(The Prequel) Chapter 20: One Step Behind

Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay – The Prequel

Characters appearing in this chapter:
Sun Fei Fei 孙菲菲—Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
Yuen Siu Mo 袁劭武
Wallace Chung Hon Leung 鍾漢良—Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南

AFTERNOON
NORTH STAR TOWN
ALLEYWAY OFF TO SIDE OF MARKETPLACE

Yan had never felt so miserable before.  Her stomach now protested every few seconds with loud grumbles, and she started to shake slightly from hunger.  Weakly, she meandered slowly into an alleyway, away from the humdrum of the busy main street.  Stopping midway in the alley, Yan squinted up at the sky.

Just a few minutes ago, the storm clouds had blocked out all traces of sunlight, but now the sun somehow managed to fight its way past the gloom and cast its warmth and brightness onto the earth.  Feeling dizzy from the glare, Yan carefully lowered herself onto the ground and leaned against the stone wall of the alley, huffing and puffing, trying to keep herself from fainting.

She closed her eyes, hoping to solve her hunger problem by thinking serene thoughts of gentle flowing waters and soothing qin music.  Unfortunately, her traitorous mind kept conjuring up images of delectable dishes of steamy food.  Soon, she even began to smell food.  Then from her left, she heard a woman’s voice asking if she wanted to eat.  Frowning, Yan popped open her eyes and jerked her head toward the voice.  She blinked at the sight in front of her, thinking she had gone crazy from extreme starvation.

The middle-aged woman had a tanned, weathered face.  Her kind, sympathetic eyes stared back at Yan.  She held a large bowl filled with fragrant rice sprinkled with steamy vegetables and juicy chunks of chicken.

“Child, you’re shaking and pale!”  The woman gasped.  “You must be so hungry!”

Before Yan could answer, her stomach responded for her with a resounding, affirmative rumble.  Yan could only blush as she silently nodded, her eyes focused on the bowl in front of her.

“Would you like some food?”  The woman pushed the bowl closer toward Yan.

Yan hesitated and then glumly answered, “Thank you, Madam, for your generosity, but I do not have any money to pay you.”

“Nonsense, child!”  The stranger smiled.  She placed the bowl firmly in Yan’s hands.  “This is free of charge.  I have lived through famine and personally know what it is like to be hungry.  Just eat and do not worry about payment.”

Yan clutched at the bowl gratefully.  “Thank you, Madam!  I will remember your kindness to me today.”

The woman dug out a pair of chopsticks tucked in the pocket of her apron.  “My husband and I own a small dry goods store down this alleyway.”  She pointed to the end of the alley.  “Our humble store is simple, but clean, and much better than this alleyway.  Would you like to come inside and eat there?  You can’t be very comfortable crouched outside here.”

At the woman’s words, wariness briefly flickered across Yan’s eyes.  The steam from the food in the bowl in Yan’s hands drifted upward, filling Yan’s senses.  Then suddenly, that cautious look quickly disappeared.  Her hands tightened around the bowl, as she smiled guilelessly at the woman.

“Thank you, Madam.”  Yan nodded.  “If you don’t mind the intrusion, I would love to have a clean place to sit down and eat.”

Beaming, the woman led Yan down the alleyway toward a small store near the end of the narrow street.  A tall, middle-aged man with a short gray beard hovered near the store’s entrance.  When he spotted his wife, he sighed with exasperation.

“Wife, where did you go?”  He threw his hands up in the air.  “I told you to watch the storefront while I went to the storage room in the back to take inventory!  What if someone ran in and robbed us while I was in the back?”

“Oh, who would burglarize us, Husband?”  The woman scoffed.  She gestured to the miniscule-sized store lined with a few wooden shelves of dry goods.  “We have nothing of value here.”

The man grunted in offense.  “Our business may be inconsequential, but it has fed our entire family for years.”

“All right, all right, Husband,” the woman admonished him.  “Lower your voice!  We have a guest.”  She pulled Yan from behind her.

The middle-aged man squinted at Yan.  “Hmph, who are you?”

“I found this poor dear crouched not far outside our store, shaking and pale.”  The woman answered on Yan’s behalf.  Turning toward Yan, she smiled kindly.  “Here, child.  Sit down and eat.”  The woman pulled Yan toward a wooden table flanked by two aged benches at one corner of the store.

Yan sat down and nodded politely at her.  “Thank you, Madam.”

“Oh!  There is no need to be so formal!”  The woman clasped her hands together, beaming at Yan affectionately.  “Everyone calls me Aunt Ko.”  She pointed to her husband standing to her right side.  “You can call him Uncle Ko.”

