LOOG Chapter – 52

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Chapter 52: Doors and Padlocks

Days passed, and slowly, life in the cave fell into a rhythm. The newly organized sects focused on training the new disciples, and helping the long-time disciples push toward breakthroughs. Temporary fighting platforms were built out of wood and hide, set up outside of the cave for training purposes. Dragon Lord Sima Zikang ran drills with various battlefield formations.

A guard station was erected higher up on the slopes of Mount Fohe, a location from which much of the lands to the west were visible. In addition to that, mounted patrols were sent out regularly to patrol the area within a two day ride of the cave. Bao and Sunan wanted as much advance notice as possible if the Demon Emperor decided to send a force against them, be it large or small.

Roughly two weeks later, a discovery was made.

Bao and Sunan were having a casual sparring match on one of the fighting platforms when Li Runfa hurried up. During the reorganization of the Pure Phoenix Sect, Li Runfa had refused to accept any title or position. However, as one of the original group led by Bao from the south, he was well-respected, and his words carried almost the same weight as the two Dragon Lords.

Li Runfa leaned up against the side of the platform and watched Bao and Sunan exchange blows for a minute or two. When they stopped to rest, he said, “Chieftess, Sect Leader, I found something interesting.”

Taking a drink of water from a skin bottle, Bao hopped down onto the ground and looked over at him expectantly. Sunan jumped down to stand next to her.

“It’s….” Li Runfa hesitated for a moment. “Well, I think it would be better if you just see it yourself.”

Bao handed the skin bottle to Sunan and then said, “Very well, lead the way.”

With a nod, Li Runfa headed back into the cave entrance. It took a few minutes for them to wind their way through the main parts of the cave toward one of the deeper caverns. There were quite a few shafts leading further into the depths of the earth, and at Li Runfa’s suggestion, they had been slowly exploring those shafts, and the smaller caverns they led to.

At a certain point, Li Runfa reached an area where two young men in the garb of the Pure Phoenix Sect waited, holding oil lamps. One of the young men handed a lamp to Li Runfa, who then continued down into the darkness.

As they proceeded, the tunnel grew narrower and shorter, until they were forced to duck their heads down. The tunnel twisted and turned, and even branched off a few times. At one point, they had to squeeze through a crevice so narrow that it almost required them to hold their breath lest they get stuck.

The entire time, both Bao and Sunan could tell that they were climbing ever downward into the bowels of the earth. It was an unnerving feeling.

Eventually, the tunnel suddenly opened into a cavern so large that the lamplight didn’t reach the ends.

The sound of dripping water echoed about, and a shallow lake spread out in front of them.

“I sure hope you know the way back, Master Li,” Sunan said.

Li Runfa chuckled. “Don’t worry, I have a very good sense of direction. Come on, we’re almost there.”

He strode out into the lake, which started out ankle-deep, but soon reached the calves.

At the far end of the cavern, the rock floor rose up again, and they stepped out of the pond. That was when they saw the door.

There in the wall of the cave was a door made of stone. Apparently, the door had been crafted from stone hewn from the wall itself. No hinges were visible, which indicated that the door would likely open inward. Securing the door was a sturdy-looking padlock, roughly the size of a melon.

The surface of the door was ordinary, with no decorations whatsoever. In fact, were it not for the large padlock, it would have been difficult to spot the door to begin with.

Peering at the door, Bao said, “How did you manage to find this, Li Runfa?”

“Luck, I suppose. I really can’t say how far down the tunnels and caverns go, but I can say that we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s down here. My lamplight just happened to touch this door earlier this morning. If my head hadn’t been turned in the right direction in that moment, I would have passed it by.”

Sunan stepped forward. Grasping the padlock, he tugged it back and forth a bit. “Seems sturdy.”

“It is,” said Li Runfa. “I toyed with it earlier for a minute or two. Although it looks plain on the outside, the inner workings are complex. I didn’t have the tools at the time, though, so I couldn’t perform a true assessment.”

“Presumably you have the tools now?” Bao asked.

He grinned. “Of course. Shall I?”

Sunan stepped back and took the lamp while Li Runfa pulled out a set of tools.

Sure enough, the padlock was no simple piece of machinery. Time ticked by, although it was difficult to say how much, considering they were surrounded by nothing but darkness and the sound of dripping water.

After what was surely an hour or so, Li Runfa shook his head. “This lock is… almost godlike. I can tell that it’s going to take me time. How about I take you back to the surface and then come back to work on it alone?”

**

It wasn’t until the next day that it suddenly occurred to Bao that they hadn’t heard from Li Runfa since he escorted them to the surface. After inquiring, she was told that he had been working on the lock for the entire time since.

