[A bonus chapter provided by the author]
The meeting point between the desert and the ocean on the other side.
Since Shao Xuan disappeared into the ocean, Sapphire and its army would check for Shao Xuan’s return at the coast after dealing with the portion of the Golden Guards.
It was difficult for the people of Sky Wheel City. They had to flee every time the patrol team encountered the beetle army. This had happened a few times. They already knew that the beetles were carnivores, of course they’d run away or they’d be bug food. There was a sea of them!
Sapphire sensed that Shao Xuan was getting further and further away too, as the days passed. Fewer people visited the coast due to the insect swarm, even wild animals barely passed this region to avoid them.
Since food was scarce and they could not swim, Sapphire had to lead its army somewhere else for the moment. However, it still wanted to stay close to meet Shao Xuan if he returned.
The desert was now desolate after the war. The first city to fall was White Stone City, followed by others. Unowned slaves fled to other places to avoid being killed. As the desert was vast and the slave masters were busy at war, they could not spare more resources to recover the slaves. The slaves were too worthless to be worth spending resources on.
The blue beetle was hunting for food with its army. As time passed, the number of beetles joined the army too. Soon, there were fewer and fewer beetles living in animal pens. Their appetites were changing, along with their physical characteristics.
The battlefield after the war was the best place for them. They were the janitors of the desert, cleaning up the aftermath every time. Only bones and useless weapons were left behind.
They used to be the janitors of animal pens, now they were the janitors of battlefields across the desert.
Sapphire had been rolling dung balls for a long time, though it had changed a lot, this habit remained. After every sweep, it would collect random objects, roll them up in a ball and push it around. It would run around with other beetles, pushing it. Other than going underground to rest, they were usually on the surface, on the sand.
If the humans hadn’t fled the army of beetles, they would’ve seen the big blue beetle leading the army playing with a ball. It would use its hind legs to push it around while smaller black beetles watched.
A group of slaves were trekking across the desert with only a few pieces of cloth on them. They were fleeing the city due to the fighting between slave masters, they were all covered in dirt and wounds.
Half of them were the lowest-ranked slaves in the city, not yet owned by a slave master. Therefore, the slave owners had no power over them. These people were too weak to survive the desert. Fortunately for them, half were recognised by a slave master. While they were not strong, they could still fend for themselves like catch smaller animals to fill their stomachs.
There was a feeling of camaraderie between them. They had worked well together or they wouldn’t have escaped.
They couldn’t return after fleeing the city. There was some hope out there but if they returned, they would definitely be killed by the slave owners. They did not want to be cannon fodder in battle, nor killed. They just wanted to live.
These were men and women, some old and some sick. They had been on the run for a while so they were weak.
They settled in a place that looked like it had been long abandoned. Perhaps enough for one slave master but not more.
Some slaves had sought this place as a sanctuary on the run before them but somehow, only their skeletons remained here.
To their astonishment, there was a small spring here. Perhaps this was once an oasis but the underground spring shrank. The water became cloudy so it was abandoned.
Even the cloudy, muddy water was precious to these slaves. This was enough to keep them alive.
When they just arrived, they were terrified every day to see an army sent by their slave masters. Gradually, they were less worried as they did not see anyone else other than the occasional desert beast nearby.
One day, the sun was shining brightly high up in the sky, the ground was burning up in scorching heat.
They leaned against the walls, eyes closed, as they rested in the shadows.
Suddenly, a dark-skinned man with a stone spear sprung his eyes open. He leapt behind a broken wall, looking in a direction.
The rest saw him and grew alert. They also got up, looking in the same direction as they picked up random tools.
There was a group of people approaching. It was an army sent by the slave owners. Dust flew where the mounts passed. Although they were a distance away, the refugees could smell the copper smell of blood.
Everywhere this army went, all slaves who fled would be slaughtered, no matter which city they were from.
Standing behind the broken wall, the man peered at the other side with fierce eyes. His lean body remained stiff, holding the spear behind his back. His veins were bulging with how tensed he was. He looked like a desperate wolf, paralysed in fear.