Yan nodded again in greeting.  “Aunt Ko, Uncle Ko.”

The middle-aged man grunted in response and then shuffled toward one of the shelves.  Ignoring Yan, he started reorganizing the bags of dry snacks on the shelf.

Aunt Ko, much more gregarious and hospitable than her husband, sat down on the bench opposite Yan and pushed the bowl of rice closer toward Yan.  “Well, hurry up and eat, child.  The food is getting cold.”

Yan smiled brightly at the woman.  “Thank you, Aunt Ko.”  She dug through her travel sack and pulled out a small fabric pouch.  She then sprinkled a fine red-colored powder from inside the pouch onto her rice.

Aunt Ko frowned in confusion.  “What is that, child?”

“Oh, this is just an herb to spice up the rice,” Yan explained.  “I prefer spicy foods.”

Without further words, Yan ravenously dived into her food, nearly inhaling it within minutes.  Aunt Ko looked on sympathetically.  She reached over and patted Yan on the head with a compassionate, motherly expression.

“Oh, you poor dear,” Aunt Ko shook her head.  “You must be starving to eat that quickly.  Would you like more food?”

Before Yan could answer, the woman grabbed Yan’s empty bowl and strode over to the tiny adjacent room used as a cooking area.  Spooning more rice, vegetables, and chicken into the bowl, she emerged with a happy grin.

“Here, child.  Eat more.”  She pushed the bowl toward Yan.  When Yan politely shook her head, she insisted, “You’re so fragile-looking that I don’t think you can afford to lose any more weight.”  Aunt Ko clucked.

Yan eyed the bowl hungrily, and at Aunt Ko’s gentle urging, sprinkled more red-colored spice onto the rice before devouring the food.

Opposite Yan, Aunt Ko watched Yan chew enthusiastically.  A flash of bewilderment briefly danced across her eyes as she observed Yan’s vigor.  With warm food in her stomach, Yan’s complexion glowed a pink rosy shade and she appeared lively, a huge contrast to her previous pale and weak state.  Aunt Ko surreptitiously glanced toward her husband, who met her eyes with a peculiar look.  Quickly, the couple disengaged their eyes, and while Uncle Ko returned to rearranging the items on the shelf, Aunt Ko peered at Yan with a bright smile.

“What is your name, child?”  Aunt Ko asked, attempting to make idle conversation.

“Please call me Yan, Aunt Ko,” Yan glanced up briefly before returning to eating.

“Haha, Yan, what a beautiful name!”  Aunt Ko chuckled, a trace of anxiety sneaking into her voice.  “Um, how are you feeling now, Yan?”

Yan quickly finished her second bowl of rice and bestowed Aunt Ko with a dazzling smile.  “Thank you for your generosity, Aunt Ko.  I am feeling much better.”

Aunt Ko narrowed her eyes at Yan.  “You’re feeling fine?”

“Of course,” Yan nodded, “thanks to you.”

“You don’t feel dizzy and weak?”  Aunt Ko persisted.

“No, why would I?”  Yan widened her eyes innocently.  “Your delicious food has revived me.”

Yan rummaged through her travel sack and carefully brought out a flower that resembled a lotus.  She placed the flower on Aunt Ko’s palm.

“Aunt Ko, I may not have any money, but I would like to repay your generosity with this flower.”  Yan gestured at the flower.  “This is a rare bloom called the Sugar Lotus.  Its sweet scent has healing properties and will help prolong one’s youth.  The Sugar Lotus blooms once every ten years, and only three of these flowers exist currently in the world.”

At Yan’s words, a flicker of greed flashed across Aunt Ko’s eyes.  She lowered her head and studied the flower in her palm curiously.  Even the aloof Uncle Ko wandered over to inspect the bloom in his wife’s hand.

“Go ahead,” Yan prodded.  “Sniff it.  It has a wonderfully fragrant smell.”

Obediently, the couple leaned forward and inhaled deeply.  The aromatic scent soothed and calmed.

Nodding approvingly, Aunt Ko grinned at Yan.  “Thank you, child!  This Sugar Lotus is a rare treasure, indeed!”

Smiling back, Yan picked up her travel sack and headed toward the door.  “I’m glad you like my gift, Aunt Ko.  Thank you for your hospitality.  However, I must say farewell now.”

The couple was so preoccupied with the rare bloom that they did not notice Yan quickly leaving.  When they finally heard Yan’s words of farewell, the middle-aged woman hurriedly glanced up.

