One wild mouse was enough to excite the old man. Perhaps it was related to the ‘Thousand Grain Gold’ he talked about?
Shao Xuan did not wait, hurrying to catch up with the mouse.
The mouse was quick, but it stopped often between sprints. When it did, it would look around cautiously and if it did not see any threats, it continued running.
Shao Xuan could only borrow a few shrubs or taller grass as hiding spots. The plants here did not grow tall, it was difficult to find things to cover himself. Following the mouse quietly was even more difficult.
He could still overcome the various challenges to successfully catch up with the mouse. The old man was different, he wasn’t as good at hiding so all he could do was fall back further. At least he didn’t have to keep his eyes on the mouse because Shao Xuan was there.
After about twenty minutes, the mouse finally stopped. Shao Xuan saw the mouse nibbling on food not far away from himself, then waved for the old man to come over.
Although he did not recognise the plant, he was sure it wasn’t the ‘Thousand Grain Gold’ that the old man mentioned. This was a woody plant about a metre tall, bearing red fruit only as big as the nail of his last finger. The mouse was looking for this fruit.
As he watched the mouse savouring the fruit with its eyes squinted, the old man sighed, “It’s a pity.”
However, the old man hadn’t had much hope either. He knew ‘Thousand Grain Gold’ was a rare plant, he’d already had the mental preparation for this.
After it enjoyed its food, the mouse finally ran off in another direction. It stopped and ran in intervals once again, not as quick as before.
Birds smaller than common sparrows flew down from the skies to peck on the fruits.
Before the birds could finish all the fruits, the old man quickly ran forward to snatch a bunch for himself, then tossed them one by one into his mouth.
There was a protruding rock on the ground nearby. The old man sat on it, eating his berries while looking around him.
“You recognise this tree?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Nope, this is my first time,” said the old man.
Shao Xuan pursed his lips, then reached out to pluck a few berries from the short tree and tossed into his mouth. A little sweet, it tasted alright. No wonder that mouse was in a hurry.
When they hunted in the forest, if they came across strange plants, no matter how enticing the fruits looked, the tribal warriors would not touch them. Unless they saw other animals eating it, then they would taste a little and finally confirm if it could be added to their food list. However, this old man was obviously reckless because of his poison-neutralising abilities. Shao Xuan was sure that even if they did not see the mouse and birds, the old man would still have eaten the fruit.
“Old man, why do you want to taste all the different plants and flowers? You want to test their poisonous properties with your own body?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Yeah, not just poison, very beneficial medicinal herbs too. I have to taste them to know, there are so many plants waiting to be discovered. We’re the… Yi Race. Our ancestors have already tasted countless plants and inventions, everything we eat and use now stems from them testing it first. Knives, traps, beds, weaves, pillows, tea, wine, vinegar, sugar, oil… they were all tried and tested by our ancestors first!” his eyes shone with reverence and respect, he even stopped eating the fruit. Filled with emotion, he signed, “I’m the descendant of these people, I have made it my mission to continue their work, so their knowledge will live forever! Their work will be known for centuries!”
Even Shao Xuan felt proud as he listened to the old man talk so passionately, he was splattering spit. This man was serious about passing on the spirit of innovation, pioneering and self-sacrifice of his ancestors, and currently, his biggest goal was to find the ‘Thousand Grain Gold’ mentioned once in his ancestor’s records before he died.
“I don’t care if I see it just one time, I’ll be satisfied,” said the old man.
Ever since he saw ‘Thousand Grain Gold’ mentioned in his ancestor’s handwritten records, he hadn’t been sleeping or living in peace. Especially right now, droughts were prevalent and grain harvests were worsening. Not everyone was willing to hunt, there were many who were weak or worshipped peace- these people were used to foraging for food on land. Not many people were willing to enter the forest in the mountains to fight with the fearsome beasts. Plus, in these areas with high population density, there were already few beasts left to hunt. If you wanted to, you’d have to trek deeper.
