Gongjia Heng lived on a hill not far from the river. The hill was visible from the riverbank since there were not many hills around.
Shao Xuan probed and asked a few questions along the way, Gongjia Heng answered his questions- unless they were about Xia secrets. Gongjia Heng didn’t mind the questions and especially loved talking about wares he had cast and forged before like large ceremonial cauldrons, spears, swords. He spoke with confidence and pride.
To the Xia people, they called themselves the second-best in casting and forging. No one in this world dared call themselves the best, and if anyone could be called the best, it would be one of the Xia people.
Just as Gongjia Heng was praising himself, he was still alert for his surroundings. Although his expressions and speech looked like he was relaxed, he was still able to react immediately when there was a slight movement near them.
A gigantic worm with many legs shot out of the grass, taller than the both of them even though it wasn’t standing. On its head were two antennae and two pincers gnashing at Shao Xuan and Gongjia Heng. There was a huge, half-rotten tree laying horizontally before it but it would not be able to stop this worm.
Before Shao Xuan moved, Gongjia Heng, who was still showing off some wares he had once made with a grin, suddenly leapt up. He brought down his arms like the wind, a powerful surge of power travelled from his arms into the bronze hammer and crashed down unto the worm’s head. There was a gust of wind from the impact.
The worm, still waving its pincers, suddenly had a dent about half a meter deep in its head. The exoskeleton wrapping its head was now cracked and an olive green liquid sprayed out.
Such a powerful strike was still not a fatal blow to the giant worm. It merely got more agitated and thrashed about but the hammer flashed by and like the wind, it was smashed down again. It sounded like the skies would shake.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
The cracked outer shell, under a rain of hits from the hammer, finally burst open with green liquid. In just a few blinks, the terrifyingly aggressive worm was suddenly motionless. Its head was just crumbs and pulp now.
When the hammer left its head, it was now dancing and swaying between Gongjia Heng’s hands. A bronze hammer of five hundred kilogrammes looked so light in his hands as if it was nothing.
Some people looked terrifying with their muscles but in reality lacked actual strength. However, Gongjia Heng, as a Xia person, had muscles filled with true power as his skin was etched with totemic cloud patterns.
He was a blacksmith!
Gongjia Heng shook off crumbs from the worm’s exoskeleton and the green liquid off his hammer then turned to walk with Shao Xuan.
“Where was I? Oh, right, a slave master with the surname Chao requested for me to make him a sword…”
With a grin on his face again, Gongheng Jia picked up where he left off as if bashing a worm into pulp was just an ordinary day.
Shao Xuan carried the ten-metre long crocodile easily to where he lived. There was a cave at the foot of the hill where he stored goods like food, random tools, stoneware, bone ware, metalwares etc.
However, Gongjia Heng did not live inside. He built a stone house outside a cave for himself. There was not much room to sleep inside though, about two-thirds of the house was used for forging.
Along the way, Shao Xuan noticed Gongjia Heng had set many traps around this area to protect himself from fearsome beasts within the forest. Even if they couldn’t protect him, they served as alarms.
“I live here,” Gongjia Heng said, pointing at the cave and the stone house.
Shao Xuan put down the crocodile and looked around as Gongjia Heng gave him a tour. Gongjia Heng was very passionate about it, probably because he rarely had visitors over. After looking at the food he had, he felt somewhat embarrassed to serve his guest with it. They were alright as food for himself but as a person who loved his face, after praising himself so much along the way, serving Shao Xuan such food seemed very underwhelming. The entire place was also very simple so he could only impress Shao Xuan with food. That was why he planned to slaughter the crocodile today and cook it.
As Gongjia Heng slaughtered the crocodile, Shao Xuan looked around at the things he had in the cave. Gongjia Heng did not try to hide them either, however the things in his stone house were still kept private- it was where he did his forging, he could not show his equipment to outsiders. Shao Xuan did not mind.
The cave was a little dark and deeper than he expected. Shao Xuan lighted a torch as he ventured deeper. He looked around. There were all kinds of tools, plants and fruits here. From the way these objects were strewn around, Gongjia Heng had been living here for a long time. He had mentioned he’d been living here for about twenty years.
After taking a look around, Shao Xuan walked out of the cave.
