We reminded Shen Qianjue to be as clear and brief as possible because we were worried that the satellite phone’s communication time wouldn’t be enough for her to finish the whole story. She was very cooperative and took a brief moment to organize her thoughts before starting to narrate methodically.
Shen Qianjue and her partner were twenty-five and twenty-six years old, respectively. They accepted Jin Wantang’s job purely to experience the atmosphere of working with old grave robbers. Since they didn’t want to win at all, they constantly focused on observing everything once they entered the grassland. They chose to observe Liuli Sun’s team and followed them at a distance of two or three kilometers. At night, the two girls took advantage of the darkness and walked close to the other team’s camp so that they could eavesdrop on their conversations.
I used to do this all the time, so I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional after hearing this. I felt that I had to take good care of this younger generation and pass on my cunning way of doing things so that there would be fewer unnecessary fights in the business in the future.
The goal of the two teams in the beginning was very clear: use the coordinates that Jin Wantang had provided to reach the grove. After Liuli Sun’s team arrived there, they didn’t obtain any more useful information, so they began searching the grasslands around the grove. They were full of confidence, determined to win, and their logic was very simple. After Guotang Feng came out of the world’s second most valuable tomb, he was carrying valuable funerary objects on his body so he must have headed straight back. The border management at that time was much simpler than it was now, so it should have been safer to return to China from any location. But why did he go to this grove?
There were two possibilities. One was that the grove just happened to be there as he was heading back to the border. Maybe it was windy when he arrived here, so he went into the woods to take shelter from the wind and ended up dying for some reason. The second possibility was that this grove was a landmark in this area. GPS didn’t exist at that time and it was easy to make errors on cloudy days when you were depending on your eyesight to figure out which direction to go in. A forest on the grassland was the only way for herders to know which direction to go, so Guotang Feng probably had no choice but to return here first and then move on to the next landmark.
The only difference between these two possibilities was whether Guotang Feng had a Mongolian guide at the time. Every Mongolian herder had about a hundred different ways to figure out directions. Even I knew that there was a type of wild lettuce on the grassland—called Guide Grass—which had leaves that grew in a north-south direction. So, if Guotang Feng hired a Mongolian guide and didn’t need to look for any landmarks himself, then it was definitely the first possibility.
If he didn’t have a Mongolian guide and entered the grassland solely based on some clue in a legend or map, then it may be the second possibility. But Guotang Feng died in that small forest, which is a detail that gives rise to an obvious thought. After they arrived in the forest, did the Mongolian guide murder him that night, bury his body together with the porcelain that he thought was worthless, and then take the gold, silver, and agate away?
Now it seemed very clear that it should be the second possibility. But the first male corpse we had dug up from Liuli Sun’s team—he was called Old Bing—was a Henan “ankle” (grave robbers in Henan had different nicknames according to their rank in the gang. There were heads, legs, and ankles. Ankles were the lowest workers with no skills and most of them were desperadoes). For those who were originally at the bottom of the totem pole, it would seem very reasonable for a Mongolian guide to murder someone for treasure. So, there was no need for me to guess anymore. Liuli Sun’s team definitely based their decisions on the first possibility.
There was something metaphysical here, which had been recorded in my grandpa’s notes. As long as there wasn’t a huge disparity between the team members’ strength, there was a high probability that they would turn on each other the first night after leaving the tomb. According to my grandpa, such thoughts would start to form when the coffin was opened. Most of them would still need to keep cooperating when in the tomb, but after getting out and starting to relax that first night, there would be an uneven distribution of spoils. At that time, anything from suspicion, greed, and murder could happen.
When I was a child, I was still very curious, so I asked my grandpa, “Why do that? Why not just divide the spoils better?”
My grandpa said something that I still find sad even to this day.
“That’s just how people are. They’ll always divide the spoils unevenly.”
So, Old Bing and the others came up with a plan that seemed completely wrong now. They drew a circle on the grassland, keeping the grove at the center and making the radius a distance of a day’s ride away. In that circle, they conducted their first blanket search of the area.
Of course, they didn’t find anything, but they didn’t come up completely empty either. They found a lot of “sky iron” in the area.
Sky iron was a very magical item. It was said that when there weren’t any clouds in the sky, iron objects would occasionally fall from the sky. When people looked up, there was no wind or shadow, so they couldn’t figure out where these objects had fallen from.
Many people said that it was just iron from meteorites. It was undeniable that some sky iron really did come from meteorites, but there were also many examples of sky iron that were clearly unfinished handicrafts. Some of them even had obvious patterns on them.
In ancient times, it was said that craftsmen in the sky didn’t want these unfinished defective products and discarded them. After they landed on the grassland, the herders eventually found them and strung them together with their agate turquoise to make jewelry.
