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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 10.3 Duel

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 Chapter 10.3 Duel 

The vault saw all hands feverishly at work, madly seizing the gems. The owners of the hands all wished their parents could have endowed them with two or three more arms. Some time elapsed. Suddenly a creaking sound was heard coming from far down the distant underground passage. The group first listened, baffled. Then horror struck them, draining their faces ashen

white. In a medley of terrified voices they cried out, "Aiya, damn it!" "He has imprisoned us." "Give him hell, quick." Desperate, the prisoners dashed for their lives, elbowing and jostling each other. By the time they reached the stone gate, Fox had already moved the monstrous rocks back to their original position, sealing the entrance tightly.

The rock door was extremely narrow. It could still be pushed open from the outside, but the inside could barely hold one person standing on his feet. The glacial surface of the boulder was treacherously slippery, making handling it impossible. A short while after the passage had been blocked, the melting ice had once again frozen. Unless a rescue party arrived from outside, people imprisoned inside would stand no chance of finding their

way out.

Feeling sorry for the greedy brutes, Orchid asked, "You want them all to perish inside?"

"You tell me who is a true man inside this cave whose life deserves to be spared," responded Fox. Orchid answered with a sigh, "Excepting you and my father, I know of no other people on earth who can be considered truly kind, gentle, thoughtful and caring. But still you really cannot kill all the wicked people under the sun." Her words caused Fox to tremble, "I cannot be counted as a true man, can I?"

Orchid lifted her head. Stealing a glance at Fox, the maiden said, "I know you to be kind and caring. I knew this long before I met you. My lord, can you not tell that my heart is already yours?"

It was the first time Orchid addressed Fox as "my lord". These words fell from her lips with ease, as if she had been addressing him in such a manner for a life-time. Unable to suppress the strong emotions inside him, Fox drew her to his bosom where he held her in a close embrace. Orchid returned his passionate gesture by encircling his waist with her affectionate arms. She pressed herself to his bosom to be caressed. Holding each other, the two lovers prayed that the moment could last beyond infinity and

eternity.

* * *

A considerable time must have elapsed before the two passionate souls were awakened to reality. Several footsteps were heard coming from the mouth of the cavernous passage. Fox immediately turned things over in his mind, "Damn it! I have stranded them to die inside. Just do not let the mantis seize the cicada, not knowing that the oriole is just behind it. There must be another party here to strand us inside this cave." With his arms still

embracing Orchid and not releasing her, Fox immediately raced towards the exit.

The moonlit night saw two fugitives fleeing at full speed across the

snowy ground, apparently those characters of the Martial Brotherhood who had encountered him in battle up on the pinnacle a while before. Smiling teasingly, Fox remarked, "Your father has scared all those creatures off." At length, he bent down and scooped up some ice flakes. Using the strength in his fingers, he kneaded the granular snow into hard spheres. Then his arm twirled and sent the snowball flying headlong, catching the more distant

escapee on the back at the waist. The victim immediately fell sprawling and lay upon his face, unable to pick himself up again. Fear gripped the heart of the less distant fugitive. He turned about. Another snowball came whirling at him, catching him on the chest and sending him sprawling upon his back. Though the two wretched prey differed in the way they had dropped to the ground, they resembled each other in having lost the ability to scramble to their feet again.

Laughing a sudden clear laugh, Fox muttered softly to Orchid, "When did you give me your heart? I wonder if it could have been long before I gave you mine. The first time I set my eyes on you, I ... I just could not repress my emotions."

Orchid whispered her reply, "Ever since the day father told me the story about your parents ten years ago when I was only seven, I had already formed a picture of you in my imagination and worshipped you from afar.

And you have never been out of my mind since. I started telling myself that, if the poor child ever survived, I would care for him for the rest of his life. I would want him to live a happy, good life and to help him shake off the unpleasant memories of his childhood days when he was ill-treated and trampled upon by others."

Deep in his heart, Fox felt immense gratitude and love towards Orchid, but was too overcome for speech. He drew her closer to his bosom,

embracing her with mounting passion. Suddenly, looking over her shoulder, Fox spotted several shadowy forms, previously invisible, sliding down the slope on the rope.

