Two days and two nights have passed since the moment Elisabeth ventured into the Dragon Cave, and yet, there was no sign of her. David was getting seriously worried. He didn’t sleep well last night and when he woke up in the morning and found out that Elisabeth still hasn’t returned to the hotel, he dressed up and headed towards the market.
The moment he saw Sima Zhi walk out of one of the shops, he called at her and hurried towards her. When Sima heard the desperation in his voice, she understood everything. Elisabeth hasn’t returned.
“Elisabeth hasn’t come back!” he blurted out helplessly and his eyes filled with tears. “What if something happened to her?!” he asked desperately, but Sima had no answer for him. If Elisabeth didn’t come back, she has most probably failed.
“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Loewe,” told him sincerely Sima.
“No, no, no, no, no… She’s… She didn’t… This can’t be…,” despaired David.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.”
“What?! Of course, there is! There must be! I’m going to save my girl!” David screamed at Sima as if she was to blame for Elisabeth’s disappearance.
“Mr. Loewe,” Sima reached for his hand, but David stepped back.
“If you’re not going to help me, I’ll find her myself,” he said coldly and dashed towards the Dragon Mountain.
Sima remained standing in front of the bookstore, completely caught off guard. If Elisabeth, the great master of SimFu, didn’t manage to defeat the Scourge of Three Kingdoms, then her father was about to walk into the arms of his certain death. Sima wanted to run after him and stop him, but something inside her prevented her from doing so…
… David has no memory of how he managed to find his daughter in the labyrinth of the intricate underground puzzles, but he did. He emerged from the Dragon Cave holding his daughter in the arms.
The sun was setting behind the mountains, but it was still brightly shining inside of him. For a moment, David thought he had lost his daughter forever, but now, he was firmly holding her in his arms and… she was alive.
David was going to take Elisabeth home as he promised to Kate. They’d be a happy family again. Nothing could stop that from happening.
However, soon after their return home Elisabeth Loewe fell into a coma. Kate and David were devastated. The doctors said there was nothing they could do, but wait. Nobody knew, when Elisabeth would wake up or whether or not she would wake up at all. It could be days, weeks, months or years. All they could do was wait and pray for a miracle.
Ever since that day, every time when David left for work, Kate sought for a company in the stables. Lady was the only horse left. The house has never been so empty. With Finn and Zachary staying at the campus until Christmas and the Equestrian Academy reopening in spring, Kate felt completely abandoned. The gloomy weather didn’t really help her escape the depression either.
On top of everything, since the day of Elisabeth’s hospitalization, Kate and her husband rarely left the house, spending most of their time sitting in silence on the sofa in Elisabeth’s apartment and reflecting about life. What ifs clouded their minds, their smiles disappeared from their happy faces and the rare moments they talked to each other, the only subject they ever spoke of was… Elisabeth.
As soon as Benjamin got to know the news, he bought the first ticket and arrived to Monte Vista the following day with a bouquet of wonderfully-smelling flowers. For long weeks he sat on the chair next to Elisabeth’s bed, but his sleeping beauty was in an eternal sleep. Benjamin woke up everyday with the image of the beautiful eyes and heartwarming smile of his beloved Elisabeth on mind…
…but when he laid his eyes on her, he saw none of that. Elisabeth was alive, lying in the bed right in front of him, but he felt like he lost the love of his life already.
When the first snow covered the hills with a soft white pillow, Kate persuaded Benjamin it was time to return to Moonlight Falls and take care of Chloe, who has been living with uncle Bill for the past couple of weeks.
Kate promised to Benjamin that she’ll let him know if Elisabeth’s situation changes, but she also warned him that the chances on her recovery were very poor. Heartbroken, Benjamin decided to leave.
Every morning, Kate would go to visit her daughter in the aseptic hospital room with hope of seeing her eyes open again. She would stay until the doctor came in and shared with her the few news there were, if there were any at all. After seeing Benjamin by Elisabeth’s side everyday for the past weeks, Kate understood everything she needed to know. Benjamin truly and purely loved her daughter, there was no need to test him any further. He’d be the perfect son-in-law… Now, only if the bride would awaken.
