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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 8.4 Treasure

 Chapter 8.4 Treasure 

The Company, now thronging the tiny underground passage, found it almost impossible to turn around. Peace, therefore, could not duck away.

Curio's was no empty gesture: it was a full gob of spittle. This threw Peace into a terrible rage. He snapped up his right leg, thrusting it smartly in

Curio's stomach. His hands at once went for Curio's limbs. Parading the move Swallows Tracking Nest, Peace pummelled blows right at his front.

Curio trembled. He flung the torch to the ground. His right fist struck a

warning blow, a straight punch in Peace's face. Suddenly the fire went out. All about them hung the darkness, hollow and immense. Curio and Peace hurled abuse at each other. The sounds of fighting could be heard also. With whipping legs and tight fists, the two rival lovers showered blow after blow, each aiming true and fast. In the end, they rolled to the ground, grappling

and wrestling in a bundle.

The remaining Company found this both amusing and irritating.

Exhortations followed. The Company tried to tear the combatants away, but Peace and Curio would not be denied. Suddenly Sign cried out, "I shall never speak again to the one who persists in fighting." Her words inspired fear in their hearts. Peace and Curio, very reluctantly, began to loosen their grip on each other and got back on their feet again.

Prime was heard speaking quietly in the dark, "This is Prime. Go and find a flame to light the fire. Mind you do not lavish your jealous wrath on the innocent. Your fists and legs paid me tribute, too." Prime held out his hand and groped on the ground. He reached the firebrand and once again lit it. Curio and Peace each presented a pitiful spectacle. Both had black eyes and swollen noses, and they were out of breath. They planted themselves

with their fists upraised as they darted angry looks at each other.

Sign fumbled inside her bosom and drew out a golden bodkin. She also picked up the other bodkin from the floor. Turning to Curio, she asked,

"These two weapons do indeed come in a pair. But who told you that he gave them to me?" Curio was at first lost for words but was finally able to prevaricate, "If he did not give them to you, where did you get them? How did his name come to be engraved on these two bodkins?"

Century took the bodkin. He glanced at it and posed Curio a question, "Your Master is Pastoral Tian. Who was your Grandmaster?"

Taken by surprise, Curio ventured to answer, "Grandmaster? He was the father of my Master. Peace was his first taboo name and Panther his middle."

"That is it!" Century sneered. "Peace Panther Tian. What was his secret weapon?"

Curio began to wonder, "I ... I never met my Grandmaster."

"You never met him. But your Uncle Valour was taught martial feats by Panther himself. You ask him," commanded Century.

Valour interrupted before Curio could ask him, "Curio, let us stop all stupidity now. Your Grandmaster employed as secret weapons these two

matching bodkins." Curio was dumbfounded. However, it did little to wipe the suspicion from his mind.

Tree turned to Peace and Curio, remarking, "If you two wish to settle the amorous accounts that lie between you with a duel, by all means grapple

each other to death outside. We would rather find the hidden treasure."

Prime led the way, holding the torch aloft. The underground tunnel soon turned a corner. As the space was constricted and becoming narrower, the Company had to wriggle through, bending low. At times, their heads struck ice sprouting from the cavernous roof, causing them pain. However, the thought that the treasure must be close cheered them.

After walking for the time it would take to drink one bowl of tea, the

Company found themselves coming to the end of the passage. A little way ahead, a mighty, round boulder loomed atop another monstrous, spherical rock. The two massive stones blocked the way ahead. Ice had frozen in the cracks and crevices between the two boulders, turning them into one

adamantine, giant formation. Prime pushed it with his hand, but the huge boulder stood fast. Prime looked over his shoulder and asked Tree, "What are we to do now?" Tree scratched his head, and remained silent.

Fortune counted as the purest incarnation of common sense among this group of brash fellows. He smiled quietly to himself before proceeding,

"Two round boulders stacked one on top of the other are bound to be movable. Only they are now locked tight by the ice." Tree was delighted to hear this, saying, "That is correct. All we need to do is to melt the ice." Prime moved the fire closer to the huge rocks to thaw the ice sealing them. Curio, Radiant and the others quickly rushed outside and returned with bundles of wood and logs for the fire. The fire was burning more and more fiercely; the ice melted in no time. Fragmented crystals jangled to the ground.