“Wait!”  Aunt Ko called out, but Yan had already left.

Alarmed, the couple raced out the door and down the alleyway, anxiously looking for Yan.  When they couldn’t find her in the alley, they ran out to the main street of the marketplace and nervously scanned the busy thoroughfare.  Townspeople packed the streets, buying, bargaining, sightseeing.  Yet, the couple could no longer see Yan.

Returning to the dry goods store, Aunt Ko paced the floor apprehensively.  “What are we going to do, Husband?  What are we going to do?  Where could she have gone in such a short time?”

“It’s all your fault, Wife!”  Uncle Ko yelled, his expression just as edgy.  “If you hadn’t been preoccupied with this flower, she would not have escaped so easily!”  He jabbed his finger accusingly at the Sugar Lotus bloom still in Aunt Ko’s hand.

“What?”  Aunt Ko stiffened defensively.  “You were just as intrigued by the flower as I was.  Besides,” she hesitated and sniffed at the bloom again, “if it’s true that this flower can prolong youth, then it’s truly a special gift!”

“Great!”  Uncle Ko threw his hands up in defeat.  “We now have a flower which may or may not bring back your youth, but we have lost our prey.  What are we going to tell Young Master Yuen when he comes to collect his prize and finds out that we have failed to drug the young maiden?  Do you think he will still give us the reward money he promised us if we don’t have the girl?”

“Well, it’s not my fault that the sleeping powder Young Master Yuen gave us to sprinkle onto the food did not work on that little girl!”  Aunt Ko huffed, offended.

As she grouched, she started to feel her eyelids droop.  Feeling faint and weak, she sat down clumsily onto the wooden bench next to the table.  Her limps felt rubbery and oddly heavy.

“Do you feel strangely tired, Husband?”  Aunt Ko murmured before sliding down to the floor in an unconscious heap.

Behind her, Uncle Ko fell to the floor with a heavy thud.

The Sugar Lotus rolled away from Aunt Ko’s open palm.  It circled the small room once before stopping next to the unconscious couple, its cloying fragrance filling the store.

**********

Outside in the alley, a large, overturned woven basket shifted slightly and then inched slowly away from the dry goods store.  After nearing the main street of the marketplace, the basket stopped moving.  A pair of slender hands lifted away the basket and tossed it aside.  The young maiden who emerged from underneath the basket glanced back toward the dry goods store with mischievous, twinkling eyes.  She rubbed her full stomach and grinned.

“Thank you for the free, delicious, sleeping-powder-laced meal,” Yan chuckled softly to herself.  “Do you think such a common sleeping powder could fool me?”  She dangled her small pouch of counteracting red-colored powder and kissed it happily.  “Enjoy the sweet scent of the Sugar Lotus, Aunt Ko and Uncle Ko!”

After stuffing the small pouch back into her travel sack, Yan skipped cheerfully into the busy streets of the marketplace and blended into the crowd.

HALF AN HOUR LATER
DRY GOODS STORE

“Do you have her yet?”  A deep voice called from outside the dry goods store.

When no one answered, the tall, aristocratic young man, dressed in a dark blue robe made from expensive silk, narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  He flicked his right hand once.  The male servant behind him nodded and moved forward.  The servant knocked three times.  When no one answered the door after a short pause, he kicked open the door.

A sweet-smelling fragrance wafted out.  The tall man in the dark blue robe immediately recognized the smell and hurriedly covered his nose and mouth with his hand.

“Try not to breathe in the fumes!”  The blue robed man warned his male servant.

Walking past his male servant, the tall man glanced down at the unconscious middle-aged couple lying on the floor.  He narrowed his eyes at the delicate lotus flower sitting innocently next to Aunt Ko’s hand.

The male servant stared at the beautiful bloom.  “Is that fragrance originating from that flower, Young Master?”

Young Master Yuen Siu Mo chuckled softly as he leaned down and picked up the bloom with one hand, while his other hand still covered his nose and mouth.  “The Sugar Lotus.  It seems that I may have underestimated the lovely maiden from the food stand this morning.  Who is she?”  He wondered to himself.

He studied the flower with a bemused expression.  Then without warning, Yuen Siu Mo closed his fingers around the lotus, his internal energy dissolving the bloom into a pile of ashes within seconds.  With the Sugar Lotus destroyed, its cloying, sedative-inducing scent also vanished.

