Shao Xuan wrote down all the cloud patterns he could decipher on an animal skin scroll, then drew the unsolvable ones on another. After tidying up, he slept for two days.
After his rest, Shao Xuan’s fog in his mind had cleared and he was much more energetic. When he heard voices in his yard, he thought of his plants and went to check.
There were five people including Taihe’s Quan Bai there. They were almost living here now, coming up the hill with Qi Qi and the rest every day to care for the plants. Most discussions were not held in the yard so they would not disturb Shao Xuan.
When Shao Xuan opened his door, he realised there were ten old men and old ladies squatting in his yard. Then there were more people standing outside, craning their necks.
Then, he looked at the seedlings. They were as tall as his knees now, green and healthy.
When they saw Shao Xuan, they all quickly stood up.
“How are things?” asked Shao Xuan.
Qi Qi replied, filled with confusion, “Only sixty-two left.”
There had been incidences of seedlings dying here too. In the beginning, Qi Qi, Quan Bai and the rest were about to give up. However, they realised not all were wilting, many were still healthy!
Someone recommended pulling out the wilting plants because they might be diseased. Leaving them here would infect other plants. At Taihe tribe, they couldn’t bear to pull them out but when more and more plants wilted, it was already too late.
After some thought, Qi Qi did not pull them out immediately. They had tried this on their other plots of land too but to no avail. That was why she left them there.
At least the sixty-two seedlings were still fine. More time passed and they did not show any signs of disease. Qi Qi’s worries slowly turned to delight.
Shao Xuan looked at the dead seedlings, indifferent. Sixty-two was already more than expected. He was still planning to cook the rest of the grains. Looks like that would have to wait.
The people from Taihe were deeply concerned with what Shao Xuan would say, afraid he might chase them away. They had tried their best to be civil here. Although Duo Kang had teased them a lot, they never fought. When they saw that Shao Xuan did not chase them out, Quan Bai started to relax. At the same time, he wondered why these seedlings could pass the ‘roadblock’. Were the seedlings different?
Then Quan Bai shook away that thought, Qi Qi’s seedlings died too. Shao Xuan did not have to give his own people faulty grains too.
Shao Xuan didn’t know either but he did not think much into it.
He walked into his house and had an idea. He opened the pantry where he stored food. It was near the back door and the kitchen was next to it. Shao Xuan only had to take the food from the pantry and then cook it next door.
He remembered that he hadn’t used his wok in the past few days because he was busy. He didn’t make any soup or boil anything. He had been eating dried meat for convenience as he worked.
Then, he remembered how he also had a fresh beast thigh he had saved other than preserved meat. He was planning to roast it. They had a bountiful hunt that day so he had to put it on the ground first. When he was about to start roasting the meat, he had an idea, then left the meat there to go study his cloud patterns again.
Then he never entered the pantry again.
Logically, an animal thigh that had not been preserved should be rotten by now. However, Shao Xuan did not smell anything.
When he opened the pantry door, he looked inside. Sunlight streamed into the room, he could see everything.
Shao Xuan looked on the ground. It was a pile of what looked like animal skin and protruding parts that looked like bone. The entire thing had sunken in and stuck to the ground.
Other than that, there was something on the ground.
Shao Xuan went closer to see something that looked like a root system on the thigh. They were very fine, off-white and looked like they could break off any moment now. However, something so fragile could come from beneath the ground, break through the animal hide, then on the other side, break out again to extend back into the soil.
It was a fierce beast’s skin! An average stone knife would not be able to break it!
However, it looked like the animal hide was now sewn to the ground. Shao Xuan tugged and it would not budge. It was strong. However, Shao Xuan did not plan to force it up. He used his short black knife to cut the animal skin. There didn’t seem to be any flesh underneath, just bone.
The thigh had been more than a metre long, yet now it was only skin and bone!
Where did the white roots come from?
Shao Xuan got up to look outside. There were only Thousand Grain Gold seedlings outside in his backyard next to the pantry. Even weeds did not grow there! Right now, with Qi Qi and the rest here, they had already pulled out all the weeds but what about before? There hadn’t been many weeds here either?
Shao Xuan gently touched the white roots with his foot, then left the house to study it. He wanted to see if there were any more of these roots.
Using his extraordinary vision, he could look underground. These roots were from the region where the seedlings were planted but most of the roots were also deep underground so he couldn’t see them clearly.
Another ten days had passed.
Qi Qi, Quan Bai and the rest were frantic. There were a few that looked like they were going to wilt soon. They were worried, wondering if it was a second ‘roadblock’.
Quan Bai even went back to Taihe to bring back some special fertilisers. They used processed animal waste, processed plant waste and these successfully slowed down the wilting. While the number of wilting plants did not increase, those that looked sick seemed to worsen. Even Quan Bai could not save them.
Sixty-two plants--- seven died in an instant. Qi Qi, Quan Bai and the rest were crestfallen, lamenting that it was such a pity.
However, after a few days, more plants wilted. Everyone panicked. What now?!
Shao Xuan went to look for more meat and did not clean his pantry. He merely put the meat on the animal skin where the roots were.
On the next day, when he checked, there was a new strand of root growing into the piece of meat.
The changes in the meat were very obvious. Every day, it would shrink until only the skin was left. More white strands appeared on top.
Other than three more wilting seedlings, the fifty-two seedlings seemed to be fine. QI Qi and Quan Bai both heaved a sigh of relief, though confused. Shao Xuan had not explained.
Shao Xuan was looking at the two pieces of animal hide in silence. Then, he prodded the roots with his knife.
“Thousand GRain Gold? You’re a picky eater!”
Days passed. More long, needle-like leaves grew on the plants. They grew longer and longer, swaying healthily in the wind.
After noticing the white roots, Shao Xuan would cut off some meat and put it in his pantry for observation. He had confirmed that they were from the plants. It was even possible all fifty plants were sharing the same root system.
There was a huge gap between houses on the hill here, and no one would randomly toss out large pieces of meat. This only happened because Shao Xuan had forgotten about it.
As long as Shao Xuan stopped providing a supply of meat, something would happen in the backyard and the farmers would panic.
In the end, Shao Xuan told Qi Qi about his discovery, bringing her into the pantry to show her the stuff the seedlings ‘ate’ and the white roots.
“Perhaps some kind of fertiliser can help but at the moment, this is the only way,” he said as he pointed at the animal skin.
Qi Qi was surprised. Just as Shao Xuan was talking about how it was such a waste of effort and time, she cried in excitement, “This is amazing!”
The meat supply was not a problem. It wasn’t winter and a lot of meat was brought back from every hunt. They could eat less but not the plants! Right now, there were forty left and Qi Qi did not want to see them die.
Meat? More! More! More!
After Quan Bai knew, he was even more excited than the Flaming Horn farmers, always reminding that if there wasn’t enough meat here, Taihe could bring some over1
Shao Xuan did not agree to let Quan Bai bring meat over because he had enough. However, Shao Xuan secretly thought that he wasn’t going to plant this ever again, this plant was such a picky eater!