The night of Taihe and Mountain Wind’s arrival, the winds picked up speed and snow fell heavily. Even the guards outside could not stand the cold. Zheng Luo had to call them in and guard the mouth of the cave instead. Outside, they’d either freeze to death or get buried in snow.
Outside, unless they swept away all the snow at the entrance, it seemed like there was a tall wall of snow that blocked their vision. They must stand at a high spot and sweep away some snow to look far.
Shao Xuan stood on top and looked around. Everything between heaven and earth was white. The rocky terrain was unidentifiable, drowned in a sea of white. Looking across, it seemed like a flat piece of land.
Shao Xuan attempted to conduct a knot reading for the weather and his inexplicable bone-chilling sensation. Yet he failed every time.
He looked around. He did not see any other shadows around. Even the Fox and Shen tribe did not seem to intend to come out.
When he went back, he pulled the boulder at the entrance back to its original spot.
Many people looked at him, anticipating good news. It was only because of him they hadn’t suffered like Taihe and Mountain Wind.
They were crestfallen when Shao Xuan shook his head in silence.
The cave was getting quieter. In the beginning, there were people complaining and cursing the Fox and Shen tribe. Now, the complaints had ceased. All they hoped was for this weather to stop.
Wu Zhan knew several men from the Taihe who were of similar age. These were the elites of the younger generation. When Taihe arrived, all the familiar faces met to exchange stories. Now, no one was speaking to conserve energy. If they couldn’t sleep, they daydreamed.
When he heard chewing sounds, he kicked to his side. “What are you chewing?”
“Give me some.”
Fei Ang from Taihe passed half a blade of grass over. They usually brought some herbs with them, these were the cheap kinds to chew on when they were bored. It could calm one down.
When he passed the herb over, Fei Ang said, “Your Elder didn’t look like he had any good news.”
“He will.” Wu Zhan did not say much, chewing the herb. It was bitter. He wondered why the Taihe people liked chewing this stuff.
They will have good news soon. This was something everyone thought. However, the days passed and they grew more depressed.
Every day, when they woke or went out to urinate, they would be repeatedly shocked by the changes outside. As if there was no limit to these changes.
It was terrifying.
If this continued, would the forest they lived in become a frozen wasteland? The younger warriors were already starting to imagine this scenario.
Fine, many mountains snowed all year long too. However, they’d never seen any place with such thick snow before. And they were at sea level. While the snow stopped a few times, it didn’t look like it was going to stop for good anytime soon.
“What should we do?”
The three chiefs sat together. They were holding fire crystals in their hands but their current situation still rendered them helpless. The initial excitement of obtaining fire crystals had slowly died down.
As for the Fox and Shen people, a battle was imminent. They had paid a huge price to come here, everyone was suppressing their frustrations toward them. This anger was only suppressed by the weather.
Silent and sulking, the weight on the three chiefs was heavy. They did not know if their people would be well, they did not know how their own tribes were doing back at the village.
“If I knew this, we would not have come here. I would have given up on the salt mines,” said Mountain Wind chief in a low voice.
“Who could’ve predicted such a drastic change? Even the Fox and Shen tribe could have underestimated the weather.” The Taihe tribe sighed helplessly. At this moment, who didn’t regret?
They saw Shao Xuan walk over to ‘space out’ on his salt boulder silently. All three chiefs could help but feel disappointed.
At this point, the other two already knew that Flaming Horn could avoid this weather because of Shao Xuan. They did not have anyone in their tribe who could predict the weather so they placed their hopes on Shao Xuan. Regardless of good or bad news, as long as they had an inkling of what would happen next, they would feel more stable if they could prepare.
“Sigh!” Zheng Luo could not sit still. He would overthink if he sat down doing nothing. Stretching his stiff limbs, he jumped into the pit and continued mining for fire crystals.
The other two looked at each other, broadening their shoulders and jumped too. Just dig. Sitting in silence would just make them more worried.
Their progress had slowed significantly as the rocks grew harder the deeper they dug. Many tools were broken. Although they had mined more than ten crystals, they were small pieces and not enough to go around. It was still good for everyone to absorb a little, it raised spirits.
