<br />Welcome to chapter six! This chapter is packed with drama, mystery, and plenty of action! Nellie finds herself in trouble more than once in this segment. Will she make it through this leg of her adventure? Read on to find out! I hope you enjoy the story and thanks for reading!<br /> <br />The message engraved into the plaque was so bone-chilling that it almost made Nellie turn tail and run, but she shook it off, stiffened her spine, and stood her ground. She had come too far in this to let a few words from a long-dead, bullying, evil warlord frighten her away now! As soon has she had turned and begun to move toward the door she must enter, she was firmly reminded of the dangers she now faced.<br /> <br />She cried out, startled, as she was engulfed in a vicious steam trap. The hot substance stung her skin, but only left her slightly pink, not causing any real damage. Muttering a few curses under breath, she pushed forward and stepped through the door.<br /> <br />She groaned inwardly as her eyes fell upon the many traps of some sort in the floor ahead. The young woman knew it was not going to be easy, but she was determined to find the treasure, so she moved forward to inspect the first one.<br /> <br />The first trap was easily disarmed and she stepped across it, smiling to herself. Maybe the evil warlord, Dong Huo's traps were not as brilliant as he had thought. Suddenly, Nellie held no fear in her heart and her confidence soared through the roof as she stood at the 'cross roads', wondering which way to go.<br />She decided to go right first and walked a short distance to the wall. To her right was another long hallway, but to her left was a pile of ancient coins on the floor. She decided to take those first. The way seemed clear, so she boldly and briskly began walking toward the pile.<br /> <br />The most blinding, gut-wrenching pain Nellie had ever felt coursed through her body as suddenly a trap appeared from nowhere and surged electrical current into her. She tried to scream, but she had no voice. Just as she was about to lose consciousness, the current shut down and she stumbled back the way she had come. So much for her confidence; it seemed to drain away along with the electricity.<br />Nellie, disoriented, stumbled and staggered straight forward along the unexplored hallway straight ahead. Even though she was now injured and frightened, she pushed open a door she found there and was surprised and relieved to see a tiny room with two beds.<br /> <br />It could not have come at a better time since her energy level felt depleted and her fear had reached new heights. Luckily, she still had a supply of Shower in a Can, so she was able to clean herself a bit before slipping between the sheets. The cold water stung, yet cooled and somewhat soothed her singed skin. In pain and exhausted, her thoughts seemed to come to her in confused, erratic waves.<br /> <br />As she settled into the soft bed, her thoughts turned to Ho Sung and she wished he were here to wrap his strong, loving arms around her to bring her comfort and peace. He had tried to speak with her several times after she had left him in his shop a few days ago, but she either ignored his calls, or told him she was too busy to talk. Now, she wished she had made an effort to make things right between them again. What if the writing on the plaque was correct and soon, her ghost would be meeting that of Dong Huo, the evil warlord?<br /> <br />After a nice rest, things no longer seemed as glum as they had the night before. After a bite of delicious dried food, she felt ready to carry out her mission and see this adventure to its end, whatever that end may be. She headed out the way she had come and entered a new door. Nellie tripped over her own feet and nearly fell into the room, cursing her clumsy nature. Her eyes widened in awe as she gazed around at what this new room contained.<br /> <br />The room was filled with empty nectar racks, but several bottles of nectar were scattered about on the floor. Nellie's mouth began to water and she suddenly wished she had a corkscrew. After the fiasco last night and almost losing her life, she could certainly use a drink!<br /> <br />After gathering up all the bottles on the floor, Nellie noticed another strange place on the wall and began to inspect it. She was unable to find a trigger to open what she suspected was a hidden door, but then she remembered something one of her fellow explorers had mentioned back at the base camp.<br /> <br />Nellie moved toward the lamp on the wall and began to gently tug and fiddle around with it. Finally, she heard, with satisfaction, the familiar sound of a long-closed door grinding open.<br /> <br />If Nellie had been awed by the previous room, she was totally blown away by this one! It was beautifully decorated and had an almost home-like feel about it, even though it seemed more suited to royalty rather than a regular sort like her. The thing she liked most about it, though, was that it contained a bar, and a corkscrew!<br /> <br />Making herself at home, Nellie went to one of the nectar racks, grabbed some glasses, and poured nectar into them. It smelled wonderful and she licked her lips in anticipation.