(The Prequel) Chapter 28: Ten-Thousand Good Fortune Inn

Legendary Book of Sun-Moon Swordplay – The Prequel

Characters appearing in this chapter:
Hu Ge 胡歌 — Miu Jing Hung (Miao Jing Xiong) 苗靖雄
Cecilia Liu Shi Shi 刘诗诗 — Bak Yeuk Lam (Bai Ruo Lin) 白弱琳
Kenneth Tsang Kong 曾江 — Laughing Ghost Healer Ding Wan (Ding Wen) 笑鬼醫丁穩
Sun Fei Fei 孫菲菲 — Fa Heung Yan (Hua Xiang Yan) 花香燕
Huang Xiao Ming 黄晓明 — Lau Ming Leung (Liu Ming Liang) 劉明良
Yang Mi 杨幂 — Lau Ji San (Liu Zi Shan) 劉紫珊
Wallace Chung Hon Leung 鍾漢良 — Sit Chung Nam (Xie Zhong Nan) 薛钟南
Wallace Huo Jian Hua 霍建華 — Kuk Wai (Qu Wei) 曲偉

VALLEY OF LOST SOULS

“Help me, please!”

Startled, Miu Jing Hung and Bak Yeuk Lam turned toward the wailing voice.

In the hazy glow of twilight, they could see the blurry outline of a petite form floating toward them.  Then from above the small figure, a shadow, moving so quickly they nearly missed it, streaked forward and reached toward the slender form.  In an instant, both figures disappeared, as if they had never existed.

Both Yeuk Lam and Jing Hung blinked at the empty space where the two shadows had been.

“What was that?”  Yeuk Lam gasped, her eyes darting around trying to locate the two shadows.

“I don’t know,” Jing Hung murmured, as he, too, glanced around cautiously.

He moved to stand protectively in front of Yeuk Lam.  “If I am not mistaken, two people had just flashed by us so quickly that they disappeared within the blink of an eye.  To have such lightness kung fu…”

Hearing his words, Yeuk Lam scanned the area more closely.  “Two people?”  She stared hard, but could not detect any further signs of movement or life.  “Where did they go?”

“I don’t know,” Jing Hung frowned as the pale glow of twilight vanished, blanketing the valley in near darkness.  “However, we don’t know if they are friend or foe.  We should leave quickly.  With nightfall and low visibility, it would be very difficult to defend ourselves should these two people attack.”

Without waiting for Yeuk Lam to consent, Jing Hung grabbed her hand and pulled her away, his actions so natural as if they had never separated.

Yeuk Lam’s breath caught in her throat, as she stared down at Jing Hung’s fingers interlocked with hers.  She hated this man, didn’t she?  He let their baby die, so she should despise him, shouldn’t she?  So why couldn’t she bring herself to yank her hand away from his?

In her mind, she laughed bitterly to herself.  She couldn’t completely hate Jing Hung, because if he had selfishly saved his own baby and had forsaken the lives of six innocent people, then he wouldn’t be the man she had admired and fallen in love with.  In the deep recesses of her heart, she knew that the man she had married, the man she still loved despite the loss of their child, was a true hero.  As a wife, she couldn’t fault her husband for his heroic, selfless heart.  However, as a mother, she couldn’t forget how her baby had died, couldn’t forgive herself if she allowed herself to be with Jing Hung again, to be happy again.

As her mind continued to battle with her conscience, Yeuk Lam forgot to pay attention to her path and tripped on a loose rock on the ground.  She hurled forward involuntarily, right into Jing Hung’s arms.  Gasping, Yeuk Lam stared up at her husband with wide eyes.

His strong arms embraced her, his deep, quiet voice reassuring her, “It’s all right.  I’m here, Yeuk Lam.”

Awkwardly, Yeuk Lam quickly jerked away from him.  “Thank you,” she mumbled.

Jing Hung’s expression saddened at her withdrawal.  He reluctantly dropped his hands.

“It’s getting late.  We shouldn’t linger here.”  Despite his distraction with Yeuk Lam, he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched.

Yeuk Lam glanced up at Jing Hung, surprised by the anxiety in his tone.  She had forgotten about the two shadows, but his words made her shiver.

