“Tread lightly.”

Shi Qin had been given that advice, and that advice only, when the map had been sold to him. The old man claimed that he’d been an architect for Emperor Gaozong’s tomb, and had let the map go for surprisingly little. Shi Qin had asked for advice in getting inside, and that was all the architect would divulge.

“Tread lightly.”

The map was simple and clear enough, and Shi Qin had found the hidden tomb without much difficulty. He had come alone, as a scout, before attempting to bring in any confederates, bearing only a torch and his wits.

“Tread lightly.”

Repeating the advice to himself seemed pointless as the floors were made of solid stone. It wasn’t until Shi Quin saw glinting in the distance that he thought of anything but the old man’s utter foolishness.

“Tread lightly.”

It wasn’t a warning; it was a prophecy. Shi Qin could scarcely believe his eyes. At the lowest room of the tomb, Emperor Gaozong’s sarcophagus stood surrounded on all sides by a floor of clear and polished silver. The torchlight was magnified and spilled into an elegant twilight, while Shi Qin could only wonder at what riches lay within the emperor’s casket if he had used such silver for the floor.

“Tread lightly.”

The first step onto the silver surface was Shi Qin’s last. With all his weight forward, he was unprepared for his foot to simply slip upon the silver surface entirely. The floor was not silver; it was mercury, pure liquid mercury, and there was no way to get any purchase on its quicksilver surface. Shi Qin had a thought to scrambling back the way he’d come, but instead he flailed about, trying to worm his way across to the coffin.

“Tread lightly.”

Instead, all Shi Qin managed to do was break the surface of the liquid, which began to close in around him. Struggling made him sink faster, and within a half-hour there was no sign on the shining surface that anyone had ever been there, as Shi Qin sank to the bottom of the mercury lagoon, to join the others there, forever preserved.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!