Shao Xuan had no hopes of the old man changing his habit of ordering people around either. Perhaps he’d been doing this all his life, it would be hard for him to change now. It was probably hard for him to say the word ‘help’ too.
When he saw how emotional the old man was, Shao Xuan looked towards where he was pointing at.
It was another bunch of plants growing on the walls of the hill. This plant looked very normal- no special patterns and similar to the grass around his feet- but its leaves were slightly narrower and a little longer.
“What plant is this? What’s it for?” asked Shao Xuan.
“I don’t know.”
“...If you don’t know, what are you getting all worked up for?”
“That’s why I’m getting all worked up! Because I don’t know!” the old man stared intently at the spot where the plant was, shooing Shao Xuan, “hurry up!”
Shao Xuan shook his head, deciding against arguing with the old man. However, going up the hill to pluck some grass was just a moment’s work for him. It wasn’t difficult, he didn’t need to hesitate. Just like before, Shao Xuan dug up the plant with the old man’s knife and tossed it over.
Other than common herbs used in the tribe, plus some plants written in the records, Shao Xuan did not recognise other plants. There were even more plants he didn’t recognise after crossing over to this side, he didn’t know what was so special about this one and waited to see what the old man was going to do.
The old man was studying the plant intently. After a few sniffs, he cut off a leaf, then nibbled on the blade to taste.
“Does it have a taste?” asked Shao Xuan.
The old man shook his head. “It’s tasteless. This is odd, it doesn’t even have the smell of regular grass.”
“What do you think of it?” Shao Xuan asked again.
“What do I think? It feels… like something is wrong,” commented the old man.
Something feels wrong and you’re still eating it?
Shao Xuan watched as the old man ate the entire leaf. Then, his face contorted- not the kind when resulting from pain, but the uncontrollable kind. His face turned a shade of grey-green.
“Spit it out!” said Shao Xuan hurriedly. He looked around, snapped off a branch and ripped off the bark. He was going to help the old man regurgitate the plant.
The old man, whose face was quickly turning grey, saw Shao Xuan about to stick the twig at his throat. Knowing what Shao Xuan was about to do, he turned his head to dodge the twig and shoved him. “Go away!”
Shao Xuan was stunned for a moment before he understood. The old man wanted him to go away, as if he was IN his way.
Fine, I’ll go. I’m not the one who’s poisoned right now, I don’t care.
He thought the old man would start to attempt to regurgitate the plant or use some antidote to save himself. However, the old man’s next move shocked Shao Xuan.
The old man’s face was pale as ever, the wrinkles in his face cutting deeper from the contortions of pain. His features were squeezed together, it was obvious he was in a lot of pain. He forced himself to take two steps, then sat leaning against the hill.
“Sigh, old man, are you really alright? Do you want something to neutralise the poison?” said Shao Xuan.
The old man did not speak, only waved his hand weakly and then sat, unmoving. He did not speak either. With his eyes closed, other than the slight movement of his chest, he looked dead at first glance.
His breaths were growing weaker.
Shao Xuan glared at the man. Was he looking for death?
Eating a random plant you haven’t seen before, then refusing to puke it out. The poison’s going to remain in his system, he was going to die! Did he think his life was too long or something?
Suddenly, he realised black patterns were forming on the old man’s body like growing vines on his face and shoulders. Any parts that were not covered by clothing were now covered in black patterns.
A ball of fire appeared in his mind, this was the source of energy for the old man’s body. However, the difference was that there was a blurry silhouette within the fire, like some plant. He couldn’t see it clearly amongst the flames.
Blue and red flames flickered together but showed no signs of weakening, instead growing stronger. The shadow seemed to be protruding from the ball of fire, like a small shoot, grew.
He looked at the totemic patterns on the old man, his black tattoos gradually turned a bright green. The paleness in his face slowly subsided too. Death was chased out, replacing with a strong breath of life.
When the greenness in his face was completely gone, and his tattoos faded, everything returned to normal. If you looked at him now, no one would’ve known he almost died from eating some poisonous plant. If it wasn’t for Shao Xuan personally witnessing the course of events, he wouldn’t know either.
It was no wonder the old man was so calm, even shoving him away so strongly. So he had a way to save himself. Shao Xuan calmed down.
The old man heaved a long sigh and opened his eyes. He studied the blade of grass in his hand, which he still hadn’t put down, his eyes shining.
As he watched the old man keep away the grass so carefully, he asked, “Are you really alright?”
“I’m fine, it was just a little poison,” said the old man nonchalantly. The casual tone as if he didn’t take the brush with death to heart.
Perhaps it was because of his abilities. Other people would’ve died already.
“Ever since entering the mountains, I have already tasted more than a hundred types of grass. Some were poisonous too, this one isn’t the most poisonous plant I’ve tasted,” said the old man casually.
When he saw the delight in the old man’s eyes, Shao Xuan, who was going to give a compliment, swallowed his words.
The old man thought Shao Xuan was going to react in awe but he waited to no avail. When he looked up, he realised Shao Xuan had already walked off. He quickly caught up, even giving more instructions to pluck more plants for him. He’d seen many foreign plants before meeting Shao Xuan too but he couldn’t pluck them, especially not after he’d broken an arm so he’d given up. Now, it was a breeze with Shao Xuan helping him.
And because of the old man, Shao Xuan did not take the shortest route. They even crossed over mountains just to forage for some plants. While the general direction did not change, the journey took longer.
Shao Xuan collected several types of medicine and poison for the man, learning a lot about plants along the way. It was a rare opportunity to meet someone who could listen to himself talk, hence the old man grew increasingly excited and started to talk about the distribution of each type of herb. He’d travelled far, he knew a lot.
Not only did he learn about different types of medicinal plants, but Shao Xuan also learned about their distribution across tribes and cities. In conclusion, this trip was still worth the trouble.
The old man told him they could predict the plants in the area by looking at the flying insects, for example what changes the plants are undergoing based on the habits of different insects. This saved him a lot of time if he was looking for something.
“Of course, other than flying insects, you can also predict using the animals around, like…” the old man was about to point at a small bird when his ears twitched. His eyes flashed, dropping the subject of the bird, he looked in a direction and gestured for Shao Xuan to remain silent.
Shao Xuan turned in the same direction. It was an area of short grass, the densest grass in the area.
Behind the tuft was a grey-white animal that looked like a mouse. After listening for movement around it, it finally peeked its head out. The animal sniffed the air, then charged out.
“Quick, quick! Follow it!” the old man whispered hurriedly, attempting to suppress his excitement.