<br /> <br />Seating herself at the bar, Nellie drank just enough of the sweet liquid to settle her frazzled nerves. She knew better than to over-indulge herself. She needed to keep a clear head to move through Dong Huo's maze of traps and find the treasure. After downing two glasses, she rose and turned toward the diving pool behind her. She mentally prepared herself for the cold dive by inhaling and releasing several long breaths before taking the plunge.<br /> <br />Nellie emerged dripping wet, but with a crescent keystone in hand. She was sure she would be making good use of it very soon. In her haste and confused state, Nellie had neglected to notice the crescent keystone on the night stand of the room in which she had spent the night. Little did she know that mistake would cause problems later.<br />She left the room and went back to the intersection in the hallway where she had been before almost getting herself turned into a human Shish Kabob and stood for a moment wondering where to go next. She turned so that her back was to the door through which she had first come. The nectar had left her feeling relaxed and confident once again, so she started forward without much thought and immediately regretted her decision.<br /> <br />The agonizing pain was unbearable as darts pierced Nellie's tender flesh. She screamed in agony and began pulling them from her body as quickly as possible. The darts, she thought, must be laced with some sort of poison, because a wave of dizziness and nausea struck her that almost brought her to her knees. The confused and disoriented woman staggered backward and fell to the floor.<br /> <br />As Nellie lay fighting to remain conscious, she thought, once again, about the writing on the plaque. As darkness overcame her, she suddenly was certain her ghost would meet that of Dong Huo very soon.<br />As her eyes fluttered open, she knew not how much later, she heard the voice of a young girl speaking to her in a hushed tone, telling her she would be alright now. Nellie was more confused than ever when her gaze fell upon a little girl standing over her. As Nellie slowly rose to her feet, the little girl explained that she had been playing above when she heard Nellie's screams and had gone down to see who was in trouble.<br /> <br />While Nellie fiddled around to disarm the next trap in her way, the girl explained that her mother was a healer and had a special potion to counteract the effects of poison darts and that she had gone to fetch some from her nearby home. The girl had fed some to the unconscious woman and brought her back around.<br />Nellie thanked the little girl profusely, gave her a handful of the ancient coins she had collected, and hugged her warmly. The girl smiled up at Nellie and then hurriedly left the tomb, leaving the explorer to her work.<br /> <br />Nellie efficiently disarmed the next few traps between her and her destination and quickly moved further into the underground cavern. Soon Nellie was smiling again. She had found a place to put her crescent keystones to use.<br /> <br />The way ahead was full of various traps to prevent her passage, but Nellie soon figured out how to disarm them. As she put each keystone into place and then stepped on the floor triggers they produced, a trap would be disarmed.<br /> <br />When Nellie went to put the fourth keystone into its place, she suddenly realized she had only had three and her heart sank. What was she to do now?<br /> <br />She then remembered that in her haste to find the treasure, she had left several small rooms unexplored and she headed back the way she had come, searching the treasure boxes in each one, but to no avail.<br /> <br />Finally, she entered a tiny room and her eyes lit up like the stars in the night sky. A crescent-shaped keystone was in plain sight on a table! She rushed forward, snatched it up, and hurriedly went back and slid it into its place. The last trap had been disarmed!<br /> <br />Nellie groaned and sighed tiredly when she saw the row of heavy statues that had to be moved in order to open the last door. She waited a moment to catch her breath and then began to shift the monstrosities around. Finally, she heard the chains fall from the door behind her and she ran toward it.<br /> <br /> At long last, she had uncovered the treasure that had been hidden away for so long! She collected it and delivered it to Jiang Lu, who was very grateful and rewarded her handsomely. The hour had been late, so she had gone back to base camp to rest.<br /> <br />The next morning, Ellie checked the adventure board for any new developments and was surprised to see a note for her from Jiang Lu tacked upon it. Her brow furrowed as she read the quickly-scrawled message:<br />"
My dear Nellie, it seems if you are going to complete the prophecy you must journey to Champs Les Sims, France. According to the journal, I believe the Nectar Merchant at the Nectary there will know about Vaughan's keystone. You must speak to the Nectar Merchant to discover the location of the keystone!"
<br />France? Now Ellie was more desperate than ever to speak with Ho Sung! She felt the need to resolve their issues before leaving the country, so she rushed over to the market to speak to him. If nothing else, at least she could forgive him and they could remain friends.<br /> <br />"
Ellie called out urgently as burst into the Food Merchant's Shop, but gasped in surprise to see someone else behind the counter instead. "
she said, forcing a bright smile at the young woman. "
Where is Ho Sung?"