The following days were very hard on Benjamin. His lack of concentration led to the cancellation of all his scheduled work, rejection of new clients and also numerous interesting offers of photography work were put on the side. Also Bill had noticed that something was wrong with Benjamin and offered to take care of Chloe for a little longer, or until Benjamin would pull himself together.
Benjamin spent countless hours wondering through the town, no matter the weather or the time of the day. One night at moonlight, he was on his usual after-dinner walk in the woods. When he was approaching an abandoned house by the mountains, he saw a light in the distance.
Then, all of a sudden, Benjamin found himself standing in front of what looked like a gypsy wagon. Was this always here? he wondered to himself as he approached the oddly looking caravan.
He knocked on the door with hazy windows and immediately afterwards, a hoarse female voice invited him inside. Benjamin didn’t go right in, he hesitated for a moment. He never believed in fortune tellers, palm readers or soothsayers… Ah, what the hell! Benjamin thought to himself and grabbed the door handle. A heavy smell of scented sticks mixed with cheap perfume and cat urine hit his nose. He wanted to turn around and leave, but the words of the woman sitting in the armchair made him change his mind.
“Soon to be fathers often come to me asking about the future of their children, however, I see no future for your son.”
“As far as I know, I’m not pregnant,” Benjamin said jokingly, expecting an offended reaction, but the fortune teller raised from her armchair and motioned him to take a seat. Then she slowly sank in the armchair on the other side of the table and carefully observed his face before she spoke again.
“You’ve got a good sense of humor, young man, but I feel it ain’t gonna last for much longer.”
“I’ve never really believed in fortune tellers, in fact, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I think it’s better if I leave,” Benjamin was about to stand up when the fortune teller suddenly exclaimed, causing her two cats to meow even louder than before.
“A black cat seems to be zig-zagging across your future path. It’s a bad omen!”
“Great, my ex-girlfriend left me for some kind of a catman and still, here I am. Happily in love again,” protested Benjamin.
“Hmm,” the fortune teller measured him with her eyes.
“I’ve never loved anyone this way before… Why am I even telling you this!?” Benjamin defended his love for Elisabeth. “Have a good night and clean your… place. It stinks like cat urine here,” continued Benjamin, looked down to the floor at the fortune teller’s cats and stood up from the armchair.
“Very well, hopefully, you’ve saved up for a rainy day, because clouds of financial difficulty currently loom on your horizon. Good night, young man.”
“You know, on the second thought…,” Benjamin sat back down. “…what else can you tell me?”
“Oh, so you’ve decided to believe me now?”
“Look, lady. I have no idea if you have a gift or just feed people lies, but I’m not going to hide anything from you… I’ve been better, okay? Right now, my life is in pieces… I have no idea what I did in the past month or what I’ll do tomorrow. I should be taking care of my daughter, but instead I wander through the woods at moonlight. Maybe I’m getting crazy, I don’t know, but I cannot go on like this forever… My girlfriend isn’t doing well and who knows if she’ll ever come back…”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot help you with this. You should rather go see a shrink. I know of one who travels the towns in this region, she’ll be here next Thursday. If you want I can give you her number and you can make an appointment.”
“Does she have a fancy ‘office’ like you?” Benjamin tried to ease his mind with a joke.
“I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed, no cats in her place,” she answered casually. “Maybe just their bones,” she added, whispering.
“ What did you say?” Benjamin wanted to assure himself of what he thought he heard.
“That she has nice cheekbones.”
“Oh,” Benjamin frowned. I swear I heard something else.
“Would you like a tea?”
“Just if it’s poisoned,” he sneered.
“Of course, it is,” said the fortune teller. “Milk or sugar?”
“None, thank you. Just the poison,” he said with a grin. “I think I have missed your name, what was it again?” Benjamin called at the fortune teller, but she didn’t answer. While waiting for the tea, he took a better look around. Benjamin noticed a portrait half covered by a heavy velvet curtain. “Who’s on the portrait?” he asked the fortune teller.
“The one behind the curtain?”
