Shao Xuan and the rest only wanted to observe the slave masters in Wanshi. If the slave masters would squabble among themselves, or they disagreed with Wanshi, these were all good news to Flaming Horn. As long as they weren’t getting along among themselves, it was a good thing.
The slave masters within Wanshi did not consist of only one group. According to reports, other than White Stone City slave masters, who had the closest ties with Wanshi, there were also people from other cities. When one thought about forcing this mixed group together, then about the slave masters’ personalities, one could imagine that working together would be difficult.
“The Wanshi chief must be having a hard time now,” said Duo Kang.
“No matter what they do, no matter how they react, we will fight this war without question!” said Ta, glaring at the tribe.
“You’re right. Just like what Ah Xuan said, at most, we’ll just fight them all the said,” said Gui He.
Just as Gui He planned to ask him something, he realised Shao Xuan was looking in a direction. He didn’t speak, stopping to observe.
Duo Kang and Ta also fell silent. With their capabilities, they too noticed something was approaching among the bushes.
However, from the movement, they decided that it was not something threatening so they didn’t care.
To their left, the dense grass shook. The sound approached until they saw grass in front shaking. Through the grass, although they only saw a bit of fur, they knew what it was.
It was a common wild rat, fast and small. It was not a fearsome beast, nor did it have much meat. It was at the bottom of the food chain, the tribesmen did not hunt these unless times were difficult. The traps around the fields were only to prevent the rats from destroying their crops. There were many rats in this area.
There were many rats in this area, Duo Kang and the rest did not care about this common rat. Just as they turned away, they saw Shao Xuan pull out a spearhead from his waist pouch then throw it at lightning speed.
The stone spearhead glinted mid-air, violently flying at the rat.
There was the sound of stone piercing through meat, then stone lodged in the ground. They smelled blood.
Shao Xuan looked over and held up a grey-brown rat smaller than his fist.
The rat was not dead yet. Shao Xuan studied the struggling rat.
A fierce glare shot across its eyes, then faded until there seemed to be a veil of grey. The rat stopped moving.
“You’re interested in the small ones?” smiled Duo Kang, “they don’t taste good.”
But when he saw Shao Xuan staring at the rate with furrowed brows, Duo Kang’s smile faded. “What’s wrong?”
Gui He and Ta also knew Shao Xuan would not kill a common rat because he was bored. They hurried forward to study the rat, though they didn’t find anything odd.
“The feeling it gives is very familiar,” said Shao Xuan.
He had not seen this rat before but he had a feeling a human had been watching him. An ordinary rat was not like this.
“Have you seen it before?” asked Duo Kang. He didn’t have facial blindness like Guang Yi but all the rats looked the same to him. Did Shao Xuan recognise the rat? Could he distinguish scents like beasts?
Shao Xuan shook his head. “No, but it feels like a type of desert ant I saw at Beast Battle City in the desert.”
When he mentioned ‘Beast Battle City’, the three hunt leaders fell solemn.
“Slave masters?” asked Gui He.
They were cautious against the slave masters. Especially after they heard about the progress on the other side of the ocean, they believed that the slave masters were more powerful than they imagined. While they did not like slave masters, they had to admit that the slave masters had admirable qualities. These people were powerful and influential because of their own capabilities. This was why they had to be careful when dealing with the slave masters, they could be stronger than Wanshi.
“It might be the slave masters who escaped from the desert, but it could also be Wanshi.” Shao Xuan told them about the incident at Beast Battle City. When Shao Xuan, Lei and Tuo went to Beast Battle City with the people of Fallen Leaves City, he once saw several desert ants in his room. Sapphire had chopped them up into pieces and rolled them into its dung ball. Shao Xuan did not look into this matter, merely thought it was odd. Since he hadn’t found the reason, he didn't think about it.
Now, he realised the rat gave him the same feeling as those desert ants. Something was not right.
“Everyone must be cautious these days.” After some thought, Shao Xuan said, “Get the few animals in our tribe to work too.”
Shao Xuan did not know how many of these rats were out there, nor did he know if there were other animals like them. Being cautious during such critical times was always a good thing. If humans cannot distinguish the odd feeling, then their fearsome beasts would.
The three leaders nodded. They had not encountered anything like this before. Without Shao Xuan’s reminder, perhaps Wanshi would have heard any secrets they spoke about.
The moment the rat was killed, within a stone house at the center of the Wanshi tribe.
The person sitting on the animal skin with his legs crossed coughed up a mouthful of blood. Blood dripped down his mouth, then unto the skull bone ornaments around his neck. His face was pale, his muscles twitching, his eyes manic with fury. His features were contorted with rage.
“What?!” asked the Wanshi chief, Fei Ji impatiently.
“One was killed!” The young Wanshi shaman panted heavily. Controlling animals like that did not feel good.
He thought about what happened in the desert. To get into the White Stone young master’s good books, he had taken out his precious desert ants for a mission. And not even one returned alive! Not only did he fail to fulfil the young master’s request, but he also suffered major losses himself!
He had not recovered emotionally from that, yet this happened again!
Before he lost connection with his ants, he had a vision of a ball of flames. Although it was faint, there was a horn in the flames. At the time, he did not know what it was. Though he had his guesses, he wasn’t sure. Now, he could confirm what that was.
