The next day in the morning, Elisabeth headed towards the Peach Blossom residence located in the South Shang Simla Hills hoping she would learn more about this James Vaughan Sima Zhi mentioned last night.
She made her way through the front yard of the extensive house and rang the door bell.
“Hi! My name is Elisabeth. Are you Lee Yao?” she asked the man who answered the door.
“Hello. Yeah, that’s me. Wait, are you The Elisabeth?” Lee asked curiously, leaned on the door frame and looked at her from head to toe.
“What do you mean?” Elisabeth asked, dumbfounded. “Oh, yes. That’s me,” she added as she realized he was probably referring to her Dragon Cave adventure.
“Well, please, come on in,” he said eagerly.
“I see you’re wearing the brown belt, it’s always a pleasure to meet a skilled Sim Fu fighter,” Lee said and bowed to her.
“My pleasure,” Elisabeth gratefully smiled at him and bowed back. She felt flattered.
“So, tell me, sweet cherry-blossom, what is it that brings you to my house?”
“I heard you could tell me about James Vaughan and the Dragon Cave,” Elisabeth tried to sound seriously, but the way Lee called her made the corners of her mouth twitch.
“Oh, I see,” he said, narrowing the eyes.
“Could you tell me everything you know?”
“Everything? Well, that would take a very long time… but if you don’t have any plans, I will gladly share every detail with you, lovely lily flower,” Lee said with a soft voice, slowly approaching Elisabeth.
“It’s not that I have to know every single detail, a brief summary will do just fine,” she smiled convulsively, raised her hands and stepped back. Lee Yao was making her feel awkward.
“I’m in no rush, we can take things slowly. Where would you like me to begin?” Lee said with even softer voice than before and reached for Elisabeth.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked him Elisabeth, avoiding his hands.
“What should be wrong with me?” Lee objected.
“Excuse me?! I came to ask you about James Vaughan and you’re trying to… well… I really don’t know what you’re playing at!”
“Please, excuse my manners,” Lee completely turned. “I don’t know what got into me. I’m sorry,” he apologized.
Elisabeth looked at him suspiciously. “So, what do you know about James Vaughan?”
“Ah yes, the Dragon Cave. I can tell you only what I heard from my father. I’m not even sure if you can take seriously a story that my father heard from his grandfather who heard it from a son of a farmer’s daughter that used to live nearby the Dragon Cave nearly a century ago.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I remember parts of the story… A great adventurer named James Vaughan fixed the Dragon Cave almost a century ago, but apparently failed to do so entirely… He had an assistant named Sin Pah who kept a journal of Vaughan’s adventures. Sin Pah died mysteriously at a young age, but his descendant, Bao Louie, still has the journal. You will have to convince him to let you have it if you want to learn more about James Vaughan.”
“That’s all you know?”
“How do you know Bao Louie has Vaughan’s journal?”
“He showed it to me once. We were only boys. I remember his father kept it out of our reach. One evening, however, when Bao was home alone, we crept in his father’s study, found the key to the drawer where he kept it and flipped through the pages. We couldn’t read well yet, but I remember the drawing of the Sphinx and the pyramids… Well, I hope the journal can help you find what you’re looking for.”
“Thank you, Lee,” Elisabeth smiled at him.
“Will you spar with me?”
Elisabeth narrowed her eyes. “Why should I?” she asked suspiciously.
“Because I told you about the journal and because I want to see if you’re worthy of the brown belt.”
“Fine,” agreed Elisabeth and followed him to the room across the corridor.
“May the best man win!” Lee exclaimed and bowed to Elisabeth.
“I’m gonna kick your ass!”
“Hmm, I might like that,” he sneered. Elisabeth’s mouth dropped open.
“Maybe, but it doesn’t change the fact that I won.”
“Of course you did. Your technique surprised me, I would have never guessed what you’re capable of. You have talent, Elisabeth.”
“Thank you, Lee.”
“If you put everything into your training, you could be wearing the black belt very soon. Have you considered entering the Martial Arts Tournament this autumn?”
“No, not until now.”
“You should definitely participate. I think you might be able to defeat even the Great Master himself!”
