Taihe and Mountain Wind tribes arrived on the third day after Flaming Horn’s arrival. At that point, the blanket of snow on the ground was already five meters tall.
The blizzard stopped for a day, but now it started again, more brutal than the first day.
The cold wind blew and whistled, cutting against their faces like knives. Even the self-proclaimed hardened Flaming Horn warriors were unwilling to head out unless it was their turn to stand guard. They rested inside the cave.
Firewood was running low in the cave. Other than when they cooked porridge, they burned little wood. Zheng Luo brought some men to survey the area around the mines. Other than the other two caves that were already sealed off by thick snow and rocks, the Fox and Shen caves were guarded very heavily. It was going to be difficult to raid it. Not wanting to waste his manpower for nothing, Zheng Luo returned after observing them for a while.
When Zheng Luo received news that Taihe and Mountain Wind had finally arrived, he was holding the first piece of fire crystal that they mined. He was very emotional.
Before they mined it, he and the rest had already sensed its presence. It proved that there were crystals underground, just too deep and the salt affected their senses. After much effort, they finally did it. He could not stay calm.
“Taihe?” Once he heard the messenger who had hurried in, he finally looked up from the piece of crystal as big as his fingernail and regained his composure.
Unwillingly, he climbed out of the hole they dug and passed it to Duo Kang. “Continue digging, I’ll check them out. I wonder how they’re doing. “
“Don’t worry, chief. I’ll be there!” Duo Kang took the crystal and couldn’t help the grin on his face. Their efforts had paid off, all their gloominess was gone now.
Shao Xuan was deep in thought when Zheng Luo’s sudden arrival snapped him back to reality.
“Taihe and Mountain Win are here?” Shao Xuan stood up from the salt boulder and followed Zheng Luo.
Zheng Luo looked at Shao Xuan but did not ask questions. Shao Xuan had not been himself these two days. He sat on the rock the entire day. If no one talked to him, he would sit there all day. No one knew what he was thinking about. He once asked but Shao Xuan replied that he was trying to sense something. If he had results, he’d tell everyone.
At the mouth of the cave, they saw Taihe and the Mountain Wind chief with twenty men. Everyone did not look good, with snow sticking to their bodies.
When they saw Zheng Luo, Taihe and Mountain Wind’s chiefs relaxed and smiled bitterly. “You all are very lucky to arrive earlier. Or you’d been like us.”
The Flaming Horn guards at the mouth and already told the chiefs that they arrived earlier than planned, on the day that the weather changed. They had just arrived when the blizzard started. On the other side, the weather had changed when they travelled across the salt flats and already had deaths and injuries then.
Neither the tribesmen nor their ancestors had encountered such weather before. It had caused not just unnecessary death and injuries but also delayed their journey. They were supposed to arrive yesterday morning, yet they had been delayed by one day-- even after travelling all through the night. After the weather changed, it was tough to trek through the salt flats, especially when snow was thick and it was freezing.
Zheng Luo did not explain their luck. He asked about the two tribes and was told that although there were deaths and injuries, the number was low. It was just that they were not doing well. Especially the Mountain Wind people who lived in a region much warmer than Flaming Horn. The mountains often block the cold winds and storms, even if it snowed, it was barely anything. That was why they had more deaths than Taihe and why the chief’s face was very gloomy now.
“And your caves?” asked Zheng Luo. When he brought his men over, although the caves had collapsed, he figured they could move the rocks and it should be fine. “If you need help, we can help with the rocks.
However, Zheng Luo’s words made their faces contort into a deeper rage. He could clearly hear their teeth grinding together.
“To hell with that! The fucking Fox and Shen bastards, they scattered salt poison in our caves!” raged the Mountain Wind chief.
Salt poison was a type of green-grey salt ore in this area. It cannot be made into table salt. While it was not fatal, they released a pungent smell when cooked. It caused dizziness and was unpleasant. That was why the salt miners would usually bury them far away if they encountered salt poison.
There were not many salt poison rocks in the area but they had accumulated some over the years. The Fox people had mined and cooked salt poison in batches. The first three pots of salt were first scattered in the Mountain Wind cave. It was their fault for all of this! If it wasn’t for Mountain Wind sending the second batch of scouts, this wouldn’t happen!
The next three pots were scattered into the Taihe cave. The Taihe people were good at using herbs and the Fox people never liked them for this.
