Look What I Found
I was now confident that Elder Lianhua went to “Speechless” to then deduce where the godly hole, which I’d prefer to rename as godly cavern to describe it more appropriately, was based on the position of the two locks. Her thought was correct, but she didn’t realise I already found the cavern.
“Brother Ouyang, switch out with Su Qi. He’s a power fighter, so he’s likely to cause a lot of injuries and deaths. There’s still room for reconciliation between us and Fiends’ Genesis, but there won’t be if one side falls.”
“Reconciliation? Ah, you’ve found a way to escape?”
I did say Ouyang Xiucai was a smart man.
Considering we were nearly out of supplies, if Fiends’ Genesis wasn’t hiding any secret stash, then we were soon going to compete in who could survive for longer. If I couldn’t find a way out, we could skip any truce negotiations; in fact, it’d have been wiser to mount a counterattack to get our hands on any food we could.
“We will follow your instructions, Brother Wu. I shall go switch with Su Qi.” Watching me stand up, too, and slip the map back into my shirt, Ouyang Xiucai queried, “Where are you heading now?”
“Going to make a trip outside.”
“But… we are stuck in a pincer attack.”
“That’s fine. I’m not going either direction.”
As soon as Ouyang Xiucai exited, I slipped into the godly cavern. I had continued exploring it since the last time I mentioned it; however, it wasn’t very often. I couldn’t tell Yan Jiangnan about it when he wasn’t faithful. He didn’t have the guts to harm me, but it was still better for him to be kept in the dark.
The copper door at the bottom was shut tight, and there weren’t any signs around that indicated they could be used to open aforementioned door. In other words, there had to be some mechanism that locked the door from the inside. I knew my conjecture was right before I even reached the door for one simple reason – there was a breeze.
The last time I was here, it was dead silent. The breeze didn’t magically disappear, but I couldn’t feel it on my skin. This time, I could feel the wind blowing, which meant that some mechanism down here was triggered when we unlocked the Heaven and Earth Doors.
When I arrived at the bronze doors, they were open. The bright luminous golden glow of thousands of eternal flames behind the door stunned me in place.
I wasn’t sure why it was my first impression, but my intuition told me that the owner of the kneeling skeleton at the centre of the room was a woman. I didn’t know who or what she was praying to or for, but her posture made me feel sorry for her. It wouldn’t be long before the remains of her garments would also whittle away to the point that it couldn’t stay on her. Considering the size of the small bones beside her and the curled posture, they had to have belonged to some animal.
It was quite clear that she didn’t suddenly die; she remained composed despite knowing her death was inevitable. Even in her last moments, she didn’t cower or panic. She was definitely smiling as she faced death head on, though her smile would’ve been one of grief and sorrow. Maybe I’d question myself if it was someone else, but I wholeheartedly believed that the marks on the ground anterior to her were her tears. How did I glean so much without any thought? I had no way of knowing.
With tears welling up in my own eyes against my own desires, I stepped forward to gently take hold of her hands held in prayer. As if a touch of reassurance was what she had been waiting for all these years, her hands, then her forearms and finally her arms fell. As though she was entrusting it to me, an ordinary emerald piece of jade from her hands landed in my hands.
The moment the piece of jade landed in my hands, I knew it wasn’t some special piece of jade. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even made well enough to be worth much in the markets. Still, I held it solemnly in my hand and just stayed silent until I lost track of time.
You didn’t fear death. You prayed despite death coming, yet you couldn’t abandon this piece of jade? Who did you want to entrust it to?
“Thank you for entrusting this to me. I swear to not let you down.”
Nobody could or would tell me why, yet I could sense the serenity from a bronze coffin placed not too far away from her. I gently set her inside. In spite of the extra time it cost to be so gentle, not to mention shutting the lid gently, I did so anyway.
Though the eternal flames weren’t exactly antiques, it was obvious that they weren’t a design from the current dynasty. More than likely, they were set up at the same time this underground base was built.
Doesn’t this mean this place has existed for at least a century?
There had to be an aperture of some sort, or there’d be no oxygen to sustain the flames for so long.
I let out a big and slow exhale prior to continuing further in along the two rows of eternal flames.
It didn’t take long for me to reach a dead end. There was no other route no matter which direction I looked. Though there was a stone hole in the wall at the end that could fit a hand, there was nothing actually inside.