“You mean Bao Loiue?”
“Yes. He’s the best of the best.”
“I know, I’ve seen him training at the Academy. I think he’s invincible.”
“Nobody is, Elisabeth. Remember that.”
“Well, thank you for the information, Lee. I hope I can convince Bao to lend me the journal.”
“I believe he’s got no use of the journal so just ask for it. I think it shouldn’t be a problem. Have a good day, Elisabeth. It was nice meeting you.”
“Thanks again. I’ll see you at the Tournament,” Elisabeth smiled at Lee and walked towards the door.
Elisabeth headed towards the Phoenix Academy. Sima Zhi was still working on its restoration. After the meteor shower that damaged the Academy this summer, most of the equipment was unusable and the garden was in a desolate state. There were still many space rocks scattered all around, the small ones were easy to remove, but the one that almost killed Elisabeth was still embedded in the ground. Twenty men had tried to lift it, but to no success.
“That rock will remind us of your escape from certain death for generations to come,” Sima said to Elisabeth and looked at the meteor. “I’ll have someone carve an inscription into the meteor, it’s impossible to remove it. Must weigh at least a hundred tons.”
“Wow! I feel flattered,” exclaimed Elisabeth. “Wait a moment, did I hear well? Did you just say impossible?” Elisabeth wondered. “You’ve always told me that everything was possible.”
“Well, some things are simply beyond the human ability. I believe only a giant of great force could lift the space rock from the ground, but as we know, giants don’t exist so it will have to stay where it is.”
“I asked Lee Yao about the Dragon Cave. He told me that Bao Louie has the journal of James Vaughan’s adventures. Do you think it could help us?”
“Maybe. I’ve never heard of this journal before. How come Bao Louie has it?”
“Lee told me, that Bao is the descendant of Vaughan’s assistant. He kept his journal.”
“Hmm, do you know the name of the person?”
“Lee told me, but I forgot it. Wait! I think it was Seng Tah… or something like that.”
“Never heard of Seng Tah,” Sima shook her head. “Well, if you can, try to get that journal. Maybe we’ll learn something more about the Dragon Cave,” Sima said with a hope in her voice. “Oh, I forgot to ask you yesterday. Have you spoken to Jiang Lu?”
“Yes. I have.”
“And? What did he say?”
“He told me about the Axe of Pangu.”
“I feared so,” Sima sighed heavily.
“Jiang Lu is the descendant of guardians of the Labyrinth. The legend says, that the magical Axe is hidden within its walls and only the Chosen One can find it,” Sima explained.
“He gave me the key to the Labyrinth. He told me that I have to find the Axe in order to enter the tomb of Dong Huo and defeat him forever.”
Sima looked at Elisabeth with worried eyes. “You’ll have to be very careful when you go in there, Elisabeth.”
“Jiang spoke about some lethal creatures lurking in the dark corridors of the Labyrinth. He also told me, that the Labyrinth can be accessed only under the full moon.”
“That’s tomorrow!” Sima panicked.
“Yeah. I know,” Elisabeth said sadly and gazed at the sky. “Sima?” she looked back at her friend. “Do you think I’m going to die?”
When Sima heard that question, her eyes flooded with tears. She wasn’t able to answer, because only the thought made her heart break apart. ‘Excuse me’ was all she managed to say. Sima walked inside the building leaving Elisabeth alone in the garden. Elisabeth didn’t run after her. She could tell from Sima’s reaction that nothing was certain and that she may die on her quest for the safety of the people of Shang Simla.
When the full moon appeared on the night sky, the time to venture out through the dark forest has come. Elisabeth stopped at the market to buy some food in case she’d get trapped inside the Labyrinth.
“How can I help you, miss?”
“Do you sell dried food?”
“Can someone live on it for a month?” Elisabeth asked the merchant. He looked at her in a strange way.
“Why would someone eat dried food if he can enjoy the wonderful taste of ramen?” the merchant answered with a reasonable question.
“Well, let’s say, this someone could get trapped for a month in a place such as a cave or get lost in a desert.”
“In that case I think that would be the worst month for his taste buds.”
“So, I guess it doesn’t taste well?”
