The sun had almost set, its bright rays barely visible above the clouds now. This meant that the layer of ice gradually became darker, and the huge shadow inside became more distorted.
The shadow’s shape was very strange and unlike anything we had ever seen before. With its big head and those long spikes growing all over its body, it almost looked like an animal fetus that had frozen to death. Just looking at it was creeping me out.
Ye Cheng, who had been staring at it with his mouth wide open, suddenly said to me, “Damn it, if you don’t pray to the Bodhisattva before going to work, you’ll always run into something strange. What the hell is this thing?”
Fatty and I shook our heads—we had never seen this kind of thing before either. Judging from its size, it was as tall as a five-story building, and it was frozen in the depths of the glacier. If it was indeed the tomb of someone closely associated with the main tomb owner, then how was it built in there? Or maybe it was some kind of prehistoric creature?
It was said that hundreds of thousands of years ago, the area around Changbai Mountain was still a vast ocean, but because of a volcanic eruption, it rose to the surface. Could such a large thing be the corpse of some giant marine animal from that time?
But after thinking about it, that didn’t seem right. When this ancient glacier first formed, the mountain was already here, which meant that any corpse would have been fossilized long ago.
Although I had just experienced the thrill of surviving an avalanche, in reality, it was really nothing more than a landslide—it didn’t have that thunderous momentum of an avalanche and it also ended very quickly. Although everyone was still terrified, our fear was quickly replaced by curiosity when we saw the shadow in the ice.
We drove ice screws(1) into the ice, tied our ropes to them, put on our crampons, and went down to the surface of the glacier to get a better look at the strange black shadow frozen in the glacier. But even after carefully examining it, we still couldn’t see a tomb entrance.
At this time, Chen Pi Ah Si finally seemed to come his senses. Monk Hua and Ye Cheng helped lower him down from above, and then we carefully helped him to the front.
Despite looking much better, Chen Pi Ah Si was still a bit sluggish—he rubbed his eyes, squatted down, and stared at the shadow in the glacier for a long time before suddenly saying, “This shadow… is it a Kunlun fetus?” Then he shook his head.
“What’s a Kunlun fetus?” None of us had ever heard of such a thing, but it must’ve been amazing given how excited he was.
“A Kunlun fetus is a strange natural phenomenon that occurs at the source of a dragon vein. In other words, it’s said to be the place where the spiritual qi of heaven and earth is gathered. Sometimes a strange, baby-like thing will form within rocks, glaciers, and trees. In ancient texts, these things are called ‘earthborn fetuses’. Legend has it that after thousands of years of evolution, some ‘earthborn fetuses’ will become spirits. One such example is Sun Wukong from ‘Journey to the West’,”(2) Monk Hua explained to us. “I remember seeing it mentioned in a book from the Tang Dynasty. At the end of the Western Han Dynasty,(3) it was said that some Tibetans found a massive fetus-shaped piece of ice under a giant ice cirque in the Kunlun Mountains. Not only was it as big as a mountain, but it had lifelike facial features that made it look like a baby girl. Because of this, the ‘earthborn fetus’ was called ‘Kunlun fetus’. Later, a temple was built on the baby girl’s belly button and called the Temple of the Kunlun Child. In feng shui, a Kunlun fetus is a natural treasure well determined by heaven, which makes it different from a feng shui acupoint that is determined by men. It’s impossible to determine the place in the dragon vein where the Kunlun fetus will form, so you can only rely on luck to find it after it’s already started to form. If one is found, it’s excavated in such a way that the fetus’s shape is retained, and then the tomb is built inside of it. But such a treasure well is rare. Legend has it that only the most esteemed person acknowledged by heaven is qualified to be buried there. In fact, the only person in recorded history who is said to be buried in a Kunlun fetus is the Yellow Emperor.”(4)
“Does such a strange thing actually exist?” Fatty squatted down and looked at the shadow. “But this Kunlun fetus doesn’t look human at all.”
Chen Pi Ah Si, who also seemed uncertain about his conclusion, nodded and said, “This is just a guess on my part. The Kunlun fetus is a place determined by the gods, where heavenly things are born from the earth. If this is really a Kunlun fetus, then the tomb of the main tomb owner’s associate should have been built inside of it, but in this case…” He looked at the Three Sacred Mountains in the distance, his eyes full of confusion.
