We all stood there quietly. The lantern was raised up towards the wall to increase the lighting, its dim glow making the mural seem ancient and mysterious.
The mural’s colors were very vibrant, and used a lot of red that looked like blood. Under the lantern’s flickering light, it shined with the brilliance of glass, making the whole rock look like it was oozing blood. The fact that this mural hidden under another layer of paint was so well-preserved was quite amazing.
But what really surprised us was the content of the mural itself. It’s hard for me to describe it in words, but the mural was divided into two parts, with each side portraying different things. When viewed together, however, these two parts seemed to tell a complete story, one that could be described as a beautiful fantasy.
Monk Hua’s eyes lit up and he muttered to himself, “This should be a scene depicting the war between the Eastern Xia’s emperor and the Mongols. Look at this person—he should be King Wannu himself. This is probably the legendary war that destroyed Eastern Xia.”
I knew very little about Eastern Xia, and the others obviously weren’t well-versed in it either. As a result, everyone remained quiet and continued to listen to his explanation.
He paced back and forth while looking at the pattern above in amazement, and then pointed to one side of the mural, where a large number of soldiers wearing furs and armor had been painted. “This is King Wannu’s army,” he said. Then he pointed to the cavalry on the other side and added, “This is the Mongolian army. As you can see, their numbers are far greater than that of Eastern Xia. It was a war where Eastern Xia was greatly outnumbered.”
I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a scene of arrows and rocks flying through the air. Fatty also looked at it, but he seemed to notice something strange, because he suddenly asked, “Why do those soldiers in the Eastern Xia army look like girls?”
I took a closer look and also found it strange—did Eastern Xia rely on women to fight? If that were true, then it was only natural that they lost. “That’s not it,” Monk Hua said. “This is a characteristic of Eastern Xia murals. If you look at all the people, you’ll see that they are portrayed as being very delicate and pretty. While reading through the historical records, I came across a strange phenomenon—it seems that all the people who dealt with the Eastern Xia Kingdom said that there weren’t any old people in the kingdom; everyone there was very young. The Koreans said that the Eastern Xia people maintained their youthful appearance even when they died.”
Fatty frowned, as if he couldn’t understand how such a thing was possible. I figured it just had something to do with their customs—in some ethnic groups, the elderly weren’t allowed to see guests—so I didn’t place much importance on it and went back to examining the mural with the others.
Monk Hua pointed to the second part of the mural and said, “This part records the decisive battle. As you can see, each Eastern Xia soldier was fighting against three Mongols, and they all fell one by one to the Mongols’ arrows. In the end, this war turned into a massacre.”
A lot of red had been used on the mural to show the tragedies of war, the scene so vivid that I felt as if I had been transported into the mural myself. It was like I could see the groups of Eastern Xia soldiers falling into pools of blood one by one, and the Mongolian cavalry trampling their corpses as they began to burn houses and slaughter all the men.
The third part of the mural was hidden behind a huge rock that had fallen down. Although we couldn’t move it, we figured that it was just a continuation of the other content.
I was feeling confused at this time, so I quickly interrupted him, “Wait, wasn’t the Eastern Xia Kingdom destroyed by the Mongols a long time ago? According to the information I’ve read, that country only existed for about seventy years, and it was always at war. Could they have really built the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds? How could such a small country be able to build such a large-scale tomb under those circumstances?”
As soon as I said this, I saw that everyone else in our group seemed to agree with me. Eastern Xia was a regime that suddenly appeared in the Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces when the Jurchen state was destroyed.(1) In my memory, its founding emperor, King Wannu, didn’t even have time to pass on the throne to the next generation because the Mongols took a route through Korea and destroyed them. At that time, Mongolia was extremely powerful to the point that they seemed invincible, so if the scene on this mural was really that decisive battle, then based on their character, Eastern Xia should have been completely destroyed.
At that time, the productivity among the Jurchens was still very low, and there weren’t a lot of workers. Even if the country hadn’t been destroyed, it would have still been impossible to build such a large tomb.
Chen Pi Ah Si had said earlier that the Eastern Xia emperor was really buried in the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds, but it was impossible no matter how you thought about it—they simply didn’t have the time or the strength to do such a thing.
Moreover, if we inferred based on what we saw in the undersea tomb that this legendary tomb was built by Wang Zanghai, then it should have been built at the end of the Yuan Dynasty.(2) At that time, the Eastern Xia Kingdom had been destroyed for about a hundred years, so where exactly could the Eastern Xia emperor have been buried?
We all turned our attention to Chen Pi Ah Si, because he was the one who told us that the Eastern Xia emperor was buried in the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds. Now, it suddenly seemed absolutely impossible for that to be the case.
Chen Pi Ah Si knew what we were thinking and glanced at the mural with an expressionless face before he suddenly sneered and looked at Monk Hua, “Since they don’t believe it, go ahead and tell them, monk.”
Monk Hua made a sound of agreement and then turned to us with a smile, “I know you guys have some doubts, but I dare say you’re all wrong. Most of the information you guys have seen about Eastern Xia is based on conclusions drawn from incomplete ancient texts. In fact, there are so few materials left by the Eastern Xia Kingdom that foreign countries deny its existence. It’s hard to say how much of the information you guys have read is actually true.”
