During the day, there was still a strong breeze. When the winds blew across the valley, they whistled.
“There used to be a river here,” said Gongjia Heng. The river was called Xia River but after that, it dried up and became a valley. So this was now Xia Valley.
“It will be difficult to cross Xia Valley. It was easier when there was a river. Now that the river has dried up into a valley, there have been many changes. I heard that people who entered the Xia Valley never returned.”
These were stories the older people had told Heng. Now that he had seen the place for himself, it felt different.
“So this is Xia Valley. Shao Xuan, do you smell a very special smell?” he asked.
“It’s the smell of death.”
Gongjia Heng commented wistfully, and then continued walking ahead.
Gongjia Mountain was in Xia valley. However, there was a suffocating feeling when one walked in the valley.
There were no animals, just bare rocks and boulders on both sides. Even vegetation was sparse. Before this, although there were no animals in the forest, at least there were plants. Here, it just looked like a dead piece of land.
Did the Xia people live here years ago?
Gongjia Heng said this used to be a river. That meant a long time ago, this should have been a good place to settle. Not sure why it became this.
“We’ll travel in the afternoon,” said Heng.
“The door to Gongjia Mountain can only be found in the afternoon.”
Shao Xuan listened, since Gongjia Heng had said such a thing. The Xia people definitely knew more than him, it was better than travelling blindly.
In the afternoon, they set off.
As they walked further ahead, Shao Xuan had a familiar feeling. It reminded him of something. He had to admit that it was just as Gongjia Heng said- there was the smell of death here- but to others, it was the smell of opportunity.
Shao Xuan felt the core seed’s presence. It was not here, it was still far away. However, Shao Xuan clearly felt the sense of death that came from a core seed. Perhaps this entire piece of land was dead because of the core seed.
The legends denote that only the people of the Great Six had core seeds. It should be very rare for other tribes to have it. Plus the Xia people had already dispersed to different parts of the world, how could they have a core seed?
No matter what, finding Gongjia Mountain should be the answer.
Just like the forest, this was like an upgraded version of a maze. There were many forks, and every time you walked, you would quickly be blocked by a cliff or a mountain. Shao Xuan couldn’t just climb over either. Right now, he still could memorise the path he had taken, in case he had to return. But if he started climbing mountains, would he still remember?
Gongjia Heng climbed up the face of the mountain. He did not climb over, merely walked along with it. He was sure they could get out of here.
Right now, Shao Xuan had not been able to conduct a successful reading. Just like in the forest, he had not enough information. That was why he had to walk the journey on his own. Perhaps it would succeed when he had more information.
The third time they met a dead end, Gongjia Heng sighed. “My elders once told me that Xia river was a very special river. I have now seen it for myself.”
The Xia river was formed naturally, not man made. That was why it was special. Now that it had dried up, it had become a natural maze.
They looked up at the blue sky, so empty they could not see any clouds. Around them was just the valley, reeking of death.
As they travelled, they both made markings on mountain walls. When the sun set, Gongjia Heng stopped. They had to wait for the next afternoon.
“If we do not find the place as soon as possible, we will starve to death,” said Gongjia Heng.
In the forest, they knew how to return to their original path so if they were hungry, they could temporarily leave to get some food. Here, if they accidentally got lost, they could easily be trapped in the valley if they could not find their initial path. They could climb up mountains and take a straight path in the direction where they came from but somehow, one would unconsciously deviate from his original direction. It was a strange feeling. It was very easy to pinpoint the wrong direction too because of the sun in the sky. As time went on, sometimes there was one, then suddenly two, or even more. Sometimes, when you saw one sun, it could also be an illusion.
In a place like this, if you were not mentally strong, you would not live long.
It had been three days. They had walked in the valley for three days to no avail. Every day, they only had half a day’s time to search for the place. Gongjia Heng said they could walk slowly, as long as the method was correct, it should be fine. Unfortunately, it all amounted to nothing.
To save energy, other than the designated hours for searching, they would find a place to rest. Saving energy was also saving food. They brought limited dried meat with them, their stash definitely couldn’t last very long.
When they once again arrived at a dead end, they saw a human skeleton. Not sure how long this had been here but this must be a stronger person. At least a middle-ranked totemic warrior or above. A regular person’s skeleton would break easily.