Knowing what his concern was, I quickly picked up his trailing sentence, “This Kunlun fetus is a natural treasure well. But if this place is just a tomb for someone associated with the main tomb owner, then how good is the feng shui in the Three Sacred Mountains where the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds is located? No matter what, it can’t be worse than a Kunlun fetus.”
“That’s right. As a place where the earth’s spiritual qi gathers, there’s no better feng shui than a Kunlun fetus. If we’re talking about a place better than that, we’re left with only one possibility…” Here, Chen Pi Ah Si’s expression became puzzled and he sighed, “The heavenly palace was really built in the sky!”
Chen Pi Ah Si’s expression was so serious when he said this that I could tell right away that he wasn’t joking, and I immediately felt chills run up my spine.
“How is that possible?!” Fatty asked.
“It’s impossible, which is why there’s definitely a problem with the appearance of a Kunlun fetus here. Could Wang Zanghai have reached such a level that he was able to change the trend of the mountains and rivers here?” Chen Pi Ah Si turned to look at the surrounding mountains again.
“No, you shouldn’t think that way.” An idea suddenly popped into my head and I asked, “Maybe this fetus-shaped shadow is fake? Something man-made? After all, it was common to use symbolic techniques when designing ancient tombs. Just look at Wu Zetian’s tomb, which is shaped like a woman’s vulva.(5) Maybe this strange shadow is just the shape of the tomb.”
It was natural for me to think such a thing because I usually had to fight against fakes as an antique dealer. Every time we purchased goods, we always assumed that everything was fake at first, so when I heard Chen Pi Ah Si talking about such an amazing thing, my first instinct was to ask if it was fake. This was definitely an occupational disease of mine.
Plus, building a tomb to look like a baby and then freezing the entrance in the soil really did fall in line with Wang Zanghai’s style of not stopping until he had impressed everyone.
Chen Pi Ah Si was so focused on the surrounding mountains that he didn’t hear me at all. I turned to look at Poker-Face and found that he also had a puzzled expression on his face as he stared at the shadow with a complicated look in his eyes. He didn’t answer me either, but Monk Hua readily agreed with me (it seemed that he was also the type of employee in charge of procuring goods, and he had the same occupational disease as me). “What you said is possible,” he said to me. “Looking at this ‘shadow fetus’, you can see some lighter areas which clearly indicate that it isn’t a solid, uniform thing. It seems to be tall in some places and short in others, and there are spikes all around it. It’s impossible to explain what it is, so it may really be a building.”
I couldn’t shake the strange feeling in my heart—if Wang Zanghai had built this tomb in the shape of a fetus, was it because he was hoping that a spirit would form, just like in a Kunlun fetus?
If this was true, then it was too unbelievable.
“It’s best not to make wild guesses,” Fatty said. “In any case, we won’t know what it is until we dig it out. If you have the spare time to sit here and make guesses, then you might as well try to find a way down.”
“But if you dig down, instead of a tomb, you’ll see a real giant ice—” Ye Cheng was so scared that his teeth were chattering. “What should we do then?”
Fatty patted him, “Then you can stay up here. We’ll go down, confirm it, and then call you down.”
I also spoke up, “If it’s really an ice fetus, then it’s a miracle made by heaven and definitely worth seeing.”
Monk Hua patted Ye Cheng and said, “You’re so timid. You should learn from these guys… The question now isn’t whether to go or not, but how to get down?” He eyed the thickness of the ice and said, “Even if we use our ice axes, we may not be able to reach it in half a month’s time.”
We were not experts at digging through ice, especially because working with ice was completely different from working with ordinary soil. There were so many factors to consider, no matter how good your usual skills were.
Fatty stared at the huge shadow in the glacier under his feet and then waved to us, “What’s so hard about it? Just leave it to me.”
I saw that he seemed to have figured something out, and I immediately became curious. Fatty had always played the role of a daring vanguard in the team, and rarely expressed his opinions on the technical aspect of things. But once he did express his opinion, everything he said was very crucial, which showed that his mind was actually quite sharp. I had actually noticed this when we were in the undersea tomb. I figured it was probably a quality related to his greed for money while still being able to save himself from danger many times over. But talking to Fatty required some skill since he was the type of person who remained unmoved in the face of force or persuasion. Most of the time, it was much more useful to rile him up than to flatter him, so I said to him, “What are you planning?”
Sure enough, he looked a little upset as he said to me, “What, does this college student have any ideas? I’ve been to the Kunlun Mountains before. There’s a lot of ice there and the glaciers are much thicker than this one, so I have way more experience than you.”