“In that case,” Fatty said, “what makes you so sure that your information is correct?”
“Because our information is from a more direct source.” As Monk Hua spoke, he took out a piece of white silk cloth from the pocket of his underwear and unfolded it in front of us.
As soon as I saw it, I felt my heart thump—it was the snake-eyebrow copper fish from that auction!
But why do they have it? I thought nobody bought it. At this time, I suddenly realized something and frowned.
Since no one had bought the fish and Chen Pi Ah Si was in possession of it, did that mean that Chen Pi Ah Si was the seller?
I was shaking all over but trying my best not to show it so as not to reveal to the others how surprised I was. But my thoughts were a chaotic mess, and countless questions kept popping up one right after another. I didn’t know whether I was feeling fear or excitement, but my hands and feet suddenly felt cold, as if all my blood had drained away.
Monk Hua wasn’t paying any attention to my reaction and continued, “This copper fish is actually a dragon. Our boss here acquired it by chance. I believe it was made by someone who knew the inside story of the Eastern Xia Kingdom. But the strange thing is, he used a clever method to hide a piece of top-secret information on this copper fish. Take a look—”
He put the copper fish on one side of the lantern. The gold-plated fish scales reflected the golden light in such a way that many small spots of light appeared on the mural. Monk Hua rotated the fish, causing the spots of light to change form until they gradually turned into something that looked like text.
“This is the secret. There are a total of forty-seven Jurchen characters hidden in the scales of this fish.”
I was so shocked that I couldn’t help but gasp. Who knew that such a skill existed? Then I squeezed the other two copper fish in my pocket and asked him a little shakily, “What…what does it say?”
“Because the information is incomplete, I haven’t been able to decipher all of it yet. But I’m certain that the person who made this fish wanted to record something without others knowing about it. This is a record of Eastern Xia’s real history,” Monk Hua said a little proudly. “Actually, long before I saw this thing, I deduced from various clues that the Eastern Xia Kingdom still existed, but they had retreated deep into the mountains. This extremely weak regime somehow survived for hundreds of years despite being sandwiched between the extremely powerful Mongols on one side and the covetous Goryeo(3) on the other. I’ve studied the Goryeo records and found that up until the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, there were ginseng collectors who claimed to have seen strangely-clothed people here in the snowy mountains. I think they were the surviving remnants of the Eastern Xia Kingdom.”
He pointed to copper fish again and said, “The incomplete record on this fish proves my theory. After the decisive battle with Mongolia, the Eastern Xia Kingdom retreated to the border between Jilin and Korea, and existed there in secret for hundreds of years. There were a total of fourteen emperors who ruled over these surviving remnants. Mongolia and Goryeo both tried to destroy this small country more than once, but for some strange reason, they all failed.”
“What’s the reason?” Pan Zi asked. “Monk, can’t you just give it to us straight?”
Monk Hua shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. The information on the fish is incomplete. There must be other things recorded somewhere, but according to what I have on hand, I dare say that something very unusual happened to the Eastern Xia Kingdom, which enabled it to survive. But there’s no more information. We’ve been looking for the rest of the text for many years, but unfortunately, we haven’t found anything.” He paused and then said, “Do you guys know what the last sentence of this Jurchen text says?”
Of course we don’t know, I said to myself right as Ye Cheng took the bait and asked, “What does it say?”
Monk Hua looked at us and said, “It says that all the rulers who came before King Wannu weren’t human.”
“Not human…then what are they?” Fatty asked.
Monk Hua put the copper fish away. “It says that they’re all monsters that crawled out of the ground!”
No way, I thought to myself as everyone looked at each other, probably feeling a little creeped out. “That can’t be what it said,” Ye Cheng said. “Could it be some kind of metaphor describing the emperor as a dragon instead of a human?”
“I originally thought it was a metaphor for the ‘True Dragon, Son of Heaven’,(4) but after doing some research, I found that the person who created this fish probably just wanted to record some secrets. They recorded the history of Eastern Xia in such an objective manner that it doesn’t make any sense for them to suddenly use such respectful language. Moreover, if it’s as you say, do you really think someone would express the concept of the emperor being the ‘True Dragon, Son of Heaven’ in this way? Just imagine congratulating the emperor on his birthday, and the first thing you say to him is, ‘Your majesty, you’re really not human.’ You’d be cut to pieces before you could begin your next sentence! No one would write such a thing.” After saying this, he suddenly smiled mysteriously, “Moreover, the rest of the text is written so clearly and bluntly that it’s always intrigued me. If I can get the other parts, I might be able to decipher what it means.”
Both Fatty and Poker-Face knew that I actually had the other two copper fish in my possession, but they decided to err on the side of caution and remain silent. I gripped the copper fish in my pocket a little tighter, suddenly feeling as if they had become heavier.
I spent a while trying to decide whether to take the two fish out and show them to the others. To be honest, they were meaningless to me—I wasn’t familiar with Jurchen characters, so it wasn’t like I could understand the text—but I still didn’t feel right just handing the fish over to them like this.