<br /> <br />Nellie's heart sank and skipped several beats as she listened to Jiao Hong explain that Ho Sung had not been into the shop for two days and she had heard nothing from him. Now, more than ever, Nellie felt horrible about the way she had purposely avoided him and was even quite rude in her treatment of him when he had tried to speak with her.<br />"
Is there something I can do for you?"
Jiao smiled at Nellie. Fighting back tears of frustration and pain that threatened to fall, Nellie politely declined and headed next door to the General Merchant's Shop, to speak to Zhan. He always seemed to have a way of brightening her day.<br /> <br />"
Hello, my friend!"
she exclaimed as she embraced the best friend she had ever had. "
I've missed you so!"
Nellie's expression turned more serious as she asked, "
Have you seen Ho Sung? He is not in his usual place in the Food Market."
Nellie had been tempted on several occasions to confess her attraction for Ho Sung to her friend, but something, some instinct, had held her back.<br /> <br />"
No one has seen him for several days!"
Zhan replied. "
It's very strange. You see, my brother, Shen, is dating Ho Sung's sister, who lives with him. My brother told me that Ho Sung came home a few days ago, packed a bag, and told his sister and his wife that he was leaving. He did not give them a reason, or even tell them when, or if, he was planning to return."
<br /> <br />Zhan was so caught up in his story that he missed Nellie's sharp gasp at the mention of Ho Sung's wife. "
Everyone knew that Ho Sung was not very happy in his marriage. You see, Ho Sung has always wanted a large family, but his wife not only does not want children, but she actually dislikes them!"
Zhan paused for breath and then added, "
But, to just take off like that is very unlike Ho Sung. He is a good man!"
<br /> <br />Nellie was crushed. Ho Sung had a wife? So, the man with whom she had fallen so deeply in love was married! She had inadvertently become 'the other woman'. Now she understood why Ho Sung had been so elusive and distant. He had other obligations in another place. Now she was very happy she had never told Zhan of her affair with Ho Sung. It would have been humiliating!<br />"
I have to go, Zhan"
Nellie said, as she forced herself to smile at her friend. "
I am here for another few days, so I will see you before I go."
She hugged him briefly and fled from the shop before her tears had a chance to fall somewhere other than in private.<br /> <br />Nellie was crestfallen. Her heart felt as if it had been shattered into a million tiny shards, many of which had slipped down to her gut, causing her to feel nauseated and ill. After leaving Zhan Su at the market, she had jogged around aimlessly, trying desperately to outrun her broken heart. Of course it had been all in vain. One cannot run away from one's self<br />Finally, she had come upon a knoll, high above the city, on which stood an abandoned barn by a stream. It felt peaceful and serene to Nellie, so she decided to meditate and reflect on her life to this point. How had she allowed herself to get into such a fix? The young woman had been called many things in her life, but frivolous was never one of them.<br /> <br />After little more than hour, she sighed heavily and rose. Camp Chrysanthemum was just down the hill. Nellie did not feel like facing anyone, so made the short hike and set up camp for the night. Nellie's sleep was restless, filled with fragmented dreams of what might been versus reality. She awoke, feeling no more relief than she had felt upon first learning the news of Ho Sung's deception to her and his betrayal to the wife he had neglected to mention to her.<br /> <br />As Nellie roasted her fresh catch for breakfast over the fire, her mind struggled to grasp the meaning of the turn of events in her life. Things had been way less complicated before getting involved with Ho Sung. The funny thing is that she did not completely regret it, especially when she thought of the night of passion they had spent together. Even the brief note she found on her pillow the next morning was not enough to quench the fire that had burned within her heart and soul from his loving touch.<br /> <br />Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone, but she did not answer it. It was Jiang Lu. Nellie knew he was awaiting her decision about carrying her adventure to France, but she was not ready to give him her answer just yet. She knew that in her current state of mind, it would be a useless venture and that she would likely accomplish nothing if she were to go now.<br />Nellie left Han's Orchard and hiked around aimlessly a bit more until she came to an interesting site. She had been too busy running errands and solving problems for the locals to do any excavating while here, so she decided to do so now.