Generation 1, Chapter 9
“What have you got behind your back,” El growled as I came in the door. It seems she was lying in wait; ready to pounce; for some reason.
“Now, El,” I began, “what’s the scowl for? I hurried home as soon as I could!”
”Don’t you start…”
“El,” I cut her off. “I have some good news,” I said as I presented her with the bouquet of beautiful red roses I had been hiding from view.
She took the bouquet with a gasp. She lifted the blooms to her nose and became to inhale their fragrant scent.
As she lowered the flowers, her scowl was replaced with a pleasant smile!
“You’d better have something exceptional to share, to try and smooth my feathers like this,” she winked.
“As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve just made a deal for a rather large order of nectar. The man was quite mysterious, indeed. He was overly exorbitant in his offer. If I can pull off this order, we will be able to pay off all our debts and have some to spare.”
“She jumped into my arms and kissed me. I’m so glad, Jag,” she exclaimed, as she then swatted my on my rear end with her bouquet, “You’d better get to it then!”
That devilish grin of hers always made me melt, “That can wait for a bit,” I said as I took her hand in mine and began to lead her up the stairs.
I was confident I could fill the order in the prescribed time, if I didn’t have any difficulty growing and harvesting this exotic fruit I was to use. I’d never heard of this fruit before. Well, only one way to find out.
I set out to the garden to plant the seeds I was provided. I was already formulating a recipe in my head as the seeds were pressed into the waiting earth. It was a tall order, but with the boys’ help, I could make the deadline.
I completed the order well ahead of the scheduled due date. The boys were instrumental in getting the job completed. I’m sure the promise of new instruments, computers and such. The money was more than enough to pay off all of our debts and still have a sizable sum left over.
It occurred to me that we never had a proper honeymoon, so I thought we might take a trip. After presenting the idea to El, she ran out of the room so fast, I couldn’t tell if she was upset or excited. Later I would find out she just had to tell her sister. Cin encouraged her to shop for a new wardrobe, but El assured her she would come home with some new clothes.
I check several destinations, finding I couldn’t afford the airfare for the whole family to any of them. I was able to get a discount on a party four to China, so I thought we’d invite Val and Cin along. El insisted she make the invitation in person, and off she went.
As bad luck would have it, they were unable to go. I couldn’t get a refund on the tickets, so we decided to take Dusty and Smoky along. We assured the other boys that they would get to go next time.
All the arrangements were made and loose ends tidied up. We had no problems at either airport and made it through Chinese customs without incident. There’s no way we could have had a hold up in customs, as El endured we traveled light to make room for souvenirs on our return.
Wanting to experience the rich culture of Shang Simla, El insisted we go to the hotel by rickshaw. I must say, that was an experience; one I wouldn’t want to repeat, mind you; at least not on dirt roads through the mountain sides. Actually, the roads were little more than livestock trails.
After stowing our bags and getting settled in our rooms, the boys declared we were up for some adventure. El agreed, parading us all off to the local marketplace. I don’t think shopping is what the boys had in mind.
We were directed by the hotel staff to a notice board at the base of the hill where ads for tours and goods for sale were posted.
After looking over the board, we made note of a few things of interest and began to formulate a schedule for our visit back in our rooms.
The next morning, we made our way down the hill path once again and began head down the road. Of course we had no idea where we were headed, so I stopped a man who came long to ask for some directions. El was much quicker to the punch than I, asking for direction to the market.
Although I couldn’t hear the groans from the boys, I could feel them. May as well get this over with, I thought.
He graciously pointed our way to the local market as well as giving some tips on which shops to steer clear of. Whatever his reasons, he seemed genuine in his concern.
It was a nice walk to the center of town; the Ancient City, it was called. We spied the market and headed over the foot bridge to the shops.
We took a few minutes to just wander around the streets, checking out the sites. We stopped and had a bite to eat before El dragged us into the various shops, ohing and ahing everything she saw.
Dusty found a book shop and that’s the last we’d seen of him for a while for an hour or so. I’m sure he would be coming out with a few hundred books on local history and legends. He’d probably have them all read before we left China, too.
Shop after shop, we spent the afternoon looking at everything in sight. Thank goodness El wasn’t buying it all. She said she would like to see what each shop sold and look it all over before she made her purchases. I have to admit, she was the more level-headed of us.
Dusty met up with us as we entered the last shop on the main street. It had a small section on one wall for clothing. El insisted we each get something, even if it were only a shirt.
