To Chen Pi Ah Si, seeing a dead person was nothing new—not to mention all the zombies and mummies he saw in tombs, there were also the countless people he had killed himself—so when he turned around and saw that it was a corpse, he immediately relaxed. Not only did this unlucky bastard die here, he said to himself, but they turned into a dried squid and scared people.
Despite thinking this, Chen Pi Ah Si still held that iron pellet in his hand. His ability to shoot those iron pellets with his bare hands was a skill he honed since childhood, and it was even said that he never missed his target. Moreover, the speed with which he threw them was so fast that ordinary people would already be blinded before they even saw his hands move.
Looking at this Miao person’s outfit, it was obvious to see that they had been dead less than ten years but more than two or three years. Their clothes were basically in tatters, but thanks to the large number of ferns and creeping vines wrapped around them, the unique characteristics of the Miao people’s clothes were still preserved. But if this corpse had been exposed to the sun and elements, why did it look like it was a little dehydrated instead of fully decomposed?
The corpse’s stomach was still pulsating, and as Chen Pi Ah Si looked at it, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. If it were me, I would have run away at that time, but people like him had their own special way of doing things. Ever since he was a child, Chen Pi Ah Si always believed that the first strike was the most powerful one. So, after thinking about it again, he immediately put three iron pellets in his hand and shot them out. They all hit the corpse’s stomach with a “pa pa pa” sound. It doesn’t matter what you are, he said to himself. It’s better to kill you first and figure it out later.
The force with which the iron pellets hit the body was so great that it almost split the corpse in two. As soon as the lower body fell away, Chen Pi Ah Si saw a mass of yellow mucus inside that was wrapped around a large number of eggs. Many of the eggs had already hatched, revealing a pile of wriggling white worm-like things inside. He could also see some things he was very familiar with hanging around the corpse—they were hives. Then, a large number of ground wasps crawled out from the opening he had made in the corpse’s body.
Chen Pi Ah Si cursed, suddenly feeling very unlucky—as it turned out, a bunch of ground wasps had made a nest inside the corpse. These wasps were not only venomous, but also fierce too. He had really run out of luck now.
He saw a kind of black fog rising up, indicating that the wasps were starting to gather. Chen Pi Ah Si used his quick wits to pull out an army folding shovel from his bag, scoop up a handful of wet mud from the ground, and throw it at the opening he had made in the corpse’s body, sealing all the wasps that were pouring out back inside. Then, he turned and ran.
The wasps that managed to rush out before he sealed the hole immediately swarmed him, leaving him with no other choice but to fight them off with his clothes as he ran around mindlessly. Fortunately, he was so fast with the shovel that he only ended up with a few stings. When he finally stopped to catch his breath, he smacked the remaining wasps off of his body and looked around. That was when he realized he no longer knew where he was.
Chen Pi Ah Si pulled the stingers from his body and grimaced in pain, wondering why a bunch of wasps had made their nest in a human corpse, especially considering how this kind of venomous wasp was usually found underground, like ants. Deep in the rainforests of Guangxi, you could sometimes see hives that looked like hills. People thought that they were ant nests and opened them to look for ants, but they ended up completely covered in wasps before they knew it.
In places like Guangxi and Yunnan, people generally didn’t know a lot about bugs, so Chen Pi Ah Si could only blame himself for his bad luck. He dealt with the remaining stingers and started looking around the area. But after cresting a nearby hill, he suddenly froze.
There was a huge stone pagoda lying at the base of the hill in front of him. The pagoda must have originally been hexagonal in shape (it was impossible to tell for sure now) and majestic, with dense eaves and wide beams. Chen Pi Ah Si went down and used a knife to scrape the moss and entangled plants off of the pagoda. The relief stone carvings were very beautiful, but it was obvious to see that the pagoda had been burned by someone—there were black soot marks all over it, which must have been caused by a fire.
The pagoda’s body, crown, and finial(1) had all cracked and broken into pieces, which were lying on the ground. Due to the pagoda’s heavy weight, a large part of it was pressed into the soil, along with the numerous trees that were crushed under it.
Chen Pi Ah Si was very experienced, so he knew that pagodas generally consisted of an underground palace, a base, a body, a top, and a finial. The finial at the top should have a pedestal, an upward-facing lotus, a dome, rings, and a precious gem. There could also be a gem cover, a halo, an upward-facing moon, and another precious gem added above the rings. In short, there should definitely be a gem-shaped thing at the top of the pagoda, which would no doubt be quite valuable.
He walked along the collapsed pagoda until he reached the finial. When it fell, it apparently hit a huge spruce tree and broke, shattering the pedestal into pieces and sending the rest of the finial plunging headfirst into the ground. Chen Pi Ah Si assessed the damage and determined that the precious gem must have become a “precious cake” and was no better than scrap material now.
He went back to the pagoda’s base, where half of the collapsed wall was still standing. After climbing over it, he saw a messy path of stones inside—the underground palace was definitely below. Unfortunately, not only had the pagoda been sealed when it was built, but a lot of crushed stones and broken bricks had fallen down when it collapsed. With only his folding shovel at his disposal, it may take him half a year to dig his way into the underground palace.
