Master Liang’s face was full of contempt as he jutted his chin at me. I secretly cursed him out, you son of a bitch! I took care of you the whole way here yet you were secretly helping this guy? How could you do this to me? If I had known in advance, I would’ve killed you off ages ago and avoided this kind of trouble!
The fat boss took out a solid-fuel lantern from his backpack, lit it, and set it on the ground. This was the kind of equipment that could be used for both light and warmth so it was often used when climbing high-altitude, snow-capped mountains. Once the lantern was lit, the dark cave instantly became bright. Then he took out a few compressed biscuits and threw them to me. As he did all of these things, the muzzle of his short rifle never wavered from where it was pointed straight at me.
I caught the biscuits that he threw at me, feeling completely bewildered. What’s going on? I wondered. Then I immediately threw them back to him and said, “Guys, if you want to kill us, then just kill us. Why bother with such nonsense?”
Master Liang grinned and turned to the fat boss while saying, “What did I tell you? A greenhorn is a greenhorn. He still doesn’t know what the situation is.”
Boss Wang shook his head, threw the biscuits back to me, and said, “Young man, if you’re going to run around in this business, you should use your head. If I give you something to eat, that means I’m not going to harm you. But if you keep acting like this, you’ll definitely get yourself killed if you meet someone with a bad temper.”
Compared to Old Tai, this man had a completely different temperament. At first glance, Old Tai looked like the kind of thug who would kill without batting an eye. This fat boss, however, looked more warm, affable, and relaxed. But it was this fat guy who had given me a powerful kick just now, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of kick an ordinary antique boss would be able to execute. I couldn’t figure out what his identity might be.
Boss Wang glanced at me and seemed to read the doubts in my eyes because he took a hard drag of his cigarette and continued, “I’m different from Old Tai and the others. I’m a businessman. In business, there are no permanent friends or enemies.”
“Boss Wang,” Master Liang said, “why don’t you tell it to them straight? These two guys won’t be able to wrap their heads around it otherwise. The young Wu guy is relatively easy to talk to, but the sleeping fellow is bound to give you a headache once he wakes up.”
Boss Wang laughed and said to me, “Alright. I don’t lie to those who are knowledgeable so I’ll just be blunt. As for me, I’m a businessman. I don’t like to use guns or knives. Now, you guys have seen the situation for yourselves so you know that even if you didn’t fall into my hands, you would still find it difficult to get out of here. Old Tai is already dead and there’s no point in dealing with you guys, so you should consider whether you want to cooperate with me or not. Not only will I make sure you don’t suffer any losses, I’ll also guarantee that you make a bit of profit as well.”
My first thought as soon as I heard this was, isn’t this what I said to Master Liang at the beginning? Who would have thought he’d fucking turn this back in my face after just a few hours? I can’t believe how the tables have turned.
Seeing that I didn’t react at all, he handed me a cigarette and said, “It doesn’t matter to me whether you agree or not. If you choose not to cooperate, I’ll give you guys some equipment and let you go down by yourselves. But you’re all alone with a wounded team member. Have you thought about how you’re going to manage?”
What he said was true, and I was actually a little moved when I heard it, but when I gave it a little more thought, I found myself hesitating. He had both equipment and weapons, so why in the world did he want to cooperate with me? Wasn’t he basically paving the way for us to make money? There had to be a conspiracy here. After all, there was a lot of scheming that went on in this business. Just look at Master Liang. He followed us all the way here while sucking up to us the whole time, but as soon as he found an opportunity, he immediately struck. We weren’t prepared at all. Compared to them, we really were too young and naïve. But since they were asking me to cooperate with them, they must’ve had some specific goal in mind.
As all of these thoughts flashed through my mind in a matter of seconds, I was able to come up with a plan. I would agree to their conditions first—just like how Master Liang followed us back then—and then try to find a way to escape later. Besides, it was just as he had said before—if I wanted to bring Lao Yang down safely, I needed at least one other person’s help. It would simply be too difficult to do by myself. These two men clearly despised me, but surely they could make the same mistake I had made at that time. I knew that as long as I bided my time, I could definitely find an opportunity to turn the tables and at least get a gun.
When I thought up to this point, I relaxed my expression and pretended to be hesitant as I said to him, “Ok. What you said sounds reasonable and I can cooperate with you, but you have to answer my question first. What do you guys really need from me?”
