Chapter 6: The Stone Box
Translator: Mike Editor: Chrissy
The stillness of the night was lacerated by an abrupt piercing sound. Chu Feng's hands froze, preventing him from continuing whatever he was doing.
How could this gobbet of cubic stone make noises like this?
A crevice appeared on the gobbet.
Chu Feng gently rested the stone on the table, afraid of any unforeseen events that this might incur. Today had already been action-packed and full of eccentricity. He needed to be extra careful.
"A stone box!" Chu Feng felt ever so astonished.
This crevice had been blending with all the other grains on the stone, camouflaging itself as an insignificant marking. It only became a bit more obvious after it had slightly opened.
Previously, the stone box was hermetically sealed. Everything seemed like a unified entity. Additionally, with the help of the crowded stains and grains, one could hardly tell its true composition.
Who would realize that this was a cubic stone box? It was simple and unsophisticated, measuring only three inches in height and in width.
The secret had been revealed, and for better or worse, Chu Feng would have to eventually reveal its hidden enclosure. Since the stone box was so mystical, he was quite expectant. Who would have thought that a random gobbet of stone arbitrarily cast aside on a path would have such secrecy within it?
Chu Feng used a copper basin he found inside the tent to form a defensive barrier between the box and himself. He carefully widened the crevice, steadily opening the box.
The lid had been separated from the box. Nothing bizarre happened. Nothing dangerous was inflicted.
Chu Feng felt relieved. He moved even closer, studying the enclosure of the box.
He hoped that his expectation of revealing the sealed secret would not be thwarted.
The box had a puny internal space. The whole storage space was only a carved indentation. It seemed impossible to accommodate any brilliant pearls or beautiful jade.
However, it was not a complete void of nothingness.
Sealed in that indentation, there were three shrivelled seeds. They completely filled the space, leaving no room to anything else.
Chu Feng was very disappointed. He thought that this box found at the foot of Kunlun Mountain would be certainly carrying treasures of some sorts. He would have never guessed that all it had managed to store were three meager seeds.
One of the seeds was as black as a charcoal. It was shrivelled, and its shape was entirely deformed. It looked pathetic and lifeless.
The other one had a brownish look. It had an odd oval shape, but he bet this strange-looking contour was more likely due to pressure applied to its original form. It only had the size of a fingernail.
The final one looked relatively more normal in comparison to the other two. Apart from the wrinkles on its outer layer, it looked healthy and full. At least it was not flat. Its body was a perfect sphere.
This unexciting revelation put Chu Feng in a daze. Was this all that it contained? Was there anything apart from these shrivelled seeds? Not to mention the miserable states in which the two of them had already been. This was really a disappointing moment of revelation, and it was truly something entirely contrary to what he had fantasized.
To himg, it could only make sense if this stone box he found, which was meticulously made and secretly hidden at the foot of Kunlun Mountain, would contain something otherworldly, or something mystical. Perhaps it might have hidden even deeper something terrific, something sensational within it. Who would have thought the reality would be so bleak and so anti-climactic?
He put the seeds on his palm, observing and re-observing the seeds over and over again. Nothing really stood out.
How many years had this been hidden underground? It was hard to deduce. But judging by the fading markings and grains on this stone box, it was evident that this had been buried for centuries.
Was this the work of ancient craftsmanship?
If it was, the fact that the seeds had not rapidly decayed after exposing to aerobic cultures after thousands of years of burial was a miracle in itself, since many antiquated objects sealed underground would immediately become a wrecked waste after exposure to sunlight.
Chu Feng tossed and turned the seeds in his palm, yet he still failed to pinpoint their species. He was left clueless as to which three plants these seeds shalt correspond to.
He was somewhat speechless. Only moments ago, it was a fervent endeavor to a potential discovery of a timeless treasure. But just like the old saying went, "Man plans and God laughs", all quickly turned out to be a pointless fuss. Stupefied, Chu Feng stared blankly at those pathetic shrivelled seeds.
"I should try to grow them if opportunity allows," Chu Feng pondered.
