Characters appearing in this chapter:
Cheng Yi 成毅 — Wu Tiankai 吴天凱
Li Hongyi 李宏毅 — Shangguan Qiuyue 上官秋月
Zhao Lusi 赵露思 — Chunhua 春花
WU TIANKAI’S CHAMBER
Wu Tiankai did not sleep as well as Shangguan Qiuyue did. Ever since confronting Shangguan Qiuyue in Little Star Town, he had been unable to rest well. In the past, when Aunt Mei had teased him about resembling Shangguan Qiuyue, he had brushed it off, assuming the sketch of the former demon sect leader circulating around wulin was inaccurate. However, after meeting him in person in Little Star Town, Wu Tiankai could not deny the striking resemblance he shared with Shangguan Qiuyue. If the other man did not have silver hair, they could have both been mistaken for the same person by the casual bystander.
How could two unrelated people look so similar that they were almost identical?
This question plagued Wu Tiankai relentlessly. In addition, the former demon sect leader’s warning about leaving the past alone disturbed Wu Tiankai. Shangguan Qiuyue clearly said Wu Tiankai may not like what he will find if he continued prying into past events.
Wu Tiankai was not a dumb person. His uncanny resemblance to Shangguan Qiuyue may very likely indicate a family relation. The former demon sect leader and he may even be half brothers, given their near-identical looks. If that were true, then his father may have not been the upstanding hero Tiankai had always believed him to be. The thought that the Wu family, one of wulin’s oldest and most respected clans, could be related to such a ruthless, conniving demon as Shangguan Qiuyue made him laugh with irony.
He glanced toward his window. The dawn light peeked through the slightly opened window, casting a pale, hazy glow in the otherwise dark chamber. Light and dark mingled in one room, symbolic of how easily good and evil coexisted in one space, blended seamlessly with each other, fed on each other.
Wu Tiankai suddenly felt weary. He had been born into a renowned wulin family, had grown up associating with many orthodox clans, had met countless pugilists. Unfortunately, he had also witnessed the hypocrisy of the orthodox clans and its “righteous heroes.”
Five years ago, after his father had passed away, he succeeded as the next Silver Tiger Clan leader, putting him in closer dealings with other clan leaders. The more he observed as clan leader, the more he realized that the orthodox clans exhibited characteristics very reminiscent of demon sects – selfishness and cruelty. Unlike the demon sects, however, which openly admitted to their nefarious deeds, the orthodox clans and their members all hid beneath a veneer of virtue and heroism.
He was tired of being associated with such people, but at least, he always believed that his Silver Tiger Clan belonged in a different class than the other orthodox clans. The Silver Tiger Clan, under his father’s direction and now under his leadership, remained honorable in a world filled with hypocrisy. Unfortunately, now with his suspicion that his father may have fathered Shangguan Qiuyue, his father’s pristine, heroic image was dissolving, leaving a bitter taste in Wu Tiankai’s mouth. Was the father he idolized just as duplicitous as the other orthodox clan leaders? Did he maintain a relationship with demon sect members in secret while denouncing them in public?
Wu Tiankai sighed and rolled over in bed. He tried to block these thoughts from his mind by closing his eyes. Unsuccessful, he tossed and turned. Finally, he gave up trying to sleep and just got out of bed. Peering out his window into the large courtyard which separated Wu Manor from the massive attached structure used as the Silver Tiger Clan headquarters, he noticed a few of the clan disciples already awake and going about their early morning duties.
A knock on his chamber door drew his attention. “Who is it?”
“It’s Aunt,” Aunt Mei answered from the other side of the door.
“Please enter, Aunt,” Wu Tiankai invited.
The door creaked open, and Aunt Mei walked in carrying a tray of porridge. Wu Mei usually lived in her small cottage behind her general store in Little Star Town, but since the confrontation with Shangguan Qiuyue in Little Star Town a few days ago, she had moved back to Wu Manor temporarily to help take care of the injured Wang San.
She placed the porridge on the small round table situated at the center of Wu Tiankai’s chamber. “I heard you moving around in your room, so I brought you some breakfast.” She gestured at the large steaming bowl of porridge. “Here, eat. You have not eaten very much in the past few days.”
Wu Tiankai sat down next to his aunt at the table, but didn’t touch the food. “I’m not hungry.”
“Eat,” Wu Mei repeated sternly this time.
Reluctantly, Wu Tiankai picked up the spoon and started consuming the porridge.
Growing up, his aunt, rather than his own mother, had taken care of him. His parents had been estranged for as long as he could remember. He recalled his parents sleeping in separate bedrooms, eating separately, and barely speaking to each other. His mother ignored him most of the time, except when she wanted to scold him for “being just like his father.”
As a result, his paternal aunt became his surrogate mother, as she and her husband were childless. Instead of his own mother, it was Wu Mei who wiped his dirty face when he fell flat on his face learning lightness martial arts for the first time. When he was sick with fever, his aunt, rather than his mother, fretted the entire night over him. When his father passed away five years ago, Aunt Mei mourned with him, while his mother closed herself in her chambers and rarely made an appearance. Then one day shortly after his father’s death, his mother killed herself by ingesting some rat poison. He never figured out why she committed suicide, as she certainly couldn’t be heartbroken by his father’s death.
Once Wu Tiankai recovered from his shock at his mother’s death, he expected to be able to easily move on with his life. Yet, he found himself strangely devastated by her passing. Perhaps all along, he had been hoping that his mother would somehow start to love him, and when she died, that hope for a mother’s love died with her.
Wu Tiankai’s stomach suddenly rumbled, bringing his thoughts back to the present. When his stomach roared again, he looked sheepishly at Wu Mei, the only mother he had ever known. She pointed sternly at the bowl of porridge, demanding that he eat it. As usual, she knew him like her own child. He really was starving, and within minutes, he gulped down the porridge.
Satisfied, she pushed the plate of steamed buns toward him. “Here, eat this, too.”
Instead of refusing this time, he obediently broke the bun into two halves and stuffed one half into his mouth. It tasted especially delicious, and with a few swallows, he consumed all three buns on the plate.
“I made your favorite pork and vegetable buns.” Wu Mei grinned, happy that her nephew’s appetite was returning.
Then, her smile slowly vanished as her expression became somber. “Tiankai, is there something you would like to ask me?”
Since that night after seeing Shangguan Qiuyue in person at Little Star Town, Wu Mei had been expecting Tiankai to bombard her with questions. She expected him to be shocked and confused regarding the former demon sect leader’s resemblance to him. However, the queries and bewilderment never came. Rather, he closed himself inside his chamber, only coming out to handle clan business.
Wu Tiankai stared down at the empty food tray, frowning. He remained silent for so long that Wu Mei thought he fell asleep.
Finally, a quiet voice asked, “Is Shangguan Qiuyue my half-brother?” Wu Tiankai slowly raised his head to look straight into Wu Mei’s eyes.
Wu Mei was not surprised by Wu Tiankai’s direct question, as her nephew had a very straightforward personality.
“I don’t know,” Wu Mei answered honestly. “I’ve asked myself the same question for the past few days after seeing the uncanny likeness between you and Shangguan Qiuyue.”
“Had father ever…indicated that he had another woman?” Wu Tiankai asked. “He and mother were never close. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had another woman.”
Wu Zhong, Wu Tiankai’s father, had been indifferent toward his wife, but he had tried to be a good father. He trained Wu Tiankai in martial arts and schooled him to one day become the next Silver Tiger Clan leader. Despite being busy as leader of the Silver Tiger Clan, Wu Zhong always set aside time each day for his son. He was stern without being mean. He taught his son right from wrong, the importance of being an upright man, to treat others with respect and kindness. To Wu Tiankai, his father was a hero, an example he wanted to strive toward.
However, even though his father was an attentive parent, there were times when Wu Tiankai sensed that his heart was not completely at home. Built on an enormous lot of land, Wu Manor backed up onto a vast meadow with a dense forest beyond. Wu Tiankai remembered seeing his father sitting by himself on the grass in the meadow sometimes, staring out into the infinite expanse, his eyes pining for something beyond. Now looking back on those times, Wu Tiankai wondered if Wu Zhong had longed to be with his second family.
