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew that man didn’t want me around. Yet, I still couldn’t believe my mother would just leave her flesh and blood. So I waited right there, eating shrubs or whatever I could find. Then, on the fifth night, a group of bandits rode by on their horses. I hid in the bushes, waited until they set up camp for the evening. When everyone fell asleep, I sneaked out and tried to steal their food. Unfortunately, the bandits caught me. I kicked and scratched, so furious at my mother that I wanted to punch someone. I thought the bandits were going to kill me, but instead the leader found me amusing, daring, and oddly brave for a young child. He said he needed such members in his group and brought me back to the Floating Cloud Sect with him.”

    “For the next two years, I kept returning to that same spot where my mother had left me and waited for her. I wasn’t delusional. I knew she wasn’t coming back for me, but my heart just refused to give up hope.” He gave himself a self-deprecating laugh, but then his voice broke just slightly.

    “Did she come back for you?” Despite her earlier determination to distance herself from Sit Chung Nam, Yan felt her heart weeping for that little boy sitting alone, waiting for a mother who was never going to return for him.

    “Yes, she did.” Chung Nam answered flatly.

    Surprised, Yan started to smile, but her smile faltered the minute she saw his expression.

    “One day, exactly two years from the day she left me, my mother passed by the foothills of Floating Cloud Summit with her new husband.” Staring off into space, Chung Nam recited his lines in a monotone voice, as if speaking of someone else. “Some bushes obscured my presence, so she didn’t notice me. She walked right past me, holding a toddler in her arms, laughing and cooing at that little boy, her new son. She didn’t even hesitate at the spot where she had left me two years ago, didn’t even remember the other son she had abandoned.” Chung Nam turned slowly and looked directly into Yan’s eyes, his expression oddly devoid of emotions. “From that day on, I no longer had a mother.”

    He shrugged indifferently, as if his mother’s abandonment didn’t matter. However, Yan noticed the tiniest flicker of despair and hurt flashed across his eyes.

    Unsure of how to respond, Yan tilted her head slightly to the side so that she can look right into Chung Nam’s carefully expressionless eyes. “I’m...sorry.”

    Suddenly smiling, he winked at her, his charm back full force. “Don’t be sorry, sweetheart. I’m not. The bandits took me in as an errand boy, fed and sheltered me, and now, look how well I turned out.”

    Taking his cue to change the subject, Yan laughed wryly at Chung Nam, her expression part teasing, part admonishing. “Yes, look how well you turned out, robbing and killing innocent people.”

    Grinning genuinely this time, Chung Nam grabbed Yan’s hand and gallantly placed a kiss on the back of her hand. “I hear your reprimanding tone. Perhaps you can reform me.” No longer joking, he stared straight into Yan’s eye. Keeping her hand in his, he admitted, “I’m not an easy man to change, but I am willing to try to change for you, Yan Yan.”

    Dangerously close to falling for his charms, Yan hurriedly yanked her hand back, mortified that she was actually starting to develop feelings for Sit Chung Nam. Pushing against his chest, she slipped off his lap before he could object.

    “Yan Yan!” He clutched onto her hand before she could walk away. “I mean every word I just said. I am not a romantic, gentle man. I usually just take what I want without asking first, and that is what I tried to do with you initially. But now, something has changed. I don’t know what has changed, but suddenly, I just want to see you smile at me rather than see you angry at me.” Tugging on her hand, he pulled her closer until she will look into his eyes. “I may not be the most righteous or heroic person, but I will keep my promises to you. I can promise you that I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you happy, trying to make you smile.”

    Snatching her hand back, Yan avoided his stare. Chung Nam’s words elicited a painful memory she would rather not remember. As echoes of another man’s promises rang through her head, she hardened her heart. Assuming a belligerent stance, she threw Chung Nam a challenging look. “I’m very hard to please.”

    Chung Nam rested one hand against the cave wall, using it as leverage to help pull himself up to a standing position. Grimacing slightly from the pain in his left shoulder, he walked over to Yan. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he turned her around so that she faced him, and lowering his head, he looked directly into her combative eyes. “I am willing to try to please you.”

    Brushing his hands off, Yan narrowed her eyes at him, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Sect Leader Sit, I’m sure with your stolen wealth, you have plenty of women at your disposal. Why don’t you pick some other woman to please?”

