Chapter 1: Prologue
Translator: Atlas Studios Editor: Atlas Studios
“Separation Resentment is above all 33 heavenly palaces. Lovesickness brings the greatest agony out of all 44 afflictions.”
“I’m not lovesick.”
“Oh? For whom did you get that engraving then?”
“For those whom I mustn’t miss in life.”
“Isn’t that lovesickness?”
“No. Our time is short, but yearning is endless. Life on earth passes in an instant, and only God knows whom I will encounter and miss. How can I stay rooted to the spot and let time slip away?”
“If that’s the case, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to the mortal world for her.”
“Chaos is about to set in.”
“If the mortal world is in a mess, I will defend it. If Hell opens, I will enter it. If the ocean rages, I will sail through it. If anything tries to stop me, I will destroy it.”
“But is it worth it?”
“I’m not afraid of the pain and suffering that humans are plagued by. Because of her.”
“Chief, why’s this tomb so gloomy? Feels kinda demonic. Did you check the almanac before leaving the house today?” Someone in the group shouted with half his body extending into the main grave while wiping the sweat off his dirt-filled face. Shadows could be seen shuttling about.
“Seen it,” Meng Fuyao answered clearly despite having a mini torchlight in her mouth. She half-kneeled on the ground, brushed the dust off the enormous green sarcophagus and added without raising her head, “It’s going to be a propitious day. We will be entering the coffin, removing the clothes and shifting the bier. What a coincidence! Shifting the bier, as in moving the coffin. It’s all related to death.”
“Damn, can’t you say something more auspicious?” a fatty, who had shouted earlier, asked as he rolled his eyes. When he lifted his head up, he spotted a minotaur on the ceiling mural. The lighting illuminated each stroke, making the drawings come alive. Fatty felt rather intimidated.
Meng Fuyao, on the other hand, had no time to entertain him. She was focused solely on her own job. As the dust gradually cleared, a three-headed, two-bodied, single-horned beast totem came into view. It had two wings and three pairs of glowering eyes that could scare almost anyone. However, Meng Fuyao was able to appreciate the fierce beauty this sacred, ancient civilization had to offer.
She broke into a smile as she caressed the totem with one hand and extended the other. “Ruler!”
Her command was quickly fulfilled.
“Come, Fatty, let’s get comfortable,” she ordered while pulling him over. “I will be on this side, and you on the other. Report the number.”
“No, Boss. Why are you always grabbing me like that?” Fatty sounded off in desperation while attempting to struggle free.
“Because you’re a rookie.” Meng Fuyao grinned. “Rookies are meant to be trampled on by the old birds, so stop dilly-dallying. We need to finish this up as quickly as possible, so I’ll have something to write about in my thesis this year.”
“Crazy workaholic. 22 years old, soon-to-be associate professor? Your existence is practically an insult to all the archaeology elites…” Amid his murmurings, Fatty did not forget to obey her orders. “Intact. 2, 18, 0.94, 0.66,” he read the numbers aloud.
“OK!” Meng Fuyao slapped the stone beast, causing a surrounding layer of dust to fly up. She looked at the coffin in satisfaction, busily anticipating a rise in salary upon assuming her new role at work. Thinking about how she could finally support her mother’s dialysis, and hospital fees elevated her mood greatly.
All these thoughts had distracted her from noticing that her slap had generated a muffled reverberation that reached the end of the tomb and bounced back. The lingering echo sounded sinister, like footsteps produced by ancient giants who were stomping around, underneath the ground.
They were most definitely in a sealed area, but a gush of cold air came out of nowhere and made them shudder. The dim light within the grave colored their faces ashen, so they looked almost ghost-like.
The archaeology team from Jiangsu’s Archaeological Research Institute had come to this southwestern land to excavate a nameless tomb that was said to exist even 100 years before Cao Cao’s era. Since the first day of their excavation, strange events had been taking place. At first, someone had eaten a wrong herb and suffered from continuous diarrhea. The precious fertilizer gifted by an affluent city, which had been meant to nourish the barren plateau in Yunnan and Guizhou, had suddenly dried up. Later on, a teammate, Li, got bitten by a poisonous snake that was waiting outside his tent. The worst situation had happened earlier that day when they had opened up the grave. They hadn’t planned to go down, but the team medic, Wang, who had rushed over to deliver some tools, had been struck on the head by a falling rock and collapsed.
According to a tomb raider’s logic, something was amiss, so they shouldn’t probe further. The institute’s regulations were more or less agreeable when it came to such occurrences. The only difference was that one was privately run, while the other was state-run. At the end of the day, the job of excavating ancestors’ tombs and the taboo involved were the same.
The team members had no qualms about sealing the tomb, turning back and simply letting the nation take control of the matter
Unfortunately, the team leader, Meng Fuyao, was well-known as the “Red-Haired Demoness” within the institute. Everything about this missy was great. She had everything; good education, morality, intelligence, fitness, beauty…
Her only weakness? She was mental.
Her screws only loosened when she entered an impassioned, obsessive state during excavation and experienced something out of the ordinary. When something like that happened, there was no doubt that her decisions would also be out of the ordinary.
Basically, Missy would never abandon what she loved doing just because of diarrhea, a snake bite or a site injury. For someone like her, who had hugged her first excavated ancient corpse to sleep with pleasure, trivial events that were subject to probability weren’t important.
