Chapter 9 Ancient Tomb

The cell phone must have recently been dropped. When I picked it up and saw that it was covered in blood, I immediately had a bad feeling. “It appears we’re not the only group here and some of them are injured. This phone certainly didn’t fall from the sky.”

I opened the phone’s contact list and saw that there were only a few numbers in it, all of which were foreign. Other than that, there was nothing else to be found.

“In any case,” Uncle Three said, “it’s impossible for us to find them. But it’s still better if we hurry.”

I looked around and didn’t see any clues, so I had no other choice but to clear the way and continue walking. But seeing such a modern thing in this wilderness felt a little strange so I asked the old man, “Has anyone besides us been into this forest recently?”

The old man chuckled, “There was a group of people two weeks ago—about a dozen of them—but they haven’t come out yet. This place is dangerous, gentlemen. It’s not too late to turn around.”

“Isn’t it just a monster?” Da Kui said. “Let me tell you, even a thousand-year-old zombie had to kowtow to our young master here. With him around, there won’t be any problems with monsters, right?” He directed this question to Poker-Face, who ignored him as if he were empty air. Da Kui was a little upset at being ignored, but there was nothing he could do about it.

We walked steadily until the light in the sky began to dim and finally reached our destination before four in the afternoon.

We saw more than a dozen military tents, which were mostly intact. The quality of these tents was very good, so although the area was covered in decaying leaves now, the insides were still very dry and clean and contained many daily necessities. After rifling through the tents, we also found a lot of scattered equipment, but there weren’t any dead bodies. It appeared the old man didn’t lie to us.

We even found a generator and a few barrels of gasoline. The engine was wrapped in tarpaulin, but most of the parts were in bad shape. There wasn’t a response when Da Kui tried to start the generator up, but the gasoline was fine.

As I rifled through everything, I found that all of the labels had been torn off. There weren’t even trademark logos on the tents and backpacks. Strange, I thought to myself. It seems like these people don’t want others to know where they’re from.

We made a fire in the camp and had a simple dinner. The old man looked around warily while eating, as if he was afraid that the monster would suddenly rush out and hang him. The compressed food tasted so bad that I barely ate anything and just took a few gulps of water instead.

Poker-Face looked at the map while eating. He pointed to a place on the map where the fox’s strange face was drawn, “We must be here now.”

We all gathered around as he continued talking, “This is the place where they offered sacrifices to the gods, so the sacrificial platform should be below. The sacrifices that were buried with the dead might also be right below us.”

Uncle Three squatted on the ground, grabbed a handful of dirt, put it under his nose, and smelled it. He shook his head, took a few more steps, grabbed another handful, and said, “It’s buried too deep. We’ll need to dig a bit.”

We connected the threaded steel pipes to the shovel heads as Uncle Three stamped out a few marks on the ground with his feet, indicating that this was the place where we should start shoveling. Da Kui first positioned the shovel head and then used a short-handled hammer to tap it into the ground. Uncle Three put a hand on the steel pipe in order to get a feel for the situation below ground. When a total of thirteen pipe sections had been knocked into the ground, Uncle Three suddenly said, “This is it!”

We pulled the shovel up section by section until we finally reached the shovel head that had a clump of dirt on it. Da Kui unscrewed the shovel head and walked over to the fire so that we could all take a look at it. When Uncle Three and I saw it, our faces turned white at the same time and even Poker-Face let out an exclamation. The soil looked like it was soaked in blood, and a blood-like liquid was dripping from it.

Uncle Three sniffed it and frowned. He and I had both read my grandfather’s notes about blood corpses, but we couldn’t accurately infer the specific situation based on that. Since there was blood in the mud, however, we knew that the tomb below would certainly be no small matter.

I looked at Uncle Three to see what decision he would make. He thought it over for a while before lighting a cigarette and saying, “Regardless, let’s keep digging. We’ll take about it later.”

Pan Zi and Da Kui hadn’t stopped digging. Da Kui shoveled a few more times and then took the shovel head to Uncle Three. Uncle Three smelled every shovel head that was brought over and soon began connecting the holes in the ground with a trowel. I watched as they busily positioned everything, and in a short amount of time, the general outline of the ancient tomb was drawn on the ground.

Locating caves was a basic skill of grave robbers. Generally speaking, the outline of the tomb aboveground usually matched what the tomb looked like below. Few grave robbers would make a mistake. But when I looked at this outline, I couldn’t help feeling like something was wrong. Most tombs of the Warring States Period didn’t have underground palaces, but this one obviously did. Moreover, it had a brick ceiling, which was really unusual.

Uncle Three did some calculations with his fingers and finally determined the general location of the coffin. “There’s a brick ceiling below,” he said, “which means we can’t dig down. I can only mark the general location based on my experience. But this underground palace is too strange. I don’t know how thick the bricks are, so all I can do is go off of my experience with Song Dynasty tombs and have us go in from the back wall and take a look. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll have to start all over again, so be quick about it.”

My Uncle Three and the others had dug grave robbers’ tunnels for more than ten years so they were extremely fast. Three shovels flew up and down like a whirlwind and they managed to dig seven or eight meters down in one fell swoop. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere, there was no need to worry about where to put the excavated dirt so we just dumped it directly outside. Soon, Da Kui shouted from below, “Done!”

Da Kui had dug out a big area under the grave robbers’ tunnel and cleared away a lot of dirt to reveal a large section of brick wall. We turned on a miner’s lamp and went down inside. Poker-Face saw Da Kui knocking on the brick wall with his hand and hurriedly held him down, “Don’t touch anything.” The look in Poker-Face’s eyes was so sharp that Da Kui jumped back in shock.

