Romance Versus Relics Chapter 8

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<ul><li> 1. <br>Welcome to chapter eight! I hope you enjoy this segment of going along with Nellie on her quests. Will she ever get to enter the Dragon Cave to face Dong Huo, the evil warlord? Will Nellie prevail, or will the task get the better of her? To find out, read on . . . .<br><br>Nellie Blye smiled and sighed contentedly as she gazed at the lush, beautiful landscape of Shang Simla through the window of the plane. She felt as if she were coming home again. Her fingers grazed lightly over the card Gustav Delven had given her at the museum in France as she absent-mindedly held it in her hand. The thought had crossed her mind to merely toss into the trash bin, but she had stuffed it into her purse instead. The man was handsome and single, or so he said, and he had a certain aura surrounding him that caused her to feel drawn to him while he was in her presence. But then again, so had . . . . Suddenly the card was reduced to a crumpled ball in her fist when her thoughts turned to Ho Sung. Where could he be? She thought as her eyes scanned the landscape below.<br>Nellie had barely exited the plane when her cell phone rang. " Nellie, this is your friend, Jiang Lu. Welcome back to Shang Simla. Is it true you have found the keystone that the bumbling James Vaughan lost in faraway France? I must see this keystone that can fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Cave. Bring it to me!" <br><br>After marveling over the keystone for a few moments, his eyes sparkling in wonder, Jiang's expression turned serious when he looked up at her again. " I have grim news of what lies before you. Dong Huo, the cursed warlord of centuries past, is that which the Dragon Cave was built to contain. He was trapped previously, but now he wakes. He must be defeated by a master of the way of the Resolute Fist. You are that master. Train to the highest level of Martial Arts and break a Space Rock and you will be one step closer to fulfilling your destiny." <br>Nellie was stunned! All the work she had done, all the exploring, and all the traveling and this was what she learns upon her return? For a moment, she fought the urge to use her own resolute fist upside Jiang Lu's head.<br><br>The presence of Jiang's daughter, Liu, snapped Nellie out of her musings of violence and she flashed Liang a half smile. " You're not kidding, are you?"she sighed. " Now, instead of being able to get in there and get the job done, I have to do more work before I can move forward?" <br>" That is correct"Jiang Lu responded softly. " Just remember, most anything can be done if you learn discipline and . . .patience truly is a virtue!"With that, he patted her on the shoulder and followed his daughter into the house.<br><br>That is how Nellie found herself at the Phoenix Academy of Martial Arts, practicing on a dummy. The young woman had gone this far, she was not about to allow a little thing such as only being at level seven in Martial Arts to stop her now. She would practice day and night, if necessary, to obtain the skills she needed to succeed. <br>After sparring with an inanimate object for several hours, Nellie was ready for some live action. When she spied a man looking bored, she challenged him to a sparring match.<br><br>The pair decided to spar for the best two out of three. The man was good, but Nellie was a little better. She won the first two, so sparring for a third round was not necessary. Nellie's mind went back to when Zhan had said some guys may allow a pretty girl to win, but she knew this was not the case here, because he looked a bit surprised and dejected to have been bested by a female.<br><br>In the end, Nellie did not feel or smell too fresh, but she had raised her skill to the next level and was now sporting a new belt to show off her new status in the Martial Arts circle.Exhausted, but satisfied, she made her way back to base camp, took a long hot bath, and made sure to get a good night's rest. She would need all the strength she could muster for what lay in store for her within the next few days.<br><br>Bright and early the next morning, Nellie was back at the Academy, working on the strength aspect of her physical fitness. She felt it could not hurt to make sure her workout regimen was a well-balanced one. She pumped iron until she was sweaty and sore before hitting the showers and taking a jog over to The Scholar's Garden. She always loved it there and it was the best place to give her mind a workout now that her body had been put through its paces.<br><br>Nellie found a nice spot and sat on the ground to meditate. As usual, she had a difficult time getting her thoughts to smooth out and fade away in order to clear her mind to everything except the positive energy she sought. Again, she thought of Ho Sung. Why was it so hard for her to forget about him and move on? In her heart of hearts, she was worried about him. The young woman could not understand why he would have packed up and left his family the way we had, without contacting anyone he knew since. She said a silent prayer that nothing bad had happened to him. Nellie shoved away that notion and began to concentrate in earnest.