The light above his head vanished and it was all silent around him. There seemed to be just him left in the world the moment the marble slabs shut above him. A terror sprouted in him then, and grew greater and greater. His thoughts now were not of exploring this underground world, but of how to get out!
Xia Lei’s first thought was to call the Zodiac team and get them to blast the marble slabs open. However, he took out his phone and discovered that there was no phone signal, not even for the satellite phone. He started to regret telling the Zodiac team not to follow him, because if they had come with him, they would definitely have some way of opening up the marble slabs above his head and get him out. The situation now, though, made it clear that this method would not work.
Xia Lei looked around the square “hall” under the marble slabs. He was disappointed to find that there was no opening mechanism inside, and that there was nothing else other than the black bones and black stone walls.
However, he gradually calmed down in the process of searching for a way out.
‘I did not hesitate to become an enemy of the CIA and the FA in order to solve the mystery of the ancient alloy and AE. I’ve even almost lost my life on several occasions. What is this maze before me, compared to those dangers I face? Since I’m here, I have to get something out of this. I don’t believe that Leonardo da Vinci would put in so much effort to have me die here.’ Xia Lei’s heart calmed at this thought. He raised the light stick and walked into the passageway, determined.
Step… step… step…
His footsteps echoed in the passageway, bouncing off the black stone walls and giving one the impression that there were many people walking. Add the gloominess, cold, and the darkness, and this underground maze was very terrifying indeed.
Xia Lei did not walk fast. He moved carefully. He had to be aware of his surroundings — the air, the terrain, especially the stone beneath his feet. He had to look at all of them carefully to avoid any accidents from happening.
Fortunately, it seemed like this underground maze was a sealed space but the air in it was not stale at all. There seemed to be airflow. This discovery confirmed something for him, and that was that he would not have to worry about dying from lack of oxygen here.
The passageway quickly came to an end, and three pathways opened up before him — one left, one ahead and one to the right.
A dried-out corpse lay in the entrances of the left and right pathways. The corpses had been preserved well, and the facial features of the dead could still be seen clearly. Both corpses wore long white robes, and leather armour-jackets. The emblem of the Crusaders was on their chests. Weapons lay by the corpses too. One was a heavy mace, and the other was a two-handed axe. Both weapons were rusty with age and it was obvious that these were artifacts hundreds of years old.
There was no way to find out why the corpses of two Crusaders would appear here, but Xia Lei knew how they died. Their bodies were riddled with crossbow bolts. Some bolts had gone through their bodies, while some stuck out of their chests and their heads. It was a horrifying sight. From the positions in which the corpses lay, and the direction in which the bolts stuck out of their bodies, it was plain to see that the bolts had come from the passageways on the left and right. It looked like the left and right sides were dead ends, and full of traps.
The path ahead looked very clean in comparison — no corpses, no crossbow bolts. The middle path looked to be the path of survival. It was safe.
But Xia Lei knew that this was just an illusion. He picked up the mace from the side of the corpse in the left pathway, then came to the middle one and flung the rusted mace in.
He quickly dodged as soon as the mace left his hand, and hid behind a stone wall.
The mace flew into the pathway, and down, landing on a stone tile in the ground before sliding forward. The stone tile it had struck sunk visibly, and in a split second, there was a swishing sound as a host of crossbow bolts burst forth like a flock of startled sparrows.
Clink! Dink! Dink!
Sparks flew, and bolt after bolt struck the stone walls and the stone tiles. It was very loud, and a terrifying number of bolts too!
Behind the stone wall, Xia Lei broke out in cold sweat. If he’d chosen to walk down the middle pathway, he would have been a human-shaped pincushion now.
However, this was not due to his observational skills, but the map da Vinci had left on the canvas of the Mona Lisa. This underground space was a maze full of traps, and da Vinci had drawn a safe path through all the traps.
Though Xia Lei had the whole map in his head, and knew the right way to go, he could not trust da Vinci fully. This was why he had done that test. He did not want to die for nothing because he’d trusted a man who had passed away. It was a map which had been drawn hundreds of years ago after all, so what would he do if there were discrepancies?
After the crossbow bolts had been released, Xia Lei went to the pathway on the right. He picked up the two-handed axe from the side of the Crusader, then threw it into the pathway on the right.
Swish, swish, swish…
A flurry of crossbow bolts came flying again. Over a hundred bolts formed a net of death in that narrow passageway. Anything in there, even a sparrow, would have to give up on living.
