THE DEMISE OF DONG HUO
“So, how did you sleep last night?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin at breakfast the following day in the morning.
“Pretty fine I must say.”
“It would have been much nicer to sleep in the same bed with you, of course, but… I can understand your mother. She hates me.”
“I’m sure that will change soon,” told him Elisabeth and mysteriously smiled at him.
“What is this smile? Did you talk about me last night?”
“No, we didn’t speak of you at all.”
“Oh. Okay,” said Benjamin and took a bite of his breakfast. “And what about you? How was the first night in your new bed?”
“My back hurts a bit. I’ll have to get used to the mattress,” said Elisabeth and arched her back. “I don’t know if I’m going crazy, but I saw a unicorn last night,” she added casually.
“A unicorn?” wondered Benjamin.
“Yeah. A talking unicorn,” she tried to sound convinced about what seemed like a nonsense to her as well.
“A talking unicorn? I’m sure you just had a very vivid dream, Elisabeth,” he suggested gently.
“No. It was real. I know it…”
“Good morning,” said David when he entered the terrace. Kate appeared soon after him with four cups of coffee on a wooden tray.
“Coffee anyone?” she asked, looked at Benjamin and smiled at him.
“No, thank you. I’m not much of a coffee drinker,” he said politely and excused himself from the table.
“I’ll have a cup. Thanks, Mom,” said Elisabeth and took a sip. Kate handed over a cup of coffee also to David and placed the tray on the table. She picked her cup and sat next to Elisabeth.
“Did you sleep well, sweetie?” she asked her daughter.
“The bed isn’t as comfy as my old bed, but eventually I will get used to it,” she smiled at her parents and took another sip.
“I really like your boyfriend, Liz. He looks like a good man.”
“I’m so glad to hear that, Dad,” Elisabeth told David and her eyes sparkled with joy. “Now, how nice would it be if Mom took a liking to him as well?” said Elisabeth and looked at Kate.
“Don’t take me wrong, Liz. It’s not that I don’t like him,” she said. “I first have to make sure that he’s really worth my only daughter.”
“And how are you planning on doing that?” wondered David.
“I have an idea on mind. He’ll have to pass my test.”
“What test?!” Elisabeth asked her anxiously.
“I’m not going to tell you that!” Kate objected. “If he really loves you, he’ll pass it. You just have to trust me on this.”
“That really calms me, Mom.”
“Now if you will excuse me, Lady’s box won’t clean itself,” she said nonchalantly and stood up from the table. Elisabeth took a sip of coffee which suddenly tasted very bitter. Just like her mother’s words.
“I’m sure she’s just joking, Liz,” David told Elisabeth as soon as Kate left the terrace.
“Mom’s changed a lot. I don’t know what’s her problem,” complained Elisabeth.
“I think she’s just missed you a lot… We all have, sweetheart.”
“I know, Dad. I’m sorry,” Elisabeth apologized.
“The thing that troubles me the most, though, is how are we going to tell her the truth?”
“There’s no need to think about it, Dad. I told her yesterday.”
“I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.”
“It’s good you told her yourself, Liz,” agreed David. “Tell me now, what was her reaction?”
“I don’t know… maybe… upset. No, disappointed, I think.”
“I could understand her being upset, but disappointed?”
“I haven’t told you everything either, Dad,” admitted Elisabeth. The shame didn’t allow her to look her father in the eye so she just took another sip from the cup. The coffee was already cold.
“What are you talking about, Liz?”
“Of course, I do! You really had me worried that time, Elisabeth!”
“Well… that was just the beginning. I’m so sorry, Daddy. I wish I have never left my room.”
“What happened, Liz?!” David began to panic.
“I entered the Dragon Cave and opened a cursed sarcophagus.”
“W-what did you just say?”
“I started a series of events which caused nothing else but evil. I have to stop it before it’s too late.”
“I hope you’re joking, Liz,” David said, puzzled.
“I wish I was, Dad. I really wish…”
“If this is really truth, how could you keep it a secret from me, Liz?! I thought I could trust you! I have never let you down! I lied to Kate for you and this is how you repay me?”
