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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 3.2 Myrmidons

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Chapter 3.2 Myrmidons 

Suddenly, Tree came swaggering forward, crying out, "Aha, the young lady here is the daughter of Phoenix the Knight-errant. How is your father faring?"

"He is enjoying good health and is prospering. Thank you," replied the maiden. "May I know the name of the monk?"

To this the monk replied, beaming, "The monk goes by the name Tree.

May I know your name, young lady?"

The damsel went by the name Orchid Miao, but, when she heard her name being asked, she blushed to her roots, musing to herself, "How could I ever mention my name to strangers?" She evaded the question, replying,

"Please make yourselves at home. I, of the younger generation, have to go inside to pay my respects to the wife of the lord of the eyrie." She then drew in the lapels of her garment and bowed respectfully to the group.

The sobriquet of Orchid's father struck all present with awe. None dared show the slightest sign of disrespect. They all returned her bow with humility, remarking to themselves, "It is hard to imagine that a young lady with her background is neither vain nor imposing. She does not seem to harbour any intention of taking advantage of others."

Now that everybody was reseated, Orchid excused herself again before repairing to the inner chamber. Immediately, about seven or eight servants and maids were seen walking through the doorway, carrying chests, trunks, bedding and mattresses. They were assumed to be attendants to Miss Orchid, coming all this way to wait on her. Century, the father, and Peace, his son, eyed each other, both thinking, "If we two were to run into this group of people on the road, we would take them to be the household of a mandarin or wealthy family; we would certainly stage a robbery and attack them. Had this been the case we would surely have ended up in a terrible

situation."

Valour pulled his sleeve to wipe the stains of battle from his body. He was thankful that the younger lad had harboured no intention of sorely

wounding him, but had only glanced his blade here and there, parting skin, giving him no real cause for alarm. Sign drew closer to assist him and she staunched the bleeding by applying to his wound a styptic concocted

specifically for wounds inflicted by edged weapons. Valour ripped open the left lapel of his garment to allow Sign to bind his wounds. Suddenly there

came a clanging thud: the iron casket had slipped to the floor. All present sprang up instantaneously, with hands outstretched, ready to seize the treasure case.

Valour was standing closest to the box. He delineated a circle, sweeping out his left hand, barring any attempt to draw any closer. He bent immediately to retrieve the box. The moment he landed his fingers on its lid he felt a sudden jerk on his shoulder, forcing him, in a reflex, to move his

steps sideways. When he regained his balance on firm, sturdy feet and with head erect, he found the box already resting in the hands of Tree.

Tree's sudden attack struck all the valiant and courageous outlaws

assembled in the hall with awe. He was, after all, an accomplished fighter. All stared hard at him, not daring to utter a sound.

Suddenly, Curio said, "Great Master, the box is the heirloom of our Dragon Lodge. Kindly return it to us."

Tree gave out a laugh. "Well said, well said. You claim this to be the house treasure of your honourable Lodge. Tell me what is inside the casket and how you came by this treasure? As you are the Grand Master of the

Dragon Lodge, you should know the answers. Take it, if you can explain everything." Then Tree leant forward, proffering the casket to Curio with both hands.

Curio reddened. He had already reached out his hands for the box, yet he did not dare to receive it. Finding it embarrassing to retract his outstretched limbs, Curio let them hang in mid air, and eventually let them go limp and dropped them to their normal positions. All Curio's knowledge about the receptable was that the late Grand Master had attached great importance to it. The late Grand Master had always kept the casket under the tightest

security. Curio had never seen his Master undo the box. He was baffled to know what was inside, not to mention how they had acquired the treasure. Valour and Fortune, both veteran adept fighters of the Dragon Lodge, looked each other straight in the eyes. Both were dumbfounded. Suddenly Radiant broke the silence, volunteering an answer. "Of course we all know what is inside. It is a prize poniard."

Radiant was considered to be only of the second rank in martial ability

among the expert hands of the Dragon Lodge and was never in his Master's confidence. Neither was he considered capable. When he gave this answer out of the blue, it shook Valour and his friends, making them all remark to themselves, "What else do you know?"

Tree, however, responded quite encouragingly, "Right you are: it's a poniard. But do you know who the original owner was? And how it came to be in the possession of the Dragon Lodge?"

Valour and the others had all been taken aback by Radiant's brisk reply.

They had not expected Radiant to be able to answer the question. Now, they paid him full attention, awaiting a further remark. Radiant turned red on a

sudden, but soon regained his pale complexion, remarking vexedly, "Our Dragon Lodge has been handing the poniard down from generation to generation. The person gaining possession of this treasured weapon claims ascendance to the Grand Mastership of the Lodge."

"What you say is correct up to a point." Fortune interrupted at this juncture. "The poniard is the heirloom of the Dragon Lodge, with the

Northern and Southern Branches alternately taking responsibility for its safekeeping."

Tree interjected, shaking his head. "You are quite wrong there. I did not expect that you would know the true story."

"Do not tell me that you know it all!" countered Radiant.

"I learned the story twenty years ago," answered Tree. "The vendetta between Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain and the lord of this eyrie

sprung from this very treasure. If other parties had not been implicated in the interim, would I, the old monk, have taken it upon myself to invite you all up to this mountain?" This caused the Dragon Lodge party, Tao Senior and Junior, as well as Hawk and Prime, to shudder, as they all thought, "This old monk had indeed harboured evil intentions towards us. He also had plans to rob the iron casket of its poniard. We have been neatly inveigled into a snare, and will all certainly die." Thus pondering, they heard the sound of a whirr and a slash. A weapon had been whipped out, and was flashing furiously in the air. In no time, there was the clashing and clanging of blade upon blade.

Tree was enclosed by the outlaws brandishing their knives and flourishing their swords. Valour and others who had had their weapons cleft by the twins stooped to retrieve their foils, and charged with full force.

Tree turned himself around. Encircled by the outlaws, the old monk took his time. He addressed the group assembled, smiling with an impression of briskness. "Are you going to take up arms against an old monk like me?" The discomfited outlaws stared at him hard, yet none dared to risk another move. They had all drawn closer, and were now able to make out that Tree, wearing a grey beard and with creases in his face, was darting glances that were both lucid and penetrating: the monk was in no way an aged fellow.

Hawk retreated one pace, commanding the others, "First, let us set to and dispatch the old monk. We can sort out our own differences when we get back to the foot of the mountain. We will have plenty of time for that later." Hawk was of the opinion that the longer they were detained on the mountain, the more danger they were in. The outlaws now began to feel uneasy within the confines of the eyrie and felt the truth of Hawk's words.

Just as they were about to dash headlong, a deafening sound like an explosion roared from beyond the doorway.

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