Hi, everyone. I am so sorry for the delayed update but at first i was busy with the holidy. And school started all over again and I have no time at all. hope you can forgive me. <IMG SRC="smilies/bow.gif" border="0">
to Kara- thank you so much, my dear. you are too kind. hope that you are not too disappointed with this chapter. it is a bit weird to me but i had to write in a hurry. wince.
to C Monster- hehe, you are making me blush with your kind praises. <IMG SRC="smilies/blush.gif" border="0"> Glad that you like the switching of the roles. I think both louis and julian are versatile enough to act in either role. thank you, thank you.
to zzzbeauty. so sorry dear. hope you can forgive little, slow me. as for the relationship, we'll see. tu vi laughs evilly.
to goofy- thank you so much for pointing out that mistake. tu vi winces. i will edit it immediately. thank you so much for your unending support.
Thank you so much everyone. I am very grateful for your kind comments and support.
Chapter 8- Strategy
Louis Koo- Kim Bat Pham
Julian Cheung- Tieu Phong (Little Wind)
Unknown- Nam Cung Hong
Vivian Leung – Vuong Nha Yen
Ruby Lin- Lam Tam Nhu
Nicky Wu- Vuong Nhat Phi
It was nearly noon and yet the bright sun could not manage to pierce through the thick cloud of mist that covered the entire forest. Shadowy trees emerged like skinny skeletons behind the heavy fog. And from somewhere far away came the whispering wind and the howls of lonely wolves.
Bat Pham stopped as he looked around him. He could not even see his hand as he held it out in front of his face. The mist seemed to have gain visible weight. He could feel it pushing him down and curling around him like ghostly fingers. The air was damp with the nauseous scent of decaying leaves and rotting flesh.
“Are we lost?” Nha Yen asked quietly from behind him.
“I think so.” Bat Pham turned and smiled reassuringly at her blurred face. They have followed the map that Vuong Thien Ton (Felix Wong) had given him but somewhere along the way, they had taken the wrong road. It had been a week since they left the Cherry Blossoms Manor. And yet they were nowhere near their destination. A day ago, they have reached the edge of this forest and according to the map, if they took a path directly through the forest, they would reach a bustling city. But when they woke up this morning, fog had covered the entire area with its ominous presence, reaching into the horizon, as far as the eyes could see. And there was no way for them to tell which way was north.
Bat Pham took a step forward and his foot kicked something. He bended down and picked it up. It was a burned stick of wood.
“This is where we broke camp this morning.” He said quietly. They had been wandering around in circle.
“It is useless for us to walk without seeing where we are going. Should we stay here until the mist lifts?” Nha Yen suggested.
“It seems like we have no other choice.” Bat Pham looked back at where Nhat Phi (Nicky Wu) stood. “Nhat Phi, what do you think?”
Nhat Phi answered, “I agree with Nha Yen.”
So they sat and waited patiently but the afternoon went by with no sign of the mist retreating. Bat Pham was sitting in meditative style when he suddenly heard the sound of a “kum” rising up sharply, cutting through the silent forest. Its notes echoed and trembled on the air. It didn’t sound peaceful or serene like most melodies but instead sounded like the clashing of swords and thundering horses. It twirled and danced chaotically, writhingly and moving uncontrollably as the notes became sharper and sharper until they blended into one single, ear piercing sound.
Feeling his blood surging and his internal energy rushing through his veins, Bat Pham put his hands together and turned all his thoughts inward. After a minute, he succeeded in pushing the chaotic sound out. He opened his eyes and with his high energy, he could see that Nha Yen who was sitting beside him was in control. Her face was a little bit paler but she showed no sign of internal disturbance. He looked over at Nhat Phi and Tam Nhu (Ruby Lin) and to his faint surprise; he saw that the maid was putting her right hand on Nhat Phi’s back. Her face showed no sign of exhaustion even though she was splitting her energy in half. Bat Pham filed that curious detail into his mind as he stood up and braced himself.
The sound of the kum suddenly died out after that sharp note.
And then they came.
At first, the wind picked up a nauseous odor and the air turned fouler. Then came the hissing, there seemed to be thousands of them, surrounding Bat Pham, Nha Yen, Nhat Phi and Tam Nhu. And there was the sound of something scaly gliding against the forest ground. The rotten leaves and grass rustled and moved.
Then suddenly it was quiet.
Bat Pham could almost hear himself breathing. But even his sharp eyes could not pierce more than five feet through the dense mist. He did not turn around as Nha Yen rose and stood beside him. All his attention was focused on the invisible ground.
“Who are you?” A mere whisper came ghosting out of the fog. “Why have you invaded my territory?” Even though the voice was but a soft whisper, it was feminine.
“Forgive us, we did not know that the forest belongs to you.” Bat Pham cupped his hands in greeting. “May I ask for your identity, Elder?”
“I am no one and I am nothing. I came from the Earth and I will die with the Earth.” Came the haunting reply.
“Black Snakes!” Nha Yen said with some surprise. “It is an honor to meet you, Gia Cat Elder.”
“You are well learned but this would not save you from your fate. No one may leave the Forest of Mist alive.”
The “kum” suddenly vibrated with an earth shattering sound. And the hissing intensified.
“Nha Yen, be careful.” Bat Pham said calmly as his left palm flickered and a pure white energy shot out, blasting at the earth. A few dozens, unidentifiable black shapes flew limply backward and landed with a thud.
“Our best bet is up in the trees.” Nha Yen whispered. Seeing Bat Pham’s nod, she turned back to Tam Nhu and Nhat Phi. “Tam Nhu, help my brother.”