Poker-Face then stretched out his two long fingers, put them on the wall, and felt along the crack in the bricks for a long time before stopping and saying, “There’s an anti-theft device in the wall. All the bricks have to be taken out. They can’t be pushed in, let alone smashed!”

Pan Zi touched the wall and asked, “How are we supposed to pull these bricks out when there’s not even a seam?”

Poker-Face ignored him, already busy working on something. He touched a brick, suddenly exerted a lot of force, and then pulled it out of the wall. There was no telling how much strength it would take to pull a thick brick like this out of a wall with only two fingers, which meant that these two fingers definitely weren’t something to be trifled with.

He carefully placed the brick on the ground and pointed to the back of it, where we saw that it was covered in a dark red wax. “This wall is covered in alum acid, which is used to concoct pills of immortality,” he said to us. “If the wax is broken, this strong organic acid will spray onto us and burn off our skin in an instant.”

I gulped, suddenly feeling very shocked as I thought of the skinless monster Grandpa saw before. Was it not a blood corpse but his grandfather who had been doused in alum acid? Did Grandpa shoot his own grandfather?

Poker-Face asked Da Kui to dig another five-meter vertical well below and then took out a syringe needle and a plastic tube from his bag. He connected the tube to the needle and put the other end into the pit. Pan Zi lit a fire stick(1) and burned the needle until it was red-hot, at which point Poker-Face carefully inserted it into the wax wall. The red alum acid immediately flowed from the end of the tube straight into the well.

Soon, the dark red wax on the wall turned white, which seemed to indicate that all the acid inside had flowed out. Poker-Face nodded and said, “Ok!” We immediately began moving the bricks away, and soon, a hole big enough for one person to pass through was created in the wall. Uncle Three threw a fire stick into the hole and used its light to observe the environment inside.

We had come in from the north side of the tomb and could see that the ground was made up of solid pieces of slate, which had ancient characters carved on them. These pieces of slate were arranged in a way similar to the eight divinatory trigrams of the “Book of Changes”.(2) The bigger ones were on the outside while the smaller ones were placed inward. There were eight ever-burning lamps placed around the tomb—they had obviously gone out—and a four-legged square cauldron placed in the middle of the tomb. The top of the cauldron was engraved with the sun, the moon, and the stars. On the south side of the tomb was a stone coffin that was directly facing us. Behind the coffin was a passage that seemed to be going downwards, but I didn’t know where it led to.

Uncle Three stuck his head into the tomb and sniffed before beckoning us in. We all climbed through the hole one by one.

Uncle Three looked at the characters engraved on the ground and said to Poker-Face, “Little Brother, look at these words. Can you tell who’s buried here?”

Poker-Face shook his head without saying anything.

We lit a few matches and threw them into the ever-burning lamps so that the whole tomb was lit up. At this time, I suddenly remembered the monster I had read about in my grandpa’s notes. It seemed that Grandpa repeatedly mentioned hearing a strange “gege” noise, which was enough to make my hair stand on end. At this time, Pan Zi actually climbed up the cauldron to get a look at what was inside and suddenly gave a cheer, “Master Three, there’s treasure in here!”

We all climbed up and saw that there was a headless mummy in the cauldron. The clothes had rotted away, but it was wearing some jade jewelry. Pan Zi reached in without an ounce of hesitation and took the jewelry from it.

“This should be the torso of someone who was left here after they were sacrificed. The head was cut off as an offering to the heavens while the body was placed here as an offering to the tomb owner. This person must have been a prisoner of war. After all, slaves can’t wear jewelry on their hands.”

After saying that, Pan Zi suddenly jumped into the cauldron in order to see what else was down there. Poker-Face, who didn’t have time to stop him, looked back at the stone coffin. Fortunately, there was no reaction.

Uncle Three cursed, “You idiot! This cauldron is where sacrifices are placed. Do you want to be sacrificed?”

Pan Zi chuckled, “Master Three, I’m not Da Kui. Don’t think you can scare me.” He felt around inside and pulled out a big jade bottle. “Look, there are quite a few good things here. Why don’t we turn this cauldron over and see what else is inside?”

“Stop fooling around and come out now!” Uncle Three ordered. He noticed that Poker-Face had gone white while staring at the stone coffin and knew that something had gone wrong.

At this time, I heard a “gege” sound. I turned my head to listen and couldn’t help but feel a chill. The sound didn’t come from the coffin but from Poker-Face!

<Chapter 8><Table of Contents><Chapter 10>


TN Notes:

(1) Not a good English equivalent but it’s kind of like an ancient Chinese car cigarette lighter. It’s a tight paper roll made of very rough earthen paper that’s ignited and then blown out. Although there’s not a flame, you can see the red highlights burning faintly, just like in the ashes. There are phosphorus and some oxygen-prone substances in the fire stick. When the temperature is high and you blow on it with your mouth or quickly shake it, it will come in contact with the oxygen and react violently and burn. Info here.  

(2) The Eight Trigrams are 8 symbols used in Taoist cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality, seen as a range of 8 interrelated concepts. The trigrams have correspondences in astronomy, astrology, geography, geomancy, anatomy, the family, martial arts, Chinese medicine, and elsewhere. Info here. The “Book of Changes” (or I Ching) is an ancient Chinese divination text and among the oldest of the Chinese Classics. It’s used in a type of divination called cleromancy (It’s like casting lots. Think along the lines of rolling dice), which uses apparently random numbers. Info here. The Eight Trigrams look like this:


3 thoughts on “Chapter 9 Ancient Tomb

  1. Thank you for the chapters! I just found out you start to translate 1st volume, what a surprise! I look forward to this volume as well 😆
    Btw, this is the first time i see Xiao Ge excalimed…

    Liked by 1 person

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