    Clamping his hands back onto her shoulders, Chung Nam swiveled Yan back around. The expression in his eyes chilled by several degrees. “I am not a fanciful man, Yan Yan. Rather, I’m very practical and serious. I know what I want and what I don’t want.” Giving her a very direct stare, he stated emphatically, “I do not want any other woman. I want you.”

    Unsure if she was angry at Chung Nam or at the ghosts and painful memories of her past, Yan lashed out. “Well, that’s too bad, because I don’t want you.”

    She tried to turn away, but he jerked her roughly into his arms, unmindful of the agony ripping through his injured shoulder.

    “I’ll make you want me.” Chung Nam whispered, his tone almost threatening.

    “Let go! Let go! Let go!” Yan hammered wildly at his shoulders, screaming the words like a mantra, even as he enveloped her tightly in his arms, absorbing her blows.

    In her passionate rage, she didn’t see Sit Chung Nam but instead saw the image of another man, his handsome face smiling at her, love reflected tenderly in his eyes, as he took her into his arms and promised her the world. Then that image suddenly faded, replaced by her own sobbing one. She saw herself with tears streaming down her cheeks as the man she loved turned and walked away from her. Heartbroken from the memory, she continued to blindly pound her fists against Chung Nam’s shoulders, not even aware that she was wailing inelegantly.

    Patiently, Chung Nam held onto Yan, taking her punches stoically, not even flinching when she jabbed repeatedly at his left shoulder wound. Finally, exhausted, she slumped against him, burying her face against his chest, her breaths jerky and erratic in between hiccups. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her arms around Chung Nam and leaned her entire weight against him, allowing him to support her. Saying nothing, he simply held her and waited. At last, Yan calmed herself and glanced up at Chung Nam. Smiling somberly, he cupped her cheek with his hand and rubbed at the tear streaks on her face.

    “Feel better?” Chung Nam asked quietly.

    Gazing into his eyes, Yan responded, “Yes.” Lowering her eyes, she whispered, slightly ashamed. “I’m sorry. I lost my control.” Swiping at her wet cheeks, she let out an embarrassed laugh. “I must look horrible, like a crazy woman.” She started to ramble, but then gasped when she saw Chung Nam’s left shoulder. “Your wound!” She gawked, horrified at what she had done to him.

    Blood seeped from his reopened left shoulder wound, soaking the cloth bandage, running in rivulets down his left arm. Acting quickly, Yan pushed Chung Nam down, urging him to sit.

    “Your poor shoulder!” Yan cried, consumed with guilt. Swiftly unwrapping the bandage, she peered at the wound. Sighing with relief, she lightly touched the edges of the wound. “It doesn’t look that bad. A small piece of the scab has fallen off, but the scab will reform quickly.” Tearing off a small piece of fabric at the hem of her gown, she dipped it into the pool and washed it thoroughly. Turning back toward Chung Nam, she gently dabbed at his wound, speaking softly. “Your wound is actually healing relatively well. There’s less swelling, less redness, and no signs of infection. If I hadn’t reopened your wound just now, it would have healed a lot sooner.” Peeking upward at him, she gave him an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even realize I was hitting you. Does it hurt?” When he grinned back at her, she asked, puzzled. “Why are you so happy? Your wound is bleeding again and you’re grinning?!”

    “You’re nicer to me because of my wound.” Chung Nam remarked cheerfully. He wondered if she would be even kinder to him if his wound had looked worse.

    “You could have died from the poison in your wound.” She jabbed her finger at him, trying to convey to him the gravity of his injury. “You are fortunate that I have the antidote conveniently available in my travel sack. Even so, you’re going to have a very big scar from this wound.”

    “I’ve survived worse injuries. Besides, I think the scar is worth it.” He continued to grin at her as he snatched her hand and pulled her closer to him. “My shoulder is a little sore. Will you kiss it and make it better?” He looked expectantly at her.

    Incredulous, Yan yanked her hand back. “WHAT?! NO!”

    “But my shoulder aches.” Chung Nam objected, a little disappointed at Yan’s rejection.

    Huffily, Yan ignored him and stalked over to the pool to wash his bloody bandage. Tossing the cleaned bandage at Chung Nam, she informed him stiffly. “You can wrap up your own wound.”

    “Where are you going?” Chung Nam called to her as she walked away from him.