However, the seeds had experienced hundreds, if not thousands, of years. He doubted the probability of success in growing them into a seedling, not to mention that two of them had already been in a pretty awful state.
"If anything could grow out of them, whether they're beans or vegetables, as long as they are not poisonous weeds, then they can well be classified as an ancient species," Chu Feng said in a self-mockery tone.
The starlit sky seemed to be much nearer on the highland of the plateau. The glimmering stars and the shimmering moon lit up this vast stretch of bareness.
In the dead of night, it became all the more still and silent.
Vaguely, Chu Feng heard a blaring roar from the direction of Kunlun Mountains. The roar echoed in the mountains, awakening him with a start.
The tent was miles away from the Kunlun Mountains, but the fact that the roar could be heard this far from its source was truly something astounding.
Evidently, turmoil and disturbance were happening in the mountains. The startling roars sounded nothing like the moans of the yak or the barks of the mastiff, thus it must mean that there were some other ferocious beasts on the mountain.
Slightly, the earth started to tremble, stirring up more and more upheavals in the area.
Some herdsmen were awakened. They piously prayed and prostrated themselves in worship of the Holy Mountain, babbling something inaudible.
"You don't seem to understand. This is our tradition, but tomorrow morning, you will have to leave," said one of the herdsman.
"Could it possibly be the Holy Beast? Has he been awakened?" asked another mid-aged man.
According to the Legend of Tibet, there had been a few ancient beasts indulging in deep slumber in the Kunlun Mountains. Some of them had infinite might that could favorably compare with the gods. They had the ability to banish devils and evil spirits. Some of them were also violent and ferocious, to the point where they could bring disasters to the world.
Not all of these sounded convincing to Chu Feng, but he didn't treat them all as some baseless whims either.
After all, he did witness a few rare beasts himself during his trip on the bronze mountain.
That golden bird of prey, for instance, had a wingspan of about six meters. This bird would well be known as the legendary Roc if it were seen in the ancient times.
That black yak with a body measuring over one zhang in length was even feared by some of the most ferocious animals, such as leopards and wolves. Its tremendous strength meant it could tremble the entire bronze mountain with a stamp. This extraordinary creature would likely be remembered as the Devil King Bull in the ancient times.
Most legends from the past were based on factual evidence, although exaggeration to various extent was, at times, inevitable. Creatures central to those tales tended to be deified as words were passed from mouth to mouth. Recounts then became apotheosis; stories became whimsical tales, completely divorcing from the factual reality. As such, Chu Feng supposed that these Tibetan Legends should more or less be the case as well.
At last, tranquillity was restored after midnight. The dreary beasty roars dissipated in the distant mountains.
The soft and glimmering moonlight spattered across the plateau, mitigating the unrest that had been sparkled.
The herdsmen seemed no longer unnerved by the commotion. They looked relieved as they left for their tents.
Chu Feng also strolled back to his tent, falling again into a deep and peaceful slumber.
Chu Feng set out on his homeward journey early in the next morning. He then flitted to a city in the west where he would then catch a train home.
This was the post-civilization era. Although the post-war civilization did not bring back the dazzling metropolis from the past, the change in lifestyle for most people was not a conspicuous one either. Various kinds of transportation ensured that long-distance travelling was feasible and convenient.
Days spent in the wilderness had rendered him accustomed to isolation and bareness. To him, the sudden return to a civil community seemed as different as if a lifetime had passed. He felt anxious and troubled.
For the past few days, Chu Feng had been completely cut off from the outside world. All means of communication had been rendered useless in the wilderness, so naturally, piles of unread messages and unreceived calls surged in as communication restored.
His parents urged him, again and again, to stay alert and be careful when travelling away from home. Besides, there were also messages from friends and schoolmates curious about when he would return.
Chu Feng replied to each one of them until he got on the train.
Apart from piles of snacks and light refreshment, not much was carried on-board with him. Most of the snacks would be gone by the time he arrived at his destination, he thought.
Having settled his luggage on the shelf, he started browsing through the headlines of some recent news on his communicator. Suddenly, he realized how staggering they were.
