CHAPTER 40 --- BLOOMS OF POISON
Characters appearing in this chapter:
Gilbert Lam Wai Sun---Lam Yik Lun
Kristy Yeung Gong Yu---Lam Suk Yu
Annie Man Chung Han---So Sui Han
IN A DARK CELL UNDERNEATH THE CAVE
Swiveling toward the voice, Lun stares into the darkness. He finally manages to make out the blurry outline of a slender young woman sitting cross-legged on the floor at the corner of the cell. "Suk Yu!" He calls out to his younger sister in surprise.
The young woman at the corner of the dark cell quickly turns her head toward Lun's voice, crying out in relief. "Eldest Brother! Is it really you?"
At Suk Yu's exclamation, Sui Han and Lun exchange surprised glances.
Rushing forward, Lun grabs onto his younger sister's shoulders, his eyes scanning her face with shock and disbelief. "Suk Yu! It really IS you! We all began to think the worst after you fell off the canyon." Pausing, he shakes his head again. "Mother and Father searched the entire canyon for you for days and yet couldn't find a trace of you."
"Mother and Father! How are they?" Suk Yu asks urgently. Taking in a painful breath, she frowns in shame. "I am such a useless daughter! Not only did I fail to defend the Lam Mansion, I also caused them such worry!"
Overjoyed at finding his sister alive and well, Lun laughs at Suk Yu's concerns. "Don't be silly, Suk Yu! Protecting the family home is all of our duties, not just yours alone. If anyone should be blamed for the ambush, then it is I. As the eldest brother, I should have been more careful of possible attack and should have taken better care of you, Wah, and Chi Chi."
At the mention of her second elder brother, Wah, who was severely injured the last time she saw him, Suk Yu grabs onto her eldest brother's arms urgently, staring ahead blindly. "How is Second Brother? The enemies poisoned him, causing him serious internal injury. Is he all right?"
"Err…" Lun hedges.
Sensing her brother's hesitancy, Suk Yu tightens her grip on his arms. "What? What happened to Second Brother?"
Lun sighs. "He's alive, but we still haven't been able to purge the poison from his body. I am actually on my way to the Sun Moon Sect headquarters to steal the antidote."
In the background, Sui Han looks on Lun and Suk Yu's reunion, her heart a little uneasy. While glad that her third young mistress is alive, she feels guilty about Wah's poisoned condition. She originally agreed to help her godfather, the Sun Moon Sect Leader, to infiltrate into the Lam family and pass information on to her godfather. However, she agreed under the impression that the Lams were devious, ruthless villains masquerading as heroes in the martial arts world. But the Lams just do not seem all that bad. During her stay at the Lam Mansion, they have treated her with nothing but kindness, especially First Young Master. And now, because of her sect, Second Young Master is injured. Thank goodness Third Young Mistress is alive.
Lun's next question breaks into Sui Han's thoughts. "Suk Yu, how did you end up here?" He looks around the dark cell they are in. "Where are we?"
Suk Yu sighs as she recounts the events she experienced since the night of the Sun Moon Sect's ambush on Lam Mansion. "After I fell down the canyon, a hero rescued me. He left to deal with some personal affairs not long after. While he was away, I intended to return home as my internal injuries were completely healed by then. However, on the day of my departure, a group of assassins ambushed and captured me. When I regained consciousness, I found myself here in this cell. I've been here for at least a month, and still I have no clue where I am or who my captors are."
"Have you had any contact with your captors yet?" Lun inquires.
Shaking her head, Suk Yu stands up and runs her hands along the rough stone wall of the cell to guide her way. "The only contact I have had is with the old lady who brings me my meals. She speaks very little and ignores my questions most of the time. Even though she has never exchanged stances with me, I suspect that her martial art is at a much higher level than ours. Whenever she brings my meals, I cannot not even hear her footsteps, nor do I feel the vibration of the air as she moves."