He looked down when he felt a squeeze on his thigh. His youngest son, five years old, was clutching his leg with panic in his eyes.
“Don’t be afraid. Now, go back,” said the man.
A woman came over to pick the child up and gathered with the others.
In the face of an army of slave masters, the only way to live was to escape. The young men who could fight stayed while the rest packed their things to leave.
The slave masters were approaching. When they saw signs of slave activity in the abandoned oasis, the men roared, accelerating. All these were criminals, they should be killed!
Their roar sounded like rumbling thunder. The air grew tense and suffocating.
They were coming closer. On the other hand, those who were escaping hadn’t run far. They were too slow compared to the army.
The hoarse voice of the man standing behind the broken wall echoed. He intended to face the slaughterers himself but soon found the murderous horde had stopped. They slowed down as if braking suddenly, though the ones at the back struggled to stop, slamming into the row in front.
The slaves looked at each other when the army stopped. They were confused.
When they looked back at the army, then behind them, they were shocked to see something they would never forget.
There were tall sand dunes behind them. They saw something like bugs pushing big balls on top.
They had only been here for several days but the dunes were not thereIt was as if the sand dunes had appeared out of thin air.
These slaves did not know what the thing pushing a ball around was but the slave masters did. If you ever encounter the black ocean of beetles, you had two options: wait for death or run!
The leader chose the second option. Compared to the worthless slaves, they cared more about their own lives. Tugging on the reins hard, the leader on the mount turned to leave.
The roaring army suddenly turned around and left in a matter of moments.
The slaves who hadn’t run far saw the miracle. One of the older ones started to kneel and pray while the rest followed suit. They felt like the gods had saved them. If not, what was that? The sand dunes? And the thing pushing a ball around?
They never saw the slave masters again.
After a while, the people at the abandoned oasis finally saw the beetle army. The most prominent of them was the leading blue beetle, rolling a ball around.
In the face of such a swarm, everyone paled. They could give their all in a fight against slave masters but what could they do against a swarm of beetles?
Kill? How? It didn’t seem like they could escape, they were surrounded!
However, one of the elders was suddenly very emotional when he saw the blue beetle. He picked up a beast his son had hunted and ran into the ocean of beetles. The rest had not reacted in time to pull him back.
They were all stunned to see him run into the swarm as if it was suicide.
Sapphire had come here once. Why were there so few beasts here? Because the beetle army had been here before. Anywhere they had passed would be desolate for a while. This was also why the refugees could live such a peaceful life here.
Sapphire saw a human running over. It was about to wave a limb when the human knelt about ten meters away from it. He knelt towards it, then even tossed an animal towards them.
Since Sapphire wasn’t moving, the rest didn’t either, even though they wanted the meat.
It sauntered over and looked at the animal on the ground. It sliced a sliver of it and tossed the meat to its subordinates. It did not fancy meat like that.
The beast was suddenly covered by a wave of beetles. The person who gave the offering was stiff as if all the blood in him was frozen.
After tossing the animal aside, Sapphire looked at the person kneeling in front. Hmm, not aggressive, not violent. After some analysis, it made a conclusion-- not delicious!
At this moment, Sapphire sensed a battle happening somewhere far away. There was no time to deal with this person. It quickly called all the other beetles over to hurry to the battlefield, even leaving its ball behind. If they were too slow, the food left behind would be eaten by other animals!
The swarm of beetles followed it one by one and soon, the place was back to a piece of desolate desert and a dry bone. That was the animal.
There was another huge ball as tall as a human left behind, that was pushed over by the big beetle.
When he was sure they were gone, his blood thawed and he could move again. A young man rushed over to pick him up. When he got up and looked at the ball, they realised there were useful things in the ball!
Knives, swords, spears, animal hide clothing, bones, branches etc.
When the elder saw these, his eyes welled up in tears and he knelt in prayer once again. He felt like this was the reward given to them by the blue beetle.
They found a lot of good weapons and armour to protect themselves. Branches, bones and tarp were used to block out the weather.
The elder carved a drawing using one stone knife on the highest wall of the oasis every day as an offering.
The drawing was a beetle, standing upside-down. Above the beetle was a ball.