    “This is a big cave. I’m going to see if there are any edible fruits or plants growing in some crevice or nook.” Yan yelled back before she disappeared down the tunnel at the far end of the cave.

    “What about me?” Chung Nam scowled, feeling abandoned somehow.

    Yan stuck her head around the corner of the tunnel to look back at him. “Clean yourself up. You have blood streaks all over your left shoulder and arm.”

    Staring at the cloth bandage that Yan had thrown at him, Chung Nam frowned and then shifted his glance to the dried blood streaks on his torso from the reopened wound. Sighing, he picked up his soiled gown and headed toward the pool.

    HALF AN HOUR LATER
    CAVE

    “Hey!” Yan called happily as she careened around the cave corridor, her arms cradling an armful of pears. “I found a pear tree growing in a little alcove at the far end of the cave tunnel! There are plenty of fruit growing on that tree, so we won’t have to starve!”

    As she rounded the corner, her delighted eyes suddenly widened with shock the minute she saw Chung Nam standing by the side of the pool, dripping wet and completely unclothed.

    “AHHHHHHH!” Yan screamed, raising her hands immediately to cover her eyes, dropping the pears to the ground in the process. “What are you doing?!”

    “I was washing myself up in the pool.” Chung Nam explained, his eyes laughing at Yan’s obvious embarrassment.

    With her palms still pressed tightly over her eyes, Yan yelled, “Why in heavens are you taking a bath in the pool?!”

    “You told me to.” Chung Nam choked with mirth, unable to hold his laughter in any longer.

    “I told you to wipe off the blood streaks on your shoulder, not to strip and prance around unclothed!” Yan shrieked.

    “Oh... Hmm... I must have misunderstood you then.” Chung Nam apologized with deliberate innocence. Glancing down at the pears still rolling about on the ground, he started to lean down, intending to pick up the fruits. “Let me help you pick up the pears.”

    “No, I don’t want you to pick up any pears!” Yan snapped, her voice sounding hoarse from so much shouting. “I want you to put some clothes on!”

    “I just washed my bloodstained robe, so it’s still drying on a rock.” Chung Nam tried to explain calmly, but nearly choked on his laughter.

    “Well, at least put your pants on!” Yan started to hyperventilate.

    “I washed my pants, too. They’re still drying.” Chung Nam countered.

    “I DON’T CARE!!!” Yan screeched, as she stomped her foot in frustration. “PUT YOUR PANTS ON!!!”

    “Well, all right, if you insist.” Chung Nam drawled. “But if I catch a cold wearing wet clothes, then it’s your fault.”

    “JUST PUT YOUR PANTS ON!!!” Yan emphasized her words by jumping up and down, her hands still covering her eyes. Unfortunately, one foot caught on a loose root on the ground. Tripping, she stumbled forward a few steps toward the pool. As she skidded on the wet ground around the perimeter of the pool, she lost her footing and started to reel backward into the water.

    Chung Nam, in an attempt to prevent her from falling, lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Yan, pulling her away from the edge of the pool. Embracing her tightly, he frowned, concerned. “Are you all right?”

    Staring up at him, Yan nodded, wide-eyed, temporarily forgetting about Chung Nam’s nudity. However, as her gaze trailed down to his bare chest, she remembered his unclothed state immediately. Leaping backward, she swiveled around and slapped her hands over her eyes again.

    “PUT YOUR PANTS ON!!!” Yan shouted.

    Now that she was no longer in danger, Chung Nam found the situation hilarious again. “All right, all right.” He chuckled, reaching for his clothes.

    After a few seconds, Yan asked hesitantly, still turned away from Chung Nam. “Are you decently clothed now?”

    “Yes,” he answered.

    Sighing in relief, she turned around to find Chung Nam dressed in pants, standing with his arms crossed across his tanned, muscular chest, his feet planted slightly apart.

    He winked at her teasingly when he saw her flaming cheeks. “Happier now?”

    Glaring at him silently, she imitated his posture as she, too, crossed her arms and planted her feet slightly apart. However, her flushed complexion belied her pugnacious stance. Finally, she spoke grouchily. “Will you please wipe that amused look off your face? How would you feel if I wander around naked?” The minute the words left her mouth, she realized her mistake when she saw Chung Nam’s lips curve suggestively. “Oh, don’t even bother to answer that!”