“Elder brother never explicitly mentioned another woman,” Wu Mei frowned as she recalled the time when her older brother was alive, and then she hesitantly mentioned, “but before he married your mother and before he became clan leader, he would disappear for days, sometimes weeks. When he returned, he would look so happy that I thought he must have gone someplace wonderful and exciting. I was very young back then and pestered him constantly, wanting him to bring me along. Elder brother had always doted on me and brought me along everywhere. However, he would never take me on his ‘secret trips.’”
“Secret trips?” Wu Tiankai repeated with alarm. “Trysts with someone from the demon sect? Shangguan Qiuyue’s birth mother was Shangguan Hui. Was Father meeting Shangguan Hui?” Immediately, his eyes took on a reprimanding glint.
Aunt Mei shook her head. “I don’t know. Your father wouldn’t speak of where he went or whom he spent time with. I just know that he was extremely happy when he returned. I remember teasing him, saying he must be in love to look that deliriously joyful.” She sighed, just as frustrated as her nephew was.
Seeing the suspicion increase in Wu Tiankai’s eyes, Aunt Mei implored, “Tiankai, you shouldn’t suspect your father, especially since he isn’t here to defend himself! He was a hero.” When Wu Tiankai still narrowed his eyes doubtfully, Aunt Mei clutched at her nephew’s hands tightly. “Your father was a hero,” she reasserted firmly.
“A hero would not associate with demon sect members.” Wu Tiankai muttered, disillusioned, as his heart rapidly sank. The father he had idolized all his life was not as upright as he had thought he was. He was worse than a demon sect member. His father was a hypocrite – a respected orthodox clan leader who had possibly fathered a child with a demon sect woman.
“No, your father was a hero!” Aunt Mei insisted. “He…he probably temporarily lost his way…and was led astray by a demon sect woman.” She paused and licked her lips anxiously. “Your father…your father was probably looking for love…just in the wrong place.” She frowned and sighed. “As the only son and successor of the Wu family and the Silver Tiger Clan, your father carried great responsibility and burden on his shoulders. Even as a young boy, he never had an opportunity to be a child. While other children his age played and laughed, he had to train in martial arts. When he became old enough to understand wulin affairs, he had to accompany your grandfather to clan meetings. My poor brother grew up to become a very somber man, never smiling, never laughing. Perhaps…perhaps he finally found laughter with whomever he was seeing from the demon sect.”
Aunt Mei reached up and patted Wu Tiankai on the cheek. “Tiankai, when you finally fall in love with someone, you will understand. Love can make all of us do something against our conscience.”
Wu Tiankai’s fists remained clenched. “Father had Mother. Why couldn’t he love her? She was his wife! Why did he have to love a woman from the demon sect?”
Aunt Mei’s expression saddened. “Dear boy, you can’t choose whom you love.”
“Why not?” Wu Tiankai challenged. He was usually very even-tempered, but suddenly he felt his emotions starting to boil. “If someone is not the correct person to fall in love with, then just walk away. Why couldn’t Father do that? Sure, Father met this demon sect woman before he married Mother, but after his marriage, he should have cut off contact with that woman. He had a responsibility to his wife and his son!” His fingernails dug into his palms. Suddenly, he felt overwhelming fatigue, and he slumped forward in defeat. “Maybe if Father had been more loyal to Mother, she would have been nicer to me,” he whispered, more to himself than to Aunt Mei.
“My poor child,” Aunt Mei blinked back her tears, her heart breaking for her nephew, for that lonely boy who had never known his mother’s love. “Your father probably did want to love your mother, but he just couldn’t.”
“Why couldn’t he?” Wu Tiankai frowned.
“Because love is born from your heart,” Aunt Mei explained, taking his hands and patting them, “and your heart cannot be controlled with your mind. Love cannot be rationalized. The heart just feels whatever it wants to feel.”
Gloomily, Wu Tiankai stared off into space, remembering a little boy who followed his mother around, looking up at her with round, eager eyes, hoping she would hold his hand, or at least, smile at him. When she simply brushed past him, tears rolled down his crestfallen face. Fast forward a few years later, an older boy, about fifteen or sixteen, stared at his mother wishfully as she stood regally near the entrance of the school. All around, his classmates’ families chattered happily with his friends, proud grins on their faces. The youth looked intently at his mother, and when she turned and happened to see him, he held his breath, hoping she would compliment him on how well he had scored on his exams. To his grave disappointment, she didn’t. As his father patted him on the back approvingly and his aunt hugged him warmly to congratulate him on his scholarly accomplishments, his mother merely turned and walked away, as if he didn’t exist. He recalled his heart crying at that moment, despite forcing a smile on his face. Finally, he saw himself as a grown man, stumbling in through the front entrance of Wu Manor, severely injured, propped up on each side by two Silver Tiger Clan disciples. He and a group of Silver Tiger Clan disciples had just been ambushed by an overwhelmingly large contingent of demon sect members, and his clan had lost over fifty students. He almost died during the attack. As his aunt rushed over and started yelling for someone to summon the doctor, his mother stared straight ahead and continued to sip her tea, ignoring him. After finishing her cup of tea, she stood up nonchalantly and called for her maid servant to go shopping with her. While he gritted his teeth in pain as his aunt probed at his open wounds, Tiankai watched his mother glide out the front entrance, her expression serene and indifferent.
As those images flashed across his mind, Wu Tiankai closed his eyes as if to block them from his view. He should have been accustomed to such cold indifference from his mother, but to this day, even five years after her death, he could not stop his foolish heart from wishing that things were different. What if his father had loved and remained faithful to his mother? Would he have a mother who loved him? How could his father love someone so inappropriate, someone from the demon sect? How could his father, who taught him to always be loyal and respectful to family, be so unfaithful to his own family?
As these thoughts flew through Wu Tiankai’s mind, his fists clenched and unclenched repeatedly. Eventually, a thin trail of blood could be seen trickling from his palms as the clenching intensified.
Wu Mei’s heart wept for her nephew as she watched the silent rage Tiankai had been holding inside erupt. Despite growing up in a prestigious wulin family, he had never experienced true family love due to his parents’ dysfunctional relationship. She loved him as her own child, but she was nonetheless only his aunt and could never be a replacement for his mother and could never give him the mother’s love he yearned for. As a result, he never allowed himself to fall in love.
Aunt Mei sighed and covered his hands with hers, unsure what to say. They sat in silence for a long time, each staring off into the distance, lost in thoughts. Outside, the chattering of disciples soon shook Wu Tiankai out of his musings, and he unexpectedly stood up, startling Aunt Mei.
“Where are you going, Tiankai?” She looked up at him in surprise. “You should finish your breakfast first.”
“I’m going to look for Shangguan Qiuyue.” Wu Tiankai stated resolutely, as he started placing a few items of clothing and necessities into a travel bag.
“What?” Aunt Mei gaped at her nephew incredulously. “You’re going to find Shangguan Qiuyue?”
“Yes, I need to talk to him. I think Shangguan Qiuyue knows something about Father.” Wu Tiankai insisted. “Right before he left with Miss Chunhua that night in Little Star Town, I warned him that we still had an old score to settle, and he advised me to let the past rest. He stated that I might not like what I find. I have been thinking about his parting words constantly. He must know something, and I don’t think I can be at peace without speaking with him. Whether he is my brother, I need to know!”
“You don’t even know where he is!” Wu Mei threw her hands up in exasperation. “Where are you going to find him?”
Wu Tiankai tightened the knot on his travel bag and swung it over his shoulder. “Miss Chunhua was severely injured. If someone important to me were near death, I would risk everything to travel to the ends of the earth to find the best physician to save her. Therefore, if my guess is correct, I think he has taken Miss Chunhua to Noble Healer Yin Xue. Along with her husband Yang Feng’s superb poison knowledge, the Yin Yang Shadows are the reigning healers in wulin.”