<br>Finally, her mind broke free of all conscious thought and began to feel light and airy. As she breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly, her whole body began to feel that way.<br><br>Suddenly, Nellie felt as light as a feather. It was as if she were floating. She had never felt so relaxed and peaceful in her whole twenty-two years on Earth. As she concentrated on her breathing technique, the sensation of floating became even more intense and she was startled into opening her eyes. " I am floating!"she gasped in astonishment. All at once she felt herself falling, fast.<br><br>She cried out as she hit the ground with hard thud. It was lucky she had picked a spot to meditate in soft grass, she thought with a giggle. Nellie was elated! Finally she had reached that higher plane of existence of which the Masters had spoken. It felt amazing and she could scarcely belief that it had actually happened! She had always been a bit skeptical of some of the stories they told, but now she was a firm believer.<br>Wondering if, and hoping, she could reach that place again, Nellie closed her eyes and began to concentrate. Soon all awareness of her actual surroundings left her mind and the sensation of weightlessness flowed into her once again.<br><br>This time, Nellie continued her deep, even breathing exercises, and did not allow her concentration to break as her body floated higher off the ground. She had never felt so much inner peace flowing through her and from her. It seemed to permeate her very soul. The young woman's mind drifted to the long journey ahead of her and to the tasks she must perform before she would be able to obtain her goal. <br>A vivid picture of the Phoenix Martial Arts Academy formed in her mind and she imagined herself back there, working out on the practice dummy. Suddenly her body felt as if the substance which held it together had shifted and changed. Though it startled her, she did not break her concentration. Instead, she welcomed the sensation and allowed it to grow inside her, almost consuming her.<br><br>Soon, Nellie sensed her body descending downward, slowly this time. Once she made solid contact with the ground, she opened her eyes and gasped as she gazed at her surroundings, incredulous. She was now at the Phoenix Martial Arts Academy! As she slowly rose from her seated position, she realized that she had actually Zen ported herself here! Zen porting is another one of those things in which Nellie had not fully believed.A man stood behind her and when their gazes met, he nodded and tossed her a knowing smile. Nellie's face flushed as she smiled back.<br>" Time to get back to work"she whispered to herself as she moved toward an unused practice dummy.<br><br>The determined young woman practiced until it was dark. Soon, she was doing moves she had never before done. Her skill was growing more every day. Her heart and mind burned with yearning to reach her goal so that she may move on and learn the secret of the Dragon Cave. It was an emotion that threatened to consume her on a daily basis as it almost took on a life of its own inside her soul.<br>Her body and mind exhausted and spent, she finally forced herself to head back to base camp to rest. Something told her she should not push herself too hard. The last thing she wanted was to wear down her body or her mind.<br><br>" Good morning! Is Zhan here?"Nellie asked the young woman behind the counter in the spot usually occupied by Zhan Su. Nellie's heart seemed to catch in her throat as she awaited her reply as she remembered what had happened the last time she was in such a situation.The sensation worsened as a picture of Ho Sung's a handsome face with his friendly smile popped into her head. She could not bear to lose someone else dear to her in her life at this point!<br>" It is his day off today"the woman replied with a friendly smile. " Is there anything I can help you with today?"<br>Nellie smiled as relief washed over her and she blushed hotly, feeling foolish about her previous panic attack, as if the woman had known her thoughts. " No. Thank you"she said politely as she turned and walked outside, reaching into her bag to pull out her cell phone.<br><br>" Hello, Zhan?"Nellie spoke into her phone, trying to keep her voice calm and even. She felt almost desperate to see her friend. He was the only person in her life who seemed to be able to help her keep her emotions in check where the events in her life were concerned involving her adventures. She wished she could tell him about her involvement with Ho Sung, but she was frightened about the aspect of his losing respect for her, so she felt it was better to keep that secret for now. " I really need to see you. Can you meet me at the Market?" <br><br>A little while later, the pair was sparring outside in front of the shops. Zhan was one of the best Martial Artists in Shang Simla and Nellie had asked him to teach her some of his best moves. Zhan was more than willing to comply. He wanted his friend to succeed in her quest and wanted to do everything he could to help her.