I smiled and said, “Then talk. I’ll listen.”
Fatty snorted indignantly and then told us what his guide had told him at that time. The Kunlun Mountains were at a much higher altitude than here, so they contained real alpine glaciers. Large cracks would frequently appear in the ice due to temperature changes and mountain movement. Sometimes, strange remains of ancient civilizations would be found in these cracks. Some people had even found houses frozen in the depths of the glacier, but these things were just collapsed remnants, nothing more than ancient ruins.
At that time, he asked why these ancient ruins weren’t preserved even though they were in such a cold environment. The guide told him that it was impossible to completely preserve a building in ice, especially a wooden structure like a house. This was because such buildings would easily collapse in the face of an avalanche or shifting ice.
The building in the glacier under our feet must have been built on the cliff instead of above because the shadow inside looked so complete—the outline of the baby was very clear and there was no sign of collapse below. If it had been built above and then swept down because of an avalanche, then the structure would have collapsed when it fell. So, if the shadow in the glacier really wasn’t a huge stone but a tomb, then it couldn’t have ended up frozen in the ice here because of avalanche. As such, it must have been man-made.
Fatty’s reasoning was very good and I found myself nodding along with him, but the others didn’t hear the significance of his hypothesis. “So what?” Pan Zi asked him.
Fatty waved his hand and said, “If it wasn’t an avalanche, then the tomb was built around nine hundred years ago. According to this logic, it’s absolutely impossible for nine hundred years’ worth of accumulated snow and ice to be so thick, so the ice must have been man-made. There must be a very thick layer of artificial ice under our feet. This ice can’t directly press down on the building because it would destroy it, so it must form a natural dome around the building. This dome must be resting on the slope in such a way that the building below is protected. It’s similar to a burial mound made of ice, so the ice isn’t as thick as we imagined. See here? The fact that this ice is so transparent is also evidence.”
As soon as Fatty said that, everyone went into an uproar—they all looked at him with newfound respect while at the same time suddenly feeling that the ice beneath their feet wasn’t as stable as before.
Fatty still thought that I was underestimating him, and knowing that I had studied architecture, he asked me if what he said might be correct.
I nodded and said that the theory was plausible. After all, buildings made out of ice had been around for a long time. During the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Cao(6) built defensive walls made of ice and rice straw overnight, and Eskimos had long used ice to build their own houses. Recently, there even seemed to be modern ice buildings in Denmark, which showed that the hardness of ice posed no problems from an architectural standpoint.
However, Cao Cao’s defensive walls had been built on a plain. Was it really possible to build such a magnificent ice dome on a cliff? I had some reservations. It was true that Cao Cao had built those walls more than a thousand years before Wang Zanghai was even born, but even if Wang Zanghai far surpassed Cao Cao in skill, surely he wasn’t that amazing.
When Fatty heard that I agreed with him, he shook his head with a smug look on his face and said, “See? This is what they call talent.”
Ye Cheng asked me, “Master Wu, can you use your architecture skills to calculate the possible thickness of this ice dome?”
I had already forgotten most of what I learned in college, but I still knew the weight of ice per unit volume. I did the calculation in my head, applied several formulas, came up with a number, and said to him, “If what Fatty said is true and we assume that a wooden support structure was used, then the thickness of the ice under our feet shouldn’t exceed ten meters. Otherwise, it would be too heavy and end up collapsing under its own weight, no matter what kind of support was used.”
“Ten meters…” Everyone exchanged glances, and Pan Zi said, “Fuck, that’s still going to be difficult. The ice here is much harder compared to other places and we don’t have any professional equipment. When Lang Feng and I were hammering the ice screws into the ice with our shovels just now, it only took a few hits before our hands went numb. We didn’t even hammer them in very deep either. If we have to dig through ten meters, I’m afraid it will take some time. Even a week may not be enough.”
Glacial ice, which was ice formed by gravity, was different from riverbed ice. Riverbed ice was formed from river water, which contained impurities and a lot of air bubbles. In addition, the temperature of the riverbed usually wasn’t too low. Glacial ice, however, was formed by layers of snow that had been accumulating for thousands of years. It not only had less impurities, but the temperature of the ice under the snow may also be below fifty degrees Celsius. At this temperature and purity, the hardness and density of the ice were quite formidable.