    Chung Nam’s smile deepened. “There’s no need to be embarrassed, sweetheart. We’re going to be husband and wife soon.”

    “I am NOT marrying you!” Yan poked her finger at his chest, her lips pursed defiantly.

    “What?” Chung Nam feigned shocked outrage. “You’re not going to take responsibility for your actions?”

    “What responsibility? What actions?” Yan’s mouth dropped open.

    “You saw me completely unclothed. Aren’t you going to make an honest man out of me?” He smiled artlessly.

    “What?! Of all the outrageous things to say!” Yan sputtered.

    “If you won’t have me, who else will want me now?” He took her hand in his and held it against his heart.

    “Argh!” Yan groaned in disgust, pulling her hand out of his grasp.

    When she turned away, he easily pulled her back into his arms. “Hey, where are you going? Don’t you want to get out of this cave?”

    At his words, she paused. “You’re well enough to get us out of this cave now?”

    “Yes,” he nodded. “When you came back with the pears, I wanted to tell you that my strength had recovered and that I would be able to scale the cave wall, but you kept screaming at me.”

    “I kept screaming at you because you were...!” Yan began to rage at him indignantly, but then stopped and threw her hands up in exasperation. “Never mind!” She muttered, peeved. She wiggled out of his arms and ran over to pick up her travel bag. Then she practically skipped over to the pool and squinted up, trying to see all the way up the hole they had fallen from earlier. Nearly hopping with excitement, Yan waved Chung Nam forward, her earlier irritation forgotten. “Hurry up! Let’s get out of here!”

    Smiling at her indulgently, Chung Nam put on his slightly damp robe before walking over to Yan’s side. Positioning himself in front of her, he hunched down. “Climb on, sweetheart.”

    He waited for her to climb onto his back. Shifting her up more securely on his back, he straightened and warned her, “Hold on tight. This will be a steep climb up the wall.”

    After Yan tightened her arms around his neck, he flipped up into the air. Kicking off against one side of the cave wall and using it as leverage, he somersaulted higher up the wall, scaling the steep incline swiftly. After a few minutes, he neared the top, and with one final flip, he emerged out of the cave hole with Yan.

    Climbing off his back, Yan excitedly yelped. “We’re out! We’re out!” Then she looked around and frowned. “It’s nightfall.” Suddenly deflated, she wandered over to a large tree and plopped down onto the forest ground at the base of the tree. Hugging her travel sack close for warmth, she buried her nose in her bundle, looking forlorn.

    Confused at Yan’s sudden change in mood, Chung Nam crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? You were so thrilled just a few moments ago.”

    “I am going to stay here for the night.” Yan replied morosely.

    “Why?” Chung Nam questioned, still puzzled.

    “I’ve been hiding in various forests for the past three months since my elder sister destroyed my martial arts.” Yan explained, a bit depressed. “She still has men hunting for me. The obscurity of the forest makes it difficult for the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan members to find me.”

    Settling down next to Yan, Chung Nam pulled her into his arms. She resisted halfheartedly but finally allowed him to hug her.

    “Sweetheart, you no longer have to be afraid of your sister. You have me now. I’ll just kill anyone who tries to harm you.” He stated simply.

    Yan laughed at the absurdity of his statement. “You can’t just solve everything by killing people.”

    “Sure, I can.” Chung Nam rested his cheek on top of her head. “I’ve been solving problems by killing people for as long as I can remember, and it works very well. Once the opponent is dead, the problem is solved.” He pulled away from her slightly to grin unabashedly at her.

    Bursting out in laughter, Yan shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you. You’re incorrigible!”

    “Maybe I am.” Chung Nam remained silent for a few seconds before asking, “Are you really going to stay here for the night?”

    “I have nowhere else to go.” Yan answered, lowering her eyes, trying to decide what to do with her situation with Poison Snake.

    “You could return to Floating Cloud Summit with me.” Chung Nam suggested gently. When she didn’t answer, he tried to coax her a little more. “I can protect you from your sister and the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.”

    Still, she remained quiet. At last, she spoke, feeling stubborn for some reason. “I think I’d rather stay here.”

    “All right,” Chung Nam shrugged nonchalantly. He lay down onto the forest ground, pulling her down on top of him.

    “Hey, what are you doing?” Yan objected, scowling at Chung Nam. She tried to scramble up, but found herself held tightly within his embrace.