“All right, let’s leave,” she nodded.

After the two disappeared into the night, the Valley of Lost Souls stilled once more.  Even the dust particles coating the long-forgotten cottages barely shifted in the wind.  The silence seemed almost deafening.  The snowfall had stopped a while ago, but the icy chill lingered in the air.  Soon, a thick layer of cold mist rose from the ground, shrouding the valley in a haze of eerie mystique.

Suddenly, from the fog, two shadows emerged.  The taller shadow chuckled tauntingly at the more petite one in front.

“They have left, so you can give up your hope of getting rescued.”  Laughing Ghost Healer Ding Wan shot Yan a warning look.  “You’ve wasted enough of my time, little girl.  If you hadn’t fallen ill, we would have reached Green Python Valley by now.  Don’t waste any more of my time by attempting escape.”

Yan glared mutinously back at the older man.  In the darkening night, shadows shrouded his features.  He appeared tall, austere, gentlemanly, but there was a cold glint in his eyes.

“Humph!”  Yan scoffed.  “You underestimate me, Elder.  I don’t need anyone to rescue me.  I can easily walk away if had wanted to.”

Ding Wan laughed at her bravado.  “In all the years that I have roamed the pugilist world, no one has dared boast so rashly to my face.”

Unconcerned at his warning tone, Yan smiled challengingly at the older gentleman.  “Well, Elder, then you must not be as well traveled as you claim, because you haven’t met me before.  If you have, you would have long ago realized that you are not as invincible as you think you are.”

“Why you…!”  Ding Wan sputtered.  “Little girl, you should be careful what you say to me!”

He raised his hand, as if to strike her, but Yan merely smirked insolently at him.

“Go ahead and hit me, Elder,” she goaded.  “You spent an entire month healing my wounds with your internal energy.  Are you truly going to waste all your efforts now and injure me again?”

Ding Wan fisted his palm, his breath coming out in shaky spurts.  He glowered at her murderously for a long moment.

Finally, he calmed down enough to speak, “It’s getting late.  We need to find an inn to rest for the night.”

Without waiting for Yan’s response, he jerked around and stalked away.  Behind the elder gentleman, Yan stuck her tongue out at him childishly before reluctantly following along.

HORIZON PEAK
HEAVENLY WEAPONS MANOR

Lau Ming Leung, Eldest Young Master of Heavenly Weapons Manor, frowned at the empty seat across from him at the dining table, a seat that should have been occupied by his third younger sister, Lau Ji San.

Glancing down at the letter Ji San had left him, he sighed.  Ji San had always respected and deferred to his opinion.  He was fifteen years her senior and had raised her and their second brother Lau Ming Ho after their parents had passed away when she was a toddler.  Unfortunately, this time, she was consumed with grief and anger, and against his advice, she had departed Heavenly Weapons Manor to bring their second brother’s murderer to justice after their failed attempt to capture Imperial Constable Miu Jing Hung one month ago.

Ji San had always been close to their second brother, Lau Ming Ho, as they had only been three years apart and hence had more similar interests.  When Ming Ho’s body had been mysteriously left on the doorstep of Heavenly Weapons Manor in an unmarked coffin with multiple wounds piercing his body, Ji San had been inconsolable.  Ming Leung had immediately recognized the wounds from the Dancing Blade technique, a series of sword sequences unique to only the famed and righteous Imperial Constable Miu Jing Hung.

Ji San had wanted to immediately pursue the constable to seek revenge.  However, the more levelheaded Ming Leung held her back.  Constable Miu Jing Hung was known in the pugilist world for his righteousness.  Brutally killing without a reason did not seem like something Constable Miu would do.  Hence, Ming Leung had wished to speak to the constable first before passing judgement.  In addition, even if Miu Jing Hung were the true murderer, Ji San’s skills were no match for him.

At that moment, footsteps brought Ming Leung’s attention to Heavenly Weapons Manor’s elderly housekeeper, addressed by everyone in the manor as Grandmother Ting.

“Grandmother Ting, any news on Ji San’s whereabouts?”  Ming Leung asked.

Grandmother Ting shook her head.  Though she was technically a servant, she had helped raised the three Lau children from birth and was respected as a grandmother by the Lau siblings.