“Shangguan Qiuyue is not a simple, kind person.” Aunt Mei fretted. “Just watching him slaughter all those highly trained orthodox clan disciples that night in Little Star Town as if they were nothing more than pesky flies makes my heart pound with worry.” She stared off into space, shivering, as she recalled that night. “I can still see his charming smile on that face that looks so much like yours, but then, his weapon whisked by my eyes, and suddenly, blood poured from his opponents.” She rushed over to grip Wu Tiankai’s hands. “Tiankai, Shangguan Qiuyue is too frightening, too dangerous. Perhaps it’s better to let this mystery about Shangguan Qiuyue’s parentage lie in the dark forever.”
Wu Tiankai considered her words a moment, but then sighed. “I can’t, Aunt Mei. I need to know what kind of person Father really was. I had always looked up to Father.” He paused and wrinkled his brows fiercely. “I just need to know.”
“But…,” Aunt Mei tightened her grasp on Wu Tiankai’s hands.
“Aunt Mei, I’ll be fine.” He reassured her. “I’m not a child without wulin experience. I can take care of myself. I’m more worried about the Silver Tiger Clan. I will be gone for at least a few days. With Uncle Wang San injured, will you be able to help me look after clan affairs in my absence?”
Seeing the determined look in her nephew’s eyes, Aunt Mei nodded reluctantly. “Of course,” she patted his hand to put his mind at ease. “I will keep clan affairs in order here. Take your time, but please, be careful.”
Aunt Mei patted his cheek for a long moment, her eyes clouded with worry. Then, she sighed and straightened with resolve. “Don’t go yet. I’ll go get some snacks for you to bring on the journey.”
She rushed off to the kitchen, with him following behind.
“Aunt Mei,” Wu Tiankai laughed, “there is no need. I can just buy food along the way if I get hungry.”
“Nonsense!” She busily packed steamed buns, dumplings, and an assortment of cakes and desserts into small boxes. “What could be more convenient than having food right in your travel sack? Plus, these are your favorite dishes. You won’t be able to find them at any restaurant.”
Finished with stuffing as many containers of food as she could manage into another travel bag, she handed him the bag and patted his cheek again. “Be careful, all right?” She swallowed and tried not to nag at him.
Wu Tiankai nodded and hugged his aunt. “I’ll be careful, Aunt Mei. I’ll be fine.” He started toward the door but then paused before turning back. “Aunt Mei, keep my absence a secret. With Shangguan Qiuyue no longer at the helm of the demon sect, the various demon sect factions are embroiled in a civil war, competing for power. They temporarily won’t cause trouble for the orthodox clans, but we must not relax our guard, in case they invade unexpectedly. While the Silver Tiger Clan holds a formidable position in wulin and can certainly defend itself well, if an enemy finds out that I am gone for a few days, they may attack. With Uncle Wang injured, you will be facing the opponent without help.”
Wu Mei chuckled and patted him on the head. “Silly boy, your aunt, I, may not be as accomplished as you are in martial arts skills, but I have been around wulin for some time and know how to keep the clan safe while you are gone.”
However, Wu Tiankai’s brow remained furrowed with worry. “Qin Liufeng and Chancellor Xiao Bai are good friends and honorable men. Aunt Mei, if you need assistance, I am confident that they will help.”
“Chancellor Xiao Bai?” Aunt Mei expression turned thoughtful. She had retired to the Little Star Town for many years and no longer kept up with current wulin events. However, everyone, even those in the most remote parts of wulin, knew about the most recent, hottest gossip. “Xiao Bai is the young man who lost his bride to Shangguan Qiuyue, correct?” Her eyes gleamed with curiosity. “I have been living in Little Star Town for too long that I don’t even know who your current friends are now! I only remember meeting his father, Xiao Yuan. What does this new chancellor look like? This young man must be very average-looking to lose Miss Chunhua to the devilishly handsome Shangguan Qiuyue.” Aunt Mei looked at her nephew eagerly for some answers.
Wu Tiankai blinked, surprised at the gossipy turn of the conversation. “Is Brother Xiao average-looking?” He furrowed his brows, unsure how to respond to that. “Well, I’m not a woman, but I would assume young maidens find him rather good-looking and heroic.”
“Hmm…,” Aunt Mei murmured thoughtfully. “If Xiao Bai is such an honorable, heroic, and handsome man like you claim, then why did Miss Chunhua still choose demon sect leader Shangguan Qiuyue, a man notorious for his mercilessness? Why do you think that is?” The older woman stared expectantly at her nephew, thinking he must know the answer.
Wu Tiankai raised both his eyebrows in shock. “How would I know, Aunt?”
“Well, Xiao Bai is your good friend, correct? How come you don’t know anything about your good friend’s love life?” Aunt Mei sighed in exasperation.
“I don’t butt into my friends’ personal affairs.” Wu Tiankai defended himself.
“Well, maybe you should at least learn some of your friends’ dating tactics.” Aunt Mei huffed. “Almost all of your friends are married, some even have children! As for Chancellor Xiao Bai, even though his engagement failed, at least he was once engaged. Look at you, Tiankai!” The older woman nearly jumped up and down in frustration. “You are constantly in seclusion, meditating and practicing your martial arts. When you finally have some free time, you focus all your energy on ignoring the young maidens I introduce you to.”
Wu Tiankai screwed up his face stubbornly. “I don’t like any of the women you parade in front of me, Aunt. They just sit around meekly. They bore me to death.”
“Is that the reason why you have refused every maiden I put in your path? You don’t like the quiet type?” She threw her hands up, vexed. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I have assumed you like reserved girls, because you are so quiet, too. Well, what kind of girl do you like? The bouncy, talkative type?”
Wu Tiankai remained silent. Aunt Mei stared shrewdly at her nephew, and then a thought suddenly appeared in her mind as she thought back to the slight interest he had shown in Miss Chunhua weeks ago in the general store in Little Star Town.
“That Miss Chunhua is quite vivacious.” Aunt Mei let those words slip out nonchalantly, while she observed Wu Tiankai’s reaction. “Just watching her poke around cheerfully in my general store brought a smile to my heart.”
Wu Tiankai furrowed his brow at the mention of Chunhua. He had thought about her more times than he cared the last couple of days, wondering if she was still alive. He regretted his decision to use her as bait to lure out Shangguan Qiuyue, and his conscience wouldn’t let him rest ever since.
When Wu Tiankai continued to remain silent, Wu Mei mistook her nephew’s dazed, introspective look as interest. “She’s really pretty, isn’t she, Tiankai?” She probed, testing out his reaction.
However, he merely grunted and swung his travel sacks over his shoulder. “I should leave before night falls. Aunt, remember to seek out Qin Liufeng or Xiao Bai if you need help. I will be back in a few days.”
With those parting words, he headed toward the door.
“All right,” Aunt Mei responded. “Tiankai, if you really like Miss Chunhua, don’t give up just because she already has another man with her. She may like you, since you and Shangguan look almost identical!” She called hurriedly after him, but he had already disappeared out of sight. All that could be heard was Wu Tiankai’s deep, aggravated sigh in response to his aunt’s words.
Watching the door swing shut, Wu Mei sighed dramatically and exclaimed to the ceiling. “Such irony! My Tiankai finally shows some interest in a young maiden, and yet, she is unavailable!”
SUMMIT OF SHIFTING ILLUSIONS
Even though morning had arrived, the interior of the guest cabin remained dark with the heavy sheepskin window shade still covering over the window opening to keep out the chill. The young woman on the bed stirred, as she listened dreamily to the crackling flames undulating in the fire pit nearby. Gradually, her drowsiness cleared, and she rolled over, blinking with confusion at the empty space next to her on the bed.
“Gege?” Chunhua called out, but only silence greeted her.
Wrapping the blanket around her naked body, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and called for Shangguan Qiuyue again.
