Chapter 42 There’s Something at the Top of the Cave

After the adventure in Sichuan, climbing was no longer a problem for me. I visually inspected the height of the cave and found that it was more than sixty meters, which was about twenty stories high. Fortunately, this mountain rock was a lot easier to scale and I climbed very high in less than an hour. What made me feel most proud was that the cigarette placed behind my ear didn’t fall down during the whole process.

I tied a rope with iron spikes to create a simple safety rope. When it became very difficult to climb again, I was about ten meters away from the roof of the cave.

Fatty’s voice echoed below me. I used my flashlight to illuminate the cave ceiling and found that it was full of stalactites that were hanging upside down like spikes. As expected, there was something between these stalactites.

But they were too big and jagged, so I still couldn’t see clearly from my position.

“Do you see anything?” Fatty’s voice sounded eager.

If you don’t climb on your own, I won’t tell you. I’ll just piss you off instead! I didn’t bother answering him.

Fatty kept shouting from below while I hesitantly tried to change my position on the cliff to get a better angle. I almost fell off several times, but I still couldn’t see clearly.

I took a few deep breaths, feeling a little depressed. It wasn’t very easy to climb so high and it had all been for naught.

Fatty cried, “Sunshine incense burner gives rise to purple smoke. Purple smoke is born in the mountains.(1) It’s impossible to see clearly from your position. Shine your light on it for me. The flashlight is at its brightest so I’ll see.”

“If you’re not fucking educated, don’t recite it,” I scolded him. “Would you mind straightening out your tongue before reciting it again?”

“I was trying to liven up the atmosphere since you get impatient when you’re in a hurry. Don’t be so short with me. If you keep doing that, I’ll fuck you up until you become smoke. And it won’t necessarily be purple fucking smoke, either.” Fatty became angry.

I cursed darkly as I pointed my flashlight at the stalactites for what felt like half a day, but he also couldn’t see any mechanisms. He did see something in the middle that wasn’t big, but it had to be artificial.

“Can’t see, it’s too far away and the light’s not strong enough. That deformed bastard took away my scope; otherwise, I could see better.”

The core problem was still too far away. The distance the “Wolf-Eye” could shine actually wasn’t all that close, but my eyesight was limited. Under such concentrated light, if something was too small and unfamiliar to you, it would be difficult to determine what it was according to its shape. In this case, we’d have to either use a scope or get closer.

I looked up and saw that it would be really difficult and dangerous to climb. But at this time, I had already decided to take risks.

I gestured to Fatty that I would continue to go up, but it didn’t matter whether he saw it or not. I struggled to find a place to move since there were only smooth lime walls at a reverse angle a few steps up from my position. As long as I stepped on them, I would land in front of Fatty as a bloody pile of flesh within three seconds.

I don’t know how long I struggled in that position while Fatty called me countless times below. But I continued to ignore him. I had climbed so high that I was unwilling to go on like this, but there was really nothing I could do. Fatty could only stand at the bottom helplessly, so he eventually shouted at me, “Come down! The foreman promised to pay.”

I had stayed in the same position the entire time and had run out of energy, leaving me no choice but to climb down despondently. Fatty shook his head at me as I fell to the ground.

I clapped my hands and sighed, “I’m at a loss now. We’ll do whatever you’ve come up with.”

“I hate to say it, but I’ve thought all day and can’t think of a way. But we’re not without results. At least we know there’s something up there,” he said. “In fact, there’s a slim chance that I have a solution, but I didn’t want to say it because it’s too risky. You can make a hook out of an iron spike to see if you can hook anything over there and then swing over for a closer look.”

“Then how am I supposed to get back?”

“Come back, my ass. When I find the entrance, I’ll go to the building to save Little Brother and get them out. Then I’ll come back to save you. You just hang up there, smoke, and think about our bright future.”

Fatty’s method would work, but it was bullshit and I definitely wouldn’t do it. Regardless of whether the above thing really was related to the entrance or not, if I let Fatty go and he died, then I’d be hanging up there until I starved to death. That kind of death was just too painful.

My body was exhausted and my fingers trembled a little after climbing up once, so I went to soak in the water. At this time, I suddenly found that my hands felt off.

I used my flashlight to take a look and found that my fingers were dark and my fingernails were all black.

Was it dirt? Mud?

But it was very slippery and didn’t feel like mud at all. When I smelled my fingernails, I detected a strange odor. Not everyone would notice, but I knew what it was right away.

“Don’t worry about it. Old ladies like you are so fastidious,” Fatty scolded.

“No, it smells like kerosene,” I said as I looked at the rock walls around me. “There’s oil in these seams.”

I went up to the edge of the rock wall and reached up and touched it, but it was dry and there was nothing noticeable. Then I continued climbing until I got to a height of about three or four people. I put my hand in the stone crevice and touched black oil.