Boss Wang breathed a sigh of relief and winked at Master Liang, who patted me and said, “Wise is the man who submits to his circumstances. Young Wu, since you agreed, that means we’re all on the same team now. And since we’re all on the same team, we won’t hide anything from you. It’s only natural that we tell you guys what we know, but it’s a long story. How about we talk while we eat?”
I really wanted to strangle him as soon as I saw him leaning in close, but when I glanced out of the corner of my eye, I saw the muzzle of Boss Wang’s rifle still pointing in my direction. Suppressing the anger in my heart, I forced a smile on my face and said to him, “Please, do tell.”
Master Liang looked at the bronze tree outside and said, “Speaking of this thing, it’s truly amazing. According to the records in ‘A Collection of Rivers and Trees’, this bronze tree was first discovered during the Northern Wei Dynasty, in the thirteenth year of Emperor Xiaowen’s reign—”(1)
After Li Pipa died, Master Liang—in a very short amount of time—carefully studied the specific chapters from “A Collection of Rivers and Trees” that discussed this tomb. The notebook was a kind of collection of unofficial records that were written very casually. Sometimes they were written in the mute language and sometimes they were written in Chinese, but there was a small section that was written in an unknown language. Most of the sections pertaining to this tomb were written in the mute language, which no more than twenty people in mainland China could currently read and understand. As it turned out, Master Liang was one of these people.
There were three things recorded in the text:
The first thing happened during the Northern Wei Dynasty, in the thirteenth year of Emperor Xiaowen’s reign. At that time, the mine supervisor of an imperial mine in Mount Taibai reported that a miner found an ancient bronze pillar whose roots seemed to reach deep into the bottom of the mountain. There were no traces of the bottom of this pillar and nobody knew how deep it went.
This caused a huge uproar among the locals in the area. They believed that this pillar was sacred, and said that the more you tried to dig it up, the longer it would grow. Because of this, you would never be able to reach the end of it. They also said that this was the handle of the ax Pangu(2) used when he created the sky. If you kept digging, you’d be able to dig the whole ax out. Some feng shui masters even said that it was a nail made by the Jade Emperor(3) to nail down the dragon veins in the Qinling Mountains. Otherwise, this underground dragon would escape and fly into the sky. It was also said that this bronze pillar, which was buried four hundred kilometers in the ground, could no longer be dug up. If it was, all of China would suffer misfortune.
Not long after, a detachment of mute soldiers received a secret order to go to Mount Taibai and confirm the authenticity of the rumors. But this group of mute soldiers mysteriously disappeared (it was possible that they were killed by the She people guarding the tomb). Four months later, another battalion of mute soldiers received another secret order. This time, they found the bronze tree. They then took over Mount Taibai, closed down the mountain and mining camp, brought in three thousand death row prisoners, and had them continue to excavate.
The second thing happened in the spring of the eighteenth year of Emperor Xiaowen’s reign. It was said that the excavation had gone on for four years and three months. Those three thousand death row prisoners had dug their way to the karst caves where we were now, and continued digging down to the bottom of the mountain. They never did manage to dig up the roots of the bronze tree, but they did find a dragon-patterned stone box that appeared to be hollow inside. There was something hidden within it, but there were no gaps in the box and they couldn’t open it no matter how hard they tried. Afraid to act rashly, they ultimately decided to send this box to the palace.
The third thing was only very briefly mentioned. It was recorded in “A Collection of Rivers and Trees” that at the end of the eighteenth year of Emperor Xiaowen’s reign, the emperor gave everyone who worked on the excavation project a reward. The commander was awarded a second-rank title(4) while each soldier received a hundred taels of gold. When the whole camp received their reward, everyone got drunk. The owner of “A Collection of Rivers and Trees”, along with several other soldiers, drank himself stupid and made a bet to climb the ancient bronze tree.
(The events that followed this bet were all written in that unknown language. I didn’t know if it was because of some special reason, but unfortunately, Master Liang couldn’t understand what was written.)
Master Liang told us that Li Pipa could understand what was written there, but when he asked him about it, the other man decided not to tell him. For some reason, he was extremely secretive about it.