“Don’t we have explosives?” Fatty asked. “Why don’t we climb back up to the rock and blast another hole in this glacier?”
Monk Hua and I immediately shook our heads. Remembering how I almost died in the landslide just now, I angrily said to him, “You don’t have a long memory, do you? Was that not thrilling enough just now? Moreover, if the glacier is hollow, even a small explosion may burst the whole ice dome. If your theory is correct, then we can’t consider any methods that would be too destructive. We may not even be able to use our ice axes if we reach a critical point—the smallest mistake could set off a chain reaction.”
Fatty had a strong dislike for theoretical science and said to me, “Alright, you bookworm, if we can’t even use an ice axe, then what should we do? Dig with a spoon? Don’t use your status as a college graduate to scare us and make up problems that don’t even exist.”
I told him that I was in more of a rush than him, but facts were facts. Anyone who didn’t believe me could try it out.
We had figured out one problem, only for another problem to pop up. The atmosphere became depressing again as everyone stopped talking and started to think of a solution. While we were all hesitating, Poker-Face suddenly came over with the smokeless stove that Shunzi had used to make us tea earlier. Once he set it down, we all heard a crackling sound as the hot stove immediately reacted with the cold ice. “Is this ok?” He asked me.
When I saw it, the first thought that popped into my head was, oh, that’s right. I’m such a fucking idiot. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this method. We can just use fire.
The hardness of ice was directly related to temperature—when the temperature rose, the hardness would decrease, the surface of the ice would become brittle, and the chain reaction caused by the impact of an ice axe would weaken. We could take this step by step by first focusing on heating the surface layer of ice until it softened, removing the softened piece of ice to expose the tight ice core frozen inside, and then continue to heat it with the smokeless stove, repeating the steps until we had broken through.
Practice was the only criterion for testing whether it would work or not, so we immediately decided to do an experiment. Everyone took out their smokeless stoves, lit them, and then placed them on the ice. After about a minute had passed, we used our shovels to remove the softened layer. Sure enough, the textbooks didn’t lie—brittle, heated ice would crack in such a way that it could be removed in one piece.
But because the surrounding temperature was too low, our progress was very slow. We each took turns until nearly three hours had passed and the sky was almost completely dark. The depression we managed to make was only one and a half meters wide and seven or eight meters deep, but we could already see that the color of the ice layer below had changed significantly, and the purity of the ice was much clearer. It was already pretty obvious that Fatty’s assessment was partially correct—this definitely wasn’t ice that had formed naturally.
Fatty tied a rope around his waist and propped his feet on both sides of the newly made ice well as he heated the icy surface at the bottom with a smokeless stove. Once it was heated enough, he then smashed it with a short-handled hammer, trying to remove another layer of ice. But to our surprise, there suddenly came a loud popping sound, and then the ice dome suddenly cracked. We all felt the outside air rush into the hole as a gust of wind blew out, suddenly causing the surrounding temperature to drop.
Fatty brought his hammer down again, finally knocking out the icy bottom. Sure enough, a hole appeared, and it was hollow underneath!
We all breathed a sigh of relief, and even Fatty looked surprised as he cried out, “My guess really was right!”
We pulled him up and then gathered around the opening, scrambling to pick up our flashlights and shine them inside.
Inside the ice well was a huge gray space. The whole ice dome was like a transparent bowl stuck to the side of the cliff. Countless wooden beams covered in icicles stretched out from the cliff rocks and interlaced together to form a scaffold-like structure, which supported the “ice bowl”—these were the supposed spikes we had seen on the shadow fetus earlier. The lower part of the cliff was a dark abyss with no end in sight.
More than a hundred meters down the cliff’s slope, we saw the real body of that black shadow fetus—it was a huge fetus-shaped cave. I didn’t know whether it had been artificially built or formed naturally, but the cave was as big as a standard swimming pool. At first glance, it looked like a huge black baby.
We were so stunned that hardly anyone could speak. At this time, Fatty must have seen something with his sharp eyes, because he suddenly grabbed my flashlight and pointed it in a certain direction, “Look over there!”
We all followed his gaze and squinted at the darkness, trying to see what he was talking about. Only then did we see that in the cave, there was actually a huge palace that looked like it was floating in the air (it was actually being held up by wooden pillars on the cliff below). Some of the buildings sticking out from the cave opening had attached wooden platforms, but most of the buildings were inside the cave so we couldn’t see the whole picture.