<br /> <br />Finding nothing but a few common relics, Nellie rose and brushed the dust off the knees of her slacks, and wiped the salty tears from her cheeks. It was time to do a bit of serious soul searching. She began to jog toward the one place she felt she would find her answers . . . The Scholar's Garden.<br /> <br />Nellie assumed the position and tried to allow her mind to go blank, but it was difficult at first. She could not help but to wonder why a good man like Ho Sung would lead her on the way had, committing a lie of omission by not telling her he was a married man. He wore no ring, so how was she to know if he did not tell her? Try as she might, she could not let go of the hurt and the anger that lay deep within her heart. The feelings of guilt which clouded her mind only served to increase the burden in her soul.<br /> <br />Finally, after a few hours, Nellie's mind and body had reached that plane of existence that only those experienced in the art of meditation could reach. Her thoughts soared to another, faraway place, her heart felt free, and her body felt lighter as the burden of guilt was lifted from her soul. Soon, she rose and released a satisfied sigh. There was one more thing she felt the need to do before leaving this place, which was filled with so much spiritual energy.<br /> <br />As an angler, few things brought more pleasure to Nellie than fishing and the fish that swam here were plentiful. She did some of her best thinking with a pole in her hand. She pulled out her trusty fishing rod, which had never let her down, and cast her line into the rippling stream.<br /> <br />After catching several nice-sized Koi and then tossing them back, Nellie knew it was time to finalize her decision. She put the fishing pole away, grabbed her cell phone, and dialed Jiang Lu's number. Nellie smiled to herself as she put her phone away, and then sang a melancholy tune as she headed toward the market to find Zhan Su.<br /> <br />Zhan"
Nellie smiled happily as she wrapped her arms around her friend in a warm embrace. Zhan had finished his shift at the store and she had caught him just as he was about to head home. "
I have something to tell you"
she exclaimed breathlessly. "
I'm leaving for France tomorrow!"
At Zhan's puzzled expression, she continued, "
It seems I have to go there to continue my adventure concerning the Dragon Cave."
<br /> <br />"
Ah, I see"
Zhan responded thoughtfully. "
It is strange how these things wind up in so many places."
He laughed and tapped her elbow. "
Care to allow me to kick your butt before you go?"
It will be my pleasure"
Nellie giggled.<br />The two of them went their separate ways to change into their sparring clothes. <br /> <br />Nellie faced her opponent and bowed politely with a smile. "
Are you sure you don't want to rethink this, Zhan? I'm getting better, you know? It may very well be I who kicks your butt!"
<br />Zhan winked and smiled, "
Oh, I believe I can handle it!"
<br /> <br />As the two friends sparred, they tossed playful comments at one another that threatened to end the match in bursts of laughter, but they would recover each time and continue. At last, they took their final bow. "
You actually beat me!"
Nellie exclaimed with a giggle. "
I'll have you know that this is the first match I've lost in quite a while!"
<br />Zhan chuckled, "
I told you I would kick your butt!"
He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone and added, "
Besides, there are many here who would willingly allow a pretty girl to win."
He flinched backward and laughed as Nellie playfully punched him on the shoulder. "
Come, I'll buy you a bite to eat."
<br /> <br />Over delicious slices of Key Lime pie, Nellie voiced her concerns to Zhan about leaving China to go to France. "
I do have an adventurous nature"
she said softly, "
but I do so love it here! It's so beautiful and serene and well . . . it's where you are!"
<br />Zhan swallowed the last bite of his pie and smiled. "
I will be here whenever you need me, Nellie. Besides, our time together is not over yet!"
He rose, took her hand, and the pair walked out of city. They came upon Han's Orchard, where they sat on the grass and chatted for several hours.<br /> <br />Finally, they rose to say their goodbyes. "
Oh, I am so going to miss you, Zhan!"
Nellie cried as she embraced her best friend. "
I've never been to France, so I don't know what it's like there. I am a little frightened and overwhelmed by it all."
<br />Zhan hugged Nellie closer for a moment and whispered in her ear. "
Do not worry, Nellie. You are a strong woman and I have complete faith that you will return soon, with your mission accomplished!"
