<br />Welcome to chapter nine! In this chapter, Nellie moves closer to discovering the secret of the Dragon Cave. Will she prevail and move on to other adventures, or will she meet a nasty end at the hands of the evil warlord, Dong Huo?<br />Again, I offer huge thanks to all who are following this story. I'm having a blast writing it and I wish the same for you in reading it!<br /> <br />As Nellie read the words etched into the plaque on the wall, her heart felt as if it had become lodged in her throat. She struggled to catch her breath as tiny beads of perspiration popped out on her forehead. The icy hand of fear had wrapped its bony fingers tightly around her heart, and her feet seemed to itch and tingle with an undeniable urge to turn and flee.<br />The young woman closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, forcing much-needed air into her lungs and then released it slowly. She did this several times until her pulse rate had returned to nearly normal, as she concentrated on the discipline she had learned while training through following the ways of the Order of the Absolute Fist. Finally, her fear and the urge to run left her and she moved on into the next room.<br /> <br />She was actually happy to find a boulder blocking her way because it gave her an excuse to break out the mighty Axe of Pangu. Using the axe and feeling its power sometimes had a way of making her feel stronger and more courageous as some of its energy seemed to flow into her body as it reverberated through the ancient tool.<br /> <br />Nellie stood, looking at yet another stairwell leading down, wondering exactly how deep Dong Huo had hidden himself in the tomb. She had gone down so many flights of stairs she felt she should be at the center of the earth by now.<br /> <br />Once down, she stood outside a new door and studied it carefully for a few moments before cautiously pushing it open. The words written on the plaque upstairs were never far from the surface of her mind. She knew she had to keep a watchful eye in this place.<br /> <br /> Nellie maneuvered around a series of fire traps to reach a keystone she was sure would come in handy soon. <br /> <br />Nellie wandered around through a few rooms, picking up keystones and relics and finding more secret doors to rooms which contained more of the same. Finally, she opened a door that led to the room that she was sure contained the evil warlord himself! <br /> <br /> The first thing she did was open a treasure box near the entrance and removed the relics from it.<br /> <br />The room was large and contained three sarcophagi, several moveable statues, and two diving pools. Nellie moved to stand on the only floor panel she could see, which in turn, revealed another floor panel. When she stood upon it, another floor panel was revealed. Nellie soon figured out that she had to make her way around the room standing on some floor panels and dragging statues onto others.<br />As she made her way around the room, several fire traps made their presence known as well.<br /> <br />While Nellie was busy with the moving of statues onto certain floor traps and diving into the pools, a mummy slipped quietly from a sarcophagus along the far wall. It was a slow-moving creature, but its focus was on reaching Nellie. It groaned softly and dragged its feet as it shuffled closer to where Nellie was busy at work to finish the business deep in the tomb of the Dragon Cave.<br />The young woman did not notice the rag-clad creature until it was right next her.<br /> <br />"
Oh, you have got to be kidding me!"
Nellie muttered as the musty-smelling, creature approached. By this time, Nellie was very tired and in a rather foul mood. It did not occur to her to be afraid, so her annoyance at the interruption was quite high. For several long moments, the woman and the mummy just stood gazing at one another. Each seemed to be sizing up the other, deciding what step to take next.<br />Suddenly, the mummy took the initiative and made the first move by punching Nellie in the shoulder, almost hard enough to spin her around. <br /> <br />"
Nellie retorted angrily. "
I don't think you want to go there!"
