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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 1.3 Casket

Chapter 1.3 Casket 
The two made good speed and in no time caught up with Fortune, Valour, and Radiant.

Valour cast Curio a glance and said, "You have been gone so long! Have you found anything of interest?" Curio flushed and muttered, "Nothing

special." Kicking his horse fiercely, he galloped off into the distance.

A few miles on, the mountainsides were precipitous and blanketed with thick snow. The horses lost their balance and stumbled occasionally. The four riders dared not press their animals on, but slackened their reins. They passed two cols; the mountain paths were dangerously steep. The neighing of horses came suddenly from the left: Curio leapt out of his saddle and landed behind a large pine; he stole behind the trunk and gazed intently into the distance. Five horses were tethered near the trees on the edge of the

slope. A neat line of footprints ran up the snowy ground, going straight uphill.

Curio cried out aloud, "Fortune and Valour, the thieves have made their way uphill. We must hurry after them!"

Fortune was cautious. "Our enemies have led us all the way out here; they may well have laid a trap for us," Fortune warned the others.

"Come Heaven or Hell, we shall have to make an attempt, snapped

Curio. Fortune expressed disapproval of Curio's recklessness and turned to Valour, What think you of this?"

Sign spoke before Valour could utter a word. "Uncle Fortune, the Might of the Southern Sky is here with us; we should not be put off so easily. We can surely withstand perilous attacks of any nature." Fortune beamed. "Look at the way they conduct themselves. They have been going at such high speed that they don't seem to have laid a trap for us. Let me see," he continued, pointing his finger to the right. "We shall make a detour up the mountain and take them by surprise on our way back."

They dismounted from their horses, tethered the animals under the pines, tucked up the lower front of their robes and strapped them in with their girdles. Then they began to levitate up the mountainside, bounding along the right hand track on the slope. This part of the mountain was thickly

wooded and strewn with jagged boulders of grotesque shapes; clambering up the slope was quite a task. The terrain, however, afforded them good

cover, and protected them well from their enemies. The five started out in single file, one following close behind the other, but after some time, the

disparity between them gradually became evident: Fortune and Valour were ahead, walking side by side; Curio, lagged behind them by several yards,

while Sign and Radiant were yet another ten or so yards further back.

Curio thought to himself, "Uncle Fortune is Grand Master of the Southern Branch, known as the Might of the Southern Sky. I am interested in finding out which of us fares better in martial ability, he of the Southern Branch or myself of the Northern Branch." Activating all his inner energy, Curio quickened his pace and was ahead of both Fortune and Valour in no time.

"Brother Curio," said Fortune in a tone of admiration, "I could not do better. It is a true saying that heroes spring forth from the unruly young."

Curio, afraid to be overtaken, dared not turn around, but answered, "Thank you." Having spoken, he continued to quicken his pace. In a while, he heard steps close behind and turning round, he was startled to find Fortune and

Valour right behind him. He doubled his effort, and quickened his pace yet again and made a sustained headlong dash.

Fortune found this amusing and followed him at his usual pace. High up on the mountain, the snow was thicker and the mountain paths rough and rugged. Walking was strenuous and after a while Curio slackened his pace. He felt heat at the back of his head as if someone was panting. Just as he was about to turn around, he was tapped on the right shoulder. "Hurry up,

young man," said Fortune smilingly. Curio was stunned and he activated his inner energy and made another wild burst. Presently, he found himself

about thirty yards ahead of Fortune and Valour. By now his heart was thumping hard and he was panting heavily; beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. Mopping his forehead with his sleeves now reminded him of Sign a while ago. He was filled with contentment and could not help beaming to himself. Soon, a muffled sound on the snow alerted him that Fortune and Valour were catching up with him.

Curio's inconsistent pace convinced Fortune that he was not his match in levitational arts. However Valour, the Seven Stars Hand, was able to keep pace with him; he was silent all the way. When he ran fast, so did Valour;

and when he slowed down, Valour followed suit. Valour seemed to be managing capably and could still go quite a way; he had not yet tried his utmost. Fortune thought to himself, "You two are testing the strength of an old fellow like me." Then he took a deep breath and made the best use of his levitational arts, acquired through ten years of vigorous training and laborious practice. He glided up the snowy, white slope with his feet barely touching the ground.

Levitational arts had always been a specialty of the Southern Branch, and although Fortune was heavy, when he came to practising the principal martial skill of his Branch, he was as nimble as a monkey. Soon, he found himself over a thousand yards ahead of Curio. But Valour still kept up with him, walking by his side. Fortune tried several times to quicken his pace to shake himself free of Valour, but succeeded only in throwing him off by ten yards or so.

The pinnacle was only some ten miles away. "Brother Valour, how about testing the strength of our legs?" suggested Fortune in good humour. "Let us find out who will be the first to reach the summit."

To this Valour replied, "I doubt that I can beat you."

"Come on, accept a fair challenge," wheedled Fortune.

No sooner had the words been uttered than Fortune made full speed uphill, like an arrow whistling from the bow. In a second, the pinnacle was barely ten yards away. Fortune turned around and found Valour falling behind by some five yards only. Then he activated all his inner energy, and was just about to dash up the mountain when suddenly up bounded Valour, landing right by his side.

"Watch out! Somebody is there," whispered Valour, pointing to the copse on the left of the slope. "He certainly beats me," shuddered Fortune. "He is much better at levitational arts than I am."

Now Valour bent double, lowered his head and advanced quietly towards the copse while Fortune followed behind.

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