“Our men tracked her to a deserted place called the Valley of Lost Souls before she evaded them.”  Grandmother Ting answered solemnly.

The elderly housekeeper sighed heavily, as she thought wryly of Ji San.  It was difficult to think of the mischievous little girl who used to run wild around the manor playing pranks on everyone as a young woman now, one who was too beautiful and inexperienced to be roaming the pugilist world by herself, seeking revenge.  Her parents and her older brothers had always sheltered her.  Though Ji San possessed fairly impressive martial arts skills for her age, she was far from invincible, especially since she had spent most of her young life secluded on Horizon Peak and away from the dangers of the outside world.

“Eldest Young Master, would you like me to personally go look for Third Young Mistress?”  Grandmother Ting asked.

Lau Ming Leung initially started to object, wishing to search for his baby sister himself, but he paused.  Grandmother Ting was right.  With his responsibilities at Heavenly Weapons Manor, he couldn’t simply leave, so Grandmother Ting was the next best option.  No one knew Ji San’s temperament and habits better than the elderly housekeeper, who had watched Ji San grow up.

Nodding reluctantly, Ming Leung agreed, “Thank you, Grandmother Ting.  Please bring that little troublemaker back safely.”

The old woman chuckled lightly.  “Little troublemaker, indeed!”  Then more seriously, Grandmother Ting reassured the young man standing in front of her, “Don’t worry, Eldest Young Master.  I will make sure she returns without any harm.”

NIGHTFALL
OUTSKIRTS OF THE VALLEY OF LOST SOULS
TEN-THOUSAND GOOD FORTUNE INN

Since the tragedy one year ago, which had transformed the Valley of Everlasting Youth into the Valley of Lost Souls, no one dared to venture into this location.  Very soon, businesses in the outskirts of the valley also moved away.  Even if one did not fear the rumors of bloodthirsty ghosts roaming the grounds, it did not make sense to set up business in a death valley, where there would be no hope for customers.

However, Old Seven, the elderly innkeeper of the Ten-Thousand Good Fortune Inn, refused to move his inn away from the outskirts of the Valley of Lost Souls.  As every one of his neighbors relocated to a more auspicious locale, Old Seven, as his late wife had fondly called him, stubbornly stayed behind.  He and his beloved late wife had built this inn with their blood and sweat, toiling away to make the modest-sized inn a success.  He and his wife had spent their wedding night in the larger of the two upstairs inn rooms.  She had given birth to their only son here.  They had loved and laughed together here.  They had also cried together here when their son had died in infancy.  Every room, every space in this inn contained memories, both bitter and sweet.  He had buried his son and then his wife nearby.  He would never leave them.  Therefore, when his friends and neighbors started to move away, he merely smiled calmly and waved farewell to them.  It would take more than apparitions to drive him away.

However, sentimentality aside, his decision to remain in the outskirts of the Valley of Lost Souls severely affected his inn’s business.  For the past one year, he could count only a total of five inn guests who had stayed at the Ten-Thousand Good Fortune Inn.  With a lack of sufficient income, he had to let go of all his employees, and he could no longer afford to repair or update his inn.  With his savings dwindling, he would soon be forced to decide whether he should move to survive or stay and die from starvation.

Old Seven sighed as these gloomy thoughts burdened his mind.  Outside, the wind wailed, as if echoing Old Seven’s depressed mood.  As the snowfall thickened, the wind roared even more fiercely, thrusting the inn’s window shutters open with its sheer force.

The loud clang of the shutters woke Old Seven up from his reverie, and he sighed again.  Slowly, he shuffled over to the window, intending to close it and lock the empty inn up for the night.  At that moment, the main door of the inn burst open, startling the elderly innkeeper, who turned to gasp in surprise at the entrance.

Two tall men stood at the open doorway, one wearing dark blue robes, the other clothed completely in white.  The lethal swords strapped to the men’s backs seemed incongruent with their refined, scholarly bearings.  Behind them, the wind screeched, carrying with it thick white flakes of snow twirling wildly in the night.  Despite the overwhelming blizzard pounding in the background, the two men remained impervious to the cold, their tall physiques dominating the foyer of the modest inn.

