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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 7.1 Death

CSI
Chapter 7.1 Death

Having let out a cough, Century began to treat the Company to his story: "When I was young, I joined with Pastoral Tian to run a business which entailed no capital funds ..."

The Company already accepted as a fact that Century was the Principal Chieftain of the Horse Spring Banditry. However, it was the first time that they knew that Pastoral had also once been a highwayman, and this set them staring at one another. Curio suddenly cried out, fuming with rage,

"What rubbish! My Master was a celebrated fighter of the Martial

Brotherhood. Stop all this nonsense, or you will blacken my Master's name." Century voiced his indignation directly, "So you treat heroic figures of our underworld as despicable characters. I wish you to know that we outlaw warriors despise cowards like you! We are responsible for ourselves in life and we achieve much by scraping out a living by wielding our own swords and spears, and yet we are in no way inferior to riffraff like you who take to guarding mansions, overseeing residences, conveying merchandise or

claiming officialdom. Why should we be treated like this?"

Curio started from his seat. He had more to say, but just then Sign gave the front of his gown a discreet tug, entreating him, in a whisper, "Brother, do not be rash. Just let him speak." Curio was crimson in the face, fuming with rage. He darted a threatening glance at Century, and then re-seated himself.

Century continued to speak roughly, "I, Century Tao, began at an early age, burgling mansions and breaking into homes. I have never once

concealed the truth. Being a man of fortitude and courage, I pronounce myself bold and daring. What should I fear?"

Seeing that he had digressed from the point, Orchid interrupted, "Uncle Century, my father also told me that no one ever dared to belittle the famed heroes and celebrated fighters of the Greenwood. Please carry on with your story about Uncle Pastoral."

Century then pointed a finger at Curio, barking, "Listen, you! Phoenix the Knight-errant also thought the same. Are you in any way tougher than Phoenix the Knight-errant?" Curio snorted, but refrained from saying more.

After thus releasing some of his pent-up fury, Century picked up his story: "When Pastoral was young, he and I together had our hands in

several serious matters. I was always his henchman. It was only after he had a family that he decided to wash his hands clean. If he had indeed spoken disparagingly of the underworld figures, why then was he willing to betroth his only daughter to my son? Well, if I were to analyse things from another point of view, I would seriously query his true intention in uniting our two families. He intended this as a lure to prevent me from revealing a big

secret.

"On the day in question, Pastoral and Fan the Ringleader were to ambush Gully and his wife in Cangzhou. I was then only his henchman. I, Century Tao, was one amongst the many who were piqued at the paralytic point by the arhat quoits that came whirling from Gully's carriage. Later on, I, Century Tao, was also one amongst the many who were hurled down from the roof by Gully's wife, wielding a silk cord on the rooftop. I, Century Tao, was one amongst the many whom Phoenix vehemently denounced as dastardly cowards. The only striking difference between what I once was

and what I am now is that at the time in question I had grown no beard and my hair had not yet turned grey.

"I was at the scene in question witnessing with my very eyes the immediate circumstances surrounding the death of Gully and his wife. What I witnessed, in fact, matches closely the accounts rendered by Miss Miao

and Quad. Tree the Great Master has in fact invented a pack of lies. Miss Miao raised the question that if Phoenix had already found out that Gully was not the one responsible for his father's death, why did he still seek him out and challenge him to a duel? You all must have been considering this puzzle in your minds, that Tree must have harboured ill intentions, and therefore purposely held back some information from Phoenix the Knight- errant."

The Company had all in fact been pursuing that line of thought, but dared not reveal their views in Tree's prescence.

Century only shook his head, commenting, "You are entirely wrong.

