Ever since they knew of what happened after Shao Xuan’s training, the patrol him liked to wait and watch after they swept away snow.
The corridor they cleared was still there, with the initial resting point converted into a shelter.
The patrol guards wanted to follow the initial plan, creating an open-air resting point. However, they would still be exposed to the cold and winds like that.
One day, Shao Xuan had an idea to teach them how to make ice bricks using water and grinding tools. The ice on the river was already too thick so they could not harvest from there. They could only melt snow and pour into moulds, then freeze outside. It only took a few moments for the water to freeze outside so this was efficient.
The tribesmen liked this idea, even warriors not on patrol duty came to help.
From the top of the hill to the bottom, ice houses were built in an ‘I’ shape. The foundation of these houses was also made of ice, stacked tall to protrude out of the snow layer. Then, the houses were built at the top.
When the patrol teams were resting between shovelling snow, they would rest in the ice houses, warming themselves with sips of hot water. They could see very far from here. Even the tribesmen who had been hiding in their homes for a while came to check the houses out curiously.
Initially, Shao Xuan was worried that they might get snow blindness from staring at the snow all the time. He reminded them to be careful. Until now, no one had shown any symptoms of it.
“Come watch, Elder’s pushing snow again!” said someone, leaning against the window of the ice house.
“Where? Move away, let me see!”
Everyone fought to watch through three small windows.
These ice houses were built near the first path Shao Xuan cleared. Every day, Shao Xuan would take a new path.
From the top, one could see a person wrapped in flames walking slowly among the white snow. From the front, it looked like a large white worm was inching down the hill.
When the shock faded, these patrol guards now treated it as their daily entertainment. The tribes worshipped the strong. Shao Xuan could withstand such freezing temperatures and strong winds in this weather. Many also tried to push snow but they could not do much. Compact snow was solid and heavy, after pushing for a bit, they would be unable to push further. They were embarrassed to ever think of themselves as physically strong.
Duo Kang walked over, patting off snow, “How are the stations at the foot of the hill?”
“Tao Zheng and his team said they’d continue working on it today. They said they wanted to build taller structures so they can see further. Then they wouldn’t have to travel far in the cold,” replied a warrior.
“Building the ice watch towers is an important job, don’t slack! I’ll be checking!” reminded Duo Kang.
“Mm.” Duo Kang grunted and pushed the people at the window aside to look outside. “I want to see how Shao Xuan is doing.”
The warriors at the side frowned. Duo Kang was just looking for an excuse to look out of the windows, why was he here fake-nagging?
At the foot of the hill, opposite the river, tall watchtowers were constructed. Large bricks of ice were continuously transported towards the construction sites.
After building several stations, since the warriors had nothing to do, they attempted to connect all the points, building walkways to each tower. At least they wouldn’t have to walk in the snow. Plus, it looked more like a city wall now.
The warriors grew more excited as they saw their walkways come to life. These ‘walkways’ were as awesome as a city wall! It was not like there was no joy in this harsh winter. To the bored ones, it was an experience.
Very few animals appeared in the forest, the hunters could not go out to hunt either. At least everyone had ample food at home and did not have to starve. If they rationed their food well, they would survive the winter. As long as the winter wasn’t too long.
Many people of the tribe did not know that there was a team of fifty people leaving the forest, braving the blizzard. These people were sent by the chief and shamaness. Although they might miss the most important ceremony of the year, they were given special permission. To the chief and shamaness, this matter was more important than a ceremony. It involved the future of the tribe.
The leader of this team was named Xiang Chen, a little younger than Duo Kang and also an advanced totemic warrior. In the past year, he had not spent much time at the tribe.
Xiang Chen was the first batch of tribesmen to follow Shao Xuan to the coast. He had taken this path twice, this was his third time.
This time, Xiang Chen and his men risked their lives going to the beach to check the situation there. Other people might wonder, why would they travel in such cold weather?
But the shamaness and chief wanted exactly this weather!
In fact, the shamaness and chief hoped this weather would remain for as long as possible, if matters would develop according to their prediction.
Xiang Chen’s path was different from the path Shao Xuan took to find this tribe. When Shao Xuan came to the tribe the first time, he was walking in a straight line. That path was a more difficult one so subsequently, everyone took another path.