She dragged the blanket with her as she wandered over to the bathing area at the far end of the single-room cabin and peeked behind the partition screen. Instead of finding Shangguan Qiuyue, she noticed the gauzy outer layer of her pink dress lying on the floor near the bathtub. A large rip could clearly be seen across the robe front where Shangguan Qiuyue had torn apart the dress in his haste to disrobe her. She flushed, recalling last evening’s events, and glanced around furtively, as if expecting someone to leap out and tease her about her wanton behavior last night. Feeling foolish, as she was obviously the only person in the cabin, Chunhua hurriedly picked up the dress before wandering back over to the bed. As she plopped back down onto the fur-lined sleeping pad, she noticed their travel sack next to a red garment at the foot of the bed.
Scooting over for a closer look, she exclaimed happily once she recognized the gown. “My bridal dress!”
She lifted the neatly folded dress, and a hand-written note fell out from within the folds of fabric. Curious, she scanned the letter, a bright flush again gradually blossoming across her face.
I left early to go to Hu Manor for the snow lotus. You were sleeping so soundly that I didn’t want to wake you to say goodbye. However, I did kiss every part of your bare body, paying special attention to your lovely breasts, and almost changed my mind about leaving. You slept through all the kisses.
Did you see your bridal dress? I am counting the days until I can get back and see my Xiao Chunhua put on the gown and become my wife.
As she finished the letter, her eyes drifted back to the part about Shangguan Qiuyue kissing her nude body, and her entire body burned even hotter than the flickering fire opposite the bed. Her nipples started to tingle at the thought of his lips all over her breasts while she was slumbering, and she quickly rummaged through the travel sack for a gown.
Pulling out a violet-colored dress with delicate silver trim, Chunhua donned it quickly and shuffled over to the window. As she lifted the sheepskin shade, a blast of icy air socked her in the face, shocking her so much that she immediately dropped the shade back down. She rubbed her face vigorously to warm her numb cheeks. Taking in a deep breath, she bravely pulled up the window shade again and peered out.
The early morning light cast a pale, hazy glow over the entire landscape. Last night’s blizzard had calmed to a light dusting of snow this morning. She had been too cold and tired last night to enjoy the view. Now, Chunhua gasped softly in fascination as she surveyed the white fairyland stretched out before her eyes. Fluffy snow blanketed the ground, adorned the bare tree branches, and sprinkled like powdered sugar over the bright red winterberries growing abundantly in groves.
Chunhua wrapped two thick blankets tightly around herself before venturing out. The icy air numbed her face almost immediately, but despite the cold, she glanced around, enchanted. Delicate snowflakes danced lazily around her. Eyes glowing, she lifted her face up toward the heavens and stuck out her tongue to catch the flakes. When she tasted the iciness, she laughed and spun in circles happily. Finally, slightly out of breath, she stopped spinning
From the corner of her eyes, Chunhua spied bold splashes of red against the wintery white backdrop. Immediately, she headed over to the winterberry stalks, attracted to the cheerful crimson berries. Leaning down, she sniffed at the berries. Her eyebrows rose in surprise when a light tea floral fragrance wafted upward. She never guessed that winterberries smelled so pleasant and had a sudden urge to collect some to soak in her bathwater. She glanced around guiltily before breaking off a few stalks to bring back to her cabin.
Back in the warmth of the guest cabin, she discarded her blankets and headed toward the bathtub, with a handful of winterberry stalks clutched in her fist. She noted with a smile that Shangguan Qiuyue had already helped her drain her old bathwater from last night. Grabbing a basin, Chunhua headed back outside to gather fresh-falling snow, and after several trips with the basin, she collected enough snow for a bath. Working efficiently, she boiled the snow and filled the bathtub. She then plucked the red berries off the winterberry stalks and rinsed them before dropping them into the tub to soak. Steam rose from the bathwater, dispersing the winterberries’ light floral tea fragrance throughout the entire cabin. Sighing in satisfaction, Chunhua leaned over the edge of the tub and dipped her fingers in the water.
“I hope you are not considering bathing in that water.” An amused voice spoke up from behind Chunhua, startling her.
Chunhua gasped and whirled around to find Noble Healer Yin Xue inside the guest cabin, her eyebrows raised as she eyed the red winterberries floating in the bathwater. The elderly woman held a tray of porridge, which she set aside on the bedside table before wandering over to snatch the hand Chunhua had just dipped into the bathwater.
Suddenly, Chunhua started feeling a tingling sensation in her fingertips, and then, numbness soon followed.
“My fingers!” Chunhua exclaimed in alarm as she shook her left hand, which she had used to touch the bathwater.
Alarm quickly turned into horror. Her left hand felt fat and heavy, even though there was no obvious hand swelling and her hand appeared normal. She tried to wiggle her fingers, but couldn’t move them.
“Elder Yin Xue!” The younger woman glanced at the older woman, terrified. “I can’t feel my left hand! I can’t move it, either!”
“You are lucky you dipped only your left hand into that bathwater, little girl.” The old woman clucked her tongue at Chunhua. “If you had actually immersed yourself into that bathwater, this would have been much more serious.”
“My hand!” Chunhua cried, cradling her lame hand. “Will my hand be maimed forever?”
“Calm down, little girl,” the old woman laughed, “you’ll be fine.” She grabbed Chunhua’s left hand and examined the fingertips. “Your fingers have touched the poisoned water for a few mere seconds. There is no discoloration on the skin. The sensation to your hand should recover in two hours.”
“Really?” Chunhua breathed in relief. She hugged her left hand like a long lost friend.
Yin Xue gestured toward the bathtub nearby. “I would throw away that bathwater, however.”
Chunhua narrowed her eyes at the bathtub. “The berries are poisonous?”
“Correct,” the elderly healer nodded.
“I don’t understand,” Chunhua mumbled. “I have heard that the berries on the winterberry plant can cause nausea and low blood pressure if ingested, but I am not aware that the berries can cause numbness and paralysis if touched.”
Surprised, Yin Xue observed the younger woman in a new perspective. “I’m very impressed that you know what a typical winterberry plant’s side effects are if ingested. You’re not as clueless and naive as you look, little girl.”
Chunhua raised her eyebrows at the old woman’s words. “I look clueless?”
Yin Xue laughed at Chunhua’s slightly shocked, slightly disgruntled expression. “Appearing clueless is not entirely a bad attribute. An oblivious little girl, especially one as pretty and adorable as you, can dupe a lot of people.”
The old woman’s laughter trailed off, and a melancholy silence followed.
“Elder?” Chunhua tilted her head questioningly, sensing the healer’s change in mood.
“You look so much like my late daughter at certain angles.” Yin Xue sighed.
“Elder, you must miss your daughter very much.” Chunhua murmured sympathetically and then remained silent, unsure how to respond further.
Shaking herself mentally, the old woman sighed again, before speaking, “To answer your earlier question, typical winterberry plants do not cause numbness and paralysis on contact. However, Old Man and I have deliberately altered the plant’s properties by adding certain medicinal herbs to the soil. The berries are harmless when dry, but soaking them in water will bring forth their numbing and paralytic properties.”
“Interesting!” Chunhua exclaimed and rushed over to the bathtub to examine the cheerful red berries floating around on the water’s surface. “How long will this water’s numbing and paralytic properties last?”
“The water’s numbing and paralytic properties are permanent.” The old woman replied. “A person’s exposure time to the water will determine whether the effects are temporary or permanent.”
Chunhua’s eyes brightened with interest. “How long does one have to be exposed to the toxin for the effects to change from temporary to permanent?”
“Half an hour,” Yin Xue answered. “If you had actually soaked in that bathwater for half an hour or longer, then whichever part of your body that was submerged underneath the water would have become permanently paralyzed.”
Chunhua gulped at her lucky escape from the perilous situation. “Your alterations to the soil caused the berries to produce an ingredient that affects the nerves. That’s why they are able to cause numbness and paralysis.”
“Correct!” The old woman exclaimed, observing Chunhua with budding respect. She sensed the potential in this young woman, who resembled her deceased daughter.