At the end of “A Collection of Rivers and Trees”, there was a paragraph written in Chinese characters that recorded the climbing process. Further up from our position, there was supposed to be a plank boardwalk built into the rock wall. It was originally prepared for the emperor when he came to inspect the project, but unfortunately, it couldn’t be built closer to the top. In addition, while the plank boardwalk was being built, people would often fall off of the cliff for no known reason. After a while, the project was eventually abandoned.
We crawled out of the short cave and Boss Wang handed me a pair of binoculars before pointing the strong beam of his flashlight at a certain spot above us. After adjusting the binoculars’ magnification, I saw what appeared to be several sections of a wooden plank boardwalk circling up the cliff not far above us. Unfortunately, our flashlight’s beam was too weak to shine that far, so we didn’t notice it before.
Boss Wang believed that if we could reach that plank boardwalk, we could save a lot of effort climbing up to the top. The only problem was, there might be something strange on it. Master Liang was a scholar who focused on studying not fighting, so it was up to the two of us to explore this plank boardwalk.
Not as optimistic as he was, I stared at the plank boardwalk through the binoculars for a long time, but I still couldn’t get a clear picture of what condition they were in. The light here was too dim, so all I could see was that the edge of the boardwalk seemed to be encased in something that looked like plant roots. It was clearly quite different from the steel structures I was used to climbing in tourist areas. “A Collection of Rivers and Trees” was written in the Northern and Southern Dynasties thousands of years ago, so there was no telling whether this plank boardwalk was still intact, let alone whether it was strong enough to bear a person’s weight.
Boss Wang said that when this thing was built, it was meant to be used by the emperor when he was making an inspection—not some temporary plank walkway for excavation—so the workers must have been very particular about the materials and workmanship. Even now, many ancient buildings from the Han Dynasty were still in very good condition so he didn’t think it would be much of a problem. But if it really did turn out to be impossible, then he still had a lot of rope we could use. If we used that in conjunction with this plank boardwalk, then the climb up would naturally be more convenient.
He spoke in a very decisive tone that brooked no argument, so I had no other choice but to keep my curses—and my opinions—to myself. After talking with Master Liang, he decided to let me rest for another fifteen minutes before taking me up to the boardwalk. While we were doing that, Master Liang was to stay behind with Lao Yang.
Since I had slept well just now, my energy recovered a lot, but I decided to eat something while Boss Wang sat down and chatted with Master Liang in Cantonese. I didn’t quite understand what they were saying, but I had a general idea of what they were talking about—it had something to do with the Qilin blood that Boss Wang had mentioned before. I couldn’t shake the anxiety I felt when thinking about this matter, but since my relationship with the two of them was supposedly cordial now (at least on the surface), I decided to take the opportunity to ask them about it. So, I asked Master Liang what exactly Qilin blood was and if it was harmful.
“You don’t need to worry about that aspect of it,” Master Liang said. “I didn’t tell you guys everything just now because I wanted to keep some information for myself. That way, if you guys ran away, I’d at least have something worthwhile to use in exchange for my life. But now that we’ve officially formed an alliance, I’ll go ahead and tell you so that you won’t feel so worried.”
Qilin blood was a very expensive traditional Chinese medicine purportedly formed when a Qilin’s blood thickened into a blood clot. In truth, it wasn’t really Qilin’s blood but the sap of a plant called Qilin Blood Vine. This plant was also known as Serpent Blood Vine, and could generally be found in the south.
The longer the Qilin blood was stored, the better its effect would be. In the beginning, it was only used for ordinary medicinal purposes, but when it came to traditional Chinese medicine, it had another rare usage: fumigating corpses. In ancient times, some ethnic minorities and mountain villages had a custom where they would press a piece of Qilin blood into the corpse’s navel before burial in order to remove the negative energy from the corpse. Although the corpse would rot, it wouldn’t attract maggots.
As Qilin blood aged, it would gradually change from a dark red color to a black color, becoming darker over time. Eventually, the Qilin blood’s nature would change, and it would dissolve once put in a person’s mouth. After that person ate it, evil insects wouldn’t dare get close, and even mosquitoes wouldn’t come near them in the summer.
