All the snow around Shao Xuan had been blasted away so he was directly sitting on salt. There were lines on the ground, all pointing outwards.
As for the rest, many were blasted into the air like Duo Kang. Some directly hid inside the layer of snow, only coming out later.
Shao Xuan’s reminder had given them just enough time. While most were blasted away and sustained injuries, not many were severely injured.
Duo Kang and Lu slowly got up. More people walked over from afar. Some were dragged out of the snow. Unconscious warriors were dragged out of the snow, for they could freeze to death if left inside for long.
Zheng Luo faced the largest impact because he had turned around to get Shao Xuan. However, he was also one of the strongest and most of the force had been blocked by Shao Xuan. Although he had been knocked unconscious after being blasted into the air, it was still good news that he was alive. They had to carry him.
They continued looking for unconscious men, also bringing the dead bodies from the previous battles. Shao Xuan helped them find buried bodies using his special vision to look into the snow.
The severely injured and unconscious individuals were carried by the ones well enough to walk. They hurried along their journey.
Shao Xuan told them that the king beast only wanted to chase them out. If it wanted to kill, it would have done so.
Although Shao Xuan only briefly described what happened, the Taihe and Mountain Wind people did not dare underestimate the young Elder of the Flaming Horn tribe. They could sense the surge of power that blasted them into the air.
The Flaming Horns were stronger than they thought.
“Right, Shao Xuan, you said the king beast ate salt flowers and that reminded me of something. A beast that lives around the salt flats and ate salt flowers, could it be the legendary ‘salt beast’ that the Chilu people talk about?” said Zheng Luo. Duo Kang was carrying him on his back.
Everyone thought about it. They could not remember the Chilu tribe’s totem. They hadn’t met the Chilu people in a while. Since the Chilu’s salt lakes were conquered and they assimilated into the cities, there were barely any Chilu tribesmen in the forest.
“I remember their totem is something with spikes, not a snake,” said a Mountain Wind warrior.
“Not spikes, it’s ice growing on its head. Do you remember how the king beast looked before the blast?” reminded Zheng Luo.
“Now that I think of it, it seems familiar.”
Due to the immediate correlation with a snake, they didn’t connect the dots.
“Wasn’t the earliest sighting of the Chilu tribe’s salt beast near their salt lakes? After that, the Chilu people discovered salt and lived around the salt lakes. Now, there isn’t much salt in their lakes anymore so the aristocrats aren’t interested. They started looking for other sources,” said the Taihe chief.
“But the salt beast never appeared at Chilu’s salt lake ever again. Instead, top-grade salt rocks were found in the salt mines here. Why did the people who first discovered these mines trek across the salt flats of death then? A place where so many people had died? They weren’t Chilu people, they couldn’t distinguish salt grades that well. There shouldn’t have been anything attractive for them to run here. Or was the guy on a suicide mission?” said Zheng Luo incredulously.
It didn’t matter what the truth was. Centuries had passed. No one knew the truth and they could not ask the beast.
“No matter what, we can’t go to the salt mines ever again,” sighed the Mountain Wind chief.
“If we knew there was a king beast there, I wouldn’t have ever gone there!” It had been a traumatic experience for the Taihe chief, they’d barely survived this disaster. They would never come here again, it wasn’t like they couldn’t survive without the salt mines!
“All in all, it’s great to be alive.”
“It’s great to be alive!”
To have so many survivors was already the most fortunate thing in the world. The fire crystals and salt were secondary. Only one thing was the most important to these tribesmen--- survival.
“I forgot… The Fox and Shen people, are they still at the salt mines?” asked Duo Kang.
The king beast had already warned them once. If it discovered more humans, would it rage?
Or even if it ‘warned’ them like what just happened, there was no second Shao Xuan to protect them.
“After we return, observe the two tribe’s movements. If we find that they have returned, when the weather is better, we go to war!” said the Mountain Wind chief.
Speaking of weather, the relief of surviving the disaster faded.
Not sure how the tribe was doing in this weather.
It was an extreme phenomenon no one had seen in centuries, maybe millennia. No one could truly relax.
On the salt flats, it was still fine as they travelled on the beast’s tracks. Many times, they could not avoid trekking through the snow though. However, their moods were definitely better since they were going home.
The moment they stepped out of the salt flats, everyone looked up and roared at the skies.
They had survived the king beast. Now, they were going to leave the place their tribe had travelled too for the past centuries. For real. Perhaps they would never return in their lifetime. The salt mine guards were nostalgic of this place. This job was passed down generations, they knew more about the mines than anyone else. Wacha had taken over this job from his father. IT was the path his ancestors took, the job they had done.