    “Stop squirming, sweetheart. I just want to hold you while I sleep.” He reassured her, clamping his arms around her, but making sure she was lying on top of him and away from the cold ground.

    Pausing, she narrowed her eyes suspiciously, while sprawled on top of him. “You’re going to sleep in the forest, too?”

    “Yes,” he confirmed. “Now close your eyes and go to sleep.” After instructing her to do so, he closed his eyes and tried to doze off.

    “You can’t stay here!” Yan declared huffily. When he ignored her, she frowned and pinched his cheeks. “Wake up! You can’t sleep here!”

    He opened his eyes and peered up at her. “Why not?”

    “Because...” She sputtered, trying to find a plausible reason. “Because I’m sleeping here.”

    “Well, do you own this forest?” Chung Nam lifted an eyebrow.

    “Noooo...” Yan pouted.

    “Then you can’t stop me from sleeping here, too.” Chung Nam closed his eyes again.

    Miffed, she pinched his cheeks again, forcing him to open his eyes. “You are a sect leader! Don’t you have important matters to attend to, Sect Leader Sit?”

    “Of course, I do, but I’m not leaving unless you come with me.” Chung Nam answered simply. When she clamped her mouth shut in exasperation, he sighed. “You have no where else to go anyway, Yan Yan, like you admit yourself, so why not come with me? Besides, I’m not that bad, am I?” He flashed a charming smile at her. “Admit it. You’re starting to like me.”

    “No, I’m not.” She denied stubbornly, but with no vehemence. When he continued to grin at her, she shook her head and sighed. Gnawing at her lower lip, Yan considered his words. After a few moments, she made a reluctant decision. “All right, I’ll come with you.” As his grin widened, she wagged her finger in front of his nose. “But I won’t marry you and you have to promise to keep your hands to yourself!”

    He didn’t answer her, but only deepened his smile. Leaping up, he pulled her with him. “Let’s go then.” He started to lead her in an eastbound direction.

    “Wait! Where are we going? This path doesn’t lead to Floating Cloud Summit!” Yan quickly snatched her travel sack while he dragged her along behind him.

    “I would like to pay my dear friend, Ng Pao, a visit before returning to Floating Cloud Summit.” Sit Chung Nam responded, no longer smiling. “Come on, sweetheart. We are bringing him a present.” He remarked grimly, as he led Yan out of the forest.

    THOUSAND SNAKE BLACK ROSE CLAN
    FA HEUNG LING’S CHAMBER

    The spacious room, elaborately decorated in rich colors of burgundy and muted golds, boasted of a large canopied bed pushed up against one side of the chamber and a matching dark cherry wood chaise lounge, vanity set, and table. The heavy velvet burgundy curtains were closed, blocking out the luminescent rays of the moon, casting the chamber in near darkness. The single source of light, a candle on the table, flickered erratically, casting amorphous shadows against the creamy silk screen separating the sleeping area from the sitting area.

    A woman sat at the vanity and stared vacantly into the circular mirror set on top of the table. The image of an enraged and embittered woman looked back at her from the mirror. With a hand shaky from barely controlled fury, the woman reached up, her fingertips lightly tracing the fresh scar extending from her forehead down to her nose. As her finger reached the end of the scar, she panted, faster and faster. Finally, she threw her head back and howled, a cry so filled with anger and pain that it resembled that of a wounded animal.

    “Yan, this is all your fault!” The scarred woman clenched her fists and pounded them on the vanity. “If not for you, I would not have run into Sit Chung Nam! If not for you, I would not have this scar! Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” Screaming, she swept forward with her right palm, the burst of palm energy shattering the mirror. Picking up the remains of the mirror frame, she hurled it across the room. “Fa Heung Yan, I hope that vicious bandit Sit Chung Nam rapes you and then slices you up into a million pieces! I hate you, Fa Heung Yan!”

    At that moment, the chamber door flew off its hinges and shattered to pieces. Swiveling around, the scarred woman glared at the man standing belligerently at the doorway.

    “Get out!” Fa Heung Ling screamed.

    Disregarding Ling’s order, the man, his classically handsome features frozen in rage, lunged forward and jerked Ling up by the lapels of her robe. “Where is she?” He snarled, thrusting his face threateningly close to hers.

