Chapter 8

Fatty and I kept a watchful eye on the pool.

It only took me a single glance to realize that the shape and state of this pool was very similar to the shape of the pool in the Stagnant Water Dragon King temple we found near Rain Village. I thought of the big fish in that pool, which could pull people into the underground river from the deep spring.

But Professor Wang rushed into the pool without any hesitation. Luckily, the water wasn’t very deep and only went up to his waist. He quickly went up to the huge stone stele and illuminated it with a flashlight.

The two words “Extreme Sea” were engraved on it in a very special font. The words were very large and powerful, and the strokes of the characters were like a dragon that was flying off of the stone (1). The only reason I could recognize this font was because I was in the rubbing business, but I couldn’t remember the specific name of it. This font must have appeared in the Western Han Dynasty and belonged to a derivative of Chinese characters. The Vietnamese chữ Nôm writing system was based on a variant of this kind of character (2).

Fatty and I still didn’t go into the water, but he was itching to look around. He went to see if there were any boats nearby and really did find one that had sank into the shallows. When the flashlight moved over it, we could see that there were small, fly-like fish densely packed in the shallows. There were definitely signs of life in this pool.

“This is the boat they used when they built this place. They must have used it to transport things.” When he dragged the boat out of the water and onto the shore, we found that the planks hadn’t decayed that much. Even though they were covered in tung oil, they were still old and had rotted in many places.

Fatty turned the rotten wooden boat over and pushed it back into the water. The bottom of the boat floated on the water like a turtle shell, so he climbed onto it and sat down before helping me up. Once I got comfortable, the two of us used our feet to paddle through the water. When we slowly paddled up to Professor Wang, we heard him say, “There’s a big river prison two thousand miles in the earth, with no end. It’s called the Extreme Sea.”

“What do you mean?” Fatty asked.

“The Extreme Sea is the name of a huge underground river in China. It was recorded in an alchemist’s biography. Its water volume is no less than that of the Yellow River,” Professor Wang said. “This is a big pool of water. Why the hell is it underground?”

“Did the water level drop?” I looked at the stone stele, which had several obvious water lines on it. They were an indicator of how the water level had changed throughout the previous dynasties.

Professor Wang didn’t answer, but bypassed the huge stone stele and moved on. I immediately paddled over and asked him to get on the boat, but he completely ignored me. In the end, we had no choice but to follow him.

The water’s surface was as calm as a mirror as we left the Extreme Sea monument. The huge buildings in the center of the lake were getting closer and closer to us, the details slowly being revealed in the flashlights’ beams.

The first thing we saw was a tomb gate of white marble—oh, it wasn’t a tomb gate, but a row of tomb gates made from different materials. They were lined up one by one like dominoes.

The doors were gone, leaving only the outer frames of the gates. We could see that the doors had been cut into steps, which formed a stone path that ran under the gates. With the gates lined up like this, they almost looked like an archway. “These are the tomb gates they stole from various ancient tombs. It’s interesting to see them used like this.” Professor Wang was the first to climb ashore and stood under the first tomb gate.

The entrance to the tomb was very large, and the words “Immortal Arrival” were carved on it in small seal characters. We could see that six or seven Taoist immortals had also been carved around these two words. We couldn’t tell what it was since we weren’t very knowledgeable, but we saw a rusted bronze dagger hanging under the “Immortal Arrival” plaque at the tomb entrance.

As the three of us cautiously passed through these tomb gates, I was mesmerized by the strange magic of this collage and forgot all about Professor Wang’s strange behavior. The small island in the center of this pool was rocky, indicating that a big rock had been used as the base of the temple. There was a small temple gate behind the tomb gate that was only wide enough for two people to enter at a time. The threshold wasn’t very high, but the door was. It even had a plaque on it, which read: Listen to the Thunder God.