“That’s my sixth husband. Simon. No, wait, Simon was the seventh… I married him the year Lenny returned from his travels in Africa and died of cholera… After Simon died in the mines, I’ve never remarried again… Every time I see his face I remember all of my husbands… They all died in the Moonlight mines. Except of Lenny.”
“So that’s why you keep his portrait covered?”
“No… he wasn’t like us. Simon was different. He had a gift.”
“What gift?” inquired Benjamin,
“He could… well…,” the fortune teller paused for a moment. “Take a sip,” she said and pointed her left index finger at the cup sitting on the table in front of Benjamin.
Benjamin took a small sip of the purple, mud-like substance. “What is this?!” he exclaimed in disgust when a bitter, rotten taste glued his lips together.
“Just you drink. It gets better with every sip. Anyway, as I was saying, my dear Simon had a very special pair of eyes. He would just look in the eyes of a person and tell them the day and circumstance of their death. At first, we thought he was blessed with this special power, but as the time went by and hundreds of people came asking about their fate, Simon slowly started losing sight… eventually, he became completely blind… but we found a cure… sort of,” she paused for a moment and looked at the mirror standing by the floor lamp.
“I’m sorry, but I simply can’t believe this,” said Benjamin and shook his head in disagreement.
“Well, I’m not convincing you. You asked, I told you,” said the fortune teller, stood up from the armchair, pulled the dusty velvet curtain over the exposed part of Simon’s portrait and sat back at the table. “Have you finished your tea?”
“Yes. Thanks. It tasted like death,” teased her Benjamin and handed the cup over to the fortune teller. When she looked at the leaves at the bottom of Benjamin’s cup, startled, she dropped the cup which shattered into a dozen of pieces as soon as it hit the floor. “What did you see?” Benjamin asked her, fearing what she had to say.
“I saw the Grim Reaper,” she whispered.
“Oh. I guess that isn’t good, is it?”
The fortune teller didn’t say a word and gently caressed the crystal ball at the center of the table. The ball began to mist up from within and as the fortune teller rose her hands upwards, the crystal ball disattached from its golden base and began hovering a few centimeters above it. Benjamin couldn’t believe his eyes. His body began to tingle with fear. The magic was real.
The fortune teller stared intently into the crystal ball. Inside it, a miniature maelstrom of spiritual energies began to swirl.
As the fortune teller studied the ebb and flow of the energy within the crystal, more and more detail about Benjamin’s future started revealing itself. Benjamin stared at the hands of the fortune teller, observing their every move. He was completely hypnotized.
Suddenly, the mist changed color from pure white to midnight black. Benjamin tried to relax, hoping it wasn’t anything terrible, but when the fortune teller cried out in terror, he understood she saw something bad. Very. Bad.
“Tell me what you see!” insisted Benjamin. The situation was becoming very unsettling. First, this odd looking caravan appears in the woods out of the blue. Then, the fortune teller tells me strange things about my non-existing son. She questions my feelings for Elisabeth. How dare she! After that, she strikes me with the reality of my financial situation. How the hell she knows? My paychecks stopped arriving in the mailbox since a long time ago and it’s true that my bank account balance is miserable. On top of all this, she serves me this disgusting beverage she calls tea and afterwards she predicts a death! And now? What the hell just happened?
“A curse! A deadly curse!” the fortune teller whispered the words while wrapping both her hands around the face in fright.
“A deadly curse?” Benjamin repeated her words.
“I saw a woman, a young woman…”
“Elisabeth,” whispered Benjamin.
“My vision wasn’t clear…”
“Tell me everything you’ve seen!”
“…she carries a very old soul…”
“What do you mean? She’s young!”
“I’m not talking about her soul. There’s another one… it’s the soul of your…. son.”
“My… son?” Benjamin asked himself rather than asking the fortune teller. “The sarcophagus!” he suddenly panicked. Love covered both his mind and his eyes that he completely forgot what Elisabeth told him upon her return from China in October.
“The Reaper is near. When the orbuculum changes the color to black, it means that the Reaper is near.”
Benjamin took his wallet out of the pocket of his jacket, pulled out the last bill, threw it on the table and dashed out the door into the night.