    “Hello to you, too, dear husband.” Ling spat in his face.

    Without taking his eyes off his wife, Kuk Wai wiped away the saliva from his face with one hand, while keeping his other hand still clutched onto Ling’s robe. “Where is she?” He repeated, enunciating each word clearly with barely restrained violence.

    “I don’t know who you’re referring to.” Ling smiled, deliberately baiting him.

    Shaking her roughly, Kuk Wai clenched his teeth. “Don’t play games with me! I have been searching for her for the past three months ever since you banished her from the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan! Where is Yan?”

    “Oh, I see now!” Ling laughed bitterly. “You’re looking for your little tramp.”

    Eyes flashing tempestuously, he warned her. “Don’t insult her. If anyone is a tramp, then it’s you!”

    “Me? ME?” Her shrill voice escalated to an ear-piercing scream. “I’m your wife, and all you can think about is that little tramp!”

    “If you hadn’t drugged me with the fumes from that mind-altering incense, I would not have mistaken you for Yan in my drug-induced haze and betrayed her with you!” He yelled back at her.

    “Right! I’m the villain here!” Ling thumped her chest with one hand. “If you’re so righteous and gentlemanly, you would not have sneaked into Yan’s chamber in the middle of the night. Then, I would not have had the opportunity to drug you with my incense. Were you thinking of taking advantage of her while she was sleeping?”

    “I went to Yan’s chamber intending to discuss something important with her. I would never take advantage of her!” Kuk Wai stiffened, his fists clenched at Ling’s accusation.

    Chuckling maliciously, she tilted her head and regarded him smugly. “Unfortunately for you, I knew Yan had stepped out of her room that evening. When I spotted you in the courtyard heading toward her chamber, I sneaked into her room and lighted my special brand of incense. Then, I hid under her bedcovers and waited for you. Oh, I can still see the absolute shock and horror on her face when she returned to her chamber the following morning and found us in bed together.”

    “Shut up.” Kuk Wai threatened, his voice soft. Yet, a throbbing vein at his temple belied his calm tone.

    Ignoring his warning, Ling continued to mock him. “Let me tell you something, dear husband. Even if you find Yan, she won’t take you back anymore.” Jabbing a finger at her new scar, Ling twisted her lips. “Do you see this scar here? Do you know how I got this scar?” Without waiting for his response, she jeered in his face. “Your little tramp’s new man gave me this scar!”

    With this new piece of information, Kuk Wai’s look of fury faltered momentarily. “What man?”

    Smirking, Ling threw her head back and laughed mockingly. “What? Do you really think she won’t find herself another man? Do you really think she will stay loyal to you, a man who has cheated on her?” When Kuk Wai only stared blankly back at her, she continued to goad him. “You should see my little sister’s new man.” She paused, deliberately licking her lips provocatively. “He’s tall and handsome. He has this dangerous sexuality about him, lethal and brutally physical. If I were Yan, I wouldn’t be able to resist such a man.”

    “You’re lying!” Kuk Wai shook Ling again. “Yan would never leave me.”

    Ling sneered at him. “She’s probably his woman by now. After all, he is now her hero, not you.”

    “Who is he?!” He narrowed his eyes.

    “Do you think I will tell you?” Ling asked incredulously.

    Raising his hand, he moved as if to strike her, but then stopped himself. Understanding Fa Heung Ling’s temperament very well, he knew that she will never tell him Yan’s whereabouts. Letting go of her in disgust, Kuk Wai stomped off, intending to locate Yan quickly.

    Left behind in the chamber, Ling stood, rigid as a statue. Slowly, she laid her hand against her abdomen, gently caressing her empty womb, still grief-stricken whenever she thought of the baby she had miscarried three months ago. A single tear trickled down her cheek, lingering at the angle of her jaw, quivering vulnerably for a mere second before plummeting down to the floor....

  8. #8
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
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    First to post! Yay I'm super excited about this prequel
    Great teaser for the prologue. It's so you to leave readers hanging like that

    Do you want me to edit the titles on the posters, Mel? Just let me know.
    Last edited by tweety365; 10-19-11 at 01:33 PM.

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    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tweety365 View Post
    First to post! Yay I'm super excited about this prequel
    Thanks for your support, tweety. Yours may be the only comment, but oh well. I'm used to this by now. Charby may post some weird funny comment or cry for her Bluey (even though it's the wrong story), like she usually does.