Of course, these were all just legends Master Liang had heard from others. Today was the first time he had ever seen such a situation, so he only now started to believe that such a thing was possible. As for whether there were any side effects or not, there was nothing of note in the records. But traditional Chinese medicines generally weren’t very toxic so he told me not to worry, “Instead of thinking about that, I’d say the most troublesome things are those bugs. When ‘A Collection of Rivers and Trees’ was written, there was no mention of the workers digging up any masks. I’m not sure whether they’re a diversion set up by the ancients or a trick meant to kill thousands of people outside the cave. When you guys go up, you’ll have to be very careful and make sure you don’t act carelessly.”
We rested there for a bit longer, but Lao Yang still didn’t wake up so the fat boss took off his pack and gave some of his equipment to me. I put on a tactical headlamp, slung a rope on my back, and started climbing towards the plank boardwalk above.
Theoretically, the plank boardwalk didn’t seem that far away, but the reality was far different. We were expecting to reach the top in about an hour or so since things usually appeared much farther away than they actually were, but by the time half an hour had passed, we had barely climbed to the bottom of the plank boardwalk.
It was only at that moment that I realized what the fat boss had said before was true—the plank boardwalk really was well preserved. This wasn’t because the boardwalk had been made stronger for the emperor to walk on, but because the exterior was supported by a framework of oiled bamboo poles. The framework was there because the construction was never finished. These kinds of things were moisture-proof, which meant that they were still very strong after hundreds of years of corrosion. We could even hear the soft creaking sounds of the bamboo poles as we walked, a clear sign that they were as strong as ever.
This place had to be very close to the surface since there were many tree roots hanging over the edge of the cliff and wrapped around the handrails like twining plants. Some of these roots were so thick that they looked like octopus tentacles as they blocked the plank boardwalk. The higher we climbed, the more frequently these things started to appear and it soon became very difficult to walk. Some sections of the boardwalk were so completely encased in roots that there was hardly any place to stand, so we had to either climb over them or use a machete to clear a path.
Due to the invasive tree roots, the rocks here were cracked and crumbling. Some of the rocks would fall down from above from time to time, so we had to cover our heads and watch our feet. Walking like this made us feel even more tired than when we were climbing up.
We walked and walked until I didn’t know how far up we had gone. Eventually, we came across a very large gap in the plank boardwalk in front of us. It was about ten meters wide and appeared to be the result of the nearby rocks breaking off and collapsing. I eyed the distance before saying to Boss Wang, “There’s no way we can jump that far. We’ll have to use the rope.”
It had been almost an hour since we started our ascent, but looking down from above, it seemed as if we hadn’t made it very far at all. As things stood right now, it was going to be impossible to reach the top of the tree within an hour. We had been climbing so fast just now that we exhausted ourselves and needed to take a short break to recover our strength. Plus, even though this vertical karst cave was very cold and damp, my clothes were drenched in sweat after coming this far. Not only did they feel uncomfortable sticking to my body, but I knew I’d easily get sick since there wouldn’t be a chance for them to dry thoroughly. In order to avoid that, I’d have to find a way to keep warm.
We found a small hole nearby where we could take shelter. Unlike the rock cave we had been in before, this small hole was actually a hollow space that had been formed when the tree roots wrapped around the plank boardwalk. Boss Wang took out his lantern and hung it on one of the tree roots using a dagger. I took off my clothes and dried my underwear first before quickly eating something. As we talked, Boss Wang used a strong tactical flashlight to illuminate the bronze tree across from us. His expression was very serious as he said to me, “Look, you can already see the top from here. But what’s that thing above it?”
I picked up the binoculars to take a look and saw that the thing he was talking about was only about a dozen meters above the top of the bronze tree. Many tree roots were hanging down from the top of the cave, blocking the whole area. While this made it harder to see the thing clearly, I could tell that it was wrapped in a large tangle of roots. These roots appeared to be entwined with the top of the bronze tree, forming a kind of cocoon around the object that made it difficult to see what exactly was inside.
The plank boardwalk built into the cave wall went much higher than the top of the bronze tree. This was different from what had been recorded in “A Collection of Rivers and Trees”, but it was possible that after years of excavation, the heavy bronze tree slowly sank further into the rock. As this went on for hundreds of years, the tree must have sunk so much that its height dropped below the plank boardwalk.
The roots hanging from the ceiling of the cave probably belonged to the big banyan trees we had seen before, the ones that were so wide, it would take a dozen people holding hands just to encircle their trunks. Looking at them now, their roots almost seemed more spectacular than their leaves or branches. In fact, they almost reminded me of pale ghostly claws that were twisted together like fried dough twists, or maybe like a giant hand that was trying to grab this bronze pillar and pull it from the depths of hell. But then again, it also looked like a huge totem of a fossilized coiled python. Either way, it was enough to give me goosebumps.
