“Chief, why is this tomb so gloomy? Feels like there’s an ominous aura, did you check today’s horoscope?” In the dim, dark side chamber several gray figures with dirt-smudged faces moved around, one of which wiped his sweat, half straightened his waist and shouted into the main tomb chamber.
“Yeah I checked.” Meng Fuyao had a mini flashlight stuck in her mouth and was half-crouched on the floor, stirring up dust while brushing away at the large blue-green stone coffin in the middle of the tomb. She responded with difficulty around the flashlight and without lifting her head, yet her words were still clear. “Today is an auspicious day on the zodiac for funerals, wearing mourning attire, moving coffins – look, that’s what we’re doing! What a coincidence, all of them have death in common!”
“Kao, can’t you say something more optimistic?” The fatty who yelled previously rolled his eyes, then raised his head to look at the strange ox-head human-bodied tomb mural on the ceiling. Under the dancing of the dim candlelight, it was as if it would step out from the wall at any moment, making him shrink back a little in fear.
Meng Fuyao was too lazy to bother with him while focused on her work. The dust was gradually brushed off, revealing the carving of a three-headed, double-bodied, single-horned creature with two wings on its back and a fierce stare. In Fuyao’s eyes, the carving had a majestic beauty to it characteristic of ancient civilizations.
With an expression of delight and her eyes wide open, Fuyao gently brushed the carving with one hand while extending the other. “Tape measure!”
Someone frantically offered the tape measure to her.
“Fatty, come over here and take a group photo with the emperor’s coffin.” Fuyao grabbed the fatty and pulled him to the side of the coffin. “You on that side, me on this side. Count off!”
“Chief don’t! Why aren’t you letting go of me?” The little fatty Xiao Yuan tried to struggle to no avail.
“Because you are a rookie,” Fuyao showed a toothy smile, “rookies are for veterans to trample on, didn’t you know? Now stop dawdling, quickly! We have to finish this tomb fast, so that my PhD thesis this year will have some material!”
“Madwoman, workaholic, only 22 years old and already an associate professor, your existence is just a humiliation for all archeological geniuses….” Fatty mumbled, then read the measurements underneath the light from the flashlight, “Finished, length 2.18 meters, width 0.94, height 0.66.”
“OK!” Meng Fuyao slapped the stone creature on the coffin, causing dust to fly in all directions, then looked at the coffin in satisfaction. When she thought about how her salary would soar up into the sky after getting her degree, and how her mom’s hospital fees wouldn’t be a problem anymore, her mood couldn’t help but get better.
Thinking of her mother’s illness, Fuyao was lost in thought for a moment, and so didn’t notice that her last slap caused a deep echo to travel starting from the coffin through the passageway down to the tomb door. The sound then rebounded back as a long and gloomy reverberation, sounding like the vibrations from the footsteps of primordial giants.
Despite the fact that the tomb was sealed underground, a cold wind blew from who-knows-where, causing people to shiver. The tomb chamber’s lights were weak, barely illuminating the pale white faces of the people present and creating an eerie atmosphere.
This archaeology team was from an archaeological college in the Jiangsu province, coming to the southwestern frontier to excavate an unnamed tomb rumored to predate even Cao Cao’s grave by centuries. Starting from the excavation’s first day, the mysterious incidents never ceased. First was the team eating the wrong mountain herbs, causing people to expel all of their bowel contents and give the barren earth of the Yungui plateau free fertilizer straight from the cities. Next was team member Xiao Li randomly getting bitten by a poisonous snake when setting up his tent in the morning. Even worse, when opening up the tomb this morning, the team didn’t even plan to explore the tomb today; the team only rushed down here because the medic Xiao Wang was suddenly hit by a falling ridge rock while delivering tools and gloriously fell into down into the tomb, holding his head in pain.
With all the inauspicious events happening up to this point, according to grave robber logic, this tomb would be a little too suspicious, and not suitable for further exploration. Yet according to archaeologist logic … actually, archaeologist logic is pretty much the same as grave robber logic. The only difference is that one is private business and one is public, but both dig up their ancestor’s graves, and both know that some graves should not be dug up.
Team members already begged to seal up the grave and go home, leaving further exploration up to the mighty excavation machines of the government.
Yet it was a pity, this time’s team leader was not a normal person, but the so-called “Red-haired Witch” Meng Fuyao, Miss Meng. Miss Meng was great in all aspects, a model of the new generation who exemplified everything that the “morality-intellect-athleticism-positivism-hard work” education was supposed to be, with her only weakness being: she wasn’t exactly right in the head.