“Then these berries are an incredible medical asset, but can also be a deadly weapon.” Chunhua murmured thoughtfully to herself.
“Correct, again,” Yin Xue smiled, eyeing the younger woman speculatively, as Chunhua excitedly ran over to her travel sack.
After several moments of rummaging around the bag, she finally pulled out some small empty bottles. She had previously used these colorful flasks as perfume bottles and had kept them after the perfume had been used up because of their attractive appearance. Now cradling three bottles in her arms, she dashed back over to the bathtub.
“What are you doing, little girl?” The old woman asked curiously, a puzzled smile gracing her lips.
Carefully dipping a frosty, pink-colored flask into the bathtub with her still-functioning right hand and making sure she did not touch the water, Chunhua answered blithely, “I’m collecting some of this poisonous water. It’s going to be useful if I am chased by an enemy.”
Yin Xue’s smile widened. “I like your resourcefulness. However, I don’t think you have to worry about your safety with your gege around. Just his name alone is enough to send most people in wulin running.”
“I don’t wish to be my gege’s burden.” Chunhua replied solemnly. “I want to learn how to defend myself.”
The old woman’s expression became thoughtful. “Little girl, would you like to learn how to make potions, poisonous ones as well as healing ones? Having some knowledge of both poison and healing arts is a form of self defense.”
“Yes!” Chunhua’s eyes widened, thrilled. “It would be my great honor to learn from you, elder!”
“Training with me requires time and dedication.” The old woman warned. “You will have to live here. Are you willing to do that?”
Chunhua paused and considered this seriously. “I’m not sure if my gege is willing to stay at the Summit of Shifting Illusions.”
“Your gege?” The elderly healer scoffed. “He will go wherever you go. Little girl, are you willing to become my disciple? I am not a lenient instructor, but I promise to teach you all that I know.”
Chunhua brightened and nodded enthusiastically. She grabbed the teakettle on the table nearby and filled a cup with tea. Rushing back toward Yin Xue, she knelt down, presenting the older woman the cup.
“Teacher, your disciple Chunhua humbly greets you and presents to you this cup of tea as a token of my gratitude for accepting me as your student.” Chunhua bowed, offering the teacup to Yin Xue with her right hand, as she still could not move her left hand.
Nodding, the elderly healer accepted the cup with a slight smile. She gestured for Chunhua to rise. “Little girl, there is no need for such formalities. What is your full name?”
“Teacher may call me Chunhua.” The younger woman stated.
Yin Xue raised her eyebrows. “Just Chunhua? You don’t have a surname?”
Chunhua nodded, “Yes, just Chunhua. I used to have another name, but that is in the past. Chunhua is who I am now. Some of my happiest memories are during my time as Chunhua, so I don’t wish to turn back.”
“All right, then,” Yin Xue nodded in acceptance of the younger woman’s explanation. “Chunhua, you must be hungry, as you now have a little one to feed.” She looked pointedly at the young woman’s belly and then gestured toward the tray of food she had placed on the table earlier. “I have made some porridge. I have to go into the nearest town to purchase some supplies. I won’t be back until nightfall or the following day, depending on how quickly I find the supplies I want. You should stay here and rest. Help yourself to any necessities and food in the main cottage. Old Man and I have set up a shifting illusion formation outside the main and guest cottages. Not many people can break the formation, so you should be safe as long as you remain within one-hundred paces of the cottages. However, once you leave the formation, you won’t be able to reenter until someone who can break the barrier brings you in. Therefore, do not wander away from the cottages. Understand?”
Chunhua nodded rapidly.
As she headed toward the doorway, Yin Xue stopped and turned back. “Your left hand should regain sensation and strength in about two hours. Don’t touch any medicinal powders in the main cottage unless you know what they are. Some are poisonous.”
“Teacher, do you need help carrying the supplies back from town? I can come along and help.” Chunhua offered.
Yin Xue shook her head. “No, you will have difficulty descending the mountain, especially since you don’t have lightness martial arts skills. Even though the snowfall has lessened, the mountain terrain remains slick and slippery.”
With those words, the elderly healer left the guest cottage. Chunhua followed her to the door and watched her figure gradually disappear into the distance.
OUTSKIRTS OF DEMON SECT QIANYUE DONG TERRITORY
“Hey, pretty boy, where are we going?” Yang Feng trotted alongside Shangguan Qiuyue, pestering him with questions. In one hand, he held a cane, but instead of using it for support, he swiped at the grass and poked at the flowers with it. “Hu Manor is not in this direction. I thought we were heading over to Hu Manor to beat up Hu Ming and rip the snow lotus from his worthless hands.”
When the younger man continued walking without answering his question, the old man crossed his arms and pouted. Since leaving the Summit of Shifting Illusions early this morning, the former demon sect leader had remained taciturn, barely saying a few words. The old man decided he did not like being ignored.
“Pretty boy? Pretty boy!” Yang Feng yelled and ran in front of Shangguan Qiuyue, stretching his arms out to block his forward progression. “Where are we going?”
Undeterred, the silver-haired young man simply side-stepped Yang Feng and then continued forward, paying no attention to the old man. Peeved, Yang Feng gave a little hop of anger and then chased after the former demon sect leader, yelling and whining like a child. However, no matter how obnoxiously or loudly the old man hollered, the silver-haired young man disregarded his presence.
Starting to turn red in the face from frustration, Yang Feng threatened, “Pretty boy, if you don’t tell me where we are going, then I’m going to tell your cute little wife that, after descending from the Summit of Shifting Illusions, you went straight to the nearest brothel.” The old man paused, frantically thinking of more insulting lies to say. As another idea popped into his mind, he pumped his fist triumphantly into the air. “Plus, I’m going to tell your little wife that you kept laughing with the prostitutes about how short she is!”
This outburst from the old man finally caught Shangguan Qiuyue’s attention. The silver-haired man stopped suddenly and whirled around to face the old man.
His expression stony, Shangguan Qiuyue seethed, “You dare say those lies to Xiao Chunhua?!”
Seeing the younger man’s furious look, Yang Feng chortled, “Haha! Now you’re finally paying attention to me, huh, pretty boy? Why wouldn’t I dare say those things to your little wife? Let’s see whom she believes.”
Shangguan Qiuyue stepped toward Yang Feng and towered above him threateningly. “You want to know where we’re going? Fine, I’ll tell you.” He crossed his arms across his chest, and with a straight face, fibbed, “I’m bringing you to the auction block at the marketplace so that I can sell you.”
“Sell me?” Yang Feng seemed momentarily flabbergasted. “Why?”
“You’re annoying,” the younger man answered simply.
The old man screwed up his face, about to argue, but then he thought about the situation some more, and quickly, his expression changed. “Aha! That sounds like a fun idea! I wonder how many young maidens will bid on me. After all, I am incredibly good-looking.”
Far from dashing, he appeared more like a feeble grandfather with his loose gray robe hanging from his slightly hunched, thin body. Completely oblivious of his aged look, he smoothed back his unruly hair and puffed out his chest. “Of course, I am only curious about how many young women will fight for me. I don’t intend to go home with them. My heart belongs to Old Woman.”
The old man clapped his hands together and started skipping ahead. When Shangguan Qiuyue did not follow, he stopped and turned to urge the younger man along. “Well, let’s go, pretty boy! To the marketplace, we go!”
“We need to head in this direction.” The former demon sect leader rolled his eyes and pointed in the opposite direction that the old man was skipping toward.
He had no intention of wasting time going to some marketplace to sell the old man, like he had deliberately mislead Yang Feng earlier due to annoyance. Even though he was confident he could defeat Hu Ming easily, he was only one man, and no matter how accomplished his martial arts skills were, he could not alone fend off an overwhelming horde of Iron Fist Clan disciples. He needed manpower, and he knew exactly where to find it, as he glanced ahead into the distance.