With that test done, Xia Lei came to the entrance of the pathway on the left. This was the correct pathway which da Vinci had indicated on the map. However, he still didn’t step into it. He took the helmet off the head of the Crusader and threw it into the passageway. The helmet clanged when it hit the floor, but there was silence in the left passageway. No crossbow bolts came out, and nothing was triggered.
Xia Lei’s left eye twitched, activating his X-ray ability. He raised his light stick and walked in. He observed the situation before him with his eye, and three minutes later, he stopped using his X-ray vision. He had not discovered any traps in the stone walls and the floor under him. This passageway was indeed a safe one.
The left passageway came to an end after some walking, and six passageway entrances appeared.
A pile of Crusader corpses lay in the empty space before these six passageways.
These Crusaders had not been killed by crossbow bolts. They had been felled in battle. Swords stuck out of some of the corpses, and some had had their heads chopped off, with the heads having rolled to one side. Some had had their chests split open by axes. It was a gruesome sight.
Xia Lei’s gaze went to a shield; a coat of arms. He saw what looked like a cross pattern made of arrows, and motto in Italian: Defend belief, aid in suffering. In that instant, some related information popped up in his brain.
It was the insignia of the Knights Hospitaller. The motto in Italian was the motto of the Knights Hospitaller.
The Knights Hospitaller had been a very important military force in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Together with the Teutonic Order and the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller were the top three orders of knights of their period. In the prime of the time of the Knights Hospitaller, they established the Crusader States. Jerusalem was later destroyed but the Knights Hospitaller remained on the island of Malta, and became the last Crusader force of their time. They still existed today, but they had been renamed the Knights of Malta.*
These corpses made Xia Lei think. ‘I thought da Vinci had placed those corpses there on purpose earlier to lure people into taking the wrong path, but it now looks like that was not it. These Crusaders had forced their way in, and battled in here…’
Xia Lei’s thoughts came to a halt at the word ‘battle’ and a new question popped in his head.
Only the corpses of the Crusaders were in here, and there were no corpses of their enemy. This was the problem. If there were no enemies, then did these Knights Hospitallers kill themselves? If they had indeed killed themselves… Why?
Xia Lei quickly swept his gaze over the bodies and it soon stopped on one of the bodies. He walked over, and reached out to take a leather bag from the robes of the body.
The leather bag had been treated with oil, and was not damaged by the passage of time. There was no dirt in here, so the bag looked very clean, even a little tough. The insignia of the Knights Hospitaller was on the leather bag too.
Xia Lei opened up the leather bag and took out its contents.
There were some Maltese coins in the bag, and a silver cross as well as an unopened letter. The letter was still sealed with wax, and the stamp of the Knights Hospitaller was on it.
Xia Lei opened the letter and read its contents: Leader, we were ambushed in Bobbio. We are severely injured but we defeated the enemy. We have found the maze in the north of Bobbio. I have to admit that this Leonardo fellow is the smartest man in the world. We took two weeks to open the passageway. I should send this letter before going in, but my messenger is dead. I have decided to enter the maze first in order to avoid accidental or incidental battle. I shall send this to you when we come out. The metal of the gods must belong to the Knights Hospitaller, and victory shall go to us for the Kingdom to be rebuilt.
The letter was signed: Silver Baron of God, Your Loyal Knight, Valleta.
Xia Lei’s eyes stayed on four Italian words after he read the latter. Metal of the gods.
The words were not the same as ‘ancient alloy’ but he had a feeling that this “metal of the gods” in the knight’s letter was the ancient alloy.
The Knights Hospitaller had come to this place for the ancient alloy!
Xia Lei’s heart thumped with excitement at this thought. Could the last alloy piece be at the bottom of this underground maze? The thing that da Vinci left behind was the last alloy piece?
If that really was so, then the risk he was taking on this trip was entirely worth it!
‘Hold on…’ Xia Lei suddenly thought of the compass, and his excitement halved. ‘That compass could point to where the ancient alloy pieces were hidden without fail, and was even more accurate than satellite tracking. The last compass needle had pointed up to the sky when it was put on the compass, and never pointed in the direction of Italy. How can this maze hold the last alloy piece? Could the information that these Knights Hospitaller received be false? Or could it be some other reason?’
A chill wind suddenly blew.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
*author wrote three more lines of info-dump including their damn address.