Just as I was hesitating on whether to move forward or not, we suddenly heard a clap of thunder.
The thunder sounded very different when we were deep in the rock strata. In fact, it was more like a wave. After listening to it, I immediately understood that it was the thunder being transmitted from the bronze pieces above. It was like the thunder was coming at us from all directions. For a moment, I felt as if I was really in some kind of strange environment. But it wasn’t a feeling of fear, just of strangeness. With so many corpses in front of me, it was like this passage was full of sinister voices.
In a daze, I took a step back, wanting to retreat a little (I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m really the type of person who’s willing to give up at such a juncture). When I looked back, however, I saw someone kneeling behind us.
This man appeared out of thin air and definitely hadn’t been there just now.
I pointed my flashlight at him, illuminating his whole body. He was kneeling down in the tunnel six or seven steps away from us. I couldn’t see his face since his head was lowered, but he was wet all over. His sudden appearance scared me so much that I cried out and jumped up, hitting my head on the rock ceiling so hard that I saw stars.
Fatty was startled by my reaction and made a defensive move, but the man suddenly raised his head. When I got a good look at him, I said, “Hey, Professor Wang. What are you doing here?”
Professor Wang looked at us with a pale, expressionless face. In the flashlight’s glow, he kind of looked like a corpse.
We hurried over and lifted him up. Professor Wang was cold all over and spat out a mouthful of yellow muddy water, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Fatty pressed on the professor’s philtrum (1) for a long time before the professor spit out more water.
Fatty and I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally came to his senses, and then I asked him what happened. Professor Wang spent a long time making weak gestures before things became clearer. He said that he watched our rope move in a rhythmic pattern and thought that we were signaling that we had made it over. He knew that we had successfully made it through, but the more he thought about it, the more uneasy he became. He felt that if the first ones to see such an important archaeological discovery were criminals, then they might have ill intentions.
But they only had one set of diving equipment left, so he followed along the rope first. He just didn’t expect visibility to be so poor and that it was so cold down there. He was old, didn’t have any experience, and was wearing his work clothes under the diving suit. As his clothes became soaked in the water and weighed him down, he almost drowned.
After listening, Fatty said, “Hey, we understand you’re here to guard against thieves, but we’re professionals. We never destroy or steal. We just take pictures at most. What you’re doing is unnecessary. Look at you, your old bones are practically falling apart.”
Professor Wang said that he believed in me alone and didn’t trust Fatty at all. I rubbed his chest, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, but I understood his mentality.
As Professor Wang slowly recovered and looked at the narrow passage in front of him, he saw the dense niches full of those ancient corpses. Fatty helped illuminate them with his flashlight, showing that all of the ancient corpses were wearing blackened robes.
Professor Wang immediately said, “These corpses don’t belong to the Yang family members. They’re the corpses of the earliest people who built this Taoist temple. You see? Their clothes are all sewn using an ancient method. We can tell that the Yang family’s clothes were made during the Republic era because the materials used less hemp and more cotton. But the fabrics of these ancient corpses’ robes are mostly hemp, which shows that they’re much older. Let’s not touch them so as to avoid damaging them.” At this time, we all saw another flash of light appear in the darkness at the far end of this passage.
We could see that Professor Wang immediately noticed it, and when I looked at his expression, I realized that he seemed to know what it was. His eyes were wide and full of excitement, just like a little boy entering the women’s bath for the first time.
I immediately said, “Professor Wang, I know you’re hiding something from us. What is it? What’s that shiny thing? You must know.”
Professor Wang said, “It’s a tourmaline bonsai with a mercury-glazed base (2). The thing that keeps flashing is the mercury. In the time it takes a stick of incense to burn, a bit of mercury slips down from the bonsai and forms a kind of silver waterfall. The tourmaline is the peach plum and the colored glaze is the exquisite shape of a mountain. It’s so huge that it should be as big as a wall. This is the Taoist temple’s spirit wall (3).”
“How are you so sure?”
“It’s a guess. This thing wasn’t created here, but stolen from one of those big tombs. I saw it in some unofficial historical records. When I was exploring before, I saw a bronze plate with this kind of thing illustrated on it. It’s very similar to what the unofficial records said. I’m guessing that if this thing really exists and was stolen, then it would wind up here.” With that said, Professor Wang started crawling into the passage full of ancient corpses. “I have to see it with my own eyes.”