    Great teaser for the prologue. It's so you to leave readers hanging like that
    Thanks, again. The Prologue didn't take that long to write this time. I was somehow flooded with inspiration. I'm surprised you didn't complain about Black Rose's death. Anyway, as hinted in the Prologue, the first part of this prequel will focus on SCN and Black Rose, and the second part will focus on the Guardian (their son), his love story with the Seer, and the Swords of Sun and Moon. It's my way of returning Gilbert and Annie to the spotlight again, since I've been neglecting them in the original Legendary Book story.

    Do you want me to edit the titles on the posters, Mel? Just let me know.
    Yes, please. I forgot about correcting the titles. Let me know when you're done revising the titles and I will post up your revised posters. Thank you again, tweety!

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    LOL, Rose's death is no surprise. Heck, I thought you would start the story with BOTH Rose and SCN dead. So it's a bonus that SCN is still alive . Have no fear, Charby will definitely spam this thread, hehehe.

    Just emailed you the revised posters. Btw, how long will you be in HK? Will miss you

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    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tweety365 View Post
    LOL, Rose's death is no surprise. Heck, I thought you would start the story with BOTH Rose and SCN dead. So it's a bonus that SCN is still alive.
    IT'S A MIRACLE!!! SCN still lives!!!! He's alive! He's alive! Ok, seriously, I think it's much sadder when one part of a couple dies and leaves the other one grieving and pining away for someone who will never come back.

    Just emailed you the revised posters.
    I just posted up the revised posters. Thanks, tweety.

    Btw, how long will you be in HK? Will miss you.
    One and a half week. I will miss you guys, too! Do you think I'll be lucky enough to spot Wallace Chung??? Do you??? Do you??? Maybe I'll spot him in the night markets bargaining for slippers. OMG! If I see him, I'm going to leap on him and tackle him to the ground. And then, I'll force him to read my story.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanie View Post
    IT'S A MIRACLE!!! SCN still lives!!!! He's alive! He's alive! Ok, seriously, I think it's much sadder when one part of a couple dies and leaves the other one grieving and pining away for someone who will never come back.
    In a perfect world, both lovers would live and die together. However, besides love, there are other responsibilities that should not be ignored. In SCN’s case, he needs to take care of his 2 sons. They are part of him and Black Rose. He is such a strong man (physically and mentally) that I can’t see him wallowing in self pity and drowning his sorrow in alcohol.

    It is heartbreaking that she is no longer with her family and won’t be able to be watch her sons grow up. However, SCN can still reminisce the sweet memories they shared. She lives on in his memories and through her sons. It may be bittersweet, but I think that memories are still quite beautiful. It is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.

    One and a half week. I will miss you guys, too! Do you think I'll be lucky enough to spot Wallace Chung??? Do you??? Do you??? Maybe I'll spot him in the night markets bargaining for slippers. OMG! If I see him, I'm going to leap on him and tackle him to the ground. And then, I'll force him to read my story.
    No problem on the posters. I'm hoping you get to see Wallace too. Can Wallace read English?
    Good luck though!

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    Quote Originally Posted by tweety365 View Post
    In a perfect world, both lovers would live and die together. However, besides love, there are other responsibilities that should not be ignored. In SCN’s case, he needs to take care of his 2 sons. They are part of him and Black Rose. He is such a strong man (physically and mentally) that I can't see him wallowing in self pity and drowning his sorrow in alcohol.

    It is heartbreaking that she is no longer with her family and won't be able to be watch her sons grow up. However, SCN can still reminisce the sweet memories they shared. She lives on in his memories and through her sons. It may be bittersweet, but I think that memories are still quite beautiful. It is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.
    Wow, tweety, I'm so pleasantly surprised by such a long and touching comment! It actually made me quite teary-eyed.

    Are you sure you don't want to co-write the story with me? It'll take some work getting together and coordinating our chapters and ideas, but I know the story will be in good hands with you as a co-writer.

    From the Prologue, who would have guessed that Black Rose started off hating SCN? They seem very much in love at the end. It's shocking, but in a way, very sweet to know that SCN can change from a notorious, ruthless bandit who only thinks of himself to a loving husband who still very much loves his wife even after she is no longer by his side. Also, I think he will make a great father. So there is hope for men, after all. Even the baddest of boys will change if the right girl comes along, eh? I know, I'm such a hopeless romantic.