“I’m so sorry, Daddy. I have never meant to hurt you or betray you,” Elisabeth told him guiltily.
“Well, you have, Liz. You have! I don’t know if I can trust you again. You have really disappointed me, child.”
“Dad, please… I’m truly sorry. I will do anything to make you forgive me!” Elisabeth begged him, but David didn’t say a word. He picked up the dirty plates from the table and headed towards the kitchen.
Elisabeth remained sitting alone at the table. I have really screwed up, was the only thing she could think of at the moment.
After she finished her cold beverage, Elisabeth went upstairs to get dressed. She put on her white tank top, short pants, leather jacket and a pair of sturdy leather boots. Elisabeth was ready to travel back to Shang Simla and finally finish what she’s started.
Kate already cleaned the stables. She was sitting on the terrace and reading Monte Vista Daily. The last thing she wanted to see this morning was her daughter dressed in the adventurer outfit.
“If you think that I’m going to let you go back, you’re mistaken,” Kate told Elisabeth from behind the newspaper.
“I haven’t come here asking for permission. I came to tell you I’m leaving.”
“No, you’re not!”
“Yes, I am. You cannot stop me, Mom. I’m an adult and can decide for myself.”
“Not until you live in this house!” Kate screamed at her desperately.
“Then I don’t have to live here any longer!”
“Please, forgive me, I didn’t mean it that way,” Kate suddenly calmed down, folded the newspaper and put it on the coffee table.
“Neither did I. I’m sorry, Mom,” Elisabeth apologized to her mother and sat down in the wicker armchair.
“Do you really have to go back, Liz?”
“Yes, I do, Mom.”
“Are you sure there’s no other way?”
David came rushing to the terrace after he heard the screams. “What’s going on in here?”
“Elisabeth has to return to China,” informed him Kate. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” she sighed and looked at Elisabeth.
David uncomprehendingly looked at his wife. “Of course, we can! Elisabeth, you’re staying at home,” he said strictly.
“Dad, with all respect, I am not. If I don’t go back, the people of Shang Simla will never live in peace risking their lives in the unwinnable battle with the undead. I am the cause of all this and I am the only one who can stop it. I have to go back and help them.”
“Kate, are you listening to our daughter? Do you really believe in this story of hers? We live in the 21st century for chrissake! You have to be kidding me!”
“Why would I think up this story if I just wanted to go on a vacation? I’m telling you the truth, you have to believe me! Mom? Say something, please?”
Kate stood up from the armchair and walked aside to talk to her husband. “David, I believe her.”
“What? How can you believe her if she’s been lying to us all the summer!”
“You’ve been lying to me as well. You knew she wasn’t in France and you didn’t tell me.”
“I made a mistake and I’m really mad at myself for that right now. We can’t let her go back, Kate! Don’t you understand? If you really believe her, how can you let her go to face such danger?!”
“She won’t be facing it alone, darling. If she really has to go, you’re going with her. Do you think that I’m completely out of my mind?”
Oh, great. This is going to be a hell, Elisabeth thought to herself when she heard what her mother just said.
“Elisabeth will do what she must and then you’ll bring her home safely. Nothing can go wrong.”
“I hope you’re making the right decision, Kate.”
“Me, too, David,” she almost whispered.
“Elisabeth,” Kate turned at her daughter. “We agreed that you can go to China on one condition.”
“Yeah, I heard,” said Elisabeth and looked a bit annoyed. “Thanks, Mom,” she added a little more happily and hugged her mother.
“I guess I’ll go book our tickets then,” David looked at Kate with anxiety in his eyes, when suddenly, Elisabeth jumped around his neck.
“I’m doing it just because of you and your Mom, Liz. If it was up to me, we’d stay home.”
David managed to find two return tickets for the very same evening. Since Elisabeth was about to leave again, Benjamin had no reason to prolong his stay in Monte Vista.
“Promise me you’ll be careful, Elisabeth. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”
“There’s nothing to worry, Benjamin. Plus my Dad is coming with me. I’ll be super safe.”
