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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 2.1 Summit

Chapter 2.1 Summit 

When the Company looked up in the direction of the summit, they all gasped in surprise. They shivered at the sight before them. Though it was not exceedingly high, the summit stood erect, like a tower amidst the neighbouring peaks, impassably steep and precipitous. Even monkeys

would find it a task to climb to the top, not to mention human beings. They marvelled at the sight, wondering if it could be real: even if the most

capable among them could make it to the top, could they really survive up there, on that sheer summit of summits?

The old monk gave a faint smile and led the way. After skirting two mountains, the Company entered an enormous pine forest. The pine trees were several hundred years old, with heavy, thickly overgrown branches

and crisscrossing boughs, and every tree-top was laden with dazzling white snow several feet thick. This meant that there was not much snow inside the forest, which made walking much easier. The pine forest extended over a

considerable area. It took an hour for the Company to thread their way through its heart. The minute they emerged they found themselves standing at the foot of the summit.

They all tilted their heads up and looked at the summit. It was more breath-taking and awe-inspiring at close proximity. They wondered if it

would be possible to climb the summit even in summer. Now, at this time of the year when snow lay thick on the hilltop, anyone venturing to the peak

would certainly run the risk of falling over the edge and being shattered to pieces.

A wind could be heard sweeping across the top of the cliff and the foliage murmured like an autumnal flood at dusk. All the members of the group

were experienced hands who had roamed the world and experienced the vicissitudes of life. But with this impressively high rock structure towering over them, they all trembled with fear. The old monk drew a cylindrical-

shaped missile from the front of his coat. He ignited it. Up it soared into the sky, discharging blue smoke which hung in the sky for some time

afterwards.

They knew it was the signal used by the outlawry for sending messages.

Yet seldom had they seen a missile soar so high and its blue plume of

smoke stay as long. They lifted their heads and fixed their gaze upon the top of the summit, watching for any signs of action.

Presently, a black dot materialized high up on the cliff. This was the only sign they could see. The black dot began to roll down instantaneously, growing bigger as it moved closer, and after it had travelled halfway down the steep decline, it could be recognized as an enormous bamboo basket, fastened to a hawser also made of bamboo. This was the vehicle dispatched from the summit to transport the guests up the cliff.

The basket came to a standstill in front of the Company. "This basket will carry three," said the old monk. "Perhaps we should let the two ladies go first? It can seat another male. Who wants to accompany them? This monk does not have dealings with women, so I shall not go this trip. Ha! Ha!" "This monk may be skilled in martial arts," thought each to himself, "but he talks rubbish!"

Sign helped Third into the basket. "If I go now," pondered Sign, "Curio will take this opportunity to attack Peace. But if I ask Peace to go along with me, I'll feel embarrassed in front of Uncle."

Sign then waved to Curio. "Senior Brother, you come with me." Curio was overwhelmed by her favour and cast a glance at Peace,

complacency written on his face. He immediately stepped inside the basket and seated himself next to Sign. He held the bamboo hawser and gave it a few neat jerks.

The basket swayed at first, and then ascended rapidly towards the

summit. The moment they rose from the ground, Curio, Sign and Third felt as if they were travelling in a void, borne along on a cloud by the wind. The suspended state in which they now found themselves was unpleasant. When they were halfway up the cliff, Sign looked down. At the foot of the cliff, the human figures had shrunk to tiny dots. The angry cliffs rose up sheer as a wall, towering into the sky. What a wonderful sight! Her head reeled and she felt dizzy. She closed her eyes, not daring to look a second time.

Soon, the basket reached the top of the summit. Curio stepped out of the bamboo vehicle and helped Sign and Third out. On the side of the summit were three big capstans, intricately connected to one another by a bamboo hawser. The three capstans, manned by ten or so men of robust build, functioned by a neatly interlocking mechanism, synchronizing both the upward and downward movement of the basket. The now empty basket was again dispatched on a downward journey to collect more of the guests. The bamboo vehicle made a few more upward and downward trips before finally bringing the old monk and the others to the summit. Two men clad in grey stood by the side of the capstans. They took no heed of either Curio or his party. When the old monk finally joined the Company at the summit, these two men stepped forward and saluted him, bowing from the waist,

with great respect.

"Without notifying the Master," said the old monk with a smile in his voice, "I have brought friends along to take advantage of his hospitality. Ha! Ha!"

"As they are friends of Tree the Great Master," replied a man in his prime, with a long neck and broad shoulders, bowing at the same time, "they will surely be welcome guests of my Master."

"So this old monk goes by the name of Tree," mused everybody.

The man with the long neck then turned around in every direction and bowed to all the assembled company. "My Master has been called away on business," said he, "and is not able to be here to greet our distinguished guests. Please accept his apologies."

At this, they quickly returned their bows. "This man lives up here, high on the top of the snow-covered mountain," they all began to ponder, "and dresses very lightly. Yet he shows no signs of feeling the cold. He must be skilled in endomarts, the martial art of developing strength through

breathing and other exercises of his internal organs. The manner and tone in which he talks show that he is no more than a servant or one who runs

errands. What kind of man must his Master be?"

Tree showed slight surprise at the Master's absence. "Your Master is not home?" he enquired. "How is it that he is away at this time?"

To this the man replied, "My Master left for Ningguta, Six-Manchu- Ancestors Borough, seven days ago."

"Ningguta? On what business?" asked Tree.

The man cast a glance at Valour and the others, made ill-at-ease by the question.

"Say what you want; don't worry about them," said Tree.

"Master said that the enemy fights fierce and furious," answered the man. "He is afraid that he may not be able to defeat him. So the Master travelled all the way to Ningguta, Six-Manchu-Ancestors Borough, to invite the Gilt- faced Buddha to ascend the mountain to give him support."

They started at the mention of the Gilt-faced Buddha. He had been a veteran fighter in the Martial Brotherhood, known as the Invincible Under the Sky among the outlawry for the last twenty years. Because of this name, he had made many enemies and fought many battles. But then he was so very skilled in the martial arts that no other adept, be he of any School or

Branch, was ever his equal. He lived like a hermit and had been little heard of among the outlawry for the last ten years. It was rumoured that he had died of an illness in Turkestan. There were no witnesses, however; it was hearsay. When the assembled company learned that he was still alive and that the Master of this eyrie was on his way to invite him to the mountain, they immediately began to feel uneasy. Not only was this Gilt-faced Buddha an adept in martial arts; he was also a righteous man who abhorred evil and detested evil-doers. If news of any dishonourable behavior reached the ears of the Gilt-faced Buddha, he would seek out the evil-doer and remonstrate with him. This would cost the evil- doer either an arm or a leg, or his life, depending on the seriousness of his

crime. The group now assembled on the mountain top had all of them, at one time or another, dabbled in misdeeds of varying degrees. When the name Gilt-faced Buddha fell suddenly on their ears, they were all seized with panic.

Tree smiled faintly and said, "I see your Master is taking no chances. Even if Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain does fight well, why making such a fuss over him?"

To this the man replied, "With you, the Great Master, having come all this way to assist us, we are already assured of victory. Fox Volant is said to be exceedingly fierce and cunning; my Master is taking great care to solicit extra help so that he won't be able to escape."

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