Sky iron had another very interesting feature; that is, many of them could be dug up from lightning strike pits. If you went to a certain place on the grassland that had been struck by lightning and dug for about one or two meters, you could basically dig up some sky iron. Sometimes it would be a piece of iron, sometimes it would be an iron rod as thick as a finger, and sometimes it would be a strange object that was similar to a horseshoe or a ring. Because of this, there was a time when those female bosses in the collectors circles who were having marital problems would send their husbands sky iron to buy insurance and then let them go to Inner Mongolia to relax.
Of course, sky iron wasn’t necessarily iron. In ancient times, any kind of metal was called “iron”. In the Tibetan language it was called “tuojia” and in Mongolian it was called “la” (1). For a time, sky iron drove up the price of Himalayan art, but it was worthless in Mongolia because the Mongolians believed that they were just the remnants of ancient arrows and soldiers’ armor.
Old Bing and the others discovered the sky iron using metal detectors, and the overwhelming amount quickly attracted their attention. The distribution of these metal pieces was very strange, almost like a river flowing right beneath the surface of the grassland. Old Bing followed the distribution of these sky iron pieces for a while and soon realized that they seemed to be marking a path through the grassland.
This path went past the circle they had marked and stretched out across the distant grassland. They followed this “sky iron road” for thirteen days. After leaving the small forest far behind, they came to an old river valley called Zhuladalai.
Zhuladalai wasn’t even a place name but a general name for the few hundred kilometers around this area. Kind of like the Taklamakan Desert, it was just a name people used to describe such a huge region. The meaning behind the name Zhuladalai was something like “Sea of Black Lights”, but the etymology was said to have existed since the Turkic era so its specific meaning wasn’t clear.
Having said that, I could practically feel the details in Shen Qianjue’s narration come to life. She was actually very organized as she narrated and she spoke very fast so it wasn’t very difficult to listen.
After arriving in Zhuladalai, they still had to follow the sky iron road for three more days. These three days were what Shen Qianjue had been talking about before: they were terrible, especially after night fell.
In Shen Qianjue’s words, after entering that place, you could immediately feel that something strange. And this was especially true at night.
Because there was no time to explain in detail what happened during those three days, Shen Qianjue directly started talking about the third night. They continued to follow Old Bing’s team at that time. It was at dusk on the third day when they came to a hill with a relatively lush forest on it. They could see more than one such place on their way to the hill, but the two girls didn’t care too much and just followed the other team into the forest. Like usual, they went to eavesdrop on the other team during the middle of the night.
But this time, before they arrived at Old Bing’s camp, they found that something was wrong. First, they could tell from a distance that Old Bing and the others were looking up at the sky. Second, the night here was so cold that they could see their breath. It almost felt as if they had skipped a season. They looked up through the gap in the tree canopy and saw an incredible sight—there were three Big Dippers in the sky.
When I heard this, my whole body quivered.
First-class experts looked at the stars, second-class experts looked at water, and third-class experts walked all over the mountains. Looking at the stars to find tombs was a very mysterious skill. Although the Big Dipper in the sky wasn’t something that could be hidden, even underground mountain trends couldn’t be hidden from the eyes of the most powerful feng shui master. But I heard Grandpa say that there was a type of feng shui acupoint (2) that would affect astronomical phenomena and make starlight refract because of the earth’s special qi. This kind of refraction would form a phenomenon called the “Double Big Dipper”. The most exaggerated refraction would even produce three Big Dippers. At that time, anyone who tried to find a tomb by looking at the stars would fail.
This situation didn’t mean that it was a great feng shui acupoint, but rather an extremely dangerous one. This was the “Double Tomb Hiding a Fierce Corpse” acupoint that had been written about in feng shui books. Extremely prominent people were often buried in this kind of acupoint in order to shock the earth’s qi, but they definitely weren’t emperors.
So whatever was hidden under this hill wasn’t the world’s second most valuable tomb, but was there still a tomb under it? And if so, whose tomb was it? What did it have to do with the world’s second most valuable tomb?
That night, Old Bing and his team started digging under the three Big Dippers and soon discovered an ancient tomb. This tomb was a huge lotus-shaped palace hidden underground. They dug a grave robbers’ tunnel overnight, but at this time, Shen Qianjue and her companion started to disagree on whether they should continue to follow Old Bing’s team into the underground palace.
<Chapter 17><Table of Contents><Chapter 19>
(1) The pinyin of iron in Chinese is “tiě” (铁)
(2) The character “穴” can mean cave, hole, or acupuncture point. Considering how they’re discussing feng shui stuff, I felt that going with acupoint was better than cave/hole (I’m kind of going off what Ba Ye said in the Mystic Nine drama about that mountain the mine was in that had like life/death acupoints or whatever… if I remembered right lol).
One thought on “Chapter 18 Double Tomb Hiding a Fierce Corpse”
thank you for the chapter! 😊 very curious to hear the rest of her story!