Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay – The Prequel
Characters appearing in this chapter:
Wallace Chung Hon Leung 鍾漢良—Sit Chung Nam 薛钟南
Sun Fei Fei 孙菲菲—Fa Heung Yan a.k.a. Black Rose 花香燕
Yuen Siu Mo 袁劭武
OUTSKIRTS OF NORTH STAR TOWN
Book of Sun Moon Swordplay
Yan leaned down and picked up the manual. “Book of Sun Moon Swordplay?” She asked Chung Nam curiously. “Is this yours?”
“No,” Chung Nam shook his head. “The old man gave it to me just before he left. I assume it’s the accompanying martial arts manual to the Swords of Sun and Moon.”
“A sword manual?” Yan exclaimed excitedly. She started eagerly flipping through the pages, but ended up frowning in confusion, instead. “It’s blank!”
Yan showed the manual to Chung Nam, who scanned through the book quickly.
“Is this some joke?” Chung Nam muttered.
For a long moment, he stared dumbly at the blank martial arts manual. Then, the old man’s words echoed in his mind.
Take the manual, Sect Leader Sit. It will be your legacy to your son and to the future wulin generations.
He suddenly started chuckling as understanding dawned on him.
“What is so amusing?” Yan asked, bewildered.
Chung Nam snorted and shook his head with exasperation. “The old man gave me a blank manual because he expects me to invent a dual sword technique to be used with the Swords of Sun and Moon.”
Yan looked up at Chung Nam with a playful twinkle in her eyes. “You are quite egotistical, aren’t you, Sect Leader Sit? How do you know Elder didn’t want me to invent a sword technique?”
Chung Nam stopped scowling long enough to raise his eyebrow with delight at Yan’s challenging glance. “And how many sword techniques has my Yan Yan invented?” He asked, trying not to laugh at her adorable, piqued look.
Feeling extremely affronted by his amusement, Yan stiffened her back and jutted out her chin proudly. “I may not be an expert pugilist like you, Sect Leader Sit, but I have conceived a few humble techniques before.”
“Really?” Chung Nam grinned, finding goading her a fun hobby. “What techniques have you invented, sweetheart?”
Yan sniffed proudly and announced, “Well, one of my more accomplished techniques is the Thousand Hand Black Rose Palm. It utilizes an optical illusion to give off the appearance of multiple arms and hands from the practitioner, which then allows him or her to confuse the opponent.” Yan beamed with satisfaction. “It’s a very effective technique!”
Chung Nam smiled indulgently. “I am sure it is, sweetheart.”
“Since my elder sister destroyed my internal energy, I can no longer execute the Thousand Hand Black Rose Palm to its full potential.” She gave Chung Nam a considering look. “Would you like to learn it? I normally don’t accept students, but I think, with your internal energy, you would be able to bring my technique to new heights.”
Chung Nam stared blankly at Yan’s sudden offer. “Uh…”
Yan raised her hand, preventing him from answering too quickly. “Before you reject my offer, you should see my technique.”
Excitedly, Yan flung off the blanket she was using as a shawl and stuffed it into Chung Nam’s hands. “Watch this!”
Backing away from him, she twirled twice gracefully, her long skirt fluttering flirtatiously around her ankles. She glided elegantly across the snow-covered land, her arms moving lightly in smooth, elegant strokes, her long, flowing sleeves caressing her skin. As she stopped, she crisscrossed her hands at the wrist and daintily flipped her hands once, her gesture so beautifully executed that her actions seemed like dancing moves. Without warning, she separated her wrists and raised her arms, the sleeves of her gown billowing softly in the wind. Chung Nam blinked, and suddenly, he noticed what appeared to be a thousand arms moving rapidly in synchrony. Then, in the next instant, the illusory arms collapsed as Yan brought her two real arms down and crossed her wrists again, ending her demonstration.
“Well?” Yan asked expectantly, her eyes sparkling. “What do you think? With the backing of your internal energy, my technique could become spectacular!”
