Book 4: 云顶天宫
Heavenly Palace On The Clouds
Michelle’s Note: Starting this volume, the amount of tomb robbing jargons and Chinese references, hence the explanatory footnotes, would increase exponentially as the novel enters its ‘intensive’ stage. To not tamper with your reading enjoyment, I will try my best to lower the amount of footnotes to as few as possible. This volume acts as the opening to the actual overarching plot of Daomu Biji. A grand mystery is slowing unfolding – so stay tuned and enjoy!
Lao Hai came to Wu Xie to inform him that a copper fish was being auctioned off. He then told Wu Xie about how this fish’s owner – the tomb robber Chen Pi A Si – found the item.
Chen Pi A Su was roughly the same age as Wu Xie’s grandfather, who had now reached 90 years of age. He was blind and quiet, yet still known in the tomb-robbing community as quite a cunning man. In the mid 1970s, when he was laying low in the land of the Miao ethnic group, Chen Pi A Si discovered Jing Er Palace on top of the Reclining Buddha hill. Jing Er Palace was an ancient building with two parts – one above ground and its exact reflection built upside down underground. The copper fish was hidden inside this building. However, in the midst of his act, he was caught red-handed by the leader of the Miao people, who then slashed Chen Pi A Si’s eyes as a punishment. The last thing that Chen Pi A Si noticed before losing his sight was that the leader had a Kylin tattoo on his upper body.
Back home, Pan Zi came to inform Wu Xie that Third Uncle had an urgent problem that required them to attend to, thus they needed to go to Changbai mountains immediately. Through the Jia Lama¹, who was Third Uncle himself, five people were gathered for the team, namely Wu Xie, Men You Ping, Pangzi, Pan Zi and Chen Pi A Si.
¹ 夹喇嘛 [Jia Lama], lit. translated as “Picking up the Lama”, is a tomb-robbing jargon referring to the leader or the organiser of a tomb robbing expedition, who is in charge of gathering the members for the team and figuring out the location of the tomb.
Third Uncle wanted to stop another team – A-Ning’s group – so he reported the tomb robbing activity to the authority. Chen Pi A Si jumped at this opportunity to double-cross Wu Xie, causing Wu Xie’s team to be chased after by the police. The original arrangement thus was split. Eventually, two separate teams were formed and met again in Changbai: One consisting of Wu Xie, Men You Ping, Pangzi and Pan Zi while the other consisting of Chen Pi A Si, Lang Feng, Ye Cheng and Monk Hua.
They engaged a guide, Shun Zi, to lead them through Changbai. The goal of this journey was to locate the Heavenly Palace On The Clouds, which was hidden somewhere in the snow-capped Changbai mountains. It was believed that the tomb belonged to Dong Xia (Eastern Xia) kingdom and its construction was led by Wang Zang Hai. According to Chen Pi A Si, the Nine Dragons Coffin² would be in this tomb.
² 九龙抬尸棺 [Jiu Long Tai Shi Guan], lit. translated as “Coffin Carried by Nine Dragons”, is a mysterious (since it is uncertain if the coffin did exist in history) coffin that is known to have nine dragons carved on its body, hence the name. In the universe of Daomu Biji, this coffin holds the King of Dong Xia kingdom.
Going up the snow-capped mountain, the group tied everyone together at the waist to avoid getting lost. While climbing, a member slipped on the snow, dragging others into a snow pit, where they found a large stone plaque with the carving of a Hundred-Foot Dragon. After that, they entered the crevice behind the plaque to avoid the avalanche, inside which was a two-layer painting. The painting depicted the war between Dong Xia and Mongolia that resulted in the destruction of Dong Xia kingdom and the massacre of most of its citizens. The kingdom belonged to the Manchu ethnic group and was led by generations of kings who called themselves King Wan Nu³. A special thing about this kingdom was that most of its people were very young.
³ 万奴王 [Wan Nu Wang] is lit. translated as “King of Tens of Thousands Slaves”. Note also that Dong Xia kingdom is real and did exist in Chinese history, while King Wan Nu is not.
Thereafter, Monk Hua took out the third copper fish. This copper fish carried a secret message written in the language of the Manchu people. One would be able to see the message by shining a torch onto the fish. The message told the story of how Dong Xia kingdom, after their destruction, retreated to the border between Jilin province and North Korea for several hundred years. The kingdom went through the rule of fourteen kings in total, all of whom were believed to be monsters crawling out from the ground.
After resting, everyone got out of the crevice, planning to go to Three Saints mountain to find the entrance to the Heavenly Palace. Shun Zi said that it belonged to the North Korean border, so they could not go through. Chen Pi A Su then diverted the group to go to Little Saint mountain instead, as he deduced that since Three Saints mountain lied in the middle of Little Saint and Great Saint mountains, there should be a path to enter Three Saints from Little Saint mountain⁴.
⁴ Changbai is a real-life mountain range that shares the border of China and North Korea. In the universe of Daomu Biji, Changbai consists of three fictional mountains: 三圣 [San Sheng: Three Saints], 小圣 [Xiao Sheng: Little Saint] and 大圣 [Da Sheng: Great Saint].
