Another chapter to make up for shortness. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0">
The Sun-Moon Cult
Character List (not in any particular order):
Tian Xin-er (Vivian Leung Siu Bing)
Shu Qiuyang (Deric Wan Siu Lan)
Shu Xiayue (Maggie Siu Mei Kei)
Tian Xin-er found herself in an unfamiliar room with a middle-aged woman dressed in strange clothes observing her anxiously. The older woman cried with delight when her patient came to. “Good, you have woken up. Mistress would be glad to hear this.” She turned toward the door and called out. “Hongmei, go fetch Mistress immediately. Miss Tian is awake.”
A young maiden clad in similar outfit although her skirt was red, whereas that of the other’s was blue appeared at the doorway and nodded then ran off speedily. Five minutes later, Shu Xiayue rushed into the room to greet her friend.
“I am so glad! We were beginning to thing that you would not live. You have passed out for three days and three nights, and we have been taking turns looking after you. Qiuyang has just gone to bed an hour ago because I insisted so. He was very worried about you.”
Shu Xiayue chatted then turned to the tribal doctor. “How is she, Grandmother?” She called the older woman intimately for she had learned basic arts of healing from the other before.
The healer nodded encouragingly. “She will live for the time being anyway. She is strong and young, and she had taken our thousand-years ginseng, so the snake poison would not affect her for some time.” She then lowered her voice as if afraid of being overheard. “This poison originates from the Widow Mansion, a mysterious clan of the desert. It is best not to cross their way.” She was hinting to her mistress that if the Widow Mansion had wanted this young lady dead, it was rather unwise for their tribe to shelter her.
Shu Xiayue ignored the warning and turned to Tian Xin-er. “Don’t worry. We are now at the Sun-Moon Cult, my father’s tribe. My father is very knowledgeable; he will find out the whereabouts of the Widow Mansion soon and we will send someone there to ask for your antidote.”
Tian Xin-er weakly thanked her and obediently drank the bitter medicine that the doctor presented to her. Then, she went back to bed.
In the study on the other wing of the same building, a young man was heatedly arguing with an older man. “But Uncle, Yue-er and I are like siblings. We do not wish to marry each other. Besides,…”
The old man interrupted with a scowl. “Besides, you are in love with the Tian girl, and Yue-er with a man from Sword South School.” He shook his head disapprovingly. “It was a mistake to give you this mission. I originally thought that by giving you two some time to be together, you would grow to like each other more.” He pointed his fingers at the youth.
“Don’t think that you can get away from this wedding. If you won’t marry Xiayue, you will lose everything that I have given you. Think over it carefully whether you want to be the next leader of the Sun-Moon Cult or the son-in-law of Tian Fei.” His tone was sarcastic for he knew his nephew’s ambition too well.
Shu Qiuyang hesitated. He knew his uncle too and realized that the other’s ultimatum was not merely an empty threat. His face betrayed his uncertainty, and his uncle saw an upper hand. The old man changed his tone and put forth a smile.
“Ah Yang, you should know that I think highly of you. You are talented and ambitious. Under your leadership, our cult would surely prosper. All these years, I have saved my daughter for you. All these years, I have paved a way to greatness for you because I think you are capable of leading our tribe to glory. You can be the number one man here whereas at best you will only be the second son-in-law in the Tian family. A true man must put his future before his love. Tian Xin-er was but a common girl – could not be compared with my beautiful Xiayue. Don’t disappoint me.”
Shu Qiuyang bit his lips. He voiced his doubt. “Even if I am willing to marry Yue-er, she might not want to, especially that she has exchanged daggers with Huang Yitao.”
The old man was fuming lividly. “How dared she?” He roared. “She intentionally hid this fact from me so she could spill it out in front of our elders, didn’t she? The dagger exchange is our tribe custom, not including outsiders, so her self engagement is null.” He announced then turned to his nephew. “She is my daughter, and I will manage her. What I need from you now is yes or no.”
He was waiting, and Shu Qiuyang weighed pros and cons with heavy heart. He had wanted Tian Xin-er enough to defy his uncle, but could he live as an outcast and without usual status? He thought of Tian Xin-er’s sweet smile then Shu Qiuyang’s merry eyes and sighed. Did he love Tian Xin-er enough to gamble everything he had for her? He reminded himself of Ke Jing and unconsciously made a fist. What if she chose the other instead of him? What would he have left then? An idea crossed his mind, and he made a decision. He slowly nodded, and the old man relaxed and opened a grin.
“Wise move, my boy. You made the right choice.” He waved his hand, and Shu Qiuyang retired to his room. On the way, Hongmei came to inform him that the guest was out of coma, and he immediately went to visit Tian Xin-er.
There, he met the heeler and learned from her that the patient was still weak. “Good thing that she had powerful internal energy. Her wound is not too serious, and it will heel in time. But if she doesn’t receive the right antidote, she can lose her kung fu and die eventually. Mistress wanted to find the Widow Mansion for her, but that is harder than to go to heaven in my opinion. You should talk to Mistress about this.” She gave him a friendly advice since she had seen both of them from childhood and knew that he would become the next leader some day.