“I know, but anyway, be very very careful and come back to me as soon as you can.”
“That was my intention,” Elisabeth smiled at him. “We have many things to discuss once I’m back.”
“Yes we do,” Benjamin smiled back at her.
“Well, I guess we should get going if we’re to catch the plane.”
“I’ll leave as well. See you soon, Elisabeth,” told her Benjamin and gave her a long, passionate kiss.
David and Elisabeth arrived to Shang Simla the next day in the morning. The town looked exactly the same as David remembered it. Of course, there was no sign of the undead at this hour of the day, but Elisabeth had enough time to tell him everything he needed to know on the plane and explained why he couldn’t help her defeat the Scourge of Three Kingdoms. David had no idea that his daughter was a skilled SimFu fighter and once he saw her skill, he had no doubt about being of no helpful use.
While David decided to stay at the hotel and rest after the long flight, Elisabeth headed towards the market. She hoped she’d find her friend there. Little did she know that Sima Zhi was already on her way and that they’d arrive almost at the same time.
“Hey, Sima! I’m back!” Elisabeth called at her friend as soon as she saw her.
“Elisabeth? Is that you?” Sima asked in disbelief.
Elisabeth slowly approached her imitating mummy’s walk and making growling noises. “It’s me, Sima, and I have come for you from the netherworld. Your days are numbered.”
“I see you’re having fun,” laughed Sima. “Let’s hope that Dong Huo will find your sense of humor amusing.”
“I’m sorry, Sima. I shouldn’t be making fun of a serious thing like that,” told her Elisabeth and stopped it right away.
“I can’t believe you’re back, Elisabeth!”
“It’s good to see you too, my friend,” Elisabeth smiled at Sima and gave her a hug.
“How was your vacation in France? Did your boyfriend come with you?” Sima asked her curiously.
“Yes, he did,” Elisabeth fondly smiled at her. “France was amazing! You should definitely visit Champs Les Sims some day!”
“Maybe one day I will,” pondered Sima. “Have you found the keystone?”
“It wasn’t as easy as I thought, but yes. I have it.”
“Thank heavens! We’re not lost!” said Sima and raised her arms towards the sky.
“Listen to me carefully, Elisabeth. Dong Huo is no longer a mortal. He is not bound by the life force that binds me and you so in order to protect you from his evil spirit, I have constructed an Amulet of Righteous Protection for you. Give me just a moment,” told her Sima and hurried towards Adaeze’s relic shop. She came back after less than a minute holding a necklace with a tiny pendant in the shape of Chinese lion in her hand and put it around Elisabeth’s neck.
“It’s beautiful, Sima. Thank you,” Elisabeth thanked her friend and looked at the little golden lion hanging on a silver chain.
“It’s the least I could do. You’ll have to be very careful. Dong Huo is a powerful enemy,” Sima warned her.
“I promise I will defeat the Scourge and restore the peace in Shang Simla once and for all.”
“I wish you luck, Elisabeth,” said Sima and headed towards the relic shop.
Elisabeth left the city walls behind her back and walked up the hill to the Dragon Cave. The time has finally come. She had to find Dong Huo’s burial chamber and defeat him forever. Only then would the people of Shang Simla be safe again.
Only then would the Yellow Dragon be avenged. Only then would her curse be finally lifted… maybe.
Elisabeth reached the top of the Dragon Mountain. She stood in front of the entrance to the Cave and closed her eyes. She tried to connect with Huang Loong’s soul dwelling within her, but unfortunately to no avail. If only she knew whether or not she was going to live, whether her baby was going to live. Elisabeth wished to fast forward time to see what would happen then, when everything was finally over.
Elisabeth took a deep breath and passed the stone wall blocking the entrance. She walked down the staircase hidden amongst the bushes…
… and once again, she has found herself in the round room with nine doors.
Elisabeth had no clue about where to search for Dong Huo. Then she remembered about the first time she came down here. One of the doors was different from the rest. It was frameless and it slightly resembled a sarcophagus. Elisabeth walked towards it, stepped across a chain with a broken lock lying on the floor and looked at the handless door in front of her. She ran her hand over the door’s stone surface. It felt warm. She pushed on the stone panel and…
… bingo! The door slid to the side, revealing another room. Elisabeth didn’t hesitate and walked right in.