She was nearly exhausted and very agitated at this point, and the last thing she had needed or wanted was to have confrontation with a pile of smelly rags. The idea that she should have been frightened never entered Nellie's mind. "
I'll take you home and use you for cleaning rags!"
she growled just as the mummy moved in to attack.<br />Nellie fought with everything she had, but her body was as exhausted as her mind. She found herself regaining consciousness a little while later. As she rose from the floor, she saw no sign of the mummy that had knocked her unconscious, but there was a different one patrolling the room. She rose and began looking for a place to hide. Suddenly an idea came to her and she moved quickly across room. Outrunning mummies seemed to be the easy part, if you had enough energy, which Nellie did not.<br /> <br />Nellie ran right past the mummy and slipped inside the empty sarcophagus. This seemed to confuse the dim-witted creature, so it merely stood and watched as she closed the lid behind herself. Her exhaustion ran so deep that it was not long before Nellie was sound asleep as the mummy paced back and forth in front of the sarcophagus all night long, unbeknownst to Nellie.<br />When she woke, Nellie was disoriented and confused at first, but she soon remembered where she was and what had happened the night before. Her heart skipped several beats as she realized the fatal mistake she had nearly made in her exhausted state of the night before. Now that she had rested, she proceeded more cautiously and slowly opened the door to look around. Seeing nothing, she exited and began inspecting the other plain sarcophagus, which stood against the other wall. As she opened the door, she was pulled in and tossed about for a few seconds.<br /> <br />Suddenly, Nellie was shoved out of the sarcophagus roughly. If she had not recovered her balance quickly, she would have been thrown face down upon the floor. She regained her composure quickly and then returned to finishing the task at hand. After activating the remaining floor panels that went around the room, Nellie moved over to the final one.<br />There was a moment of hesitation as she gazed at it, wondering what would happen once it was activated. Would she be strong enough to handle whatever may come her way? Knowing only one way to find out, Nellie took a deep breath and stepped onto the panel.<br /> <br />A great, low rumbling began that vibrated the walls and shook the floor beneath Nellie's feet. A sharp gasp escaped her as she looked up and saw what instinct told her was the mummy of Dong Huo stepping from the sarcophagus directly in front of her. Once fully emerged, he stood to face her. "
So, you think you can defeat me, traveler?"
the creature sneered in the same raspy voice Nellie had imagined belonged to the Dragon Cave. "
Prepare, now, to meet your death!"
it growled as it began to move closer to where Nellie stood, gaping in horror.<br />The mummy reached her and wasted no time issuing an attack. Instantly, Nellie's training and instinct kicked in and she fought back with everything she had. The fight was long and epic, but the woman prevailed and Hong Duo backed away, forever destined to be locked away in this chamber of the Dragon Cave. But, the mummy was not finished. He turned back to launch yet another attack against the woman.<br /> <br />This time, however, the fight was shorter and Nellie defeated him quickly. "
You couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?"
she cried angrily. "
Now, I will have a new set of cleaning rags!"
<br />Dong Huo, the once great evil warlord, groaned pitifully as he rose to his feet. Now he knew his fatal mistake. If he had left well-enough alone, the adventurer would have gone on her way, leaving him to possibly fight another day. It was his own fault he had to push and cause her total destruction of him.<br /> <br />Nellie watched in fascinated disbelief as the mummy of Dong Huo was lifted, as if by a great wind, off his feet and spun round and round like a floating top. Finally, when the spinning stopped, the mass of rotting rags was reduced to a pile of dust on the floor.<br /> <br /> "
Nellie whispered to the empty room. "
There isn't enough of you left from which to make any rags!"
<br /> <br />Now that she did not have to worry about being under mummy attack, Nellie looted the remaining room in the tomb, and then hurried to report in to Jiang Lu, anxious to be as far away from the Dragon Cave as possible.<br /> <br />"
You are truly a master if Dong Huo himself could not stop your fists of righteousness! I shall proclaim your victory everywhere in China! You have done so much for us in fulfilling the prophecy. I fear this reward is too modest for a master such as you. I am humbled by you, truly!"
