Chapter 5 Shadow in the Water

“Hey, young master, don’t scare me like that. I may be big but I’m most afraid of things that can’t be explained,” Da Kui said. “If you say it’s a bunch of horse thieves, then that’s no problem. But you can’t even say what this thing is. Look, my legs have gone soft.”

There’s no way we can stay here, I thought to myself. Plus, an uncomfortable premonition kept popping into my head from time to time. I didn’t know if it was the psychological effect of this depressing cave or what, but I said to the group, “It doesn’t matter what it is. The most important thing right now is to get out quickly. We’re going against the current now, but since we have to go back, it should definitely be faster than when we came in. I think we’ve only been in this place less than ten minutes so getting out definitely shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Yes, yes, Little Master Three is right,” Da Kui hurriedly agreed. “Master Three, just say the word. If worst comes to worst and we have to go over the mountain when we get out, I’ll carry everything. I’m definitely strong enough. It won’t make much of a difference if we delay the work a day or two, right? We can dig our grave robbers’ tunnel faster and make up for the lost time, yeah?”

Uncle Three looked at Poker-Face again and asked, “Little Brother(1), what do you think?”

“I’m afraid it’s too late to go out now,” Poker-Face said indifferently. “Since those two people took us in here, they must be quite certain that we can’t get out.”

“If we can’t get out, then are we supposed to wait here until we die of old age?” Pan Zi looked at him, but Poker-Face just glanced at him before turning his head and closing his eyes to rest. Pan Zi saw that he was being ignored and said to Uncle Three, “I think we can’t go forward. Look at Ah Kui, he must be scared to death. We should go back. The way in here wasn’t that complicated, so maybe we can find our way out. If we really meet something strange, we’ll think of something!”

Uncle Three nodded, “It’s the only way.” Then he started issuing orders to Pan Zi, “Put a miner’s lamp in both the front and the back of the boats and take out those shotguns. Ah Kui and I will use the pole to steer the boats, Pan Zi and Wu Xie will keep an eye on the back, and Little Brother will be up front giving me directions.”

We all agreed. Pan Zi took out another miner’s lamp, lit it, and then hung it up behind us. The ox on the second boat suddenly cried out when the light hit it, which caused Pan Zi to start cursing, “Master Three, we have to drive this cow into the water. Otherwise, the poles won’t be able to steer the boat.”

Since the miner’s lamp had been illuminating the front just now, we didn’t pay any attention to what was behind us and ended up forgetting all about the boat we were pulling. Now, we couldn’t help but feel dumbstruck. It seemed that these two old thieves had really considered everything thoroughly. The height of this cave prevented the ox from standing up, let alone driving it into the water. Plus, the weight of our equipment, the cart, and the ox meant that the other boat had already taken on a lot of water. If any of us climbed onto the second boat, not only would we be unable to steer it with the poles, but it may also sink. In this way, the towed boat behind us was like a plug, blocking the way out.

At this time, I vaguely heard that strange sound coming from the depths of the cave again, but it was obviously much closer than before. The sound, like the whispering of countless little demons, made everyone feel extremely uncomfortable. We all fell silent, and the atmosphere became very strange for a while. Then, all of my attention was suddenly attracted by the sound. I tried to come to my senses several times, but I was immediately pulled back in again. Not good! My heart screamed. There’s something strange about this sound!

Although I knew it, I couldn’t seem to come back to my senses at all and my head was filled with the sound for a while. Then, someone kicked me hard and I lost my balance and fell into the water.

The sound in my head immediately disappeared and then I saw Pan Zi fall down as well. Uncle Three and Da Kui quickly followed, with Poker-Face jumping down last with a miner’s lamp in his hand. In the water, the sound was distorted a lot and didn’t seem to have any effect on us. But everything underwater was very blurry when I opened my eyes and I could only see a rough picture even when I squinted.

Poker-Face faced us and pointed at something underwater before using the lamp to illuminate our surroundings. The water wasn’t very deep and we could see a layer of white sand below. He swept the lamp around, but there weren’t any plants, fish, shrimp, or anything else. I really couldn’t hold my breath any longer, so I surfaced and took a deep breath. But just as I was wiping the water away from my eyes, I suddenly found a bloody face hanging upside down, its two eyes staring at me unwaveringly.

He and I stared at each other like this for a while.

I recognized him as the middle-aged man who had been punting the boat for us. When I looked up, I found that he only had his upper body and a big black bug on the cave ceiling was eating his intestines and shaking it from time to time. I immediately froze in shock. Isn’t this a corpse-eater? My God, how many dead people did it have to eat to grow so big?!

At this time, Pan Zi’s head also emerged from the water on the other side. But unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have my luck. Before he could even understand what was going on, the insect screeched, threw the corpse aside, and pounced on his head. It then proceeded to lift up a pair of big pincer-like legs and stuck them in Pan Zi’s scalp with a swish.