Imagine Yama the osteopath was then only a novice in martial ability: how would he dare to hatch plots behind the backs of Phoenix and Gully? He had indeed followed Gully's instructions and delivered the message relating to the three major matters in question. However, the message never reached the ears of Phoenix the Knight-errant. When Yama went to see Phoenix at his mansion, he happened to be away on errantry, leaving only Pastoral there to receive him. Yama, therefore, passed the message onto Pastoral,

sparing no details. I was then standing at the side, overhearing all his words. "Pastoral told Yama afterwards, 'I know everything. You may now go

home. I shall pass the information to Phoenix the Knight-errant. There is no need to mention it again when you meet him. If Gully has occasion to ask you about the matter, let him know that you have already delivered the message to Phoenix the Knight-errant, face to face. Just tell Gully to prepare three coffins, two large ones and one small one, so as to spare us great Masters from emptying our pockets later on.' Having commanded

Yama thus, Pastoral gave him a reward of thirty taels of silver. Yama was only too willing to oblige Pastoral for the sake of silver. "The reason why Phoenix the Knight-errant still sought Gully to

challenge him to a duel was because Pastoral had held back from him the information regarding these three matters of consequence. Why then did he hold back the information? You all must be thinking: Pastoral bore a grudge against Gully and wanted to see him dispatched by the hands of Phoenix the Knight-errant. If you have been thinking that, you are only half right.

Pastoral had indeed been meaning to see Gully dead. However, he intended also to inveigle Gully into killing Phoenix the Knight-errant so as to serve his own ends.

"On one occasion, Phoenix the Knight-errant snapped Pastoral's catapult and shouted abuse at him in public, sparing no efforts to disgrace him. I had known all along the kind of disposition Pastoral had. He was aggressive,

wanting always to be the winner, and was only too ready to harbour hatred for anybody. Deep in his heart, he detested Phoenix the Knight-errant, more even than he hated Gully. On the day in question, Pastoral handed me a tin of ointment, asking me to anoint the weapons which Gully and Phoenix the Knight-errant would wield in the combat. To be honest, I was most reluctant to dabble in devilry like that. Neither did I have the mettle to do it. Finding myself in no position to disobey Pastoral's command, I then passed the order to Yama the osteopath, insisting that he at once do my bidding.

"Each of you should now try to think hard: Gully was such an adept fighter, what unusual poison could it be that could dispatch him so quickly? That man Yama was then only a rural physician: would you expect him to have poison to which accomplished fighters of the Martial Brotherhood

could not find an antitoxin? What poison cost Gully his life? It was the

esoteric poison, uniquely concocted by the Dragon Lodge, for smearing the Lethal Darts, which mortally terrifies the fighters of the Martial

Brotherhood. The ointment derived its name solely from this specific poisoning ingredient. Later, I heard also that Pastoral had even mixed the decoction with another drug, the Ultimate Virulent Mix, capable of blocking the air passage the minute the victim is poisoned. This poison is deadly."

Earlier on, the remaining Company were only half convinced by Century's narration. By now, they seemed to have accepted the story

rendered by him as absolute truth. Thereupon, they eyed Valour, Curio and other acolytes of the Dragon Lodge more closely. Valour and his cohort of followers were seething with anger, but they had to contain themselves.

Century carried on with his narration: "Then came the day on which the term of management by the Northern Branch of the Dragon Lodge expired. Pastoral picked the same date to conduct the Sword-sealing Ceremony to mark his formal retirement from Grand Mastership of the Dragon Lodge.

He threw a large party, inviting to the banquet several hundred famed hero fighters from among the outlawry. As Pastoral and I had been Brothers-at- arms for a long time, as well as the fact that our families were also to be

united through the marriage of our children, I, therefore, arrived at his home a few days before the event, to assist him. It has been a well-established practice of the Dragon Lodge that, on the expiry of the term of management of the Northern Branch, the Grand Master would hand over to the Southern Branch the Treatise of the Swordplay of the Dragon Lodge, the Register of Lodge Pedigree, as well as the poniard which is an heirloom of the Lodge.

Valour, did I not provide the correct information?" Valour nodded his head approvingly.

Century then went on, "Fortune over here, known as the Might of the Southern Sky, a wealthy merchant, is the Grand Master of the Southern

Branch of the Dragon Lodge. He, too, also arrived at Pastoral's residence a few days before the retirement feast. Did Pastoral hand over to you the Treatise of the Swordplay of the Dragon Lodge, the Register of Lodge Pedigree and the poniard, Brother Fortune? Please tell us exactly what happened on that day."

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