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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 8.3 Treasure

 Chapter 8.3 Treasure 

While the Company was casting glances at the edge of a ridge, all at their wits' end, Sign suddenly made them wake up, "Look!"

She pointed to some ridges undulating and writhing below the mountain.

The Company immediately turned their eyes in that direction, but they failed to detect anything unusual. Sign again drew their attention to the

spot, explaining, "You see the contour of the ridges over there? Does it not resemble the relief on the poniard?" Thus jolted out of their stupor, the Company began to examine the two outflung arms of the mountain range more closely. One lay, running from northeast to southwest. Another cut straight in a north-south direction. A round conical hill stood out where the two ridges crossed. Tree held up the poniard and looked at it again before directing his eyes to the mountain ridges below. The resemblance of the topography of the two ridges to the two dragons embellished on the poniard wrestling for the gem was striking. The dome corresponded to the jewel encrusted on the blade. At this, the

Company could not contain their joy at having located the site of the treasure.

In chorus they broke out, "Bravo! Bravo! The treasure must be hidden inside the knoll."

Immediately, Hawk commanded, "Off we go, quickly!"

Now that the Company had directed their minds to the treasure, they decided to weather storms together, pushing suspicion and treachery to the back of their minds. Immediately, they ripped their garments and made a thick rope from the rags. Then they glided their way downward, holding onto it. Hawk was the first fighter to edge down the slope. Fortune was last. He intended to destroy the line after making his descent, to forestall unknown dangers. As the others were already well on their way, Fortune dared not delay, lest he lose his share of the treasure. He hurried forward, resorting to levitational arts.

The spherical hump of the mountain loomed a mere arrow shot from the heel of the Jadeite Pinnacle. However, it was almost ten miles away by a flat path. Each of the Company was well-versed in levitational arts. They reached the rim of the knoll in less than a watch. Heading towards the mound by a circuitous route, they tried to pin-point where the treasure was hidden.

"Who is over there?" Peace suddenly cried out, pointing to his left.

Alerted by his panting gasps, the Company turned around. They caught a glimpse of a white figure, flitting across the snow-bound terrain at a blinding pace. In less than a moment, the white shadow had vanished in the direction of the Jadeite Pinnacle.

"Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain!" Tree let out a cry. "Gully's son.

Damnation!" Tree turned deadly pale, as if he had been stabbed in the heart. Tree was wrapped in his thoughts when Sign suddenly let out a loud

shriek. He immediately turned around. A pit had opened in the slope of the mound, revealing a void. Sign was swallowed up.

Peace and Curio had been keeping level with Sign. When she stepped into the hole, they both immediately cried out, "Sister Sign!" They would have loved to plunge in to help. Century immediately barred his son, bawling, "What is happening?" Oblivious to his words, Peace broke free from his father and plunged into the void, together with Curio.

The cavern turned out to be quite a shallow hole underground. Peace and Curio landed right on top of Sign. A piercing shrill sound ensued, hurting the ears of the people hanging over the rim. They at once pulled the trio from the pit.

Immediately Tree remarked, "Heaven knows: the treasure might be hidden inside this very cavern. Miss Tian, what did you see down there?"

Sign nursed the swelling bruises which she had received when bumping into the rocks and mumbled angrily, "I found nothing in the pitch dark."

Down Tree jumped, holding a flickering firebrand. The underground cave was no more than ten feet in diameter. Frozen hard rocks and icicles

covered its walls. Detecting nothing out of the ordinary, Tree then leaped back onto the ground.

Suddenly Radiant and Third cried out in alarm: a subterranean opening to the east had sucked Radiant in while one to the south had engulfed Third.

Valour and Prime each immediately pulled one out. The snowscape was treacherously pitted with sinkholes and vertical shafts. The Company stood their ground, not daring to move, lest they should be swallowed by the hidden snares.

Tree broke out with a sigh, "Master Wish of the eyrie has been living on the Jadeite Pinnacle for several decades, and he has failed to discover where the treasure was hidden. But he has neither the poniard nor the map. He is utterly lost, as far as I know. Yet here we are, this very minute, on this low mountain, and we are at the end of our tethers, too: we are worse off than he."