Up above, there were more of those holes that stretched as far as the eyes could see, lining up into two horizontal lines – a shorter one on top and a longer one at the bottom. I quickly figured out that the holes were there to facilitate climbing vertically, so I wasted no time heading north.
Since the purpose of “Autumn Locks” were to guard treasures, once both locks were unlocked and the treasure trove was open, there was a death trap and an escape route available. There was treasure here, meaning there had to be a secret path to access the treasure. The most reasonable assumption was that the hidden route led directly to and from the room with treasures. That very same route should’ve been the ticket out.
Ascending was far more tiring than descending, especially in this painfully narrow space. I couldn’t even see where the path ahead led to. I guess you could say it felt a little akin to climbing the “stairway to heaven” for me.
After approximately an hour of climbing, I pulled myself over the ledge to reach the top. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I expected a secret passage, not another vast underground base that I had been spending my recent days in. I soon realised that the space I was staring into was actually about the same level – as in height – as the place beneath.
I lit up a sheet of paper torch for lighting, had just managed to start walking not for long and ran into another huge bronze door that was also open.
The two locks must’ve unlocked the two folding doors.
There was nothing worth mentioning farther up until I touched a big stone carving that read “The treasure is found here.”
Found it! Finally! After all that searching for treas-, an exit, I’ve finally found something useful.
There were three stone doors beneath the huge rock carving. Whoever carved the text was as good with a sword as he was with a brush – evident from the small text carved on the rock below. The text read, “This one’s surname is Gongsun. He is a scholar of Daxia. Traitors have ruined the nation. There is no hope of salvation when there is lack of talent and regard for right and wrong. This one is determined to serve his country till his last breath. Alas, he is but one incompetent man with a dream perhaps too big for his capacity. These treasures are left for one in the future who can make better use of them. This one has one request for he who finds this. The three stone rooms house all the valuables this one collected in his lifetime. Please make use of all the resources to restore Daxia…”
I didn’t read the rest because there was something else that grabbed my attention.
Hmm… This tone reminds me of someone… Jiang Chen is definitely the one who carved this! It’s my pleasure to plunder your treasures!
I turned back to the three doors and read aloud the text on the first door, “… Tomb of my beloved.”
… My beloved? Jiang Chen, Jiang Chen, is that a term you should be using at your age, you old fart? I can’t just walk away now.
I prepared a ball of saliva to spit when I saw the last bit of the text: “For a true gentleman.”
Mm, I’m a true gentleman. I won’t stoop to your level.
I swallowed my saliva, then looked over to my shoulder to read the text on the second door. “… An exceptional collection of secrets for the intellect.”
Say what? A book of gossip? How is that a treasure? You know what my subscription number to Black and White Reflection is? You think I need you to learn gossip? Yes, I like my gossip, but there’s a time and place for it! You think I have time to read gossip in this sort of greed-baiting situation?
The text on the third door read, “Valuable treasures of the world for a true hero.”
That’s what I’m talking about!
Judging from the eternal flames, bronze doors and coffin, even if Jiang Chen wasn’t the mastermind of the place, whoever built the place was unmistakably filthy rich.
Don’t forget I still had an enormous debt. For all I knew, they could’ve sneaked in a few days later to squeeze the money out of me. Nevertheless, I wasn’t an impulsive person.
I returned to the door most anterior and glossed over the text until I saw, “… Howbeit, life is not perfect. You can only choose one of the three rooms. If two rooms are opened, the three rooms will close. Please choose carefully. Please choose carefully.”
Thank heavens I wasn’t impulsive! Jiang Chen, you sly coot.
I had no comment on the rule. You know how it goes. If you had two wives, they may have gotten confrontational with each other. If you had three wives, they’d definitely fight. The idiom went, “Something is bound to happen when several women get together.” My shifu was a walking. I couldn’t stand his shamelessness, promising Matriarch Zi he’d marry her, too.
Speaking of which, I wonder if he’s finished his preparations. If he screws up, it’s going to be all-out war between our sects. All of their female disciples are going to be insulting us at every chance they get even if we’re not there. Hang on. Doesn’t that mean Lass Yu and Young Shiyi will have to fight? How do I intervene? It feels like I’m forgetting something… Oh, right, I was opening a door.
A bad shifu’s complex marital issues will distract you like that.
Let’s get this door open, shall we?
As I mumbled to myself, I mindlessly pushed the door opposite me, swinging it open.
Eh? Which door was this one? Eeeh?! Wrong door!
Eternal flame – A mythical flame that supposedly burns forever