Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
The cave was narrow and was dug up by tomb robbers, so there was no need to mention how spacious or comfortable it was. The Changshou Sword on Dong Zhi’s back would hit the area of the cave from time to time. Eventually, he had to untie the sword and hold it in his arms.
In order to avoid colliding with each other, everyone was separated by at least half a meter or so. When Dong Zhi heard the sound of bodies sliding downhill from the front, he knew that he had reached the gentle slope area mentioned by Ye Cheng. Sure enough, Ba Sang slid down quickly, and there was no one ahead of him any longer. He quickly followed and, while sliding down, hurriedly adjusted his angle to avoid landing on his head.
The space on the gentle slope was very spacious, unlike the hole that was dug up by tomb robbers. He surmised that they had entered the architectural structure of the tomb itself.
With a snap, he landed steadily. He patted the dust on his hands and found that other people who landed first had turned on their flashlights and began exploring the environment. Behind him, his companions slid down one by one.
The tomb wasn’t spacious. There was a stone tablet standing in the center, but no one could understand the text that was written on it.
“What’s this?” Zhang Song couldn’t help asking.
“Tangut script*,” It was Long Shen who answered him.
*Logographic writing system used for the writing of the extinct Tangut Language of Western Xia dynasty.
Tangut script was once considered to be one of the lost texts, and it is difficult for anyone to decipher it, but under the persistent research of the archaeological community, more and more Tangut scripts have been interpreted. There’s even been a publication of a dictionary of Tangu Scripts, so this kind of language was no longer mysterious.
Unfortunately, they were not archaeologists, so facing such a text, everyone was naturally befuddled.
The stone tablet was densely covered with Western Xia characters. Perhaps when this stone tablet was erected in the past, the font was coated with gold powder, but over time, the gold power had gradually faded and disappeared, leaving the text to become dull.
“According to previous traditions, this kind of stone tablet generally records the life of the tomb owner and warns outsiders to be cautious,” Song Zhicun, who finally came down, patted the dust off his body and said. “Judging from the confessions of those tomb robbers, the real danger lies in the passage behind the tomb. They did not encounter any danger here. Some coffins had been cracked by them, and the things inside had been emptied. However, everyone still has to be careful. The Japanese came one step ahead of us so they could have possibly set some traps to prevent us from following them.”
Everyone hadn’t thought about that yet. When they were reminded by him, they were suddenly taken aback. Only then did they feel that older ginger is spicier*, as they wouldn’t have thought of such details.
*(姜还是老的辣) Metaphor for people who are qualified and experienced in certain area. Use as a praise for them.
Headed by Long Shen, everyone stepped towards the main tomb and continued to walk inward. The main tomb was composed of three side-by-side tombs, one large and two small, which was equivalent to a “living room” in the middle and two “rooms” on both sides.
There was a coffin placed in the middle of the “living room”, while the left and right rooms were piled high with stones, terracotta warriors, wood products, silk, and the like.
The terracotta warriors were originally painted, but now that they have been exposed to the outside air, the colors have faded into a mess. The silk had long been decayed and the original pattern and color were no longer recognizable.
Judging from the current situation, the lid of the coffin in the main tomb in the middle had been pried up, and the coffin in the corner should belong to the owner of the tomb.
Song Zhicun said, “The tomb robbers took away all the valuable gold, silver, and jade artifacts in the ear chambers on both sides. They were still planning to pry open the coffin because, according to their years of experience in robbing tombs, many valuables would be buried in the coffin of the tomb owner, but the lid was extremely heavy. Ten of them worked hard together and failed to lift the lid of the coffin. In the end, they had to endure the pain and give up.”
But in front of them lay a clearly moved coffin lid. Was it by the hands of the Japanese who came before them, or…?
Looking inside from the lid of the coffin that had been removed. It was dark, and the viewing angle was too small to see what was there.
Zhang Song heard Song Zhicun say that ten people couldn’t lift the lid of the coffin, but he didn’t believe this nonsense, so he tried to push the lid out. The lid of the coffin looked wooden, but it remained motionless. He couldn’t help showing a look of horror.
How much effort did it take to be able to lift the lid of the coffin and push it away to a corner?
