After two days of harsh trekking, we finally reached Little Sacred Mountain’s glacial valley. Everyone was covered in snow and exhausted, but when we climbed up and looked out at the scenery in the setting sun, we all immediately became entranced.
At this time, however, Poker-Face did something that surprised us all—he knelt down facing the snow-capped mountain in the distance and bowed very respectfully to it. None of us knew why he did it, but it seemed that he had some special feelings for this mountain.
After completing this gesture of respect, his expression returned to its usual indifference, a look that I could achieve only when I was asleep. Then, he climbed up a bare rock on one side and closed his eyes as if to rest. I couldn’t help but be curious again—what kind of thoughts were running through his head? What was hidden in those dark eyes?
During the journey, everyone became aware of what he was like—especially the few of us who had already met him before—so no one asked him what was going on. I figured he wouldn’t answer even if we did ask. But based on the looks Chen Pi Ah Si and the others exchanged with each other, it was obvious that they were very puzzled. Only Shunzi didn’t seem to care. He probably just assumed that Poker-Face was also from North Korea.(1)
Everyone got lost in their own thoughts as they rested and looked out at the scenery. Our strength finally recovered after a while, so Fatty lit a smokeless stove and we all gathered around to make some tea and keep warm. At this time, Shunzi finally started doing his task as a guide—after taking a few sips of the hot tea, his energy seemed to recover and he pointed to the surrounding mountains, explaining their origins to us.
This was his duty as a tour guide, and he was very dedicated.
He said that according to the legend of Changbai Mountain, back in the prehistoric era, the Little Sacred Mountain, Great Sacred Mountain, and mysterious Three Sacred Mountains were a single snow-capped mountain. When Da Yu(2) was trying to control the floods, he passed by here and cut the mountain twice with a magic blade, thus turning one mountain into three.
Originally, before liberation, this place wasn’t open to outsiders. He had heard from his grandfather that the view was different depending on which of the three mountains you were on. For example, if you climbed up the Little Sacred Mountain, you could see the Three Sacred Mountains and Great Sacred Mountains, but if you climbed up the Great Sacred Mountain, you could only see the Three Sacred Mountains. Although this was very odd, the strangest one was still the Three Sacred Mountains—in addition to seeing the other two sacred mountains on both sides, you could also see a snow-capped mountain far off in the distance behind it. This mountain was more majestic than the Three Sacred Mountains and was known as Heavenly Ladder Mountain. It was shrouded in clouds all year round, which prevented its true form from being seen. It was said that there was a ladder on the mountain, which could directly reach the heavenly palace. It acted as the passage between the mortal realm and the land of the immortals. If the weather was good, you would be able to see rainbow-like rays of light appear between the Heavenly Ladder Mountain and the Small and Great Sacred Mountains. The sight was said to be both beautiful and strange, as if painted by an immortal.
Upon hearing this, Fatty said to us, “This legend must be wrong. The heavenly palace is obviously on the Three Sacred Mountains, so how could it be on the Heavenly Ladder Mountain? Whoever passed down this legend must have a problem with their eyes.”
Monk Hua thought it over for a while, and then shook his head and explained, “Not necessarily. I studied this legend before I came here. I believe it may be a mirage formed by the refraction of light on the snow on Heavenly Ladder Mountain and the surrounding mountains when the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds was built. Because Heavenly Ladder Mountain is covered in fog all year round, the fog became a kind of reflective curtain where the projected image of the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds appeared. But since it was hidden in the fog, it looked like it really was floating in the sky.”
Mirages were phenomena that mostly occurred around desert lakes, so it was very rare to hear of them appearing in snow-capped mountains. However, the fact that one might be here made me think that it wasn’t a coincidence—this may be the source of a dragon vein. In feng shui, this kind of phenomenon was called a “Reflected Palace”. I only saw it once in an ancient book, so I didn’t know much about it, but it wasn’t surprising to see it here since we were already at the treasure well and many strange things occurred in such places.
We were all speaking in dialects—I used the Hangzhou dialect, while Monk Hua and the others used the Changsha dialect—so Shunzi didn’t understand what we were saying and didn’t pay much attention to us. After talking about the scenery, he stood up and said to us, “Gentlemen, you guys should rest first and get something to eat. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it, but you have to hurry up. It’s getting dark, and there’s no way we can pitch our tents here. It’ll be difficult to walk once it gets dark, and it may be windy, so we need to find a relatively flat place to spend the night.” After saying this, he poured us all some more tea and then sensibly moved far away to get some rest.
