As I rode along, I looked in the direction Fatty was indicating. Through the sparse trees, I saw a bustling scene by the lake below—there was a big caravan of about thirty people and more than fifty horses.
Those people were setting up tents by the lake, apparently intending to spend the night there. There was a woman among them who was setting up something that looked like a radar station. I used the binoculars to get a better look at her and found that she was none other than A Ning, the woman I met in Hainan.
I cursed. If this woman had also come here, then that meant that our initial theory was correct. I didn’t know what that boat salvage company was doing inland, but it definitely looked like this was the group Uncle Three was trying to delay.
When Monk Hua saw the large group below, his expression changed and he quietly asked Chen Pi Ah Si what to do.
Chen Pi Ah Si looked down at them, smiled contemptuously, and said, “Their arrival is a good sign. It means that we’re on the right path. Let’s ignore them and keep going.”
I used the binoculars to look at all the people in the group one by one, but I didn’t see my Uncle Three. Since he might have fallen into their hands, though, it was unlikely that he would have too much freedom. I figured he must be locked up in one of the tents or something.
But the main thing that was making me feel uneasy was that almost half of the people below were carrying Type 56 assault rifles. I also noticed that they had satellite phones and a lot of advanced equipment. Fatty stared at the guns with greedy eyes and said to Chen Pi Ah Si, “Grandpa, you said ‘don’t buy guns, don’t buy guns’, but look! Those people chasing after us are armed to the teeth. How are we supposed to handle them if a fight breaks out? You want us to use the washbasins as shields and beat them with the sanitary napkins?”
Chen Pi Ah Si glanced at him and then waved him off with a smile, “In our line of work, we’ve never relied on a bunch of people. After crossing the snow line, you’ll know that you were right to follow me.”
Our whole conversation was spoken in a dialect, which meant that Shunzi, who couldn’t speak Chinese well, couldn’t understand it. But he had been a guide for many years, so he knew that it was best not to listen in on what the customers were saying; otherwise, he might be silenced if he heard too much.
We kept going up the slope until we saw some dilapidated wooden houses and a steel-wired gate in front of us. There was a sign on the gate with the following slogan: “The sacred territory of the motherland is inviolable.”
Shunzi told us that this was the supply station for all the outposts on the mountain. After the multilateral discussions took place, several of the outposts changed locations, and this place—along with several outposts on the snow line—was deserted. If we kept climbing up, we’d get a chance to look at those abandoned outposts.
Nothing else happened that night, so we spent the night there and then got up early the next morning to continue our journey. Shunzi found it a little odd that tourists were working so hard, but we were the ones paying him, so he was willing to follow our lead.
When we got up, it had already started to snow and the temperature dropped sharply. Southerners like us could hardly adapt to this kind of weather and were all frozen stiff, except for Fatty and Ye Cheng.
After going up and passing the snow line, we finally saw the snow. It was sparse at first, but got thicker the higher up we went. There were also fewer trees and more stones, which Chen Pi Ah Si said was proof that a project had been carried out here.
By noon, everything around us had turned completely white. The snow on the ground was so thick that it was impossible to see where we were going, and we had to rely on Shunzi to clear the way with his horse. At this time, a strong wind suddenly blew. Shunzi looked at the clouds and suggested that we call it a day. He said that the wind might become stronger throughout the day, and since we already got a great view of the snow-capped mountains, it would be better to go down now. If we tried to go any higher, it would be dangerous.
Chen Pi Ah Si huffed and waved him off, silently telling him to wait. We stopped to rest, ate some dry rations, and then went around to check out the scenery.
We were currently on the ridge of a low mountain, overlooking the primitive forest we had recently walked through. Chen Pi Ah Si looked at it for a long time before pointing to a large depression and saying to us, “In ancient times, the materials used to build tombs were generally taken from the local area. You can see that this large forest is obviously much sparser than the one next to it—it must have been cut down hundreds of years ago. And even though the climb was difficult, there weren’t really any particularly difficult obstacles along the way. There must have been a large ancient project near here, and something was built in the mountains in this area. We’re headed in the right direction, but we need to go higher.”
“Grandpa, there are more than a dozen peaks in this mountain range, and they all start from here,” Ye Cheng said. “How do we find the right one?”
“Walk around and look,” Chen Pi Ah Si said. “There must be an anomaly where the dragon’s head is. The place where the ley lines stop is the dragon’s lair. There are many mountains here, but there is only one ley line. We’re walking along the ley lines now, so don’t worry about missing it. At most, it’ll just take us a little more time.”
I followed his gaze but only saw one tree after another. I couldn’t help but feel ashamed at the fact that I couldn’t spot any differences.
