The burly skeleton warrior looked at the taotie, then turned its head rigidly towards the stone gate.
Its mouth creaked, and several vague words were audible.
“Protect… intruders… eliminate…”
It slowly walked over to the stone gate, gripping the spear in its hands.
It looked as though it had just woken from a deep slumber.
Its movements were slightly awkward at first, but as it walked, its body seemed to grow lighter, and its movements also gradually grew smoother.
Eventually, it even began to run.
The other taoties rushed out from the mist.
They tilted their heads slightly when they saw their beheaded comrade.
They couldnt figure out why the strongest and fastest of them had suddenly been reduced to this.
However, their instincts quickly overtook their curiosity, and they began to gorge themselves on their comrades corpse.
After all, in Chinese mythology, the taotie was synonymous with gluttony.
They would eat anything they could find, and according to legend, it was so gluttonous that it ended up eating its own body, leaving only its head…
Everything was fine when Zu An and Pei Mianman first went through the gate.
The light filtering from outside was enough for them to see the way ahead.
In front of them was a wide and perfectly straight path, lined with several stone statues of various different animals.
Some of the animals were common, like horses, elephants, tigers, and camels, but the others had strange appearances, and neither of them could make out what they were supposed to be.
Zu An was afraid that there might be something strange about these stone statues, but they didnt seem to be giving off any signs of life.
To be sure, Pei Mianman burned some statues with her black flames.
As expected, however, there was no reaction at all.
The two of them relaxed their guard.
“These should be stone statues from ancient times,” Zu An postulated, “which probably means that there is a great tomb up ahead.
However, I dont feel like this is a tomb at all.
Our surroundings, and the stone gate earlier on, makes it seem more like a palace.”
“We can decide whether it is a tomb or a palace later.
Lets find a place to hide first.” Pei Mianman was still afraid of the taotie, and she really didnt want to have anything more to do with them.
“Okay.” Zu An knew as well that it wasnt the right time to ponder over this matter.
The two of them continued forward, and quickly found themselves faced by three bridges.
A winding brook murmured below them.
Pei Mianman was surprised.
“Theres actually water here.”
This place seemed to have been abandoned for a long time.
Many great rivers often changed their paths or dried up as centuries passed, and a small brook like this should have been no exception.
It was a miracle that it still continued to exist.
Zu An knelt beside the brook and dipped his hand into it.
The water was cold to his touch.
It seems like the sort that flows out from karst landform caves.”
“Karst landforms” Pei Mianman was perplexed.
She wasnt familiar with this terminology.
“They are cavities formed when limestone is corroded by groundwater, forming caves… You can just think of them as the caves with stalactites growing on them,” Zu An explained, still absorbed by his own thoughts.
“From the temperature of the water, we can conclude that this place is underground.
Could it be that stele sent us to this underground space…”
“Be careful!” Pei Mianman suddenly called out a warning.
Zu An had watched many videos about the animal kingdom, and there was no way he would approach any body of water without putting up his guard.
He saw a dark shadow rush out towards him, and nailed it to the riverbank with a stab of his sword.
It was an alligator, far smaller than a Nile crocodile, and more like a spectacled caiman.
“Are you okay” Pei Mianman walked over to him, still watching the water surface vigilantly.
She didnt know if Zu Ans clean and efficient strike had intimidated its companions or not.
The waters surface was completely calm, and there was no sign of any other crocodiles.
“Im fine.” Zu An pulled his sword back out and squatted down beside the crocodile to examine it.
“It seems no different from a normal crocodile, but its eyes have degenerated.
This is strange… Why does this place have so many carnivorous animals What do they eat”
This place really was full of unexplainable things, but he didnt have the time to think about it right now.
He stored the crocodile in his Brilliant Glass Bead.
Pei Mianman was shocked.
“Why did you store that thing”
“To eat it later, of course.” Zu An replied, as if it was the most obvious thing.
“We have no idea how long well be trapped here, and well have to eat something eventually.”
The strength and speed of cultivators far exceeded normal people, but their energy requirements were also much higher.
To put it simply, they needed to eat much more.
They had been getting into one fight after another continuously, and Zu An was already starving.
If they werent so pressed for time, he might have already roasted and devoured the crocodile.