Dazed, Chung Nam gawked at Yan. Watching her execute her martial arts technique reminded him of an exquisite dance a woman would perform for her lover, full of grace and femininity, yet with a hint of seduction. Imagining himself prancing around practicing such a technique, he could only shudder with dread and mortification. He, known for his swift, lethal, and powerful strikes, would become the laughingstock of wulin if he ever used such refined, feminine stances against his enemies. Maybe his enemies would laugh to death before he could deliver the death blow.
“Well?” Yan ran up to him and tugged at his sleeve. “Do you want to learn my technique?”
“Uh,” Chung Nam cleared his throat delicately and darted his eyes around anxiously, refusing to look at Yan. Finally, he shifted his eyes toward Yan and smiled at her winningly. “I think I’ll pass on learning your technique, sweetheart.”
“Why?!” Yan glared at him, insulted. “What’s wrong with my technique?”
“Nothing is wrong with your technique, sweetheart,” Chung Nam began, speaking in a soothing tone, hoping to placate her. “It’s just…umm…it’s…,” Chung Nam couldn’t bring himself to continue.
“It’s what?” Yan persisted, her eyes narrowed dangerously at Chung Nam.
“It’s…it’s a sissy, girly technique.” Chung Nam blurted out quickly and then swallowed uncomfortably.
When had Sit Chung Nam ever worried about trying to be tactful with his words? Never. However, looking at Yan’s furious expression, he now wished he had pretended to be interested in learning her technique and then prayed she would forget about it later.
“What?!” Yan furrowed her brows, her eyes thunderous and narrowed to tiny pinpoints.
She jerked her blanket out of his arms and whacked his chest twice with it before whirling around and stomping away from him.
“Wait, Yan Yan!” Chung Nam grabbed her arm before she could go far.
He pulled an unwilling Yan into his arms. No match for him in strength, Yan glared mutinously up at him, refusing to struggle.
“I have a better idea, sweetheart.” Chung Nam smiled cajolingly. “Why don’t I transfer some of my qi to you, so that you can execute your own technique with the appropriate internal energy backing?”
Yan’s mind went black, unsure if she had heard correctly. “Huh?” Her anger forgotten, she stared at him with wide eyes. “You are willing to transfer some of your internal energy to me?”
Chung Nam smiled, “Yes. Why are you shocked?”
“A pugilist’s qi, garnered from years of training and cultivation, can be considered his most precious possession. Why are you willing to share some of your qi with me?” Yan asked softly, touched by his offer.
Chung Nam’s grin widened. “My internal energy is your internal energy.”
He leaned downed and touched his forehead to hers. The corners of his lips curved as he smiled teasingly.
Yan stared straight into Chung Nam’s eyes. Despite his jesting tone, a glimmer of seriousness reflected somewhere in the depths of his dark eyes, silently asking her if she was willing to accept what was his. An indescribable wave of emotion washed over. Her heart ached with sweetness and happiness. After parting ways with Big Brother Kuk Wai, she never thought she would find someone she could trust again. Yet, here Sit Chung Nam stood in front her, her unexpected safe haven. He infuriated her with his arrogant, domineering ways. He made her blush with shyness. He stirred her heart, making it throb with sweetness. But most importantly, he made her feel like she had finally found a home again.
Suddenly, without warning, she threw her arms around Chung Nam’s neck and buried her face against his chest. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Shocked, Chung Nam froze, but he quickly recovered. Hesitantly, he raised his arms and wrapped them lightly around Yan, afraid of scaring her. When she responded by burrowing herself more firmly against him, he tightened his embrace.
By now, the wind had calmed down to a light whisper, its gentle hum soothing. All around, snow lightly sprinkled down on them, the tiny, white specks twirling lightly in the breeze, kissing their skin. Overhead, the millions of stars winked, bright flashes of light smiling down on the couple embracing below.
They remained embraced for a long moment. Then, Yan involuntarily shivered, her thin gown offering very little warmth.
“Yan Yan, are you cold?” Chung Nam’s warm breath fanned over the top of her head, causing her to shiver even more. “Do you want to return to the cabin?”
