The more Chen Pi Ah Si thought about it, the more frightened he became. But this man was almost in his sixties at that time, and his experience and courage were naturally leagues beyond mine. After that momentary panic, he immediately calmed down and thought to himself, what the hell are you looking at, you bastard? Then he took out a few iron pellets, stabilized his feet, and shot two of them at that white-faced arhat statue.
As mentioned earlier, Chen Pi Ah Si’s philosophy in life was to strike first. My grandfather also said the same thing to me more than once when I was growing up. Although this principle was very simple, to those working outside of the law, it was very practical.
The two iron pellets flew like lightning and hit the eyes of the white-faced arhat statue with a muffled thud, causing the statue’s eyes to crack. Then they bounced off and fell to the bottom of the mirror palace.
If this had been a person, they would have been completely blinded by this move, which showed just how vicious this skill really was. Even the statue, although it looked like it was made of clay, couldn’t withstand the impact—the place where its two eyes were had suddenly turned into two deep pits. The statue’s expression now looked very blank and weird, but Chen Pi Ah Si felt that it was much better than before.
He immediately relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief before sneering. These shitty monks, he said to himself. What do they mean ‘this world is an illusion’?(1) Aren’t they just using tricks to try and scare people? Thinking this, he pulled a five-clawed hook from his clothes and hooked it to the top of the underground palace’s curved wooden roof. He then tied a single-ply walrus skin rope to the end of the hook before tying the other end to his ankle. Walrus skin ropes were very elastic, so as he slid down, the loose rope immediately stretched. The use of this kind of rope was a result of Chen Pi Ah Si’s many years of experience in grave robbing. The strength of this thing was second only to that of a steel cable, but it could actually stretch. In addition, Chen Pi Ah Si was short and lean, so he could wrap the rope around his waist ten times under his clothes, with others none the wiser. This meant that he could use it to deal with anything at a depth of about ten meters.
However, this mirror palace was more than ten meters deep. Chen Pi Ah Si ended up reaching the end of the rope, but he was still a long ways away from the bottom of the palace.
Despite this, he could already see the outline of the things below. The bottom of the palace seemed to be made of white marble, and there were numerous fragments of something on it due to earthquakes and natural erosion over the years. In the center of the palace was a miniature white pagoda, but he didn’t know whether it was made of jade or ivory—it was covered by a semi-transparent muslin “treasure veil”, so it looked white and hazy.
Although Chen Pi Ah Si was almost sixty, he knew little about Buddhist pagodas. This was likely due to the high illiteracy rate of those who grew up before liberation. There was an old saying among the Changsha grave robbers: a marquis(2) is not as well off as the Buddha. In other words, the things in the underground palace of a Buddhist pagoda were often more extravagant than those in a marquis’s tomb. Although Chen Pi Ah Si had heard this saying, he didn’t really understand it. But if it were me, I would have immediately known what was down there.
Under the miniature pagoda, there should be an eightfold treasure box containing the Buddha’s bones or relics. These eight boxes were placed inside of each other, much like matryoshka dolls. This thing was special to Buddhists, and with the relics inside, it became a reflection of the “three thousand worlds” and “the six paths of reincarnation”.(3) Regardless of whether the eightfold treasure box below contained the real Buddha’s bone or a jade replica, the box itself was something whose value couldn’t be calculated.
When I heard this, I suddenly felt a little confused. If Chen Pi Ah Si really stole the eightfold treasure box from the underground palace, then how did this story appear in the newspaper? Despite being so close to the treasure at that time, did he give it up for some reason? No, with his character, that was totally impossible.
Lao Hai didn’t notice that I was distracted, and kept talking away. His words were like an endless flood that prevented me from interrupting, so I had no other choice but to continue listening.
After Chen Pi Ah Si saw the pagoda, although he didn’t know what was underneath, he knew it definitely wouldn’t be ordinary. As long as he could get down to the bottom of the palace, he could return home fully loaded. But how could he get down?
Unfortunately, he didn’t bring enough rope with him. If he had known earlier, he could have avoided this dilemma by going back and returning once he had prepared the proper equipment.
He shined his flashlight around to see if he could swing to the underground palace’s wall and then climb down those arhat statues. He looked at each level with his flashlight, estimating the height until he reached the bottom. But at this time, he suddenly saw something strange around the pagoda. It looked like a pile of loess had been scattered around the underground palace’s white marble floor. He didn’t know if it accidentally fell in when the underground palace was sealed off, or if it was the wooden pieces that fell when he used the wire to cut the roof open.
But after taking a closer look, he immediately cursed, what rotten luck.
As it turned out, the thing at the bottom of the palace wasn’t a pile of loess, but a big pile of earth. It only took one look for him to realize that this big pile of earth was actually a wasps’ nest.
His eyes tracked the pile of earth to its source—a stone doorway set in the underground palace’s wall. It was half as tall as a person and very well hidden.