More than half of the massive ice block wedged between the boulders had already melted. Tree grew impatient. He thrust his hands on the rock, summoning up all his bodily strength. The pedestal boulder stood fast.

Gradually, more ice thawed. Tree tried once again to push the rock.

Wobbling a bit, the boulder rolled to the side. A huge doorway was

suddenly outlined, though not a crack or a joint had been visible before. An incredible natural creation indeed!

The Company grew excited, exclaiming loudly. Valour assisted Tree with the door. They pushed it wide open. Tree picked up a piece of wood from the fire and marched first into the hidden gallery. The rest of the Company immediately followed him inside, each holding a fiery torch. Beyond the rock door, the jewels and gems made a fiery sparkle, dazzling all their

senses. Mouths agape, the Company were in a daze, barely able to breathe.

They were in a vast recess cut from the rock. Jewels and gold were lying about in mountains. Unfortunately an icy and pellucid armour shrouded them. It could well be imagined this must be the work of the henchmen of the Dashing King. After depositing the treasure in this limestone honeycomb, they had then splashed cold water over everything. The

cavernous area was snow-bound all year. The glazed gems, embalmed in crystalline ice, stayed adamantine like diamond. The Company all stared fixedly at the precious metals and stones, entirely rapt. For a while, words were frozen in their lungs. Silence filled the void. Suddenly, deafening

cheers filled the vault. At length, Tree, Century and the others hurled themselves against the ice, hugging it. They still had no words with which to express their joy.

Suddenly Sign shrieked out in alarm, "Another one!" She pointed to a further den. After the flaming brands were brought closer, two dark figures came to light. Both figures had planted themselves by a wall.

Mortal terror struck the Company. They had never expected to find cave- dwellers. Could there be another entrance to the cell? They at once whipped out their weapons and drew threateningly closer. Some time passed, but the two black forms stayed silent. Tree howled, "Who is there?" The two men inside simply ignored the question.

The two quiet figures remained still for some time. The Company, panic stricken, waited in ever-increasing suspense. Tree broke the silence and began, "Veterans of great esteem, whoever you may be, please present yourselves and meet us." The echoing walls magnified Tree's voice to a resounding bellow, making all ears feel uncomfortable. Still no answer

came from the two. Neither did they move forward.

Tree held his torch aloft and advanced a few paces. It became obvious that the two grey shapes were on the other side of a glacial plate. The slab, like a crystal wall, divided this bitterly cold grotto into two recesses, the front and the rear. Tree plucked up his courage and edged around the

solidified vitreous partition. These two figures looked as haggard as

cadavers. They had not stirred an inch. They looked as if they were piqued at the paralytic points. Tree cast away all his fear, shouting out to the

Company aloud, "Come and follow me." He hurried around to the other

side of the crystalline ice wall, in great strides. The pair struck him as eerie. They remained as if afflicted by rigor mortis. Whirling the blade in his right hand, Tree shone the firebrand closer to the two immobile faces. He

convulsively drew in a deep breath of cold air. It was clear that the two men had been dead for some time. They looked hideous. Their sinews and their facial muscles were distorted in death. A sudden dread and horror fell on the Company.

The sight of these two inert cadavers made Sign and Third cry out involuntarily. The remainder immediately crowded around. Each corpse held a dagger in his hand, thrusting it at his opponent. One dagger transfixed the chest and the other pierced the midriff.

Valour took a close look at one of the remains. He suddenly prostrated himself on the ground, weeping, "Benevolent Master, so you have been here all these years." His words shocked the others, who asked in a medley of voices, "What is the matter?" "Who were these two men?" "Was he your

Master?" and "How did he die here?"

Valour dried his tears. Pointing to the smaller of the two carcasses, he said, "This was Panther, my Master. The tiny gold bodkin picked up by Curio a while ago belonged to him." Panther looked no more than forty years old, much younger than Valour. The Company found this rather strange. In no time they solved the puzzle. The two human ice statues, in fact, had stood here for several decades. Ice, accumulated throughout the years inside this freezing cavern, had preserved these two dead inhabitants, causing them to look as if they had been dead for only a few days.

Suddenly, Curio pointed to the other denizen of the cave and asked, "Uncle, who was the other person? How dared he take the life of our

Grandmaster!" He kicked hard at that dead body. This yet unknown corpse was slender in build and long in the limbs. The Company had not much trouble making out who he was.

Valour provided the Company with an answer, "He was Phoenix's father.

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