“Pry tool, hammer, pickaxe!” She ordered, swinging her red hair, which momentarily tinted the dark grave, and rubbing her palms together with brightly lit eyes.
When she noticed that her tools weren’t being delivered, she turned around with a frown on her face, only to be greeted by weak and fearful faces.
“Sh*t, are you guys scared? Don’t tell me that all top representatives of the National Archaeology Institute are superstitious? You, you, and you?” She asked, making sure not to leave anyone out. “One’s a political party member, one’s an elite, one’s grown up under Marxism-Leninism and Maoism influences… Τhree outstanding students are afraid because someone has the runs? Where have all your scientific minds vanished to?”
She strode over to her backpack and rummaged through it. The product of her search were a few candles, which caused her to roll her eyes. Impatient, she lit and placed one candle on each corner of the grave. The candle lights danced softly by themselves, bringing a tinge of green into the space.
“Boss… What are you doing…?”
“Ever seen a ghost blowing out candles?” Meng Fuyao clapped loudly before smiling. “I’ll respect your belief that there are ghosts, so we’ll leave if these candles blow out. How does that sound?”
“Really?” Fatty threw a furtive glance at the candles. ‘I’ll just blow them out…’
Before he could get closer to them, the demoness had already started assigning tasks. A group of people quickly formed around the outer coffin, and the candles were completely forgotten.
In fact, no one sensed that a whirlwind that rose abruptly from the ground blew out the candle in the southwest corner after a few flickers.
The coffin lid was extremely heavy. Thousands of years of deposition and solidification had sealed portions of the coffin lid and body together. The team eventually pried a side open with effort. On another tombstone stood Meng Fuyao, hands resting on her knees, calling out, “One, two, three!”
After a wave of shouting, the coffin lid was pushed aside, and its content was revealed.
“Well done, Brothers!” Meng Fuyao cheered in encouragement. She placed one foot on the edge of the sarcophagus and used one hand to point her torch into the tomb. Then, she broke into a happy, made-up tune.
“We’ll meet again 2,000 years from now. Into the museum and glass cases, we go! One for you and one for me but hey, we’re the same! No more raiders, no more fear, no more chase…”
Her impromptu performance led to multiple eye-rolls. The tortured listeners hated that they had no free hands to shut their tone-deaf leader up.
As Fatty squatted on the coffin lid that had fallen to the ground, he could see vague inscriptions on the inner side of the lid. He immediately made a few brushes.
The inscriptions had been created with cinnabar, so they had remained fresh despite the years. Something had been mixed into the cinnabar, so it was emitting a sweet but unsettling smell.
“The sky is vast and bright and, the ground under is vast and obscure. The dead stays in the Yin, and the living belongs to the Yang. A living person has a neighborhood, and a dead person has a village. It has been like this all along… As it must be.”
Fatty swung his torch about messily, his expression turning ugly.
“Oh, this is the Han dynasty’s style of writing, but the last line seems different. What does it say again?” Meng Fuyao asked somewhat absentmindedly as she was focused on the inside of the coffin.
Fatty opened his mouth, but before he could speak, he caught a side glimpse of the extinguished candle and jumped in fright.
“Nonsense! I’m the king of raiders!” Meng Fuyao reprimanded heartily.
A loud sound exploded behind her, and the whole grave started to shake. Seven, eight of them lost their footing and tumbled. A splitting sound followed closely as if giants were trampling on the ground with divine force, causing it to crack and tilt. The coffin slipped down the slope and crashed into the wall. Its impact led a brick in the southwest corner to come loose and smash onto the ground, forming a fist-sized hole.
A few members protected their heads and scuttled to the nearest shelter. Fatty, who had too much flesh, navigated clumsily, knocking into things and wailing mindlessly. In contrast, the noise outside, condensed with each wave.
Amid the commotion, Meng Fuyao effortfully raised her head and grabbed her backpack to protect it. “Probably a landslide! Quite a bit of storm recently! Get out! Now!”
Everyone near the passageway cried out, “Our exit is blocked by mud!
“Stop crying! Are your tears going to dissolve the mud?” Meng Fuyao yelled before making a roll over the shattered, rock-filled ground. She looked up and added, “There’s a hole left by bandits up there. Let’s go out this way!”
“That hole is not completely hollowed out. There’s half a corpse blocking it!”
Meng Fuyao secured her bag on her neck and leaped to her feet, but another quake threw her on all fours before she could even stand. She wasted no time getting up. Instead, she grabbed a metal pick and proceeded to hack the hole, making it bigger.
A badly mangled leg came down, but Meng Fuyao remained unfazed.
Then dropped a body, which she gracefully made way for. It was covered in bloody slime, so upon hitting the ground, it flowed down the slope into the southwest corner of the grave.
Next, a shriveled brain fell right onto Fuyao’s belly. She just hit it away and cursed, “Sh*t! Stop disrupting my work!”
A few more hits later, a pile of yellow concretions gave way, and a glimmer of light appeared before her eyes. Her face was filled with grime, but she was evidently pleased.
“Come over here if you’re alive! There’s a way out!”
The other members crawled speedily over to where she was. The moment she had a chance, she grabbed a collar, ready to lug the person into the hole. However, she was stopped.
“You’re a woman!”
“I’m the leader!”
The rumbling continued and most of the ground, save for the piece they were on, had tilted so much that they were practically walls now. They were running out of time, and the unpredictable and arrow-like flying rocks weren’t improving the situation.