“No. It doesn’t taste like anything.”
“Oh, well… So, uh… How many packages per day are necessary for survival?” Elisabeth asked him hoping he’d not ask any further questions.
“Why are you asking, miss?”
“Out of curiosity,” Elisabeth had her answer ready.
“One is enough, but it won’t fill your stomach. It’ll just keep you alive.”
“I’ll take thirty then. The best quality you have,” Elisabeth said decisively. Luckily, the merchant didn’t say anything, he just looked confused.
“That will be 600§,” he said and pressed a button on the cash box.
“Here, you can keep the change,” Elisabeth smiled as she handed the §1000 bank-note over to him.
“But miss, you gave me too much! You can buy three showers in-a-can with the rest!”
“It’s okay,” told him Elisabeth. I don’t even know if I’ll ever need money again, she thought to herself on the way out of the shop.
“Pleasure doing business with you! Please come again!” the merchant said happily and enthusiastically waved at Elisabeth.
The Temple of Heaven was located high in the mountains and the only way to get there was through a vast forest covering most part of the Shang Simla hills.
Elisabeth ran through the forest as fast as her legs would carry her. The closer she got, the more anxious she became.
“I had… no.. idea that… I… could… run… so fast,” Elisabeth gulped for air. The fear of running into the undead on her way to the Temple helped her reach the destination in a very short time.
At last, Elisabeth stood before the Temple. It looked like a giant guardian standing still on guard for centuries protecting the legendary Axe of Pangu. Its majestic tower reached to the stars on the night sky. The view from below was more than impressive.
“So, here I come,” Elisabeth said aloud, encouraging herself by the sound of her own voice.
She placed the key in the keyhole of the great door and gently turned it to the right. A cyan, eerie light came out of the keyhole and shortly after it was gone, the door of the Temple opened. Elisabeth walked in and found herself standing in a corridor with a door on its end.
She grasped the doorknob, but the door was locked. Elisabeth tried to use the key that opened the great door of the Temple, but it wouldn’t fit.
“And what now?” she asked aloud, almost expecting that someone would tell her what to do. She walked around the corridor, searching for the key which was nowhere to be found. Elisabeth carefully observed the room and discovered, that the wooden paneling covering the low parts of the walls was partly missing in one spot.
“Hmm, why would they leave out paneling this wall? It almost seems like they left it out on purpose,” pondered Elisabeth. “Wait, what if…” she pushed towards the wall and it moved forward. “I knew it! A secret passage!” Elisabeth exclaimed happily, incredibly proud of her discovery.
She walked through the secret door and saw a dark, zigzag path extending far into the distance. Oh no… Jiang wasn’t joking, Elisabeth thought to herself.
The sound of water dripping and loud flapping of bats’ wings didn’t make her feel calm at all. Elisabeth gathered the courage she had left and headed into the depths of the mysterious place.
She walked slowly, paying attention to her every step, but when a family of bats suddenly attacked her, she took to her heels and quickly ran where her feet took her.
Elisabeth didn’t know how she got there, but she found herself standing at another door. This time, it was opened. Maybe someone has already come searching for the Axe and I’m just pointlessly risking my life here, Elisabeth thought to herself as she ran her hand over the key-shaped stone sitting in the marble panel on the wall. She remembered that she has used a similar keystone to enter in the Halls of the Lost Army.
Elisabeth walked through the opened door and when she came at the end of the corridor she discovered it led to a room with a well.
Elisabeth has already explored one well before. She remembered that it was connected to another well located in the secret room with the chest hiding the journal of the Yellow Dragon.
Maybe I’m going to find the Axe of Pangu on the other side, Elisabeth thought to herself while she changed into her swimsuit.
“It will be fun to swim back with it though, I hope it’s not too heavy,” she smiled to herself and jumped in the well.
This time, the water was colder than she thought. Elisabeth swam through the tunnel and when she emerged on the other side, she found herself in a room with another two wells.
She quickly jumped out of the freezing water and because she didn’t pay attention to her steps, she accidentally activated a switch on the ground. “Uh, oh. I think something bad is about to happen.”