Tam Nhu took Nhat Phi’s arm and with a single twist, they were up on a large branch. Nha Yen and Bat Pham flew after her.
“You think that you can escape my children?” The whisper said mockingly. “Let’s see how long you can stay up there.”
Then it was silent again. The hissing faded into nothingness.
“She is right. We cannot hide forever. And when it is night, it would be even more dangerous.” Tam Nhu said worriedly.
Bat Pham smiled, “but there is nothing we can do right now so why worry about it?” He sat down on the gnarled branch and leaned back against the trunk. His every action and gesture comfortable. It was as if he was merely strolling along on a beautiful spring day.
Tam Nhu sighed and gave up.
An hour passed and then two.
Suddenly, the sound of soft singing rose from the distance. Then it came closer and closer. It was a male’s voice, cheerful and carefree.
“The world calls me crazy.
But am I crazy or is the world insane?” The figure sang as he approached right underneath the tree.
Noticing the expensive clothes and familiar swagger, Bat Pham grinned, “Tieu Phong.”
The figure looked up, revealing Tieu Phong’s face with his bright, cheerful eyes and crooked smile.
“Ah, there you are. What are you doing up there?” He cluck his tongue, “it wasn’t very polite of you to leave us hanging at the Cherry Blossoms Manor.”
“It was necessary.” Bat Pham said simply.
“If that is the case, then..” Tieu Phong’s voice was cut off as the whisper rose.
“How did you get through?”
Tieu Phong blinked innocently, “through what? Oh, you mean the ugly, writhing snakes, simple, I blasted them away with this.” He held out a pouch with some unreadable writing on it. There was an odd scent to it. It smelled much like dry roses combined with oil.
“The Snow Orchid.” Nhat Phi muttered, “it has the ability to repel snakes.”
“Who are you? Why do you have this flower?” The whisper asked coolly.
“Does it matter who I am? You have a more pressing concern at the moment.” He pointed to the west.
The temperature in the clearing suddenly seemed to drop drastically. A chill spread and clung. Then there was the scent of fresh snow and the tang of frozen ice.
“The Ice Palace.” The whisper was no longer calm or emotionless. Instead her voice was fused with emotions.
“Gia Cat Leader, I hope that you would respect the Ice Emperor (Bang Cung Ton Gia) enough to let these people go.” A familiar voice said mildly.
“The Ice Palace no longer has the authority of thirty years ago.” The whisper gained back its emotionless state. “And the Ice Emperor is no longer the dominant force of the pugilist world. You are dreaming if you think that the Black Snakes will yield to the Ice Palace.”
“It is your choice.” An incredible cold energy blasted forcefully through the clearing and took with it the clinging mist. And all was clear again.
Tam Nhu (Ruby Lin) looked down and swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. There were countless black, glittering snakes lying on the ground, covering the forest entirely so that there was no leaves or grass visible. All she could see was a carpet of black, writhing mass. All except for the small area around Tieu Phong. It was empty.
A white figure flew out from the west and by bouncing his feet against the trees, he didn’t need to land on the snakes. Within the blink of an eye, the figure has landed next to Tieu Phong.
“About time that you get here.” Tieu Phong said blandly.
“My way took a little bit longer than yours.” Nam Cung Hong replied while fussily trying to brush away a speck of dust on his pure, white robe.
“I was wondering when you two would get here.” Bat Pham jumped down from the tree and landed next to the two.
“We both know that you purposely held back so that we would show our faces and unfortunately, your restraint is better than us. We couldn’t resist.” Tieu Phong said.
“Speak for yourself.” Cung Hong cut in. “I have plenty of self-restrain.”
“Oh, really? Then why are you here?” Tieu Phong smiled as Cung Hong narrowed his eyes.
“Are you done?” The whisper asked coldly. “No one made a fool out of me and live to tell it.”
“Would you please move on? All these threats are getting tired.” Tieu Phong yawned.
And immediately a black “kum” flew through the air and headed toward his throat with blinding speed. Tieu Phong merely stared at it without any reaction. And at the last moment, Bat Pham was forced to intervene. If he didn’t then the “kum” would already hit Tieu Phong. His hand flickered and the “kum” shot backward and disappeared into the trees as if pulled by an invisible hand.
“You do have more self-restrain than me.” Bat Pham looked steadily at Tieu Phong.
“We will meet again, Kim Bat Pham of White Cloud Manor, Vuong Nha Yen of Cherry Blossoms Manor, Tieu Phong, and Nam Cung Hong of Ice Palace.” The whisper laughed, there was no frustration or anger in her voice. “I have tested your strength and you will, indeed, be my most formidable opponents. The game ahead shall be interesting. May the best of us get the Red Script.”
The whisper suddenly increased and became faster and faster, no one could really heard what she was saying. The snakes hissed and glided away. Within a few minutes, there were no traces of them left.
“This was a test.” Tam Nhu asked in bewilderment.
“Yes.” Bat Pham smiled slightly.
“I don’t understand.” Tam Nhu confessed.
“The Black Snakes Mistress already knows that we have the maps even before we entered her forest. She was merely testing our strengths and see who is in our group.” Bat Pham explained patiently.
“That was why we both choose not to show our full powers.” Nha Yen continued. “And it was the perfect opportunity to figure out who has been following us these past four days.” She looked over at Tieu Phong and Cung Hong.
Tieu Phong smiles sheepishly, “Yes, and we both fell into the gaping trap.”
“Did you really?” Nhat Phi, who had remained quiet, all this time, muttered softly, so softly that no one really heard him.