That Pan Zi was also considered quite a character. Despite the unfavorable circumstances he suddenly found himself in, I saw him flip his left hand over and stab his knife—I didn’t even know when he put it in his hand—into the base of the bug’s leg and dig out one of its pincers. The bug let out a piercing screech. If I had been the one attacked by such a big bug, I would have already been reporting straight to King Yama. The bug’s other pincer couldn’t bear its weight, so it was easily pulled out when Pan Zi punched it away.

This whole series of events happened as quick as lightning, so Pan Zi didn’t even have time to notice me. And because of this, he ended up throwing the bug directly on my face.

I cursed in my heart, this Pan Zi is too unkind. He usually says how he’ll protect me, but now, when something happens, he directly throws this deadly thing on my face! You still have a knife but I only have a pair of hands. I’m done for!

That bug didn’t waste any time and immediately cut a chunk of skin off of my face with its sharp pincers. I gritted my teeth and tried to throw it off, but I didn’t expect it to have barbs on several of its legs. They were firmly hooked onto my clothes and some of them were even directly hooked into my flesh, which had me tearing up from the pain.

At this time, Poker-Face also surfaced. When he saw that I was about to lose, he immediately rushed over, thrust two fingers into the insect’s back, and forcefully pulled out something that looked like shining white macaroni. The poor insect that had the upper hand just now was killed in less than a second. I threw its corpse onto the boat, feeling like I had just woken up from a dream.

Da Kui gave Poker-Face a thumbs-up, “Little Brother, I’m impressed. It was such a big bug, yet you pulled out its intestines like it was nothing.”

“Come on,” Pan Zi’s head had two bloody holes in it, but fortunately, the wounds didn’t look big. “You’re so uncultured,” he said through clenched teeth. “This is called the central nervous system, not the intestines. This guy directly paralyzed the bug!”

“You mean the bug isn’t dead?” Da Kui already had one leg in the boat, but when he heard this, he immediately put it back into the water.

Poker-Face climbed onto the boat and kicked the bug aside. “We can’t kill it yet. We have to rely on it to get out of this corpse cave.”

“Do you think that sound just now was made by this bug?” Uncle Three asked him. He heard the bug screech a few times just now but it didn’t sound like the whispering we had heard earlier.

Poker-Face turned the bug over, and we saw that there was a fist-sized hexagonal copper bell fused to its tail. I didn’t know when it had been implanted into the bug, but the copper had turned green and was in terrible condition. All six sides of the bell were engraved with a dense cluster of incantations.

Pan Zi kicked the bug as he tied a bandage around his head, but then the hexagonal bell suddenly moved by itself!

The sound was exactly the same as the sound we had just heard, but the one before sounded more ethereal, like it was floating out of the darkness. This sound, however, seemed very real. It appeared this bell was the source of that sound, but it must have combined with the empty echo in the cave to bewitch us. There was probably a very delicate mechanism in this hexagonal bell that could survive for thousands of years without decay. I figured it was probably made of something like gold or silver, but how could it ring on its own?

As I continued to ponder over it, the bell rang louder and louder, as if there was an aggrieved spirit inside who wanted to escape from this artifact that had trapped it. Unfortunately, this thing was so small that I just thought it was funny instead of scary.

After Pan Zi bandaged his wound by himself—he was so skilled at it that it almost seemed like he hurt himself every day—he became so annoyed with the ringing sound that he went up to step on the bell. But the bronze shell had unexpectedly deteriorated so badly that the bell cracked as soon as he stepped on it and an extremely unpleasant green liquid burst out from the inside.

Uncle Three was so angry that he wanted to punch Pan Zi in the head, but he restrained himself when he remembered that Pan Zi had two fresh wounds on his head. If Uncle Three punched him, I was afraid Pan Zi would wind up in the same shape as this bell. In the end, Uncle Three resorted to cursing out Pan Zi instead, “Can you not control your fucking feet?! This thing is still an artifact, yet you ruined it with your stupid foot!”

Pan Zi felt a little wronged, “Master Three, I didn’t know this thing was so weak.”

Uncle Three shook his head angrily before taking out a knife to poke through the bronze fragments, among which were small bells of varying sizes and shapes that looked like honeycombs. These small bells were all attached to a delicate hollow sphere that was full of holes. Now that the sphere had been cracked, we could see that there was a big green centipede inside, whose head had been crushed. The green liquid was coming from its body, which was as thick as a finger.

Uncle Three flipped the hollow sphere over with the tip of his knife and found that there was a tube leading from the sphere straight into the huge corpse-eater’s body.

“It appears this centipede uses this tube to enter the corpse-eater’s belly to eat when it’s hungry,” he said. “How did they come up with such a symbiotic system?”

The upper half of the boatman’s corpse bobbed in the water like a cork, periodically floating and sinking before floating back up again.