There were many countries in which roasted crocodile meat was served, but he had never tried it before.
“Youre going to eat it Ill pass.” Pei Mianman had a strange look on her face.
As a woman, she didnt like to look at such nasty things, let alone eat them.
Zu An chuckled and didnt force the issue.
Either way, once they got hungry enough, it would look delicious all the same.
It was the same for him when he had first come to this world.
He hadnt liked the thought of mooching at first, but ended up enjoying it immensely in the end.
The two of them crossed the bridges and went inside some buildings.
It had grown darker as they got further and further away from the entrance, and it was even darker inside the buildings.
It was so dark that they couldnt even see their own fingers if they held out their hands in front of them.
The two of them already experienced the consequences of poor visibility, out in the fog.
Back then, they had fallen into a pit trap by accident, and neither of them was eager to repeat that right now.
Zu An ran through the things he had on him.
He subconsciously wanted to take out his magical flashlight to light the way, but remembered that it wouldnt light up without the presence of a light source.
Piece of junk!
While Zu An was feeling annoyed, a burst of light suddenly flickered next to him.
Black flames swirled around Pei Mianman.
Not only did it light up the surroundings, it made her look more beautiful too.
Zu An rushed over to hug her.
“Big Manman, you really are beautiful.”
Pei Mianman jumped in fright and quickly extinguished the flames, afraid that she would hurt him.
She quickly remembered that she had given him her pendant, which granted immunity against the black flames, and heaved a sigh in relief.
“Youre so annoying!” Pei Mianmans face reddened as she pushed him away.
“I saw several marks on the walls that could have been made by fire.
They may be braziers.
Let me see if I can light them.”
With a wave of her hand, a streak of black flame shot out like a snake.
It slithered across the walls, moving across the places that she remembered.
In a moment, fires burst into life one after another.
Those markings had been made by braziers after all.
Who wouldve known that there would still be oil stored within them after all this time
The light from the fires quickly lit up their surroundings reaching far into the distance.
The two of them looked around and saw that they were indeed within a magnificent palace.
The firelight reflected off something golden in the distance.
It was as if they had arrived at a capital city made out of gold.
“Is all of this gold” Pei Mianman was stupefied.
Massive golden pillars stretched out before her eyes.
If they managed to bring these back with them, they would be rich enough to rival a nation.
Zu An walked over to the closest wall and pinched it, then shook his head.
“Sorry to disappoint you.
Gold is rather soft, but this material is much sturdier.
Its probably brass.
You can check those braziers if you dont believe me.
The surface facing the fire should be covered in a layer of black.
That wouldnt happen with real gold.”
Metallurgy was quite advanced in the Shang Dynasty, thanks mostly to the discovery of copper smelting.
Both copper and bronze had a golden sheen when first forged, and only turned green after endless years of corrosion by water and oxygen, taking on the appearance of the ancient bronze artifacts that everyone was so familiar with.
Pei Mianman was greatly disappointed when she learned that all this wasnt gold.
“I got all excited for nothing.
Hm What is that”
Zu An had to give this woman some credit.
She was always noticing these clues before him.
They walked forward a little more and noticed many beautiful carvings on the walls.
However, the murals all seemed rather abstract, so he couldnt immediately figure out what they represented.
Words were carved around the murals as well.
Pei Mianman looked at him with great expectation.
“What do those words say”
These were written in the same strange and ancient oracle script, after all.
Zu An had deciphered the characters on the stele and the stone gate, so she thought that he could understand these too.
Zu An grumbled secretly. Do you take me for some archaeologist I was already pushing my luck, deciphering the simple oracle script from earlier.
Theres no way Ill know what those characters mean!
However, as he looked into her beautiful and expectant eyes, Zu An couldnt help but act all knowledgeable.
“Maybe a monster laid its eggs in a young womans mouth.
The infant monster incubated inside the young womans body, then it burst straight out of her body…”
The mural did depict a monster and a young lady, after all.
There seemed to be an egg-shaped object inside her mouth.
Then, the womans belly was shown to be enlarged…
He had just been making up nonsense, borrowing from the plot ofAliens, but the more he spoke, the more it seemed to match the contents of these carvings, as though what he said was actually the truth.
“Absolute nonsense!” a cold voice thundered.