Before Elisabeth managed to say the last word, a hot stream of water sprayed out from the ground right in front of her. “Whoa! That was close!” she exclaimed with a great relief, but as she stepped back, she activated another switch of the water geyser system.
A tall column of boiling water washed her from head to toe. “Ouch! Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!” She jumped back into the well. The freezing water felt so good this time.
Elisabeth walked deeper into the Labyrinth. A hole in the wall caught her attention. She has seen the same hole in the dungeon beneath the Halls of the Lost Army. Elisabeth wasn’t so eager to put her hand inside, because the last time her entire forearm got covered with a bunch of insects. Now, only the thought of centipedes crawling up her hand made her shiver.
After she stared at the hole for ten long minutes, Elisabeth finally decided to try the luck. She carefully placed her hand inside and searched around…
… she found a hidden switch and activated it. It uncovered a tile with a design of a propeller. Elisabeth stood on it and inspected the tile. As soon as she touched it, the tile shuddered and cracked.
The next moment, the ground beneath her feet started falling down and Elisabeth came down with it. She fell in the room below through the ceiling.
“Whoa! This was… unexpected,” Elisabeth sighed with relief when she found out she was still in one piece.
Elisabeth walked around the corner and then she saw it.
There it was, the legendary Axe of Pangu, hanging on the wall in all its beauty, quietly waiting for centuries for the one person destined to fulfill the prophecy.
Elisabeth reached for the Axe, it was definitely heavier than she had expected. It pulsed with energy as if it could sunder the earth itself.
“Hail to you, great adventurer! I, the Legendary Axe of Pangu, am forever in your debt for freeing me. I will join you on your travels, and together, we shall pulverize any giant boulders that stand in our way!” said a thunderous voice coming out of nowhere. Elisabeth didn’t have enough time to take a good look at the Axe, because it suddenly disappeared from her hands.
“Could it be… No, that’s such a nonsense,” Elisabeth rejected the thought of the Axe talking to her.
“Nonsense you say?” the thunderous voice spoke again. “My creators endowed me with the magical power of speech so I could communicate with my Master. You are my Master now, Elisabeth.”
When Elisabeth heard the Axe say her name, she almost fainted. “How do you know my name?” she asked, looking around herself.
“I’ve been expecting the arrival of my new Master.”
“How… Who told you I was coming for you?” Elisabeth swallowed hard, afraid of the answer.
“My old Master, Dong Huo.”
“But how could he… He is dead!” objected Elisabeth.
“He is very afraid of you, Master. You are the Chosen One, the one who could defeat him forever.”
Dong Huo is afraid of me? Well, that’s a good news, Elisabeth thought to herself.
“However, until he’s safely sealed in his tomb, he is invincible. You have to find the key to his tomb, only then I will be able to help you.”
“Do you know where the key is?”
“I thought so.”
“Enough talking, be on your way now. The sun is rising.”
“Oh no!” Elisabeth panicked. If she didn’t hurry, she could be trapped in the Labyrinth until the next full moon.
Elisabeth pushed on the wall as hard as she could, but it wouldn’t move a bit. The secret passage has been already sealed. It was too late.
“This is a bad dream, this can’t be happening. I have to get out of here!” Elisabeth screamed in panic, but that was the only thing she could do. She was trapped inside the Labyrinth. Elisabeth took out her phone to call for help, but she had no signal. All she could do was wait.
Jiang Lu has been impatiently awaiting Elisabeth’s return. Little did he know that she wasn’t coming back… Not until the next month at least. When the sun clock on his house showed the noon, he decided to contact Sima Zhi, who was in utter shock from the bad news.
“What are we going to do, Jiang?! With no food and no water, Elisabeth is going to starve to death or die dehydrated!” Sima panicked.
“I think there is a source of drinking water,” Jiang tried to calm her down.
“And what about the food?! Is she going to hunt a bat for lunch and eat vermin for breakfast?!”
“Well, theoretically, that could be a solution. Vermin is rich in protein.”
“I hope you’re joking, Jiang!”
“Don’t worry, Sima. Elisabeth is a smart girl, I’m sure she stocked herself with dried food.”
“I hope you are right, Jiang. I’m going to ask at the market right away,” said Sima and hung up.