The areas where the trees were denser were colonised by aggressive tribes. These people were not open to negotiations, any slight trigger would lead to violent fights- especially those people with horns. If he could find some plants that could be drought-resistant food, perhaps he could neutralise the current situation. Shao Xuan had mentioned praying for rain- there were people praying every year but nothing happened. As he thought about this, the old man grew angrier. He couldn’t believe these people called themselves the descendants of Yi Race shamans. They were so quick to accept offerings and gifts and yet had so many excuses when it came to praying for actual rain. A bunch of useless idiots!
After some rest, the two trekked ahead along the path, occasionally deviating into the forest.
Two days later, they still did not find the ‘Thousand Grain Gold’.
During these two days, the old man once again tasted random strange plants and was poisoned four times. One time, he bled out of every orifice and was a horrifying sight. Shao Xuan thought the man was going to die but after half a day, he was sprightly once again hurrying off looking for Thousand Grain Gold.
Shao Xuan could not help but be impressed by the Yi Race’s resilience towards poison.
Most of the time, Shao Xuan listened to the old man’s explanations with a few words here and there. He was often the listener. From his words, Shao Xuan guessed that the old man wasn’t from a tribe, he was from one of the cities led by the slave masters- he was a slave master himself.
This was Shao Xuan’s first time meeting a slave master like this one. The impression of slave masters were the ones he met in the desert, it was rare to meet one of a very different breed.
“Enough, I need to rest. You keep watch.” Steadying himself with a branch, the old man sat down leaning against the wall of the hill. “I’m old, I’m not like I was before. When I was younger…”
“Old man, no more ‘when I was younger’ stories, you should get some sleep. We’ll continue our journey once you awake,” said Shao Xuan.
Because of this old man, Shao Xuan’s pace had slowed down a lot, plus he wasn’t taking the shortest route either. It had been two days of walking but he did not feel like the vegetation around him was growing any denser. He wondered if he could see some forest within two days at this pace.
Since he had already agreed to travel with this old man, Shao Xuan would not abandon him halfway either. It was fine if he was a little slower, it wasn’t like he was in a hurry.
The land was considered barren here, he hadn’t seen any large animals in the area- though he had seen several human skeletons along the way.
Surveying his surroundings, Shao Xuan thought about the few useful plants the old man introduced that day. When he saw one, he would silently match it to his memory, revising the lessons learned that day.
As he was thinking, he heard a scurry. It wasn’t loud but from the sound and its rhythm, it sounded like the wild mouse he followed previously.
It was fine if it was just one but then he heard a few more.
Was this place a nest?
Shao Xuan stood up and looked towards where the sound came from.
Several mice from different directions ran towards one point. It didn’t look like they were escaping for their lives but more resembled the hunger the previous mouse displayed as it ran towards the fruit.
“Old man! Hey, wake up! There’s a situation!” Shao Xuan pushed the man’s head.
“What?” With Shao Xuan keeping watch, he took the rare opportunity of a worryless sleep. He hadn’t slept enough when he was woken up so he was quite confused.
Shao Xuan was about to tell him his observations but before he could speak, the old man was already straining his ears to listen. This was an acquired habit, any special sounds were enough to attract his attention.
With a shiver, the old man grew so excited he was no longer sleepy. He looked around, tossed the branch he was using as a staff aside, then climbed on the wall of the hill.
His field of vision was limited here, he needed to climb up somewhere higher. However, there were no strong trees nearby. After looking around, the fastest method was to climb up the hill.
“Sigh, slow down.” Shao Xuan was afraid the old man might slip and fall off the face of the hill so he stood guard below. At least he might be able to catch him if he fell out of excitement.
However, the old man was too emotional to care, all he wanted was to climb upwards. When Shao Xuan saw that he was struggling, he helped.
Once they reached the top, his radar-like eyes swept across the environment while his ears twitched to differentiate the important sounds from background noise.