Chapter 10 Shadow

At first, I thought he was deliberately trying to scare us, but based on his expression and personality, he didn’t seem like that kind of person. Poker-Face continued making those “gege” sounds but I didn’t see his mouth moving at all. The four of us looked at him and shivered in fright. Don’t tell me…I thought to myself. Is Poker-Face an undercover zombie?

Uncle Three saw how terrifying Poker-Face’s expression was and immediately pulled Pan Zi out of the cauldron. Poker-Face suddenly went silent and the tomb became deathly quiet. I didn’t know how long it lasted, but I was becoming a little impatient. Just as I was about to ask him what was going on, the coffin lid suddenly shot up and began shaking violently. Then, a terrifyingly eerie sound that was very similar to the sound my grandfather had described in his notes started coming from the stone coffin. It really did sound like frogs croaking.

When Da Kui saw this, he was so terrified that he fell flat on his butt. My legs also felt weak and I almost fell down as well. My Uncle Three had seen everything under the sun, so although his legs started trembling, he didn’t fall down.

When Poker-Face heard that sound, his expression became very ugly and he suddenly fell to his knees, kowtowing deeply towards the coffin. As soon as we saw this, we immediately followed suit and all knelt down and kowtowed as well. Poker-Face raised his head up and made a series of strange noises like he was chanting a spell. Uncle Three, who was covered in a cold sweat, asked us softly, “Is he talking to it?”

The sarcophagus finally stabilized and stopped shaking. Poker-Face kowtowed again and then stood up and said to us, “We must leave here before dawn.”

Uncle Three wiped his sweat and asked, “Little Brother, were you bargaining with this old zombie just now?”

Poker-Face made a gesture as if to say “don’t ask” and then said to us, “Don’t touch anything in here again. The owner of this coffin is very powerful. If he’s released, not even God can get us out of here.”

Pan Zi still didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation and asked with a smile, “I say, Little Brother, what foreign language were you speaking just now?”

Poker-Face ignored him and pointed to the passage behind the coffin before saying, “Move quietly. And don’t touch the coffin!”

Uncle Three took a moment to compose himself. To be honest, we felt a lot braver with such a person by our side, so we sorted ourselves out and then got moving. Uncle Three took the lead while Poker-Face brought up the rear. We turned on our miner’s lamps and went straight to the tunnel behind the coffin. When Da Kui walked past the coffin, he pressed his back firmly against the wall, staying as far away from the coffin as possible. It looked comical, but I had no interest in laughing at him at this time.

The tomb passage sloped downward. We could see that inscriptions had been carved on both sides of the passage and there were also some stone carvings. I took a look at them but couldn’t figure out what they meant. Actually, I could understand a few words since I had to research these kinds of things for my antique business and when I did rubbings.(1)

But I should say that even if I could read all of these words, it would still be very difficult to understand their meaning because there wasn’t any punctuation at all. The ancients spoke very succinctly and skillfully. Take, for example, the word “right”. I remembered that there was a Qi State monarch who had asked his military adviser a question, to which the adviser nodded and said with a smile, “Right.” The monarch went back and pondered over it for a long time. Did this “right” mean that he was for or against it? (2) As a result, the monarch overworked himself and became ill. On his deathbed, he told the military adviser about the answer he had considered and asked the adviser what he had meant at that time. The military adviser chuckled and said, “Right.” The emperor died immediately.

Uncle Three was walking very cautiously, so every step forward took a long time. The miner’s lamps weren’t strong enough to penetrate deep into the darkness, so the areas in front and behind us were pitch black. This kind of feeling was the same as when we were in the water cave so I was feeling very uneasy. After walking for about half an hour, the tunnel started to slope upwards so we knew that we should be about halfway through. But at this time, we saw a grave robbers’ tunnel. Uncle Three was shocked—his biggest fear was that others would beat him to it—and hurried over to check it out.

This grave robbers’ tunnel must have been dug not too long ago since even the soil seemed relatively fresh. “The old man said that some people entered this valley two weeks ago. Could it have been dug by them?” I asked Uncle Three.