There was only one door this time and it was locked. She could try to pick the lock, but it might take her forever, plus she didn’t have any little thingy at hand that could fit in.
Elisabeth gave a look around and noticed a panel with a key-shaped hole on the wall on the opposite side from the locked door. Could it be that easy? Elisabeth thought to herself and placed the keystone she found in France in the panel.
Like magic, James Vaughan’s keystone locked in the panel and the chain with the lock on the door fell to the floor.
Unbelievable, Elisabeth said to herself and walked through the door. The room on the other side was completely different than the previous two ones and the rest of the cave in general. Elisabeth almost felt like an uninvited guest in somebody’s home. What’s that? she thought to herself when she noticed a little panel with Chinese symbols on the wall.
As she learned from Benjamin in the tomb beneath the Halls of the Lost Army, it was enough to open an app, point her cellphone at the symbols and magically, a translated text would appear on its screen.
“The statues do not lie. Their gaze does not stray from the path of life.”
Okay. That’s helpful, Elisabeth thought to herself and carefully proceeded around the corner. She found herself in a spacious room with statues made of stone. Their heads were looking in different directions. Hmm, maybe it’s really a trap, pondered Elisabeth and carefully chose a path to follow in order to cross the room safely.
The walls of the room that followed were again made of stone. The temperature was rising as well and the air was getting heavier, but Elisabeth decided to proceed forward. At the end of one of the corridors, there were two statues of Chinese lions guarding what looked like a pile of golden coins.
Elisabeth was very tempted to collect the shiny treasure. If the coins were really made of gold, she could afford a place of her own where she could live together with Benjamin and his little daughter. However, no matter how attractive that idea was to her, she quickly changed her mind. Activating a trap and dying before she even got the chance to face Dong Huo was the last thing she needed right now.
Elisabeth came upon another panel with Chinese symbols. She quickly took her cellphone and pointed its camera at the panel.
“Enjoy life while you have it, traveler.”
Not surprising at all, she thought to herself and walked into the labyrinth of dark corridors. It didn’t take long and Elisabeth got lost. In panic, she began to run between the walls trying to get back to the beginning, but the harder she tried to find her way back the deeper into the cave she was getting. Suddenly, she heard a voice in her head that was slowly getting louder and louder. Elisabeth couldn’t tell the words at first, but after some minutes, she clearly understood them.
It was the Yellow Dragon trying to help her find the right way. Elisabeth carefully listened to his directions, but he kept on leading her to a dead end.
“Fine. If this is the right way as you say, then show me how to get through the damn wall!” Elisabeth began hysterically shouting at the voice in her head. If someone saw her, they’d think she was a mental case.
Elisabeth was getting furious. She was completely lost, alone and thirsty. In desperation, she began banging into the wall with hope it would break. But it didn’t. She only bruised her hand.
Elisabeth decided to ignore the voice in her head and was determined to find a way out on her own. After nearly two hours, she finally succeeded. What was ahead of her, though, was even worse then getting lost in the labyrinth.
There was no way she could get through the room. Trying to find a way to disarm the traps was out of question as well. There has to be another way around. There always is, Elisabeth thought to herself as she observed the room. She noticed a line up of three statues all facing the wall in one corner.
“The statues do not lie. Their gaze does not stray from the path of life,” Elisabeth said aloud and inspected the wall.
She must have accidentally activated a hidden mechanism or something, because what looked like blocks of stone a second ago came to be a tiny layer of plaster that fell off like nothing and uncovered a hidden door.
Elisabeth pushed on the brick wall and entered yet another spacious room. There was another panel with Chinese symbols, undoubtedly warning anyone against grave danger or terrible death. As she did two times before, Elisabeth pointed her cellphone at the symbols.
“This is your last chance on life. Turn back and live or die in vain.”
Like hell I will! If I managed to get so far already I might as well end this madness! Elisabeth thought to herself and took a look around. A large boulder immediately caught her attention. She walked up to it only to discover it wasn’t large, it was giant!