It seemed that this mirror palace had ancillary underground buildings around it, which probably weren’t sealed properly. As a place that was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, these insects must have treated it like a summer resort. From his current position, Chen Pi Ah Si could tell that the nest wasn’t large in scale, but the part hidden inside that short doorway was probably terrifying. It wasn’t surprising that this nest was so huge—there was no wind or rain in this underground structure, so it really was a “good location”. Maybe the old wasps in this nest also knew feng shui.
Luckily, the section of the underground palace’s curved wooden roof that he had sawed off earlier became stuck between the arhat statues on the lower floor and didn’t hit the hornets’ nest. Otherwise, he would have been trapped hanging here like a sausage, unable to escape quickly. Crucified by wasps…if future generations saw him, there was no doubt that he would have become the laughing stock of the millennia.
But this was still quite problematic. As long as his feet touched the ground—even if he were to tread as light as smoke—it would still be impossible to move such a small pagoda in such a small space without disturbing these wasps.
Chen Pi Ah Si thought it over, but knew that it was impossible to go down. This left him with only one way to bring that thing up.
Here, I need to mention Chen Pi Ah Si’s background. He grew up in a fishing village along the coast of Zhejiang, but fled to Changsha when the Japanese attacked. That was why his Changsha dialect wasn’t “authentic”. But this man was very clever. Ever since ancient times, grave robbers usually didn’t pass on their skills to outsiders, but he was a rare exception.
When Chen Pi Ah Si was in Haiyan, he already had a unique skill which enabled him to catch crabs on the mudflats. Of course, he didn’t catch them by hand, but instead used something called a “nine-clawed hook”.
This thing was similar to the flying tiger claws you’d see in martial arts movies, or those three-clawed hooks used by special forces for rock climbing, but it had nine claws that were closely arranged in a circle.(4) Chen Pi Ah Si would tie a rope to the end of the hook, and as soon as he saw a crab appear on the mudflat, he’d throw the hook out. As soon as the crab was ensnared, he’d pull the hook back, and the crab would fly into the basket he had waiting beside him.
According to my grandfather’s notes, his accuracy was such that he could hook an uncooked egg from twenty meters away with the flick of his hand and set it on the ground without breaking it. His skills were simply godlike. If the distance was a little farther away, he would tie the end of the hook’s rope to a stick and swing it, but it was still just as accurate.
At this time, Chen Pi Ah Si was at his wit’s end. With no other choice, he clenched his teeth and decided to rely on his unique skill. He swung to the wall first and then climbed down the arhat statues level by level until the distance was just right. Then, he pulled out the nine-clawed hook, took a deep breath, and threw it out. It made a small arc in the air before the claws hooked onto the treasure veil. Fortunately, this thing wasn’t made of common bluestone and was very light. Chen Pi Ah Si yanked the treasure veil off the pagoda, put it on the head of a nearby arhat statue, changed his grip so that the claws released, and then returned the hook to his hand.
His next step was to remove the jade or ivory pagoda, but whatever material it was made from, it couldn’t be lifted with the nine-clawed hook. Chen Pi Ah Si threw the hook out and caught the miniature pagoda’s finial, but he found that the pagoda wouldn’t move no matter how many times he pulled.
Chen Pi Ah Si cursed, it may not weigh half a ton, but it definitely weighs around five hundred catty.(5)
He swept his flashlight over the pagoda and saw four miniature pillars at the base. This small pagoda should have been made according to the same specifications as the one that collapsed above, so its structure should be similar. But with these four pillars supporting all of the pagoda’s weight, that meant that something should be sitting in the middle of them—the treasure box. But looking carefully, the angle was all wrong; otherwise, he should have been able to hook it and bring it up.
At this time, Chen Pi Ah Si was already feeling a little impatient. He estimated that it had been four hours since he entered the basin, and he had vaguely heard a few whistles just now. Thinking that the Miao villagers might already be nearby, he knew that there was no time to waste thinking up another solution.
His heart felt tense, his head felt hot, and all kinds of evil thoughts started to rise up. He flicked his wrist and sent two more iron pellets souring through the air. They hit the small pillars at the base of the miniature pagoda, shattering two of the pillars to pieces. Then, he jumped down and landed on one side of the pagoda, slowly distributing his weight so that it tilted to one side. The remaining two pillars were unable to bear the unbalanced weight and suddenly broke. The pagoda began to sink, and its structure and base also started to split apart.
Chen Pi Ah Si lay on the pagoda, exerting his strength to try and keep it up, but the unbalanced weight was slowly causing it to tilt more and more. Chen Pi Ah Si saw the corner of the treasure box under the pagoda and immediately threw his nine-clawed hook at it, pulling it out from under the pagoda. He then retracted the hook and threw it back out, hooking one of the arhat statues on the side and stabilizing himself on the taut rope.
This series of actions took only three seconds to complete, but he didn’t expect the arhat statue to be unable to hold up both his and the pagoda’s weight. When the rope jerked, the statue wobbled a bit and then fell off the wall.