As the group was preparing to leave, Men You Ping turned toward Three Saints mountain, knelt down and bowed his head, his expression carrying a deep sorrow.
Upon arrival, they found that it was not feasible to dig up the ice using normal shovels, thus they set off some dynamites to blast off the ice. They carefully reduced the dosage to not create too much damage, however, the explosion still led to an avalanche. Because of that, the group found the Kun Lun Fetus⁵ hidden under the ice. They thawed the ice with fire then dug downwards, discovering the entrance to the tomb of Little Saint mountain.
⁵ 昆仑胎 [Kun Lun Tai], lit. translated as “Kun Lun Fetus”, is also known as “Fetus Born From Earth”. In Chinese legends, Kun Lun Fetus is an ice-covered fetus that carries a baby girl inside and has the size of a small hill. In feng shui, a Kun Lun Fetus indicates a magnificently auspicious location, befitting only a small few who are destined for great things.
This tomb’s interior was magnificent. Right in front, the group found a stone slab that took the shape of a turtle. It turned out that this turtle emitted an extraordinarily strong magnetic field that messed up all their compasses. Chen Pi A Si then ordered his team to destroy the turtle. Upon the act, an insect aromatic jade flew out of the stone turtle and awakened thousands of house centipedes (scolopendra galapagoensis) that had been hibernating. Lang Feng had a centipede crawl into his ear and panicked hysterically, forcing Shun Zi to knock him unconscious. Amid the chaos, Men You Ping disappeared.
While trying to fight off these insects, the group met with a giant centipede with the length of several meters. Wu Xie deduced that this monster had to be the inspiration behind the plaque of the Hundred-Foot Dragon that they found earlier. In a bid, Chen Pi A Si decided that the only way they could save themselves was by luring the giant centipede into one corner, thus allowing them to escape. Monk Hua then put a dynamite on the unconscious Lang Feng and set it off, resulting in the death of both the giant centipede and Lang Feng.
The explosion created a large crater on the floor. Pangzi got dragged down by a fetus mummy, thus pulling everyone down the crater. They then discovered that there was in fact another floor beneath.
Pangzi, while not paying attention, was pulled into a cave by that same fetus mummy. Pan Zi immediately rushed to rescue him but got captured. Chen Pi A Si then shot at the mummy, causing the creature to harbour grudge against the group.
After discussing, everyone concluded that this so-called tomb was actually a tunnel created by the tomb builders for escape⁶. It connected Little Saint mountain to the Heavenly Palace inside Three Saints mountain. As they prepared to enter the tunnel, Chen Pi A Si suddenly dropped dead. However, a few moments later, he became alive again as if nothing was wrong, and he himself also seemed to not understand what had just happened.
⁶ In ancient times, tomb builders were likely to be buried alive together with the person to whom the tomb belonged. Therefore, they built secret tunnels to help them escape from the tomb after it got sealed off.
Passing through the entire tunnel, they reached the entrance of the Heavenly Palace. It turned out that King Wan Nu’s tomb was built inside a volcano. Entering the entrance of the Palace, the group found some of A-Ning’s underlings hung on the columns. These men had their necks pierced through by a lump of hair. Pangzi climbed up and obtained a gun and a gas mask from one of the corpses. At this point, a peculiar bird-like monster appeared: it had a white face that resembled an owl’s, a body of a bird and fangs of a carnivore. The creature was afraid of bright light and extremely sensitive to sound. Pan Zi fired a gun at the monster, and immediately another swarm was heard approaching. Shun Zi took the opportunity to split Wu Xie’s team from Chen Pi A Si’s. Chen Pi A Si’s team then headed straight for what looked like the path to the main chamber, while Wu Xie’s ran toward the front hall.
While passing by a bridge, Wu Xie fell down a burial canal and was seriously injured, so the others climbed down to help him. Down the canal, Shun Zi revealed himself to be an ally sent by Third Uncle. He delivered Third Uncle’s cryptic message that the entrance was located at “Xuan Wu ju shi⁷”, and that only Wu Xie could decipher the message. Wu Xie realised the only thing he could understand but the rest could not would be Hangzhou dialect, the language that both Third Uncle and he spoke. Through his analysis and twisting of the words to make them sound like Hangzhou dialect, the phrase “Xuan Wu ju shi” actually meant that the main entrance was “at the bottom of the canal along the river”. Everyone then followed the burial canal to find the entrance.
⁷ 玄武拒尸 [Xuan Wu ju shi], lit. translated as “Black Tortoise rejects the corpse”, is a feng shui term to indicate an inauspicious location that is associated with disease, accident and death.
The entrance seemed to be another man-made tunnel. On the wall, they found strange symbols that resembled English words, similar to the ones they found at the stone stairs inside the underwater tomb of Xi Sha. The group decided to follow the symbols and reached a chamber. The chamber was filled with mountains of gold and silver, dazzling everyone especially Pangzi. Unexpectedly, they also found six corpses that had gone dry. It turned out that one of them was Shun Zi’s father who ventured into the mountain 10 years ago and never came back. The five others were members of an archaeologist team that were likely guided by Shun Zi’s father back then.
