That person quickly came to the bank, then did something in a patch of tall grass. Then Shao Xuan heard clicking sounds like ‘kata, kata, kata’.
Shao Xuan watched as that person tugged at some thick vines. With the clicking sound, the floating cage was now quickly pulled to the river bank.
As the trap approached the riverbank, the crocodile in the cage struggled more furiously. However, it seemed like this crocodile was much weaker than the ones he saw previously. Those crocodiles would not be trapped for such a long time.
One the trap was pulled up the bank, Shao Xuan could see the entire object.
It was a metal rectangular cage. On both sides were thick tree trunks tied to it so it would float in the river. There was a lot of seagrass on the trunk and the cage as camouflage. It was not clear if the camouflage was to trick humans or crocodiles. Some people were dumb enough to accidentally get caught in traps themselves. Perhaps it was because the crocodiles were not stupid. They might be very familiar with traps here so more disguises were needed.
Shao Xuan saw the person tug off all the grass tied to the cage then took a bundle of vines from a patch of grass. He tied the vines to a metal bar in the form of a loop at the end.
Then, the person opened the cage where the crocodile’s head was. There were three doors on the cage, he only opened the part nearest to the head. Then, he reached inside with the bar and the loop, pulling the loop through the crocodile’s jaws.
The crocodile opened its jaw wide, revealing more than a hundred teeth. It was protesting and couldn’t wait to bite this human to death.
The loop was a suitable size, plus the vine was strong and flexible enough for the job.
The person looped it on its mouth cleanly. Anyone less experienced might accidentally catch the loop on its teeth but this person did it in one go.
He opened the other two doors on the top of the trap. At the same time, the person released something on its four corners. The cage opened into a flat surface instead of a box.
Right now, the crocodile had lost its ability to bite. It did not have much energy to struggle anyway. So it pulled its last trick-- the death roll.
However, the rolling only made it worse. The vines became tighter with every roll. Without the cage, as it rolled more, the vines grew tighter.
To be safe, the person tied its jaws together with more vine.
Then, the person tied some large leaves on its eyes too.
The crocodile struggled much less once its eyes were covered. Many animals become less anxious in the dark, it was the same for this crocodile.
This person was very familiar with crocodiles.
The crocodile’s back limbs were tied up too.
Crocodiles crawled on land, most of their strength was in their hind limbs. The ones Shao Xuan previously met relied on their hind limbs to leap up at him. They had strong muscles throughout their body but they had even stronger hind limbs.
That was why tying up its hind limbs greatly limited its movement.
The crocodile no longer moved after this. The person looked at it for a moment then took out more vine to tie its jaws again. Most of its teeth were covered now. Shao Xuan knew that these teeth could easily hurt people even if they were just thrashing their head about.
That person was sweating now. After taking off his hat that resembled a crocodile’s head, a tanned, stubbly face appeared.
He kept the flattened cage in a spot then tugged at the vines tying the crocodile. Suddenly, he turned around towards Shao Xuan.
“You’ve watched for a while now. It should be time for you to come out, no?” said the man.
There was no anger, the tone was flat, maybe indifferent.
Shao Xuan didn’t realise he would be found. He leapt off the tree and walked over. His sword was hanging where the other person could see. Hiding a weapon would just threaten the other person. This person looked friendly enough. Shao Xuan did not want to offend him the first time they met.
This person’s eyes swept across his body, lingering on the sword. He did not try to hide the contempt he had for it.
“Which tribe are you from?” he asked.
“Flaming Horn tribe.” Shao Xuan did not hide his own identity because he had his guesses about who this person was. He had many questions, plus this person did not look gullible.
“Flaming Horn?” the man thought for a moment. “I think I’ve heard of it. It’s not nearby, is it?”
“Yeah, it’s far from here.”
“Your tribe’s far away, why did you come to such a dangerous place on your own? Are you training?”
“Looking for herbs?”
“Please don’t tell me you’re here to look for Gongjia Mountain too?”
Shao Xuan stared in surprise. He knew?!
“Really? And you came alone? To look for Gongjia Mountain?” That person looked at Shao Xuan as if he was biting off more than he could chew. There was just one message in his eyes--- you must have a death wish.
“Uh, are there many people looking for Gongjia Mountain too?” Shao Xuan asked curiously.
“Not many, but there are people. But they all died eventually,” the man said in a flat tone. There was no mockery or glee, just indifference.
“I’m Gongjia Heng.” He did not have to say much. A name was enough to reveal important information.
When he told Shao Xuan his name, his tone was filled with pride. The Xia people never hid their surnames, always proud of their name--- Gongjia.
So he was a Xia!
Shao Xuan wanted to ask more but the man added, “I’m a Xia and I haven’t found Gongjia Mountain myself, what makes you outsiders think you can find it? All you find will be death!”
It was no wonder Gongjia Heng was indifferent towards outsiders too. He did not mock them because even he could not find it himself.
“Many people came here looking for Gongjia Mountain?”
“Not many but not too few. I’ve been here for twenty years and met seventeen of you. Ten were Xia people, seven from other tribes. Nine died, five returned because they were injured, another three continued looking. I don’t know where they died.”
“Maybe they found Gongjia Mountain?” said Shao Xuan.
“Impossible! I can’t even find it, how could they?” said Gongjia Heng confidently.
This meant Shao Xuan was not the only one who deciphered the cloud patterns. There were not many of them though. However, finding the mountain was going to be more difficult than expected. If even the Xia people couldn’t find it, then it was an even smaller chance for an outsider to find it. These Xia people must be more familiar with the patterns and had more records with them.
Since everyone couldn’t find it, Gongjia Heng did not care if Shao Xuan came looking for it too. He gestured over at Shao Xuan. “Come help, I’ll share some of its meat with you later.”
Usually, once he caught a crocodile, he would not kill it here. He still had stock so he did not plan to kill it today. He would kill it a few days later when he finished eating his current stock so the meat will be fresh. That was why he merely had to drag it back.
The Xia people were good at casting and forging so they were strong. A forger had to have strong arms. That was why they were considered physically strong compared to many people. In the past, Gongjia Heng would drag the crocodile back on his own, sometimes with transport devices with wheels attached. However, there was a lack of equipment now so he could only drag it himself.
It was too time-consuming to do it on his own so he asked for Shao Xuan’s help.
“Here, you drag the tail, I’ll pull the rope…”
Before he finished, Shao Xuan lifted its tail and dragged the ten-meter long crocodile, already walking ahead. It looked so effortless Gongjia Heng did not finish his sentence.
“Your strength is… not bad at all.” Gongjia pulled on the rope too but realised he wasn’t helping so he let go, merely watching the crocodile. He watched for the crocodile in case it suddenly attacked. He was holding a huge bronze hammer in his hand so if it moved, he would just knock it out.
“Is this crocodile drugged?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Crocodile? Are you talking about this? Of course it’s drugged, or it wouldn’t be this quiet,” said Gongjia Heng. The bait in his trap had a sort of medicine that made the crocodile weak. It was very powerful too, enough to last at least half a day. After bringing it back, he would still feed it the medicine for a few days.
“Right,” said Shao Xuan, “How did you know I was there?” He was confident in his own skills and sure he had made no sound.
“I felt someone watching me.”
Shao Xuan recalled the scene and realised he must’ve been staring very hard when he watched too intently. Gongjia Heng could live in this place, unscathed, for twenty years- this meant his senses must be very sharp.