I looked at my watch and saw that we still had about an hour before the sun went down. The time was neither long nor short, so I knew that it was time to get down to business.
But the area all around us was covered in snow, and there were no special traces as far as I could see. If a tomb really had been built here, then it must be buried under many layers of snow, and the entrance should be somewhere under our feet. But the snowy environment here was so different from the soil we were used to that we didn’t have any experience and didn’t know where to start.
So, we all stood up and gathered around Chen Pi Ah Si to discuss our next plan of action.
It was obvious to see that Chen Pi Ah Si still hadn’t recovered after such an intensive trek. Lang Feng handed him a wine flask and urged him take a couple of sips while Monk Hua rubbed his back to get his circulation going. His complexion gradually improved, but he still looked completely exhausted. When he heard what we were asking, he looked at the surrounding mountains and said to us, “The location of the treasure well is at our feet, but I don’t have any good ideas on how to get to it. Let’s try digging to see what’s under the snow before making any plans.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. In fact, I also knew that there was no better way. After all, when it came down to it, grave robbing was still grave robbing. No matter how the circumstances or technology changed, its essence remained the same: after finding the dragon’s acupoints, you would calculate where to start digging. The only difference between now and the past dynasties was the type of tools used for exploring the acupoints; the process was practically the same. That was why, other than the excitement when opening the coffin, grave robbing was actually a pretty boring job.
The snow was much softer than mud, so the shovels went in very smoothly. Monk Hua and the others were very quick and soon dug more than a dozen holes in the snow, but almost all the shovels seemed to get stuck after going about five or six meters deep. Fatty thought that Ye Cheng was as weak as a skinny monkey and ran over to help him, but even after using brute force, the shovel only went in a little deeper. Every time he pulled it out, the shovel head came out clean.
Monk Hua, after inspecting the shovel head and finding that there were little ice crystals stuck to the tip, knew what was going on—below the top layer of snow was a layer of glacier ice formed by frozen soil and ice. It was as hard as concrete, so the shovels couldn’t penetrate it or bring up anything that was below.
“It’s been snowing here for thousands of years. If the snow accumulates too much, it will turn into ice. Do you think the tomb is frozen in the ice below?” Fatty asked.
We all nodded. It was indeed possible, but the Luoyang shovel couldn’t break through the ice, which meant that even if we knew that something was below, we couldn’t get to it.
Pan Zi suddenly spoke up at this time, “The main problem is that the snow is too much of a hindrance. Do we have any explosives? When I was a soldier, I heard some of the guys say that when they were in the Daxing’anling Mountains, the supply team there regularly cleared the slopes. With just one explosive, all the snow would be blown away without any trouble. After we blow the snow away, the situation below will immediately be clear. Not only will it be much more convenient for us to search, but it will also save us the hassle of having to dig a tunnel.”
I understood what he was talking about. Every time it snowed, a new snow layer would form on top of the old one. Pockets of air would form in the middle of these layers, so as long as a small explosion shook the entire mountain, the upper layers of snow would slide down, taking the bottom layers with them. This chain reaction would continue until all the layers of snow collapsed.
There were several small mountains in the Daxing’anling region. In order to prevent too much snow from accumulating on these mountains and causing avalanches that would damage the forested areas, the local engineering teams often had to manually clear the slopes after a heavy snowfall. At that time, the method for doing this was not only simple and crude, but also dangerous—personnel would climb up the mountains and set off the explosives themselves. Now, however, they simply bombarded the slopes with mortars.
Monk Hua pinched the snow. “I do have explosives, but look above our heads. Don’t you think setting them off is tantamount to suicide?”
We looked up and saw a snow-covered cliff towering above our heads. It stretched out on either side, eventually connecting to the distant mountain range which looked like a snow dragon. We were like a bunch of tiny ants in comparison—as long as a little snow fell from above, we’d be sleeping here for all of eternity.