Yan nodded shyly and swiftly released him. With the blanket wrapped tightly around herself, she ran back toward the cabin without giving him time to react.
Left behind, Chung Nam watched her petite figure slowly disappear behind the curtain of snow. A slight smile graced his lips as his eyes trailed after her. Perhaps he was mellowing with age, but he suddenly did not wish to return to the worldly affairs of wulin. He didn’t want to lead the Floating Cloud Sect on another raid. He just wished he could stay right here, at this secluded cabin in the woods, with Yan Yan.
A bandit could spend his entire life searching for that elusive, ultimate treasure and never find it. But he didn’t need to continue looking, for he had finally found his priceless treasure. He had never been a fanciful man, but with each additional day he spent with Yan, the more he knew that she was all the wealth he needed and wanted. Romantic ballads sang of love that could make fools out of great men. If that were true, then he would gladly be a fool for the rest of his life.
With that thought in mind, Chung Nam chased after Yan.
Chung Nam entered the cabin to find Yan trying to lug the huge wooden bath tub toward one corner of the room. She had already started a fire to boil the fresh fallen snow she had collected in the large kettle. Underneath the kettle stand, small twigs snapped in the crackling fire.
“What are you doing, sweetheart?” Chung Nam smiled as he helped her drag the tub.
“I want to take a bath.” Yan answered as she stared wistfully at the tub, imagining the soothing, steamy soak she was about to have.
She fed a few more twigs into the fire, before she happily walked over to the bed to neatly lay out a fresh gown from her travel sack. As the kettle whistled, Yan rushed over to pour the hot water into the tub.
Immediately, Chung Nam’s eyes brightened. “A bath! That’s a great idea!”
As Yan turned around to set the kettle down, she noted Chung Nam making a move to strip off his robe.
“What are you doing?” Yan narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously.
“Taking a bath,” Chung Nam’s hands hesitated at the lapels of his robe, as he threw her an innocent look.
“I’m taking a bath, not you,” Yan crossed her arms across her chest.
Smiling charmingly, Chung Nam strolled nonchalantly up to Yan, backing her up against the wall. “Yan Yan, you aren’t going to share the bath?” He deliberately leaned forward, as he placed his palms on the wall on either side of head, trapping her. “There is enough room in that big tub for two, with room to spare.”
“No sharing!” Yan glared at him menacingly.
She tried to push him away. However, instead of giving way, Chung Nam refused to budge, continuing to grin rakishly at her.
“Please? It’s so cold outside that a soak in a steamy bath would help my wounds.” Chung Nam played on her earlier sympathy for his injuries.
“Your wounds are fine.” Yan swatted him aside.
“Are you sure?” Chung Nam gave Yan a pitiful look. “I’ve been feeling a vague, intermittent ache in my heart for the past few days, and the sensation is getting worse. Maybe you could examine my heart while we are relaxing in the tub together?”
“You want to bathe? Wait your turn.” Yan stomped on his foot to get him to move aside.
“Ouch!” Chung Nam hopped around.
Yan ignored his sad expression and tried to shoo him outside. “Go wait outside while I bathe.”
“What?” Chung Nam appeared crestfallen. “You would make me wait outside in the freezing cold? If you won’t share the hot water with me, won’t you at least let me wait inside?”
“Inside?” Yan narrowed her eyes, gesturing pointedly to the one-room cabin with no privacy.
“I promise I won’t peek.” Chung Nam grinned, a rare boyish twinkle in his eyes.
“Hmph!” Yan mumbled at his less-than-sincere vow.
“Aww, Yan Yan, I will turn into an ice statue if you kick me out,” Chung Nam whined.
At that moment, the wind roared and the snow seemed to suddenly pour from the sky in thick sheets of white. Even the heavens appeared to be in Chung Nam’s favor.
Sighing, Yan relented a bit. “All right, you can stay inside, but if you dare to peek, I will throw every bit of powder I have in my travel sack at you!” She threatened, jabbing her finger straight at his nose.
Chung Nam merely smiled guilelessly in response.
