There was a deep rumbling within the salt caves, the sound of boulders rubbing against each other that shook everyone to the bone.
The ground beneath their feet vibrated with the rumbling as white frost crept from the fire crystal pit outwards like an unstoppable force.
The Fox and Shen chiefs only focused on getting out, pale with panic. Perhaps they had already sensed what was at the bottom. They regretted this more than the Flaming Horn’s side-- they could have just dug the damn crystals, why did they dig so deep for?
If they knew there was an undefeatable beast underground, they would have been cautious. They would have brought the fire crystals they worked so hard for back to their tribe in this blizzard, leaving everything here behind, never to return!
However, there was no use crying over spilt milk.
They had already opened the door to bloodshed.
“Run! Leave this place!” shouted the Fox tribe, unable to remain calm. He yelled with the kind of hopelessness even he couldn’t believe he was feeling.
Within the cave, all the Fox and Shen tribesmen did not know what was happening. All they knew was the sudden chill in their bones, a strong sense of fear that appeared in a second. The weaker ones felt their legs giving out under them.
When they heard the Fox chief, the cave descended into chaos. Some people chose to push the boulder at the mouth of the cave aside, running out; others chose to huddle against the cave walls.
The ones who were sitting or sleeping in the cave, who could not react in time, were run over by the stampede. Cries of agony could be heard but no one cared. They could not be helped. At this moment, even the slower ones knew something bad had happened. They were forest tribesmen, they had a basic survival instinct.
The stronger ones shoved the people in front aside, squeezing themselves out. There was already limited space inside. Now, everyone pushed up against each other fighting for the exit.
The Fox chief sprinted from deep within the cave, stepping on some heads as he leapt towards the exit. When the rest realised they could do this, they started to leap too. Some jumped too high and hit their heads on the ceiling of the cave. Without even wiping away their blood, they rushed ahead. People shoved even harder at the mouth of the cave.
Everything grew increasingly chaotic.
Everyone became rougher and more afraid, feeling the impending doom. Didn’t they just see the chief rushing out?
Crack crack crack---
Within the lower ground, the white frost was creeping outwards at alarming speeds. Some people stuck at the back of the crowd felt the temperatures falling quickly, the water vapour in their breaths freezing instantly. Their skin felt frozen. At least they were further from the pit.
This didn’t just happen within the Fox’s cave. Within the Shen cave, more than five hundred recruits from other tribes were present. There were more but they were killed by Flaming Horn. In this cave, there were both Fox and Shen people guarding the deeper parts of the cave. There was still unmined salt here so they had to prevent outsiders from stealing. At the same time, they were here to supervise. Altogether, there were about a thousand people here.
When the frost started, the supervising warriors on this side had already sensed something wrong. They felt a numbness in their scalps and odd vibrations in the ground. When they heard the rumbles in the rocks, they all ran outwards to escape.
Similar changes occurred in the other three caves. On the Flaming Horn’s side, the frost had begun.
When they saw this, Shao Xuan and the three chiefs quickly avoided the frost.
The changes happened too quickly, too sudden. A layer of frost appeared on the ground so they had no choice but to stand on the frost.
At least the changes only happened on the bottom floor of the cave. The upper layer was cold but better.
Zheng Luo moved his legs stiffly, leading the warriors in the lower ground upwards.
Chills seemed to extend from the ground into his foot, he felt as if his blood was filled with shaved ice.
“Should we escape outside?” Zheng Luo asked Shao Xuan.
Shao Xuan shook his head immediately but then snapped back to reality. “I don’t know what that is but instinct tells me running outside like that isn’t a good idea either.”
“Then we shall remain inside. Duo Kang, tell the warriors to stay quiet, hide their breaths, like when we hide in the forest during hunts. Do not exude any killing aura!” said Zheng Luo in a low voice.
After the initial panic, Zheng Luo was a lot calmer now, though his voice still shook. This was also his first time but if Shao Xuan said so, he would listen.
The Taihe and Mountain Wind chiefs did the same. They dared not question Shao Xun now, for they did not know what to do either. They would just follow what the Flaming Horn did.