The hidden entrance to Qianyue Dong was about a mile to the north of their current location. Even though multiple demon sects existed in wulin, Qianyue Dong and its rival, Legend Valley, made up the two largest and most powerful demon clans. With the fall of Legend Valley following its leader’s demise, Qianyue Dong absorbed its rival’s members, further enlarging its membership. By the time Shangguan Qiuyue left the sect a few months ago, Qianyue Dong’s member numbers easily rivaled the largest of orthodox clans. Therefore, he needed Qianyue Dong’s extensive forces to help keep Hu Ming’s Iron Fist Clan members occupied while he concentrated on forcing Hu Ming to hand over the snow lotus.
“How long will it take to reach the marketplace?” The old man bounced alongside Shangguan Qiuyue like an eager child.
“We’re not going to the marketplace.” The silver-haired man responded tersely, continuing to walk straight ahead without stopping to wait for the elderly man.
“We’re not? Why?” Yang Feng dropped his mouth open in bewilderment. “I thought you are going to sell me!”
“I changed my mind. No one will want to buy you.” Shangguan Qiuyue snorted. “We will just be wasting our time.”
“No one will want to buy me?” The old man sucked in his breath indignantly. “You’re just jealous, because I am the most suave, most handsome, most desirable. Even your little wife agrees.”
“My Xiao Chunhua thinks I am the most suave, handsome, and desirable, not you.” The silver-haired young man countered. “She’s just being polite by agreeing with your puffed up ego.”
“Why you…!” Yang Feng blustered, his face and neck now a deep shade of red. “If I were a few years younger, your Xiao Chunhua would leave you for me in an instant!”
“No, she won’t,” Shangguan Qiuyue replied calmly, “because I am more attractive and charming. I am also taller.” He smirked at he older man. “Xiao Chunhua says my height is perfect for her to tuck her head underneath my chin. She says she feels safe there.”
The old man gasped, fuming now. “Pretty boy, are you saying I am short?” If he were brutally honest with himself, he would have preferred to be taller and envied the younger man’s towering height, but he would go to his grave before he admitted he was short. “Let me tell you something, pretty boy! My height is prefect. Women like men whom they can look in the eye during a conversation rather than taller men whom they have to look up at!”
Instead of a rebuttal, Shangguan Qiuyue simply stared at Yang Feng for a moment and then curved his lips mockingly, before continuing to walk with long strides.
“What are you smiling about?” The elderly poison master demanded irately, running after Shangguan Qiuyue with his shorter strides.
When the former demon sect leader did not bother to answer, Yang Feng challenged him out of frustration. “Why don’t we both go to the marketplace and place ourselves on the marketplace auction block? Let’s see who has the most bids from the ladies.”
“No,” Shangguan Qiuyue shot down this idea bluntly.
“No? Ha!” The old man clapped his hands together triumphantly. “Are you afraid of losing to me, pretty boy?”
“No,” Shangguan Qiuyue replied again.
“If you are not afraid of losing, then why not accept the challenge?” The old man goaded.
At that question, Shangguan Qiuyue suddenly stopped and turned to face Yang Feng fully. “I don’t need a bunch of random women. I just want my Xiao Chunhua. As long as she is interested in me, then that is all I need.”
The younger man’s answer successfully took the angry steam out of the old man. The elderly healer considered Shangguan Qiuyue’s words for a moment and then burst out laughing. “Who would have thought wulin’s most feared and ruthless villain is actually a romantic hero?”
“Who would have thought wulin’s most revered poison master actually has a wandering eye, despite his old age?” Shangguan Qiuyue countered.
“Hey!” The old man straightened his posture and jabbed his finger at the former demon sect leader. “I’m warning you, pretty boy! Don’t spread rumors about me! I love Old Woman and have never looked at another woman!”
However, the younger man did not seem impressed by his warning and simply ignored him as he continued heading northbound.
“Hey!” Yang Feng shouted after Shangguan Qiuyue. “If we’re not going to the marketplace, then where are we going? Hu Manor is in the opposite direction.”
“Hey!” The old man shouted again when the former demon sect leader did not respond to him.
He started to chase after Shangguan Qiuyue, absentmindedly twirling his cane like a baton.
From the corner of his eye, the former demon sect leader observed the old man’s incredibly rapid, adept skills when wielding his cane, and grudgingly felt admiration creeping in. “Why do you carry that cane around when you obviously don’t need it for support?”
“This thing?” Yang Feng whirled his cane around a few more times before speaking, “I like to pretend I am a limping, helpless old man to fool my enemies. Then when they least expect it, I whack them on their bottoms! Haha!”
“You handle your cane effortlessly and expertly,” Shangguan Qiuyue admitted reluctantly.
“Of course,” the old man gloated. “Do you want to learn?”
“I already know how to twirl a stick. Child’s play,” Shangguan Qiuyue scoffed.
“Ahh, this is not child’s play.” Yang Feng admonished the younger man. “Watch more closely.”
The elderly poison master flicked his fingers slightly. One moment, the cane was spinning in his hand. The next moment, it vanished from sight and reappeared behind Shangguan Qiuyue’s head. Sensing the shift in air behind him, the silver-haired young man swiveled around at that instant, but even with his accomplished lightness martial arts skills, he did not react fast enough to prevent getting bashed on the head by the cane. He swallowed his grunt of pain as his head stung from the hit on the back of his skull.
As the staff rotated in the air and aimed for him again, Shangguan Qiuyue released his Coquette Chain. The silver chain shot toward the cane, but before the chain’s metal blossom could grab it, the wooden stick disappeared from the air and reappeared in the old man’s hand. Then, in the blink of an eye, it popped up in front of the former demon sect leader, who flipped backward, narrowly avoiding a jab to the chest by the cane. In retaliation, the Coquette Chain cut through the air, the silken weapon’s metal claw tried to clasp onto the cane again, but before it could make contact, the walking stick flashed out of sight once more.
“Pretty boy, your lightness martial arts are impressive, but not speedy enough.” The old man chuckled. “Do you know why your silver chain keeps missing my cane? You treat your weapon as an extension of your hands. That is a common mistake among pugilists. You need to consider your weapon as an extension of your mind. For a long distance weapon like your silken chain, you need to control the weapon with your internal energy, not your hands. The moment your mind thinks of using the silver chain, you need to immediately focus your internal energy onto the chain. The weapon needs to move with your thoughts, not with your hands. That way, your reaction time is reduced, and it will allow you to wield the weapon more rapidly.”
Yang Feng gestured at Shangguan Qiuyue’s Coquette Chain. “Try my method, pretty boy. Just focus your mind on your weapon. Mind and weapon need to move as one. When your mind attacks, so will your silver chain.”
Finding this new weapon-wielding technique intriguing, the silver-haired young man concentrated on his Coquette Chain. The old man sent his cane spinning rapidly into the air. As it headed toward Shangguan Qiuyue, the former demon sect leader closed his eyes, and uniting mind and weapon, the silken chain shot out of his sleeve the moment he thought about attacking. His first two tries were still too slow, and the silver weapon missed the cane. However, on the third attempt, the Coquette Chain successfully caught up to the walking stick and wrapped its metal claw around the wooden staff, dragging the old man’s weapon through the air toward Shangguan Qiuyue. He caught the stick midair, and immediately, his Coquette Chain slid back smoothly into his sleeve.
“Haha! Excellent!” Yang Feng clapped enthusiastically. “You have such great potential, pretty boy! You grasped my method with only three tries! Impressive! Impressive, indeed! I don’t think I had grasped martial arts techniques this quickly when I was your age. Pretty boy, I now know definitely that I have chosen the right disciple.”
“My name is Shangguan Qiuyue, not ‘pretty boy,’” the silver-haired young man stated stiffly, but his tone had less antagonism now.
“If you call me ‘teacher,’ I will stop calling you ‘pretty boy.’” Yang Feng bargained.
Shangguan Qiuyue did not respond to this request. He returned the cane to the old man and sent him a nod of gratitude. “Thank you for your instruction.”
“Ah, your teacher, I, accept your gratitude.” Yang Feng stroked his white, puffy beard in approval.
