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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 10.2 Duel

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 Chapter 10.2 Duel 

Orchid tried to console him. "If father had known you were still alive, he would have taken you home and raised you; and we would have known

each other a long time ago."

Fox replied, "If I had stayed in your home, I am afraid you would have grown to dislike me."

Orchid hastened to contradict his views. "Never! Never! How could that be possible? I certainly would have been very kind to you, treating you as my natural brother."

Fox's heart throbbed fast. Presently he asked, "Is it too late to meet each other now?"

No answer came from her lips. After a considerable while, Orchid ventured to answer, "Not too late." Some time lapsed before she spoke again. "I feel very happy."

Hearing her words, Fox's heart was filled with joy. He then declared, "I shall never fail you."

In the same vein Orchid responded, "I shall take your mother as an

example, not my own mother." Her voice sounded naive and innocent and yet determination pervaded both her words and tone. In her open declaration, the maiden had entrusted her true love with her own life.

Irrespective of what the future might hold for her, be it a life of comfort or hardship, calamity or good fortune, she would have to endure it all with him, sharing the same burden.

The two pairs of hands were now clasping each other tightly. No further sounds were uttered. Fox and Orchid felt the tiny underground chamber a perfect universe, and their senses transcended the outer world.

In such enjoyable indolence several moments slipped agreeably by before Orchid spoke again, "We shall go and look for father. Let us go together.

Please forget about Master Wish and the others." Wistfully Fox replied, "All right." In his entire life, Fox's heart had never been filled with greater joy than at the present moment. It was with great reluctance that he tore himself away from the cave. Orchid, too, harboured the same feeling. She thought

some conversation might help to prolong their stay inside and so she posed Fox a question, "As Master Wish is an elder kinsman of yours, why do you still want to make things difficult for him?"

Fox answered with anger in his voice. "On the eve of her death, mother beseeched your father to look after me and to raise me. She tucked inside my swaddling-cloth a parcel containing various articles bequeathed to me, as well as a written will in which was registered my date of birth, my village of origin, and the names of my forefathers, as well as those of

surviving relatives. Later, when things changed, Uncle Quad fled the place clutching me to his bosom. He had received the impression that your father wanted to hurt me. When he found the name of Master Wish in the will,

Uncle Quad immediately set out to seek shelter at his home, taking me with him. Wish turned out to be an evil-intentioned relative, intent on stealing from me the manual of esoteric martial feats passed on to me by my late father. Somehow, he also received the impression that my deceased parents knew where the treasure was hidden, and he thus rummaged through the

articles bequeathed to me. Sensing that things had gone amiss, Uncle Quad picked me up and fled for his life, making for the foot of the mountain by night. The Canon on Pugilism and Knife Techniques belonging to father he brought with us, but not the parcel containing the articles bequeathed to me by my mother. They were lost on Wish's eyrie. My meeting with him today is to find out why he mistreated an orphaned infant like me and to demand that he return to me all the things bequeathed me by my mother."

At this, Orchid commented, "Master Wish looks such a kind and humble person; he also seems to be so pleasant. It really surprises me that he has been so unkind to you." Fox added, "He is certainly not what he seems to be. Take the example of his plotting and murderous schemes against your father, and you can imagine the rest ..." Immediately he softened his tone before proceeding further. "But I no longer bear him a grudge. If it had not been for him, I would not have had the opportunity of meeting you."

Presently came the clashing and clanging of blade upon blade from beyond the twilight region, punctuated by a crescendo of storming and raging. The clamour fell on their ears, dull and heavy. Fox managed to identify these sounds which Orchid had taken to be a mighty gust sweeping across the hoary pine forest, hurling down snow in a vast avalanche.

After prolonged reflection, Fox then observed, "The sound comes from under the ground. It is rather strange. You should stay here while I go and investigate."

Thereupon, Fox rose to his full height. Orchid at once interposed, "No, I shall go with you."

As though loth to see her left behind, Fox changed his mind, "All right."

Holding Orchid's hand, Fox led her out of the cavern, and together they

went looking for the track which would take them to where the sound was generated.