The situation wasn’t as hopeless as it seemed at the beginning. Sima learned from the general store merchant, that last night, a girl with dark long hair purchased thirty packages of high quality dried food. Everybody felt relieved. Elisabeth wasn’t going to die of hunger. All they could do was wait.
Thirty days have passed since the day when Elisabeth remained trapped inside the Labyrinth beneath the Temple of Heaven. When the moon appeared on the sky, Jiang was already standing at the window, looking out for Elisabeth.
When she finally appeared on the path leading to his house, his eyes flooded with tears. He quickly ran down the stairs, nearly killing himself.
“Elisabeth! Oh, Elisabeth! I’ve never been happier to see you! You’re alive!” he called at her from the distance.
“I hope you’ve got some leftovers from dinner. I’m starving.”
“Of course, of course! My wife prepared a big portion of dim sum tonight, you can eat everything that’s left!” he said kindly.
“Thank you. It’s good to see you, too,” Elisabeth tried to smile at him, but she was too exhausted.
“Just one question. Did you find it?”
“Yes,” Elisabeth told him with a weak voice.
“Excellent! Now, come on in, you must be very tired. You can tell me everything in the morning.”
The following day in the afternoon, after Elisabeth shared her midnight adventure with Sima and Jiang, she walked down the hill to meet with Bao Louie, who was already expecting her.
“So, if I understand it well, this journal should help you restore the peace in our town?”
“Exactly,” Elisabeth nodded her head in agreement.
“Well, then, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t have it.”
“Are you saying that you’re going to lend it to me?”
“Lend it? No, I’m giving it to you. It’s been lying in that dusty drawer for a very long time. I think if someone can make some use of it, he should take it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Louie. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“Please, call me Bao,” he smiled at her.
“Thank you, Bao,” Elisabeth returned the smile.
“Give me just a moment,” Bao said and left the room. He came back holding the journal in his hand. “Here, take it. I hope it will help you find what you’re searching for. I believe that my grandfather Sin Pah would have done the same,” he smiled at Elisabeth once more and walked her to the door.
So it is Sin Pah, not Seng Tah, Elisabeth thought to herself.
“I hope this is not the last time we meet. I heard you’re a pretty good fighter, it’d be my pleasure to see you at the Tournament this autumn.”
“Well, if I’m still alive,” Elisabeth said jokingly and went out the door. Bao just smiled to himself.
Elisabeth walked down to the Emperor’s Plaza and stopped at the market. She had already two portions of ramen inside her belly, but it craved for more. There was no wonder, she’s been eating dried food for the past month plus ramen was simply delicious. After she emptied the fourth bowl, she took out Sin Pah’s journal from her bag and flipped through it. She couldn’t be happier when she discovered it was written in English. In less than two hours, she learned everything she needed to know. The key to the tomb of Dong Huo was located in Champs Les Sims, France.
Elisabeth immediately called Sima to meet her at the market. When she looked at her friend from afar, her mouth dropped open.
“Have you always been so slim?” Elisabeth teased her.
“I take it as a compliment.”
“Sima, I don’t know what to say! You look great!”
“Thank you, Elisabeth,” Sima gave her a modest smile. “So, tell me about the good news.”
“According to the journal, the owner of the winery in Champs Les Sims can tell me more about Vaughan’s keystone.”
“Champs Les Sims?” Sima Zhi repeated in astonishment.
“Yes. I’m going to France, Sima! Wanna come with me?”
“I’d love to, but I’ve got some work to do here. Maybe your boyfriend would like to accompany you? I think you should ask him,” Sima winked at Elisabeth. “I heard France is the best place for a romantic vacation,” she added.
“Benjamin is only a friend,” Elisabeth blushed.
Sima raised her eyebrow, making it obvious she didn’t believe her. “Very well then. I will await your return. Good luck, my friend,” she said and hugged her tightly.
“Thank you, Sima. Thank you for everything.”
“Take a good care of yourself, Chosen One.”
“As always,” Elisabeth smiled at her and headed towards the base camp to pack her bag. Sima stood on the bridge, looking at Elisabeth getting smaller and smaller, until she disappeared in the distance.