After sending him another warning glare, Yan moved the screen divider, using it to partition off the bathing area from the rest of the room. She gathered her change of clothing and a large towel. Before disappearing behind the screen, Yan turned her head and glowered at Chung Nam again.
He had moved to the bed and was now reclining on it. When he noticed her staring at him, he grinned at her.
“No peeking,” he swore solemnly, placing his right palm against his heart in a gesture of promise.
Then he rolled over, and with his back facing her, closed his eyes. Soon, she could hear his even breathing as he dozed.
Yan observed Chung Nam for a moment longer, and convinced that he had fallen asleep, sighed with relief and retreated behind the screen. Humming lightly to herself, she disrobed, neatly folding the worn gown before flinging it over the top of the screen.
On the other side of the screen, Chung Nam immediately opened his eyes and sat up in bed the moment Yan started disrobing. The firelight from the licking flames warming the water in the kettle near the bathtub outlined Yan’s feminine figure. Chung Nam watched her silhouette on the screen intently, his blood roaring and surging to his head as she turned, showing her profile, displaying clearly the outline of her breasts, flat abdomen, and slender legs. She released the hairpin holding up her hair. As her long tresses cascaded over her shoulders, Chung Nam nearly salivated. His heart ached slightly as she turned toward the tub. Soon, he could hear the gentle splashing of water as she happily played in her bath. As Chung Nam clutched at his slightly painful heart, he thought ruefully to himself that perhaps peeking at his little fairy bathe was detrimental to his health.
Sighing, he leaned back down onto the bed. Lightly slapping himself on the cheek, he admonished himself, “You promised Yan Yan you won’t peek. Keep your word.”
However, his eyes involuntarily drifted back toward the screen again, as if they had a mind of their own. Although he couldn’t see her clearly, he could see the steam from the bath water rising from the top of the old screen. The gentle lapping sound of water made his active imagination conjure up censored thoughts. The front of his pants started to get uncomfortably full. Swearing, he rolled over so that he was no longer looking at the bathing area. Willing himself to calm down, he closed his eyes and meditated.
On the other side of screen, Yan, blissfully unaware of her very interested audience on the bed, sank down into the steamy water until only her head and shoulders remained above the water level. Sprinkling the fragrant floral bath powder she always carried in her travel sack, she began splashing the hot water onto her arms and chest. Closing her eyes, she savored the delicious feeling of a relaxing bath.
She must have dozed off, for when she opened her eyes again, the bathwater had cooled. The previously licking flames warming the kettle had diminished to a few yellow-orange embers. She glanced around, slightly confused.
Suddenly, from the corner of her eye, she noticed a shadow streak across the other end of the room. Without the firelight, darkness filled the cabin. She squinted her eyes, trying to see in the dark. Just when she thought she was hallucinating, the shadow moved again, this time revealing itself to be the hazy form of a woman with long black hair dressed in a flowing white gown. The image glided toward her and then suddenly vanished.
That single, horrifying thought filled her mind immediately. In her entire life, she would not bother batting an eyelash at a spider or a mouse, but she would literally turn into a useless, frightened lump at the possibility of meeting a specter.
Yan screeched as she clamored out of the bath tub. “Big Brother Chung Nam! Help!”
Chung Nam, who had also fallen asleep due to fatigue, jerked awake at Yan’s scream. Leaping off the bed, he ran toward the screen separating him from Yan.
“Yan Yan, what’s wrong?” He called out urgently.
Before he could even knock down the screen, Yan urgently kicked down the screen from her side and leapt into his arms, fully naked and wet.
“What? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” A befuddled Chung Nam embraced a wet and slippery Yan, supporting her weight on his hips as she wrapped her legs tightly around his waist, attempting to glue herself to him permanently.
“Gh..ghost,” Yan managed to mumble as her teeth chattered uncontrollably.
“Ghost?” Chung Nam swung around, with Yan still attached to him, and peered around with interest. “Where?”
“There!” Yan squeezed her eyes shut and pointed at the corner which the specter had previously appeared.