Of course, this abnormality only appears through her fiery passion and craziness for digging up ancient graves, as well as the illogical choices she makes when encountering strange situations.
In summary, Miss Meng definitely would not give up on her much-loved action of defiling graves just because of a couple random events like diarrhea or snake bites or rocks falling. To a social deviant who once hugged to sleep the first ancient corpse that she excavated out of pure delight, these small bumps were far from what she would consider problems.
“Crowbar, hammer, pick!” With a swish of her red hair, a bright, colorful flash suddenly broke through the darkness of the chamber. Meng Fuyao cracked her knuckles, her eyes lighting up like the eternal flames of the heavens.
However, the tools were not handed over immediately. Fuyao knitted her brows and turned around, only to see the excavation members all dispirited and pale, unwilling to come forward.
“Kao, afraid? Don’t tell me the righteous and professional archaeological team also believes in superstition! You, you, you,” she pointed one after the other, “all party members, geniuses, students nurtured by Marxist-Lenin and Mao Zedong’s teachings! Did the diarrhea cause you to shit out all of your brain’s scientific theory?”
Thump, thump, thump, with big steps she stomped over, hua la la she flipped through the backpack in a messy search, pulled out a couple sticks of candles, and rolled her eyes. Fuyao impatiently stuck a candle at each of the four corners of the tomb. The faint candlelight flickered at each corner of the room, unexpectedly containing a greenish tint.
“Boss … what are you doing …”
“Haven’t you seen ‘Ghost Blows Out the Light‘?” Meng Fuyao clapped and created another loud echo while smiling and saying “Since you guys think there are ghosts, I’ll follow the flow then. If the candles are blown out, then we’ll go back, good?”
“Really?” Fatty surreptitiously eyed the candles … maybe directly blow them out himself?
Before he had time to get closer to the candles, the witch had already started assigning roles to each person, and soon the crowd of people was milling around the coffin in circles, with no time to spare for the candles at the four corners of the tomb.
This meant that when a swirl of wind close to the ground caused the candles at the west and south corners of the tomb to flicker and then go out, no one noticed immediately.
The coffin lid was very heavy, and after thousands of years the gaps between the stone lid and the coffin were tightly melded. It took several people exerting much effort to finally crack open a hair. Meng Fuyao was standing up on a tombstone, two hands on her knees, shouting and directing the efforts: “One, two three!”
A loud rumble suddenly sounded, and with a large bang, the coffin lid was pushed aside, exposing the inner contents.
“Great job people!” Meng Fuyao lavished praise onto the team, then with one step leaped onto the side edge of the coffin. While using the flashlight to illuminate the insides of the coffin, she also sang an improvised, light-hearted tune.
“After two thousand years,
we will meet again,
ship to the nearest museum,
install in glass cabinet for man,
you a cabinet,
me a cabinet,
don’t differentiate between us,
unafraid of the tomb robbers surrounding and chasing us … ”
The workers below rolled their eyes, only hating themselves being unable to cover their ears to block out the off-tune, extraordinarily ear-harming sound.
Meanwhile the fatty was squatting on the outer coffin lid, and when he vaguely noticed that the backside of the lid had some faint inscriptions, quickly grabbed a brush to dust off the surface.
The inscriptions were carved using cinnabar and could still be clearly distinguished even after thousands of years. It seemed as if something strange was mixed into the cinnabar as well, because the inscriptions let off an abnormally sweet scent that caused those who smelt it to feel unsettled.
“The sky is gray, the ground is vast, the dead return to yin, the living reside in yang, life has li, death has villages, do not go further, or else … incur mutual destruction.”
The glow from the flashlight swayed from side to side, as if a will-o-wisp was darting to and fro inside the tomb. Fatty’s expression changed.
Meng Fuyao, who was diligently working on the inner coffin, casually inquired without raising her head: “Oh, it’s a Han dynasty style epitaph. But that last part was a little strange, could you repeat it?”
The fatty gulped and opened his mouth to respond, but before he said anything, out of the corner of his eye he noticed one of the extinguished candlesticks. In that moment he jumped up and cried out in fright.
“Your Granddaddy’s wrong! What do you think we are, mountain bandits or something!” Fuyao laughed and rebuked the fatty at the same time, while about to rise from her crouching position.