Fox said to Orchid, "We shall help your father to waylay these ruffians." Thereupon, he gathered strength under his legs and raced forward clutching Orchid to his bosom. In a moment, he found himself standing at the foot of the snow-covered mountain.

By this time, two warrior fighters had already landed on solid ground. Several others were sliding swiftly down the rope. Fox immediately set

Orchid down on the snowy ground. Gripping one snow pellet in each of his hands, Fox swung his arms and sent the ice weapons flying, aimed true and fast at the two freeswinging enemies at the base of the mountain. The victims' bodies instantly fell to the snowy ground.

Just as Fox was about to dart another glacial missile at those enemies still groping their way down the slope, there suddenly came a clear, loud voice from half-way up the mountain: "It is I who let them go free. Let others not bar their way." Each syllable of these two sentences fell from mid- mountain, mighty and sonorous, signifying that Phoenix was the owner of the voice.

Thereupon, Orchid cried out excitedly, "Father!" Though Fox heard the sound coming from a distance of more than a thousand feet, the

commanding message was as clear as if the speaker were just across from him. So well endowed was the Gilt-faced Buddha in internal bodily

strength, a martial ability which Fox believed he could not measure up to, that he commanded instantaneously Fox's utmost admiration. Fox twirled his arms and both snowballs which he was gripping in his hands went

shooting ahead, catching again the two boorish fighters lying on the floor.

Unlike the previous attack in which the victims were piqued by the ice weapons, Fox intended the second attack only to revivify their afflicted points. The two victims writhed a little, struggled to their feet and fled, making good speed.

Presently, Phoenix was heard descending from mid air: "Marvellous feats indeed; a pity not to channel them to good use." Every syllable heralded his approach. His lanky form was seen gliding down the rope. By the time he uttered the last syllable "use", he was already standing beside Fox.

Phoenix and Fox stared each other in the eyes. No words escaped them. The only sound was the drifting of the snow. By now, the fighters who had managed to survive the battle up on the mountaintop had gone scurrying in all directions.

The moon-beams revealed a person approaching, limping on one foot. It was Master Wish, lord of the eyrie. He proffered a parcel to Fox, which was about a foot long. In a trembling voice he spoke, "The pack carries all the

articles bequeathed to you by your mother; not a single piece is missing. Please take it." Fox took the proffered packet in his hands. Immediately he felt as if a hot current were emanating from the parcel, the heat penetrating through to his heart. Too overwhelmed by strong emotions, Fox involuntarily quivered all over.

Phoenix watched Wish hobble away. His back gradually diminished in the distant snow. Phoenix considered this man who was both a martial artist and a literary scholar. Wish had wide connections the world over and was

counted also as a far-famed hero fighter. However, a false step had not only severed the friendship between him and Phoenix over the last twenty or so years but also ruined his former reputation, a piteous shame indeed. What Phoenix did not know was that Wish and Fox's mother were distant cousins. He would never have imagined that Fox was the orphaned boy who had been in his mind for the past twenty or so years. Slowly Phoenix turned his head round and saw his daughter, who was wearing a man's cloak over the

shoulders, standing coyly in the snow. Anger and anguish shook Phoenix when he saw standing there in front of him this very young man. Although Fox had saved his life, he had nevertheless tarnished his daughter's virginal reputation. Rumbling also in his thought was his wife's infidelity which

gripped him with a frenzied desire to finish off all the indecent and heartless souls on earth. His chest felt almost ready to explode.

"Come over here!" ordered Phoenix in his deep-throated voice. At this, he spun round and strode away.

Orchid shouted after him, "Father, it is he ..."

Being taciturn by nature, Phoenix never liked to utter or listen to

superfluous words. Raging with fury, the father refused to listen to what more Orchid had to say. Now catching Fox reaching out his hand to hold his daughter, the irate old fighter bawled out, "What nerve!" Dodging aside and stealing closer to Fox, Phoenix lashed out his left hand in a sudden, grasping his opponent's left arm with his palm which was as bony as a rickety rush-leaf fan. Thereupon, he turned to his daughter, "Orchid, my dear, you stay here. I shall have a word with this man." At this, he pointed to a great pillar on the right which rose like a smaller version of the Jadeite Pinnacle. It struck Phoenix as a vast grey figure, silent but threatening, notched with many gullies and buttresses, with dreadful, sheer, cliffs

climbing to an immense height on either side. Loosening his grip on Fox, Phoenix galloped towards the treacherous, lofty spire.