“I was just twenty years old when I deciphered the Xia patterns. I came here to look for Gongjia Mountain,” said Gongjia Heng as he cleaned the crocodile. The ‘Xia’ patterns he meant were the special cloud patterns Shao Xuan had seen on the cauldron.
“It’s a pity I still can’t find the place after twenty years. I decided to live here and every year I leave to look for it again. When I can’t find it, I’d come back here.” Gongjia Heng told him about the sufferings he had gone through all these years. At the same time, he wanted to give this young man some advice to not bite off more than he could chew. It would be too late for regrets.
He had been searching for twenty years. It was no wonder he did not mock the people who came looking for the mountain too- because he was the same. The only fortunate thing was that he was still alive and he hadn’t given up.
“It took me a while to get used to this. The tools I used to use were mostly gold and I used to eat better food. However, after coming here, all I could do was do my best to adapt.” Gongjia Heng had learned a lot of forest survival skills from the tribes after living here for many years. He used vines to replace ropes and metal locks, learning how to distinguish between different vines suitable for different purposes, making straw rope out of them. He had worn down most of the golden tools he brought when he came here so when he lacked materials, he helped the tribes in the forest forge tools in exchange for materials. Either that or he would get them to trade with the people from far away.
Gongjia Heng was different from the tribesmen, he had lived in a city ruled by slave masters for twenty years. As a Xia person with natural talents in forging, he lived well there. He had many people idolising him- especially the slave masters who had a weapon they wanted. They would heavily reward him for them. However, living here was different. The strategy he had to survive was to be nice to the tribesmen because he needed to work with them in exchange for help.
As a Xia person with such impressive forging skills, other than other extremely secluded tribes, most tribesmen he met were still polite to him. That was why Gongjia Heng was quite calm when he met Shao Xuan.
As long as this person did not have ill intentions, Gongjia Heng was polite.
“That cage, is that meant for crocodiles?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Yep! There are many fish here.” Gongjia Heng nodded furiously. To survive in such a primitive environment, he had to use materials other than gold. However, he was still a Xia and leaned towards metalwares. That was why he decided to give up on gold and made this cage with metal. Many people mocked him for being stupid and wasteful! But he had no regrets.
“There’s one giant fish in that river, oh, you call it a crocodile- but it was too big. I’ve almost been eaten by it the last few times I was near the river. I’ve lost so many weapons in that river.” Gongjia Heng grew increasingly angry as he spoke, his eyes cruel as he looked up in the direction of the river.
So he had an enemy.
He had been living here for twenty years. Even if he hadn’t previously seen a crocodile in his life, twenty years here was enough for him to know the crocodiles well.
“The river is deep. They only have their eyes and nostrils above water,” Gongjia Heng explained so Shao Xuan would know the crocodiles better.
“They have powerful tails to propel them at fast speeds underwater. This method creates very little waves on the surface so they can approach their prey quietly. They fight and bite each other often and sometimes lose a leg. However, they are nature’s survivors, most of the powerful ones here have one leg missing. This is a sign that they have fought before. Shao Xuan, if you see a fish with one leg missing, do not underestimate it or you’ll regret it.
“However, the crocodiles can’t move very well on the swamp and shallow waters where you passed if they lack one leg. They need their legs on land and sometimes would step on an underwater rock to support themselves and jump up.”
‘Yeah, as for that, I met one like that.” Shao Xuan compared the crocodiles here and the ones from the Drumming tribe. The crocodiles here have thicker, stronger hind legs. If the crocodiles from the tribe had teeth like pyramids, the crocodiles here had teeth like metal nails.
In many aspects, the crocodiles here were more dangerous.
“Hehe, I didn’t know this fish is more than a hundred years old! I can make armour out of this.” Gongjia Heng took up a piece of scale and passed it to Shao Xuan. “You can use this to make armour. Hundred-year-old fish are good for making armour.”
“How did you know it’s more than a hundred years old?”
“Look at the top.” Gongjia Heng pointed at the scales. “Look at the patterns.”
There were patterns on the scales. Like a tree’s rings, they showed a crocodile’s age.
This was different from the crocodiles in the Drumming tribe. There were about a hundred pieces of bone on the crocodiles here. These bones on their backs had fused into the skin so it was more like a robust armour on its back. Previously, Shao Xuan could injure a crocodile’s snout with a sword but if he was aiming for the back, he might not make a dent. Perhaps he could injure a young crocodile but an old one more than a hundred years old would be difficult to hurt.