While she decided what each of us would wear (the boys and I dreading her choices before even seeing them), Smoky and I looked around at the rest of the goods. She saw this and I pointed out that.
Our purchases in hand, we left that shop and headed around the corner and happened on a small souvenir shop. From the name, Shang Simla Exports, I imagined the prices to be outrageous. To my surprise, they seemed very reasonable. We made a few purchases and called it a day.
We made our way back to the hotel. On the way, Smoky pointed to a structure, announcing it was some sort of training facility from the sounds orchestrated from within. He’d heard of Sim Fu training centers and was eager to find one.
Upon entering, we found it was, indeed, a Sim Fu Training Academy. One of the trainers sought us out and offered to show us around. After indicating the gate at the far end led to the Scholar’s Garden, we lost Dusty once again, with El close on his heels.
The Master took us over to the area with some crude looking wooden posts. Smoky began striking poses in front of one of the dummies, much like the ones you see in martial arts movies. I’m sure he had no idea what he was doing.
We were offered some basic lessons on how to properly use these training dummies. Smoky was all for it. I, however, had my reservations. The Master led us to a room where we were handed uniforms and allowed to change. We were then led back to the training area, where we were each greeted by a Master who would give us private lessons – for a fee, of course.
It seems I was correct in my assumption that this was not for me! These wooden practice dummies rotated and, unbeknownst to us, sprang back quickly, striking Smoky in the forehead with one of its many arms.
That ended any interest I had in the sport, but Smoky was undaunted, continuing to practice the moves called out by the Master; the goose egg growing larger and larger on his forehead.
We called it a day and finally made it back to the hotel after collecting El and Dusty from the garden.
Jet lag was definitely taking its toll at this point. I could have lain on a bed of nails and fallen fast asleep. Everyone seemed to have a good night’s sleep, waking quite late in the morning; too late, in fact, to get breakfast at the hotel.
After getting ourselves ready, we decided we’d get something to eat in the village. As soon as he had finished, Smoky was off to the Academy again; where he would spend the remainder of his visit.
Dusty indicated that the bookseller had given him map to a nearby tomb. I doubted its authenticity, but El encouraged me to go along, “You need to spend more time with Dusty.”
Dusty led us to a temple in the middle of the Ancient City. I had to admit, it was a wondrous structure.
El stopped me at the base of the steps leading up to the temple, “Jag McWine, I love you.”
“I love you, more, El!”
I pulled her close and we kissed; a soft, passionate kiss.
Dusty began to clear his throat, most probably embarrassed being seen with us.
Taking the hint, we ascended the steps, noting the beautiful architecture and sculptures along the way. We tried the temple door, expecting it to be locked, but it easily swung open on its hinges. We stepped inside and looked around. The furnishings and alters had been gated off from the public.
Dusty began to tell the history of this temple from the book he had acquired from the bookseller. El was walking around, taking in the décor. All of a sudden she heard a click and looked at her feet.
A hidden panel had appeared beneath them as the floor below Dusty just as quickly disappeared, revealing some stairs down. Thank goodness my reflexes were quick enough to reach out and grab a hold of Dusty before he tumbled down into the abyss.
El was starting to freak out; Dusty remained unscathed. He insisted this was a hidden passage to the tomb on the map he had received. He pulled the map from his pocket and began to study it. He turned to me and suggested we go down.
Against my better judgment, we descended only to find a locked door at the bottom. Dusty noticed a plaque on the wall and read the inscription. From what he could make out, there was some reference to a stone key like the one we purchased in the souvenir shop the previous day.
I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see him pull it from his backpack.
He handed it to me and pointed to a recess in the wall next to the door in the same shape as the stone key.
“Don’t you want to place it in the slot?” I asked.
“Umm, no that’s okay! You can have the pleasure,” he said with a half smile; making me wonder if he knew more than he was willing to share.
The key slid into the slot effortlessly and snapped into place with a click and began to glow. Upon trying the door, we found it unlocked. I hesitantly opened the door and peered into the torch-lit room beyond.
Not sensing any immediate danger, I stepped through with Dusty close behind. If he were any closer, he would be my shadow. As we looked around, Dusty found another plaque on the wall and read the inscription.
Unable to translate the ancient language, he pulled a book from his pack and flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for. The book, it would seem, was about lost tombs in Shang Simla and contained the simlish translations to the ancient language written on the plaques.
After reading a few pages, Dusty said there was reference made to moving statues onto hidden floor plates to trigger the next door.