Suddenly, a tremendous noise came from behind her, causing the entire chamber to shake and making 7 or 8 people who couldn’t maintain their footing tumble into a heap of bodies. Yet another deafening sound came, as if a giant who had the power to split the heavens and earth stomped above them and pounded the earth. The tomb chamber’s ground promptly began to tilt, resulting in the heavy stone coffin sliding across the ground and explosively impacting the wall. At the southwest corner of the tomb, dirt and rubble were shaken loose and fell, creating fist-sized holes in the floor. Several people covered their heads and frantically rolled on the ground trying to escape, with the fatty among them; unfortunately, the fatty had a lot of meat but was not very quick. He rolled a little too slowly and was pinned down by the falling debris, causing him to desperately shout. The pounding noise outside also began to quickly increase in tempo.
In the chaotic midst of shouting and howling, Meng Fuyao raised her head with difficulty. She first grabbed the backpack that slid next to her and raised it above her head for protection, then authoritatively yelled, “It’s probably a landslide! There’s been heavy rain recently! Evacuate! Immediately!”
Those taking cover on the floor near the tomb entrance rose their heads and half shouted, half wailed back, “The entrance is blocked by rubble!”
“WTF is crying supposed to do!? Will crying open the entrance!?” Fuyao then proceeded to roll a few times on the ground littered with shattered stones, raise her head to peek at the ceiling, and holler, “There’s a bandit tunnel ahead! Escape this way!”
“That tunnel hasn’t been fully excavated yet! It still has half a corpse in it!”
Meng Fuyao secured the backpack around her neck and leapt forward, attempting to stand straight. However, yet another heavy quake tripped her, and she went sprawling on the floor. Accepting her fate, Fuyao decided to give up on standing. Clenching her teeth, she grabbed a metal pick on the ground and then rolled forward towards the bandit hole. She raised the pick and started wildly smashing it towards the half-excavated tunnel.
“Shua la la”, first a leg fell out, then blood and bits of corpse came flying out and mixed with the dirt and dust surrounding her! Despite the gory scene, Fuyao didn’t even spare a glance.
Next the rest of the corpse slid out of the newly expanded exit, pressing down and forcing Meng Fuyao to stand a little to the side. The incomplete body tumbled down the sloped chamber ground, leaving a trail of blood and debris as it rolled over to the southwestern corner of the room.
Just as the body tumbled away, right behind it came the shriveled skull, which dropped onto Fuyao’s stomach. In one smooth motion she flung the skull away, yelling “Go! Stop obstructing my work!”
Finally, the last clumps of yellow-gray soil in the bandit tunnel rained down, exposing a bit of daylight in front of Meng Fuyao’s eyes. Even though her face covered in dirt and ash, she still cracked a toothy grin.
“Those who haven’t died yet! Come with me! There’s an exit!”
The team members hurriedly crawled over, and Fuyao grabbed a hold of a one’s collar behind her and tried to stuff him into the hole. However, that person quickly tried to push away her hand.
“You’re a woman!”
“I’m the chief!”
The quaking sounds continued unabated, and the stone floor had already tilted into several right angles. Only the ground near the bandit tunnel was still flat, but even that would soon change. Even worse, there were still the elusive falling rocks that were sharp and quick like arrows.
The stubborn kid was still clinging in front of the tunnel refusing to budge, wanting Fuyao to escape first no matter what. However, chivalry at a time like this was simply not chivalry at all! Meng Fuyao’s eyes had almost become the same color as her hair; after grinding her teeth loudly, she gave the stubborn fool a hard slap to the face, hitting the gentleman who cared about letting woman go first so hard that he saw stars and fell into a short daze.
Taking advantage of this short period, Fuyao stuffed the guy into the tunnel, even giving him a kick in the butt for good measure.
“Keep dilly-dallying and I’ll slap you to death!”
Apparently this threat was very effective, and the next couple team members efficiently scrambled up the tunnel in an orderly manner. However, when Fuyao reached out her hand to help the last fatty up the tunnel, her hand only grasped at air.
She turned around and saw that the fatty had already rolled almost to the cave-in’s other half, and was currently struggling to grab hold of the various debris that was tumbling down the slope in a futile effort to stop his downward trajectory. Behind him were mounds and mounds of broken crags that showed their rough edges, quickly drawing nearer to him.
The fatty hoarsely yelled out “ao ao!”, already unable to formulate a sentence of intelligible Chinese words.
Fuyao glanced back quickly and wrapped a foot around a protruding lamp, then fell flat on the ground, throwing out her extended arm and catching the thick forearm of the fatty just before he dropped down into the abyss.