Fog had been the key word worldwide. Its spread was global. It also came in all kinds of colors too. For some parts of the world, it came with a familiar pale blue. As for other places, it shifted between crimson and purple.
Some people theorized that this might be a mutation triggered by the nuclear radiation left by the war.
But it was soon refuted. Many specialists assured to the public that everything was fine. The fog was naturally formed. Nothing would be affected after it dissipated, so there was no need to panic.
But in the public opinion polls, there was another voice suggesting the possibility of a mishap. They proposed that it could be similar to those that had happened in the past: similarly impactful and similarly widespread.
No-one dared to spare the effort to challenge this proposal. Everyone knew that mishaps had become a recurring theme of this post-civilization era. If this indeed turned out to be another one of those, at least no-one would be shocked or surprised.
"What on earth is this? A plant appeared in mid-air? How strange!"
A chubby-looking man seated himself not far from Chu Feng after the train's engine fired. Judging by his look, he should be at a similar age to him. He was a man of median height, rocking a rather impressive beer belly. He had a small, round, fleshy face and a pair of big ears. His eyes crinkled into a row of narrow lines as he smiled, just like a Maitreya Buddha.
He had a benevolent and kind countenance when he was not talking. His face always looked joyous, and the more one looked at it, the more it resembled to a Maitreya Buddha.
"This guy must be a favorite to many people," Chu Feng contended.
"Hey brother, where're you up to?" The chubby man took the initiative.
"The foot of Taihang Mountains," Chu Feng replied with a visceral smile.
"It can't be though, can it? Are we going to the same place? Where specifically?" the chubby man cheerfully spoke.
Who would have guessed? They were indeed sharing the same destination and even the same hometown. All of a sudden, both of them felt even more connected to each other.
The chubby man's name was Zhou Quan. The name's literal meaning made him even more trustworthy. He had been studying in the wilderness of the west for the past few years, and this time, he decided to come back to pay a visit to his old pals and his native places.
Chu Feng also noticed the news that Zhou Quan was talking about. It had been recently reported that many plants were seen eerily floating in mid-air.
"I just don't get it. Why would it suspend in mid-air, doing nothing?" Zhou Quan murmured.
Chu Feng had seen that piece of news as well. He was baffled too.
"Can these be some sort of bad omens that will up to a major event?" Zhou Quan rambled.
"Hope everything turns out to be safe and sound. This world has become more and more puzzling, and more and more miserable," someone else chipped in.
"Well, it'd better be safe and sound. I started to feel not at ease at all," said another neighbouring passenger.
This seemed to have struck a chord with many people.
The carriage suddenly bustled with chatters. Everyone seemed eager to air their own views.
Two hours in, Chu Feng and Zhou Quan had already started to know each other pretty well. All in all, they both came from the same town. This could well mean a special kind of sentimental connection established between them before they even met.
"A few days earlier, I heard from one of my relatives that he was informed by a Taoist priest that the world was about to change out of all recognition. I think a major mishap was perhaps right in prospect." Zhou Quan's look on his face made his words even more mystical.
"What could happen?" Chu Feng asked.
"Something unnatural, something beyond our understanding. The fog. The floating plant. See a pattern there? That's what I'm talking about," Zhou Quan said in a very secretive tone.
"I think you are being way too fussy about things." Chu Feng smiled.
"I'm serious. Don't you doubt me, man. That relative of mine has always been thorough and careful. He only says things he is sure about." Zhou Quan glared at Chu Feng.
Still unconvinced, Chu Feng gently shook his head.
Zhou Quan felt a bit discouraged. "Well, in fact, I don't really believe it either. That priest must have been on something. He didn't mention much about the "mishaps", but he did say that some of the mythological figures from the west were actually crop-like creatures. He said they were cultivated in farmland, growing in the same way as a potato."
Someone sitting nearby overheard the conversation just as he took a swig of water. Zhou Quan's tongue-in-cheek recount was just enough to make him spurt out his mouthful of watery content, spraying it at everyone around him.
"I don't know, man... This is just embarrassing." Zhou Quan hid his head in profound embarrassment.