While I stood there examining it, completely fascinated, I suddenly heard the fat boss say to me, “Look at how thick the roots are. That means that the topsoil is right above the rock layer here. The place we are now is a natural karst cave. It would’ve been impossible for the ancients to come through the mountains to offer sacrifices here, so there must be a cave system at the top that leads to the outside. If we do this right, we won’t have to go back the same way we came in.”
I was ecstatic as soon as I heard him say this. It truly would be great if we didn’t have to go back the same way we came in, but this natural cave certainly wasn’t a peaceful place. Whether we’d be able to get out at that time was something that would have to be calculated separately. As I was lost in thought, Boss Wang suddenly gave me a shove and said, “This is the situation at the top of the bronze tree. But if you look at that cluster of roots over there, you can see what appears to be a bronze statue. We’re too far away to see it clearly, so I think we should move in for a closer look.”
I looked in the direction his finger was pointing and saw that below the top of the bronze tree, there seemed to be two bronze arms sticking out of the tangle of roots. They looked very similar to the statue we had seen in Narrow Ravine, but that statue’s face had been blown up by grave robbers. At that time, I had a strong premonition that something was wrong with that face, and now it looked like I’d be able to see what that statute really looked like.
<Chapter 28><Table of Contents><Chapter 30>
(1) Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei was an emperor of the Northern Wei Dynasty from September 20, 471 to April 26, 499. Info here.
(2) Pangu is the creator of the universe in Chinese mythology. He is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant who has horns on his head. When Pangu began creating the world, he separated yin from yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the earth (yin) and the sky (yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the sky. Info here.
(3) The Jade Emperor was considered to be the ruler of Heaven. He was thought to be like a human emperor, in that he ruled over a heavenly court populated by all the important gods of China. He’s one of the representations of the first god in Chinese culture, traditional religions, and myth. Info here.
(4) Historically, Imperial China had a nine rank system, also known as the nine grade controller system, to categorize and classify government officials. The nine ranks were separated into Upper, Middle, and Lower classes, each composed of three ranks, making nine in total. Each rank was also further classified into standard and secondary ranks, so that the entire system contained 18 ranks. During the Northern Wei Dynasty, ranks four to nine added additional upper and lower ranks to the standard and secondary ranks, giving the Nine ranks system a total of 30 ranks (6 in the top 3 ranks; 24 from ranks 4 to 9). So basically, this commander got quite the promotion. More info here.
Guess what guys? I got a promotion and a 15% raise. Yay! Sounds like I’ll pretty much be doing what I’m already doing (with a few extra things added in of course) but I don’t think it’ll affect my ability to get DMBJ out since I’ve clearly been doing stellar so far hahahaha. Seriously though, thanks for being patient with my slow ass.
14 thoughts on “Chapter 29 Closing In”
Yay promotion! Congrats!! And thank you for bringing dmbj to us ❤
Congrats on the promotion!
(Once again, Wu Xie ends up nearly naked. I am Not Surprised.)
(I was thinking about that as well. He just can’t seem to keep his clothes on 😂)
Congratulations on your promotion and specially the Rise!!! If you are at work at least a 50% what you are translating I’m sure you surely deserve it!
This episode was looong, so much info! Thank you again and again for translating
Aww thank you! 😘
Congratulations! Delighted to hear it! I am also laughing that your news came right beside your translator’s note about all the ranks in imperial China, I’m picturing you moving up a few ranks and getting a new title and different headpiece style, like in all the Olden Times Cdramas 😆
Thank you! I was thinking the same thing about that note 😂. I was like “this guy got a promotion too! What a happy coincidence” 😂
Congratulations on the promotion. I’m happy for you. I wish for more success to come your way.💗
Aww thank you! 😁😘
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Congratulations!!!🎊🎉 🥳 Raises are wonderful things! I’m so happy for you! You are such a hard worker! I’m so glad you were recognized and rewarded! 😊🤩❤️
Wow, what a long chapter, thank you! And congratulations!
a tad late but hoping the promotion and pay increase did you justice..
thank you for the chapter 🙏🏼