    Can Wallace read English?
    I don't know... That's a good question! I never thought of that! Darn it! What if he doesn't read English? He's going to miss seeing himself portrayed as a hot, sexy bad boy! Do you think he speaks English? I guess it's ok if he doesn't. If I do see him (unlikely, though), we can always communicate with each other with our equally bad Mandarin.

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    Hehehe, I guess the writer in me pops up once in awhile. But really, I do ok with short analysis. However, to co-write a story, I know I am definitely not up to task. I find my mind wanders around too much to string together a coherent plot. Add in my tendency to procrastinate and it will be a disaster. I sometimes think back to my unfinished modern fic and I am filled with regret. Perhaps one day in the future, I will find the inspiration to finish that. So I very much admire you and Charby for continuing on with your stories .

    We are both hopeless romantics . I am willing to pay to see you and Wallace communicate in broken Mandarin

  15. #15
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tweety365 View Post
    Hehehe, I guess the writer in me pops up once in awhile. But really, I do ok with short analysis. However, to co-write a story, I know I am definitely not up to task. I find my mind wanders around too much to string together a coherent plot. Add in my tendency to procrastinate and it will be a disaster. I sometimes think back to my unfinished modern fic and I am filled with regret. Perhaps one day in the future, I will find the inspiration to finish that. So I very much admire you and Charby for continuing on with your stories .
    Oh, I think you definitely have the attention span to write a story. You went pretty far along with your modern fic, if I recall correctly. What happened? Why did you stop midway? Perhaps modern fics are not your cup of tea. You need to write wuxia, with the muscular, bare-chested, hot, sword-wielding men. Anyway, if you don't wish to co-write, I still welcome any suggestions on how to improve the story, just like how you suggested I create a prequel rather than digress too much in the original story with SCN and Black Rose's story. That was a big help. Thanks.

    I think your admiration should be directed toward charby. She's the one who did extensive research on historical facts so that she could interweave fact with fiction in her story. She's the one who pre-planned the storyline before starting her writing. Now that's dedication. I'm just stumbling around and winging it chapter by chapter, praying that someone will still find my story interesting enough to read.

    We are both hopeless romantics .
    I think hopeless romantics are more fun to hang out with. We see the world through rosy lenses and are generally upbeat people. Plus, who doesn't love a touching romantic story? You have to be pretty hard-hearted to be unmoved by true love.

    I am willing to pay to see you and Wallace communicate in broken Mandarin
    All right, then. If I see Wallace Chung, I will record our meeting on video and sell tickets for viewing. I wonder who has the worse Mandarin, me or Wallace? I think he has the better vocabulary, but I have the better pronunciation. I suppose I could communicate with him in Cantonese, too, but my Cantonese is not too good, either. If he autographs something for me and writes me a message in Chinese, I'll have to scan the message, post it here, and ask for help with the translation.

  16. #16
    Senior Member tobeme's Avatar
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    Wow... long chapters. I've copied and pasted your chapters into a word document. I like to read the story on papers for the sake of my eyesight. Will print them out tomorrow for reading. Mel, thanks for sharing!
    Wallace Huo's information site, forum and Facebook: www.wallacehuo.info

  17. #17
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tobeme View Post
    Wow... long chapters. I've copied and pasted your chapters into a word document. I like to read the story on papers for the sake of my eyesight. Will print them out tomorrow for reading. Mel, thanks for sharing!
    Thanks for reading, tobeme! Yes, my chapters have gotten noticeably lengthier over the years. I think in the beginning, I'm less descriptive. As the years go by, my chapters are more descriptive and I try to set the scene a bit more. Hopefully, my writing style has improved through the years.

    Have you already finished the other story (Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay)?! Or are you going to read both stories at the same time? Regardless, thank you so much for reading! I really appreciate it! I'm so happy, I'm in tears.

    Please let me know your thoughts on the prequel.

  18. #18
    Senior Member charbydis's Avatar
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    Gilbert!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
    Cyril Connolly

  19. #19
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by charbydis View Post
    Gilbert!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It's weird to be saying this, but I think I miss your whining and bawling over Bluey. Welcome back, charby. Where have you been?

  20. #20
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
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    Mel, aren't you buys packing right now?
    Have a nice trip

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