A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?
It was nightfall when Xiaomao had reached her remote destination, a distance beyond the abandoned caves of Mogao in the desert. She was exhausted, sweating and sore in her baggy pants and furry coat, with strands of ebony hair flying loosely from loosened gaps in her turban. But when she finally glimpsed the edge of a deep and spacious canyon and the quiet trickle of a stream, she knew she had made it. Her weary pace quickened, suddenly imbued with new energy and hope. She felt close enough to unwind the cloth around her head. “Come on, Rong Rong,” she groaned, tugging gently at the nose peg of the sleepy camel behind her. “We’re almost there.”
Rong Rong, who had been raised by Xiaomao since his days as a calf, snorted tiredly but obeyed. He and his master hurried to the edge of the canyon. What Xiaomao saw took her breath away: a long, flowing river with the color of dark silt, with a long row of elm trees along the embankment. “This is why they call it Yulin,” she said to Rong Rong. “The grove of elms. And there—” She jabbed her calloused finger at the dark, human shaped holes strategically occupying various spots along the cliffs. “—are the Tangut caves. There must be a trove of treasures and art the old men back in Beijing would die for.”