We pulled the skeleton out, put it next to the mound of dirt we had dug up, and then looked at it.
This skeleton was very strange. First of all, it must have been wearing armor before. It was probably a soldier, but based on the remaining fragments that had become iron lumps on its body, this piece of armor was very small. In other words, this corpse was very thin during its lifetime.
In fact, after nearly a thousand years of decay, only some fragments could be identified. But the ring-shaped arm guard formed by these fragments seemed to indicate that this person’s arm had only been half as thick as my arm. They had definitely been pretty thin.
The strangest thing, however, was its skull. I couldn’t describe it at first glance, so I asked Fatty, “Do you feel like this was a human?”
Fatty touched his chin, “This is a monster.”
“What makes you say that?”
“This head is at least half the size of a normal person’s head,” Fatty said. “Look at its cervical vertebrae again.”
When I squatted down and looked at it carefully, I found that this corpse’s cervical vertebrae seemed to have hyperplasia (1). A lot of bifurcations had grown from its cervical vertebrae, much like horns.
“This person must’ve had a very strong neck. There are nine cervical vertebrae (2),” I said.
“This man used to have nine heads,” Fatty said. “But all of them were chopped off so he was left with only one head. His head was very small so that all nine of them could grow around his neck at the same time.”
Fatty pointed to a “horn” and added, “Look. It’s obvious that there was something on this bone spur that was cut off.”
I touched it. Indeed, it was just as Fatty had said, but it wasn’t necessarily a head. I thought about it some more and suddenly remembered what it was called.
“An ancient python corpse?” I asked Fatty. “You mean to say that this is the corpse of an ancient python?”
On the Mongolian grasslands, there was a kind of monster engraved on the ethnic groups’ markers here that was called an ancient python corpse. It appeared in a large number of myths and legends from various tribes in Mongolia, but no one really knew what it looked like. Only one characteristic was very clear: it had many heads.
Fatty nodded. “This is the ancient corpse of a tamed python. Didn’t you say that the things you saw had fins around their ears?”
When I nodded, Fatty pointed to the corpse’s cervical spine, where the largest hyperplastic bone spurs could be seen on the left and right sides. “If there were still heads on these two bones, wouldn’t it look like someone has fins?”
After looking at them, I suddenly felt a chill. “You mean, I didn’t see fins, but two extra faces?” I asked him.
“The other bone spurs are very small, so even if heads had grown on them, they would only be the size of a newborn baby. But if heads had grown on these two, then they’d be about the same size as the main head.”
I glanced at Poker-Face—he didn’t say anything—and then carefully looked at the bone spurs again. They definitely weren’t normal cervical vertebrae, but more like hyperplasia. It was impossible for a human head to be on a bone spur, but I could tell that there had to be something else on it which had been cut off.
I had already made some assumptions, but there was a subtle feeling in my heart that this thing might have been man-made. Although I didn’t know how someone could produce such bone spurs, a deformed soldier reminiscent of an ancient python corpse would be very advantageous in inter-tribal wars.
The corpses here, combined with the scene I had witnessed last night, had me asking myself one question: Were those strange ghosts who herded the horses last night the ghosts of “ancient python corpses”?
So you can only see the ancient python corpse out of the corner of your eye, but you can see the horses directly? Is there any kind of difference between the two ghosts?
I couldn’t draw any conclusions and I noticed that the other two didn’t look like they wanted to continue the discussion, so I figured it would be better to send a message later and ask some experts outside the grassland for their opinion. I took out my cell phone and started taking a few photos.
Fatty looked at his watch and said to Poker-Face, “Little Brother, the satellite will be here soon. If you have anything you need to do, now is the time to do it.”
Poker-Face stepped forward, directly broke off the ancient corpse’s cervical vertebra, put it on his horse’s back—this meant that he wanted to study it carefully later—and then glanced at the grave robber’s corpse.
We took our folding shovels and went to the edge of the forest to start chopping wood. Now that we were looking at it during the day, we knew that this forest wasn’t the previous one, but a new one that was actually bigger. I was feeling a little rattled and couldn’t help but think that it was really possible that we just didn’t see it when we got here last night.
After burning the corpse to ashes, we took some with us, mounted our horses, and started heading back. As we reached the high slope again, I suddenly saw a man wearing a jacket standing in the place where we had just burned the body. But the smoke hadn’t dispersed yet, so I couldn’t see clearly.
My first reaction was that the man’s soul had come to watch us, but before I could get a good look at it, a change suddenly occurred. At that time, I suddenly saw another figure appear behind the man’s shadow. It was very thin and strange and immediately dragged the man into the smoke.
