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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 8.2 Treasure

 Chapter 8.2 Treasure 

Presently, Hawk plucked a hair from his head and slipped it slowly through the beak of the phoenix embellished on the pearl-studded pin. He manoeuvred the hair in precisely the same way as Phoenix himself had once done. With a slight jerk and turn, the tiny gadget contained in the head of the phoenix motif sprang open, and out fell a slip of parchment from the bird's head.

The Company let out a surprised "Wah!"

Hawk immediately unfolded the paper and spread it out on the bench.

The party all closed in to study it more carefully.

The paper was as flimsy as the wing of a cicada. Though it dated back to a far time, as it had been tightly concealed inside the pearl-studded hairpin, the parchment remained well-preserved. A towering pinnacle was sketched on the paper. On the side of the peak was inscribed the following: "Behind Jadeite Pinnacle of Mount Ulan in Liaodong Peninsula."

Tree jumped at this, exclaiming, "This is the most extraordinary

coincidence! We are at this moment standing precisely on the top of the Jadeite Pinnacle of Mount Ulan." The others studied the outline of the pinnacle on the map and concluded that it corresponded perfectly with the mountaintop they were on. The three old pines by the edge of the cliff which they had seen on their way up the mountain were also clearly marked on the map. The Company all marveled at such a wonder.

Thereupon, Tree spoke, "Wish, the veteran fighter of this eyrie, must be a very widely-read and well-informed person. He must have caught wind of the treasure, and decided to have his eyrie built here. Out here it gets treacherously cold in the Winter. And travelling up and down the mountain is another nuisance. Why should he have expended such effort if not for the simple reason of laying his hand on the hidden treasure?"

Tree's words confused Hawk utterly and he immediately cried out, "Oh no! He has been living up here in his eyrie for such a long time, would he not already have made away with most of the treasure?"

Tree replied in a reassuring tone with a laugh, "This need not be the case.

Sir Hawk may like to know that had Wish already found the treasure, he would have fled a long time ago and would not still be living up here."

Hawk gave his thigh a resounding slap, remarking, "Of course; you are right. Now we should go around the mountain for the treasure."

Tree drew the others' attention to Orchid, pointing her out with his finger, "What do we do with Miss Miao and those living here?"

Hawk looked back over his shoulder. The steward and all the domestic helpers of the eyrie were nowhere to be seen. They had already fled.

At length, Sign appeared from behind the door, remarking, "I do not know what is going on here. All those who dwell on this eyrie have simply vanished."

Hawk suddenly snatched a single-edged weapon and advanced towards Orchid, remarking, "She has been listening to our every word. She is not to be spared or she will pose a threat." Thereupon, he raised his keen blade, ready to deal a blow on her crown.

Suddenly a shadowy figure flickered: Lute bounded from behind a chair.

Grasping Hawk by his hand, she sunk her teeth fiercely and deep into his wrist. Hawk was taken by surprise. Pain gripped him at the wrist. His knife fell to the ground with a loud clang. Lute immediately let out a stream of

invective, "You low-born knave. Do not dare damage a hair of my mistress's head. When the Master of my house has ascended the mountain, he will have your hide and tendons. Do not imagine you will escape him—any of you!"

This put Hawk in a terrible rage. He rolled his hand over, ready to bury a fist in her face. Prime flung out his right arm, intercepting his blow at the last moment. Turning to Hawk, Prime tried to restrain him, "Brother, it is the treasure that counts. There is no point in having more people hurt or

slain." Prime had been an escort all his life and was timid by nature. Unlike his Brother-at-arms Hawk, he always weighed things up carefully. Hawk, being an Imperial Guardsman, considered slaying a handful of commoners a mere trifle. But Prime saw things differently and he, therefore, marked Lute's words carefully. He believed that, had they wounded Orchid in any way and if her father did manage to escape, he would certainly make them pay for it. Fortune also thought the same and proposed, "Brother Hawk, let us get on with the hunt for the treasure."

Hawk looked steadily at the Company and asked, pointing to Orchid, "What are we going to do with this one?"

Tree advanced two paces, wreathed in smiles. No sooner had he waved his sleeve than he had piqued two of Orchid's paralytic points, the Heavenly Butte at her nape and the Celestial Tract on her back. Orchid was afflicted immediately: her body ached, and she was paralysed, lying back full length in the chair. Abashed and indignant, Orchid could not utter a sound. Seeing that the monk had wrought harm to her mistress, Lute again braced herself and reached for his arm, meaning to bite deep into his flesh. Tree allowed her to pull his right hand until it was almost touching her lips. Then he turned his fingers and piqued two of Lute's paralytic points also: the Fragrant Sac near her nose and the Terrestrial Crypt at the corner of her mouth. Lute trembled and fell to the ground.