Yuen Siu Mo calmly sat down on the wooden bench near the table, his posture straight and imposing, his demeanor now showing no traces of the spoiled and useless brat from this morning at the food stand.  He leisurely poured himself a cup of tea before speaking to his male servant.

“Wake them up.”  He jerked his head toward the unconscious couple on the floor.

The servant nodded.  “Yes, Young Master.”  He approached the slumbering couple and nudged them roughly with his booted foot.  “Wake up!”

After several harsh shoves, Uncle and Aunt Ko finally stirred.

“Huh?”  Aunt Ko rubbed her eyes and yawned loudly.  “What is going on?”

When her sleepy eyes finally focused on the tall man seated on the bench not too far away, she jerked upright, her eyes wide with anxiety.  Quickly, she jabbed at her drowsy husband.

“Wake up, Husband!  Wake up!”  Aunt Ko whispered nervously as she stumbled to her feet.

“What?”  Uncle Ko mumbled irately.  “Will you stop poking at me?”  However, when he finally noticed Yuen Siu Mo, he, too, scrambled to stand up.  “Young Master Yuen!”

“Where is she?”  Yuen Siu Mo asked, his eyes piercing.

“Uh…well…we don’t know,” Aunt Ko stuttered.

“You…don’t…know?”  Yuen Siu Mo repeated the words slowly as he narrowed his eyes.

Terrified, the couple dropped to their knees immediately.  “It’s not our fault, Young Master Yuen!  That young maiden somehow was immune to the sleeping powder you gave us.  I swear I had sprinkled a liberal amount of the powder onto the food, and yet, she devoured bowl after bowl without any hint of succumbing to the medicine!”

At that explanation, Yuen Siu Mo tilted his head slightly with curiosity.  “Really?”

“Yes, yes!”  Uncle Ko nodded his head rapidly.  From the corner of his eye, he noticed on the table a few specks of the red-colored “spice” Yan had sprinkled on the food earlier.  “It must be that strange red-colored spice!”  Uncle Ko exclaimed loudly, pointing to the table surface, as he grasped for any excuse to explain why they had failed to drug Yan.  “The young maiden kept sprinkling that red powder onto the food we offered her.  She said that it gave the food a spicy flavor.  That red powder must have somehow counteracted Young Master Yuen’s sleeping powder!”

Yuen Siu Mo frowned as he darted his eyes toward the barely noticeable specks of red on the table.  He rubbed the red powder between his fingertips.  His thoughtful eyes filled with mirth the moment he recognized the substance.

Laughing lightly to himself, he murmured, “It seems I have most definitely underestimated the little beauty from this morning.  Who in wulin other than Clan Leader Black Rose Fa Heung Yan possesses that kind of knowledge of medicine and poison?”

With apprehension, Aunt and Uncle Ko watched Young Master Yuen chuckle to himself.  The entire town had always known that this young man, the only son from the powerful and politically connected Yuen family, was boastful and arrogant, yet weak and useless.  He spent his days womanizing and bullying the townspeople with his condescending attitude.  Nobody dared to offend this privileged brat, for his family practically owned North Star Town and had close ties to the royal family, yet everyone knew that he was harmless despite his bravado.  However, today, Young Master Yuen seemed like a completely different person.  The Ko couple could feel the fine hairs on the back of their necks tingle as Yuen Siu Mo chuckled, the sound calm, barely audible, yet sinister and deadly.

The middle-aged couple exchanged anxious glances with each other.  Initially, when Yuen Siu Mo had approached them earlier this morning, asking them to help him drug a young maiden in exchange for a generous monetary reward, the greedy couple had assumed the wealthy, spoiled man simply wanted to force the maiden to be his concubine and had readily agreed.  After all, how bad could it be to become a rich, handsome man’s concubine?  Now from Yuen Siu Mo’s shocking and unexpected transformation in demeanor, they could not help but shiver.  What kind of man hid his true nature so well from the public and pretended to be a fool?  Thinking of the maiden they were supposed to drug, the couple could only pity her if she were to fall into Young Master Yuen’s hands.

Finally, Yuen Siu Mo stopped laughing.  His eyes shifted to the Ko couple for a long moment, causing Aunt and Uncle Ko to tremble inwardly with fear.  Then without warning, he reached inside his robe pocket and pulled out two gold ingots.

He threw the ingots onto the ground.  “Your reward,” he said curtly.

Gulping, Aunt Ko spoke shakily, “Since we have failed Young Master Yuen’s task, we don’t dare accept any payment.”

Yuen Siu Mo slowly stretched his lips into a feral smile.  “Nonsense.  This young maiden is special.  If I had known her identity earlier, I would not have tasked commoners with the job of drugging her.”