Shao Xuan sat on the boulder, focused on sensing the changes in his environment.
Did he hear something?
He could hear the sound of three chiefs mining in the pit, the sound of everyone’s breaths.
Further away, there were whispers, some people sleep talking, snoring and he could even feel many people spacing out in the dark, eyes open.
And the sound of the wind whistling as it passed through their air vents.
He could almost hear his own blood flowing in his veins.
The first beat was a higher pitch than the second. Shao Xuan cocked an eyebrow.
It was very soft but there was power in this sound. It seemed to ring and echo across the rocks.
His own heartbeat?
No, not his own. Not the people around him, not the people in the cave either!
Shao Xuan wanted to listen to confirm. But he did not hear anything now.
Shao Xuan felt like he was closer to the answer. He was almost there. Almost.
Just as he thought he’d never hear it again, he heard it again.
Same- the first beat high, second beat low. It was a powerful heartbeat. This time, it was a little louder but Shao Xuan still couldn’t confirm if it was real.
It was a heartbeat, but it didn’t seem human. It seemed far away, yet so near. He could not confirm because it was so faint. It might come from the rocky layers.
“Chief, do you all hear something?” asked Shao Xuan.
Zheng Luo, who was mining hard, stopped. “Sound?”
The other three also stopped and listened closely.
“No.” All three shook their heads.
“There’s no sound now. It was there a few moments ago,” said Shao Xuan.
The rest of them stopped digging and waited with full attention, analysing all the sounds.
“Heartbeat. Not loud but it sounded powerful. Sounds like it comes from the rocks. With an echo,” said Shao Xuan in detail.
They were all puzzled. Why would there be such a sound?
These people were patient, the kind that came from hunting all their lives. However, after waiting, they did not hear it.
Zheng Luo wanted to speak but Shao Xuan suddenly said, “There it was again! Did you hear it?”
The three chiefs looked at each other, seeing confused eyes staring back. It was obvious they heard nothing.
They turned to Duo Kang and the few. Also confused.
“You really heard something?” Zheng Luo asked again.
“I heard it three times,” confirmed Shao Xuan.
The three chiefs were unsettled now. It wasn’t because they did not believe Shao Xuan, it was just they did not hear a thing. In terms of predicting the weather, the Taihe and Mountain Wind chiefs did not dare compare themselves to Shao Xuan because he had proven himself right. However, they were confident in their hearing.
Yet Zheng Luo believed him. Shao Xuan had many extraordinary aspects of him, even the shamaness trusted Shao Xuan. Solemn, Zheng Luo asked, “If there’s such a sound, Shao Xuan, what do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. But the source of the sound is what I’ve been wary about.” Shao Xuan told them about his thoughts.
Zheng Luo dropped his tools, climbed out of the pit and told Duo Kang, “Tell the rest. Stay alert.”
Duo Kang ran and they heard him yelling.
If Zheng Luo said such a thing, although the other two chiefs were sceptical, since Flaming Horn had taken action, they did the same.
The silent cave exploded into conversation. No one knew what was happening. Why stay alert? Was there a threat?
“Shao Xuan, continue listening. Tell us if you find anything.” Zheng Luo sat down next to Shao Xuan. He did not care about the fire crystals now, his men were more important.
The other two chiefs brought one salt boulder each and sat next to Shao Xuan. They also wanted to know what the young Elder heard.
At this moment, on the other side of the mines, within the Fox tribe’s cave.
When the Fox chief woke up, he ran to check on the progress of fire crystal mining.
“How’s the digging going?” asked the chief.
The supervisor standing next to the pit pointed at the basket next to his foot. Only a few pieces. The Fox chief’s brows furrowed.
This was going too slow! He was very dissatisfied with this efficiency. However, the deeper they dug, the more there would be. He had to wait.
“Get on with your work! I don’t want to hear anyone slacking off!”
At the bottom of the pit, a Fox warrior stuck his shovel into the ground and heard a loud clang. He thought he had hit rock again. At this depth, there was no salt, just soil and rocks. He had already hit rock a few times these past few days. This time, his tool suffered.
“Shit!” He tossed the bent shovel aside, went over to pick a new one and continued digging.
“I need to see what this rock looks like!”