However, as Chung Nam advanced forward, all he could see was a torn, white window curtain undulating lightly against the breeze blowing in from the slightly opened window.
“There’s nothing, sweetheart. It’s just a window curtain.” Chung Nam patted her back.
“Nothing?” Yan whispered.
She hesitantly opened her eyes and peeked over Chung Nam’s shoulder. She scanned the area fearfully, but like Chung Nam, she could only see a tattered, dirty swath of white fabric swaying slowly in the darkness.
“I saw her!” Yan frowned. “She was wearing a white gown, and her long black hair floated behind her!”
“Has my Yan Yan been reading too many scary ghost stories?” Chung Nam laughed.
Yan paused and blushed at his question. Indeed, while Chung Nam and Old Beggar were conversing outside earlier, she had curiously dug through the chest of old clothes near the bedside and had unearthed a journal left behind by the previous female inhabitant of this cabin.
Yan had nosily perused the entire journal, discovering that many decades ago, a young woman and her husband had lived in this cabin. Her husband had built this cabin for her as a wedding gift. For years, they lived happily. Not long after marriage, they welcomed their infant boy into the world. Unfortunately, one bitterly cold winter, their son fell ill. Her husband carried their child into the blizzard to seek a physician. She waited by the window, praying for their safe return, but they never came back. She searched all the nearby towns, but always returned unsuccessful and disappointed. As one winter after another passed, she could only sit by the window, staring out into the snow, hoping to again catch a glimpse of the only family she had. She eventually died alone in this cabin, still waiting.
Yan had initially been extremely moved by the story. However, now after seeing what she thought was the ghost of the woman, she was no longer as amused.
Shivering involuntarily, Yan defended herself. “I’m very sure I saw a female ghost! Where did she go?”
“Maybe your extremely loud scream frightened her off.” Chung Nam suggested with amusement.
Yan shifted slightly so that she could lean back to glare at Chung Nam. “Are you mocking me?”
He started to answer, but suddenly seemed distracted and forgot what he wanted to say.
“No,” he murmured.
No longer amused by her fear of ghosts, his attention seemed to have shifted elsewhere, as his eyes drifted involuntarily downward toward her soft breasts pressed cozily against his chest. Following his gaze, Yan gasped with embarrassment. In all the excitement, she had forgotten about her nudity.
She wiggled and squirmed in his embrace, trying to escape. Her actions only caused a certain part of his male anatomy to perk up. Whacking at his shoulders, she quickly slid off him and scrambled toward the forgotten towel, which had fallen on the floor when she had knocked over the screen.
Wrapping herself tightly in the towel, she glowered at Chung Nam. “You pervert!”
“Pervert?” Chung Nam pretended to look shocked and hurt. “Yan Yan, you were the one who jumped into my arms.”
“Well…well,” Yan sputtered, “you could have closed your eyes like a gentleman would when you realized I was unclothed!”
“How could I find this ghost you saw if I had my eyes closed?” Chung Nam reasoned.
“You…you…!” Yan accused angrily. “Oh! You big bully! You have taken advantage of me!”
Yan fumed and pouted, although she knew that he had done nothing wrong, and she was the one who had thrown herself at him.
“Well, would you be happier if I took off my clothes, too? Then you could have your way with me and exact your revenge.” Chung Nam teasingly suggested.
“Hmph!” Yan huffed, giving up arguing with such an insufferable man.
Deciding to ignore him, she turned around and searched for her freshly laundered gown.
“Are you looking for this?” Chung Nam’s deep voice resonated from behind her.
She whirled around to find him standing very close behind her, with her gown hooked onto his index finger. She snatched the robe from him, his proximity making her blush.
Clutching the robe protectively against her chest, she pointed one finger toward the door, commanding imperiously as she lifted her chin. “You have to wait outside while I dress!”
Raising both eyebrows at her regal tone, Chung Nam bowed gallantly, “Of course, my little fairy.”
As he obediently turned to leave, a cool draft snaked by, bringing goosebumps to Yan’s bare shoulders above the towel. She shivered and glanced around nervously. Her hyperactive imagination immediately churned, and Yan could almost convince herself that she saw a vague shadow float by, the amorphous form’s cold, stiff fingers brushing against her cheek as it drifted across the room.
