It was pitch-black within the salt cave.
In the deepest part, there were more than ten people in the fire crystal pit attempting to pry out more fire crystals on the ground.
When the incident happened, the Fox and Shen chief had escaped in a hurry and were not able to bring the fire crystals with them. Along the sides were baskets filled with dug-up fire crystals, which were now scattered on the ground as the baskets were kicked over during the escape. These crystals were now frozen stuck to the ground due to frost.
At the point, some people had left with the Fox chief but some missed the opportunity. There were also people who intentionally remained in the cave, saying that it was the safest.
Without the presence of the chiefs, no one cared about the dead and the injured within the cave. They heard from people running back that there was a giant beast outside that they could not fight so they had to return for cover.
The ones who knew about the fire crystals had the idea to pry the crystals out of the pit. To these totemic warriors, the crystals were still valuable.
Four people were digging, one person held a fire torch while about twenty stood watch in case anyone came. No one had run deeper into the cave because there was a lot of ice and frost inside, plus the frozen dead. Plus if this place was safe, the two chiefs would not have run out.
Even the person holding the fire torch next to the pit could feel the cold air.
White frost was everywhere. While they did not witness what happened, they could guess.
“Hurry up!” said a guard. It was too cold here. It would be better if they could use the fire crystals now.
“You’re just mining crystals, why are you taking so long?” complained another.
“It sounds easy but do you know how hard this ice is?” panted a guy, slashing his sword. They did not know why the ice seemed to be harder nearer the pit. The ice here was different from ice outside. It was too hard! They could already see half a chunk of fire crystal, yet prying it out was so difficult. The bronze weapons they had were not the best either, the kind businessmen sold in bulk.
Ice shavings splattered on their faces, necks and mouths as they hacked away with their knives and swords.
“It’s salty,” said someone.
“Nonsense, of course ice in a salt cave is salty.”
“Ugh, it’s freezing!”
A shivering warrior standing guard heard a sound. Shivering, he asked, “What’s happening outside?”
There were sounds of crowds yelling and this left them unsettled.
They heard a faint shout, “Outside! It’s outside!”
“The beast came in?” The guard panicked.
“No, it can’t come in, it can’t.” Not sure if he was convincing himself or the rest.
“But the people in front…”
Before they finished, they heard a loud cry.
The people in the upper layer of the cave felt a strong blast of frost and wind in their faces. They could not breathe nor open their eyes, as if they were outside in the middle of a blizzard.
IN the bottom layer, the warriors held up a hand to block the wind. The wind was not obvious here, for there were many people on the upper floor who blocked most of the current.
“Ey, people in the front! What the hell happened?!” A warrior yelled into the wind.
No one answered.
Crack- crack- crack--
They heard cracking around them.
The ones prying crystals in the pit stopped too. The winds had already extinguished the fire torch.
Now that their source of warmth was gone, the chill pierced into their bones.
Based on muscle memory, the warrior holding the torch quickly hid in a hole, turned his back against the wind, took out fire-starting tools and applied a sticky gel on a stick. Then, he started the fire with friction.
The stick lit up once again. It was not hot enough. He wanted to light the torch now since the wind had died.
However, before he could, the fire on the fire stick went out.
The warrior felt the temperature falling around him. He felt like his lungs were frozen. Whispering to a warrior a few steps away from him, “Do you guys have fire sticks? I used my last one.”
No one answered.
Around him was a deathly silence.
The warrior wanted to say something but he realised his consciousness was quickly slipping away. Then he could not feel the cold anymore. His body grew heavier, too stiff to move… then he lost all consciousness.
If there were light, one would see that this warrior was covered from head to toe in a layer of frost.
A few steps away, the person mining the fire crystals was frozen in one position, holding his weapon. There was no breath in him. The twenty guards nearby had no heartbeats.
The crackling noise continued as frost extended throughout two levels of the cave. All life ceased to function.
On the other side, within the Flaming Horn cave.
The three chiefs stood expressionless. At this point, they did not know what expression to put on their faces.
They heard the sounds and they could sense the killing aura in these cries. The odd thing was that the anger was not strong.
This was just a feeling.
“Perhaps it doesn’t even care about us, it just wants to take revenge on the ones who disturbed it?” Shao Xuan tried to say something good, though he did not want to lie to them.
In the past, when he got lost in the king stoneworm’s cave, he knew that the worm must have sensed his presence because he was not far away. The worm must have ignored him. Just like how a human would ignore an ant on the side of a road.
“Or maybe it’s in a good mood today, that’s why we can’t sense the killing aura?” tried Zheng Luo. Shao Xuan had said that it was in a good mood.
“No matter what, let’s not provoke it.” Although the king beast’s temper was worse than the king stoneworm, compared to the fierce beasts in the forest, it was a little better. Ignoring them was a good thing.
They suddenly heard a rumble, then another, then another… but the sounds grew further away.
Shao Xuan rushed to the mouth of the cave. The gap had already been blocked by more snow.
Pushing aside the snow, Shao Xuan looked out.
He saw a snake’s silhouette among the wind and snow. It leapt around occasionally, slithering around for a while and then leaping into the air.
It was… energetic.
As the sounds grew farther away, until they faded completely, the people in the cave could not help but sigh.
“Is it gone?” asked Zheng Luo.
“It’s probably leaving for the moment. I don't know when it’d return, this is probably its nest,” said Shao Xuan. “I’ll go out to check.”
“Me too.” Zheng Luo turned to Duo Kang. “Watch everyone, don’t let them wander outside.”
When they left, the other two chiefs followed too. They wanted to see what happened outside. Since the beast wasn’t here, it was a rare opportunity. Maybe they could return alive to record this historical event on an animal skin scroll after all. Then their descendants could know that within this patch of forest, there lived a king beast. And they had mined salt in this magical place for centuries.”
They also wanted to confirm if they could leave.
Listening around him, Shao Xuan pushed the boulder aside and walked out. When all three chiefs also exited the cave, he pushed the boulder back.
There was still a blizzard outside, it was a lot colder than the inside of the cave.
While the patch of boulder-ridden land had been cleared, a thick blanket of snow had replaced it.
“Let’s check on the Fox’s cave,” suggested Zheng Luo.
All four went over cautiously, following the giant snake tracks to the Fox cave.
There was a thick layer of ice that sent a spike of chill through your heels when you walked on it. However, when they saw the situation in the Fox cave, they thought shivering in the cold was nothing compared to the unlucky bastards.
There was a thick layer of white ice around the cave’s mouth, making the entrance a lot smaller, plus a meter-tall layer of ice on the ground of the cave.
They jumped up onto the ice and entered the cave.
Zheng Luo was holding a piece of glowing crystal so he could see everything inside.
There were people frozen under the layer of ice at the entrance. They must have been crushed by the stampede during the escape.
They continued walking and saw broken pieces.
The frozen tribesmen had shattered and cracked in the cold.
A deep cold rushed into their spines and every hair on their body stood up. Even the three chiefs could feel their heart clench.
Shao Xuan trudged deeper. There were people here, all standing. Their bodies were intact but there was a layer of white on all of them.
Dodging in between these bodies, the four went to the lower floor of the cave.
They thought it would be better but they were wrong.
Although they could sense that there was no life in this area, they were terrified. Every person was covered in a white layer of frost, their facial expressions faintly visible and their postures indicated what they were doing.
“Fire crystals?” Since they were close, Zheng Luo could feel its presence.
When they heard this, the two chiefs forgot about their fears.
Noticing the fire crystals frozen stuck to the ground, all three chiefs grew excited.
The king beast wasn’t here, there were no other people here, plus there were fire crystals on the ground! What should they do?