It was the fifteenth day of the third moon. A beautiful full moon was riding in the middle sky, shedding silver light on the glimmering snow. Shimmering beams reflected from silvern granules played upon the smooth, silken complexion of the maiden, as they walked hand in hand through the glorious night. What else could come to pass? Fox divested himself of his

cloak and placed it around Orchid's shoulders. Their eyes met and briefly held each other under the moonlit sky. The two enchanted souls became oblivious of all that was going on around them. Deep feelings swam in their hearts. Verses of true love and deep passion from ancient times slipped involuntarily from their mouths, stanza after stanza. Fox intoned softly,

"Indulging in refined talk and drinking good wine, you and I will enjoy old age together." Coyly Orchid raised her head, her eyes seeking his. In a melodious murmur she recited, "The lute and the zither are in conjugal harmony. They look perfectly beautiful and at peace." These lines, from the Book of Odes, depicted a discourse between a couple. They were full of lavish passion and affection. Suddenly a clamorous noise coming from underground erupted in thunderous roars. They stiffened, immediately halted their steps and inclined their ears to listen.

After listening carefully to the confused hubbub of voices, Fox remarked, "They have found the gallery where the treasure is hidden and are raging in battle over the prize." He had learned about the vault housing the hidden treasure from his father's will and had been in and out of the subterranean

chamber a number of times. Fox had retrieved from the grotto the written article sealed up and left hidden by his parents in the year in question, as well as the tiny golden bodkins which Pastoral's father had used as secret weapons. That very morning he had darted one of the bodkins at Sign as a warning signal. Fox knew well where the treasure was hidden. But, in respect of the will of his parents, he had abstained from looting the treasure.

After listening carefully to the noise of the commotion, he reached the conclusion that Tree and his party, gripped by cupidity on finding the

precious gems and stones, were engaging in a fierce battle over their find.

* * *

As Fox had surmised, acolytes of the Dragon Lodge, bandits of the Horse Spring, and outlaws from the Peking Overland Convoy were now exerting themselves in a furious battle in the crypt, inflicting savagery upon each other. Tree distanced himself from the fight, posing as a silent onlooker observing the battle in action. Wearing a cold sneer on his face, he patiently waited for the three parties to wear each other out. Only then would the monk step in to defeat the combatants one by one, and at his own deliberate pace.

Radiant and Prime were engaged in a death grapple, rolling about on the ground. They staggered around the edge of the burning fire, each trying to throw his opponent into the blaze. A few more turns of their bodies saw them narrowly miss falling into the flame. Tree shouted out, "Put out the fire and everybody will be frozen to death!" Sweeping up his right foot, Tree lashed out a kick at Radiant, reaching underneath him and sending both Radiant and Prime flying and thumping to the ground.

Tree laughed a sudden clear laugh. Then he bent down to gather a few thick bundles of wood to fling fuel on the fire. Just as he was about to

straighten the flames leapt into a dance. Two grey human shapes appeared as mirror images on the glacial wall opposite, flickering like the blaze; panic filled his heart. His eyes caught two figures guarding the entrance

side by side. Orchid was one person, wearing a demure expression. The other intruder, with thick whiskers and beard, brandishing his weapon and darting deadly glances at his enemies, was none other than Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain.

A sudden cry of alarm escaped Tree. Waving his right hand, the old monk sent a chaplet of iron whirling at Fox. In a trice, several dozen metallic

spheres were darting from all sides, up and down, left and right, hitting Fox and Orchid in their critical areas. In all the battles he had engaged in with his enemies, Tree had never once resorted to using this esoteric specialty.

Now, however, confronted by a mighty and powerful adversary and

standing on the brink of a precipice, Tree brought off his esoteric killer trick.

Fox let out a cold sneer and strode one step forward, his body shielding Orchid's. When Tree saw his enemy attempting no special moves to dodge his attack, a sudden happiness touched his heart, as he thought to himself, "All your boasts are mere pretences. Your martial feats are only of average standard. I am certainly going to kill you and leave you no burial place this time." While the monk was musing over his success, Fox whipped out his sleeves, catching all the whistling beads that came flying at him. Instantly his sleeves fluttered, volleying forth spherical miniature missiles at the glacial walls. The beads pattered like hailstone bullets, smashing the ice fragments into smithereens and sending the pieces flying in all directions.