As soon as he left, Elvyra pulled the velvet curtain to the side, thereby revealing the portrait of her deceased husband Simon. She stood in front of the mirror and looked at Simon’s reflection.
The next moment, a mask-like face appeared in the mirror. “Good evening, my darling,” said the face.
“Is everything all right, my dear?”
“Not exactly. I just had a very peculiar vision. That’s why I came to talk to you. I haven’t seen anything like it for decades.”
“How curious. Tell me about it, El.”
“I went back in time. Around two thousand years, Simon. That has never happened to me before.”
“Hmm, very… strange,” pondered Simon’s voice. “Please, go on.”
“I saw a man being buried alive in some kind of underground chamber… I’m sure magic was involved… the man… before he was sealed in his grave, he cast a spell on someone… I haven’t seen it clearly… and after that, they buried him alive. Then a girl dressed in modern clothes came and opened the grave, but there was no sign of the man. When the girl opened the grave, a bright light shone out and then it was gone… I also heard a voice talking in an ancient language I couldn’t understand. It was communicating with the girl… Simon, I believe it’s an ancient curse. I could feel his soul delve into the body of this girl,” Elvyra explained. “I sense the woman from my vision is dying, Simon. We have to save her.”
“I’m afraid the power isn’t in our hands this time. There’s not a cure for everything, my darling,” said Simon’s voice and the next second, the face in the mirror disappeared.
Every day after work, David hurried to visit Elisabeth. He’d sit on the uncomfortable chair by the hospital bed and read the first chapter of Zachary’s unfinished manuscript he found lying on a desk in the boys’s bedroom. It was entitled The Black Star. After he finished the last paragraph of the chapter, he never remembered anything, so the next time he’d came to visit his daughter, he’d read it again from the start. David has been reading the same chapter for the past two months. His mind wasn’t at peace. His only biological child was gone for too long and he blamed himself for that.
He was the one who took her along on the business trip to Shang Simla. He was the one who bought the book about the Dragon Cave to her. He was the one who failed to watch over her that night she sneaked out of their hotel room and ventured into the Dragon Cave. He was the one who changed the destination on her flight tickets from Champs Les Sims to Shang Simla. It was him who has been lying about Elisabeth’s whereabouts all the summer…
Since the moment he found her lying unconscious on the ground in the Cave, David has been thinking about his nightmare in which Elisabeth died. If she never wakes up, I’m gonna blame myself forever. All this is my fault.
Two days before the Snowflake Day, a miracle happened. Elisabeth opened her eyes. Is this heaven? she asked herself when she saw the white ceiling above her head. After a couple of minutes of staring at the ceiling, Elisabeth was able to move and turn on the bed. It was the moment she realized she was no longer in Dong Huo’s chamber. Where am I? Elisabeth wondered to herself. She slowly sat on the bed and looked around. When her eyes were finally able to focus on the object on her left, she understood she was in a hospital room. Where are my clothes… my bag…, Elisabeth thought to herself when she found out she was dressed in a hospital gown.
“Where is my underwear?!” she exclaimed as soon as she discovered she wasn’t wearing anything underneath the gown. “Give me back my stuff!” Elisabeth screamed hysterically. Then she felt something move in her abdomen. Oh no, this isn’t happening, she thought to herself when she found out about her baby bump.
Then all of a sudden, a man dressed in white entered the room. “Hello, Elisabeth. I’m Dr. Santini,” he presented himself.
“Why am I here? And where are my things?”
“I know it’s all very confusing to you. Let’s sit down and I will explain, okay?”
“I don’t want to sit down! Let me out of here! NOW!” she screamed at the doctor.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Mrs. Loewe. Please, calm down,” Dr. Santini tried to approach her, but Elisabeth stepped back.
“You have no right to keep me here,” she whispered with rising anger in her voice.
“Please, Mrs. Loewe, we want to help you.”
“No, you don’t!” Elisabeth protested. “Keep my stuff if you wish, I’m going home.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” he said when Elisabeth started approaching the door. The moment she was about to reach the handle, two hospital orderlies came in, grabbed her and injected her with a sedative.