Yang Feng opened his mouth, prepared to utter more words, but unexpectedly, he sensed movement in the thick grove of trees in the distance. Simultaneously, Shangguan Qiuyue also detected the intruders’ presence. His Coquette Chain whispered through the air and yanked out two men hiding among the foliage. The two spies crashed to the ground at Yang Feng and Shangguan Qiuyue’s feet, groaning in pain. They tried to scramble to their feet, but the silver-haired young man broke one man’s knees with a swift kick and stomped down on the other man’s chest, forcing both to remain on the ground. The former demon sect leader stared down at his two victims, raising his eyebrows at their black Qianyue Dong uniforms.
The taller of the two men pinned to the ground by Shangguan Qiuyue’s foot struggled for air, gasping, “How dare you step onto Qianyue Dong territory without permission!” He attempted to sound threatening, but failed as he choked for desperately needed air.
The old man wandered over to peer at the two men curiously. “Hey, pretty boy,” he glanced over at Shangguan Qiuyue, “these two imbeciles say you need permission to enter Qianyue Dong territory.”
The other Qianyue Dong member with the broken knees screamed in agony, clutching at his legs. “My knees! My knees!” He pointed a shaking finger at Shangguan Qiuyue. “Do you know who we are?” He screeched at the tall, silver-haired man looking down at him indifferently. “We are the Qianyue Dong leader’s most trusted starlords! Our reinforcements are coming, and when we capture you and that tottering old man, you will have to answer to the wrath of our almighty leader!”
“Oh, really?” Shangguan Qiuyue drawled. “Who is this ‘almighty’ leader whom I should be afraid of?”
Qianyue Dong had a total of six starlords, who controlled the six factions of the sect. Shangguan Qiuyue had executed one starlord about a year ago when he discovered that starlord was colluding with the leader of the rival demon sect, Legend Valley. Then, right before he and Chunhua withdrew from wulin, his most loyal starlord, Ye Yan, killed fellow starlord Gu Wan for attempted mutiny against Shangguan Qiuyue. That left four surviving starlords when he officially abdicated his leadership position to Ye Yan.
Now as he observed the two men squirming under his steely gaze, he knew that there must have been a civil war since his departure, with a change in leadership and influx of new members. Ye Yan must no longer have control of the sect. He did not recognize these two starlords, and they obviously did not recognize him as the former Qianyue Dong leader.
Even though he had grown up at Qianyue Dong and had led the sect for over a decade, he had no emotional ties to the sect nor to its members. In all his years at the demon sect, he had never experienced one moment of safety and peace, let alone happiness. He had to remain cautious and vigilant during his every waking and sleeping moment. If he had relaxed his guard, if he had shown any weakness or leniency, he would have been brutally slaughtered. He had no friends he could rely on or trust; he only had reluctant subordinates who would gladly murder him if he could not maintain his dominance. Therefore, he cared nothing about the upheaval at Qianyue Dong. He did, however, care greatly about having to waste time dealing with this new sect leader. If Ye Yan were sect leader, as he had planned for her to be, she would have willingly lent him the Qianyue Dong forces to combat Hu Ming’s large Iron Fist Clan, leaving him free to deal with Hu Ming and obtain the snow lotus. Unfortunately, this new leader, whoever he was, may not be as amenable as Ye Yan.
Shangguan Qiuyue sighed with resignation. Well, he’ll just have to beat the new Qianyue Dong leader into submission. It shouldn’t take too long to properly scare this person.
Staring coldly down at the two unfamiliar starlords, Shangguan Qiuyue asked again, “Well? Who is this all-powerful Qianyue Dong leader?”
The Qianyue Dong member with the broken knees shivered as he glanced up at the silver-haired man towering above him. Something about this man’s smooth, cultured voice and his slight smile sent shivers down his spine and frightened him so much that he momentarily forgot about his injury. Gulping, the starlord tried to toughen his stance, hoping he could scare off this stranger.
“Not everyone can have the privilege of knowing our esteemed leader’s name.” He boasted, even though his shaky voice belied his words. “Our leader is close by. If I were you, I would run now before he comes.”
“Ah, but you are not me.” Shangguan Qiuyue retorted, the corners of his lips curving. “I am an extremely curious person and look forward to meeting your leader.” Then his smile suddenly faded and his eyes turned icy. “Oh, I also despise having my question unanswered.”
Without warning, the former demon sect leader raised his hand and slammed his palm down onto the starlord’s head. The man’s head remained intact, but the wave of internal energy that swept through his skull liquefied his brain, causing a stream of fluid to pour out of his nostrils, mouth, and ears. As Shangguan Qiuyue withdrew his hand, the dead Qianyue Dong member crumbled and keeled over. The remaining captive, still stamped under Shangguan Qiuyue’s foot, wheezed with fright upon witnessing his fellow sect member’s gruesome death. His panting worsened as his captor’s eyes shifted toward him.
Before Shangguan Qiuyue could ask his question again, the surviving Qianyue Dong member blurted out quickly to avoid being killed next. “Chen Wei! Chen Wei is our Qianyue Dong leader!”
“Chen Wei?” The silver-haired man murmured, thoughtful for a moment. Then a low chuckle escaped his lips. “That old fox finally made a move for the position of Qianyue Dong leader. If my internal energy wasn’t drained a few months ago, I would have killed him right before I withdrew from wulin, just to rid Qianyue Dong of this potential thorn.”
“Chen Wei?” Yang Feng, who had been listening avidly the entire time, trotted up to Shangguan Qiuyue’s side. “Who’s Chen Wei? Do you know him, pretty boy?”
“Chen Wei and I are ‘old friends.’” The silver-haired young man reached down to drag the demon sect member up by the front of his robes. “Why don’t you take me to visit my old friend?”
Knowing how paranoid Chen Wei was, Shangguan Qiuyue knew that the old fox would move the entrance of Qianyue Dong once he became the sect’s new leader. Therefore, it would be helpful to have his captive lead the way.
Without waiting for the Qianyue Dong member to agree, Shangguan Qiuyue roughly pushed the man forward. “Let’s go. I’m in a hurry.”
With Shangguan Qiuyue and the captured Qianyue Dong member heading northbound into the forest, Yang Feng hurried along after them, practically rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
“We’re going to Qianyue Dong! We’re going to Qianyue Dong!” The old man exclaimed in a sing-song voice, his expression full of glee. “I’ve always wanted to see the inside of Qianyue Dong territory. I sense a big fight coming up!” He gave a little hop of elation. “This is going to be so much fun!”
SUMMIT OF SHIFTING ILLUSIONS
Yin Xue had left to go purchase supplies several hours ago, and the solitude already felt suffocating. Chunhua peeled back the sheepskin window shade and propped open the window of the guest cottage slightly and peeked out. Immediately, a blast of frigid air hit her in the face, followed by a rush of snowflakes that swept in and plastered themselves all over her face. Gagging from the mouthful of wet snow, she swiftly slammed the window close and swiped at her face, hurriedly brushing the iciness off. Sneezing, she scurried over to the bed and huddled underneath the covers, shivering. After a few moments, her teeth finally stopped chattering, and she stuck her head out of the blankets. She sighed and looked around, absolutely bored.
Initially, Chunhua had wandered around the guest cottage, poking around. However, given the sparse furnishings, her exploration ended quickly. Then, she tried to reorganize her travel sack, but other than the few items of clothing, snacks, and personal essentials, there wasn’t much to rearrange. Sighing again, she plopped down onto the bed and closed her eyes, trying to take a nap. After shifting around on the bed restlessly for several moments, she gave up trying to sleep and bolted off the bed. She spent the next two hours pacing, taking a steamy bath, combing and styling her hair, pacing, re-folding the blankets, and then pacing again.
Finally, she threw on her red cloak, deciding to brave the elements and take a stroll outside. A wall of wind and snow greeted her the moment she stepped outdoors. Undeterred, she forged on, and as her body adjusted to the cold, the iciness seemed more bearable. Mindful of Yin Xue’s warning to stay within one-hundred paces of the guest and main cottages, she walked over to the main cottage and peeked through the window. The elderly couple had cleaned up the disarray caused by the fight between the couple and Shangguan Qiuyue last evening. Now, the three-room cottage appeared neat and orderly. As the elderly healer had given her permission earlier to enter the main cottage, Chunhua pushed open the door and ventured inside.