“I can’t tell, but this tunnel was dug in a hurry. It doesn’t appear to be a tunnel made for entering this place but rather for getting out! I’m afraid they really did beat us here.”

“Don’t be discouraged, Master Three. If they really were skilled grave robbers, they would’ve gone out the same way they came in. It seems that something must have happened. I think the treasure should still be there,” Pan Zi comforted him.

Uncle Three nodded and we continued walking. Since someone had already gone through the danger for us, we didn’t need to be so cautious now.

We sped up the pace and walked for another fifteen minutes, eventually arriving in a wide corridor. This section was more than twice as wide as the one we had just come through and the decorations were more exquisite. It appeared we had finally reached the main tomb area. At the end of this corridor was a huge, translucent jade door that was already wide open. Someone must have opened it from the inside. There were two carved statues of hungry ghosts on either side of the jade door. One had a ghost claw in its hand while the other was holding an imperial seal. Both were pitch black from head to toe.

Uncle Three checked the jade door and found that the mechanism above had been destroyed. We entered through the gap made by the opened door and saw that there was a lot of space inside and it was dark. The miner’s lamps didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole area but we could still make out a vague outline of the room.

This should be the main tomb.

Pan Zi swept his miner’s lamp around the area and cried out, “Why are there so many coffins?!”

In the absence of a strong light source, it was really difficult to get a clear picture of what was in this tomb. I swept my eyes around the area and saw that, sure enough, there were many sarcophagus in the middle of the tomb chamber. I could tell at a glance that they seemed to be arranged in a certain order but it wasn’t a very formal or neat arrangement like you would normally see. Above the tomb chamber was a grand ceiling full of murals that was surrounded by solid stone slabs, which were covered in a dense cluster of words. I put my miner’s lamp down on the ground while Pan Zi put his across from me. After looking around and getting a rough idea of the layout, we saw that there were two ear chambers on either side of the room.

Uncle Three and I walked up to the closest sarcophagus and lit a fire stick. This sarcophagus was completely different from the one we saw when we first came out of the grave robbers’ tunnel. The top of it was covered in engraved inscriptions, and when I looked at it, I found that I could actually understand some of it.

The inscriptions described the life of the coffin owner. It turned out that the owner of this tomb was a vassal of the State of Lu. This person was born with a ghost seal and could borrow ghost soldiers from the underworld, which made him invincible in battle. He was bestowed the title “King Shang of Lu”(3) by the duke of the State of Lu.

One day, he suddenly asked to see the duke, saying that there was a rebellion in the underworld and he needed to return there to pay back his debts since he had borrowed soldiers from the underworld for many years (of course, the original text wasn’t written like this). He hoped that the duke would give him permission to return to the underworld. When the duke gave his permission, King Shang of Lu kowtowed deeply in thanks and then died in a seated position.

The duke of the State of Lu believed that the other man would come back, so he built this underground palace for him and kept his body safe in the hope that he would continue to serve him when he came back, and so on and so forth. The whole thing was very long-winded. It also gave detailed descriptions of the battles King Shang of Lu had fought in. Almost all of these descriptions mentioned that when the ghost seal was revealed, a large number of ghost soldiers would shoot up from the ground, kill the enemy, and take their souls.

Pan Zi listened to my explanation and sighed, “So amazing. It’s a good thing he died early; otherwise, the State of Lu would’ve been the one to unify the six states.”(4)

I laughed, “That’s not necessarily true. The ancients were very good at exaggerating. If this King Shang of Lu can borrow ghost soldiers, then so-and-so from the State of Qi can borrow heavenly soldiers. As I recall, there’s even a general who can fly. You’ve read the ‘Classic of Mountains and Seas’ right?”(5)

“Anyway, we finally know whose tomb we’re robbing. But with so many coffins here, how do we tell which one is his?” Pan Zi asked.