Shu Qiuyang’s heart pounded. “How long would she be living without her martial arts?” He asked.
The older woman considered awhile than answered him. “Right now, she temporarily lost her kung fu. If she doesn’t get the antidote within a month, she will never be able to use her martial arts again. Then, she will slowly die.”
“Will ginseng prolong her life?”
“Hmm, maybe. She is a healthy young woman. If she doesn’t exert herself, she might live five to ten more years with help of herbal medicine, but she will turn an invalid.”
Shu Qiuyang thanked her and left the room without waking the patient. Heaven must have wanted him to have both women for it was now offering him this great opportunity. Throughout the trip, he had been intimidated by Tian Xin-er’s martial arts. Now that she was unable to use her kung fu, she was only a mere chicken in his hand at his mercy.
“Xin-er, you will live until I grow tired of you. I will give you life, and you will be mine in return.” He laughed gleefully. Greed blinded his conscience, and lust darkened his heart. Shu Qiuyang had lost his original thought of wooing Tian Xin-er in gentleman manner for he was not willing to lose her to any other men. “It doesn’t matter who you really likes now for you will have no choice.”
An evil plot was planned, and it was executed the next day.
Tian Xin-er felt better the following evening after another day’s rest. She got up and washed her face, intending to go for a walk to stretch her legs despite Shu Xiayue’s protests. At last, her friend gave in and consented to accompany her although grumbled a little.
“Qiuyang would be disappointed for he has wanted to visit you.” She indicated a bowl of ginseng soup on the table. “He ordered this to be made especially for you, so you should take a sip.”
Tian Xin-er wrinkled her nose. She smiled at Shu Xiayue and said that the soup was too hot at the moment. “We will take a short walk and when we are back, the soup would be just right.” She grabbed the other’s arm and asked the latter to lead the way. “How about a garden?” She suggested.
Shu Xiayue rolled her eyes but decided to spoil the patient for a day. “Well, just for a short distance for I have to go see my father.” She conceded and took her friend to her private garden.
A minute later, Hongmei entered the room. She saw the appetizing soup and was instantly hungry. “They said that ginseng can make a woman more beautiful. It is not fair that an outsider like Miss Tian get to drink all this good stuff. She is already beautiful, and the heeler said that she will die anyway.”
She tiptoed to the door, opened it to see if anyone was around. Next, she closed the door and all windows and sat on the table in the dark. Then, she put the bowl to her lips and drank it all. “Hmm, it was good.” She licked her lips and stood up.
Suddenly, the room seemed to whirl around her. She moved wobbly a few steps and toppled over. That was the last time she had opened her eyes.
Shu Qiuyang entered the dark room with smiling face. He rubbed his hands with high anticipation when he discerned a woman form on the floor. Not bother to light a candle so not to draw an attention from the maids, he lifted the hapless girl to the bed and undressed her.
“Tian Xin-er, once you are mine, we will see what you can do.”
Some time later, he got up from the bed and rearranged his clothes, grinning blissfully. Finally, the moon was in his hands. He suddenly felt the urge to see her face. She must have looked ravishing in that state. He went to the table and lit a stub of candle then brought it to the bed. Hongmei’s face shocked him, and for one moment, he froze. Then, his surprise turned to anger. His disappointment was so great that he lost control of himself. Flicking the candle away, he bent down and grabbed the neck of the unconscious woman then squeezed it madly. “How dared you pretend to be her?” He asked repeatedly.
The maiden lost her breath before she could regain her sense, and Shu Qiuyang let the dead woman go dazedly. He looked at his hands then at the limp form on the bed and dashed out of the room as if ghosts were after him.
Unwittingly of the danger she had narrowly escaped, at that moment, Tian Xin-er was talking with a masked man in Shu Xiayue’s herb garden. He was her savior that day, and he had come to check on her. After listening to Shu Xiayue’s diagnosis, he proposed that Tian Xin-er had to go to the Widow Mansion right away. “I will take her there myself.” He spoke and Tian Xin-er looked at him intently.
“You are brother Li, aren’t you?” She questioned then continued when he was silent. “Father always talks about you. He misses you a lot, and so does Xing-xing.”
Li Renying (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) sighed and untied the dark cloth that covered his face. “I do not want you to know who I am, but you are too intelligent for me.” He bowed politely at Shu Xiayue. “Miss Shu,” he greeted.
He was thinner and had grown beard on his face. His eyes were no longer lively but full of pain of the past. He seemed older and wiser, but kindness was still there as he looked at his teacher’s daughter.
Tian Xin-er did not have to ask him about his wife, Zhan Feiyan, for his eyes told all. Almost four years ago, Li Renying had taken his wife to Tibet in order to search for the cure of black orchid poison. Nobody had heard of the couple until Tian Xin-er came across him some days ago.
Li Renying ran his fingers through his long unkempt hair and spoke. “You probably wonder why I am here alone. Feiyan was dead.” His shoulders shook, and tears formed in his eyes.