Uncle Three sighed, “This is what they call ‘reaping what you sow’. They must have wanted to leave us alone in this corpse cave and were waiting for us to die before coming to get our things. I don’t know what happened today, but it looks like they ended up dying at the hands of this corpse-eater. They really got what they deserved!”

“This is called a curious coincidence. It seems we got lucky,” I said.

Pan Zi shook his head, “I’m afraid that thing’s pincers don’t have the strength to tear a person in half in such a short amount of time. If it had the strength, my brain would’ve been dug out in an instant. I think there’s more than one of these things. This particular one must have brought the corpse over here to eat after it was dismembered.”

Da Kui was already very relaxed, but after hearing this, he couldn’t help but gulp loudly.

“Don’t panic!” Uncle Three said. “Didn’t Little Brother just say that we have to rely on this thing to get out of this cave? Let’s put this big corpse-eater on the bow and let it clear the way for us. This thing has eaten corpses its whole life, so its yin energy is extremely heavy.(2) It should act as a deterrent if there are any zombies. I’d say that in this corpse cave, the corpse-eaters are the overlords here. With this one on our boat, we can definitely make it out of here. Now come on, we can’t go back anyways. I’d like to see what the place in front of us looks like if it can produce such a big bug.”

After listening to what my Uncle Three said, I also thought that it sounded reasonable. It already felt like I had spent a lot of time in this cave. This place where I couldn’t even lift my head up was just too depressing.

We all took out our folding shovels from the luggage in the back and used them as punting poles to push against the rock walls and drive the boats forward.

While doing this, I studied the upper cave wall and suddenly had a question. “Do you see this solid rock?” I asked Uncle Three. “How did the ancient grave robbers dig through it? Even now, I think hundreds of people working together probably couldn’t dig such a deep cave.”

“Notice how this cave is so round,” Uncle Three said. “It’s very ancient. I figure the ones who dug this hole back then were a group of officials, that is, an army specializing in grave robbing. It seems like it won’t be as easy as we thought to find the tomb marked on the map.”

“Master Three, how can you be so sure that this tomb is still there? If an army came and dug such a long tunnel, it’s impossible to guarantee that the tomb hasn’t been completely wiped clean already!” Da Kui said. “I bet we won’t even find a coffin lid when we go in.”

Uncle Three snorted and said, “If this tomb was robbed thousands of years ago, then there’s nothing we can do about it. But you should know that this cave exists on that map, which shows that this grave robbers’ tunnel already existed when the tomb owner was buried. This grave robbers’ tunnel should be older than the ancient tomb we’re looking for and there’s probably more than one tomb in this area. Who knows when this tunnel was dug?”

“In other words,” I had already felt the chilling meaning behind my Uncle Three’s words, “everything we’ve encountered until now, including the huge corpse-eater and the ancient hexagonal bronze bell, as well as their master, may be from a time period before the Warring States Period?”

Uncle Three shook his head, “I’m more concerned about why our tomb owner wants to set up his own grave around a tomb that’s already been robbed. Isn’t this kind of thing a taboo in feng shui?”

Poker-Face suddenly waved his hand to signal us to stop talking and then pointed up ahead. We saw a green phosphorescence coming from the depths of the cave where the light from the miner’s lamps couldn’t reach.

Uncle Three sighed, “We’ve finally reached the corpse dumping ground!” 

<Chapter 4><Table of Contents><Chapter 6>


TN Notes:

(1) Characters are 小哥 (pinyin: Xiaoge), which can be literally translated into “little older brother.” It’s actually used to address a young man informally when you don’t know his name. There’s probably not an equivalent word in English, but I’m not fixing it after almost 1,560-ish posts (and nobody has complained), so “Little Brother” it is. It’s also why you’ll see a lot of fans refer to Poker-Face as “Xiaoge” or “Xiao Ge”. If there’s suddenly a huge uproar, I will totally change it, but it’ll take me time to find and fix all of them.

(2) Yin is the negative principle of Yin and Yang (it’s the dark swirl in the Yin-Yang symbol). In simple terms, yin is characterized as negative, passive, and feminine, whereas yang is seen as positive, active, and masculine.


Sorry if these TN notes seem redundant for most of you guys. I was trying to think of the younglings that are just falling into the pit lol.

7 thoughts on “Chapter 5 Shadow in the Water

  1. Lol, bless your care for those poor innocent younglings, little do they know the chaos that awaits! Also WHY do I always read these over lunch and never remember how GROSS they are 🤢

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know if my brain supressed some details or if they were simply not in the published ver lol, im doubting myself
    thanks for picking up these ones too, I hope you realize it, yall really do a lot for this fandom!!


  3. “At this time, Poker-Face also surfaced. When he saw that I was about to lose, he immediately rushed over, thrust two fingers into the insect’s back.”

    That’s our Xiaoge, already rescuing Wuxie so early on 🤭


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