After a while they sat down, on the very spots where they had been

standing so cautiously. Increasing hunger gripped them. They felt worn out and depressed. Third felt anew the pain in her wound. With clenched teeth she bandaged the cut by pressing down her hand. Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of the poniard in Tree's hand. The glare from the dazzling snow made the pyrope mounted on the blade blaze with adamantine brilliance. Third had been

escorting consignments with her husband for many years; countless numbers of gems and jewels had passed before her eyes. Yet somehow she found this jewel rather different. An idea crossed her mind, prompting her to approach Tree, "Great Master, would you mind letting me have a look at your knife?"

Tree pondered to himself: Third counted as one of the weak and frail and she was sorely wounded on her leg. What harm could she do? Thereupon, he handed her the poniard. Third took the weapon and studied it intently.

The gemstone, without facets, was set with the back uppermost. The top

and base of a cabochon stone should respectively be rounded and flat. In the hands of a skilled lapidarist, both the top and base can be polished to look

alike. But such delicate variance fails to deceive connoisseurs of lapidary art. Having detected something strange, Third hastened to offer her views,

"Great Master, this jewel has been set with its back uppermost. A story may somehow be contained."

Tree found himself flustered. Third's remark started him thinking to himself, "Her words may bring good counsel. However, the first thing to do is to pry it open and have a look."

Immediately, Tree took back the poniard. He drew out a dagger from his side and directed strength to the tips of his fingers. Tree worked gently at the base, applying the pointed end of his blade. The girdle at once sprang off the setting. Tree picked up the gem and studied both sides carefully.

Nothing unusual could be found. Then he turned to the setting in which the pyrope had rested.

"It is here!" Tree finally cried.

Inside the indentation was a countersunk arrow-head pointing towards north-northeast. At the far end of the arrow head was embossed a minute globule. Tree could not contain his ecstasy. He was sure that the centre of the small depression corresponded to the summit of the mound. After

working out the distance and its exact bearing, he proceeded to advance, taking one cautious step at a time. When he reached what he had

established to be the exact site, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to collapse, as he had expected. Down rolled Tree into an underground opening. This time the old monk was prepared. After regaining his footing, he immediately kindled a firebrand and melted the snow. A cavernous passage stretched forward a long way. Tree immediately walked towards the dark zone. Hawk and the remaining party soon leapt down to join in the


The fire died out after a short while. Groping their way in the dark, the Company wound around a complex passage of interlacing sinuous and

subangular passages. After walking around the maze for a long time, they still could not see the end of the tunnel.

Presently Curio broke out, "I shall go and fetch some wood." He dashed out of the cavelike passage and returned with a large bundle of dry wood. Then he set a torch alight. Brash and unmannerly though he was, Curio still exhibited a pleasing side to his character: he took bold strides and never faltered. Presently, he led the Company, marching foremost, holding a firebrand aloft.

Mighty pillars hewn from ice had decked the underground passage for

centuries, sprouting adamantine crystals, shearing keen and sharp. Century picked up a rock, with which to knock off the rimy stalactites and

stalagmites in his way. Each member of the Company had harboured evil intentions on their ascent of the mountain. Knowing that the gems and treasures would soon be within their grasp, they now turned to concerting their efforts, readily giving each other a helping hand.

The Company turned another bend in the cold dark underground passage. "Look!" Sign suddenly cried out.

She pointed her finger at a glistening object on the ground, near Curio's feet. Curio bent down and picked it up. It was a tiny bodkin, fashioned in gold. An ideogram "An" meaning "Peace" was engraved on it. The weapon was identical to the one Sign had last handled at the foot of the mountain.

Full of suspicion, Curio looked over his shoulder and bawled out at Peace, "So you have been here after all!"

"Have I been here before?" Peace fired back at Curio. "Do you see any burrow dug by feet?"

"Of course there are no footprints inside this lava tube," Curio tried to reason with himself. "But how has this bodkin of his been found inside this tunnel?" Piqued deep inside, Curio was close to venting his spleen. Opening his palm, he showed Peace the tiny gold bodkin, shouting, "Is this not yours? Your name is clearly inscribed on it!"

Peace glanced at it and shook his head, remarking, "I have not set eyes on it before." Curio grew furious. He turned his hand around and flung the bodkin to the ground. Immediately, he grabbed Peace and spat in his face,

storming, "You liar! I watched her take your bodkin as a keepsake."

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