Shao Xuan sat in a remodeled bus and looked at the multitudinous mountains outside the window. Summer Solstice had just passed and the mountains were brimming with greens that burst with life. Seeing such a scene after living long in the city made his mood—despondent due to failures—quite brighter. Initially, Shao Xuan planned to call up a few friends for a journey far away to unwind his heart, but he didn’t expect to come across his fellow townmate and classmate who studied archeology, Shi Qi, who then pulled him over for an archaeology trip.
Now, they were heading towards a relatively remote small mountain village. It was said that things of the Stone Age were discovered there. A batch of people had already set off for that location, and currently, they were in the second batch.
Shao Xuan listened to his classmate start from the primitive humans’ skull, to the stone tools they used, to the murals on rocks. He even took out a few pictures and explained them in detail—the researchers did this and that . . . after drilling in, it was hard to pull it back out . . . Although Shao Xuan didn’t understand a thing, he still gave face to him and listened attentively.
On the paper were murals that archaeologists had discovered. Shao Xuan glimpsed at them, and felt they were no better than his nephews’ and nieces’ who had yet to even enter kindergarten.
The lines on the drawings were rather simple—for most of them, one could tell they were people who held tools for hunting, as well a few drawings of various species of animals. For the rest, however, he did not have a clue what they were.
“This is a drawing of a goat? But this goat drawing is too big,” Shao Xuan said as he pointed at a picture.
On the picture, the drawing was a goat with a very long and large curved horn. By its side, there was a person holding a bow and arrows. Yet, the ratio did not seem normal. The head of the person reached only up to the goat’s back. A few other pictures were the same: a rabbit’s body proportion was akin to a lion, and on the left, there was even a picture of a horse, though its tail was drawn perhaps a bit too short.
Of course, not every single drawing’s ratio was like that. The different era’s mural styles discovered in different provinces were all distinct. At the back, the ratios were drawn a bit more like reality. On the drawings, you could even see a group of people bringing dogs for hunting.
He continued flipping back, and found several coloured drawings, giving an even clearer look to them.
“Hoh, this drawing is even more ridiculous. The antler is too large! And this person . . . The person in the drawing just now only reached the goat’s back, yet in this drawing, the person only reaches the height of this deer’s leg! What’s that in the bottom-right corner . . . An eight-legged alligator?!” Shao Xuan could not admire the style of the primitive humans’ drawing.
“They may not have put much emphasis on things like these,” Shi Qi explained.
“You mean that when they draw, they did not have any realism in terms of proportion, and instead used exaggerated methods?” Shao Xuan asked.
“It should be like that.” Shi Qi scratched his head. “After all, in that time period, humans were not too educated in beauty. The drawings may only represent some sort of symbolic meaning. There was once a researcher who, when studying the murals, hypothesized that the reason why humans back then drew these hunting-related murals on cave walls or boulders was to let the tribe’s hunters or warriors have an idea in their hearts before heading out. Or, perhaps there was a ceremony we don’t know of—especially so for the murals drawn by those ‘shamans’.”
“Shamans huh . . .” In Shao Xuan’s mind, an image of a very odd and old swindler appeared.
“Ahh, why do you have such a face? Let me tell you this: ‘shamans’ back then did not necessarily hold low positions in human tribes. Quite oppositely, it’s very possible they held high ones.”
“I know. Swindlers, right?” Shao Xuan nodded.
Shi Qi waved his finger left and right, then took out a folder. In it were some copies of scanned drawings. As he pointed at some of the drawings and characters, Shi Qi said to Shao Xuan, “If the appearance of totems is humans’ personification of nature and their own collective unity, that means the thoughts of shamans are humans’ naturalization. The occupation of ‘shaman’ has actually already appeared in the Stone Age . . .”
Shi Qi then started to talk about the development of the occupation of “shaman” from the ancient times to the present ones—without caring about Shao Xuan. The usage of specialized jargon and even quoting various classics and works, causing Shao Xuan who was listening to have a headache.
Shao Xuan did not have too great of an understanding in that field, nor did he feel interest. If he didn’t have an old townmate and classmate who studied archaeology, Shao Xuan would have simply not bothered knowing anything of those things. Before, when he heard people talk about archaeology, he immediately thought of those priceless antiques. However, the direction of study Shi Qi took was simply more antique than antiques! It was so ancient that not many people felt interest towards the topic. Several days ago, Shao Xuan was even listening to the broadcast’s discussion on whether “Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” was correct, or “the hypothesis on ‘aliens created life-forms’” was correct. Since he had nothing better to do, Shao Xuan gave it a listen. After doing so, he put it aside and did not study it any further.
