“Is this the tomb door?” Fatty asked. After touching it, he gasped, “It really is the entrance to the tomb!”
“It seems that this may be the original form of the Zhang family’s ancient building. The oldest Zhang family tomb may not be a building, but an ordinary tomb. Later, after the wooden structure of the ancient building was erected, it was preserved by future generations as the lowest underground palace. The Zhang family’s oldest ancestors are all here!”
“Shit, if we go in, isn’t that considered grave robbing?”
“What, are you afraid?” I asked.
“No, I’m excited,” Fatty said. “How long do you think it’s been since we robbed a grave? If we really go in, it’ll be a trip down memory lane for us. Although we’re not taking stuff this time, we can have a good time looking at the scenery.”
Fatty really had a lot to say, so I told him, “All right then, ‘Officer Mojin’ (1). Please find a way out quickly so we can leave first. I’ll find a few more tombs for your enjoyment next time.”
“No. Even though I said that, I’m a little over it after what we’ve been through this time. I’ve decided to switch to selling Chinese cabbage when I get back.”
The ancient building we were just in wasn’t actually a grave in the formal sense, but entering here felt different. Not only was this the tomb of the Zhang family’s ancestors, but it was also the tomb of the old-timers who were much better than us. It was disrespectful to disturb them, so we kowtowed in front of the tomb. Then I asked Fatty to take out his cigarettes and do everything we could to follow the rules.
According to the northern sect’s rules, when entering an ancient tomb, one had to burn incense to pay homage and receive forgiveness from the tomb owner. This showed the tomb owner that the grave robber was poor, his mother was seriously ill, and his wife was forcefully robbed so he had to rely on this windfall to survive.
Fatty certainly spoke more eloquently than that, saying that the descendants of the Zhang family were unreliable, the GPS was out of power, we were lost and couldn’t find our way out, etc.
I had lost my watch, so I couldn’t see what time it was. All I knew was that we had stayed here long enough. I urged him to finish quickly, because if we didn’t leave soon, the mechanism above may really activate.
“After reciting, we’ll smoke the ‘incense’. Little Brother’s been here once, so the old ancestors won’t mind,” Fatty said.
“They won’t mind? Well, you’ll definitely find out later,” I said. “I can smoke the cigarettes, but you’re not allowed to touch them.”
After Fatty came down here, his cough had obviously lessened and I relaxed a little. He was right. Maybe he would be fine once he coughed up all the blood.
“Don’t worry, our future is uncertain,” Fatty said. “I won’t joke about my own life. When you smoke, take a big mouthful. I’ll just enjoy some secondhand smoke.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” I said. “Let me see what you can do.”
After Fatty finished, he pushed the stone door. But after pushing it a few times, he found that something was blocking it from behind. I looked through the crack and saw a zilai stone (2).
“You know how to open this stone door?” I asked.
Fatty nodded and pulled something out of his bag that looked like a strange hook. I didn’t know where he had gotten it from, but I figured it probably came from one of Granny Huo’s team. He inserted the hook behind the door and went to wrap it around the stone.
Zilai stones were very famous objects because they enabled the stone doors to close by themselves when you were leaving the tomb. At that time, many new archeologists didn’t understand the principle of this thing when entering a tomb for the first time and would choose to use violence to forcibly open the door. After they opened it, they would find something strange in the debris, but it was often too late and the entrance of the tomb had been damaged beyond repair. When Little Brother and the others came down, they came in the opposite direction so there was no problem. But now the stone door had automatically closed, and it wasn’t so easy to open.
Fatty didn’t seem to be particularly skilled at using this tool either, for he didn’t manage to open the door even after working for what felt like half a day. “Brother, you’re not very skilled at this!” I said to him.
Fatty cursed, “Bastard, I’ve been mixed up with you in recent years and haven’t had any serious jobs. The people who followed were all masters, so I haven’t had a chance to practice. You know, before I got mixed up with you, there weren’t so many fucking imperial tombs for me to rob. It would’ve been nice to visit a few basic tombs.”
“So? Shouldn’t you be thanking me for giving you a chance to learn more?”
“Bullshit, I’ve only learned a lot and don’t have any money. I’m not a traveler; I don’t just hang out in tombs when I have nothing to do. I’m also a person who wants to carry out his hard-earned work.”
As he spoke, I saw that the door had opened a little more, so I leaned against the stone until it finally opened.
A huge stone path appeared in front of us, stretching into the darkness. We turned on our flashlights and looked inside. I found that I still wasn’t used to calling this a tomb passage—it was very different from the ones I had seen before and had no decorations—but it was very similar to the stone path I had seen in the mountains before.
Fatty’s expression was full of happiness and excitement. He obviously didn’t realize what I was thinking and happily said to me, “The tomb passage. Shit, it’s better than seeing the road in front of my own house.”
“The Zhangs seem to really have a good foundation! If their ancient building was Yangshi Lei’s best work and they had to smash through the stone here, then this project was obviously much more difficult than the building above,” I said. “Moreover, these stones acting as the bottom foundation means that the building above is much more resistant to earthquakes.”