Then Sign alerted the Company, "We cannot leave sister Miao sitting here for anyone who comes in to see." At this, she bent down and picked her up, remarking with a smile, "So light, as if boneless." She then carried Orchid towards the room in the eastern wing.

Master Du of the eyrie had originally intended this room in the eastern

wing for his honoured guests. It was fully fitted with bedding, furniture and other domestic items. All the furnishings were exquisitely fashioned.

Quietly, Sign closed the door behind her. She stripped Orchid of her

slippers, stockings, bodice and skirt, leaving her wearing only her chemise. She covered her snugly with a blanket and let down the gauze curtain by the side of the bed. Since the age of seven or eight, Orchid had never undressed in the presence of others. Though she found herself now with only another lady, she blushed deeply. Eyeing her skittishly, Sign smiled down at her,

"Afraid of my penetrating eyes? Sister, you are beautiful and charming;

even my soul is attracted to you." Sign then picked up her clothing, walked to the hall and addressed the group, "I have taken off all her clothes. Even if she manages to recover when the time is up, she still will not be able to move about." The uncouth fellows laughed uproariously.

Suddenly, Tree addressed the Company, "Let us discover how this poniard will take us to the treasure."

At this, he extracted the iron casket from the bosom of his garment. He opened the lid and took out the poniard. The weapon looked no different from any other poniard, except for the characters engraved on the scabbard. Holding the sheath with one hand and the grip with another, Tree drew out the blade with a clash. There was a cold gleam to it, treacherously threatening, which chilled them and drew them into a state of extreme trepidation.

The Company let out a surprised, "Oh!"

Tree laid the poniard on the bench. The Company crowded around to inspect it at close range. The metal on one side of the blade was smooth and even. A relief depicting two dragons wrestling for a stone was engraved on the other side. One dragon was large and the other small. They looked unpleasantly deformed and were repulsive to the eye, resembling neither a dragon nor a snake. They looked more like two caterpillars, and yet the gem for which they were wrestling was a fine pyrope, a gemstone of quality, both in clarity and brilliance. It was indeed a prize jewel.

Curio picked up the blade and scrutinized it, asking, "Is there anything unusual?"

"These two caterpillars are the clue to finding the treasure," answered Tree: "without a doubt. Let us first find our way round to the back of the mountain and we will then see what we can do. Just give me that!" Tree immediately held out his hand for the poniard. Curio pretended not to hear. He turned the blade around to ward off danger, and then immediately took to his heels. Put in a terrible rage, Tree howled, "What are you up to?" and sped wildly after him. Curio flew out of the door, grasping the poniard. Tree twirled his right hand: out flew a metal bead, catching Curio's right shoulder. Pain gripped his right arm. He felt as if icy claws were laid upon it. Curio lost his hold on the poniard and it fell to the snowy ground. Tree hurried forward with leaping strides and retrieved the weapon. Curio did not dare to argue with him, but stepped aside. Presently, Tree and Hawk started to march abreast to the back of the mountain with Tree carrying the blade and Hawk the map.

In no time the remaining party all rushed outside, and followed them.

Tree tried to make peace with Hawk on the way, remarking smilingly,

"Sir Hawk, the old monk has just made a nuisance of himself. Please do not take this to heart." Hawk was only too glad to see Tree offering him his

apologies. He forced a smile and quashed Tree with biting sarcasm, "The Great Master is a paragon amongst fighters. You command the full respect of my humble self. I may even need your help in the days to come." Tree immediately replied, "I,m sure it would be beyond me to offer any

assistance which might be of value to you."

Tree and Hawk trudged on towards the snow-capped mountain, but before long found it wild and pathless. The snow-bound limestone enclosed them all. Though they knew the treasure was hidden under the Jadeite Pinnacle, yet it was a mammoth of a mountain, buried and frozen by the deep snow. They found no path to show them the way. How would they

ever reach the treasure? It would take a million people to clear the summit of snow, shovelling and labouring for month after month. The task might even prove futile in the end, for more thick snow would engulf the newly cleared ground before long. They could well imagine what torture it had been for Wish, lord of the eyrie, who had been living on the mountaintop

for several decades. Day and night his brain must have been drained and his heart gripped by the thought of getting the treasure. And yet he remained

where he had started. Finding the treasure had proved an impossible task.

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