Tree gave an involuntary gasp of fear as though his heart and his insides had burst. Immediately he bounded back, concealing himself behind Curio. The monk, grabbing the back of Curio's jacket with both hands, at once picked up his burly strong body and thrust Curio onto the blazing flame.

His intention was to dampen the fire to black out the crypt so that he could elude Fox. But he has forgotten that only moments before he had flung more faggots of wood onto the burning pile, and the flames were now raging furiously. Curio thudded on the blazing branches, and his garment having caught fire, caused the vault to brighten even more.

Fox recalled what Quad had told him about the old monk. Tree, malicious and greedy, was the person responsible for his parent's death. The choleric fire at once flared up inside Fox, ravishing his heart. Bending down, the irate young fighter seized a bunch of gemstones from the pile of the treasure. His right index finger then busily set to flicking the prize pebbles from his open left palm.

In a moment, a volley of pearl, coral, nephrite, agate, sausurite, jancinth, cymophane, and other gems came hurtling at Tree, sounding as innocent as water droplets. Tree was hit by every single whirling bullet, sustaining

agonizing pain. Tree leaped up, ducked his head, dodged aside, but try as he might he failed to escape a single missile. Despite the number of enemies crammed inside the cave, Fox's whistling missiles invariably hit one human target only true and fast: the monk.

Fox's display of martial prowess caused Hawk, Century and the remainder to retreat so that their bodies were against the glacial wall. They held their breath and dared not stir. The attack initially caused Tree to leap and bound wildly in all directions. Two pebbles of zoisite caught him on the ankle and sent him tumbling to the ground. Unable to pick himself up, he

cried out in alarm, his body rolling around on the ground. A minute before, the greedy monk had been keen to seize more and more gems, and was even afraid they might run out; but now he adopted a very different attitude: the fewer gemstones he was to receive, the better.

Fox increased the force with which he slung the gemstones, making it a point, however, to avoid catching Tree on the critical regions. He wanted to see him suffer more pain at his hand. All this while, the remainder, thunderstruck, were hiding in a niche, following the battle with eyes

asquint, half-dead with fright and not daring to breathe.

Tree's shrill cries touched Orchid's compassion. She whispered to Fox, pleading, "This monk is a decidedly villainous character, but he has suffered enough. Please let him be." Fox, who had been combatting evils and

championing righteousness throughout his life, certainly would not let any infernal devil go loose, especially a deadly foe who had brought about his parents' death. But Orchid's words plunged him immediately in a pool of great happiness, evaporating almost all of his vengeful feelings towards this most wicked fellow. He flung out his left hand. The remaining ten or so gems nestling in his palm at once flew out with a whirr, burying themselves in the icy crevices.

Fox's display of martial dexterity again caused his enemies a momentary palpitation of the heart, causing them to reflect, "If these gemstones were to deal deadly strokes on Tree, one tiny piece would be more than sufficiently powerful to dispatch him."

Fox was purple with anger, his brows flying up. With his eyes, wild and dangerous, he darted looks at his enemies, starting from the left and moving to the right, one foe at a time. The minute that Fox's glaring glance caught the face of an enemy, the head of its owner involuntarily hung down, not daring to look Fox directly in the eyes. Perfect silence fell upon the group. In spite of the excruciating pain, which was an effort to master, Tree dared not make a sound.

A few moments passed before Fox gave his command, "If you are all so eager to keep the precious stones and metals, stay here and keep the treasure company." At this he took Orchid's hand in his, spun round, and left the greedy bunch.

The others never expected Fox to let them off so easily and were therefore full of happy surprise. The footsteps of Fox and Orchid were heard slowly fading away into the distant cavernous tunnel. Amidst a confused hubbub of voices, the party bent down and began to loot the treasure.

Soon, Fox and Orchid found themselves standing on the other side of the two round boulders. Fox said, "We shall wait here for a while to see

whether they will emerge or not. Whoever is the least greedy will soon leave the chamber on his own; and his life I shall spare."

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