Freaked out, Yan hurriedly chased after Chung Nam. “Wait!”
When he paused and turned around, a questioning look on his face, Yan blushed and suggested sheepishly, “It’s icy outside. Um, you could stay in here while I get dressed.”
When she noticed the corners of his lips turning upward, she stiffened her back. “You can stay but you have to turn around.” She ordered, daring him to laugh at her irrational fear of ghosts.
Once he turned around, Yan quickly pulled on her clean gown. Her hands shook from the chill and from the possibility of a ghost lurking about. She leaned down slightly and tried to force her stiff, uncooperative fingers to tie the waist sash of her robe. Suddenly, she felt a warm, hard body envelop her from behind as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist.
“Do you need any help, Yan Yan?” Chung Nam’s deep voice drawled against her ear.
Before she could respond, he took over the task of tying her waist sash, slowly sliding the long, satin ribbons over each other into a bow.
“Do you need my help with anything else, sweetheart?” Chung Nam whispered suggestively against the side of her neck. “I’m good at dressing…or undressing.”
Blushing madly, Yan slapped his hands away and rushed toward the bed. Quickly crawling into bed and hiding under the covers, Yan stuck one finger out from underneath the covers and commanded Chung Nam with a muffled voice.
“You can sleep on the floor beside the bed.” She offered magnanimously.
“How generous of you, sweetheart.” Chung Nam couldn’t help but chuckle wryly at how he, known for his ruthless ways and feared by orthodox and demonic schools alike in wulin, was now being ordered around by a petite, fragile-looking maiden.
Resigned to his fate of sleeping on the cold floor, Chung Nam sighed and settled down onto the floor next to the bed. He closed his eyes and started drifting off.
On the bed above, Yan curled tightly into a ball underneath the blanket, keeping even her head safely hidden under the covers. She wondered what happened to the female ghost. Was she watching them right now? Had she turned into a vengeful spirit after all those years of fruitless waiting for her husband and child?
As these disturbing thoughts raced through her mind, Yan’s teeth started to chatter. After shifting around uneasily for while, she finally pulled down her blanket and peeked over its edge. Perhaps it would be safer to have Sit Chung Nam sleep next to her on the bed for protection. She will just knee him in the groin if he attempted anything inappropriate.
“Sit Chung Nam,” she whispered, as she peered over the bed and stared at the dozing man on the floor below. “Sit Chung Nam, are you awake?”
“Mmm,” he murmured sleepily.
“Are you cold?” Yan asked suddenly. “I’ve thought about it. You can sleep next to me on the bed and share my blanket.” She declared altruistically.
In the dark, he smiled secretly, guessing the motivation behind her “selfless” offer to share the bed.
“That’s all right, sweetheart. The floor is not that cold.” He deliberately acted dumb.
“How could it not be cold down there!” Yan exclaimed. “The bed is quite spacious and warm. You should sleep up here with me.” She persisted.
“No, thank you, sweetheart.” Chung Nam tried to keep himself from laughing. “I am quite comfortable on the floor.”
“Sit Chung Nam!” Yan hissed, realizing that he was being deliberately obstinate.
“I like being referred to as ‘Big Brother Chung Nam,‘ “ he mused aloud.
Yan sighed inwardly and gritted her teeth. “Big Brother Chung Nam, will you sleep next to me on the bed?” She asked sweetly.
Chung Nam pondered that request for a moment. Then, he looked up at her and retorted regretfully, “No.”
“What?” Yan exploded. “Why not?”
Giving her a wide-eyed, solemn look, Chung Nam answered calmly, “I have to think of my virtue. My reputation would be ruined if…”
Before he could finish his thought, a pillow came hurtling down from the bed above and smacked him in the face, smothering his chuckles, which he could no longer hold in.
“Hmph!” Yan seethed.
She rolled over huffily on the bed, turning her back on him. She would rather stay awake the entire night, keeping vigil against any possible apparitions, than ask him to sleep with her again!