Liu Qingbo, Li Ying, and others also came over one after another to try. Together with Ba Sang, who was the strongest, everyone almost exerted all their strength, and the lid of the coffin was finally moved a little.
“Get out of the way!”
Long Shen yelled suddenly as white light shot out of his hand, accompanied by a muffled sound, as if something was thrown to the ground fiercely.
Everyone followed and saw a black figure trembling in the corner, standing up and waving its teeth and clawing at them. It seemed it had some scruples and dared not rush forward.
Li Ying threw a talisman of fire at it, and the shadow screamed before turning to ash together with the talisman fire.
Someone exclaimed, “What is that? Monster?!”
Song Zhicun walked over and picked up a piece of ash to inspect.
“No, this is a puppet technique that’s also a kind of yin-yang technique. Cut a figure out of paper, inject it with talisman power, and then you can manipulate it like a puppet at will.”
He leaned closer to the ashes and sniffed. “This kind of paper puppet should have been powdered with golden-winged moths. As long as it’s stained with just a little, the other party can detect your whereabouts and it’s tantamount to chronic poisoning.”
Chi Banxia: “What is the golden-winged moth?”
Song Zhicun: “It is a kind of moth found only on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. It is said that it was discovered by the Japanese in World War II. After being introduced into the country, the Japanese Onmyojis refined and improved it, and used it as a chronic poison to control the enemy’s mind. It’s probably a bit like drugs, but it has a more severe impact than drugs.”
Originally, everyone didn’t talk about it, but they inevitably developed a tendency in their hearts. They felt that Boss Wu had a strong foundation, and after entering his group, they would not have to worry about funding or finding various talismans or medicines. Although Boss Long was harsher and didn’t seem to be very popular, he had strong abilities and deep qualifications in the Special Administration Bureau. It is said that there are many people who support him inside the bureau. Boss Song, who’s a half-way monk, had no reputation. His group had a bad image and were jokingly nicknamed the miscellaneous group. People want to go to higher places while water flows low*. Everyone had their eyes on Group One and Group Two, and their interest in Group Three was lacking. However, after hearing what Song Zhicun said, many people suddenly felt that their previous view of Group Three was biased and shallow.
*(人往高处走，水往低处流) Refers to people’s aspirations and pursuits. It is in their nature to move upwards. “Water flows low/down” is saying this is the natural object law. So put it another way, it’s only natural that people want to pursue higher aspirations.
If you can become a Deputy Director of the General Administration, it’s obvious that you’re not an ordinary person. Even if you want to join, others may not want you.
“The paper puppets should have been left by the Japanese. Be careful, everyone. There could be more ahead…”
Before Song Zhicun’s voice fell, several more dark shadows jumped out of the coffin, but everyone was prepared. With their weapon at ready, the paper puppets were shredded into pieces and completely wiped out.
When talisman fire came into contact with the paper puppets, they burned up instantly. However, Liu Qingbo and Zhang Song drew their swords and slashed at the paper, but the golden-winged moth powder on them would not disappear. Instead, it was blown around by the wind caused by their sword.
Zhang Song reacted quickly. He soon realized his error, but it was too late to take back his move. As soon as the blade cut up the puppets, golden-winged moth powder flew everywhere, floating towards everyone.
Liu Qingbo had wanted to draw his sword but realized the problem of the moth powder as soon as he prepared to take it out of its sheath, so he didn’t take action.
A wind suddenly blew from behind the crowd, blowing the moth powder towards the wall of the tomb, averting the crisis in time. Everyone looked back. They didn’t know if it was either Long Shen or Song Zhicun who made the wind.
Swept by Long Shen’s cold expression, Zhang Song lowered his head.
Song Zhicun’s face didn’t look good either. “What did I say before? Be bold but careful! You have a lot of courage, but you’re not wary enough. If that moth powder got on your body just now, there’s no other destination we can go to besides home, and you’ll also be the only one eliminated from this training exam!”
Zhang Song acknowledged his mistake honestly and confessed. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t think it through before drawing my sword, and I almost hurt everyone. I will be more careful next time!”
Despite the fact that Liu Qingbo was usually at odds with him, when he heard him bow his head and admit his mistakes, he didn’t dare put on his schadenfreude face, let alone gloat in it.