I initially thought that the flash of light was bad news, but Professor Wang said with such certainty that it was just the light reflecting off of a gem. I didn’t dare act rashly in front of him, so I looked at Fatty, thinking about how we could persuade the old man not to go in. But when I looked at Professor Wang again, I saw that he had actually crawled far ahead. In fact, he had crawled so fast that I found it a little strange. How could an old man crawl so fast? Fatty hurried in to chase after him, but was too fat. He tried squeezing his way in twice, but was unsuccessful. Now it was up to me, so I crawled in with my flashlight pointing to the front and saw Professor Wang’s feet.
When I crawled forward, I saw that Professor Wang’s feet weren’t moving at all, but he still managed to pull away from me so quickly, just like a snake.
At that time, I felt like something was wrong, but Professor Wang crawled so fast and nothing happened, so I was a little relieved. I followed him forward while Fatty brought up the rear.
There was a corpse right in front of my face while the back of my head was only a palm’s width away from another corpse. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t think for even a single a moment. Goosebumps broke out all over my body, coming and going as I continued moving forward. The only thing I could do was stare at Professor Wang in front of me. Then, I noticed that the ground was very wet, as if water was flowing from him.
Is it pee? I wondered to myself. But I didn’t smell urine. As I was thinking, Professor Wang disappeared from my sight, leaving only the row of corpses in front of me. The thunder was still sounding overhead, so I could only clench my teeth and continue moving forward. I didn’t know how long it took—maybe it was only a few minutes, maybe it was longer— but I finally saw the exit.
The passage in front of me began to widen, so I clenched my teeth and crawled quickly. When I finally made it out, I found myself in what seemed to be a natural cave with a fairly level ground. I stood up and saw Professor Wang standing there. He didn’t have a flashlight, so he was just standing in the dark. The spirit screen he had mentioned before was right in front of him. There was a huge glazed bonsai above that matched his description from earlier. Under my flashlight’s beam, it radiated a colorful and exquisite light.
Professor Wang was still dripping wet. When I walked up to him, I saw him shivering and staring at the bonsai with dull eyes. “It’s real,” he muttered to himself. “I’m actually seeing it.”
At this time, mercury suddenly flowed out of a hole at the top of the bonsai and moved down the grooves on the colored glaze like a silver waterfall. There were also many lotus leaves carved from tourmaline. After the mercury flowed down, it split into countless beads that shot out like reflective meteors. As they rolled around, they finally merged into the waterfall and fell into the hole at the bottom of the bonsai.
I sighed in my heart, amazing.
I turned to talk to Fatty, only to find that he hadn’t come out yet. At this time, Professor Wang bypassed the spirit screen and went to the dark area behind it. I quickly followed him with my flashlight.
There was a huge pool of water behind the spirit screen. The water’s surface was as calm as a mirror. When the thunder sounded, countless ripples appeared in the center of the pool. The thunder was coming from the top of the mountain, so I pointed my flashlight up and saw countless bronze plates hanging from the top of the cave. They were probably connected to those bronze pieces in the mountain crevices.
I moved my flashlight back towards the center of the pool. The pool was so huge that it couldn’t be illuminated clearly, but there was a faint outline which indicated that there should be a lot of buildings at the center. I figured there was a huge stone stele between us and these buildings, because I saw a huge square outline in the flashlight’s glow.
<Chapter 6><Table of Contents><Chapter 8>
(1) Per Tiffany: The philtrum, or medial cleft, is a vertical indentation in the middle area of the upper lip. Wiki link here. In Chinese medicine, pressing people’s philtrum can save those who have passed out. I don’t think this is scientifically proven.
(2) Tourmaline is a crystalline boron silicate mineral that’s classified as a semi-precious stone. It can be found in a wide variety of colors: green, blue, black, red, yellow, white, pink, purple, orange, brown, grey, etc. Info here. Here are more pics, but a black tourmaline bonsai could look like this:
(3) Also called a spirit screen or screen wall. It’s used to prevent spirits from entering the entrance gate in traditional Chinese architecture. Spirit screens can either be positioned on the outside or inside of the gate they are protecting, but the one Professor Wang refers to is a zhaobi (照壁) which is only on the outside. More info here.
Not sure if any of you look at the raws, but the next 2 “chapters” are about the leather figurine woman and the Warehouse Eleven plane case from the drama. And then it goes back to this story for the remaining 12 chapters (if I skimmed it right). So, I decided to shove the two miscellaneous chapters at the very end so we won’t have a break in the continuity. Just wanted to warn you.
2 thoughts on “Chapter 7”
Heh. He’s not wrong about Fatty possibly taking treasures. 😏 But now he’s acting all sus and I’m waiting for the alarm bells and red flags to start going off.
Who else was hoping the person crouching in the tunnel would be Poker Face? 👉🤚
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“But we’re professionals. We never destroy or steal. We just take pictures at most”… yeah… sure 🤣
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