Pan Zi looked at it a little dizzily, but still insisted, “Changbai Mountain is a tourist attraction so the snow here should be cleared away sometimes. I don’t think it’s a big problem. But if we can’t clear the snow away, we’ll have to turn around and go back. Wanting to dig up things buried under the snow on a mountain is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Or better yet, it’s like trying to find a missing mountaineering team in the snowy mountains of Tibet—there’s no good way to go about it. Wake up, old man. Even if we do find the right spot, we’ll still have to use explosives. Otherwise, we’ll never be able to dig a tunnel through the ice. If we use explosives, we’ll be set.”
I immediately disagreed, “It’s too risky. I’d rather take the time and try to dig our way through with our shovels.”
“Little Master Three,” Pan Zi said, “I’m suggesting we use explosives because we don’t have time. If we did, we could just wait until summer to come back. But we have to try anyway—Master Three is waiting for us.”
Monk Hua waved at us to stop and pointed to Lang Feng, “Stop arguing, you guys. Our opinion doesn’t matter. Let’s listen to what a professional has to say.”
I was taken aback—this whole time, I couldn’t figure out what Lang Feng’s role was among their little group, so it was a little surprising to hear Monk Hua say that. Was Lang Feng an expert in this field? We all turned to look at him to see how he would react.
Lang Feng clearly felt uncomfortable under our scrutiny, but still said to us, “I think what Pan Zi said should be feasible. In fact, before we left, I had already anticipated that we would encounter such a situation so I made some preparations. Besides, I’m a professional—I can control the power of the explosives so the sound won’t be too loud. In fact, we can achieve our goal as long as there’s a small vibration under the snow. Sometimes, just a firecracker is all it takes.”
“Are you sure?” Fatty asked. “This isn’t the same as bombing a tomb. What we’re trying to do now is equivalent to setting off a firecracker in tofu—you have to blow a hole without it being visible on the surface. This is a delicate job.”
Lang Feng nodded, “When I was a miner, I blasted no less than ten thousand holes. This isn’t difficult.”
Monk Hua looked at us and pointed to Lang Feng, “Don’t judge him based on the fact that he doesn’t talk much. This guy’s been a miner for twenty years. He started blasting holes at the age of fourteen, and leveled no less than twenty mountains. It’s only been about a year since boss took a liking to him and invited him to work with us. He’s been called the God of Explosives ever since. When it comes to explosives, no one is better than him.”
“You’re the God of Explosives?” Off to the side, Pan Zi’s eyes widened in shock, making it obvious that he had heard this name before.
Lang Feng scratched his head in embarrassment, his expression far different from the coldness he had been displaying over the past few days, “It’s just a nickname; something my colleagues came up with to flatter me.”
Monk Hua said to him, “You don’t have to be so modest. You have to play up your strengths on occasions like this.” Then he turned to us and said, “Lang Feng’s never made a mistake before, so if he says it’s possible, then I absolutely believe him. I think we can give it a try. Do you guys have any objections?”
Fatty looked at me. He had experience in snow expeditions before and had heard a lot about avalanches so he obviously felt a little leery, but he was on my team, so he looked at me silently and waited for me to express my opinion.
I thought it over. Chen Pi Ah Si and the others were a real group of professional grave robbers who heavily relied on explosives to an unimaginable degree, unlike my Uncle Three who took the more traditional approach when entering ancient tombs. So, if Monk Hua said that Lang Feng was quite skilled, then it must be true.
I steeled my heart and nodded to Fatty—let’s take the risk. In fact, there was actually no way out. Even if I didn’t agree to it, I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d even listen to me.
After we agreed, Lang Feng and Ye Cheng took out a Luoyang shovel, screwed on a special shovel head, and dug several holes in the snow.
Then, Lang Feng used several kinds of powder to make an explosive and buried a few low-power detonators deep in the holes they had made. I knew that this kind of explosive was used to blast holes in the sealing stones of ancient tombs, so its power was specially modified to be equivalent to about ten firecrackers. But that was too strong for our purpose, so Lang Feng re-adjusted the formula to reduce its power even more.
Most modern grave robbers had considerable engineering knowledge. With only a few low-power detonators, they could blast a hole big enough to accommodate a person anywhere. I had long known about it in theory, but this was the first time I got to see it with my own eyes.