He stood up and walked toward the door of the dry goods store.  As he passed the couple, he commanded, “Take the reward.”

As he exited the store, Yuen Siu Mo shifted his eyes slightly toward his male servant before strolling off.  The servant gave an almost imperceptible nod and reentered the store.  From inside, screams erupted for a brief moment and then there was nothing but silence.

Calmly, the male servant emerged from the store and followed behind his young master.

“The couple has been silenced.”  The servant reported to Yuen Siu Mo.  “What about the young woman?”

“Initially, I had wished to settle this matter quietly without involving myself too conspicuously by asking commoners to do the actual kidnapping, but now it looks like she may not be easy to capture.”  Yuen Siu Mo sighed.

“Young Master, would you like me to handle this matter?”  The servant asked.

“No,” Yuen Siu Mo responded.  “I will take care of this myself.  It appears that our target is not just any young woman; she is Clan Leader Black Rose of the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.”

“Why trouble yourself, Young Master?  I heard rumors that Clan Leader Black Rose had severed ties with the Thousand Snake Black Rose Clan.  Her sister destroyed her martial arts skills before expelling her from the clan.  She’s only a helpless maiden now.”  The male servant scoffed.

“A helpless maiden who also happens to be one of the foremost experts in medicine and poison.” Yuen Siu Mo countered.  “Fa Heung Yan is not that easy to handle, as proven by this incident with the Ko couple, and we cannot risk her evading capture again.”  He turned to his servant.  “I want you to return to Yuen Manor and assure Father that I will be back shortly with the girl as planned.”

With those words, Yuen Siu Mo disappeared into the bustling crowd milling about the marketplace.

MARKETPLACE

After escaping from the Ko couple, Yan tried to keep to the large crowds and busy streets, avoiding small, quiet alleyways.  She did not know why the middle-aged couple wanted to drug her.  Did they hope to sell her into prostitution, or were they under the direction of someone more dangerous?  Who would want to harm her here in a town of complete strangers?  Regardless, she knew if she stayed with a large group, it would be more difficult to snatch her in daylight with so many witnesses.

A group of young women walked by, dressed in the finest silks, as they giggled demurely behind their feathered fans.  In an obvious effort to convey daintiness, they seemed to be tiptoeing lightly on their slippered feet, perhaps to imitate how a fairy would glide gracefully across the heavens.  Yan frowned, completely perplexed, as their actions merely convinced her that they had a gait problem.  She wondered if this walking style was typical of refined, wealthy young maidens.  No matter how absurd these women seemed, her best chance to blend in with the crowd would be to follow them, as they were the only large group of women in the vicinity.  All other nearby large congregations consisted of men or older townspeople, and she would definitely stick out conspicuously in those groups.

Sighing softly, Yan quickly trailed after the women, feeling ridiculous as she tiptoed behind them, imitating their walk, feeling like a thief sneaking around on tiptoes.  She kept a respectable distance to avoid raising the group’s suspicion that she was following them.  After traveling with the group down a few streets, Yan heard one young lady titter behind her fan.

“Look over there,” the slender young woman whispered to her chubby friend next to her.  “That man is so handsome!  Tall, proud, arrogant, commanding!  If he were my husband, I would feel so protected!  Ahh!”  She sighed, besotted.

“Where?  Where?” Her chubby friend looked around frantically, as she, too, hoped to catch a glimpse of this god.

“Stop swinging your head around like a mad woman!”  The slender woman hissed.  “He’s over to our right, standing next to that vendor stand selling paintings.  Oh!  He’s looking over this way!”  She quickly hid coyly behind her fan, only allowing her eyes to peek over the top of the fan.

Curious, Yan also turned her head to the right, wanting to see this perfect man.  However, before she could get a glimpse, the other women in the group piled in front of her, blocking her view.  As she was the shortest of the group, she could barely see anything other than the back views of the young women’s expensive hair accessories.

The women giggled as the man turned, his dark, intense eyes staring right at them.  His gaze scanned their group briefly, as if searching for someone.

“I’m going to faint!  I’m going to faint!”  One maiden in pink fanned herself rapidly.

“Oh, you’re right!  He’s so handsome!  He has the refined air of a scholar, and yet, look at the breadth of his shoulders and the lean muscles rippling just beneath the surface of his white robe!”  Another maiden in purple gushed unabashedly.

“Oh, you are so shameless!  Are those appropriate words spoken by a genteel lady?”  The young woman next to the purple-robed maiden gasped.  Yet, she, too, ogled the tall man’s physique.

