On the hill, Zheng Luo looked up at the sky.
“It’s snowing earlier than expected this year.”
In the past, the tribe would still have small hunts at this point of the year. It didn’t snow as much as this.
Next to him, Duo Kang and the rest were also worried. “It’s fine if it’s just a little snow but I’m afraid there might be a snowstorm at the mines.”
Launching into battle in bad weather was not good.
As they spoke, a warrior hurried over. “Chief, the shamaness says she fears this year’s weather might be unpredictable. You must prepare for this.”
Zheng Luo and the rest grew solemn. What they feared might happen. If the shamaness said so, then it was likely. This time, there might be a blizzard- or worse.
“What else did she say?” asked Zheng Luo.
The warrior looked upset, his tone solemn. “The shamaness did not elaborate. She just wanted us to prepare for the worst.”
The shamaness had been skimming through past records but there was never a year like this. It was snowing too early in the year, she was very unsettled by the change in weather.
Prepare for the worst…
Other than a blizzard, what else could there be?
No matter what, even if there was a blizzard, their plan would still take place. They must not delay.
Three days later.
It was still snowing. Although not heavily, and the ground didn’t have much white, it still brought some inconvenience to forest travel.
Wearing tall boots made of animal hide tied tightly with a band, Shao Xuan went to the gathering point.
Zheng Luo would personally lead the team of almost a thousand. This was about a quarter of the tribe. Within this team, most of them were middle-ranked totemic warriors and the proportion of low-ranked totemic warriors was small. In general, they could be counted as an experienced team. Based on what Shao Xuan knew, the tribes in the mountains had at most five thousand members. None of them were too big. During ancient times, even the strongest great six did not have many people. They only expanded when they left the forest.
A team of a thousand was considered a large-scale movement for the tribe.
When they discussed with Taihe and Mountain Wind, everyone agreed to provide one thousand people. They would head to the salt mines in three separate ways. The priority was to take back their own section of the mines first, then fight the Fox and Shen Forest tribesmen.
Every tribe was most familiar with their own section of the mine, they had even set their own small traps inside too. Taking back their own spots first was simpler and had a greater chance of success.
When the team left the village, the fat duck peeked out of the pen to check the team out. Then, it shrank back inside to look at its eggs.
One of the eggs moved. The fat duck froze for a moment, then nudged it gently with its beak. Then, it rolled the eggs closer together and sat on them once again. It was in a good mood. The weather was cold, plus it was snowing- yet it did not have to go out looking for food in this cold. There were humans feeding it daily. All it had to do was focus on these eggs. It was a good place to live.
Oblivious to the duck’s thoughts, Shao Xuan travelled in a direction with his team. They had travelled alongside the Taihe people for a bit before separating. The Taihe tribe would arrive using another path. Shao Xuan had never taken the current path the Flaming Horn team was walking on.
Tao Zheng said there were many hills in this direction, he, Wu Zhan and Zhui had once gone to guard the mines before. People who had experience guarding the mines were important youths raised to be next-generation elites. They naturally knew more secrets than the rest.
“It’s snowing, it’ll be more difficult to travel,” complained Wu Zhan.
Everyone hoped the snow would stop. Even past winters never snowed this long in the beginning. This was very different.
And it was just the beginning.
The salt mines were not near the village. Usually, it took four to five days of travel. Due to the weather, it would take longer this time.
On the fourth day of travel, the snow showed no signs of stopping, instead fell even heavier. The ground was starting to turn white.
Zheng Luo looked at the sky and exhaled. “Hurry, we’ll rest in the cave.”
They hadn’t arrived at the point they were supposed to reach in three days.
There was a cave in the mountain range in front where the salt mine guards would rest during travels. However, with so many people, it was a tight squeeze.
They built fires and boiled water using snow. They put grains inside, including golden grains from King City and the tribe’s purple Thousand Grain Gold. Everyone had dried meat too.
Without enough bowls, the warriors found some leaves from evergreen plants. Every leaf was wide and thick, as large as two palms. They rolled it up and folded the bottom to make makeshift bowls.
The warriors, tired from travels and shivering from the cold, felt instant warmth as they downed the porridge and dried meat. With food, they were at ease.
The grains were fragrant and more importantly, it created warmth in the body and replenished energy after consumption. Everyone understood that these grains were not the ordinary grains they usually exchanged at Anba City. Just a little bit was enough to make their entire body warm.
