“What… is that?” stuttered Zheng Luo, obviously shaken.
Not just Zheng Luo, anyone who saw the python could not keep calm.
In the forest, their first thought when they saw a beast was: how will we kill it? How shall we distribute its meat? How to cook? What are its uses? Is its hide valuable?
However, when they saw this beast, although they could not see much through the falling snow at such a distance, the first thing they wanted to do was run.
It’s undefeatable! -this was Zheng Luo’s conclusion.
“It’s a snake?”
“Does a snake sound like that? Do snakes come out in this weather?”
The three chiefs discussed in a low voice.
Outside, the python-like beast burst out of the mines and fell unto the piece of land scattered with boulders outside the caves. Due to the thick blanket of snow, it almost looked like a flat piece of land now. However, after it landed, there was a rumble--- as if they were random ornaments, the python effortlessly swept the boulders aside with its tail, clearing out a large area.
What Shao Xuan and the rest saw were pieces of rock flying in the air or tossed out of the way.
Duo Kang gulped once again. He wanted to speak but could not. This was the first time he felt this way in his life. He had met many ferocious beasts in the forest, yet compared to this one, they were nothing.
This beast could sweep large, hard boulders effortlessly. Could they even pierce through its skin with their weapons if it could withstand that?
The python king beast cleared the land wherever it passed, yet somehow avoided the salt mines. All the odd-shaped rocks were swept to a side, as if it was clearing a path for a reason.
Shao Xuan even saw shapes of humans swept away together with the rocks but these people did not even look alive. They were tossed around like non-living objects.
Those were the ones who ran.
The Fox chief had wanted to run with his men but they did not succeed.
The thick layer of snow and the boulders buried inside had slowed them greatly. Even if they wanted to escape the beast, they still had to make sure they did not fall unto a rock.
The beast was heading towards the Fox chief fast.
As she heard the beast approaching, the woman in his arms tugged at him. “Go back.” They could not run but they could risk returning into the cave.
The Fox chief furrowed his brows, unwilling to take the risk. However, the thick layer of snow was difficult to pass through, even breathing would be difficult after a while. After this patch, he would still have to pass the salt flats, which were more dangerous. He did not have food with him.
The lady tugged at him again and gave him a look. “We turn towards their side.”
The Fox chief clenched his teeth and turned instantly. They turned but did not return to their own cave. Instead, they ran towards the Shen cave. He swept his sword in front of him like a broom, sweeping the snow aside. When the blade hit rock, he went around it.
Some people saw him and followed.
They met the Shen chief and other people too, who probably had the same idea.
There were other people turning back to the Fox cave too.
Although they had escaped the beast, who was clearing its path, the threat was not over.
The patch of rock-scattered land they’d suffered so much to cross vanished.
The thick layer of snow was gone, the odd-shaped rocks were gone. Everyone fled quickly to prevent themselves from becoming a target. They dared not look back, nor did they stop, running frantically.
That was why the people who escaped from the mines were divided into four groups. One wanted to leave, still running; one was scattered within the boulder forest and lost their way, in danger of getting suffocated by the snow; one portion turned around and went back to their original cave while the fourth group went with the Fox chief back to the Shen cave.
There were five caves, all in different parts of the mines. The people on Shao Xuan’s side could not see what was happening but so far it looked like staying inside was still the best choice for now. Running for your life in thick snow looked very difficult.
“What now?” As they listened to the rumbles in the background, Lanmu, who was usually an arrogant man, leader of the Mountain Wind tribe, could not control the shaking in his voice. Even as the chief, he was helpless right now. At the same time, he was relieved he did not go out or they’d also suffer.
Everyone else was silent.
The weather was already bad, now there was a bigger problem. And this one did not have an easy solution. If a fight occurred, there was a chance of everyone dying.
All three chiefs had not experienced anything like this. They looked at Shao Xuan. So far, Shao Xuan had been right.
“Shao Xuan, any ideas?” asked Zheng Luo.