“Okay, I think I’ve got a ginormous problem here,” Elisabeth said aloud as she observed the enormous boulder. She couldn’t even see its top! Elisabeth walked around the room pushing, knocking and banging on every part of the wall, but nothing ever happened. The boulder is blocking the only way out of this room, I have to get through! Elisabeth walked back to the boulder and stood in front of it, blankly staring at it.
She was on the verge of desperation and dehydration, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Pangu’s Axe appeared in her arms and she cut through the boulder like a hot knife through butter!
“Finally, my debt is payed! Good luck to you, Elisabeth!” said a familiar thunderous voice.
“Thank you for your help, Axe!” Elisabeth screamed in happiness. Once again, if someone saw her, they’d think she’s a nutcase.
At last, Elisabeth entered Dong Huo’s burial chamber. This is a bad dream, Elisabeth thought to herself as she looked around and didn’t see any sarcophagus. All she could see was her own reflection. The room was filled with mirrors. Is this some kind of joke? Elisabeth wondered when she noticed there was no other door. This is the final room! The Scourge must be hiding somewhere!
Elisabeth panicked again. She ran around the room like crazy, trying to figure out the situation. After she naively looked behind every curtain searching for the Scourge and broke one of the mirrors in rage, she suddenly felt hopeless. She sat on the floor and stared into nowhere. This cannot be it. This is not the end. After few minutes, when she calmed down a bit, Elisabeth walked to one of the mirrors to check if she didn’t cut herself when she smashed the mirror.
It was the moment when she noticed that the mirror she broke before didn’t have anything standing in front of it or blocking it in someway. No chair, no table, no plant. Now, that the mirror was gone, the spot with the curtain hanging on the bare wall looked very suspicious to Elisabeth. She decided to inspect it closely.
Elisabeth pushed onto the wall. She could tell it moved so she pushed harder using all the energy she had left when suddenly and unexpectedly, she fell through the wall.
When the last grain of dust settled on the floor, Elisabeth could finally tell the place. The walls were made of ebony panels with hand painted silk inserts, Egyptian torch-holders lined up around the green marble sarcophagus, expensive flooring and precious handmade carpets, numerous marble statues… all of which Dong Huo probably stole from someone else. This definitely was the burial chamber of the Scourge of Three Kingdoms.
When Elisabeth approached the sarcophagus, the voice in her had began talking to her again. She tried hard not to listen to it but somehow it made her. Elisabeth was unable to displace Huang Loong’s words from her mind. Kill him. You must kill him, Mother. Kill him for me. He deserves to die for good…
All of a sudden, a crack appeared on one side of the sarcophagus. Dong Huo was awakened.
Elisabeth stepped back. The inevitable was coming, but she didn’t know what to expect. The lid of the sarcophagus began to open. Her feet felt like glued to the floor and her legs were shaking.
A long growl came out of the sarcophagus and then a hand wrapped in bandages grabbed the lid. Elisabeth jumped with fear. Dong Huo was right there, in front of her eyes.
He was real and he was coming for her. Elisabeth panicked. She quickly searched the Amulet of Righteous Protection and grabbed it with her right hand. Dong Huo was moving slow, but he was approaching fast.
“Pull yourself together, Elisabeth! You’re a master of SimFu! You can fight this old piece of cloth!” she encouraged herself. “Sima and the people of Shang Simla count on you! You cannot disappoint them!”
Elisabeth grabbed all the courage with both hands and jump kicked Dong Huo in the chest. He fell on the floor like a paper doll.
As soon as he got back on his raggy feet, he did something unexpected. Elisabeth felt like her life was sucked out of her body. She heard the voice of Yellow Dragon scream in pain in the distance while she felt she was slowly loosing control of her own body.
After Elisabeth fell unconscious to the floor, Dong Huo began to writhe in agony and in a few moments he turned into dust.
The Scourge of Three Kingdoms was finally defeated. Shang Simla and its people were saved. Elisabeth Loewe was already a hero, only she didn’t know it yet…