The coffin lid had been pushed open by more than half, revealing a mummified corpse. The corpse was well preserved, with its facial features and basic contours still there, but it wasn’t wearing an ordinary robe, but a purple robe. The sun, moon, and stars were embroidered on it with gold and silver thread, and there was a multi-colored coat that was wrapped around its shoulders. It was wearing a golden lotus crown on its head and holding a white jade. Even the gap next to the top of its head and shoulders was stuffed with agate pearls.
Fortunately, the group of tomb robbers failed to open the lid of the coffin, otherwise the tomb owner would not be able to escape the fate of being looted. The Japanese on the other hand, didn’t have any ulterior motives*, so when they opened the lid of the coffin and found it only had jewels, they instead placed paper puppets inside to plot against the latecomers, as they had no interest in the valuables.
*The drunkard’s intention is not the wine (醉翁之意不在酒) Idiom referring to having an ulterior motive.
From this, it can be seen that what they were planning was much bigger than these external things.
However, the most peculiar thing is the identity of the tomb owner. Including the Special Administration Bureau and the group of tomb robbers, everyone thought that this would be the tomb of a Western Xia nobleman. Who would have guessed that the owner of the tomb was a Taoist, and not just any Taoist?
Many people didn’t know the significance, so Li Ying explained to them, “Purple robes are usually only worn by high-powered Taoists during formal ceremonies. This person is dressed so grandly, so his identity must be big. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to interpret the words on the stone tablet for the time being, so we don’t have a clue to who he is.”
“I know who he is!” Someone said suddenly. It was Zhou Yue who spoke. He was lying on the side of the coffin, trying his best to look at the small characters on the rope inside. The face of the tomb owner and his corpse were so close to him, but he didn’t even realize it.
“Look here. There are Chinese characters. It’s the master of the Xia Dynasty, Immortal of the Subtle Arts, Liang Chen! He’s Liang Weiqi, I’m sure of it!” Zhou Yue said excitedly.
Zhou Yue was not conspicuous in the team as he usually doesn’t talk much. He’s relatively close to Xie Qingling and Ou-Yang Yin. The only thing Dong Zhi knew about him was that he’s from a Feng Shui family.
Zhou Yue pointed to the coffin and the mark on the head of the tomb owner as he said, “This is the sun, moon, and stars.”
He pointed to the coffin wall on the inside of the tomb owner’s left hand and said, “This is a golden lotus*.”
*(金荷) This is a type of orchid that is shaped like a lotus with yellow petals. The gold signifies the color and the price.
“On his right, it’s a gourd. Both of these pieces imply Taoist treasures. Before Liang Wei’s death, he liked to call himself a true immortal, so he would always hold a lotus flower in one hand and a jade gourd would always hang at his waist. This should indeed be his tomb!” There was a rare excitement on his face, no longer calm from his usual demeanor.
“Who is Liang Weiqi?” Song Zhicun said suspiciously.
“Look at my head!” Zhou Yue patted his forehead lightly and explained, “Liang Chen, with the same Liang, was once rumored to have worshipped under Chen Tuan’s gate. Chen Tuan later expelled him from his school when he saw that his mind was not right, so he turned to learning the art of geomancy from others. At that time, my Zhou ancestors happened to be in the same class as him, so I once heard my ancestors talk about this person. He later became Liang Weiqi and left the Song Kingdom to go to Western Xia, claiming to be in the same clan as Empress Dowager Liang, and was quickly recruited and later bestowed the title of national teacher* and regarded as a true immortal. After the fall of Empress Dowager Liang, his whereabouts became unknown, but I didn’t expect him to be buried here!”
*(国师) Honorary title for religious figures bestowed by the emperor for their virtue and wisdom.
In history, Empress Dowager Liang was not as thunderous as Wu Zetian or Empress Dowager Cixi, but she was in charge of Western Xia for more than ten years and waged wars against the Song Dynasty several times. In just the battle of Yongle City alone, it was said that more than 200,000 Song people were killed! However, because of her militarism that led to country-wide poverty, she was not looked upon well in history.