<br>Soon the sparring pair turned into a blur of flying hands and feet. Suddenly Zhan found himself hitting the ground, hard. <br><br>Nellie burst into a bout of hysterical giggles as she watched Zhan pick himself up off the ground and dust off his backside. Then she stifled her giggles and forced a more serious expression onto her face. " I . . . I'm sorry Zhan! I, really, I didn't mean to kick so hard. Besides, I thought you'd duck and I'd miss anyway."<br>" It is my fault for allowing you to catch me off guard"Zhan laughed. " You are getting stronger, Nellie. I believe you are not far away from the highest belt in Martial Arts!"He reached out and took her by the hand. Come. Let us get a few supplies and go to a place that is more peaceful and quiet.<br><br>" It says here that the best method for breaking a Space Rock is total concentration, discipline, and confidence. You must believe you can do it in order to succeed. The slightest hesitation may end with disastrous results!"Zhan read aloud to Nellie from the instructional book he had picked up at the bookstore before leaving the market.<br>Nellie swallowed the bite of hot dog she had in her mouth before answering. " That actually makes sense. Now, you have been reading that thing long enough, so come sit down and have some food!" She scooted over and patted the spot beside her, but he continued to read until the sun had gone down behind the mountains. Finally, he sat and grabbed something from the basket.<br><br>" I'm worried, Zhan"Nellie remarked softly, trying to keep how frightened she was from showing in her voice. " What if I'm not good enough? What if I break my hand instead of the Space Rock? What if all this is for nothing and I am preparing to walk straight to my death down in the tomb beneath the Dragon Cave?"She released a heavy sigh and waited for her friend's reaction to her solemn words. <br>The silence grew almost deafening as Zhan downed the hotdog he was holding in three bites and reached into the basket to grab another. Finally, instead of biting into the new one, he spoke, " These hotdogs you Americans eat taste very delightful!"<br><br>His goofy smile faded away and his eyes turned serious as he locked them with hers. " You are a strong woman, Nellie Blye"he said quietly. " Your body is strong and healthy, you are of strong will and spirit, and you have proven you have the determination to complete this quest. If you continue the way you have, I have complete faith that you will prevail and come out on the other side even stronger than you are already!" <br>Zhan laid the hotdog aside and took both her hands into his, squeezing them firmly, and continued, " There is just one thing . . .you must remember to always follow the ways and teachings of the Order of the Resolute Fist!" <br><br>The next day, Nellie headed straight for the Phoenix Martial Arts Academy and began her training regimen. She spent the entire day there, practicing on the dummies, sparring with willing opponents, and practicing her board-breaking skills. <br><br>By nightfall, she had earned the right to wear a new belt. As she remembered the words Zhan had spoken to her, she vowed to herself to wear it proudly. Nellie held her head high and her step was light as she headed back to base camp for a good night's sleep.<br><br>By dawn, Nellie felt ready to attempt the breaking of a Space Rock. She felt honored and proud to be wearing a new Martial Arts outfit. Besides the fact it meant she had reached the highest level, she felt the colors suited her nicely. After doing a few warm-up exercises outside the base camp, she hurried over to the Academy to attempt to perform her greatest feat yet. <br><br>For nearly half an hour, Nellie stared at the Space Rock she was going to attempt to break. It was large, heavy, and thick. She stood above, performing her deep-breathing exercises and imagining the rock breaking easily under her assault. The young woman was having a difficult time imagining that she could actually do it, despite all her training and preparation up to this point.<br>Her mind drifted back to the words Zhan had spoken to her two nights ago, she envisioned his gentle face and the intensity with which his eyes gazed into hers, and then she inhaled a deep breath and released it slowly. She brought her arm up high over her head. Suddenly, she emitted a sharp cry while bringing her hand down with all her might as she imagined the rock breaking into pieces when she made contact.<br><br>Nellie stood for a moment, her eyes closed, as the slight sting she felt in her hand faded away. When she opened them again, a huge grin spread over her face at the sight of the large rock broken into two pieces lying on the ground in a cloud of dust. She had done it! For a moment, she merely stood gaping, incredulous. She had actually managed to break a Space Rock with her bare hands! Holding her hands up in front of her face, she gazed at them in astonishment for several long moment...</li></ul>