However, when he remembered the beast, he could not do much.
They vented their emotions through shouts and yells, which shook off snow from tree branches.
What was once a forest was now covered in snow. However, there wasn’t as much snow here. In the salt lands, snow was ten metres tall. Outside, it was only up till their shoulders. Sometimes, they still disappeared into the snow when they accidentally stepped into a sunken area.
“We’ve passed the salt flats, there’s nothing to be afraid of here!” Zheng Luo told Duo Kang to put him down, then instructed the warriors to cut down trees to make stretches. This was more convenient for everyone.
The severely injured members were more comfortable on stretchers too.
The Flaming Horns were strong, four people could carry ten on a stretcher. As they distributed the injured, Zheng Luo was also placed on a simple stretcher. He stared out into the patch of white in silence.
It looked as if the forest had been covered in a thick cotton blanket. At least there was a lot less snow in here. Perhaps also because the leaves were dense. They just had to be alert of other beasts.
Some beasts were hibernating. Some were still roaming around, hungry for food.
Not just humans, even the animals were not used to this weather. As they returned, they saw many carcasses in the snow. There were animals eating the dead too, crunching as they chewed. Even the meat was frozen.
When they found a place to rest and cooked porridge, some braver animals wanted to approach because it was warm. However, there were too many people around. Several small squirrel-like animals leapt towards the fire, staying nearby to keep warm.
The tribesmen didn’t eat such small animals so they were ignored. These animals were very lucky to be able to stay.
The warriors with minor injuries hunted several wild animals and two fearsome beasts, roasting meat over the fire and distributing it to everyone. Everyone savoured every bite after suffering in the cold for so many days.
“Shao Xuan, when will the weather change?” asked Zheng Luo.
“Tomorrow morning.” This was the result of his divination reading. But change to what? He couldn’t tell.
“We will not rest tonight. We’ll continue travelling,” decided Zheng Luo.
The two chiefs did not object. At this point, all they knew was that staying with the Flaming Horns was better than making their own decision.
Hurrying through the night was not easy. There were many dangers in the forest and they had to climb hills too. One wrong step and they could die.
Shao Xuan had recovered a lot. At this point, the glowing crystals were not very useful either. He walked in front with Wacha and his wife. They had been here many times so they were familiar. Occasionally, Shao Xuan would ask questions to confirm their direction.
On the second day, the sky brightened and it started to snow again. The winds were strong enough to blow a person away.
“At least we’ve passed the most dangerous hill,” sighed Wacha.
After leading for one night, another person took over in clearing the way so Shao Xuan could rest.
The skies were dark, darker than when they were at the salt mines. The skies resembled a perpetual evening, dark and sombre.
Two more days passed. They finally arrived in familiar territory. They were not far from the tribes now.
The Mountain Wind people had left a day before, taking another path.
“Thank you all so much for this time. If you need any help, just ask us,” said the Taihe chief when they separated from the Flaming Horns.
Without the Flaming Horns, he wasn’t even sure if ten out of a thousand of his men would return alive.
Zheng Luo wrung his hands but did not speak. He was still carried on a stretcher.
“There’s a path ahead!” shouted the warriors in front.
A path had been cleared in the middle of the thick snow. They didn’t have to do it themselves anymore.
“It’s made by the tribe! And there’s food!” Wacha took down a pouch tied to a wooden pole next to the path. Although the dried meat inside was already frozen hard, it seemed freshly made.
It’s good to be home.
This was what everyone thought.
After walking for some time, they saw the patrol team, each wearing thick fur. Their faces were covered too, only their eyes peeked out of the fabric.
When they saw the group, the patrol team hollered and cheered excitedly.
“We send a team here every day to clear the path,” said the patrol guard.
After counting the number of people, the guards were more relieved. This was a lot better than they imagined. They were all mentally prepared for the worst, yet so many returned.
“Chief, how is the situation at the salt mines?” asked the patrol.
“We’ll talk about it later.”
The guards did not ask more questions.
In the middle of a two-meter thick layer of snow, a curved path led them to the river in front of the tribe.
The river was frozen over so there was no need for a bridge. Everyone could cross on the ice.
Many people had already received news of their arrival, greeting them at the entrance. There were people serving hot meat soup too.
When they returned the past events seemed like just a nightmare. They had finally woken.
“Elder! Elder Shao Xuan!” someone squeezed his way through the crowd.
Shao Xuan blocked his face from the flying snow. It was the duck house keeper.
“What, did the fat duck cause trouble?” asked Shao Xuan.
“No, they hatched! The duck’s eggs hatched!”