There was nothing in this tomb passage, and there didn’t seem to be any mechanisms. Fatty said it was to be expected. Since Little Brother came through here, he may have destroyed some of the traps long ago. Moreover, the ancient building’s setup was particularly strange. It didn’t seem to have too many mechanisms and the ones that were used for defense seemed to have only that kind of poisonous gas. But that was still the simplest and most effective anti-theft method I had ever seen. I didn’t think there was any defensive measure more effective than filling a place with poisonous gas.
We moved our flashlights around as we walked towards the tomb passage. There was nothing wrong with the air and we breathed to our hearts’ content. The painful burning sensation in our chests had basically disappeared by this point.
There weren’t any miluotuo shadows on the stone wall here, and when I touched it, I found that it was all volcanic rock. This place had obviously been built to defend against the miluotuo.
The two drainage ditches on both sides of the stone road that connected the drainage system under the ancient building were very similar to the tomb passage in Xisha’s underwater tomb. But it seemed like water hadn’t flowed here for many years. Was it possible that the rainfall in Banai had decreased in recent years and the rain was far less abundant than it was in ancient times? Or was there less groundwater flowing here due to some big project? Whatever the reason, it was very good for the preservation of the Zhang family’s ancient building.
We walked sixty or seventy meters before the passage began to turn. There were a bunch of caves on both sides, all containing very small coffins. This layout was similar to what we had seen upstairs, but these coffins were all made of stone and didn’t look too luxurious. It was obvious that in the early days of the Zhang family, they had also complied with the burial customs of that time and mostly used stone coffins.
There were also many characters written on the walls here. Fatty wanted to go up and look at them, but I quickly grabbed him.
We couldn’t abandon any clues until we found Little Brother, but now that we had found him, there was only one sentence in my mind: I want to say goodbye to the Zhang family’s ancient building.
Fatty didn’t give up and said, “Let’s take a look. The original Zhang family’s origins must be in these words. Moreover, the contents in these coffins must be very old and valuable! Let’s just open one at random and take whatever. It’s not a waste of time.”
“Didn’t you say you were over it? How can you suddenly think of this again?”
“It’s like a scene that arouses deep feelings,” Fatty said. He thought for a moment and then shook his head, “Forget it. It may not be a good thing to have you open the coffin. I’ll listen to you and keep walking.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I said. “If you want money, I’ll give you Uncle Three’s property when we get out!”
“Come on, I can’t afford that underworld culture!” Fatty said. “I still want to live as a peddler for a few more years.”
We walked about thirty more meters before a row of huge coffins suddenly appeared in the middle of the passage in front of us. Each coffin was the size of a double-door refrigerator, and they were all arranged in a line at the edge of the stone path.
When we went up and counted them, we found that there were as many as sixty. “These are some of the Zhang family’s ancestors who have abnormal body shapes,” Fatty said. “Look at this one, it’s fucking caught up with Japanese sumo wrestlers. A body as good as Little Brother’s seems to have been trained day after day.”
“These are all joint burial coffins,” I said. “There are two bodies in them. It seems that the coffins of the more loving model couples are all here.”
Fatty sighed with emotion after seeing it—if he and Yun Cai came to be buried together in the future, the coffin would have to be a little bigger. In fact, it would probably have to be the size of a chest of drawers. I told him that after he died, Yun Cai would be old enough to remarry five or six times, so they’d have to share a big bed. Fatty scolded me for being crass, but I just told him not to think about it anymore.
Behind these large coffins was a stone gate with a large black pillar on each side. Judging from its thickness, it seemed to extend from the top and may even be a part of the ancient building that went deep underground.
The stone door was half open, making it obvious that someone had come out of it. When I started to go over, Fatty grabbed me and showed me the pillar. There were traces of people being treated, and many things had been pasted onto it. To my surprise, a quick glance showed that it was all medical tape. Looking at it this way, it was as if this pillar had been walking and accidentally stepped on a mob boss who violently beat it up. I could even picture it with two eyes brimming with tears.
I climbed up the post to check and found that all of the medical tape had been stuck to countless small eyes on the surface of the post. It was like this pillar had been eaten by termites, for it was full of small holes. I wanted to tear one off but stopped when Fatty said that there must’ve been a reason for them to put it there so I shouldn’t remove it.
When we looked at it again, I noticed that all of the pieces of medical tape had been sucked in slightly. We started to carefully push open the stone gate, at which time I saw the medical tape suddenly get sucked inwards as if there was a pressure change at the mouth of the openings.
Indeed, there was a catch here. I didn’t know what would’ve happened if I had taken that piece of medical tape off; maybe countless poisonous needles would’ve shot out. It suddenly occurred to me that this ancient tomb used air pressure as a power drive mechanism, and it had actually been done quite skillfully.
After the stone door was pushed open, we slid in and swept our flashlights over every corner. We found ourselves inside a stone chamber.
<Chapter 56> <Table of Contents><Chapter 58>
(1) Think mojin means tomb raider
(2) Basically a stone bar, ‘zilai’ means natural
One thought on “Chapter 57 The Ancient Building’s Underground Palace”
Какая же огромная семья Чжан…