Shao Xuan thought for a moment. “Send people to the lower floor to check. If it’s not too cold, send a batch of people down.”
“I’ll go,” volunteered Duo Kang bravely, though he was just looking for an excuse to do something. He was very uncomfortable, it was his first time being this frightened.
The beast continued clearing the land outside, moving around the salt mine area. Occasionally, it entered Shao Xuan’s field of vision.
“Do you guys think it noticed us?” asked Taihe’s chief.
Zheng Luo and Lanmu looked at him but did not answer.
The python-like king beast was not in a hurry, slowly sweeping everything in its path aside.
“Shao Xuan, do you sense anything?” asked Zheng Luo, who would rather ask his own tribe’s Elder than the other two chiefs.
“Sense?” Shao Xuan thought for a moment. “I sense that this guy’s in a good mood.”
The three chiefs were crestfallen. It didn’t matter if it was in a good or bad mood, it was still bad news.
Duo Kang had already returned and sent some people to the lower floor. The crowd cleared and air flowed better. It was still cold.
“Looks like the beast radiated frost and cold air. If it approaches us, we have to avoid it,” said Duo Kang. After moving, he felt less stiff and could speak better. He had made a decision-- fine, I’ll die if it comes to that. I’ll be with many people, I won’t die alone. But I’ll regret not being able to see Duo Li marrying a wife and have grandchildren.
As he spoke, Shao Xuan said, “It’s coming.”
The beast approached the mines, taking its time to sweep and clear the path.
As it swept the forest of boulders, a layer of snow fell on the ground once again. Wherever it went, it left behind a long, curved line in the snow.
The beast was now coming towards Shao Xuan and the rest. Everyone who could see this muttered to themselves in terror- please don’t come here, please don’t come here, go disturb the Fox tribe instead!
The beast approached. Shao Xuan could not see its head. While its body looked like a snake, its head had spikes like icicles sticking out of its head.
As it came closer, the temperature in the cave fell.
Shao Xuan gestured for everyone to back away.
Thank goodness some people were sent down or they wouldn’t have been able to back away quickly.
The beast crawled on top of the mines and passed above the cave. Although there was no light, Shao Xuan could hear frost forming in the cave.
The giant beast’s scales scratched against the uneven salt mines, the screeches echoing within the cave like an ice brush swept across their heads. Everyone shivered and contracted their necks.
When the sound grew further and further away, Shao Xuan took out the glowing crystals wrapped tightly in his back to brighten the cave.
The crowd had already backed away from the regions directly under the beast’s body. At this moment, all that's left was a trail of frost where it travelled. There was a herb dropped by someone on the ground, now frozen. When someone stepped on it, it shattered.
“That’s the king beast.” Zheng Luo slowly exhaled, for he had been holding his breath.
“It’s going towards…” Shao Xuan listened and pointed. “That way?”
“That’s where the Fox cave is,” said Zheng Luo.
“Maybe the Fox people dug the beast out when they were mining fire crystals?” Duo Kang shivered. He had also dug a pit, thank goodness it was not deep.
They did not know the truth, only making assumptions. They were not going to leave the cave now.
At this moment, the Fox chief brought a batch of people into the Shen’s salt cave. When he entered, he realised the forgotten birds and fox were hiding here in a corner.
On the other side were people huddled together, shaking as they heard the noises outside.
Frost appeared at the mouth of the cave.
The people in the cave ran hysterically towards the inside.
Thud! The boulder blocking the entrance disappeared. It was swept aside. The white head of the beast, as if covered in ice crystals, appeared.
The cave was large to humans, yet it was small for the beast.
The beast would not be able to enter. They secretly heaved a sigh of relief, hiding deep inside as they peered fearfully at the peculiar beast.
Its eyes were as cold as eyes, glaring sharply at everything in the cave as if it could freeze the air in an instant. It looked inside the cave then suddenly opened its jaws and cried.
A piercing screech filled the cave, bringing with it a blast of frost, travelling straight into the depths of the cave.