Old Seven’s expression lit up at the sight of potential customers for his inn.  Rushing over, he reached behind the two men, bravely ignoring the glimmer of the weapons strapped to their backs, and pushed the double inn doors shut to block out the cold and noise.

“Welcome to my Ten-Thousand Good Fortune Inn, young masters!”  Old Seven beamed.

The white-robed man rudely walked past the old man without answering and sat down at one of the four tables in the small dining space of the inn.

“Bring out three of your best dishes.”  He commanded.

The other man in the dark blue robes settled himself down onto another table, as far away from the white-robed man’s table as possible.  Confused, Old Seven hesitated and stared at his two customers.  When they had walked in together, he had thought they were friends, or at least, acquaintances.  Now, on closer examination, they appeared to be enemies, as they perched stiffly on their respective wooden stools and glared at each other from different tables.

Unease washed over Old Seven, as he worried that the two men would break into a fight in his precious inn.  When the elderly innkeeper continued to stand there with a concerned expression, the white-robed man with the twin swords strapped to his back slammed his palm down on to the table top.  Although it wasn’t a very hard slam, the sudden noise startled Old Seven so much that he nearly stumbled backward and fell.

“Innkeeper!  I don’t have all night!” Sit Chung Nam snapped coldly after bringing his palm down on to the table.

“Uh…,” Old Seven steadied himself and cleared his throat.  “Yes, yes, what would you like to eat, young master?”

“It doesn’t matter.”  Chung Nam unstrapped the twin swords of Sun and Moon from his back and placed them down onto the table.  “Just bring me your three best dishes.”

From across the cramped room, the blue-robed man snorted, as he, too, placed his sword onto the table.  “I don’t understand why Yan would like such an uncouth person, like you.  Slamming palms on to table tops are actions only unsavory bandits would do.”

Smirking, Chung Nam deliberately baited the man seated at the other table.  “An outsider like you will never understand the profound feelings Yan Yan and I share.”

Incensed, Kuk Wai narrowed his eyes at Sit Chung Nam.  “You’re the outsider, Sit Chung Nam,” he countered coldly.

Sit Chung Nam laughed mockingly at his love rival.  “If you are so important to Yan Yan, then how come she has never bothered to mention you to me?  Young Hero Kuk, you should just accept that Yan Yan has moved on and has forgotten about you.”

“You!”  Kuk Wai seethed, forcing deep breaths through his clenched teeth.  “If the chances of rescuing Yan from the Laughing Ghost Healer aren’t increased with both of our combined efforts, I would not have lowered myself to travel with you!”

Sit Chung Nam’s taunting smirk morphed into a look of pure disgust.  “Kuk Wai, do you think I enjoyed seeing your face everyday for the past month?  Like you, I would not associate with you if not for Yan Yan’s sake.  Just stay out of my way, and I might not kill you.”

Kuk Wai snorted at Chung Nam’s threat.  “I’d like to see you try to kill me.”

Kuk Wai’s hand clenched around his weapon on the table.  At the same time, Chung Nam’s hand reached for the twins swords on his table.

In the background, the innkeeper, Old Seven, started to sweat profusely at the rising tension between the two men.  This inn was his entire life, and he couldn’t let these two guests destroy it.  He gathered the courage to step forward, hoping to stop any fights from breaking out.

However, before the innkeeper could say anything, the inn door swung open again with a bang.  Icy wind and wet snow rushed in with the swinging door, cooling the flaming tempers inside the inn and interrupting Chung Nam and Kuk Wai’s altercation.

Ten men filed inside, all dressed in the muted crimson robes of the Red Raven Clan.    Clan Leader Ding, a stout older man with a ruddy complexion, waved his hand at the empty tables scattered around the inn’s diner.  The eldest disciple of the group nodded, understanding his teacher’s silent gesture.  He turned toward the rest of his junior disciple brothers and pointed at the tables.

“We’ll rest at this inn for the night, everyone,” the eldest Red Raven Clan disciple announced.  “Order whatever you want to eat and rest well tonight.  Tomorrow, we set out for Mount Heavenly Crane at dawn.  We don’t want to be late for the Wulin Gathering called by Leader Luk of Heavenly Crane School.”