I looked at the inscriptions on several of the other coffins but most of them just had the same contents. We counted them all and found that there was a total of seven coffins, which matched the number of stars in the Big Dipper. I also didn’t see any hints on any of the seven coffins to indicate who was inside them. While I was studying some of the other inscriptions that I couldn’t understand, Da Kui suddenly shouted, “Look, this coffin has been opened!”

I walked over and took a look. Sure enough, the coffin lid wasn’t completely sealed and there were a lot of pry marks on various places, indicating that someone had used a crowbar to open it. Uncle Three took out a crowbar from his bag and pried the coffin lid open bit by bit before grabbing a lamp and shining it inside. Pan Zi made a strange noise and looked at us with a puzzled expression on his face, “Why is there a foreigner inside?”

We all crowded in to take a look and saw that there really was a foreigner inside the coffin. Not only was it a foreigner, but this foreigner’s corpse was also very fresh. It had definitely been less than a week since he had died. Pan Zi wanted to reach in and grab something, but Poker-Face suddenly grabbed his shoulder—he must have used a lot of strength because Pan Zi winced in pain—and said, “Don’t move! The coffin owner is right below him!”

We took a closer look and saw that, sure enough, there was a corpse under the foreigner. But we couldn’t see what it looked like, so Uncle Three took out a black donkey hoof and said, “It should be a heixiong. He who strikes first gains the upper hand.”

At this time, Da Kui tugged the back of my shirt and pulled me aside.

He was normally very frank and straightforward so I found his behavior a little odd. When I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to our shadows that were projected onto the opposite wall by the miner’s lamps and said softly, “Look! This is your shadow, right?”

Feeling annoyed, I said, “What, are you afraid of shadows now?”

His complexion didn’t look good, and after hearing what I said, his mouth started to tremble. No way, I thought to myself, are you really that afraid?

He waved his hand in a silent gesture for me not to speak and then pointed to our shadows again, “This is mine, this is Pan Zi’s, this is Master Three’s, and this is Little Brother’s. Do you see them all? Add in yours and that’s a total of five, right?”

I nodded, suddenly starting to realize something. Near tears, Da Kui swallowed and pointed to another lonely shadow that wasn’t with us. “Then whose shadow is that?” He asked.

<Chapter 9><Table of Contents><Chapter 11> 


TN Notes:

(1) A rubbing is a reproduction of the texture of a surface created by placing a piece of paper or similar material over the subject and then rubbing the paper with something to deposit marks, most commonly charcoal or pencil but also various forms of blotted and rolled ink, chalk, wax, and many other substances. Example pics here.

(2) Wu Xie is talking about the character “然” (pinyin= rán), which can mean “correct/right”.

(3) For OG readers, I am sticking with the terminology I used in “Sand Sea” Chapter 133. For newbs, “King Shang” (殇王) is called “The Ruler of Dead Soldiers” in the licensed version. Shang here can mean someone who has died young, or someone who has died at war. FYI: A vassal state is any state that has a mutual obligation to a superior state or empire (kind of like a vassal in the medieval Europe feudal system). So the State of Lu (c. 1042 BC–249 BC) was a vassal state of the ruling Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) and paid tributes to them. This “Duke” that’s mentioned could be considered the emperor of the State of Lu but he’s a “duke” in the overall scheme of the Zhou Dynasty since he’s just the leader of a vassal state (hope that makes sense for you non-history people).

(4) He’s referring to the seven states that were having a battle royale during the Warring States Period (~481 BC to 403 BC):  Yan (燕), Zhao (趙), Han (韩), Wei (魏), Qi ( 齐), Chu (楚), Qin (秦). The State of Qin won in the end.

(5) “Classic of Mountains and Seas”, also known as Shan Hai Jing, was probably compiled c. 500 BC-200 BC and contains wide range of geography, mythology, witchcraft, popular customs etc. Info here.


4 thoughts on “Chapter 10 Shadow

    1. Yes! As much as I love gangster Wu Xie, cinnamon roll Wu Xie is the best! I was always a little upset at how much of an asshole he seemed in the licensed version (especially when compared to the dramas) but maybe that’s just me

      Liked by 2 people

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