Hearing Suk Yu's comment, Lun frowns, deep in concentration. "From what you say, then this old woman's internal energy must be very impressive if she is able to travel without disturbing the air around her. This will lower our chances of escape." Glancing around the dark cell, he squints his eyes, inspecting for any possible ways of leaving the cell. "Have you tried escaping, Suk Yu?"
Sighing, Suk Yu nods. "It's no use. I have spent an entire month here during my captivity examining every single nook and corner of this cell." Pointing toward a small rectangular opening situated at eye level in the west wall, Suk Yu flattens her lips together in frustration. "Other than that hole over there, which is only large enough to allow the old woman to push a bowl of rice through, there are no other openings in this place. The walls are solid granite and impenetrable." Sighing, Suk Yu suddenly turns toward Lun's direction. "By the way, how did you end up here, Eldest Brother?"
"Sui Han and I were on our way to the Sun Moon Sect headquarters to obtain the antidote for Wah." Lun explains. "On our way there, we sought shelter from the blizzard in a cave above this cell. We accidentally activated a trap door mechanism on the cave's wall and fell down a tunnel and ended up here."
"Sui Han?" Suk Yu asks in surprise. "Is she here, too?" She looks blindly around.
"Third Young Mistress, I am standing right in front of you." Sui Han rushes forward and takes hold of one of Suk Yu's hands. Shocked that Suk Yu is not able to see her, Sui Han slowly waves a hand in front of Suk Yu's eyes.
Unable to see Sui Han's waving hand, Suk Yu continues to stare blankly ahead. Finally realizing that Suk Yu is blind, Sui Han and Lun exchange horrified looks.
Clutching at Suk Yu's arms, Lun leans forward, his eyes roving across his sister's face, still not fully recovered from the shock. "Suk Yu! What happened to your eyesight?"
Bringing a trembling hand to her face, Suk Yu touches the corner of her eye, her expression with a tinge of regret. "I have been blind ever since the fall from the canyon."
Beside Lun, Sui Han whispers softly. "Is the damage permanent, Third Young Mistress?"
"I don't know. It might be temporary blindness due to the serious injury I sustained from the fall." Sighing, Suk Yu turns away. "But it has been months since the injury, and yet I have not regained my eyesight. Perhaps I am destined to suffer this misfortune."
Guiltily, Sui Han lowers her head, her eyes downcast as she gnaws at her lower lip. "I'm sorry, Third Young Mistress." She whispers in shame and regret.
"Don't apologize, silly!" Suk Yu puts up a brave face and smiles at Sui Han. "You aren't the one who caused the injury leading to my blindness. If anyone is to be blamed, then it should be the Sun Moon Sect."
Sinking her head down even lower at Suk Yu's words, Sui Han frowns as she drowns in shame. She may not have personally caused Suk Yu's injury. However, she is nevertheless responsible for Suk Yu's blindness for she belongs to the Sun Moon Sect. Third Young Mistress has always treated her with kindness. Now realizing that the Sun Moon Sect has caused this kind-hearted woman's injury, Sui Han cannot help but start to question her sect's motives and actions.
"Suk Yu, let Eldest Brother try to heal your injury with my internal energy. I may be able to revive your eyesight." Lun offers, about to settle down into a meditating position.
Placing a hand on her brother's arm to stop him, Suk Yu shakes her head. "No, my internal injury from the fall has already completely healed. As for the blindness… Only time will tell…"
"But…" Lun begins to object. "Suk Yu, don't despair. Once we escape from here, Eldest Brother will find the best physician available to heal your eyesight."
Suk Yu shakes her head again. "Eldest Brother, herbs will not cure my blindness. Only time can. I should know, since I am a healer myself."
Sighing, Lun falls into silence for a moment. Suddenly, he murmurs, "Healer… That's right!" Pulling Sui Han forward by the hand, Lun turns to Suk Yu with hope shining in his eyes. "Suk Yu, Sui Han has been injured not too long ago. I have been using my internal energy to keep her alive. However, she fluctuates in and out of consciousness sometimes. Is there anything you could do to help her?"