She wrapped her blanket tightly around herself and curled up into a ball on her side. Behind her, Chung Nam’s laughter gradually faded, and soon Yan felt a warm body hug her from behind.
“I’m sorry, Yan Yan.” Chung Nam apologized, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
Yan shrugged off his arms, but she spoke without any vehemence. “You have to keep your hands to yourself,” she mumbled.
Wisely backing off, Chung Nam lay quietly beside Yan, careful to not touch her.
“Let’s go into town and find an inn to stay at tonight,” he said all of a sudden.
His suggestion surprised Yan. Forgetting to be peeved, she rolled over and glanced at him. “You want to leave now? It’s dark, and there’s a snowstorm outside!”
“We can bundle you up in the blanket. I’ll carry you so that you can sleep on the way to town.” Chung Nam answered simply.
“But…shouldn’t we just wait until morning and until the snowing stops?” Yan asked, confused.
Chung Nam scooted closer to Yan on the bed so that just his forehead touched hers. “We could, but then you would be scared the whole night.”
Before Yan could argue about the impracticality of venturing into town after dark in a blizzard, Chung Nam got up and ripped off a long strip of fabric from the frayed window curtain. Winding the fabric around the Swords of Sun and Moon, he strapped the weapons to his back and tied the two ends of the fabric strip in front of his chest. Next, he slung Yan’s travel sack over his shoulder.
With everything packed, Chung Nam turned to the bewildered Yan sitting on the bed and extended one hand toward her. “Ready to go, sweetheart?”
Yan hesitated, staring uncertainly out the partially opened window at the raging snowstorm outside. At that moment, the wind wailed and an icy draft brushed against her cheek, reminding her of a possible female phantom sharing the cabin with them. The ghost could be sitting right next to her on the bed right now, waiting to possess her body once she fell asleep. That unsettling thought spurned Yan into action. She hurled herself into Chung Nam’s waiting arms.
He chuckled with amusement at her enthusiasm. Wrapping the blanket tightly around her, he lifted her up into his arms and ventured into the thick wall of wind and snow. The sudden sting of iciness cut into her like a sharp blade. Immediately, her face felt frozen and numb.
Yan buried her face against the curve of Chung Nam’s neck. “You don’t have a blanket.” She shouted above the sound of the howling wind.
“I’ll be fine,” Chung Nam assured her. “Get some rest. We’ll be in town soon.”
Yan nodded and closed her eyes obediently. Lulled by the steady rhythm of his stride, she immediately dozed off.
ONE HOUR LATER
Chung Nam’s steady stride altered subtly, but this miniscule change in rhythm was enough jerk Yan awake.
“What’s wrong?” Yan inquired drowsily.
“We’re being followed,” Chung Nam answered calmly, as if discussing what to order for supper later.
“What?” Yan jerked to attention, as her eyes scanned the area anxiously.
However, she could not see anything in the thick mist of swirling snow and darkness.
“Act normally,” Chung Nam warned her. “Approximately five to ten people are following us, and at least one of them is a highly trained pugilist with superior internal energy, judging from his movements. They’ve been trailing us for about a quarter of an hour now.”
“Why are they following us?” Yan wondered. “Who are they?”
Chung Nam’s smiled slightly. “We’ll find out shortly.”
In one swift move, Chung Nam placed Yan onto her feet and untied the knot of the length of fabric keeping the Swords of Sun and Moon strapped to his back. He flicked his wrist, sending the two swords, still attached to the stretch of cloth, into the darkness to his right. The blades sliced through the thick wall of snow, and from behind that wall, screams echoed back. Two bodies dropped, their blood rapidly saturating the white earth. The swords circled back to Chung Nam, who ripped them off the length of fabric smoothly, and with a second flick of his wrist, sent the weapons twirling back into the darkness. The blades pierced two more assassins, killing them instantly.