Even though I was completely terrified, I tried to get a closer look but couldn’t see anything.
It felt like a really bad omen.
A strong sense of despair surged up in my heart as Fatty asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the people who died on this grassland would never be able to return to their hometowns. Instead, they would fall into a more terrible state than death.
“Let’s go,” I said to Fatty. “First of all, we must not die here. Secondly, we must try our best to save as many people as possible. In short, death is not so terrible, but just don’t die here.”
We rode back slowly. The satellite was coming soon, but at the rate we were going, we wouldn’t be able to get back to camp in time. It appeared we could only listen on the road, but there wasn’t anything to worry about.
There was a particularly high hill on the way back that overlooked the whole horse graveyard we had camped on before. Everything that had happened so far was so strange that everyone was in a delicate mood and didn’t bother speaking for a while.
Fatty looked at the shape of the ravine and eventually asked me, “Do Mongolians practice feng shui?”
“Yes,” I said.
Most people’s impressions of Mongolian nobles’ tombs were that they were more in line with the worship of Tengri (3). They thought that burying corpses didn’t seem to be important to the Mongolians, so there didn’t appear to be too many burials with physical bodies. Instead, the burials seemed to focus more on burying cenotaphs and the belief in souls.
But this actually wasn’t the case. The Turkic, Khitan, and Mongolian ethnic groups had three types of tombs. One was the ancient tombs of the nobles, which were built very deep in the no-man’s lands of the mountains. That was why, when you went off the beaten track, you’d feel as if you were the first human being in three thousand years to arrive there. But in reality, there might be a Khitan king’s tomb under the mountain rock beneath your feet.
The second type of tomb was the ancient tombs in the ravines. Although they were all earthen pit tombs, most of the burial objects consisted of gilded horse harnesses, ornaments, and a lot of gold. As a result, Mongolia’s earthen tombs were seriously damaged by grave robbers in the 1980s, and a large number of them were robbed.
In fact, the horse graveyard in this ravine belonged to this second type of tomb.
The third type of tomb was imperial tombs, which had been leveled by ten thousand horses. In fact, these tombs were more of a legend since no one had ever actually excavated one. Modern remote sensing technology had swept the grassland several times, but nothing had ever been found. The only possibility was that this kind of imperial tomb was buried much deeper than people thought.
When it comes to the first type of tomb, it’s necessary to talk about feng shui. In fact, the two cultures were mutually compatible, and ethnic groups that had some relations with the Central Plains would incorporate some feng shui into their customs.
The second type of tomb was relatively simple. The earthen pit tombs were all tombs that were clustered together in what seemed to be a customary practice. But the selection of these locations also had very detailed rules that needed to be abided by.
The last type of tomb…well, I had actually heard a master I wasn’t quite familiar with say it before, so I didn’t know whether it was right or not. This master said that the Mongolian nomads and other wanderers weren’t involved with feng shui, but their natural instincts conformed with feng shui’s principles. Their logic was actually very simple in that they followed the grass’s growth and the river trends.
But once death was fixed, the Mongolians actually talked about “ground wind”. This so-called wind was underground wind. Some local legends believed that the changes aboveground actually came from the underground wind, and the direction of this wind came from the stars in the sky. It was basically the same logic as that of the Central Plains’ feng shui.
I didn’t know how to look at the feng shui of ground wind, but when I looked at the horse graveyard below, I could tell that the shape of this ravine was very similar to a lotus petal.
Shen Qianjue had said before that the underground palace was in the shape of a lotus flower, which meant that these two areas had to be related. This was clearly a burial pit, so what did that make the strange banquet in the underground palace where they had gone down? Was it another kind of burial pit, or did it serve some other purpose? I didn’t know, but both of these places must’ve had something to do with the world’s second most valuable tomb.
The huge setting of an imperial tomb was clearly used to tell a “story”, so what story was the architect at that time telling us?
There was a strange banquet, a bone pit where horses had been buried, and a lotus flower. We had come to this grassland in a hurry and still hadn’t figured out the theme, but we were already very exhausted.
I glanced at Poker-Face, who suddenly looked at me as if he had understood something. “You have to be mentally prepared,” he said to me.
That sounded pretty ominous to me, but at this time, the satellite phone rang.
(1) Hyperplasia is an increase in the amount of organic tissue that results from cell proliferation. In this case, more bone grew.
(2) FYI: Humans have 7 cervical vertebrae.