“She did not die from the black orchid poison but from some low bandits. I have left her to search for water, and when I came back, she was already a corpse. That night, I tracked down the gang and killed all of them to send them to apologize to her.” He could not help sobbing, and Tian Xin-er put her hand around his comfortingly.
“Brother Li, everything was in the past. Please go back to Sword South School. Father is still waiting for you.”
Li Renying shook his head. “No, that chapter of my life ended with Feiyan’s death. I used to think that we would go back there if Ah Yan were cured. Now, I only want to be alone, wandering aimlessly. I have wanted to take my own life, but Ah Yan had made me promise to live without her. I cannot break my promise to her, but I could not return to the old Li Renying. That boy had died with his wife, leaving only a living ghost in sorrow.”
Shu Xiayue looked at the setting sun and exclaimed. “I am late! Father is going to scold me.” She turned to Li Renying and apologized to him before skipping away. “Please stay for a while. I want to make a proper thank to you for saving Qiuyang and my lives.”
Tian Xin-er pulled the reluctant Li Renying toward her room. “Xiayue was right. You should at least stay for a few days to pay respect to the cult leader. Originally, I am supposed to do that, but I have been ill and have not yet met him.” She then told her martial brother of the story of Sword God.
Li Renying frowned after she had finished. “Then, this place is not safe for you. Although Miss Shu is your friend, she won’t be able to help you physically. I think we should leave this place right away. The faster we can find the Widow Mansion, the better chance you will get the antidote.” He thought of his deceased wife and sighed sadly.
Tian Xin-er was not unreasonable. She understood that the other thought only of her safety. She nodded. “All right, let me write a letter to Xiayue. Then, we will go.”
They were in front of her room now, and Li Renying opened the door for her. He himself waited outside gentlemanly. Seconds later, he heard Tian Xin-er’s scream, so he ran inside and found a half-naked body of a young woman on the bed, strangled to death.
Li Renying surveyed the scene with sharp eyes and caught a sight of the empty soup bowl. He lifted it up and smelled it. Then he informed to his martial sister. “There was large sleeping doze in this bowl. Someone must have drugged her before the rape. What a cruel act!”
Tian Xin-er did not hear him as she collapsed from emotional fatigue. Li Renying grabbed her waist and decided that he had to take her away from here. His instinct told him that the intended victim must have been Tian Xin-er instead of this dead maiden.
With his light kung fu, he carried her in his arms and traveled as fast as he could toward the south.
Meanwhile, Shu Xiayue hurried to her father’s study to hear his conversation with someone inside. She was about to retreat when she recognized Shu Qiuyang’s voice.
“You have no proof that I was there. For all I know, you are the suspect too since you were the one who found her.” Shu Xiayue’s curiosity arose, and she put her ears at the door, listening intently.
Her father was shouting angrily. “You devil boy! I don’t know why I thought you were the right husband for my daughter.” Shu Xiayue heard a clank sound like a dagger dropped on the floor then some silence.
Finally, Shu Qiuyang spoke. “Uncle, I admit my wrong. I was out of my mind for one second. I promise this would not happen again. I will also swear to you never to see Tian Xin-er forever.”
Her father laughed coldly. “It is a bit late to repent now, isn’t it? If I had not shown you the dagger that you dropped on the bed, you would have never confessed your evil deed, would you? We have nothing to talk. If you are still a man, you’d better kill yourself now.”
His laugh suddenly stopped. Shu Xiayue heard his groan then a thud. Without thinking, she opened the door and rushed inside. On the floor, her father was lying in a pool of blood. A dagger was sticking out of his heart. Shu Xiayue’s shaking hand went to the dagger and pulled it out. On the bloodstained blade, the name of Shu Qiuyang was written clearly.
She screamed and turned to her father’s murderer. “How could you, Qiuyang? He was like a father to you.” In her rage, she launched at him with the sharp dagger in her hands. Shu Qiuyang easily evaded her stab and sealed her pressure points, rendering her motionless and speechless. Then, he put a pill in her mouth, while coaxing her with his soft voice.
“Xiayue, it is unfortunate for you to witness this scene. I have only you left, and I cannot afford to lose everything. I am the next leader now, and I will take good care of you. Be my good wife and you will live.”
He then took his dagger away from her and wiped it clean before putting it away. Next, he snatched Xiayue’s dagger from her waist and stabbed one more time at the dead man’s chest. Then, he put it back in her hands. He laughed uncomfortably at the murderous look from her.
“That is not the way to stare at your future husband. Anyhow, you won’t be able to speak so soon. Let us marry first and then I will add Tian Xin-er into my collection. She can stay here and be your friend then. Won’t you like that?”
The pill began to take effect and Shu Xiayue only heard her cousin calling for the guards before she went down. “The leader is dead. He has been murdered.”
Intrigued about Shu Xiayue's fate? Stay tune. <IMG SRC="smilies/biggrin.gif" border="0"> Thank you for reading. <IMG SRC="smilies/bow.gif" border="0">