I turned to look at Poker-Face, but saw that he was staring at the snow-capped mountains in front of him with a slight frown on his face, as if he was worried about something. Knowing that it would be a waste of time to ask him what was wrong, I turned to chat with Fatty.
When Shunzi heard that we wanted to go up, he sighed and shook his head, saying that we couldn’t ride the horses anymore; they would be needed to pull the sleds loaded down with all of our equipment. In fact, winter in Changbai Mountain was the most convenient time for transportation, except for when snowstorms occurred. This was because horse-drawn sleds could generally go anywhere a horse could go. But once the wind started blowing, Shunzi said we had to listen to everything he said. If he told us to turn back, then we had to turn back. There would be no objections.
We all nodded in agreement, unloaded the equipment from our horses, and put it on the sleds. Once we were all ready, Shunzi let out a shout and whipped the lead horse into action. Our horses automatically followed behind, and soon, our group was speeding through the snow.
At first, I thought that riding a sled was quite interesting, just like dog sledding, but it wasn’t so enjoyable after a while—my limbs became so cold that they felt numb, but I didn’t know whether it was because of the strong wind or the lack of space to move around in the sled.
Since we were on a mountain road, the horses ran at an unsteady gait. Fatty ended up rolling off the sled and falling into the snow several times because he was too heavy, which meant that we had to stop and wait for him several times.
We ran like this until the sky turned gray, the wind became stronger, and the horses walked slower. Snow was flying everywhere so we all put on our goggles in order to see what was in front of us—at this point, I didn’t know whether it was falling from the sky or blowing off of the snowy mountain. I could hear nothing but the sound of the wing howling in my ears, and when I tried to open my mouth to say something, the cold wind poured straight in and choked me. In Fatty’s words, it was like all the curse words were frozen in our throats.
At this time, Shunzi’s horse that had been leading us suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I suddenly had a vague premonition that something was wrong—it was only two o’clock in the afternoon, so why was the sky gray? We rushed against the wind to Shunzi’s side and saw him rubbing his neck and looking around with a deep frown on his face.
We all gathered around him and asked what was going on. He clicked his tongue and said, “The wind is too strong and it looks like there’s been an avalanche here—the terrain is different; I don’t recognize it at all. Also, the snow up ahead on the mountain is deep enough to reach the horse’s stomachs and too loose—they’ll refuse to go any further. There are also air pockets under this kind of snow, which are very dangerous. They’re easy to fall into and can collapse at a moment’s notice, so you can’t walk together in a group. You have to spread out.”
“Then what should we do?” Pan Zi looked at the sky. “Judging by the weather right now, it doesn’t look like it’ll get better any time soon. Should we go back?”
Shunzi looked at the sky and then at us before saying, “I can’t say for sure, but once the wind starts blowing, it won’t stop for two days and two nights. We’re kind of at a dead end here on the slope, but we’re not far from the abandoned border outpost. If we can make it there, we can take shelter from the wind and the snow. I think it’s too late to go back. We’ll have to abandon the horses and walk there on foot.”
Fatty pressed the ear flaps of his felt hat down, took a tentative step forward, and immediately sunk into the snow up to his thigh. He cursed and took another step forward with difficulty, “Damn it, this is punishment for my sins.”
We put on our snowshoes, braced ourselves against the wind, and struggled to pull our sleds through the snow. We were currently in the middle of two ridges, which naturally formed a wind tunnel. The wind was so strong that it wasn’t surprising an avalanche occurred. Shunzi said that we should arrive at the outpost in about an hour, but we were either walking too slow or he had taken us the wrong way, because it was after six o’clock in the evening and there still weren’t any signs of the outpost.
Shunzi stopped and looked around, obviously confused. But after thinking about it again, he suddenly cried out, “Oh no! I know where the outpost is!”
As we all surrounded him, we could see that his expression was extremely ugly. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before,” he said. “When that small avalanche came down, the outpost must have been buried under all the snow. It’s right under our feet. No wonder we couldn’t find it after walking for so long!”
Pan Zi sighed and muttered something that looked like, “Fucking hell!”
“Then what do we do now?!” Fatty shouted at Shunzi. “We already let the horses go. Are we going to die here?”
Shunzi pointed up ahead and said, “There’s still one last hope. I remember that there should be a hot spring nearby. It’s in a mountain depression. If we can get there, we can survive for several days with our food supplies. The hot spring is at a higher altitude than here, so it shouldn’t be buried by the snow. But if we can’t find it, we’ll have to turn back and rely on our will to survive.”
“Are you sure?” Fatty clearly didn’t trust Shunzi anymore.
Shunzi nodded, “There’s no mistake this time. If I can’t find it, you can deduct my wages.”
I smiled bitterly to myself. Shit, deduct your wages? That might have to happen in the next life if we don’t survive this.
