Chapter 34 Bold Assumption, Careful Verification

Some corpse cocoons had been dug up in southern Sichuan and Inner Mongolia several years ago, but they were only as big as washbasins. Some of them seemed to have been made of jade while others seemed to have been made of amber, but almost every single one of them had the shriveled corpses of small animals or children inside of them. There were very few that had adults encased in them. These things were generally considered the same as other grave goods that had been excavated, and no one knew how they were made.

According to the ancient records, this kind of thing may have been used by alchemists in the pre-Qin period to enhance the effectiveness of ingredients used to concoct pills of immortality. A pregnant woman who was less than a month away from giving birth would be immersed in a jar of liquid medicine and killed. The jar would then be buried for seventeen years before it was dug up again. By that point, the child in the woman’s belly would become a corpse cocoon. The outer translucent layer was the pregnant woman’s fossilized placenta while the amber color was actually the solidification of the amniotic fluid inside. Others said that this was simply a kind of embalming technique, in which the corpse was encased in a special resin that had been mixed with traditional Chinese medicine so as to prevent the corpse from losing moisture.

While I had heard of the existence of such things, I had never actually handled them because they were too valuable. As a result, I didn’t know what to think now that I was actually seeing one in person. I also needed to ease the tense atmosphere between the two of us, so I tried asking Boss Wang a few questions.

He told me that many years ago, when his great-grandfather was a senior chaofeng(1) in Hong Kong, he saw some treasures that had been pawned by the rich who were fleeing the war with Japan. Among those valuable treasures were a few amber corpse cocoons.

The corpse cocoons not only came in various sizes, but their contents all differed as well. Some were like ordinary amber with insects inside while others had human corpses encased in them.

His great-grandfather once saw a corpse cocoon that contained a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old girl dressed in red. She was laying inside the cocoon with her eyes closed, as if she were merely asleep.

He couldn’t help but feel pity as he looked at the young girl, so he took advantage of the boss’s inattentiveness and set it on fire. At that time, things were so chaotic that the boss didn’t notice at all. Later that night, when his great-grandfather went to sleep, he had a dream in which the young girl in red came to him and kowtowed in thanks.

Later, Boss Wang started his own antique business and also came across this kind of thing. But this was the first time he had seen one so big that it was impossible to tell what was inside.

I couldn’t help but feel a little surprised. Was it possible that Li Pipa was referring to this when he said that this place had treasure better than anything in Qin Shi Huang’s tomb? But that couldn’t be right. Although this thing was also very rare, it definitely couldn’t be described as “better than anything in Qin Shi Huang’s tomb”.

I could tell that even Boss Wang thought it was strange, but he believed that the information in “A Collection of Rivers and Trees” couldn’t be wrong. He squatted down and carefully pressed his face against the amber’s surface, trying to see if there were any amazing grave goods that had been melted into the amber.

Based on how the chains were affixed to the corpse cocoon, it was impossible for me and Boss Wang to stand on the same end at the same time. If we did, the cocoon would tilt and we’d both lose our balance and fall off. So, I stayed where I was and held onto the bronze chain as I waited to see if he discovered anything.

Boss Wang examined the whole thing from top to bottom several times but still didn’t find anything. He only said that there seemed to be some kind of liquid flowing inside the amber, which was making it more opaque. He also said that there was nothing else inside the amber besides the black shadow.

I looked around again, but all I saw was the dark abyss below—there was nothing we could use to climb down any further. It seemed that the only thing at the top of this bronze tree was a mysterious coffin with this amber cocoon inside of it.

We both fell silent, neither one saying a word. Although this amber was valuable, it was so heavy that we wouldn’t be able to lift it out of here. Everything here was meaningless to us. I didn’t care that much, but Boss Wang had come all this way and lost so many people from his team that he was bound to feel depressed.

After remaining silent for a while, I decided that the problem lay in Li Pipa’s words. So, I asked Boss Wang if Li Pipa had revealed anything else along the way. Based on what I knew of his character, Li Pipa didn’t seem like the type of person who could keep a secret. He must have inadvertently revealed something while they were making their way here.

Boss Wang’s expression suddenly changed and he said, “You’re quite good at judging people. Indeed, Li Pipa was the type of person who didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. But the strange thing was, when we came here, he was particularly tight-lipped. All I remember is that he just kept telling us that when we came here, we’d have everything we ever wanted and that there was nothing to worry about. He wouldn’t say anything else. Granted, he was also the type of person who liked to be mysterious. Whenever we asked him questions, he’d often beat around the bush instead of telling us.”

As long as you get here, you can have everything you ever wanted.

I repeated this to myself, feeling a little confused. This sentence was very strange, almost like it had some kind of hidden meaning.

After pondering over it for a while, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration. Oh, I thought to myself, could it be something like this?

Boss Wang, seeing that my expression suddenly became strange, gave me a confused look—it seemed he didn’t know what I was thinking.

I scratched my head excitedly as thoughts raced through my mind: Li Pipa said that they had to get here. This sentence was very ambiguous, so maybe they had all misunderstood what he meant. The real goal was to get to this place. In other words, the goal wasn’t what you could get, it was to actually reach this place first. Once you got here, you could have whatever you wanted!!

In the information Grandpa Qi had given to me, I remembered seeing a photo of a cave mural that depicted a bunch of human figures kneeling under a bronze tree. Many people might have thought that the figures were praying for a good harvest, but the caption under the photo said that they were actually making a wish. According to the caption, when the ancients made a wish to this bronze tree, they would offer up blood sacrifices so that their wish would come true.

