It had been a long time since the fat duck stole eggs. Compared to other eggs, these were very late.
They were from the same nest, yet why would an egg taken by the fat duck take so long to hatch? There were too many coincidences to be explained that way. One couldn’t say that the fat duck was just untalented at brooding either, for the difference should not be this huge.
“I’ll go check it out.” Shao Xuan passed the things he was holding to Zheng Luo and the rest, squeezed through the crowd and followed the duck keeper to the duck house.
“It has been snowing so much, we sweep more than three times every day. We sometimes have to get up at night too.” The duck keeper was worried. “Many ducks froze to death too.”
The ducks that refused to approach the tribe, living in the forest outside died from the cold. The older ducklings did not survive too. There were also many more ducks that brought their ducklings into the tribe’s duck house for shelter.
Shao Xuan observed the duck house as he listened to the keeper.
It was quiet here. There was an occasional quack but it did not sound energetic either.
He came to the pen where the fat duck lived. The keeper did not enter, merely pointed inside and stood at the entrance. Every time he pushed the door, the duck would attack so he could only listen from the outside.
There were sounds of ducklings.
Shao Xuan pushed the door open and felt a burst of murderous aura.
To prevent cold air from entering, he quickly closed the door behind him and took out his glowing crystal.
When the duck recognised Shao Xuan, it froze. All its feathers were standing, making it like a puffed up ball. It maintained a defensive stance, unmoving. Its eyes looked at Shao Xuan, as if it didn’t expect Shao Xuan’s arrival. It was still very cautious and scared of this person.
Shao Xuan looked at its nest. There are several balls of green there. They looked up at the source of light but didn’t seem to see Shao Xuan well. They panicked, sensing a foreign presence but calmed when they sensed the fat duck by their side. Shao Xuan noticed that when one duckling stood up from the dried grass, some of it caught on its foot. The blade of grass was sliced in half quickly.
That meant they had sharp hooks at the ends of their feet too, like the fat duck.
There were still unhatched eggs next to the duck. All these eggs were laid at different times anyway, so their development stages were different.
Shao Xuan counted eight green ducklings. Before he left, there were thirty-one eggs. This meant twenty-three were left.
Not sure if all of them would successfully hatch.
Shao Xuan thought it was peculiar too.
None of the previous ducklings he saw resembled this duck. At the time, he had wondered if the fat duck’s blood was too weak, so its progeny did not resemble it at all. Or were the females cheating on him?
However, this development meant the duck had it all planned out. It knew how to choose eggs that would hatch ducklings resembling it.
So that was why it did not care much about the ducklings outside. Perhaps it only cared about offsprings that looked like it. Right now, the way it guarded these eggs day and night was a huge difference from how it treated the rest.
In the natural world, animals killed anything that didn’t look like them. This duck had the same behaviour. It was only kind to the ducklings that looked like it. Everything else didn’t matter.
When he left, Shao Xuan saw odd pieces on the ground. He peered closer. They were fish scales!
Using his special vision, he scanned the entire duck house. In a corner, there was a layer of dried grass. Underneath were small fish, fruits etc.
This duck was fully prepared.
He exited the duck house.
“How many hatched?” asked the keeper curiously.
“Eight hatched, it’s still brooding the rest.”
“What do the ducklings look like?”
“They look like the fat duck.”
The keeper was very curious but it was a pity he couldn’t go in.
“Don’t worry. They’ll come out after winter,” said Shao Xuan.
Shao Xuan was called to Zheng Luo’s house for a hot meal, then he went home to sleep. During this period of time, the team had not rested much. Shao Xuan slept through a day. Some people slept through two days and two nights without waking.
On the third day, although it was snowing heavily, the tribe still conducted a funeral. They built a fence around the fire pit and cremated the dead warriors there.
Survival meant war, it meant the cycle of life and death. The tribesmen were used to funerals. Although the mood was sombre, it was so much better than what they imagined.
After the ceremony, Shao Xuan was called for a meeting.
This was the first meeting after their return.
Zheng Luo was better after treatment and rest. He could now walk.
He had already told the higher-ranked members and the shamaness about what happened at the salt mines.
No one objected to the decision to abandon the salt mines. Even if they didn’t see the king beast, they knew how strong it was. If they could not beat it, the best choice was to avoid it altogether.
At least they brought back a lot of salt. Most importantly, they had fire crystals too. Everyone was excited. With the fire crystals, the warriors would be a lot more powerful, especially warriors who had plateaued or reached a bottleneck. Fire crystals could help them.
The Taihe people sent over some herbs to help with frostbite, boosting the immune system etc. This was the first time anyone had experienced weather like this. The warriors weren’t used to this, especially the children who were prone to sickness.
The shamaness told them about the plans for this winter. Leaving the village was impossible, travelling was difficult in this weather. Plus they did not know if other places fared better than here. They could only remain and survive the weather.
The warriors stored some firewood in their houses, lighting fires to stay warm. At least they had a lot of animal hides so clothing was not a problem. The Taihe people reported that some smaller tribes with fewer members were completely dead. No one knew the specifics.
After making arrangements within the tribe, the leaders also talked about the Fox and Shen tribe. After winter, they would listen for news and check what happened to the people at the salt mines. Mountain Wind wanted to launch a war against Fox, inviting Zheng Luo and Taihe to join. But Zheng Luo did not agree immediately.
Not just Flaming Horn- Taihe and Mountain Wind both wondered how the Fox and Shen people at the mines were doing.
At this moment, there was a massacre on the salt flats.
The king beast did not care if these humans were working together. It could do whatever it wanted. To the beast, it owned this piece of white lands. Everything else must show some respect.
It had planned to roar twice, maybe thump its tail as a warning to this bunch, but it hadn’t expected these puny things to retaliate, even aiming their weapons at it!
This was a show of disrespect! So, it raged.
The people carrying sacks full of salt and fire crystals ran for their lives amidst the snow. The ones who couldn’t run were frozen to death. The rest were blasted into the air. No one knew where they landed.
The Fox and Shen people all ran. They didn’t expect to beat the beast, just as they were returning with sacks of salt and crystals.
The people that Fox used as bait were all frozen into blocks of ice. They shattered in the wind. Without the baits, the number of survivors from the tribes dwindled quickly.
The Fox chief and his lover sprinted across the snow. He did not care about everyone else. The Fox people were separated into three teams, running in three directions. He didn’t know how they were doing.
This time, one thousand two hundred people from the Fox tribe came. However, there were probably around three hundred left now. They hadn’t escaped the salt flats yet. Some of the Shen people helped a little.
The Fox chief was heartbroken by their losses. Forget about their salt and fire crystals, that were already gone, he had enough deaths in the tribe. This was enough for him to be dethroned as the chief. He could not imagine what would happen when he returned.
“It’s all the Flaming Horn’s fault!” cursed the lady.
Yep, all their fault.
If it wasn’t for them, they would have been following their plan. The caves would collapse, the tribes would freeze. They might fight to their deaths with the Shen tribe while the Fox people over here would just pick up the pieces after war.
The king beast was an accident.
However, they had run so far and did not see any bodies left behind by the Flaming Horns, Taihe or Mountain Wind. Unless… did they escape alive?
They even chose the direction where Flaming Horn travelled in, only to see one part with thinner snow. Other than that, there was no evidence of these tribesmen.
No, they must’ve been eaten by the beast, they must!
Although they all secretly believed the three tribes survived, the Fox chief refused to admit this.
The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.
If he got out of this alive, the Fox chief would never let the Flaming Horns live. NEVER!