Presently Fox said to Orchid, "Sister Orchid, if that is what your father wants, I shall go over for a minute. You stay here and wait for me.

"Promise me one thing," Orchid pleaded.

"Not only one; even to the extent of hundreds of thousands." Fox said. "I shall carry out all your commands."

Orchid then continued, "If my father wants you to take my hand ..." The last two words trailed off, like the humming of mosquitoes, virtually inaudible. Orchid hung her head, laden with bashfulness.

Fox placed in her hands the parcel which he had just received from the hands of Wish, muttering softly in her ears, "Do not worry. I am passing on to you the articles bequeathed me by my mother. Of all betrothal tokens on earth, none can mean more."

Orchid took the proffered parcel in her hands. Involuntarily she quivered. Then she whispered in his ears, "I certainly have complete faith in you. But knowing the way father's temper can flare up, I implore you to forgive him should he aggravate you, even to the point of abusing you or beating you.

Please do it, just for me."

Fox answered smilingly, "All right, I promise you I will."

In the distance the shadowy form of Phoenix was shortly observed to be running wildly about, vanishing here and reappearing there among the

crevasses of the snow-bound pinnacle, scaling the mountain at great speed. Fox then kissed Orchid gently on the cheeks. Summoning up his reserves of pneuma in his body, Fox sped up the path after Phoenix.

* * *

Fox followed the footprints on the snow, toiling laboriously up the scree slope. After veering several times, the path hugged the brink of a steep fall to one side and frowned upon a cliff on the other. The ice wall fell sheer into the shadows at Fox's feet. Fox told himself not to risk anything. A false step would smash him to pieces. Further up, the cliffs and crevices were buried beneath blue ice, treacherously slippery. Fox pondered, "Phoenix the Knight-errant has deliberately picked this dangerous precipice, without a doubt, to test my martial feats." Thereupon, he displayed his levitational

arts, pushing himself to the utmost. The more threateningly sheer the drop, the speedier he proceeded.

Presently, the path swerved again. Suddenly a lanky grey figure was seen planting his feet on a boulder thrusting out from the brink of a precipice.

The human form, silhouetted against the dark blue sky, seemed to capture the spirit of a hoary and wizened tree. This was none other than Phoenix Miao, the Knight-errant and the Invincible Under the Sky.

Fox's heart suddenly went cold. He halted at once. Unfolding the esoteric feat the Thousand-Catty Counterpoise, Fox gripped his feet like a grapnel on the cliff's edge, sinking the gravity of his body to an unprecedented low. Phoenix beckoned to him in a dull, low boom, "Fine! You have the nerve to follow me. Jump off!" His face was shielded from the moonlight yet the grave look on his face was faintly visible.

Fox heaved a sigh. Standing there directly across from him, was the person who had been hovering in his mind hundreds of thousands times during his life. His wits suddenly abandoned him, unable to guide him through these perplexities. All that had happened since babyhood was running through his mind and he recalled and pondered everything he could remember of Phoenix:

"He was the enemy who slew my father. But at the same time he is also father of Orchid.

"He reduced me to an orphan and ensured hardship for all of my life. But from what Uncle Quad has said of him, he heralds the heroic spirits of valiance and justice. He has not done any wrong to my parents.

"He bears the sobriquet the Invincible Under the Sky. He is unsurpassed in martial ability and achievements. However, I choose to believe otherwise; if he really wants to put it to the test, which one of us should prove the stronger of the two, he or I?

"There has been deadly strife between the Miaos and Hus for generations. Members of the two families are bent on taking each other's life. And yet he has not passed his martial feats onto his daughter: does he really want to dissolve this long drawn on vendetta?

"I saved his life a while ago, but then he saw me sharing the same bed and quilt with Orchid, imagining that I had acted indecently towards his daughter. I wonder if he will overlook this?"

Inside Fox, there was an endless debate.

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