“I wonder which one of us he is looking at?”  The slender woman, who had first spotted the man, remarked.

Her chubby friend nudged her teasingly.  “Of course, he must be looking at you, since you are the most beautiful among all of us!”

The slender woman blushed prettily behind her fan at her friend’s words.

**********

Some distance away, Sit Chung Nam described Yan’s appearance to the vendor selling paintings.

“Have you seen a young maiden about this tall?”  He raised his hand to his chin level.  “She has deep midnight blue eyes and the most beautiful face this world has seen.”

The elderly painter laughed.  “Young man, you must be describing a fairy then.”

Chung Nam smiled slightly at the elderly man’s words.  “Yes, you are right.  She is a fairy…my little fairy.”

The painter laughed again, but then suddenly became thoughtful as he remembered an incident at one of the local food stands this morning involving a young maiden and their town’s spoiled Young Master Yuen.

“Does she look like the fairy in my painting?”  The painter asked.

The elderly man carefully unrolled a scroll to reveal the painting of an exquisite beauty, her delicate features otherworldly, her large, expressive eyes enticing even as she glared icily at something or someone not drawn in the painting.

Chung Nam stared at the painting of Yan in amazement.  “This is the maiden I am looking for!”  He glanced at the man in confusion.  “Do you know her?  Why do you have a painting of her?”

“I don’t know her, but I saw her this morning by the food stand at the end of this street.”  The elderly man explained.  “After seeing her, I simply had to capture such dazzling beauty onto a painting to immortalize her loveliness.”

“Where did she go?”  Chung Nam asked urgently.

“I don’t know,” the elderly man answered.  “She was involved in an altercation with Young Master Yuen, the young master of Yuen Manor, this town’s wealthiest and most powerful family.  Thankfully, some constable appeared and saved her.  After that, I don’t know what happened to her.”

The painter hesitated at the brief flicker of disappointment in Chung Nam’s eyes.  He smiled kindly, rolled his painting back up, and placed it in Chung Nam’s hand.  “Take this painting with you to show around town.  Perhaps it will help you locate your little fairy more quickly.”

Chung Nam reached into his gown pocket and took out a gold ingot.  “Thank you.”

The elderly man shook his head, his eyes crinkling at the corners.  “No, no, consider the painting a gift.”

At that moment, the sound of muffled feminine laughter could be heard not too far away.  Both the elderly man and Chung Nam paused in their conversation.  Chung Nam turned his head toward the noise and found a group of five or six women huddled together, whispering and fluttering their fans madly.  They seemed to be staring at him.  His piercing eyes examined the group briefly, and not finding the person he was looking for, dismissed them.

The elderly painter teased, “It looks like you have your own group of admirers, young man.”

Chung Nam grunted, disinterested.  However, he hesitated at the painter’s next words.

“Maybe you should ask those young maidens if they have seen your fairy.”  The elderly man suggested.  “Those maidens stroll around this marketplace every day, flirting with the young men around here.  They might have seen the person you are looking for.”

Nodding slightly, Chung Nam thanked the painter and bade him farewell.  He strode toward the giggling group.  As he slowly neared the group, the women chortled bashfully, their faces reddening as they batted their eyelashes at him furiously.  Chung Nam stared back at them indifferently and wondered why they kept shifting around on their tiptoes as if they had some kind of lower limb disability.

Meanwhile, Yan, standing behind this group of tittering women and completely unaware of Chung Nam’s approach, tried to raise herself up on tiptoes to make herself as tall as possible.  Unfortunately, she still could not see this male model of perfection.  Finally, she shrugged and gave up.  At that moment, she felt a presence behind her.  Uneasy, she swung around and surveyed the area behind her.  However, nothing seemed suspicious as townspeople continued about their daily activities.  Nonetheless, the feeling of being watched remained, and so when another group of women passed by, Yan quickly blended into this second group and left the area.

Yan left the first group and merged seamlessly into the second group just as Chung Nam reached the flirtatious maidens.  Just as he was about to show the women the painting of Yan, his heart thumped loudly.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed another group of women walking by, and within that group, he thought he spied a petite slender maiden hugging a large travel sack protectively to her chest.

Yan Yan!

Chung Nam’s mind screamed her name.