Due to the meager interior space of the inn’s diner, only a few small tables were available.  With not enough tables to accommodate all the members of the Red Raven Clan, the disciples started eyeing the two tables in the far corner of the diner occupied by Kuk Wai and Sit Chung Nam.

“Hey!”  One lanky Red Raven Clan member called out in surprise, as he recognized the man seated at one of the corner tables.  “It’s Sit Chung Nam!”

At his words, the other Red Raven Clan members glanced toward the white-robed man at the corner table.

Undisturbed by the sudden attention, Sit Chung Nam deliberately ignored them, his patronizing expression clearly telling them that, to him, they were beneath his acknowledgement.

All disciples reflexively reached for their weapons, their hands gripping their sword hilts anxiously.

“Teacher,” the eldest Red Raven Clan student whispered to Clan Leader Ding, while darting his eyes cautiously toward Sit Chung Nam.  “What should we do?  Should we leave?”

Clan Leader Ding swallowed apprehensively.  He couldn’t believe his misfortune.  The Valley of Lost Souls was a ghost town, and yet, here he managed to run into Sit Chung Nam.  A thin layer of sweat formed on his forehead as he stared back at the  stony-faced man sitting at the corner.  Inwardly, he quivered with fear and wanted nothing more than to run back out the diner, but outwardly, he puffed out his chest.  If he ran now, he would seem like a coward and certainly appear unworthy to be leader of a large, prominent orthodox clan.  He must not lose face in front of his disciples.

Hence, Clan Leader Ding declared loudly, “What is there to fear?  Why do we have to leave?  With Teacher here, you don’t have to be afraid of anybody!”

After his bold statement, he deliberately strutted over to the table closest to Sit Chung Nam’s table to prove his fearlessness and waved his eldest disciple over.  With great fanfare, he asked his disciple to pull out the stool for him to sit on.

Gulping, the senior disciple nervously darted his eyes at the silent bandit leader nearby before dragging a stool out from under the table.  “Teacher,” he respectfully gestured for Clan Leader Ding to sit down.

All through out this entire show, Sit Chung Nam ignored the Red Raven Clan, while Kuk Wai surveyed the scene with interest.  From the indifferent expression on Sit Chung Nam’s face, it seemed as if he was going to coexist peacefully with the Red Raven Clan members in the diner.

As Clan Leader Ding noted no signs of movement from the bandit leader, he sighed discretely with relief and began to lower himself onto the stool.  However, just as his bottom was about to touch the stool, a single chopstick zipped across the room and hit one of the wooden legs of the stool with such force that it splintered the wood.

Crash!

Clan Leader Ding tumbled to the floor, his expression temporarily stupefied.  All around, his disciples gasped in horror at the picture of their proud teacher sprawled in an undignified heap among the remains of the broken stool.

“Teacher!”  The Red Raven Clan disciples yelled, rushing over to help the older man to his feet.  “Are you all right?”

“Of…of course, I am all right!”  Clan Leader Ding sputtered in embarrassment.

Turning toward Sit Chung Nam, the obvious culprit who had shot the chopstick that broke his stool, the older man clenched his teeth as he unsheathed his sword, pointing the tip at Sit Chung Nam.

“Sit Chung Nam!  How dare you humiliate me in front of my students by using underhanded methods!”  He waved his sword threateningly at the bandit leader.

Unconcerned by the stout man’s words, Sit Chung Nam merely sipped his tea calmly.  “Hmm,” he snorted.  “You shame yourself, old man, with your lack of skills.”

Charging at the bandit leader, Clan Leader Ding puffed, “I’m going to teach you a lesson today, you bastard!”

Ignoring the Red Raven Clan Leader, Chung Nam continued blowing at his steaming cup of tea.  A split second before the tip of Clan Leader Ding’s sword pierced Sit Chung Nam’s forehead, Chung Nam suddenly tilted his head to the left to avoid the oncoming blade.  As the sword flashed past his head, he raised his hand and sandwiched the tip of the blade between two fingers.  He channeled his qi toward his fingertips, and the sudden influx of energy immediately warped the blade.

Easily, Chung Nam snapped the weapon in half, and using the broken tip of the blade, he flung the piece of metal at his opponent.  The blade tip swooshed by the stout man, barely touching his waist sash.