Chen Pi Ah Si looked at his compass. It had already been evening when he came down from the cliff, and now the sky was dark and the moon was out. He didn’t have a torch, and after walking so far, he didn’t know how to get back. He figured his best bet was to pretend that he had gotten lost and wait for the Miao villagers to come and save him. Thinking this, he gathered some broken branches and dead leaves at the base of the pagoda and lit a huge bonfire to attract the others’ attention. Then, he climbed to the highest point of the pagoda’s base to see what the surrounding situation looked like.
Based on what he saw when he was on Reclining Buddha Ridge and what he was seeing now, he figured that he was currently in the area where all the trees had been leaning in various directions. The ground should be a little lower than that of the surrounding area due to Guangxi’s special climate, which caused the soil to retain too much moisture and remain soft. All that water gradually infiltrated the layers of excess soil that were used to bury the underground palace, forming many bubbles in the soil. Once a big tremor occurred, the mud layer would collapse, just like a steamed bun.
In this way, Chen Pi Ah Si came to two conclusions. First, the underground palace was very large, but not deep, so he could definitely dig it up within twenty minutes. Second, the soil should be relatively soft, so it wouldn’t use up too much of his strength.
At this time, he hesitated—should he enter this underground palace now or come back later? It seemed like it wouldn’t be too difficult to come back later, but Chen Pi Ah Si, like all grave robbers, knew that there was something down there and couldn’t restrain his curiosity.
In the end, he gritted his teeth and said to himself, fuck it! I want to know what’s down there. If those temple barbarians come here later, I’ll just kill them all and throw them into the underground palace. No one will be the wiser.
Chen Pi Ah Si unfolded his shovel. He didn’t bring a Luoyang shovel with him so he couldn’t accurately locate the palace, but pagodas were pretty rare and it wasn’t like there was a coffin inside so it was pointless to use his usual methods. Following his intuition, he started digging a grave robbers’ tunnel close to the pagoda’s base.
Soon, he reached the roof of the underground palace. It wasn’t made of stone, but wood from a whole tree trunk that had been carved into a latticework of curved beams. Feeling overjoyed, he used a bit of wire to saw off a corner and let the pieces of wood fall into the underground palace below. He soon heard the sound of them landing, and rushed to shine his flashlight inside.(2)
Mirror palaces were supposed to be symmetrical from top to bottom. In other words, there should be an equal number of levels below as there were above, so underground palaces were usually extremely deep. As Chen Pi Ah Si looked down from above, he saw that each level was an open space without any floors, and the bottom was completely dark.
When the light from his flashlight penetrated the darkness, he noticed that there was something like a white fog filling the space, but he couldn’t tell what it was.
At this time, he suddenly remembered that those Miao people had said that there were monsters under the pagoda. He felt a little worried at first, but this feeling soon disappeared as his blood started racing with excitement. Realizing that the air in the underground palace was safe, he stepped onto the underground palace’s curved wooden roof, wedged his feet under one of the beams, and then let himself fall backward so that he was hanging upside down, all of his strength focused on his two feet.
After dropping in, he adjusted his position and then took a look at the underside of the curved wooden roof. This kind of underground palace was built to be functional, so there was no reason to have a lot of decorations or mechanisms like you’d find in ancient tombs. After looking around, Chen Pi Ah Si found that there were a lot of scriptures on the underground palace’s ceiling.
The scriptures, which were in Sanskrit, had been carved into the curved wooden beams and then filled with red lacquer to preserve them. Chen Pi Ah Si wasn’t familiar with Chinese characters, so he obviously couldn’t understand what kind of scriptures these were.
But he instinctively felt that this should be something used to suppress demons or ward against evil spirits. Maybe there really is something sealed under here, he couldn’t help but mutter to himself.
Looking down below, he could see a lot more clearly—each level had a circle of protrusions extending out from the wall, and from top to bottom, each level looked a bit like a staircase. There was also a circle of colorful, life-sized arhat(3) statues on each floor. The colors were very vibrant and exquisite, and they were all wearing monk’s robes. All the statues’ heads were bent, as if they were looking down at the bottom of the underground palace. There were more than a dozen levels in this underground palace, each filled with arhat statues carved in various poses. He did a rough count and found that there were more than a hundred of them
The nearest arhat statue wasn’t far away from him, and when Chen Pi Ah Si—who was still hanging upside down—saw its expression, he suddenly felt a chill. As it turned out, all the arhat statues had indescribably serious expressions on their faces, and only the whites of their eyes were showing. It was much different from the arhat statues you would normally see.
But after taking a closer look, Chen Pi Ah Si realized that it was an illusion caused by the strong reflection of the flashlight’s beam on the statues’ too realistic eyeballs. Despite knowing this, when his flashlight swept past them, he couldn’t shake the feeling that those statues suddenly became extremely sinister—it was like their expressions changed and they became extremely terrifying. He wondered if they had originally been designed that way or if something happened to make them like this.