The group tried to move to the next room but kept returning to the same chamber. It was then that they realised they got caught in a “ghost knocking the wall” trap⁸. They struggled to understand whether this endless loop that they were stuck inside was indeed caused by supernatural forces or just them having hallucinations. Eventually, Wu Xie used the ritual Xi Zhao Tong Ling⁹ and detected the former fetus mummy hiding on the ceiling, thus freeing everyone from the trap. They then chased after the fetus mummy to kill it. While running into a stone corridor, Wu Xie got dragged down and accidentally fell onto A-Ning’s team. The team was fighting off thousands of centipedes that crawled out from a nearby coffin. Wu Xie found Third Uncle lying unconscious on the back of a member of the team. The moment Wu Xie appeared, all the centipedes instantly retreated.
⁸ 鬼打墙 [gui da xiang], lit. translated as “ghost knocking the wall”, refers to a supernatural occurrence in which the person gets trapped in an endless loop. In real life, the term refers to a type of motion illusion often caused by a hazy state of mind, in which the person thinks he keeps walking in the same loop.
⁹ 犀照通灵 [Xi Zhao Tong Ling], roughly translated as “Rhino Horn Reflects The Spirit”, is a ritual to detect the presence of spirits, ghosts or demons. In this ritual, one will burn a rhino horn and use it as a mirror to examine if any supernatural presence will be reflected in the horn.
Thanks to Pangzi’s connection with A-Ning and a few members in her team, the two groups decided to work together. Third Uncle woke up for a moment and secretly slipped a piece of paper into Wu Xie’s pocket. The first part of the message was written by Men You Ping, while the latter part was by Third Uncle. Men You Ping said, “I already went down to the main chamber. Tell Wu Xie’s group to stop! If they go any deeper, they wouldn’t be able to deal with what’s down here. All the secrets lie in the copper fishes.” Right under Men You Ping’s message were the strange symbols similar to those that they found in the connecting tunnel.
In Third Uncle’s message, he told Wu Xie to give the two copper fishes to A-Ning, for she likely had someone in her team who could read the language of Manchu people and decipher the secrets left inside the fishes.
A-Ning then revealed that going down to the underwater tomb was a task assigned by her boss, Qiu Dekao. These are the boss’ goals: one was to obtain the jade seal, the other was to get the map of Heavenly Palace On The Clouds. The seal in the underwater tomb however had been swapped with the copper fishes by Wang Zang Hai, while the map was already taken by Third Uncle. A-Ning instead managed to capture the narrative shown on all the fifteen murals inside the tomb under the sea.
One mural told the story of Wang Zang Hai being forced by the Manchu people to repair the royal tomb. The royal tomb originally followed the architectural style of Shang Dynasty but was later renovated to resemble Ming Dynasty’s. Another mural showed a demon appearing from inside the ravine. The next mural depicted an invertebrate creature crawling up the cliff and people pouring something down from above.
Wu Xie handed over two copper fishes to A-Ning, who then summoned a subordinate to translate the message. The copper fishes recorded the secret that Wang Zang Hai wanted to keep for the Han descendants, and it had to be kept away from the Manchu people. While Wang Zang Hai led the Dong Xia people to rob ancient tombs, he stealthily left behind these copper fishes in the hope that one day the Han people would find them. In his message, Wang Zang Hai unveiled that he was locked up by Dong Xia people for 10 years. At one point, he was led to a giant gate located deep underground. He discovered that the fourteen generations of King Wan Nu were not related by blood. In fact, they were all monsters that came out from that gate. Besides, the gate only opened once the previous King passed away and the next King was to come out to inherit the throne. If the gate opened at any other moment, a hell fire would erupt. It was also learnt that the gate was guarded by monstrous creatures that were half bird and half mammal.
After discussing, everyone decided to climb down to the lower chamber where Men You Ping said they could not cope with. At the very end, Wu Xie discovered an enormous Bronze Gate and the Nine Dragons Coffin. Beneath the coffin were nine colossal centipedes that were hibernating, their bodies chained together with the coffin to guard against anyone who dared approach. Inside the coffin was a mummy with twelve arms, which woke up and walked toward the Bronze Gate as if trying to enter it. Pan Zi feared that the mummy would open the gate and release the hell fire, so he placed a dynamite on the mummy and destroyed it entirely.
At that moment, a herd of bird-like monsters attacked them. Under Wu Xie’s order, Pan Zi carried Third Uncle and escaped with A-Ning’s team. Only Pangzi and Wu Xie were left behind to fight with the monsters. As they were about to be defeated, the Bronze Gate suddenly opened. An army of ghost soldiers appeared from inside the ravine and marched toward the gate. Pangzi and Wu Xie saw Men You Ping blending in with the army; Men You Ping even turned toward Wu Xie, smiled at him and said “See you later”. As the army passed, the Bronze Gate closed.
Pangzi and Wu Xie then ran toward the ravine to escape and were reunited with Pan Zi.
[End of Book 4]
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.