Kerosene was a special kind of oil made up of strange ingredients. Honestly, any oil prepared using many formulas could be called kerosene. The only common feature was that the oil was gelatinous and flowed easily, but was very viscous. In the case of a cotton core, the combustion was very slow and was usually used in a closed place like a pilot lamp or torch. Moreover, it didn’t deteriorate or dry up after long-term storage.

The crevice was so narrow that my hand couldn’t fully reach inside, but when I used a flashlight to illuminate it, I found that the oil content was very high and there were many fist-sized cotton balls in there.

I looked all the way up the crevice and found that the entire thing was continuously filled with kerosene, spiraling all the way up to the top of the cave.

This was a way to start a fire, and after looking at these cotton cores, it seemed that they could still be lit.

Fatty also climbed up and was surprised when he saw it. “Yo, it’s covered in sesame paste. What is this?”

I pointed to the cotton cores and explained the concept to him. He looked up and said, “Fuck, it must be spectacular when it’s lit.”

“But what’s it for?” I asked. “Do you need so much kerosene just to look in the mirror? These bastards are extravagant and wasteful. Moreover, this stuff must be disposable. If the kerosene is lit, it can’t be extinguished at all. Even if you have a fire extinguisher, it’s not easy to climb up and spray it. We’d have to wait for the oil to burn out.”

“Not necessarily,” Fatty said while pointing to the cotton cores. “Look at these cotton cores. There are burn traces on them. These things have already been ignited before.”

I shook my head, “They must’ve been lit to test the quality of the cotton cores before they were put in. If you light them here, the oil has to be burned through before the fire can be extinguished. How many people would die if they climbed against a wall of fire to put it out? And all the oil paths here are connected so you’d have to extinguish all the cotton cores at the same time. If you extinguish only one, the flames on the edge will ignite it again immediately.”

Fatty touched his chin and nodded, “That makes sense. However, this oil channel and this mirror should be connected, right?”

When I nodded, he said, “That’s fine.” As he spoke, he pulled out a match. “Comrade Marx said that practice is the only criterion for testing truth.”

I was immediately shocked when I saw this, “What are you doing?”

He lit the match, but the flame almost went out as he threw it into the crack. A spark immediately appeared inside and a fire dragon emerged out of the crack in the rock.

Neither of us thought that the flames would be so fierce. They caught the two of us off guard and we threw ourselves into the water.

Fortunately, the water below prevented me from hurting myself and I struggled to get up immediately. When I looked up again, I saw a spectacle that left me stunned.

A fire dragon was circling all the way up as if it were frightened, crawling on the cave wall and leaving a burning mark of flames. The whole cave was lit by the fire almost instantaneously.

At the same time, the temperature began to rise, and a smell of fire and oil immediately filled the whole space.

We were stunned to see the fire dragon spread upward in circles. It was almost dizzying.

It took ten minutes for the dragon to climb to the top and stop. As the flame spiraled over the whole cave wall and completely revealed it, I found that the shape of the cave was like an inverted horn. All the flames were concentrated in the mirror under the water and the ancient building was illuminated as if it were daytime.

“Amazing.” Fatty sounded dumbstruck.

I looked back at him and snatched the other matches from his hand, “You’re crazy! What if this oil was connected to explosives? This place isn’t the same as it used to be. Could you be more reliable and let us live a few more years?”

“If you want to live a few more years, you shouldn’t be here,” Fatty retorted. He didn’t look at me at all, but stared at the ceiling, “I’m not as slow as you are. Look, what is that?”

I looked up and immediately saw a very tiny building model in the area above the ceiling that had originally been dim.

The small model hung upside down on the roof of the cave in such a way that if it weren’t for the strong light, it would be impossible to see with all the shadows.

“Zhang Jialou!” I frowned. At the same time, I could see that many light spots were flashing on the ancient building. There appeared to be a lot of lenses around the model that were reflecting the fire here. At that moment, I also saw countless light spots dimly flashing on the walls around us, making the whole cave look like colored glass.

Fatty murmured, “It turns out that the whole Zhang family is from Lilliputian.” (2)

“No, it’s a filter,” I said. I looked at the shape of the whole cave and immediately understood the operation of its mechanism. I knew that it was impossible to verify after seeing the wall of flames, but I was almost certain that there was no other possibility regarding the secrets of the ancient building in the mirror.

<Chapter 41> <Table of Contents><Chapter 43>


TN Notes:

(1) I think these first 2 sentences are a butchered recitation of Li Bai’s poem “Gazing at a Waterfall on Mount Lu”.

(2) Nation of tiny people from Gulliver’s Travels


Updated 3/27/2021

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