"Injured?" Suk Yu queries. "What does the injury site look like?"
As Lun himself has not yet seen the injury due to concerns of propriety, he hesitates, turning toward Sui Han.
"It's some kind of palm print." Sui Han chimes in. "In the beginning, the front of my chest, near the right shoulder where the palm injury is, appeared bright red, like blood. Gradually, the red palm print faded away, leaving behind the faint pink shadow of a palm mark. However, the excruciating, burning pain returns every so often. The pain is so harsh that I pass out."
Frowning with concern after hearing Sui Han's description of her palm injury, Suk Yu's heart sinks as she begins to suspect something. "Has the flaming red palm print now migrated to your back, exactly opposite from where your injury was in the front?"
Pausing, Sui Han blinks in confusion. "I'm not sure, since I can't see my back…"
Seeing Suk Yu's concerned expression, Lun urgently asks, "What, Suk Yu? What's wrong? Is Sui Han's injury curable?"
Suk Yu turns toward her brother. "Eldest Brother, since I cannot see, will you take a look for me and tell me whether or not you see a blood red palm print on Sui Han's back?"
"Well…" Lun hesitates as he glances at Sui Han's embarrassed and uncomfortable expression. Clearing his throat, he says, "I don't think it would be too proper, given that Sui Han and I are not husband and wife. Perhaps we can find a village woman to take a look for us after we leave this cell."
Shaking her head impatiently, Suk Yu explains urgently. "There is no time to wait! If I am not mistaken, Sui Han's injury may be due to the Blood Shadow Palm."
"The Blood Shadow Palm?" Sui Han wonders out loud.
Nodding, Suk Yu begins to explain. "I recall reading about the Blood Shadow Palm while perusing old medicine texts. According to these old texts, this deadly palm sequence originates from an ancient sect known as the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan."
Knitting his brows together, Lun remembers hearing his father mention of such a clan during the Heroes Gathering three years ago. "The Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan? I've heard of this clan. The clan leaders, two sisters named Black Rose and Poison Snake, quarreled extensively because of their different philosophies. Black Rose, the younger kind-hearted sister, spent her life curing those poisoned by her older sister, Poison Snake. However, Poison Snake, despite her evil nature, was a martial arts genius. It took the combined efforts of Black Rose and her husband, the leader of the Floating Cloud Sect, to drive Poison Snake into the depths of Persia. Since then, Poison Snake has never been heard of again, and the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan vanished from the martial arts world since the split up of the two sisters."
"Exactly," Suk Yu adds. "Poison Snake was indeed a martial arts and poison genius. The ancient medicine manuals mention that amongst the many new martial arts techniques she discovered, the deadliest remains the Blood Shadow Palm, a lightening fast sequence of palm stances designed to kill the enemy at a slow and tortuous pace. The palm's strength originates from three of the world's deadliest poisonous blooms - the Black Widow Ivy, the Scorpion Lily, and the Blue Cobra Magnolia. These three flowers only bloom once every fifty years. In order to attain the highest level of the Blood Shadow Palm, the learner must soak all three plants in the fresh blood of one hundred live children born on the ninth month of the ninth day of the ninth hour. After a total of forty nine days, the leaner then must drink this concoction of blood and plants and afterward meditate for another forty nine days."
Lun rushes forward, gripping onto Suk Yu's hand. "Do the old medicine texts mention anything about how to cure the poisons inflicted by the Blood Shadow Palm?"
Nodding silently, Suk Yu hesitates. "Yes, but…"
"But what?" Lun jumps in urgently.