From this skeleton’s position, the person had raised his/her arms to the skies before death, as if roaring at the heavens in defiance. Although the person had long lost his flesh and was just skin and bones, Shao Xuan could still see that he had died an unwilling death.
“The number of Xia people coming to look for Gongjia Mountain has dwindled. It’s because most of the people who came searching died. There were too few people who succeeded,” said Gongjia Heng.
That was just the first skeleton. After that, Shao Xuan encountered more skeletons. Someone even carved writings on the walls but perhaps due to the weather, they were illegible by now. These people’s last words would never be known, and no one would know who they were. If they were lucky, their identities could be found on their rusty weapons. However, weapons with too much rust rendered the embellishments illegible too. Then no matter how powerful and mighty these people were, after death, no one knew who they were.
Shao Xuan looked at the rusty weapons on the ground. Then, he got up and with a solemn face, told Gongjia Heng, “We have to hurry. Or we’ll just return to where we came from. We don’t have much food left.”
“Mm, if this doesn’t work out, I can come next time.” Although that was what he said, Gongjia Heng still felt like the goal was right under his nose. He just couldn’t see it. How could he return like that? He couldn’t blame these people who died. Some of them were just stubborn, refusing to return although they had far exceeded their physical abilities. Most of them probably starved to death here.
It was sad!
“Can you do a reading yet?” asked Gongjia Heng.
Shao Xuan shook his head.
The anticipation in his eyes turned to disappointment. Then, he seemed to laugh at himself. It felt stupid. Didn’t the Xia people always rely on themselves? How could he place hope on another person? That person was an outsider.
He looked at the sky. “We’ll stop and continue tomorrow. He could make guesses based on the sunlight and shadows on the ground, plus the qualities of the rock around him. However, this was still too slow. If he kept using this method, he might just starve.
Sitting on the ground, Gongjia Heng carefully took out a piece of dried meat and sipped some water in his flask. He thought about what to do next.
Shao Xuan was thinking too. He had seen some broken skeletons here. This probably meant they had been cannibalised by other people. People could do very shocking things when they were at a dead end. Shao Xuan understood that the ones who would go looking for the mountain had a specific mindset too. Cannibalism was understandable.
Shao Xuan did not want to starve to death here, nor did he want to eat human meat here. It was fine if they could not find the place. He would rather return. However, they still had to do their best since they had already arrived.
He didn’t know why his knot divinations kept failing. He could only use other methods.
He used his senses to feel his surroundings. The death brought by the core seed was everywhere around him. However, it was difficult to confirm its position.
Could he determine its location using his mind’s totemic flames? No. This was the Xia people’s territory and unrelated to the Flaming Horn people. Their totemic flames were useless here.
Shao Xuan was about to calm the totemic power within him when he realised there were threads of power concentrating in his chest. He opened his eyes to see a bit of light there.
He fished the Elder’s Bone out to realise all four bone ornaments were on fire. There was no wind right now but the flames were all flickering in one direction!
Gongjia Heng had his eyes closed, deep in thought. When he noticed some movement, he opened his eyes to see flames in Shao Xuan’s hands. And the flames were flickering in one direction.
“We’ll head in that direction tomorrow.” Shao Xuan put the bone ornaments behind his clothes again. As he calmed the totemic power in him, the flames died.
Gongjia Heng’s eyes brightened. He knew the kid would have a solution!
Initially, he was thinking of returning but now he had hope again.
On the next day, they waited till noon to leave. They continued heading in the direction of the ornaments’ flames. At the same time, after some time, Gongjia Heng also quickly calculated on his own to check if it was right.
When they passed by a place, Gongjia Heng suddenly yelled and stopped. “Wait!”
“What’s the matter?”
Previously, the flames had been pointing in this direction. Shao Xuan was about to take his ornaments out to check again but Heng had fished out a bronze nail and stabbed it into the ground. He looked at the sky. “This sun in the sky is the real one, right?”
Shao Xuan nodded.
After his confirmation, Gongjia HEng looked at the shadow of the nail on the ground, made some measurements, then looked at one of the cliff faces. Based on his guesses, he walked over.
The cliff face wasn’t far away but Gongjia Heng felt like every step was too heavy. That ten meters took him one minute to walk over. His throat was dry, his eyes filled with shock.
When he finally arrived at the face, Gongjia Heng looked at the seemingly regular wall. He placed both palms on it and roared, using all his energy to push.
The sound of a stone door sliding open echoed.