Jiang Lu bowed low to Nellie after his speech.<br />Nellie was proud of her accomplishments, yet she was humbled by them as well. She graciously accepted her reward of two thousand Simoleons and six hundred five Ancient Coins. She bowed to Jiang Lu, said her goodbyes and headed toward base camp. It was time to go home.<br /> <br />Her things all packed and ready, Nellie's cell phone rang as she was about to head out the door. Her plan was to stop by the Market to say goodbye to her friends before heading for the airport to catch a plane back to the states. "
she answered, puzzled about who would be calling at this early hour of the morning.<br />Nellie listened intently as an unfamiliar male voice spoke in an urgent tone to her from the other end of the line. His excitement must have been contagious, because soon Nellie's pulse quickened and the prospect of a new adventure made her eyes sparkle with delight.<br /> <br />"
Nellie cried as she hugged her friend and then pulled back to study his smiling face. "
How are you? I guess Jiang told you about my experience in the Dragon Cave?"
<br />Zhan chuckled, "
Well, I would say he told me a condensed version of the story. I would love to hear all about it from you someday, though!"
I wish I could tell you now"
Nellie sighed sadly, "
but I have to go. I've been called to another assignment . . . in France!"
<br /> <br />"
Ah, I knew you were leaving us again, but I thought you were going home"
Zhan responded softly. "
It does not matter. Either way, I will miss you!"
He threw his arms around her and hugged her warmly again. "
Please, be careful and keep in touch."
<br />Nellie had to fight to hold her emotions in check. She never enjoyed leaving China, nor the great friendships she had made there. "
I will, my dear friend"
she smiled sadly. "
I think this adventure will not be so involved. You see, I have been called by the Relic Merchant in France to investigate some strange occurrences in the museum there."
<br /> <br />"
My dear Nellie"
Jiang Lu exclaimed as he broke into the pair's conversation, "
I must thank you again from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for the people of Shang Simla! If not for you, we would still have a shadow of fear hovering over us concerning Dong Huo's return someday. May good luck and fortune follow you wherever the path of life may lead you."
With that, he bowed low and left the shop.<br />Nellie was touched by Jiang Lu's kind words and had to choke back tears again. Finally, she smiled sadly, hugged Zhan one last time, and left the Market to head to the airport to catch her plane for France.<br /> <br />As Nellie approached the front entrance to La Gallerie d' Art, she stopped for a moment to admire the French architecture. She had always held an appreciation for the arts, as well as enjoying the history behind it. The building itself was almost as artistic as the pieces it housed in its various cases and on its walls. This museum was home to many of the ancient relics donated by various adventurers over the years as well.<br />She had been commissioned by Gaston Dutiel, the Relic Merchant, to take a look around the Egyptian gallery to investigate some strange occurrences that had been frightening the security guards, causing them to quit without notice. An involuntary shiver shook Nellie's body. Egypt was where her parents had been trapped in a tomb and had met their untimely deaths. Shrugging off a sudden chill, Nellie inhaled a deep breath and stepped inside. Almost immediately, a familiar masculine voice reached her ears. She closed her eyes and sighed.<br /> <br />"
So, we meet again, Mademoiselle Nellie Blye"
Gustav Delven greeted in a smooth, almost seductive tone. "
It seems that you and I have something in common. We are drawn to the arts!"
<br />Running into the smooth-talking Frenchman was the last thing that had been on Nellie's mind when she had arrived back in France. What were the odds that he would be at the museum on her second visit as well as her first? The silence grew heavy as Gustav awaited the woman's reaction while Nellie struggled to keep her composure before giving him a response. After inhaling and exhaling several deep breaths, she felt calm enough to speak.<br /> <br />"
Good afternoon, Monsieur Delven"
Nellie replied, managing to keep her tone smooth and even. "
It just so happens that I'm here on business today."
She hoped her casual tone would discourage the man and that he would go away. However, things were never that simple when dealing with a man as persistent as Gustav Delven.<br />Gustav smiled, "
I am thankful for whatever the circumstance that brings you here. It is delightful to see you again!"
He paused for effect and then added, "
Perhaps, now that you are here, we can have dinner together. You do eat, no?"