Everyone’s expressions were grim as we continued to follow Shunzi up the mountain. The sky was getting darker and darker, so Shunzi pulled out a rope and tied us all together. Since visibility was low to the point that we couldn’t see anyone at all, and we couldn’t hear each other over the howling wind, this rope was the only thing connecting us together.
I walked and walked until my vision began to blur, and I couldn’t see anything clearly. The people in front and behind me were gradually getting farther away until I eventually couldn’t see them anymore. I immediately felt my heart clench, and I started to wonder if I had made a mistake entering the mountains at this time. Was I going to die here?
No, Shunzi was walking steadily ahead. Although I couldn’t see him, I could feel that the rope tied around me was moving in an unwavering direction. He must be used to the wind and snow, I said to myself. Everything will be fine as long as we follow him.
I continued to move forward while comforting myself, but then I suddenly saw a black shadow appear in the snowy haze in front of me. I couldn’t see who it was in my current state, but after taking a few steps, that black shadow suddenly tilted forward and fell into the snow.
I quickly ran over to take a look and saw that it was actually Shunzi.
Poker-Face came up from behind me, saw Shunzi lying in the snow, and quickly lifted him up. With the both of us supporting his weight, we pulled on the rope to let the others know to gather around.
As soon as Fatty saw Shunzi, he made a face and shouted, “What kind of fucking guide is this?! Don’t tell us you know the way when you really don’t! I can’t believe he fainted before we did! What should we do now?” He wanted to continue his rant, but the words were blown away by the wind so he stopped talking.
I looked around. My God, the situation around us was completely out of control—the strong wind carrying lots of snowflakes was beating against the rocks and circling around us, we couldn’t see anything more than one meter away, and the footprints showing the way we just came were instantly blown away by the wind. Not only was it impossible to tell the difference between north, south, east, and west, but the wind was so strong that we couldn’t even lift our heads up. If we tried to stand up straight, we’d instantly be knocked back down.
Everyone’s faces were pale, and Chen Pi Ah Si’s eyes were narrowed into thin slits like rice grains. It seemed the old man had entered a semi-comatose state due to the extreme environment. Even if Shunzi hadn’t collapsed just now, Chen Pi Ah Si certainly wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
“We can’t just stop here and wait to die,” Pan Zi said. “The hot spring may be nearby, so let’s spread out as far as the rope will let us and look for it. If anyone finds it, give a signal by pulling on the rope.”
We scattered in all directions. I didn’t know which direction I chose, but I started to feel dizzy the more I walked. The only sensation I could feel was a tingling numbness spreading from my limbs to my whole body.
I had seen many movies before where people became more and more sleepy as they trekked through the snowy mountains, and if they fell asleep, they’d never wake up again. There were also instances where people would start hallucinating, such as seeing a hot meal appear in front of them.
I tried to remind myself to stay awake, but I couldn’t hold on at all—every step I took, my eyelids drooped heavily as if they were filled with lead.
Just as I was at my wits’ end, I suddenly heard Fatty shout something. The wind was too strong to hear him clearly, but when I looked back, I saw his silhouette disappear in a flash. Poker-Face had also turned in that direction upon hearing the shout, but when he saw the slack rope jerk violently, his expression changed and he shouted, “Not good! Untie the rope! Someone has fallen into a snow pit!”
The words had barely left his mouth when the snow at his feet suddenly collapsed, and his whole body was pulled into the snow, quickly followed by me who was closest to him.
Like a bunch of grapes on a vine, Fatty’s weight pulled us all into the snow one by one. We rolled head over heels for what felt like ages before finally coming to a stop.
My eyes were covered in snow and I couldn’t open them at all, but I could hear Pan Zi shouting at us not to move. He was the one on the tail end of our rope chain, so he wanted to climb down and check out the situation first.
But before he could, I suddenly heard Ye Cheng shout, “No, wait! Fuck, don’t go down! What’s that in the snow?”
4 thoughts on “Chapter 51 Predicament”
I remember the original Lost Tomb 2 drama dragging this on and on. Four solid episodes of crazy townsfolk and trekking through snow. I liked the young cast from that drama though so I was disappointed they never finished the arc. I suppose I’ll have to watch Ultimate Note at some point though.
Wasn’t there a weird hallucination too? And the memory loss thing? It’s like nobody can make a good adaptation of this novel 😭
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Thank you for the chapter, I’m always worried when there’s lots of know. Never a good sign. Even when I know they will survive.
The only Daomu Biji dramas I’ve watched are Lost Tomb Reboot and Mystic Nine. Sometimes I’m tempted to watch them, but from what you are saying there are no good adaptations from this book. I thought this was a great book to adapt. So many things happens here, so much action and adventure!
I really like this chapter!