A wave of warmth enveloped her as she entered. She headed straight to the kitchen, intending to collect a few snacks to bring back to the guest cabin. On her way there, she passed by a pantry with rows upon rows of glass jars, flasks, and bottles. Some contained powders. Some held chunks of dried substance. Some were filled with liquids of different colors. The containers were color-coded, and grouped together according to size and type of container. However, none of them had labels. Curious, Chunhua opened one of the rose-colored jars and sniffed. A floral scent wafted upward. Smiling, she opened and smelled the contents of a burgundy-colored jar. In this one, she could detect a scent similar to sandalwood. The next few containers emitted various medicinal-like odors. Guessing that all these containers must store the elderly couple’s medicinal herbs and toxins, she carefully positioned everything back in its place.
In the kitchen, she found an assortment of dried meats and nuts, fresh fruit, and small cakes readily available in wooden baskets on a small table pushed up against the wall under the kitchen window, which was propped open to allow ventilation. On cue, her stomach started growling, and she hungrily reached for the tiny, colorful cakes. Plopping one into her mouth, she stared out the kitchen window, enjoying the snowy landscape as she munched on her food.
The cheery vibrance of the winterberries splashed against a stark white backdrop never ceased to awe Chunhua, and she imagined herself as one of the many snowflakes twirling in the air, delicate and light as it followed the wind. She suddenly wanted Shangguan Qiuyue to take her flying through this white wonderland, to ride the wind and taste the snow.
Idly, she reached for another cake, finding them rather deliciously additive. As she chewed enthusiastically, she noted the wind starting to howl more ferociously, rattling the cottage slightly.
“I better start going back,” she murmured to herself.
Greedily, she wrapped in a large handkerchief a few cakes to bring back to the guest cabin before leaving the main cottage. Trudging slowly along the path that led back to the guest cabin, she hummed blithely, in a very good mood. Halfway to her destination, however, a particularly violent gale knocked into her and ripped her red cloak off her shoulders.
“My cloak!” Chunhua squeaked, falling onto her bottom from the force of the wind.
The garment sailed through the air, twisting and turning, before it finally caught on some stalks of winterberries growing near the edge of the cliff. Scrambling to her feet, she ran after her cloak, completely forgetting to stay within one-hundred paces of the guest and main cottages, as instructed by the old woman. After much struggling against the brutally strong wind, she finally reached her cloak and quickly inspected it. Relieved that it remained undamaged, she brushed off the snow and wrapped it around her shoulders.
Here, near the edge of the cliff, the wind wailed like a thousand spirits, their screeches echoing from within the chasm of mist, masking the clanging sound of a sword digging into the rocky side of the mountain. Unbeknownst to Chunhua, two men hung from the side of the cliff, the older one carrying the younger one on his back, as he stabbed his sword into the rocky formations, using his weapon to help him slowly but steadily inch his way up the Summit of Shifting Illusions.
Completely unaware of her visitors’ presence, Chunhua waded through the knee-deep snow as she headed back toward the guest cottage. The wind carried along with it the rustling sound of fabric, as someone somersaulted through the air, but this noise was so subtle that it escaped Chunhua’s attention. The soft plop of footsteps as the newcomers landed on the snowy ground again went unnoticed.
The older man who had carried the younger one on his back during the climb up the mountain now gestured for his son to stay silent as he squinted into the distance, his eyes trained on Chunhua’s back. The younger man, his leg injured and using a cane for support, also looked toward the direction his father indicated. Together, father and son advanced forward quietly.
Oh no ! Must be ( the father and son ) Hu Ming and Hu Shenlong who arrive and seek help of the 2 elders because of HuMing’s poison in his leg . I hope by that time , Tian Kai arrives too and rescue Chun Hua if they are trying to hurt her …. Anyway, baby immortal in her womb will protect her with immortal internal powers
I enjoyed reading and craving for more . Thanks Ms Melanie . I was thrilled at the same time chuckling the arrogance of Shangguan Qiuyue towards the old man the way he answers him and that old man too so funny . I also fell in love of those words in the letter what had Qiuyue written to Chun hua … his hopes for Chun hua on his return that she will be wearing that bridal dress and will become his wife ♥️ Excited for the next chapter …
next chapter plsssssss 😁
oh dear, the father and son for sure. chunhua will be in big trouble. oh wait, the bottle filled with water that causes numbness with chunhua or in their travel bag? i hope elder yin xue will be back in time.
thanks again ms. melanie for updating. but reading this chapter specially when gege becomes very romantic, really makes me crave for more and can’t wait for the next chapter. and who’s to be blame? hahaha
next chapter please…….
Oh no! What an unexpected guests indeed! Anyway, thank you Ms. Melanie for this update. I am looking forward to seeing the next chapters. Take care always and God bless you!
a beautiful day everyone and to my fave author!
“ber” month is here and christmas is fast approaching, so let me be the first one to greet you a blessed merry christmas!
hope the next chapter will be released this month?
hello beautiful people, to my fav author!
just popping in to check new post.
hope you’ll release a new chapter this month ms.melanie? plsss….
again, thank you!
hello dear author,
glory here, eargerly waiting for your new post.
hope you’ll release it the soonest.
First, thanks to Ysa, glory kigis, and Marden for leaving comments and still staying around waiting for the next chapter. I appreciate your words of encouragement. I know many of you are wondering when the next chapter will be posted. I had a few pages written, but I had to stop and study, as I have a test coming up. I will resume writing in 2 weeks once my test is over. Thank you for your patience and support. I hope to see you all again in the comments section!
We will wait for your next chapters. For now, please focus on your test my dear author. Good luck and God speed his blessing to you.🙆♀️🙏🏼
please do focus on your studies and good luck on your test.
of course we will be waiting for the next chapters. it’s just my excitement for the next chapter that makes me a little bit jumpy. :]
still, i will be here waiting.
all the best,
good luck on your exams Ms Melannie , we are just here supporting you and always fond of your LBTI fun fic stories. We are looking forward for the next chapters soon ♥️
Best of luck in your test Melanie!
droppin’ by checking for next chapters ♥️ I hope our dear author can at least post 2 chapters before this year ends 😊 . Take care Ms Melannie 💖
marden, i second the motion…… hahaha
hi there my dear author,
hope your test went well…
as always, just dropping by to check new posts.
just too excited to read the next chapters. the wait seems too long. :]
a pleasant day! and to my fave author, hope you don’t mind me hanging around. as always, just checking.
hope your test went well……
happy halloween everyone!
hi there dear author!
i hope all is well with you.
glory here, just hanging around eagerly waiting for your next post, which i hope to be release the soonest.
hi there ms. melanie!
i hope all is well….
as always, just hanging around checking for the next chapter.
a pleasant day ms.melanie!
next chapter plssss……..
a pleasant day ms.melanie,
a blessed christmas and a fruitful new year!
its a busy month, but i hope you didn’t forget us, avid fans of your fanfic LBTI.
glory here, as always eagerly waiting for the next chapters.
hope this message finds you well. 😀😀😁
Happy holidays! I haven’t forgotten about my readers! I’m almost done with the next chapter. I will try to post once I’m done, but I’m on a cruise right now and internet connection is a bit spotty and unpredictable.
hi ms. melanie,
really feels good to hear from you.
so you’re in a cruise, oh i’m jelly…..
just enjoy your cruise, and hope to read the next chapter soon.
Oohhh so saaad ! 😂 it’s been quite some time , I thought I would be reading new chapters about CHQY .., anyways Happy New Year to all ! 🍾🥂
happy new year everyone!
it would really be nice to welcome year 2023 with a new chapter of LBTI fanfic.
Just checking in to see any updates. Guess not lol
Hope you all had a good new year 😊