Meanwhile, Chung Nam snapped the long rope of fabric like a whip, and as two more opponents charged at him from the darkness, he lassoed one of the men around the waist and flung him through the air, conveniently using him to knock down the second approaching man. Without pausing, he then somersaulted forward and retrieved the Swords of Sun and Moon protruding from the bodies of the two other assailants sprawled on the ground.
At that moment, a subtle shift in the air behind him alerted Chung Nam to the approach of the group’s leader, the man with the noteworthy internal energy. Holding one sword in each hand, he channeled his qi toward the blades, treating the Swords of Sun and Moon like extensions of his arms, just as he would if he were using his Shadowless Swords. The weapons vibrated almost imperceptibly, glowing with life.
From the darkness, the leader emerged, his sword raised. As their weapons clashed, the resulting energy field repelled all snow and wind, cocooning Chung Nam and his opponent in a sphere of qi. In less than ten stances, Chung Nam gained temporary victory, sandwiching his enemy’s blade between both of his. With a few efficient strokes, the more superior Swords of Sun and Moon sliced the other blade into tiny pieces.
Losing his weapon, the leader backflipped away from Chung Nam. The faint glow emanating from the Swords of Sun and Moon bathed the immediate vicinity, illuminating the leader’s face.
Chung Nam smirked, recognizing his opponent. “So it’s you.”
Yuen Siu Mo chuckled softly, “Sect Leader Sit, if you hand over the Swords of Sun and Moon, I will let you and Clan Leader Black Rose leave peacefully.”
Chung Nam calmly strapped the swords to his back again. He grabbed onto Yan’s hand and snorted. “I prefer to step over your dead body while leaving.”
Yuen Siu Mo’s expression hardened. He lifted his hand and whistled. Amidst the whirlwind of snow, ten more assassins emerged and surrounded Chung Nam and Yan. As the black-robed men rushed forward, Chung Nam stepped protectively in front of Yan. He unsheathed his Shadowless Swords, the energy blades soundlessly slashing the first few assassins who charged at him. As another opponent raced toward him, Chung Nam flashed forward and flipped over the assailant’s head, quickly palming his enemy on the top of the head. The man collapsed to the ground, but three more black-robed men replaced him, surrounding Chung Nam.
Meanwhile, Yuen Siu Mo flipped toward Yan. From the corner of his eye, Chung Nam noticed Yuen Siu Mo’s advancement toward her. Chung Nam swung around and backflipped toward Yan’s direction, his booted feet clipping two more opponents on the chin in the process.
Within seconds, Chung Nam arrived by Yan’s side. His palms flashed forward, just in time to intercept Yuen Siu Mo’s palms. Qi flowed toward both men’s palms, as both fought for domination. For what seemed like an eternity, both remained locked in combat.
Then suddenly Chung Nam lurched forward, his heart contracting painfully. His palms disengaged from Yuen Siu Mo’s as he brought his hands up to clutch at his chest. In the background, Yan gasped in surprise at this unexpected turn of events. She rushed forward.
Yuen Siu Mo narrowed his eyes in surprise. He was unsure what had just happened to Sit Chung Nam, but he wisely took advantage of his opponent’s loss in concentration, and diverted all his qi toward his palms and punched Sit Chung Nam hard on the chest, sending him reeling through the air.
From below, Yan screamed, “Big Brother Chung Nam!”
She tried to catch his falling body, but she couldn’t reach him in time. He landed hard onto the snow-covered ground and skidded backward for some distance before stopping.
“Big Brother Chung Nam!” Yan dashed to his side.
“My heart,” Chung Nam gasped.
Yan ripped open his robe, but there were no obvious signs of injury to his heart. As the lapels of Chung Nam’s robe fell open, the poison-proof silk gloves from the Heavenly Crane School dropped out from the gown’s inside pocket. Yan stared stupidly at the gloves for a moment before realization hit.
Before she could think, Yuen Siu Mo somersaulted forward, palms extended…
Chapters in the Prequel:
Chapter 23: Two Swords, One Book
Chapter 22: Fiery Sparks Amidst Chilling Cold
Chapter 21: To Earn a Beauty’s Embrace
Chapter 20: One Step Behind
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!