As Chen Pi Ah Si looked at these arhat statues, he felt very uncomfortable. But he didn’t know what he was afraid of, so he couldn’t help but think of retreating.
He continued to sweep his flashlight around the underground palace, trying to see something other than the arhat statues. At this time, his hand suddenly froze, and his flashlight’s beam landed on a certain spot.
On the protrusion about six or seven levels away from him, he saw a strange arhat statue. This statue was different from the others in that its head was not titled down, but was instead raised up and staring straight into Chen Pi Ah Si’s eyes. If it hadn’t been motionless the moment his flashlight illuminated that sinister white face, he would have almost thought he had seen a ghost.
Chen Pi Ah Si was so scared that his whole body froze up, and he couldn’t move for a while. Then, he felt his feet begin to weaken and he started to slide down.
Now, Chen Pi Ah Si wasn’t really afraid of ghosts—he had killed so many people that he could be considered reprehensible, so it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two of his victims came seeking revenge—but people during that time were more or less superstitious. Chen Pi Ah Si believed that he was able to survive for so many years because he had been blessed by his ancestors.
(People always needed something to believe in. Those who worked outside of the law usually worshipped Guan Gong,(4) while those from the northern school of grave robbing worshipped Zhong Kui.(5) Those from the southern school generally didn’t bother with such things, but it was said that for a period of time in Changsha, they worshipped “Huang Wang”.)
(Who was Huang Wang? He was Huang Chao, the one who wrote the poem verse: “The capital is full of golden armored soldiers”.(6) Why was this man worshipped? According to the elders, there were several reasons. First, it could be said that this man was a champion of murder. According to the stories passed down, Huang Chao killed eight million people, but it was because he had a task to do. What did this mean? It meant that he had a specific number of people he had to kill. If he didn’t kill eight million people, he wouldn’t complete his task. I didn’t know whether it came from a novel or a Chinese-style folktale, but according to the legends, Huang Chao was a reincarnation of the arhat Maudgalyāyana,(7) who released eight million hungry ghosts from the underworld in order to save his mother. The Buddha had him reincarnate so that he could kill those ghosts one by one. In other words, he went back to recruit workers for the Buddha.)
Chen Pi Ah Si wasn’t afraid of this statue that was facing upwards, but he definitely felt that something was wrong with it since it just so happened to be facing him. Did the builders at that time accurately predict that someone would dig a grave robbers’ tunnel from this location, so they put this kind of thing here to scare people?
<Chapter 42><Table of Contents><Chapter 44>
(1) I called it a finial but the specific characters (塔刹) say it’s a Buddhist ornamentation decorating the upper story of a pagoda.
(2) Yeah, he magically has a flashlight now. Idk.
(3) In Buddhism, an arhat or arahant is one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved Nirvana and been liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth.
(4) Aka Lord Guan, a general who was posthumously worshiped and identified with the guardian Bodhisattva Sangharama. More info here.
(5) Zhong Kui is a mythological figure who’s supposed to drive away evil spirits. He is depicted as a large man with a big black beard, bulging eyes, and a wrathful expression. Zhong Kui is able to command 80,000 demons to do his bidding. Info here.
(6) Huang Chao (835 – July 13, 884) was a Chinese smuggler, soldier, and rebel, and is most well known for being the leader of a major rebellion that severely weakened the Tang dynasty. The poem verse “the capital’s full of golden armored soldiers” was used to describe his preparations for rebellion.
(7) He is considered the second of the Buddha’s two foremost male disciples, together with Śāriputra. As a teacher, Maudgalyayana is known for his psychic powers, and he is often depicted using these in his teaching methods. More info here.
6 thoughts on “Chapter 43 Mirror Palace”
Oooh exciting! Thank you for adding the pictures of the pagoda, I had a rough idea, but the individual parts were a bit unclear.
You’re very welcome! I’m always a sucker for visuals lol. I know the terminology didn’t really match up but all I was finding were pics of Japanese pagodas so I figured the ones I went with in the end could at least give a general idea.
Thank you for the chapter and all the info. It’s amazing how much is butchered in licensed version…
Off topic, I was recently reading Restart (or maybe it was Xiao Hua and Black Glasses Russian adventure) when I saw your comment about Ancient Detective and I decided to watch it. I just finished the drama and I love it to pieces. I just want to say thank you because if it weren’t for you I’d never knew the drama even existed. 🤗
It’s like we got the SUPER abridged version 😭 Oh, 3 paragraphs of info? Let’s reduce it to two sentences 😭
Ohhh I’m glad you liked Ancient Detective. It was one of those I went in with 0 expectations and was pleasantly surprised 😂 And the cinematography was *chef’s kiss*.
I’m still amazing at the editor or whoever decided to chop the book choices. Sigh
About Ancient Detective, yes it’s beautiful filmed. I read it was a low budget drama so I’m amazed about the quality
oh wow, yeah there’s a lot of extra content in here…