Looking down at his own waist, Clan Leader Ding darted his eyes frantically back and forth, searching for any bleeding wounds.  Finding nothing, he triumphantly glanced back up and sneered at Sit Chung Nam.

“Ha!”  The older man chortled.  “You missed me, you bastard!”

However, just as the words left his mouth, his heavy robe started to fall apart as the shredded remains of his waist sash cascaded to the floor.  Left in his undergarments, Clan Leader Ding almost shrieked like a girl.  He looked at the appalled faces of his disciples before quickly gathering his robe from the floor.

Hastily slipping the robe back on, Clan Leader Ding clenched his teeth in embarrassment.  “Sit Chung Nam!  I’m warning you…”

“No, I’m warning you, Clan Leader Ding,” Sit Chung Nam interrupted the older man.  “Leave now while I’m still in a relatively magnanimous mood.”

The older man looked around him, seeing the ashamed expressions of his students as they avoided eye contact with him.  He knew he should run while he can, but somehow the embarrassed faces of his disciples fired up his anger so much that he couldn’t bring himself to move.

Before he could stop, rash, furious words spurted out his mouth.  “Sit Chung Nam, I would not be smirking so much if I were you.  Do you really think the orthodox clans respect you as Alliance Leader?  Do you know were I am headed?”  He huffed with bravado.  “I am going to the Wulin Gathering at Mount Heavenly Crane to discuss plans to overthrow you!”

At the older man’s words, Sit Chung Nam slowly raised one eyebrow.  “Really?  I guess I should be honored that I will be the main topic of discussion at such a large, important wulin gathering.  It would be improper if I, as Alliance Leader, don’t respond in some way.”

Then before anyone could react, Sit Chung Nam extended his right arm and directed his second and third fingers toward Clan Leader Ding.  Nobody could see anything, but those standing between Sit Chung Nam and Clan Leader Ding swore they could feel an almost imperceptible shift in the air.  Confused, they blinked.

Suddenly, the Red Raven Clan students chorused in surprise.  “Teacher!”

They all rushed forward as the older man collapsed to the floor, his unseeing eyes staring up at the inn’s wooden ceiling beams.  No wound could be found, but the boastful clan leader was obviously dead.

One of the more daring junior members of the Red Raven Clan glanced disbelievingly at his teacher’s corpse before thrusting his sword rashly at Sit Chung Nam.  “You cold-blooded murderer!  Even if I die trying, I will avenge my teacher’s death today!”

Before he could leap forward, the eldest Red Raven Clan disciple yanked his junior disciple brother back.  “Stop!”  He hissed softly at the younger man.  “You are no match for the bandit leader.  Even teacher has died at his hands.  Let me handle this.”

Then turning to Sit Chung Nam, the eldest Red Raven disciple slowly unsheathed his sword and assumed an attacking stance.  “Sit Chung Nam, I know I am not your match, but I will not hesitate to defend the Red Raven Clan’s honor.”

Taking their eldest disciple brother’s cue, the other members of the Red Raven Clan surrounded Sit Chung Nam, their weapons readied.

Still seated at his table as if nothing major had happened, Sit Chung Nam chuckled as he sipped his tea.  “You can all relax.”  He didn’t even bother sparing the Red Raven Clan students a glance.  “Perhaps the cold weather outside has made me lazy, but I have no intention of turning this inn into a blood bath tonight.  However, I will not tolerate your presence.”  Curtly, he commanded, “Scram.”

The Red Raven Clan members stared uncertainly at the bandit leader.

“You’re letting us go?”  One disciple questioned, puzzled at Sit Chung Nam’s generosity.

Gesturing toward Clan Leader Ding’s body, Sit Chung Nam commanded, “Take the old fool with you to your little wulin gathering as a ‘gift‘ to the other clan and school leaders.  Tell them I will be paying them a visit soon.”

When the students continued to stare anxiously at him, Chung Nam slammed his fist down onto the table.  “What are you all waiting for?  Leave!”

Startled, they hastily lifted their teacher’s body from the floor and scurried out the inn.