Because of the low temperature all year round, ice shards had condensed everywhere. It made the part of the building exposed to the hole look gray and inconspicuous, so that was why it wasn’t easy to find at first glance.
This was the spirit palace of the main tomb owner’s acquaintance who was buried here. Among grave robbers, it was also known as the Dragon Tower Palace. If a tomb consisted of the mountain it was built on and the chamber where the tomb owner was buried, then the coffin should be under this spirit palace, within the mountain itself.
I couldn’t help but sigh with emotion—I thought there would only be a secret entrance to the heavenly palace here. I honestly didn’t expect King Wannu to be so ostentatious and extravagant that he would build such a huge spirit palace for an acquaintance. If that was the case, then what kind of spectacular sight was the Heavenly Palace on the Clouds when it wasn’t covered in heavy snow? I couldn’t even imagine. The wisdom of the ancients was nothing if not awe-inspiring.
Fatty was the first to react and started laughing loudly. Everyone else also started to laugh and gave each other high-fives. As we all celebrated, Fatty accidentally bumped into me with his butt, nearly sending me flying into the ice well.
Monk Hua quickly stopped us and pointed to the snowy cliff overhead, silently warning us to be careful of setting off another landslide. Since we were all on the icy cliff now, none of us would be able to escape if that were to happen.
We reined in our excitement and calmed down, but all of our faces were still full of uncontrollable joy.
Now that I thought about it, how many grave robbers—even the most skilled of them—could say that they had dug up an imperial tomb? Even if you didn’t bring out any treasures inside, just entering an imperial tomb once and making it back out safely was enough to boost your reputation. Not to mention how many years you could brag about it, but your mentality would definitely be different as well. No one could resist such a temptation. Even I, who hadn’t fully committed to being a grave robber just yet, felt an extreme urge to go down and take a look.
Monk Hua patted his face, trying to calm himself down, and then turned to ask Chen Pi Ah Si whether we should go down now or tomorrow.
Chen Pi Ah Si gave us a somber look and asked, “Do any of you even have the patience to wait until tomorrow?”
<Chapter 3><Table of Contents><Chapter 5>
(1) An ice screw is a threaded tubular screw used as a running belay or anchor by climbers on steep icy surfaces to hold the climber in the event of a fall.
(2) Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is a character with supernatural powers in the novel “Journey to the West”. He’s a monkey who was supposedly born from a stone.
(3) Tang Dynasty was from 618 to 907 AD and Western Han Dynasty was from 206 BC to 8 AD.
(4) The Yellow Emperor, aka Huangdi, is mythological emperor of China, reigned c. 2697 to 2597 BC. He is now regarded as the initiator of Han culture (later known as Chinese culture).
(5) Wu Zetian (624-705) was a Tang empress, who reigned from 690-705. She was the only woman to have ever formally ruled China. I googled around and I wasn’t getting anything about the tomb looking like a vulva. But there are apparently 2 tumulus mounds on the southern peaks called Naitoushan or “Nipple Hills”, due to their resemblance to the shape of nipples (super weird, I know. But if I have to have this weird bit of knowledge in my head now, then so do you lol). Info on the tomb here.
(6) Three Kingdoms period was from 220 to 280. Cao Cao (155-220) was a famous statesman and general at the end of Han, a noted poet and calligrapher, a warlord, and founder and first king of Cao Wei. He was also the main villain of novel the “Romance of Three Kingdoms”. The wall Wu Xie is talking about is a wall made from a mixture of sand and water during the Battle of Tong Pass. Supposedly, the weather was cold enough for the water to freeze overnight, preventing the sand walls from collapsing. Here’s the link if you want to read more about it.
Yay, look at Fatty getting some praise this chapter! Such a rare occurrence.
4 thoughts on “Chapter 4 Kunlun Fetus”
Wuxie’s architecture skills (or Wuxie boasting about his architecture skills) always crack me up. And Fatty and Poker Face outsmarting everyone is the cherry to the cake.
Thank you so much for the chapter and all the info!
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This was like a battle of knowledge and Wu Xie finally used his knowledge, but Fatty and then Xiao Ge beat him to it.
It was a long chapter. Thank you.
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When it comes to knowledge…sharing is caring! 😁😁😁
Thank you for this chapter! I also enjoyed the Pangzi love in this. When Xiaoge came with the stove I was dumbfounded. So obvious and yet noone thought of it. 🙂 Thank you for the chapter!