The floor below was practically a wasps’ nest, so if the statue fell like this, it was tantamount to him falling on the nest himself. Either way, it would be impossible for him to survive.
As fast a lightning, Chen Pi Ah Si threw the treasure box into the air and then used all of his strength to pull the arhat statue towards him. With such swift movements, it seemed like the arhat statue was successfully in hand, but unfortunately, the top of the tilting pagoda slammed into the underground palace’s wall, its finial knocking down more arhat statues in its wake.
This time, Chen Pi Ah Si couldn’t do anything but watch as a row of arhat statues smashed into the ground wasps’ nest. Amidst the cloud of dust that rose up everywhere, he saw that the nest was cracked and had almost completely collapsed.
In the confusion, he had no other choice but to drop the arhat statue in his hand, catch the falling treasure box, and then use his flashlight to look at the wasps’ nest. I’m done for, he said to himself. This is karma coming back to bite me. I didn’t die on the battlefield, so I’ll die in this underground palace. It’s totally in line with what the ancestors used to say.
But when the flashlight’s beam landed on the nest, he didn’t see a large number of wasps swarming out of the cracks like he had been expecting. Instead, he saw that the cracks were dry, as if there wasn’t any moisture in the nest—it seemed that this nest had been abandoned a long time ago.
He still didn’t relax, however, because there was a black mass in one of the cracks that made him go cold all over. Chen Pi Ah Si didn’t know whether it was the corpse of a dead person or some animal, but it seemed like it had been there when the nest was built.
He jumped down, broke the nest open, and found that it was an arhat statue carved in the same style as the others. But this one was already broken into several pieces. He figured the wasps’ nest had fallen from above before it was formed and broke on top of this statue, which was how it ended up inside.
Chen Pi Ah Si looked up. Although he hadn’t really paid close attention when he came down just now, he didn’t think that there were any arhat statues missing. Where exactly did this one fall from?
<Chapter 43><Table of Contents><Chapter 45>
(1) Reality is seen, ultimately, in Buddhism as a form of ‘projection‘, resulting from the fruition (vipaka) of karmic seeds (sankharas). In other words, there is no essence arisen from nothingness that is unique and personal to any being. In particular, there is neither a human soul that lives on beyond the death of the physical body nor one that is extinguished at death since, strictly speaking, there is nothing to extinguish. Wiki link here.
(2) Marquis (万户侯) in this context is the highest Han dynasty ducal title. They are the lord of 10,000 households. It can also refer to high nobles in general.
(3) According to this, the Buddhist concept of “three thousand worlds in a single moment of life” is an analytical explanation of how differences in values, sense of purpose, and view of happiness appear as differences in one’s environment. It’s a teaching that expounds how the quality of one’s environment is determined in response to what one considers happiness to be and the kinds of desires one holds. The “six paths of reincarnation” is based on the realms of rebirth in Buddhist cosmology; a cycle of death and rebirth, where a person is reincarnated into one of the six realms depending on their accumulated karma from their past life. Info here.
(4) Here’s info on flying claws. Chen Pi’s nine-clawed hook looks like this:
(5) About 250 kg or 551 lbs (btw, half a ton is about 1,000 lbs)
Highly doubt I’ll be able to squeeze out another chapter tomorrow so happy 3rd anniversary you guys! ♡ (≧◡≦) ♡ This is only the 4th chapter but man did the licensed version cut this down (I don’t blame them in this case. They must not like Chen Pi either lol). I’d say it’s a good thing we never did that drinking game for every paragraph cut out. We’d all be in the hospital after like two pages
8 thoughts on “Chapter 44 One More”
Those wasp nests are *scary*. (Happy anniversary!)
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Happy anniversary! Take as much time as you need. And wow, yeah I hadn‘t expected *that* much Chen Pi backstory, but here we are. It‘s exciting nevertheless. Btw, I am drawing a map of noteable places while reading these chapters, so I appreciate the full translation even more now.
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Wow! You are drawing a map! That i would love to see. I was thinking of printing a map and start marking places myself… Maybe someday
I am! It will be posted to AO3 eventually, but I‘m still adding places. I‘ll let you know when I‘ve posted.
Thank you so much! I’m sure it will be great and very useful!!! 🤗
Happy third anniversary!!! I’m so thankful for all those years of hard work. Let’s hope for many more to come!
And it’s so obvious NPSS loves Chen Pi. I don’t know why
Catching up, happy anniversary!! I don’t know what we non-Mandarin-readers would do without you 😊
But also NPSS I am ready for this Chen Pi Ah Si part to be over, reading about him is not fun!
This part of the story is about Chen Pi but the way he face all kind of trouble and dangers, one would think it is Wu Xie who encountered them. And it’s funny when Wu Xie sees himself better than others and brags about it.
I’m late but happy anniversary and thank you for this good translation.💕