Quickly, he dashed after those women as they turned the corner…

Chapters in the Prequel:

Chapter 19: Legendary Swords, Heavenly Weapons
Chapter 18: Heavenly Crane School’s Secret
Chapter 17:  White Flag
Chapter 16:  Beneath the Cliff
Chapter 15:  Ghosts and Illusions
Chapter 14:  Birthday Stones
Chapter 13: Waiting for Love
Chapter 12: Miss Me?
Chapter 11: Dark Night, Part II
Chapter 10: Dark Night, Part I
Chapter 9: Ambush
Chapter 8: Stranger in the Bamboo Hat
Chapter 7: Falling in Love
Chapter 6: Charmed
Chapter 5: Unlikely Hero
Chapter 4: The Alliance
Chapter 3: Chung Nam Shadowless Swords
Chapter 2: Fairy Dust
Chapter 1: Bandits!
Prologue

About Melanie

Please read my stories, Sun-Moon Swordplay and Sun-Moon Swordplay Prequel, hosted at Cloud Manor. https://cloudmanor.wordpress.com/ Thank you.

18 thoughts on “(The Prequel) Chapter 20: One Step Behind

  1. Sorry, everyone. This chapter was too long, so I had to break it up into two parts. Stay tuned for part 2 of this chapter, coming soon. Will Yan and Chung Nam finally reunite? Don’t know, just wait and read. 😀 Thanks for reading!

    By the way, does anyone have suggestions for which actor I should cast as Yuen Siu Mo?

    • they should reunite soon, or Yan will attract too much male attention. beside how can they get the legendary sword if not SCN as the father of Yan’s child,, hheehe

      I know little of c-actors, how about kevin cheng? peter ho?

      • Thanks for reading, mango! Actually, Yan has attracted Young Master Yuen’s attention not because of her beauty but for a completely different reason, as somewhat hinted in this chapter. And the old man with the rusty swords will definitely be popping up again soon. Chung Nam and Yan will reunite very soon. (I’ve actually already written the reunion, but had to cut off the chapter because it was getting too long. I didn’t want to bore anyone with excessively long chapters.) I think there are a few Chung Nam-Yan lovers here, right? I will try to make the reunion as memorable as possible to thank you all for supporting my unconventional, somewhat shady male lead. 🙂

        I think Kevin Cheng is very handsome. He’s like Wallace Chung, in his forties, but still very youthful-looking and hotter than some of his younger counterparts. However, he’s already in my other story, so I think it may be a bit weird to recast him here as some other character. Peter Ho might be a good choice. I will keep him in mind as I search the internet for potential actors to cast as Yuen Siu Mo. If anyone has more suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

      • “I think there are a few Chung Nam-Yan lovers here, right?”

        That would be ME! *raise hands*

        Aah when will my OTP reunite? :’)

      • Next chapter, Lola. 🙂 They will meet in the next chapter. I’ll make them kiss each other, just for you. 😀 I’m curious. Do you like Chung Nam and Yan collectively as a couple, or is it Chung Nam or Yan you like individually?

      • Why thank you Mel! I’ll be extra looking forward for the next chapter then!
        I like them as an OTP actually, I think you made such a believable character of SCN that I can see that he’s a cruel person, but mix him with Yan, he’s a changed person. I’m sure if Yan ever ask him to abandon the martial art world, he’d do it in an instant. Same with Yan, I’m not a hardcore fan of her alone, but as OTP they’re smashing haha

      • Lola,

        Pressure! *sweats* If my kiss scene doesn’t meet your standards, at least, it’s pretty common knowledge (among Wallace Chung fans and non-fans) that Wallace Chung is a great kisser on screen. That way, you can picture Wallace Chung as Sit Chung Nam kissing Yan, even if my kiss scene sucks. 😛

  2. Aw, did someone kidnapped Yuen Sio Mo n took his place or is this his real nature? Everyone seems like a kongfu expert in this story n I keep sweating bullets for Yan Yan who has lost her skills. Wits n medical knowledge is all n well but w so many experts swarming around – each wanting her for thier own reasons – can’t wait for her bodyguard to find her soon!
    Nice chapter Melanie!

    • Nope, nobody kidnapped Young Master Yuen. This guy is not as foolish as he acts, and he definitely has a hidden agenda.

      I’m a sucker for characters who fight well, just so I can pit them against each other in one big final battle and kill everyone at once. 😀

      I think Yan still pretty much has luck on her side right now, so she won’t be dying any time soon, even without martial arts. Plus, it helps that Sit Chung Nam is determined to stick to her side like glue. 😛

      Thanks for reading, Moonblossom!