Song Zhicun raised his head to observe the surrounding environment, frowned, and said, “Is that so? You said that your ancestors knew of him, but looking at this tomb… It’s unremarkable. It’s not a peerless place, and it’s not regarded as a place of fengshui either. Never mind fengshui, except for the coffin, this place barely matches his esteemed history.”
Zhou Yue smiled bitterly. “I don’t know this. There is indeed such a person in my family’s notes, but how he suddenly got the appreciation of Empress Dowager Liang, and why did he appear from seemingly nowhere, then disappear after Empress Dowager Liang died, there are no records of this. It could be because he was snubbed by Empress Dowager Liang, or because he fell out of favor with the new emperor as soon as she died!”
Western Xia has been wiped out, and there are not many records in history books. When looking at the history of Western Xia, Empress Dowager Liang was a very contradictory figure. She was of Han origin, but in order to win over the old party, she wantonly abandoned her Han customs and restored the old party’s customs. She even waged war against the Song Dynasty many times. It’s strange that such a person who would do anything for power would use a Taoist priest and bestow upon him a title and not be afraid of falling out of favor with the tongues of her populace.
Moreover, the tombs of the Western Xia Imperial tombs had been devastated by excavation and looting in the Yuan Dynasty, and a large area of the royal tombs had been destroyed. Since the Ming Dynasty, countless tomb robbers had visited, but this small tomb had survived, which could be said to be nothing short of a miracle.
“After we leave, we can find someone to decipher the stone tablet. We shouldn’t linger here too long,” Long Shen reminded.
The purpose of everyone here wasn’t excavation. They did not move any of the items in the coffin that would make tomb robbers’ mouths water. The passage where the tomb robbers revealed themselves was located in a chamber north of the main tomb.
When they got there, they didn’t see any coffins in the tomb, only human-shaped terracotta figures of both men and women. Although these terracotta figures were encountered by the tomb robbers in a panic, traces could still be seen that they were neatly arranged in rows, all facing the stone gate on the wall, as if they were bowing to it. It would make anyone suspicious that there’s something big behind the door.
The stone gate was concealed but could be pushed open with a little force. It was dark inside, and when a light was shined through from a flashlight, it couldn’t be seen how deep it was.
Long Shen suddenly squatted down and looked at the ground between the door and the tomb. Song Zhicun looked around and gave a chuckle. He also discovered that the stone slabs used to make the tomb were rammed between the earth and the door. There was a thin line between the two, but if you didn’t look carefully, you would miss it. The line was so thin that only a mosquito or a fly could fly through it, and it contained countless runes.
Neither Long Shen nor Song Zhicun were good at reading runes, so they asked Li Ying and Zhang Song to come take a look.
Li Ying lay on the ground for a while before he recognized the writings and said, “These should be runes for exorcism.”
Zhang Song also held the same opinion. In other words, this line was actually designed to prevent things from coming out. With Liang Weiqi buried over their side, they could only assume this was perhaps designed to suppress some kind of evil.
There were still too many mysteries unanswered. Song Zhicun said, “I’ll go in first. Then you’ll follow me with Boss Long bringing up the rear. Everyone should be more careful and remember to mark along the way to avoid getting lost.”
Long Shen said, “Let me go ahead.” He didn’t wait for Song Zhicun to speak, and just walked in first. This man didn’t talk much, but he always took action.
Dong Zhi’s heart tightened, and he followed in without hesitation. After him was Liu Qingbo, Li Ying, and eventually the others entered, one by one.
The ground under his feet was a bit damp. After going in, Long Shen didn’t move fast, so everyone was able to pay attention to their environment while walking.
“This passage seems to have been artificially made,” someone said.
Everyone found that the passageway was very spacious, unlike the cave that the tomb robbers had dug. Liu Qingbo scraped a little soil from the soil layer of the wall with his sword and took it under his nose to smell it.
“It smells fishy.”
Li Ying, who was walking behind him, smelled it and said, “It smells a bit rancid, and the soil is wet and soft. It should be like the tomb robbers said. There should be a river nearby that gives off water vapors.”
Everything around them was full of unknowns. At first, everyone was enthusiastic and had small conversations, but after walking for a long time, they all fell naturally silent. Except for the slight sound of footsteps and everyone’s breathing, there were almost no other noises.