Nellie, sighing in exasperation, turned to face him.<br /> <br />"
Listen, Monsieur Delven"
Nellie said with forced calmness, "
I really am very busy and I need to begin my assignment. I really don't have time for this . . ."
Please, call me Gustav!"
the man insisted with a smile. "
I am sorry. It is merely that I find you most attractive and I would love the opportunity to get to know you better. It is not often I find myself in the presence of a woman as beautiful as you."
The gleam Nellie saw in his gaze, made her cheeks burn and flush hotly, and she quickly bowed her head to hide this fact from the man. <br /> <br />Nellie's pulse quickened and her heart raced erratically, and it was several moments before she found her voice. The young woman was flooded with mixed emotions that seemed to be having a battle of will inside her mind and heart. How was she supposed to react to this attractive man who showed so much interest in her, even though she had tried to put him off every way possible?<br />Finally, she looked up and gazed into his twinkling eyes. "
Alright, you win Monsieur . . . Gustav"
she replied quietly. "
If I agree to have dinner with you this evening, will you please step aside and let me pass so that I may get to work?"
Gustav Delven smiled, gave her the address of café nearby, and she agreed to meet him there at 8:00pm. He thanked her by brushing his lips lightly across the back of her hand, and then stepped aside. His gaze remained glued to her backside as she walked away, a sly smile playing on his lips.<br /> <br />As Nellie gazed at the sarcophagus, a chill crept up her spine and she shivered. There was something about it that felt unusual and a quite creepy. The longer she stared, the more strangely she began to feel. She felt a wild compulsion to step over the barricade and peek inside the ancient coffin. With all the studying, research, and reading about ancient relics, customs, and history, she should have known as soon as she set eyes upon it, that it was a special sarcophagus, but it was almost as if the thing itself was keeping her memory at bay.<br />Nellie shivered again and then emitted a sharp gasp when it finally dawned on her.<br /> <br />"
This is the Cursed Sarcophagus of the Kings"
Nellie whispered, incredulous, as she instinctively took two steps backwards. The fabled sarcophagus was rumored to have magical properties bestowed upon it by ancient spirits. Nellie had never really believed such nonsense . . . until now. The thing really did seem to be calling to her, compelling her to move forward and look inside.<br />"
Don't be silly!"
she berated herself angrily. She shook off the ridiculous notion and went to inform Monsieur Dutiel of her findings.<br /> <br />When Nellie told Gaston Dutiel a bit about the history of the Cursed Sarcophagus of the Kings, he chuckled. "
Well, now that we know what the problem is, maybe I can keep some security guards on duty!"
<br />Nellie collected her pay and started to leave, but the man stopped her.<br /> <br />"
he said urgently. "
Since you did so well with this, there is one more thing I would like you to investigate for me. There seems to be some strange noises and occurrences coming from near the Chinese exhibit as well. I will pay you handsomely if you would be so kind as to look into the matter for me. You see, it is near the closed-off portion of the museum. The people working to renovate the place are not getting their jobs done because of being frightened away. At this rate, the job will never get finished!"
<br /> <br />At the museum, Nellie found a hidden switch, just at the head of the stairs near the closed-off part of the building. It opened a secret door down the hall. Nellie wanted to rush right over and investigate, but she did not want to do anything to offend or upset Gastion Dutiel, so instead of moving ahead, she make her way back to the Relic Merchant's Shop.<br /> <br />"
the relic merchant said thoughtfully, "
a secret passage, "
I'll bet the noises are coming from behind that secret door! Please investigate and see if you can find out what is causing them. Hopefully, you can stop it and things can be returned to normal."