As I moved the statue along the floor, a hidden plate appeared and the faint familiar click could be heard at the next door. This room was separated by a wall of stone statues. Dusty insisted on pushing one out of the way.
Unable to move the heavy stone, he turned away and contemplated our options. I shoved the statue forward and triggered what seemed to be a fire trap. Either age had taken its toll on the device, or moving that particular statue was meant to disable it. Perhaps we’ll never know.
A partially exposed switch plate protruded from a pile of rubble. Stepping on the exposed portion proved to be fruitless. As there were no other signs of levers or devices, it was surmised that we had to dig through the rubble with the conveniently placed pickaxe.
I knew Dusty was not up to the task, so I quietly grabbed the pickaxe and began swinging at the rubble.
Once the rubble was cleared away, I gestured for Dusty to stand on the plate. Reluctantly, he did so, probably fearing he would be the recipient of some sort of trap.
The switch revealed a hole in the nearby wall.
“What should we do now, Dad?” he asked with a shaky voice.
“Seems to me, you need to stick your hand in the hole and search for a lever or switch,” I suggested.
“Me?” he winced.
“Sure! What’s the worst thing that could happen? Evidently one was meant to put their hand in there.”
“I su…sup…pose,” he stammered. He took a deep breath. “Here goes!”
All of a sudden his eyes got big. To both our surprise, he quickly withdrew his arm covered in bugs. He screamed like a school girl, long and hard. It took everything I had to muffled the laughter I felt building inside.
That was the last time Dusty stuck his hand in any holes. The poor kid was scared out of his wits. I can’t say I blame him, really; but that bloodcurdling scream almost made me lose control and laugh at him.
We came across a dive pool in the next chamber. He took out his map of the tomb and began to study it. I jumped into the pool, as it was apparent that it was our only means of going forward. It led through and underwater tunnel to another chamber.
In this chamber, there was a single chest. I heaved the lid open to reveal another stone key. I secured it to the belt on my kilt and returned through the pool.
As I emerged back into the chamber where I had left Dusty, he was still intently studying his map.
“If I’m reading this correctly, I think one of us needs to dive into this well, swim through a tunnel at the bottom, and enter another chamber where he’ll find the key,” he said without lifting his head.
“Oh, okay,” I said matter-of-factly, handing the stone key to him.
“How did you know the key was at the other end of the pool?” he asked earnestly.
“It seemed like our only alternative, that’s all. You were so intently studying your map, that you didn’t even hear me splash into the water. I’m not so stupid as not to figure that out, Dusty.”
“I never meant to imply you were stupid,” he pouted.
“I know you didn’t. Stop taking everything so personal. It’ll make you old before your time. Just look at your uncle Val!”
“I’m so telling,” he snickered.
I simply winked at him, placed the key in the slot and moved through the next door. This chamber appeared to be a dead end, with the door we entered through as the only means of exit. Along one wall were three chests. We opened each chest, to discover trinkets in the first two. The third chest, when opened, served as a trigger to open a secret door in the wall at the far end of the room. This door led to the area at the base of the stairs.
We climbed the stairs to fine a worried El pacing back and forth. Evidently, Dusty’s scream carried all the way back up to her and she thought the worst. Once she was calmed, we made our way back to the hotel for the night.
We spent the remainder of our vacation taking in the sights; the outdoor sights; and also took some time to do some fishing after the boys learned they could retrieve treasure from the fish on occasion.
Smoky was doing very well at the Sim Fu Academy. The Masters were calling him a natural. Apparently he progresses so fast, he was leaving China three belts higher than a beginner.
Our last stop was at the Temple of the Heavens, high atop the mountain overlooking the Ancient City. The view from the apex was breathtaking, to say the least. Even the haze that hung in the sky couldn’t mask the majestic mountains that surrounded this quaint valley.
We left on time and without delays, returning home, at least five times heavier.
It seems that one of the Masters was so impressed with Smoky’s progress, that he had sent him a training dummy for himself. Luckily we didn’t have to cart the thing back ourselves.
Smoky wasted no time instructing the curious Grey on Sim Fu. With Smoky as his teacher, he won’t get very far, I’m afraid! Perhaps we can find an Academy nearer to home for the boys to attend.
It’s a good thing our “vacation” didn’t last much longer, as El was very tired and was resting a lot. I pressed her to go to the doctor, but she kept insisting she was fine.
Life was back to normal – as normal as normal can be for us, anyway.