The journey through the forest was difficult. When they left the forest and passed Anba City, they realised there was not a single person outside the city. In the past, Anba City was still a busy place even in winter.
There were people walking on the towers of the city walls but there was no one else. They initially wanted to find a resting spot in Anba and get some food. It looked like this was not going to happen. The city gates were shut tight, banning all outsiders from entry.
“We’ll continue walking,” said Xiang Chen.
Compared to the forest, there was lesser snow here. Perhaps to the Anba City people this was a once-a-millennia kind of winter. To them, this was a huge inconvenience and a hindrance to movement. However, Xiang Chen and the rest had just suffered through the forest and did not think so.
The snow here was only as tall as their waists.
Every time they met a passerby, they’d hear a conversation like ‘the snow’s as tall as my hips, how are we going to live like this?!”. When they did, Xiang Chen and his men couldn’t help but interrupt, “It’s just up to the hips, and you’re so shocked! If you walked in the forest, I think your eyes would fall out of your head!”
They also met robbers along the way, though very few. Even thieves and robbers were unwilling to work in this weather. These people were the ones forced out due to starvation. Their eyes were filled with violence, willing to risk it all. Unfortunately, Xiang Chen and his men were no kind folk either. If they were too kind, they wouldn’t have survived until today. If these robbers had asked for food politely, perhaps they’d be given a little food. However, since they pulled out knives in the tribesmen’s faces, then they mustn't blame Xiang Chen for being cruel.
Fresh blood splattered on the snow, freezing immediately. The dead were luckily covered by snow once again. Anyone who wasn’t as lucky would become a target for other starving people.
Xiang Chen had seen too many of these along the way.
As they travelled, the snow thinned.
Xiang Chen’s heart fell. Although he didn’t want this harsh winter, according to the shamaness and chief, this winter might be a good thing for them. Most importantly, had the sea frozen over? This was what the shamaness wanted most.
The shamaness said that if there was a layer of ice on the sea’s surface, they should continue walking. If the ice covered a huge area, then this was their chance to return to their homeland from a thousand years ago. Both branches of the tribe would reunite and perhaps their ‘hidden illness’ would be cured. Who wouldn’t want to live double their current lifespans? They wouldn’t have to think about retiring after just twenty or thirty years of hunting. Hunters from other tribes could be so much older than them and still be energetic enough to hunt.
They were sad just thinking about it.
It must be frozen, it must!
As they left Anba City, they passed a smaller city. It was the same as Anba, its city gates shut tight with a sombre atmosphere. However, the snow was only up to their thighs here.
As they continued walking, Xiang Chen had a bad feeling.
When they finally stepped into the semi-desert region, Xiang Chen sighed and looked out into the vast expanse. Here, the snow was only up to their knees.
They continued walking, crossing what was once an arid land.
There were camel beasts looking for ice on the ground. Their fur had grown longer, all huddled together for warmth and eating snow as a source of water.
When they saw Xiang Chen and his group, the camel beasts ran.
Xiang Chen did not chase after them. He still had food. And he wasn't in the mood to hunt. His footsteps became more hurried as he ran towards the coast.
Tall, pillar-like cacti stood in the sand like thorns piercing into their hearts.
The sea wasn’t frozen!
There was some ice near the beach but that was nothing compared to the ice layer on the river outside their tribe. Could humans even walk on that?!
Plus seawater was still flowing a little further from the coast. The wind lifted the waves and they broke upon hitting the ice.
The meeting point between the blue sea and snowy beach was beautiful, yet to Xiang Chen and his men, it was a disappointing sight.
As if they had lost all strength, fatigue washed over them as they knelt on the sand covered in a thin layer of snow, pounding their fists, again and again, to form dents in the sand.
Their only path was gone.
They did not know if they would cross this ocean in their lifetime.
How long could a person live? To people who did the same thing every day, one lifetime could be as short as the blink of an eye. Xiang Chen could see his future self, an old man making rope at home. Yet the people from other tribes were still hunting happily at the same age.
He could not bear to hold that thought.
He sighed in disappointment. They all walked back to the tribe. The shamaness might cry herself unconscious by the fire pit if she knew about this.
When would they return to their homeland? How?
No one knew.