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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 5.4 Message

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Chapter 5.4 Message 

All this while, Century had been listening with rapt attention in silence.

Suddenly, he broke in, "I know the reason why the Gilt-faced Buddha insisted on challenging Gully to a duel. But I do not intend to dwell on it at the present moment. Answer me this one question: why are you here on this mountain?" This was the question everyone had long been awaiting.

Immediately, Quad came forward with an answer, in awe-inspired tones, "I am here to take vengeance for the death of Master Gully."

"Take vengeance? On whom?" returned Century.

"On the one who took the life of Master Gully," shouted Quad, with a sneer in his voice.

Orchid turned pale with horror, muttering, "Are you trying to harm my father?"

Quad hastened to assure her, "Master Gully did not die at the hands of the Gilt-faced Buddha, but was dispatched by a creature known formerly as

Yama, a one-time osteopath, who later renounced the world to become a monk, with the assumed name of Tree."

The Company assembled was startled on hearing this, thinking to themselves, "How could Gully possibly have been dispatched by Tree?"

Suddenly, Tree raised himself to his full height. He let out a loud laugh and said, "Well, I dare you to kill me. Attack me at once!" Quad replied, in a quiet tone, "I have already set my hand to it. I vouchsafe that you will not survive seven days and seven nights from this hour."

Everyone shuddered when this verdict was pronounced, wondering how Quad had managed to play his vile trick in the dark. Tree could not hide his fear, and yet remained undaunted as he bawled the words, "You think you

can plot against me, thick-headed as you are?"

Quad immediately answered sharply, "It will not only be you. No one on this mountain, male or female, young or old, will last for more than seven days and seven nights."

On a sudden, the Company feared for their lives. Some started to their feet, dumbfounded, while others were wide-eyed, preparing to stand up. Since reaching the summit, everyone had been gripped by a feeling of acute uneasiness. Quad's last sentence may have struck the ears as ludicrous, yet, under the circumstances, it was enough to fill everyone once more with a gloomy foreboding. The Company was gripped by fear, powerless to

express what was preying on their minds.

At length, Tree spat angrily, "What have you mixed with the food and drink?"

Quad answered, smiling coldly, "Not Poison which would soon dispatch you. I am not prepared to let you escape so easily. I wish to see you wither away with dragging slowness, from starvation."

"Starvation?" echoed Curio, Century, Third and the others.

Quad remained motionless for a considerable time before continuing,

"Yes! This mountain had ten days' provisions to begin with, but now not a single day's are left. I have thrown it all down the mountain."

Amid shrieks, Tree grasped Quad's left arm like the devil practising the Grapple. Quad, whose right arm had already been amputated, made no

attempt to throw off his assailant. He continued sneering. At once, Curio and Radiant, who were standing before him, lashed out their arms and rubbed their fists, ready to shower blows on him the minute he made any feinting or aggressive move.

At this moment, the steward of the eyrie rushed in. He had returned to the central hall in a flash, to inform the Company in a trembling voice, "All the victuals on the eyrie are gone; the pork, beef, chickens, ducks, vegetables have ... really ... really, everything has been thrown down the mountain by this fellow."

To the ears suddenly came a thudding sound as Curio struck Quad in the chest, driving with full force. The victim let out a low cry. Bright blood

came gushing from his mouth in an unstaunchable stream. Quad stood still, smiling sneeringly and fearlessly.

Impatiently Tree demanded of the steward, "Not a soul was in the kitchen and in the pantry?"

The steward slowly explained, "Three handymen were at the job, but they were all trussed up by him. While the two young fiends were creating havoc in the hall, all of us moved to the room to watch. This must have been a trick of Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain to lure us away from the site. Miss Miao, we took him to be one of the domestic helpers whom you brought along."

Orchid shook her head and said, "No. I thought he was the steward of the eyrie."

"Are there any foodstuffs left?" interrupted Tree, showing his impatience.

The steward shook his head, deeply distressed.

Curio was about to raise his hand, ready to deal Quad another blow, when Orchid interceded, "Easy, Master. You forget what I said."

Puzzled by her words, Curio stood there, suspending his fist in mid air.

Orchid then reminded him, "He is holding the wooden tablet with my father's name inscribed on it. I made it clear that no one is to do him any harm."

Curio quickly remonstrated, "But he is weighing all our lives in the balance. You ... how can you ..."

Orchid continued to shake her head. "Whether we are to live or die is a separate issue. I have to stand by what I said. Now this man has thrown all the victuals down the mountain, there is no escape for any of us. We shall all starve to death, and he will be no exception. One must have a good reason when embarking on a venture that puts one's own life at stake."

Turning next to Tree and Curio, Orchid continued, "Heaven has decreed when each of us will have to go; there is no point in going against the

Divine will. Let us listen to what he has to say to find out whether we really deserve to make our departure now." She delivered her speech with a calm sense of purpose, causing Tree to loosen his grip on Quad's arm. Finally, Curio returned his seat, crushed.

Orchid then addressed Quad, "Master Quad, you are thinking of starving us all to death. Will you tell us the reason behind this? Are you doing this to avenge the death of Uncle Gully?"

At once, Quad answered, "To address me as Master Quad is to do me too great an honour. In all my days, I have been pre-destined to address others as lord or Master, and I myself have not acquired merits enough to deserve this honour. Miss Miao, I was most grateful when, at the time in question,

Master Gully gave me some silver ingots and saved three lives in my family. I was also equally grateful for another matter. People used to call me Quad the Scabby-headed. People looked down on me and trampled on me.

But Master Gully alone hailed me as 'Little Brother', insisting also that I

address him as Big Brother. I, Quad, have been at people's beck and call my entire life. Master Gully, however, told me that all men are equal before the Old One above, and there is no distinction between upper and lower class. I was awakened by him, as if I were a blind man suddenly recovering his

sight after losing it for ten or so years. I knew Master Gully for less than a day, and yet I took to him as though he were my kinsman. I love and adore him like my natural parent.

"After Master Gully and the Gilt-faced Buddha had battled each other for several days with neither being able to gain the advantage, I automatically began to feel worried for Master Gully. On the last day of the combat,

Master Gully was taken by the poison on the blade, followed by his wife who committed suicide, sacrificing her life for her husband. The events

were precisely the same as they were recounted by Miss Miao. I was there and witnessed the entire scene and will never allow a single detail to escape my memory."

Turning to Tree, Quad posed the question, "Doctor Yama, on that particular day, did you not carry a kit-box in your left hand and a bundle

containing ten or more silver ingots on your back? Did you have on that day a black cotton robe lined on the inside with lambswool, and on your head a tobacco yellow felt cap with holes?"

Tree gave a start, turning pale with terror. His right hand holding the rosary trembled. He looked off into the distance, saying not a word. After posing these important questions, Quad continued, "The evening before the skirmish on the last day, Master Gully and the Gilt-faced Buddha were closeted together deep into the night. Yama the osteopath was

straining his ears by the side of the window until he was finally dealt a blow by the Gilt-faced Buddha across the casement, giving him black eyes and a swollen nose. He told us that after the incident he went immediately to bed. However, I caught him doing one more thing before retiring to his bed.

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