Shunzi, who was drinking tea off to the side, suddenly went crazy when he saw what Lang Feng was doing. He had seen Korean pilgrims raise the national flag, poachers sneaking out at night, and people crossing the border illegally, but this was definitely the first time he had ever seen a group take out detonators to blow up the mountain after enduring countless hardships. He ran over to stop Monk Hua and shouted, “What are you guys doing? Boss, you’re crazy—!”
But before he finished speaking, Lang Feng came up behind him and knocked him out with a pickaxe. Shunzi fell into the snow and was dragged aside.
Seeing this, I felt a phantom pain on the back of my own head and thought to myself, he’s already had it hard enough being our tour guide. Not to mention all that walking, but now he has to go through something like this. But after thinking about it, I knew that there was really no other way—Shunzi could tolerate just about anything, but he would never tolerate us blowing up the mountain. After all, he still wanted to live. If he hadn’t been knocked unconscious, we wouldn’t be able to continue our work.
“What should we do with this guy?” Fatty asked Monk Hua.
“Just leave him be,” Monk Hua said. “We still have to rely on him to go back down the mountain. We’ll take him to the underground palace and put him aside somewhere. When he wakes up, we’ll just give him more money. It’s not like he’ll be able to do anything anyway.”
Lang Feng prepared everything in an extremely professional manner, choosing to work alone instead of letting us help him. After the detonators were arranged based on a force-bearing structure model, he motioned for everyone to climb onto a nearby rock, lest we get dragged down by the chain reaction of collapsing snow.
I thought the sound of the explosion would be very loud, or there’d at least be a wave of snow sent flying into the air, but to my surprise, when Lang Feng pressed the detonator, I didn’t hear anything at all. Instead, I saw the level field of snow suddenly crack, and then large chunks of snow began to fall down the slope like a waterfall. The slope also suddenly became steeper, and the ground beneath our feet suddenly disappeared.
But the torrent didn’t last long. When the snow finally stopped falling, a large, muddy, and uneven mixed layer of white ice and snow was exposed under the slope. This was the surface of an ancient glacier from the Quaternary period(4), just like the ones mentioned in textbooks.
Fatty, who was next to me, had his eyes closed so he wasn’t aware that the explosion had already occurred. As soon as I shook him, he opened his eyes and said in surprise, “Oh wow, there really wasn’t any sound. So amazing.” Then he anxiously looked at the cliff above our heads.
I didn’t know if it was luck or Lang Feng’s excellent skills, but with the exception of a little bit of snow that slipped down from above due to the lack of support below, there didn’t seem to be any problems. We waited for a while, but nothing else loosened or fell, so we gradually relaxed.
I gave Lang Feng a thumbs up, and Pan Zi patted him on the back to show how impressed he was.
Lang Feng started to show an embarrassed smile, but before the corners of his mouth had fully turned up, a big chunk of snow suddenly hit him on the head.
Everyone’s expressions immediately changed, and Fatty quickly waved at us and whispered, “Shh!”
We all instinctively fell silent and looked up again, only to see an inconspicuous yet bone-chilling black crack appear about a hundred meters on the snow-covered slope above our heads. It slowly expanded, spreading countless tiny cracks across the layer of snow. As these cracks spread, small chunks of snow broke apart and began falling down all around us.
I immediately felt cold all over, already realizing what had happened.
It looked like Lang Feng was going to lose his “God of Explosives” title today.
<Chapter 1><Table of Contents><Chapter 3>
(1) Changbai Mountain is known as Paektu Mountain in Korean. Koreans and Manchus assign a mythical quality to the volcano and its caldera lake, considering it to be their country’s spiritual home, so Shunzi probably thought Poker-Face was being respectful because of that.
(2) Da Yu, also known as Yu the Great, was a legendary king in ancient China who was famed for his introduction of flood control, his upright moral character, and his establishment of the Xia dynasty, which inaugurated dynastic rule in China.
(3) The Quaternary period is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.58 million years ago to the present.
4 thoughts on “Chapter 2 Suicidal Behavior”
This is so thrilling. I know they will be safe and sound but I’m still nervous.
That’s you for the wonderful translation
I forget who lives and dies in this book, besides our main trio. And Chen Pi. Thank you so much for these super long chapters. 🙇🏽♀️🙏
I think when Wu Xie looked at Shunzi, he had a moment of epiphany.
Thank you for the translation.
So exciting! Thank you for this chapter.