I will do my very best, Monsieur Dutiel!"
replied Nellie, who was anxious and excited to be on another adventure. Once back at the museum, Nellie went through the Chinese exhibit and quickly found the secret door the switch had opened. It led down a staircase into a small room.<br /> <br />There seemed to be no place to go from there, but Nellie did spy a statue in the corner. Having no other choice, she pulled it out from the wall.<br /> <br /> The statue had been sitting upon another hole with a hidden switch that would unlock a door into the next room.<br /> <br />Finally, another statue had to be pushed onto a floor panel in order to move on into the next room, which was behind a locked door. Nellie groaned miserably as she shoved the statue into place. She did not know what she had been thinking when she began such a mission wearing a dressy outfit. Her poor feet were already beginning to kill her!<br />The door opened upon a hallway, which had a room leading off to her left, and a corridor leading down to another door on her right. Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, she entered the room on the left first.<br /> <br />Nellie could not help but to stop a moment to admire the beautiful ancient vases and other relics on display there. After looking carefully around the room, she saw nothing of significance to aid in her task, so she left the room and headed down the corridor.<br /> <br />Nellie realized she was now in the closed part of the building when she passed the stairs leading up that were cordoned off on the upper floor. Once passing through the doors, she entered a very strange-shaped room, which had several doors leading out, only two of which were opened to her.<br /> <br />She entered the door straight in front of her, to find the room split into two hallways leading to the same door, one of which was guarded by an electricity trap. She moved around to the hallway without one and saw a chest, which she raided. Seeing no other way, she went back the way she had come and went through the other door.<br /> <br /> There were statues to be moved, which unlocked another door back in the direction from where she had come.<br /> <br />Nellie went through it with caution and found another chest with relics in it, which she quickly stuffed into her bag. There was also a trigger that unlocked the last door that had been closed to her. She went through it and found she had made a complete circle and now stood where the hallway split and the electricity traps were in place.<br /> <br />Nellie discovered that one of the switches she had pulled made the trap activate on the other side of hallway. She took the hallway that was clear and moved to the end where she had to open a hidden door. Nellie gasped, horrified by what was revealed to her upon entering the room.<br /> <br />It was difficult for her to keep her emotions in check when she saw a quickly-scrawled note on the wall, written in a shaky hand.<br />Please, I am the curator of the museum. I was rearranging a sarcophagus in this storage area when the door unexpectedly shut behind me. I can't escape and I don't expect I ever will! If you see this, please put my remains in the family chest near the rear of the cemetery so that I can rest alongside my wife.<br /> Nellie was stunned! She could only stand for a few a moments in silence and then she stepped a bit closer.<br /> <br />As she snatched the note off the wall, she realized that she had done enough to gain another Visa level, although she was not sure she would want to spend as much time in France as she had, and still wished to, in China.<br /> <br />Looking around, Nellie did not see a way to pick up the former curator's remains in order to take them to the cemetery, so she decided to have a peek into the sarcophagus. Nellie found some relics and a hidden switch, but then she screamed when something grabbed a hold of her arm and pulled her inside! For several endless moments, it seemed to Nellie that was pummeled and spun in circles until she was dizzy and she thought it would never end.<br /> <br />Suddenly, she was pushed roughly and found herself on her knees on the floor outside the sarcophagus. Cursing and gasping for breath, she stood slowly and brushed the dust from knees, thankful she had not ripped her stockings. Immediately upon regaining her composure, she noticed something that had not been there before and she smiled.<br /> <br />The switch hidden inside the sarcophagus had revealed a hole in which to reach to retrieve the deceased curator's remains. Nellie quickly found them, although the prospect of carrying around a dead guy did not appeal to her in the least. <br />Her heart sank when she looked back at the door through which she had entered. It was swinging open and closed, which made it impossible to go back through. Unless she found another way out, she would be trapped here, just like the unfortunate former curator! <br /> <br />Nellie frantically began searching for another way out. Just as her panic level was about to go through the roof, she noticed a strange place on the wall and began inspecting it. Finally, she found a secret door and was able to open it. She breathed a sigh of relief and stepped through.