The last was supposed to be for the Flaming Horn cave. However, the weather had changed earlier than expected. Due to the change of plans, they could not scatter more salt in time. That was why while a lot of stuff was missing in the Flaming Horn’s caves, they did not have to suffer from the salt.
The cooked salt was dissolved in water and then cooked until it formed a sticky liquid. This was scattered in the mines, and when it dried, it stuck to the surface of the salt. Unless they mined away the entire top layer of the cave, it would be unpleasant.
In this blizzard and lowest temperature they’d ever experienced, they finally arrived. While they did not have to launch into war immediately, they also did not have a place to stay.
The Taihe and Mountain Wind tribes had arrived almost the same time. They came over to check on Flaming Horn’s cave but didn’t expect that not only did they arrive early, but they were also living well-- at least their living conditions were good compared to theirs. They did not want much, just a place to hide from the elements and rest. Their men could barely walk in a straight line. If they fought now, most of them would die.
Zheng Luo pursed his lips, not knowing how lucky Flaming horn was. The Fox tribe must’ve been the ones who scattered the poison. If it wasn’t for the weather, their cave would have been poisoned too. Then they’d have to face the problem of clearing a collapsed cave AND inhaling poisonous fumes.
Such evil people!
“You all should come in. Although it’s going to be a squeeze, the cave is big enough. Right, do you have any more firewood in your caves? Bring some over,” said Zheng Luo.
Hearing Zheng Luo’s words, the two chiefs heaved a sigh and quickly said, “I’ll ask. We’ll bring over if we find any.”
The poison had already seeped into the salt underground, it was going to take a while to scrape off the top layer. It was best to take shelter there in this weather.
Zheng Luo made his people give them space. No matter what, they were allies. Helping them was the same as helping themselves.
Soon, Taihe and Mountain Wind’s chiefs brought their men over. When they looked at the Flaming Horn tribe’s faces, then looked at their own dishevelled, depressed army, the chiefs were frustrated. The hatred towards Fox and Shen became deeper on this day.
It was a squeeze for three thousand people in one salt cave. If it wasn’t for the fact that they had two deep layers in the cave, they would not be able to fit so many. They made way for a walkway leading to the left side of the cave entrance. This made moving around easier and emergencies would be easier to deal with. Just like that, everyone was pressing up against each other in the cave.
Taihe and Mountain Wind brought over some firewood. They also had hidden stashes that the Fox people did not take. They brought over everything they had.
However, it still wasn’t much. No one knew how long this weather would last. They must be careful. Other than to cook, they could not light fires. Thank goodness Flaming Horn had glowing rocks so they did not have to sit in the dark.
There were many people and the cave was deep, hence the air thinned. When they dug the mines, this problem was solved with several air vents. However, in the beginning, the Flaming Horns had blocked these holes due to cold winds. Now with so many people, breathing had become more difficult. It took some effort to unblock these vents due to the additional snow layer.
It was still stuffy in the cave but there was one benefit--- it was warm.
“What’s that smell?”
“Eh, brother? Did you step in some poop?”
Everyone had been travelling in a hurry, no one cleaned much. As a result, there was a layer of filth on them, even after the pelting of snow. Now that they rested in the cave, plus the poor air ventilation, the smell of sweat, feet, fart and animal hide mixed together instantly.
However, it was still better than enduring salt poison. To the Taihe and Mountain Wind people, this was the most comfortable they’d been since the weather changed.
Since the Flaming Horn and Taihe people were familiar with each other, they quickly started chatting. Although they usually fought, in general, they had been in a cooperative relationship. Now that they were in a disaster together, they felt like comrades. Someone started to curse the Fox and Shen tribes, then suddenly the entire cave did the same. Even the previously quiet Mountain Wind tribe joined in. The cave erupted in all sorts of curse words unique to each tribe.
The Taihe and Mountain Wind chiefs were led by Zheng Luo inside the cave to see the crystals for themselves. Now that they confirmed the existence of the crystals, the two chiefs were less worried.
All three chiefs personally started mining crystals themselves. They were all upset but could not launch a war. All they could do was vent their anger on mining crystals.
More crystals would mean quicker recovery for their people too.
Outside the cave, the layer of snow was now six meters deep, compared to five this morning. It was still snowing and did not look like it was about to stop soon.