In the upper floor of the cave, due to the presence of the lower ground people, there was almost no space to walk. The few of them also had to squeeze through the crowd.
However, with three chiefs present, no one dared fool around. They merely gave way for them to pass.
At the mouth of the cave, Shao Xuan pushed the boulder covering the entrance slightly. They had to clear the snow near the mouth later. Although the blanket of snow had grown thicker, they still had a limited view of things far away.
“There are people leaving on that side,” said Zheng Luo when he heard the commotion outside. There were people screaming on the Fox side.
“Should we go out and check?” asked the Taihe chief. Although he was afraid and worried, he was also curious.
“Wait first!” Shao Xuan stopped them. “Listen.”
The boulders were an efficient medium for sound travel. It sounded like something was moving below.
It was silent within the cave. Everyone could sense danger, holding their breaths. The rumbles in the cave were very clear, sending goosebumps.
“It’s a big one! Are we really not going outside? The top layer of the cave isn’t as solid as the bottom layer, what if it collapses?” asked the Mountain Wind chief.
Zheng Luo and the rest looked at Shao Xuan.
Shao Xuan was under a lot of pressure. His decision would determine the fate of three thousand people.
Instinct. He had to trust his instinct.
“Stay inside,” said Shao Xuan again.
“Then we stay in the cave!” Zheng Luo made a gesture to Duo Kang.
Duo Kang gulped and turned to pass the message. The people who usually didn’t blink in the presence of forest beasts were now shaking.
The Taihe and Mountain Wind chiefs looked at each other, their internal struggle showing in their eyes. The upper layer of the cave was not very solid, especially the part near the mouth. This was why it easily collapsed when Fox and Shen destroyed this place. It cannot withstand a giant beast’s attack, especially not a king beast. One smash and it would collapse. Then everyone would be buried inside. However, they might have a chance to live if they run now?
Who would want to stay? To wait for death? They’d either be buried or frozen to death!
The Mountain Wind chief was about to say something when Taihe’s chief turned to his men, “We will do the same as Flaming Horn. Tell everyone we’ll do whatever Flaming Horn does!”
Mountain Wind’s chief, Lanmu swallowed his words. He had wanted to tell his people to escape but…
“Chief!” the people around him were starting to hurry him. Even his men were divided into two sides, one side agreed with Flaming Horn and Taihe while the rest wanted to leave while they still could.
Before Lanmu finished, the rumbles grew louder and the ground shook more.
“It’s coming out!” said Shao Xuan in a low voice.
It’s out? What now? We wanted to escape! Lanmu was anxious.
The blanket of snow outside the cave was shaken off. The path they cleared was covered in even more snow. They could not see the outside anymore. The cave plunged into darkness.
Crackle crackle crackle----
A long, continuous sound of rough salt grains rubbing against rock grew louder until it was rough, yet sharp, and deafening. It was like nails on a chalkboard, sending goosebumps all over, piercing into their brains as every hair stood on their heads.
The sounds echoed within the cave. The weaker warriors bled through their ears with a dazed look in their eyes. It took a while before they snapped back and their hearing was temporarily affected. Since they could not hear whispers, they solely relied on lip-reading.
There was a long whistle like a strong gust of wind was blowing outside, then all the snow outside the mines was suddenly carried into the air.
The ten-meter tall layer of snow outside the mines seemed to break off into unequal flakes, then as if time was reversed, they all flew up into the air. The air currents flung the snow far away.
In a moment, half of the solid wall of snow at the mouth of the cave disappeared.
Shao Xuan reached out to push the snow at the gap between the cave mouth and the boulder aside. A gust of cold wind rushed into the cave but he had no time to care. Shao Xuan, the three chiefs, everyone near the entrance all stood tip-toed or climbed on a rock to see the outside through the gaps.
The layer of snow outside was now only two-meters thick.
A giant beast that looked like a white python shot diagonally out of one part of the mines. As it flew in the air, it created a more violent air current, stirring the air once again. Wind and snow flew hysterically. It did not care about the weather, it was no trouble. More specifically, it was very happy to see such weather, so happy it leapt with joy.