The pathway eventually became wider. At first, it was a corridor that could only fit one person at a time. After they had walked for nearly an hour, the passage was now able to accommodate three adults side-by-side.
The doubts in everyone’s hearts grew bigger. The passage was both deep and long. Such a project would not be possible without mechanical help.
Was the builder Queen Dowager Liang, or Liang Weiqi, or possibly someone else?
No matter how well-liked Liang Weiqi was at the time, how could a central plains Taoist preside over such a labor-intensive and extravagant project*? If it wasn’t for Liang Weiqi, then what was the original intention of the builder?
*Labor & wealth (劳民伤财) Idiom referring to making people work hard and waste money. Now it refers to the abuse of human and material resources.
According to the calculated time, the group of tomb robbers walked more than an hour before they encountered danger. Everyone’s journey was faster than that of the tomb robber, and they should have almost reached the dangerous area.
Everyone’s hearts were beating nervously, but their mental quality as practitioners was different from ordinary people, so no one slowed down because of fear and doubt in their hearts.
At this moment, Long Shen suddenly stopped. Dong Zhi, who was walking behind him, was taken aback and abruptly halted as well.
Liu Qingbo quickly braked and said angrily, “What are you doing?!”
He was about to ask Dong Zhi why he stopped, but it was Long Shen who answered him.
“Be careful. From the front and left.”
Not far in front of Longshen, there was a body leaning against the earthen walls on both sides. It was naturally dead, though they didn’t know how many years old the corpse was, as it hadn’t completely rotted away. Some of the arms revealed white bone, but the shoulders above the arms still had residual flesh that was blue and white. The most terrifying thing was that the facial features were still there, but the eyeballs had protruded because of dehydration, so they couldn’t fall off. It was extremely eerie.
The corpses have different poses. Some were leaning against the wall with their chins raised as if they were still looking up before they died, while others were squatting down with their hands on their heads. Some were half-buried in the earthen wall, and others were almost completely engulfed by it, with only a hand or arm stretching out.
While they weren’t fledglings, seeing the sight still gave them goosebumps all over.
With a click, Gu Meiren lit a piece of dark wood, slightly holding her nose a bit, before a fragrance of grass and trees quickly penetrated everyone’s nose.
“This is a kind of wood from our place that can get rid of miasma and strengthen the body. I’m afraid that there are many bacteria in places with many corpses.”
After all, these corpses have been dead for so many years that their hair and clothes have long since decayed. They couldn’t even identify what era or dynasty they belonged to.
Everyone followed Long Shen as they passed through the middle, with mixed feelings lingering in their hearts, as if they had been surrounded by these corpses.
Liu Qingbo felt sick for a while as he suddenly understood why the dirt on his sword smelled fishy. It was exhuming the smell of rotten corpses whose flesh and blood had mixed with the soil. Seeing as how long these corpses had been here, even the earthen soil wasn’t spared from their stench.
Chi Banxia walked through. She suddenly felt that the corpse she was passing seemed to be moving its fingers. She suddenly looked back and thought she might have just been seeing things.
“What’s the matter?” Xiang Yongnian, who was walking behind her, noticed her strangeness.
“It’s nothing, maybe I was just a bit dazed.”
Nevertheless, she secretly increased her vigilance.
Suddenly, someone in front of her screamed. The sound is extremely tragic and shrill. It spread rapidly in their limited space, amplifying the effect.
“You guys, wait here,” Long Shen said before he walked forward.
Dong Zhi wanted to follow him but stayed back and obediently listened to his words.
Suddenly, something happened to their team!
“What!!!” Someone behind Dong Zhi suddenly yelled.
He turned his head quickly.
Liu Qingbo and Li Ying reacted faster as they had already run back.
Ou-Yang Yin, the person who was good at divination, felt his body sink a little. The ground that he was originally walking on seemed to have turned into tofu. Everyone saw this scene with their own eyes and quickly reached out to grab him.
“Just now, a hand grabbed my foot and tried to drag me down. It’s still dragging me!” Ou-Yang Yin’s face turned pale. His two arms were tightly grasped by everyone, but the force holding him was too great. His body became motionless, and his face was getting paler, but it was not because of fear, but due to increasing pain. “M-My legs…”