<br /> <br /> She was gazing down a stairwell. Confused because it led down instead of up, she had no other option, so she slowly descended the staircase.<br /> <br />Nellie found herself in a small chamber with some other lost soul who obviously never found a way out, but took the time to rob the chest she found in the room with him. There was another staircase leading up, so she climbed it and suddenly she was breathing the fresh air just outside the building. The young woman had never been more grateful to be able to look up and see the stars! <br />She felt very uncomfortable having the remains of the unfortunate former curator in her bag, so she hurried along her way to find the cemetery.<br /> <br />By this time, Nellie was nearly exhausted and the cemetery was quite dark and spooky, so she decided it would be best to wait until morning to complete her task. The curator had waited a very long time to be put to rest and Nellie knew waiting one more night would not kill him, so she made her way to the nearby Camp Rose to spend the night.<br /> <br />"
Nellie whispered as she sat by her campfire, "
She had completely forgotten about their dinner date that evening. She had promised to meet him at 8:00pm and it was now 10:20pm! Ah well, she thought, my missing our dinner date won't kill him either! Besides that, her feet were killing her! She sighed as she removed her shoes and tossed them off to the side, grateful she had a change of clothes for the rest of her assignment.<br />She made some dinner and then climbed into her tent and slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.<br /> <br />The cemetery was less eerie in the bright sunlight, so Nellie was grateful for the nice day as she looked around to figure out what to do next. The curator's note had mentioned the back of the cemetery, so she moved in that direction. She noticed four small buildings lined up against the back fence and thought the chest of the curator's family would be in one of them, but which one?<br />They were locked, so she began inspecting the grounds around the buildings.<br /> <br />Nellie was happy to find a hidden switch, which unlocked the doors to the tiny buildings. She activated it, and then resumed her search for the chest. There were chests in each of the buildings which held various relics, Ancient Coins, and keystones. <br /> <br /> Finally, Nellie knew she had entered the correct building, so she moved toward the chest.<br /> <br />Inside, she found some relics, which she quickly removed to make room for the remains of the former curator. She quickly laid him to rest inside the chest, feeling relieved to finally be rid of her burden. Nellie may have been of strong body and mind, but carrying around the remains of a dead guy for a few hours had been really beginning to freak her out. The young woman shivered at the thought, and then left the cemetery to report back to the relic merchant what she had found.<br /> <br />"
I'm so glad this museum-haunting business is behind us!"
Gaston Dutiel exclaimed. "
I'll finally be able to hire a reliable full-time staff to guard and take care of the museum. You have my thanks!"
He paused for a moment and gazed into her eyes before continuing, "
You really are as good as it is rumored!"
<br />Nellie smiled and felt a hot flush burn into her cheeks. True to his word, Jiang Lu had spread the word of Nellie's successes there throughout all of China. Word spread quickly, and soon it was international news. People everywhere were becoming familiar with Nellie and her expeditions.<br /> <br />"
While you are here"
Gaston began quietly, "
I would like to ask one more thing of you."
He told her of a strange building on his property that seemed to have no entrance. It was just a walled-in area that had been there since he had purchased his home. "
I would appreciate it if you could investigate this one peculiar area for me. The only thing I know is my basement seems to be suspiciously deep and occasionally has strange noises coming from it. Perhaps you should check down there first? Here is the key. When you are done, come tell me what you found."
<br /> <br />"
Sure, why not?"
Nellie replied without hesitation, although she thought he may do just as well by calling a plumber. Most likely, the man just had a case of old, leaky pipes. Besides, what did she have to lose? She had several more days left of her visit to France, so how else should she spend her time? Briefly, she thought of Gustav Delven and her missed dinner date with him. What must he think of her for not showing or bothering to call? Ah well, she was an adventurer, after all. Maybe the man would get the picture now and back away. As a pang of guilt and loneliness stabbed her in the heart, she wondered, is that what I really want?<br />