In the background, Old Seven, the innkeeper, breathed with relief, glad that the crisis had been averted.  However, as he looked at the two remaining young men, his brow started to furrow with concern again.  From the chilly stares Sit Chung Nam and Kuk Wai were shooting at each other, Old Seven could already picture the inevitable fight that would ruin his beloved inn.

Nervously, Old Seven cleared his throat, trying to invent an excuse to rid the inn of these pugnacious men.  He opened his mouth, but Kuk Wai spoke first.

“I don’t understand why Yan would want to be in your company.”  Kuk Wai referred to the bandit leader distastefully.  “Your cruelty is disgusting.”

“If you’re so righteous, Young Hero Kuk,” Sit Chung Nam countered sarcastically, “why didn’t you step in and save the Red Raven Clan Leader from me earlier?  Your feigned virtuousness is even more repugnant than my honest villainy, wouldn’t you say?”  He deliberately goaded the other man.

Incensed at Sit Chung Nam’s words, Kuk Wai grabbed his sword and made a move toward the bandit leader.  However, the elderly innkeeper’s outcry stopped him from unsheathing his weapon.

“Please, young heroes!”  Old Seven dropped to his knees between the two younger men.  “This old man begs you to spare my humble inn!  This inn is all I have left.  If you destroy it, I won’t have any livelihood.  Please do not fight!”

Kuk Wai and Sit Chung Nam hesitated as the elderly man banged his head hard against the cold stone floor of the inn.  Seeing the large bruise forming on the innkeeper’s forehead, Kuk Wai relented.

Sighing inwardly, he threw one final glare at Sit Chung Nam before saying to the elderly man, “My apologies.  I did not mean to cause you any distress.  I would like to stay here for tonight.  Do you have any inn rooms available?”

Relieved, Old Seven scrambled to his feet and gushed happily, “Of course, I have spare rooms!  Of course!”  He gestured toward the staircase leading to the second story.  “Please follow me, young heroes!”

As Kuk Wai started following the innkeeper toward the stairs, Sit Chung Nam stared at their backs briefly.  With his love adversary walking away, his ire slowly drained away and the exhaustion from the month-long search for Yan began to seep in.  Sighing heavily, Sit Chung Nam shrugged and followed Old Seven up the stairs, too.

ONE HOUR LATER
OUTSKIRTS OF THE VALLEY OF LOST SOULS
TEN-THOUSAND GOOD FORTUNE INN

With his two inn guests settled into their rooms, Old Seven quietly wandered around the first story diner, tidying up the chairs and tables.  Sighing, he thought back to the events of this evening.

He had always prayed for a bustling inn, and with business being sparse in the past year, the arrival of the two young men now resting upstairs should have made him deliriously happy.  Yet, he sensed they were trouble.  From the lethal swords strapped to their backs, they were obviously from the pugilist world, a place filled with backstabbing, greed, and thirst for supreme domination.  Already, the young man in the white robes had killed that clan leader tonight.  Even a humble commoner like Old Seven knew that the ability to kill without leaving any trace meant that this white-robed man was highly dangerous.  Worse, the blue-robed man was probably just as troublesome.  From overhearing the two men’s conversation, Old Seven deduced that they were love rivals battling for the affections of a young woman.  This situation worried the old innkeeper greatly, for love adversaries tended to be the most vicious.  The sooner the two young men left, the better, Old Seven thought to himself.

“At least, that young woman the two men are fighting over isn’t here.”  Old Seven, who always tried to see the brighter side of unfortunate situations, muttered to himself as he went around the inn to secure the locks on all the windows.  “If she were present, too, then my poor inn would topple, for sure!”  He laughed to himself.

Just at that moment, the main door banged open, just like it had done earlier this evening.  Startled, Old Seven glanced toward the entrance, blinking rapidly as a trail of wind and snow whooshed in.  A tall, distinguished older gentleman loomed in the doorway, and beside him stood a dainty young woman, her fairy-like features stunning against the snowy background.

“We’ll stay here for tonight,” the Laughing Ghost Healer stated.

When Yan remained obstinately in the entranceway, the older gentleman sighed and dragged her inside the inn.

With a resounding boom, the inn door slammed shut, leaving Old Seven stunned as he stood staring at the newcomers.  The innkeeper winced inwardly.  Intuition warned him that this was going to be a long, stressful night.

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