The fatty’s tears were streaming down his face while he cried, “Sister! Ahh!! Didn’t I say not to open the coffin?! Ahhh!!…”
Meng Fuyao fiercely grabbed a handful of the fatty’s thick neck flab and sent him “to die”.
After crawling halfway up the tunnel, the fatty’s bottom was too wide and clogged up the exit, making him unable to ascend further. Fuyao quickly searched for the pick she threw aside earlier, muttering “Jab!”
“Don’t jab my chrysanthemum!!” The fatty howled in fear, and using a sudden burst of strength, immediately popped up out of the tunnel.
Fuyao briefly laughed and was about to follow him up, when her eyes suddenly brightened.
She saw that not far away was a copper-green jade cauldron exposed by one of the earthquakes, wobbling and appearing to be close to falling into the crevasses of the former tomb chamber.
Meng Fuyao immediately scooped up the tripod cauldron with her sharp eyes and nimble hands, laughing boisterously. “Ha ha! Good! Good stuff!”
This was a genuine Han dynasty artifact, unearthed today! Even artifacts preceding the Tang dynasty were rare nowadays! The expedition this time was a lot of effort for little gain; having this object would help with determining the status of the tomb owner and learning about the culture of that period of history, and could be considered a slight compensation.
Overhead, the fatty’s face was rocking and swaying while he shouted into the tunnel, “Come up! Come up!”
The greenish cauldron was inlaid with gold and a bit heavy; Fuyao had to use some strength to lift it up, missing the faint red flash of light that appeared after the cauldron left the ground.
As the ground underneath her feet continued to rock and subside, the fatty’s round, sweat-filled face poked back into the tunnel. Contrary to his expectations, he saw not Meng Fuyao but the green cauldron! Alarmed, he yelled, “I don’t want this, I want you!”
“Shit! It’s not your turn to want me!” Meng Fuyao cackled and rebuked at the same time, then heaved the cauldron upward, “Grab it! You won’t lose out, I promise!”
Fatty was helpless, and could only extend his arms to grab the cauldron, muttering “Lunatic woman who only thinks about her research …”
The cauldron was heavy, so when the fatty grabbed hold of it, Fuyao let out her held breath, and started to climb up.
An eye-watering red brilliance lit up, surrounding Meng Fuyao in an instant. That last bit of ground supporting her beneath her feet finally collapsed, sending stones flying everywhere.
The fatty’s arms which just reached out to grab Meng Fuyao’s hands ended up touching only air.
Yet even the sound of fatty’s yelling was soon cut off.
An otherworldly sound soon resounded, sounding like a zither yet also like a phoenix’s cries, yet also like a dragon’s roars. Within the cacophony only a whisper of Meng Fuyao’s voice could be heard, struggling to say some last words.
“Brother! Remember to report that I died a martyr …. !!”
1. Meng Fuyao = “孟扶摇”, Meng being the surname and Fuyao meaning “quick ascent”.
2. Kao = “靠”, Chinese slang word similar to “kek”, “lol”, or “wow” when used on its own.
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiangsu Eastern province of China north of Shanghai
4. Cao Cao = “曹操”, famous warlord during Three Kingdoms period
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yunnan–Guizhou_Plateau Plateau in SW China
6. Xiao Li = “小李” the Xiao means “little”, often used nickname with “Li” being surname. The Xiao in front of surname is a very common way of addressing coworkers or friends.
7. Five areas in which a young student in Chinese education is expected to cultivate
8. Slightly sarcastic in tone
9. Relatively famous ghost story in China, I think Gravity Tales has translation?
10. Here is original tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fifctHp6OqY
11. li = “里”, an ancient unit of length equal to 500 meters, the size of a small village
12. Here the fatty uses the phrase “风紧，扯呼”, inaccurately translating to “Move like the wind, sound the alarm” which is what bandits and robbers in ancient China would shout when they notice something is wrong. i.e. “It’s a trap!”
13. Fuyao says actually just says “your granddaddy”, it’s a form of swearing or expression of being superior in Chinese. I felt it translated better to “your granddaddy is wrong” in English.
14. Chrysanthemum flower is euphemism for anus since it looks like anus
16. Dynasty order: Xia->Shang->Zhou->Eastern Zhou->Spring and Autumn->Warring States->Qin->Han->Six Dynasties->Three Kingdoms->Jin->North & Southern->Sui->Tang->Five Dynasties->Song->Yuan->Ming->Qing. Han: 206 BCE start, Tang: 618 CE start, around 800 years between them
17. Original is “呸” which mimics a spitting sound, is commonly used as a swear word or expression of disbelief, derision, etc