On the contrary, Shao Xuan knew he had interest in ancient human species from a young age. Back then, during middle school, he often had discussions with others regarding several excavated yet disappeared ancient human species remains in recent modern history.
“You won’t understand if I speak professionally, so I’ll go simpler! Look!” Shi Qi used his finger to point at a map on a certain location. “‘Shaman’ is mentioned in ancient inscriptions on things such as cow bones, turtle shells, and bronze. But, it’s like this . . .”
Shao Xuan looked at the place Shi Qi pointed towards. It was a symbol, looking akin to the interweaving of two “work” (工) characters.
“On a few ancient potteries and statues, this double-work symbol has appeared. On that topic, shamans also affected areas such as hunting, praying, and rescuing. Looking at it in certain perspectives, ‘shamans’ can be counted as the scientists of that time. However, all of this is speculation. Even if it’s records from ancient times, they may not be true. After all, they loved to exaggerate. Isn’t there a saying that goes ‘There is never truth in history.’? Archaeology is merely digging up a few corners and edges. As for the truth, who knows.
“The discovered cave this time is also related to ‘shamans’. The final few pictures you saw were the murals the first batch of people sent back. In the cave, the double-work symbol was also discovered. So, we can speculate that it may be a certain ‘shaman’’s residential area. Last month, a brief earthquake occurred in that village’s region. Most likely, due to that, this cave was exposed. Before the earthquake, not a single person had heard of it.”
When he spoke up to there, Shi Qi closed the folder and carefully looked at his surroundings. Seeing that the instructor and other students were not paying attention at them, he lowered his voice, and secretively said to Shao Xuan, “I’ve heard the first person who discovered the cave was a child. Moreover, from a fellow student’s news, the child who discovered the cave saw a strange watermelon-sized insect crawling out from his courtyard’s wall. Children have great nerves, so that child followed the insect. In the end, it disappeared at the cave; the child went back, notifying adults, and only then was the cave discovered.”
“Watermelon-sized insect?” Shao Xuan felt it to be ridiculous. Regardless of who, when they heard that the first time, they would think it was overly fake. “That child lied?”
Shi Qi shook his head. “The strange thing is, according to the first batch of people who went there, that there are ancient life-form fossils in the rocks used to construct the courtyard’s walls.” Shi Qi paused, rubbed the goose bumps on his arm, then continued, “There are fossils of ancient organisms in the rock which spawned a watermelon-sized insect, as shown by the child who discovered the cave. However, it was not complete. It was only a portion of the remains. But even so, according to the researchers’ theories, if that organism were still living, it could indeed be as big as a watermelon. Moreover, its appearance would also be quite close to the child’s descriptions.”
“ . . . It sounds incredible; however, was the child the only one who saw it, and others didn’t see insects crawling out of their walls?” Shao Xuan was a bit drawn in.
Shi Qi shook his head. “I don’t know. Let’s go ask in a while when we get there. We’re almost there anyway.”
When the group of people arrived at their destination, it was already noon, 11 o’clock. Shao Xuan followed Shi Qi and the others and ate a simple lunch, then returned to the bus.
Shi Qi and the others were already impatient. After eating, they did not rest and planned to immediately start working.
Shi Qi had already told Shao Xuan the things he needed to pay heed to: which things couldn’t be touched, which places couldn’t be gone to, who to find when he needed someone, etc. Shao Xuan had a plan in his heart.
“I’ll talk to you after work today. Take a scroll by yourself for now! The scenery in this place is quite nice: green mountains, blue skies and waters . . . Clean out your lungs after staying in the smoggy city!”
After speaking Shi Qi took his tools and followed his instructor. Shao Xuan was not allowed in that place, but he did not have much interest going there regardless.
Only Shao Xuan was left in the bus. After closing the windows and doors of the buss, it was fairly quiet. In the past few days, Shao Xuan hadn’t gotten good sleep, and on the road, he was listening to Shi Qi’s narrations. Now that it was silent, he was sleepy.