"But if the executioner of the Blood Shadow Palm attains the highest level, then his victim CANNOT be cured." Suk Yu suddenly turns toward Sui Han. "Sui Han, that's why I need to know what the injury site looks like in order to access which level of the Blood Shadow Palm you have been hit with. Since I am blind and you cannot see your own wound on the back, I need Eldest Brother to describe the injury to me so that I can instruct him on how to heal you."
"No…" Sui Han replies hesitantly, her face tinged with crimson.
Placing a hand on Sui Han's arm, Suk Yu reassures her softly, so that Lun cannot hear. "Sui Han, I know my request puts you in an uncomfortable situation, but it's a matter of life and death. If there's a chance that you can be saved, then we must start treatment immediately." She pauses, sighing. "But if you are unfortunate enough to be injured by the highest level of the Blood Shadow Palm, resulting in no chance of cure, then starting treatment will only hasten your death and make it more painful…"
Glancing embarrassingly at Lun, who has discreetly retreated to the corner of the cell to give the women some privacy, Sui Han shakes her head adamantly. "No."
"Don't worry, Sui Han." Suk Yu reassures her. "Eldest Brother is a gentleman. He will not look elsewhere except at your injury." Sensing Sui Han's hesitation, Suk Yu gently persuades. "Sui Han, I am a woman, too. I understand your difficult situation. But it's your life we're talking about. I swear that whatever happens in this cell will remain with the three of us. Your reputation won't be soiled."
Lowering her head, Sui Han frowns, pondering her situation.
"Don't think too much, Sui Han! We'll start the first round of your treatment tonight after Eldest Brother describes your injury to me. Then we'll figure out a way to get out of here." Making the decision for Sui Han, Suk Yu drags her over to the far corner of the cell where Lun is standing. "Eldest Brother, take a look at Sui Han's injury so that we can save her."
Staring at the uncomfortable Sui Han, who is looking at everywhere but at him, Lun clears his throat awkwardly. Leaning toward Sui Han, he whispers in her ear. "Sui Han, I swear that I will take responsibility for my actions and will take care of you for the rest of your life after tonight." Sui Han keeps her face turned away from him and remains silent as if she did not hear his words. Taking her silence as permission, Lun reaches forward and gently slides Sui Han's white undergarment off her shoulders, revealing her smooth, bare white shoulders. Trying hard to keep his eyes off her bare slender back, he concentrates on searching for any evidence of the Blood Shadow Palm's mark on her back.
"What does her injury on the back look like, Eldest Brother?" Suk Yu asks, her question interrupting Lun's perusal of Sui Han's back.
"Actually, there is no sign of the Blood Shadow Palm on her back." Lun replies.
"No palm print at all? Are you sure, Eldest Brother?" Suk Yu insists that he check carefully.
"I'm sure." Lun confirms as he surveys her entire back meticulously one more time. Carefully and gently, he drapes the white undergarment over Sui Han's shoulders again, his hands reaching forward to help her retie the strings at the side. Uncomfortable with his attention, Sui Han shies away, her eyes downcast, and fumbles at the strings herself. Seeing Sui Han's reaction, Lun sighs inwardly before turning toward Suk Yu.
"Then that is good news!" Suk Yu exclaims. "That means that the person who delivered the palm has only completed level two of the Blood Shadow Palm, as the palm print has not yet penetrated to the back."
"Then what is the method of cure?" Lun questions, happiness and relief evident in his voice.
Taking Sui Han's pulse, Suk Yu tilts her head in concentration. "Eldest Brother, you must have been transferring a great amount of internal energy into her. If not, she would not have survived this long."
"Then all I have to do is to continue transferring my internal energy into her?" Lun asks.
Shaking her head, Suk Yu interrupts him. "No, according to the medicine texts, while internal energy can prolong her life and relieve her pain, too huge of a surge of energy will backfire soon and hasten her death. Her current injury will only tolerate a slow flow of low internal energy over a period of ten hours. During this critical time period, both must remain absolutely stationary and not be disturbed by any outside forces. If not…"
"If not, what, Third Young Mistress?" Sui Han walks to Suk Yu's side, trying to keep her distance from Lun.