I want to take this chance to say a few more things. This temple was very simple, but the plaques, tomb gates, cornices, and elegantly decorated caisson were all foreign materials that came from various large tombs or relics. All of these things were so exquisite that you wouldn’t notice that the overall structure of this temple was actually chock full of loess and old wooden pillars.

We saw a white jade sika deer in front of the temple gate, with plum blossoms on it that were inlaid with agate. When we shined our flashlights on the deer’s empty stomach, we saw a small deer’s shadow inside the white jade. This was a special craft that involved carving out the belly of the big jade deer. This one must have taken twenty to thirty years to carve.

Professor Wang was so shocked that he couldn’t look away from it. It was unbelievable that such a thing had been placed outside of the temple gate for mere decoration.

As Fatty’s flashlight moved around, I looked at the water under his feet and felt surprised. Are you reverting to your old ways? I secretly wondered. I shined my flashlight on him and saw that he was practically drooling.

Professor Wang directly bypassed the jade deer and walked up to the temple. Fatty and I exchanged a look before turning our flashlights on their highest settings and following behind him.

The temple gate was closed, but Professor Wang was very familiar with this kind of lock and had it opened after only a few clicks. When he pushed the temple gate open, we shined our flashlights in from behind him. The first thing we saw was a big courtyard, followed by the temple’s front hall. The front hall didn’t seem to be any smaller than an ordinary Taoist temple, and actually seemed quite large. The courtyard was also full of all kinds of stone bonsai.

I use the word “stone” here as a collective term for jade, white marble, sealed crystal, crystal, and porous stones inlaid with tourmaline. There were all kinds of crystal-clear colors that sparkled under the flashlights’ beams. Fatty froze, unable to look away from them.

At this time, all three of us immediately saw it. Among the various bonsai was the biggest and most eye-catching bonsai of all. It was an orange tree made of beeswax that looked very lifelike. If it weren’t for the fact that the gemstones had different degrees of luster, the jasper tourmaline leaves, agate branches, and orange beeswax would practically be indistinguishable. When I looked closer, I could also see countless flashes of light. Crystal dew drops had been carved on the orange tree, among which were six butterflies inlaid with gold thread and turquoise.

“Mr. Naïve, shoot me here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I want to be buried with these things.” Fatty said.

“You’re not worthy,” I retorted.

Professor Wang squatted under the orange tree and looked at the words on the tricolored porcelain base below. It’s not convenient for me to disclose the words here, but I was shaking all over after I looked at them. This was a very famous emperor’s treasure, which had been stolen from an imperial tomb and placed here.

Professor Wang’s hands shook. “It’s really just as I expected. Those big tombs really were robbed. Moreover, this oppressive force, this level of craftsmanship, and this aesthetic… it’s a treasure of that era. Fortunately, the Yang family wasn’t seeking wealth. This thing belongs to the nation.”

I didn’t have any desire for wealth anymore. All I felt after seeing this thing was a great sense of aesthetic satisfaction. I knew that anything here would be more than enough to live well for a few lifetimes, but it just made me feel that I didn’t need to own anything here.

Since our flashlights were on their highest settings, all of the stones were sparkling. Moreover, there was the thunder resonating with the bronze pieces from time to time, which made the whole environment seem very magical.

At this time, I found that more and more water was dripping from Professor Wang’s body. I stepped on the water and found that it was sticky. I suddenly had a flash of inspiration and went up behind him, poking his neck with my finger. But as soon as I poked it, I saw the skin on his neck sag, as if the flesh inside had melted into paste.

<Chapter 7><Table of Contents><Chapter 9>


TN Notes:

(1) If you’re curious, the 2 Chinese characters for “Extreme Sea” are 极海

(2) Chữ Nôm is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses borrowed Chinese characters to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, while new characters were created on the Chinese model to represent other words. It was used from the 13th to the early 20th century. More info here.


Would you look at that? Fatty made another magical appearance out of nowhere lol. I think he really is a magician at this point.


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