When he woke up, it was nearly 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Shao Xuan planned to head out for a walk. Just as he planned to do that, he saw Shi Qi in work clothes walking over. He went in the buss and grabbed a document. Afterwards, he continued to hurry over and work.
However, before leaving the bus, Shi Qi took out a chicken egg–sized stone and threw it to Shao Xuan. “I picked it up from the cave, and as they weren’t paying attention, I grabbed it. It shouldn’t be anything important. I cannot give you ‘antiques’, but regardless, this stone was still found in the cave. It even looks quite smooth! Someone probably threw it over there, but I’ll give it to you as a remembrance.”
The stone was found near the cave entrance, and was some distance away from the core of the cave. The quality of the stone was also clearly different from the other objects dug out, and there lacked any marks on it. So, the people who came in the first batch focused on the murals and Stone Age’s “antiques”. No one cared about the piece of stone near the cave entrance, and for the sake of amusement, Shi Qi smoothly obtained it.
After catching the thrown stone, Shao Xuan looked at it carefully in his hand. The feeling of it was no different from other stones—dark-green, chicken egg–shaped, a rather sleek surface, as if it were polished carefully. There was nothing odd at a first glance, and even though it wasn’t any “antique”, it was decent as a small toy, or as an ornament.
Shao Xuan did not mind it. After playing around with it in his hands for a while, he felt that the stone could not be warmed up. After a dozen or so minutes in his hands, it was still quite cool. Thinking about it, Shao Xuan took out a lighter and used fire to burn the stone. Logically speaking, the places that the flames came in contact to should be slightly scorching. But the reality was after burning, it was still as cool as before.
Sweeping his gaze at his surroundings, Shao Xuan took a fruit knife from the table and laid a piece of paper. He planned to use the knife to scrape off a few bits and take it to the archaeology bus and ask someone to help him examine it. However, after scraping the stone with the knife, not even the faintest of traces were left behind. There was not even a scratch from jabbing it with the tip of the knife.
Cannot be heated by fire, cannot be marked by a knife . . . It was truly an odd stone.
Shao Xuan walked down the bus with the stone, planning to let Shi Qi look at it carefully later.
The bus stopped at a fairly close distance from the village. It was just that the road was not too suitable for walking.
Some of the villagers in the village had went to work, and those a bit more leisure went to the newly discovered cave for the liveliness. As such, when Shao Xuan entered the village, he only saw a few people walking around.
Around the village was a two-meter tall wall made from rock and dirt. It was said to be built several dozens of years ago for protection against wild beasts. The rocks came from the mountain; however, there weren’t many large beasts recently, so no one paid any more attention to the stone wall.
Glancing at it, he could see the wall’s large pieces of rocks. It had a long history, bringing about a feeling of desolation.
Shao Xuan played around with the stone in his hand, his eyes staring at it. Hearing about the discovery of ancient organism fossils in the walls’ rocks, Shao Xuan recalled the “watermelon-sized insect” Shi Qi spoke of.
He was just planning to shift his gaze away when suddenly, Shao Xuan saw a snake-like thing appear on the wall. It was even squirming around. As thick as a small water tank, and its scale-like patterns emitted a cold glint. It was several meters away, but Shao Xuan felt a chill go down his spine, and all his hair stand on end. It frightened him so much he almost leaped into the air. Yet, when Shao Xuan blinked and looked back, he discovered absolutely nothing. The rock wall was still the broken rock wall that took many years of beating from the weather.
Shao Xuan looked at the other places of the wall. Afterwards, his line of sight fell upon a hole in the wall. There was a large rock over there, left behind after the wall at that area collapsed. The small parts were taken by the villagers back home to build their own walls, the larger ones were left, untouched. And, at that moment, Shao Xuan saw a green-coloured sprout pop up from the rock. The sprout quickly bud leaves and grew tall. At the same time, several vines extended outward towards all directions. The initially three-meter tall hole was instantly veiled by the vines and leaves. A fragrance belonging to plants even permeated the air.
Shao Xuan took several steps back, breathing deeply. Focusing his eyes and looking back, he discovered the vines and branches had disappeared. The rock wall was same as usual, but the ground was full of the large smooth stones.
Feeling some strange movement in his hand, Shao Xuan looked down at the stone.
The stone that could not be heat up nor could be scratched became sand in a split moment. They slipped through the gaps between Shao Xuan’s fingers
When the final speck of sand fell, Shao Xuan’s vision went pitch-black.