"If not, then Eldest Brother will suffer from fire deviation and die." Suk Yu sighs after imparting this morbid piece of news.
"After the transfer of energy, Sui Han will be cured, right?" Lun looks to his younger sister for confirmation, apparently not bothered by the danger he will be putting himself in during the energy transfer.
"No." Suk Yu shakes her head. "Unfortunately, the transfer of energy is only the first step of her cure. Once the energy transfer is complete, she will have another three months to live. During this time, you must find the nearly extinct green python, which spends its lifetime only feeding on the world's most poisonous plants and critters. Once Sui Han ingests this python's innards, she will be completely healed of the poison from the Blood Shadow Palm."
"Then I will immediately begin the transfer of internal energy now." Lun starts to move toward Sui Han, but she takes a step away from him.
"No, First Young Master." Sui Han objects, her eyes clouded with concern. "This is not the time to waste your internal energy on me. You need to save your strength for escaping this place."
"But…" Lun begins.
"No," Sui Han interrupts him firmly. "Don't you remember what Third Young Mistress said? She mentioned that the old woman, who brought her meals, appears to have to tremendous internal energy. If a mere elderly servant who brings food to prisoners is already that powerful, then her master should be even harder to defeat. I don't want you ruining your chances of escape in order to prolong my life."
"Sui Han!" Lun rushes forward and clasps her shoulders tightly, his eyes glittering dangerously as he leans his face close to hers. "Do you really think that I value your life any less than mine and Suk Yu's? Do you really think that I would rather save my internal energy so that I can escape and just let you die?" He tightens his hold on her punishingly. "Do you really think that little of me?"
"That's not what I mean, First Young Master!" Sui Han glares at him stubbornly. "It is all my fault for triggering that booby trap on the cave's wall. Now you have to sacrifice your internal energy for me." Seeing Lun about to interrupt, she hurries on. "I know you're going to say your decrease in internal energy will only be temporary and that all you need is a few hours of rest to recover. But what if we are attacked during those few hours while your internal energy is still at its lowest? Or what if someone attacks you while you are in the process of transferring the energy to me? Third Young Mistress says that any interruption will cause fire deviation and even your death! I do not want you to risk your life for me!" She paces away from him, her expression resolute. Once she is a few feet away from him, she whirls around and exclaims in a firm and stubborn tone. "And I refuse to be a burden!"
In that moment, Lun suddenly flips though the air and lands in front of Sui Han. Catching her by surprise, he seals her pressure points, immobilizing her before she is able to put up any resistance. Staring into her eyes intensely, he speaks calmly and quietly. "You are not a burden. And even if you are, then you are MY precious burden." With those solemn words, he pushes her down to the stone floor, assuming a meditation position behind her. As he concentrates his internal energy into his palms, an orange glow radiates from his hands. Slapping his palms onto Sui Han's back, Lun closes his eyes as the flow of energy seeps from his palms toward Sui Han. Soon, a brilliant red glow of energy envelops them, while Suk Yu stands close by, listening for any approach of enemies.
NINE HOURS LATER…
IN THE CELL UNDERNEATH THE CAVE
Suk Yu paces slowly across the straw covered stone floor of the cell. Behind her, Lun and Sui Han remain in meditating position, surrounded by a glowing halo of brilliant red and orange.
"One more hour to go and the transfer of energy will be complete." Suk Yu murmurs. "So far, there are no signs of those captors. Hopefully, they will keep away until Eldest Brother recovers from the energy transfer."
Quietly approaching the two people on the floor, she crouches down and observes Lun and Sui Han, silently willing the hour to past quickly. Suddenly, from behind she hears footsteps. Leaping upward, she turns around in time to hear the stone wall of the cave slide open.
"Well, well, well." A sly voice chuckles mockingly. "Look what we have here."