The couple soon parted and Nellie went back to base camp to pack for her early flight the next morning.<br /> <br />Nellie was excited to catch the first glimpse of her new destination through the window of the plane as it lowered its altitude in preparation to make its landing. It did not strike Nellie as being as lushly beautiful as China, but it did seem like a quaint and tidy little village. She gazed longingly at the Eiffel Tower in the distance and thought about how much fun could be had there if she and . . . no, she would not think of him now! Nellie had forced all thought of the incident out of her mind in The Scholar's Garden and she could not allow such fantasies to intrude upon her mind now. She needed all her concentration to go toward the search for the keystone to the Dragon Cave<br /> <br />Nellie was pleasantly surprised by her new base camp. It was fairly luxurious and offered all the amenities one could need. Upon arrival, she wasted no time cleaning up and changing from her travel clothes into something more befitting a place like Champs Les Sims.<br /> <br />After looking at her notes to double-check the address, Nellie hurried along her way. The Nectar Merchant struck Nellie as a very sophisticated sort with an air of forced civility about her. Nellie did not know whether she was actually a nice person, or only acted so in order to sale her wares, but she did play her part in steering Nellie in the right direction.<br /> <br />"
What- what- what?"
she exclaimed breathlessly. "
You say you've come here on a mission from Shang Simla? Why, that's on the other side of the world! I remember this James Vaughan from the journal. I believe he got into a fight with Monsieur Landgraab and rescued some woman or something."
She shrugged. "
Speak to Colette Bonnet, who is a direct descendant of Landgraab's grounds keeper."
<br /> <br />At first, in the usual fashion that Nellie had come to expect, Colette Bonnet refused to offer any useful information. Nellie poured on the charm, and soon Colette seemed more willing to help, in return for a favor, of course.<br />"
Yes, my grandfather spoke often of James Vaughan. A bumbling fool that one was! I believe I can help you locate your missing keystone. After all, I would hope that people of Shang Simla would do the same for me! But, I will require certain favors. I very much love Opal. It is a beautiful gem, is it not? Bring me one piece of Opal, and I shall grant you access to the vault holding the keystone."
<br /> <br />Nellie was pleasantly surprised and pleased to have her Visa upgraded to level one for merely agreeing to Colette's demand. She politely thanked the woman and took off to begin her first adventure in France!<br /> <br />Nellie checked the directions that Colette had given her to a location believed to contain Opal, but when she got there, she saw none lying around. Puzzled and unsure of what to do next, Ellie pulled out her trusty fishing pole and cast a line into the irresistible tiny pond there. She was delighted to catch something new . . . a frog!<br />As she was releasing the frog from the hook, Ellie noticed some rather large boulders across from her and had a hunch to look under them. It was no job to be doing in her nice clothes, so she quickly changed into her explorer garb and got to work.<br /> <br />Nellie had come to rely completely on the Axe of Pangu and wondered how she had ever survived without it. The vibrations of power it exuded were still quite surprising to her, but she was beginning to become accustomed to the power of Pangu's Axe.<br /> <br />She was able to quickly dispose of the boulders to reveal what lay beneath. Nellie held her breath and waited for the dust to settle. When she opened them again, they were wide with wonder.<br /> <br />She was surprised to find a stairwell leading down into an underground room, but she had one more boulder to crush before bothering with that. As curious as she was, she hoped she did not have to go on a long excursion to find a stupid rock for that silly woman. Nellie was anxious to get on with her current adventure and get her hands on the keystone to the Dragon Cave.<br /> <br />Once again, Nellie raised the might Axe of Pangu high above her head and swung it at the giant rock. The axe almost seemed to sing in her grasp and she released a satisfied sigh as the boulder was reduced to tiny pebbles.<br /> <br />Voila! There lay the coveted Opal glinting in the sunlight! Nellie scooped it up and headed back to Colette. As walked away toward the direction she had come, Nellie gave one last regretful glance back at the newly-uncovered hole in the ground. The curious cavern would have to wait until another day. <br /> <br />As the Nectary came into view, Nellie again wondered about the stairwell she had uncovered. Her curiosity was peaked and she wished she had time to investigate, but she had less than a week in France to find the keystone, and something told her it would not be an easy task.<br /> <br />Colette was overjoyed when her eyes fell upon the shiny stone. "
she exclaimed breathlessly. "
Look how it shines and glimmers. I have not yet decided what I shall do with the Opal, but that is not your concern. Now, you seek the keystone. The hidden vault is now unlocked for you at the Landgraab Chateau. Go there to find the keystone of James Vaughan."
<br /> <br />"
Landgraab . . . That family seems to be involved in everything!"
Nellie said to herself as she stood looking up at the huge house. It loomed large and foreboding against a backdrop of mountains as the sun was beginning to set. A stab of fear tried to enter the young woman's heart as she gazed upon it, but she pushed it back. She had come too far to turn back now. Nellie inhaled a deep breath, released it slowly, and began walking toward the front door.<br />