“You’re gonna pay for this!” Elisabeth screamed from the corridor as they were taking her away. They tied her in a wheelchair and took her to a quarantine room. When Elisabeth finally fell asleep, they moved her on the bed and locked her inside.
Dr. Santini headed towards the hospital laboratory. He found Dr. Simano working at the chemistry table. Ever since that day, when Elisabeth created the metamorphium potion and turned her imaginary friend into a real boy, he’s been trying to recreate it.
“Hey, Gino!” Dr. Santini called at him when he entered the lab. “How is your research going?”
“Hello, Daniel,” Dr. Simano raised his head from the vials. “I think I’m getting close,” he smiled at Daniel and poured a fluorescent substance into the vial with a dark blue liquid.
“Good job,” Daniel patted him on the shoulder.
“Did you need anything from me?”
“Mrs. Loewe woke up,” Daniel informed him.
“Oh, really?” Gino grinned.
“We’ve been forced to put her into quarantine, because she manifested signs of… violence. I need you to run a few tests for me as soon as possible.”
“Consider it done,” told him Gino and Daniel left the room.
Gino called the reception and the two men that previously locked Elisabeth in the quarantine room brought her down to his lab. She was still half asleep when the hospital orderlies tied her to the chair.
“Thank you, gentlemen. I’ll let you know when I’m done,” he informed them and closed the door behind them. He turned on the computer and activated the machine, which began examining Elisabeth’s brain activity.
After the first set of impulses, Elisabeth woke up, frightened. She was back in the lab of the mad scientist. She recalled the day when she came here together with her friend Hesper, hoping Dr. Simano would adopt him. Unfortunately, his plans weren’t exactly what Elisabeth hoped for. He only wanted to use her friend as a means to gain fame and scientific recognition within the Chamber of International Science. If he didn’t succeed the last time…
… what is he planning on doing now? Elisabeth worried. Dr. Simano was standing by the computer, observing the unusual images on the screen.
“Very interesting,” he said, picked the form lying on the table next to the keyboard and started filling it in. “If this is what I think it is…,” he mumbled.
“What do you think it is?” inquired Elisabeth.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he said with surprise in his voice.
“I knew you weren’t trying to help me. You just want to use me,” told him Elisabeth and turned her head away from him.
“Nobody is using you. We’re trying to understand what is happening with you.”
“Yeah, like I really believe that… after what happened with Hesper…,” she whispered.
“Okay, I think we’re done here,” said Dr. Simano, put the form away and rang the bell on the wall. Shortly after, the two hospital orderlies appeared in the lab again and took Elisabeth back to the quarantine room. When they came inside they found Dr. Santini sitting on the chair by Elisabeth’s bed.
“What is the purpose of this? When will you tell me what you’re doing with me?”
“You’ve been in a deep coma for nearly two months, Elisabeth.”
“Your father brought you here after your return from China,” the doctor explained. “He saved your life.”
“Do they… Do my parents know I’m awake?!”
“What are you waiting for?! Tell them!” insisted Elisabeth.
“What does that mean?! You’re keeping me here against my will! You have no right to do that!” she started to freak out.
“There’s something strange going on with your body. When we understand what’s happening, we will let you go, but until then, you have to stay here for observation purposes.”
“I want to make a call.”
“You’re not allowed,” told her Dr. Santini.
“I need to use the toilet.”
“There’s a chamber pot under your bed. Use that,” he said and walked towards the door. “There’s no way you can escape this room, so don’t waste your energies,” he added. “Good night, Elisabeth.”
“Screw you, Santini!” Elisabeth called after him in desperation. After everybody left, she searched for the chamber pot. This is going straight in your face, Santini, she thought to herself as she sat down on the pot to empty her bladder.
That night, Elisabeth had problems falling asleep. She had a terrible headache and was turning and tossing on the bed for hours. She rang the bell to call the nurse, but the nurse never came. Elisabeth was locked in this dark room against her will with no idea of what day or time it was. Eventually, she started having hallucinations. Elisabeth tried to meditate, but she couldn’t concentrate. What seemed like a happy ending soon turned out to be the worst nightmare she’s ever had.