It may seem like nothing more than superstition, but when I thought of Li Pipa’s words, I couldn’t help but think that the two were connected.

Could Li Pipa have come here because he believed that this bronze tree really had the ability to grant people’s wishes?

I suddenly wanted to laugh but found that I couldn’t. If that were the case, it really would be considered a huge prize. After all, there was no treasure in the world worth even a billionth of such a prize. But this kind of thing was absolutely impossible. If this man really came here with this purpose in mind, it was just too unbelievable. Of course he wouldn’t explain it to anyone. If they heard him say such a thing, who would be willing to come with him?

When I told Boss Wang my thoughts, I was surprised to find that not only did he not find it funny, but he suddenly seemed to remember something. “No, that’s not quite right,” he said to me. “It seems that such a thing really is possible.”

I sighed, thinking to myself that it was unlikely, but I still asked him why he thought it was possible.

“When the two of us fell into the coffin earlier, I was afraid you’d attack me so I ran to the center of the fog as soon as I landed,” he explained. “At that time, I also saw these bronze chains. But when I ran in between them, the ground was solid. When I attacked you the second time, however, I suddenly fell into this hole. I didn’t give it much thought since I figured I just didn’t see it earlier because of the fog, but now that I think about it, it seems that this hole came out of nowhere.”

“What are you trying to say?” I asked him.

“I’m saying that when I first walked across that area, I was thinking that there should be a coffin well under it. But when I got closer and stepped in between the chains, I found that there wasn’t one. The second time I went over to attack you, however, a coffin well had magically appeared. Doesn’t this mean that my wish came true?”

I looked at him doubtfully while thinking to myself, how could such a thing possibly happen? Did his brain become addled after that beating I gave him?

Boss Wang, seeing that I didn’t believe him, quickly said, “It’s true. I’m just as surprised as you are. But ‘A Collection of Rivers and Trees’ has never been wrong before. If the great treasure Li Pipa mentioned was this kind of thing, then it’s not surprising that he was so confident. Maybe it really is possible.”

I frowned, still unwilling to believe it. In psychological terms, the meaning of Li Pipa’s words basically meant that once you reached this place, your subconscious mind would affect the surrounding environment and make you think that the things in your imagination had become real.

If the bronze tree really did have such an ability, then everything we had seen just now may have been created by us. This bronze tree, this cave, and even the corpse in front of us might not actually be real.

If the owner of “A Collection of Rivers and Trees” already knew that this bronze tree had the same “materialization” power as that of a God—whether he learned it while climbing the tree or torturing the people of the She Kingdom—then Li Pipa must have read about it and wanted it for himself. That was why he lured those people into coming to this place.

If we based everything on this premise, then Li Pipa’s words could be explained, but everything else became confusing. That would mean that we had a world here where reality and the subconscious were intertwined. But then, what exactly did this bronze tree really look like? And what about our surroundings?

Wasn’t this whole thing too weird? Was it really possible for such a thing to happen?

So many things had happened when we were climbing up the tree, from the monkeys wearing masks with Deadly Dragons in them to the empty caves in the rock wall. Had they all materialized because of us?

This kind of power seemed amazing at first, but when I thought about it more carefully, I only felt an inexplicable horror. There was no way to control human thoughts. For example, if you had this kind of power and watched a horror movie, you may find the bloody corpse from the movie hanging on the ceiling fan behind you once the movie was over. Or, if you walked past a cemetery…

Maybe someone trained in psychology could control this power to a certain extent, but wouldn’t it also be possible to control the world? As my thoughts started to spiral, I had to force myself to stop. Then, I suddenly thought of something.

That bronze branch Lao Yang and his cousin had dug up should also be a totem of this wishing tree. Since his cousin had secretly brought it out with him, did that mean that he knew this tree had such a power? But he went crazy, right? How did that happen? Since Lao Yang had the branch now, did he also know what was going on?

I looked at the nearby wall and suddenly had a thought—if this whole thing was true, then I could make a wish to this tree right now, asking for the ability to understand everything that was happening. Then I laughed at myself. Even though I knew such a thing was impossible, I actually found myself believing that the wall of bronze in front of me was more than just a tree—

When I thought of this, I was suddenly overcome with a strange feeling. Then, a series of thoughts suddenly flashed through my mind. I felt my heart skip a beat as I turned my head sharply and stared at Boss Wang.

<Chapter 33><Table of Contents><Chapter 35>


TN Notes:

(1) Chaofeng were first mentioned back in Chapter 16. It was a term used to refer to the shop assistants who worked at the main counter in pawn shops. Their main job was to determine the value and authenticity of items in a short amount of time. Senior chaofeng were responsible for appraising high-level goods and taking care of the daily administrative affairs.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 34 Bold Assumption, Careful Verification

  1. If it’s 50 more pages then I expect it will explain how the tree’s “magic” works. So far I like this episode way better than the licensed one. I also want to read how Wuxie makes it out of this place in a more detailed way.
    I also read some comments saying that Wuxie is no Wuxie but a projection (as Lao Yang is) or that he also got some powers to materialize his thoughts… So I hope for things clearly explained by the end.
    Of course expecting all the answers from NPSS is so naive of me, but who knows he might surprise me!


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