  3. Thank you for your sharing your wonderful story. It is 5:00 a.m in the morning and I have finished reading your story in one sitting…..that’s how addictive it is! Please let this story be a happy ending. I like the two main characters a lot especially Yan. I can’t for your next posting. I’ll be checking your blog everyday for new chapters…hopefully soon:-)

    • Hi Hang! Thank you so much for reading. It always gives me great joy to find out I have another reader. 🙂 I am diligently working on proofreading the next chapter, so it should be up in the next few days. I have to warn you that I am a slow and inconsistent updater, so my new chapters come out randomly, but I am seriously making a greater effort to write more frequently as long as I know there are readers interested in the story. People say that the Chinese internet writer, Gu Man, is a turtle with her slow updates. Well, I am slower than a turtle. I am more like a rock just sitting around until someone comes along and kicks me (leaves me comments to push me along). 😛 Thanks for giving me this extra motivation!

      In the meantime, don’t forget to check out Moonblossom’s hilarious translation of The Rice Pot Next Door. It’s a nice break from all the punching and kicking found in my stories. 😀

      Thanks again for visiting Cloud Manor!

      • Thank you for replying….actually you’re pretty fast with your updates. Definitely not a turtle! Between your work, family, etc., and still sharing your wonderful story with us….everything you give us as a reader is greatly appreciated. Reading your story is better than watching a kungfu drama since characters’ feelings are involved/shared. Your vivid descriptions and long paragraphs are greatly appreciated…you can tell that I am greedy:-)

        I am currently also reading The Rice Pot Next Door. I am also happily waiting for the next chapter from Moonblossom. Usually I’m a silent reader, a little hesitant of sharing my email address.

      • Hi Hang,

        Thank you so much for your kind words and praise. While I know there are many areas in my story which could use some improvement, it is nonetheless very, very heartwarming to know that my long hours of toiling in front of the laptop are appreciated. Long ago, I once thought that I would be able to continue writing without an audience, that writing is simply a labor of love for me, and that I don’t care if anyone likes or wants to read my story. But I have realized that all those reasons are not what my heart truly wants. I don’t have the self confidence and self motivation to make time to continue writing if it weren’t for readers, like you, who cheer me on. I have discovered that I am a needy writer who needs an audience to prod me along. Your comments, questions, and/or critiques are like food to me. Without food, I have no energy to continue. So I thank you and all the readers who have taken a little bit of time out of their busy schedules to let me know that I am not just wasting my efforts. THANK YOU!

        As for hesitating to share your email, I totally understand. I always hesitate to give out personal information online. It’s too bad wordpress does not allow people to post comments without also providing the blog owner their email addresses. However, I can assure you that Moonblossom and I would never abuse the information provided to us through comments. I personally have never contacted anyone, unless that reader contacts me via email first.

  4. Finally had a chancenter to read this chapter. I’m definitely a Chung Nam-Yan lover. They’re like yin and yang, balancing each other out. Chung Nam is cure but Yan brings out the soft and sweet side of him. Yan is physically weak but Chung Nam’s physical strength helps her, despite the fact that she is highly knowledgeable in medicine and poison.

    However, I’m not sure how much I like them separately. I definitely like Yan as the heroine but Chung Nam is a different story. He’s like the antagonist that somehow has the love of all the readers, only when he’s with the heroine. Perhaps it’s his rash and harsh personality that I don’t like?

    • Hi Operation Fobbiness!

      Thanks for leaving me this long, lovely comment. I love your analysis of the Chung Nam-Yan pair. I think Yan truly does temper Chung Nam’s cruelty. Perhaps, it is true that love can change someone for the better. However, don’t expect Chung Nam to turn all goody goody. Though he becomes more considerate for Yan, his personality is still blunt, arrogant, and cold toward most people. Yet despite this, he seems to have some trace of honor within him, as witnessed by his rescue of Miu Jing Hung (because Miu has helped Yan). Thanks for your continued support! As always, it is a pleasure to know that I have a handful of loyal readers lurking about.

      • Oh gosh, please excuse my poor English in my comment. Lol. I use Google Chrome on my phone and it has a weird auto-correct system.

        I totally agree with what you said about Chung Nam. It would be out of his character if he were to suddenly becomeven goody goody and turn into a highly respected hero. I should be thanking you for writing such wonderful stories. 😀

      • Hi Operation Fobbiness,

        I think one good characteristic about Chung Nam is that he isn’t phony. He would never bother to pretend being a nice guy. He’s rude and ruthless and proud of it. He doesn’t care what other people think of his rudeness or his actions, and he will only treat someone nicely because he wants to.

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