Pan Zi stared at the mural, muttering to himself, “If this person on the mural is King Wannu, he looks like a human instead of a monster.”
Fatty patted him on the shoulder, and then said to the Monk Hua, “Brother Scar, what’s there left to decipher? We’re all realists here; there’s no need to engage in any intellectual tricks. When the coffin is opened, it will be clear whether King Wannu is a human or a dog.”
Monk Hua smiled and said, “What I meant was that it’s always better to know yourself and your enemy.”
“But why did the person who painted this mural paint these things here?” Fatty suddenly asked. “Is it because they didn’t want to forget their hatred towards the people who invaded their country?”
Monk Hua shook his head, obviously not sure. I thought about it and said, “Maybe they were going to take this whole section of rock so they decided to paint the mural here first, or they simply painted it to pass the time. Since it’s so warm here, maybe the craftsmen at that time came here to rest.”
No one was convinced by my theories. Monk Hua began taking pictures of the mural to use as reference materials.
After getting enough rest, we gradually regained our spirits and even began to take turns resting. Chen Pi Ah Si said that we should sleep in shifts and ordered his people to take turns keeping watch outside. As soon as the snow stopped, they would crawl back in and let us know.
When I woke up, I found that Shunzi had also woken up, and was apologizing to us profusely. Fatty was too lazy to deal with him and kept ignoring him, so I gave him something to eat and told him to rest some more. After all, we still had to rely on him to take us the rest of the way up the mountain.
There was no sun or moon inside the gap so I didn’t know how much time had passed, but it must have been about two or three days before the snow finally stopped. We all climbed out of the fissure one by one to find that the sky outside had cleared up, and there was a vast field of white as far as the eye could see.
When we were in the gap, Chen Pi Ah Si taught us a lot of useful tricks for climbing in the snowy mountains. For example, you could use sanitary napkins as insoles to absorb foot sweat, keep your feet dry, and ensure that your whole body stays warm. We took his advice and found that it really worked, but I felt very embarrassed when I thought of what would happen after we entered the ancient tomb and discarded these things. If some archaeological team visited this tomb several years later and saw this kind of thing next to the coffin, what expressions would they have on their faces?
We used ropes to climb back up the steep slope we had rolled down before and found that there were many new hoofprints on the ground. Fatty squatted down and looked at them before saying, “A Ning and her group seem to have passed us and rushed ahead.”
Without further ado, we put on our goggles and set off immediately. Two hours later, we saw A Ning’s team encamped on a slope. They had obviously suffered heavy losses, because there were only twenty of the original thirty team members left, and they had lost half of their horses. Unfortunately, there was still no sign of my Uncle Three among them.
We hid ourselves and quietly observed them. I saw A Ning looking through a pair of binoculars in a certain direction, and when I followed her gaze, I suddenly felt my eye twitch.
In the distance, I saw a snow-capped mountain standing majestically against a white haze—whether it was snow or clouds, I couldn’t tell. This mountain was obviously part of the surrounding mountain range, but it looked very lofty in comparison to the other peaks. I knew right away that it was the same exact mountain I saw in the undersea tomb. Even its shape was practically the same as the one I saw in the pictures.
This is it, I said to myself before turning to Shunzi and pointing to the mountain, “What mountain is that? How do we get there?”
Shunzi used his hand to shield his eyes and took a look, but his face suddenly changed color and he said, “That’s where you guys want to go? You can’t go there!”
<Chapter 54><Table of Contents><Vol. 3 Chapter 1>
(1) Eastern Xia was established in 1215 and destroyed in 1233. Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces are in northeast China. If you want an in-depth history lesson, you can look at Wu Xie’s Private Notes Chapter 35.
(2) Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) was a Mongol-led imperial dynasty of China and a successor state to the Mongol Empire after its division.
(3) Goryeo was a Korean state that unified and ruled the Korean Peninsula from 918-1392.
(4) More than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese emperor became known as the True Dragon, Son of Heaven. Son of Heaven was the sacred monarchical title of the Chinese sovereign.
Reading the licensed version’s ending of this chapter had me feeling like I was in a fever dream. I legit thought I skipped a section of the raw again but nope, they just made up a whole ass conversation about running out of food. What the heck?
9 thoughts on “Chapter 55 Double-Layered Mural”
Just watch Fatty pull out some explosives and clear a path!
I just checked the licensed version and you are so right! I still can’t understand why they did licensed version like that. Die they want more readers?
Thank you as always for the chapter
Wow what a long chapter! Thank you for your efforts.
This next one I’m working on is like twice as long. Kill me now 😭
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Everytime time I read a chapter so beautifully and vividly put together by you, I go online and search for NY new shows in the series just so I can see visually what you impress on our minds.
Take your time. You can do it!
Oooh, now I really want to know what’s on the part of the mural that they can’t see.
I love all the description of the blood-red colours, too. Thank you for working on this!
Can there be such differences between raw published version and the ones NPSS puts on the internet first? Which are you translating? Maybe he did add some dialogue and cut out some scenes in the final version?
There’s usually not much of a difference but I checked the published version and you’re right, looks like that bit was added in there. Though the licensed version went a little rogue when they chose to execute it