The next day, the news was the same.

An entire week went by.

News was starting to spread through the camp, until everyone was talking about it.

On the ninth day, a disciple came to find Bao and Sunan and gave them the news.

“Master Li opened the lock!”

After climbing back down into the darkness, through the tunnels, and across the lake, they found themselves standing once again in front of the door. Li Runfa looked exhausted, his hair disheveled, his clothing rumpled. But he was smiling.

“Just as I said before, godlike.” He hefted the huge padlock in his right hand a few times. “I’m going to have to take this back up and study it well.”

“Excellent work, Master Li,” Sunan said.

Li Runfa clasped his hands respectfully. “Many thanks, Sect Leader Sunan.” Then he placed his palm onto the surface of the door and asked, “May I have the honor?”

“Go ahead,” Bao said.

With that, he pushed the door open. It slid open quietly, without the slightest creak or moan. Behind it… was a corridor, clearly hewn by human hands, which sloped down and to the left.

Since Sunan currently had the lamp, he led the way, and the followed the corridor down. It seemed to have been carved in a spiral, which led down several meters to… another door, and another padlock.

“Interesting,” Li Runfa said, stepping forward to examine the lock. “The other lock was made from lead, this one seems to be copper.” Without another word, he produced a long metal hook and slowly inserted it into the lock. After moving it around a few times, he looked back at Bao and Sunan. “This is going to take some time.”

The days marched by. One day. Three days. Seven days. The camp was abuzz with rumors about what lay behind the door.

“I bet it’s a treasure. Our sects are going to be rich!”

“What if its actually a passage to the underworld?”

“Maybe it’s a prison! What if there’s some kind of ancient monster inside?!”

On the ninth day, word came.

“Master Li opened the lock!”

Behind the door with the copper lock was another tunnel that spiraled down, just like the first one had. This second tunnel led to… another door and another padlock. This padlock was made from bronze.

Despite the increase in the quality of metal, this new lock took Li Runfa exactly nine days to open, just like the other locks. After that was another lock, this time, of steel. It also took nine days to pick.

Time blurred and rumors swirled.

Eighty-one days later, Li Runfa opened the ninth lock. Each lock was a progression of increasingly precious metals. The first was lead, then iron. After that, copper, bronze, and steel. The final four locks were made from metals that no one could identify, and yet, all of them took nine days to pick.

On the eighty-first day, Bao and Sunan took Tie Gangwen and Sima Zikang along with them to meet Li Runfa in the depths of the earth beneath Mount Fohe.

Li Runfa stood in front of the door, holding a padlock made of strange greenish metal that actually glowed with soft light. He seemed mesmerized as he stared at the lock, running his finger slowly in a circle around the keyhole.

As Bao and Sunan approached, he looked up.

“I’m quite certain that this is the last lock and the last door,” he said. “I can’t say why. It just… feels that way.” He reached out and placed his hand on the surface of the door. “May I have the honor?”

Bao nodded.

He pushed the door, and something like a sigh could be heard, a sigh originating in ancient times.

Behind the door was a cavern, and as they stepped in, they could sense that it was even bigger than the lake cavern up above.

They had come prepared with the most powerful lamps they had, which they now lit. Everyone present, including Bao, Sunan, Sima Zikang, Tie Gangwen, and Li Runfa all held up shining lamps, sending flickering light out in all directions.

The cavern floor was mostly smooth, and unlike the other caverns, there were few stalactites or stalagmites visible, and those that were seemed relatively newly formed.

They proceeded into the cavern, and moments later, Tie Gangwen said, “Look, up ahead.”

A pit became visible, and as they neared its edge and looked down, gasps could be heard.

Bones could be seen at the bottom of the pit. At first, they assumed the bones were simply jumbled at the bottom, but as the lamp light spread out, they realized that they were looking at a skeleton. Not a skeleton. Skeletons!

Two enormous skeletons filled the bottom of the pit, intertwined almost in an embrace. They formed a circle, with the torso of one of the skeletons resting within the tail of the other, and vice versa.

“Is that the skeleton of… a dragon?” Sima Zikang asked.

“I think it is,” breathed Tie Gangwen. “And that other creature. It’s….”

“A phoenix,” Li Runfa said.

Get behind the scenes info and material for your Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate session at the Bedrock Blog. Hey everyone, I’ll be live streaming a conversation with Brendan from Bedrock Games tomorrow. We’ll talk about Legends of Ogre Gate, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, wuxia, xianxia, and who knows what else. Please check it out!

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