Prologue — Paradise Lost
Chapter 1: Awakenings
The Bamboo Guardsman arrived in the dead of night, rousing Captain Dochun from his slumber. There was a report of a rising column of flame spotted in the south sea, perhaps an hour or two out from shore. Judging from the panic on the young guard's face, Dochun expected news of a Blackram Marauder attack, Were the Blackram up to their old tricks? Or was some entirely new crisis erupting in the south sea? The guard described the area quite, specifically. It was near Heaven's Reach, the home of Dochun's old master. That is why Dochun insisted on investigating the area himself, and on going alone.
Twenty-five long years ago, Dochun had left Heaven's Reach. Despite Master Hong's pleadings, he left to become a soldier. He could not sit idly by as the world burned.
Dochun arrived at the water below Heaven's Reach, and he could scarcely believe his eyes. His master's home was engulfed in flames with fiery debris falling like rain, What had happened?
Chapter 2: Morning Time at Heaven's Reach
Jinyung couldn't believe it. Gilhong and Hajoon were late to rise as usual, but now even the newest student was proving to be just as lazy! Master Hong would never take her seriously if she couldn't control the students she was responsible for. Scolding, negotiating, bribing--nothing seemed to work. How could they be so irresponsible as to shrug off morning meditations and exercises? Didn't they know how lucky they were to be taught by Master Hong Sokyun himself, one of the legendary Four Guardians?
Chapter 3: Looking for Lusung
Ahead of the announced meeting, Yungmuk's usually stoic expression hardened into something resembling concern. What worried him more than his listless brothers and sisters was the prolonged illness of his master. He was Master Hong's right hand, and he was responsible for the safety of those underneath him. But what if something happened to Master Hong? Yungmuk wasn't ready for that kind of leadership.
Yungmuk reflected on the other students, letting his mind wander. Jinyung shared his anguish when others slacked off or shirked their training, but she didn't have the same conviction, the same passion, that he did. Lusung certainly had that passion, perhaps even more so. He trained the hardest and the longest. But he was aloof, and Yungmuk wasn't sure Lusung would prove much of a leader. Perhaps it would take all three of them to keep the Hongmoon School together should the unthinkable happen and Master Hong pass away. Yungmuk quickly drove the dark thought from his mind.
Chapter 4: Master Hong's Summons
Jinyung watched as a puzzled Cricket followed Master Hong into the main house. Fighting back a twinge of envy, Jinyung actually felt happy and hopeful. Master had decided to take on Cricket as a formal pupil! All the times washing dishes and fetching firewood were going to be worth it. Jinyung couldn't wait to watch Cricket work through the inaugural training session at the Duel Hall. This could be the start of something very special.
Chapter 5: Disciple of the Hongmoon School
Yungmuk was surprised when Cricket revealed the Martial Tome which Master Hong had bestowed. Many students were never given the book; for others, it took five years or more. For Cricket to receive it so soon... it may have been a sign. Yungmuk had worked eight years to become a formal disciple; Lusung had worked six. What was SO Special about the Hongmoon School's newest student? It bothered Yungmuk that he couldn't pin it down.
But beyond Cricket's rapid ascension, and even beyond Master's illness, Yungmuk was concerned about the school. There were so few students left, and no new students since Cricket. Was Master Hong losing his passion for teaching? Were the days of Hongmoon School numbered?
Chapter 6: Training Begins
"Focus!" Lusung yelled at Jinyung during their training session, his lip curling in what Jinyung perceived as anger. Lusung was always intense when he was training, so perhaps Jinyung was overreacting. But as their session continued, Jinyung had to stifle her own anger at her fellow student as he continued barking orders and practically snarling as he struck the training dummy, over and over.
After the session, however, Lusung flashed that smile of his and apologized for "being a tad forceful," as he called it. They chatted about how wild the wind had been over the past few days--enough to knock over their feast table--and about a new little hiding place Lusung had found on a nearby floating island. Jinyung never could stay mad at Lusung for long.
Chapter 7: The Proving Grounds
"I'll do it, I'll be the assassin this time," said Lusung, the slightest of grins on his face. Yungmuk couldn't help but grin in return, Facing down the "Masked Assassin" inside the Proving Grounds was a Hongmoon tradition for all new disciples, and Lusung seemed eager to play for part for Cricket. The Masked Assassin provided a fast, hard lesson in recovering Chi, an essential battlefield technique for any warrior.
Yungmuk gently pushed back on Lusung's request. "Master Hong would say that I should probably be the one to put on the mask," Yungmuk said. But Lusung was persistent, and Yungmuk quickly relented. Lusung could have his fun. Yungmuk did hope that Lusung wouldn't be too hard on Cricket. It was supposed to just be an exercise, after all.
Chapter 8: Twilight's Edge
Jinsoyun. Master Hong couldn't move. In fact, he could barely breathe. She was a ghost from his past. She was a nightmare.
Jinsoyun had grown considerably since he last saw her. Not in height, but in stature. Her eyes burned with pain and with decades of hate and resentment. But it was her aura of Dark Chi which truly broke Hong's heart. She was now an agent of the Dark Lord, along with her two assassins. Only through the power of the Dark Arts had she survived to stand before him. Master Hong clenched his staff tightly. This would be a battle to the death.