The warriors joked as they squeezed together but Zheng Luo and the other few sitting at the mouth of the cave were worried. As they thought about what the shamaness said, their hearts sank.
“It’s colder now,” sighed Duo Kang.
In the past, even when they hunted in the winter, they had never experienced such a steep temperature drop before. It had been fine in the morning but now, in the afternoon, everyone was freezing and shivering.
The Flaming Horn people were already built to be resistant to the cold, yet they were shivering under their animal hides. One could imagine how peculiar the weather was.
“Why is this happening?” Guang Yi was weirded out too.
Many people couldn’t help but wonder why things turned out so peculiar.
With their current situation and the odd weather, it felt more like an omen…
Shao Xuan took out some rope from his pocket and started making knots. Others did not know what this was but Zheng Luo did. Before leaving, the shamaness told Zheng Luo that if odd changes happened, he should listen to Shao Xuan.
When he finished his knots, Zheng Luo hurried over and asked in a low voice. “How is it?” He dared not speak too loud. The warriors were already unsettled with the odd weather. If it was bad news, this would affect morale.
Shao Xuan paused, looking at the knots. He had barely been able to conduct this reading.
“It’s best if we leave early tomorrow, and arrive at the mines in two days. If we delay this any further, the situation will worsen,” said Shao Xuan.
“Arrive at the mines within two days?” This was not a problem, Zheng Luo knew this was possible. But why two days? “
“What happens after two days?” he asked.
Shao Xuan shook his head. “Not sure. I only know that it won’t be good. We have to take the mines in the shortest time possible.”
Shao Xuan had a bad feeling. He had always trusted his gut. If he could barely conduct a reading, that was a bad sign.
Duo Kang hated the Fox and Shen Forest tribes to death at this moment. They should be sitting in their village in this weird weather, yet they chose this stupid time to cause trouble! If he saw any one of them, he would show no mercy!
As night fell, the winds blew stronger outside the cave. Snow billowed in the winds and white covered most of the ground. When they arrived, there were many bare rocks outside. Now, they were all covered in a layer of snow.
The temperature was still falling.
Zheng Luo instructed some people to carry over a few boulders to block out the wind. However, anyone sitting near the mouth was still suffering.
Shao Xuan switched places with a warrior there. Due to the winds, they could not build a fire here and it was much colder. Shao Xuan had experienced such weather before. In the beginning, before they found their base, his tribe suffered through endless snow every winter.
Shao Xuan’s actions improved everyone's impression of him. Elder Shao Xuan was too kind.
Not knowing that he’d played the ‘good guy’ card, Shao Xuan mulled over a few matters as he sat at the mouth. Hearing some movement, Zheng Luo, Duo Kang and the rest were here. Tao Zheng, Wu Zhan and the rest had switched over too.
“Saho Xuan, I heard you’ve experienced weather like this before?” asked Duo Kang.
Shao Xuan smiled. “Before we returned to our main base, our tribe was located in a place where it was always snowing during winter, straight until winter ended. The amount of snow was enough to drown houses.”
“Weren’t you all cold?” asked Wu Zhan. They were the same age but lived very different lives from Shao Xuan, not knowing much about his tribe.
“Yeah but we’re used to it.” Shao Xuan recalled how he slept with dried grass and old animal hide at the cave. He wasn’t used to this at all when he first came into this world. After a while, he adapted.”
“Did you hear that? This is just a small obstacle, and y’all are already terrified!” DUo Kang glared at Tao Zheng and the rest.
“But, it’s different here. I have never seen such a large change in weather. I’m afraid this battle is going to be difficult,” said Shao Xuan.
Everyone fell silent. They knew that the change in weather could mean unimaginable catastrophe. However, they still had to do what was needed. They were just unfortunate.
The next day, Zheng Luo led his team, rushing to the mines.
The temperature had risen a little compared to last night, the snow wasn’t as heavy too. The sky had brightened a lot as if everything was going to be alright. Instead, Shao Xuan felt like it was an omen for a larger change to come.
Pushing themselves, they arrived at a piece of salt lands in the afternoon.
This was not where the salt mines were. They had to first cross this patch of land.
Various colours reflected off the salt on the ground. The falling snow had yet to cover this piece of land yet.
“These are salt flowers, different from the salt in mines and in lakes. The salt flowers here are not edible.”
[Note: in chinese, salt flowers refer to salt crystals with molecular structure resembling blooming flowers.]