This time, before the rat’s consciousness faded, he ‘saw’ the ball of flame once again. This time, it was much clearer than before. He even saw double horns in the fire- Flaming Horn’s totem! The person who killed his rat was a Flaming Horn tribesman!
It’s always Flaming Horn!
Flaming Horn was a bad omen!
When Chief Feiji heard this, he exploded into a string of curses. Of course, he didn’t blame the shaman, he was cursing the Flaming Horns. Privately, he called the shaman a ‘useless idiot' in his heart.
Two years ago, this young shaman had been extremely arrogant when he returned from the desert. He always thought he was a powerful shaman, not taking the chief seriously. After that, the war happened. Since Fei Ji was in charge here, he humbled a little.
Just as the shaman panted and Fei Ji cursed, everyone in the room was standing with their heads lowered. These were fierce warriors, yet now they looked like children, deeply afraid of attracting Fei Ji’s attention.
When he finished, they looked up slightly to talk about the battle. They were all minor hunt leaders and above, usually participating in battles. If they were robbing a small tribe, they would all compete to snatch battle spoils, any slower and they would get nothing. Yet this time, they had no confidence in the battle at all. They never thought that Flaming Horn would declare war in their lifetime! It was a headache.
There was one lesson learned -- the ones who take must also give back.
“What about the slave masters?” Fei Ji looked at the shaman.
After a while, he had finally caught his breath. The shaman thought for a moment, “I don’t think it’s going well.”
Fei Ji slammed a wooden table violently into the ground. It broke.
“That bunch of…” Fei Ji was about to curse but decided against it. What if there were spies working for the slave masters listening?
Fei Ji breathed laboriously as he grew angrier.
“Are we… really going to fight? I heard… the Flaming Horns are quite strong…” stuttered a minor leader. He had been promoted after one of their raids last year. He was green compared to the other more experienced leaders. He didn’t know there were some things he shouldn’t say.
Just as he finished speaking, his vision blurred as a force of fury shot towards him.
Not even giving him a chance to beg for forgiveness, Fei Ji’s shadow appeared in front of the minor leader. He lifted his arms, muscles swelling with hidden power, and his fist flew like a cannonball. Like an attacking cobra, it was a fatal hit.
The fist smashed heavily into the minor leader’s chest. The shear force and impact of the fist caused his back to explode open, flesh and blood sprayed out of his back.
When he retracted his fist, Fei Ji was holding a fistful of pulp. It was a heart.
The minor leader did not live to see the hole in his chest. He collapsed, the look of fear frozen on his face.
Everyone in the room had already expected this, not taking a second look. They just shuddered and looked down silently.
The air was even more tense now, filled with the heavy smell of blood.
Fei Ji wrung off the pulp and blood in his hand. Not even looking at the body, in a low voice, he said, “Do you think we, Wanshi, are afraid of Flaming Horn?! They’re nothing to us! If we can destroy their fire pit once, we can destroy it a second time!” This was meant for both his people and himself to hear.
The shaman sat on the thick animal skin wordlessly. When he looked down, disapproval flashed in his eyes. In the past, he had not taken Flaming Horn seriously. Now, there was a growing fear in him, especially after the odd phenomena within the forest, that had worried him. However, he did not think there was anything to fear in terms of life and death. The fire seed in their fire pit had brightened and the flames were larger.
At least the fire seed was here. Then he was safe.
On the other side of the village, the stone houses were built in a different style compared to the rest of the structures without any Wanshi decorations either.
This was where the slave masters lived. When they arrived, they had drawn out a plot for themselves. As for whether the chief agreed… how could he not? Would Wanshi be as strong as they were without the slave masters?
At this moment, several slave masters were in a discussion within a stone house.
An unfurled animal skin scroll was laid before them. The scroll from the spear.
“So, have you all made your decision?” asked an older slave master.
“What’s there to think about? This is obviously not a good time to force a fight,” said a young slave master, lying lazily on a chair. Although he did not look old, there was a hint of power in his voice. This meant that he was ranked high in the desert. There was the Sky Wheel City’s sigil on his clothing.
A chubbier slave master next to him was holding a female slave in his arms. He quickly added, “Yes, yes, it’s not a good time for war. If Wanshi wants to fight, they can do whatever they want. We don’t have to lift a finger. Plus, Flaming Horns hate only Wanshi. The scroll implies that Flaming Horn doesn’t actually want to fight us either.”
There was a flurry of facial expressions in the room as glances were exchanged to probe each other’s thoughts. No one wanted to reveal their own. The young master of White Stone City swept his gaze across the room. He seemed to be thinking about something, frowning, but then his face brightened, then he secretly cursed. The longer this discussion dragged, the worse his situation would be. He was one of the very few who actually supported Wanshi. It was too bad he could not persuade them. Just from what the young master of Sky Wheel said, he knew they were deeply divided.
Some people felt that if Wanshi lost, it would be bad news for the slave masters too. Hence, supporting Wanshi was the same as supporting themselves.
However, some people thought Wanshi was slowly getting out of control. Why not let Flaming Horn humble them? Then they’d be easier to control. Some people even secretly hoped that Flaming Horn would extinguish their fire seed. Then they would be able to take in Wanshi warriors as their slaves. Or perhaps they could take in Flaming Horn slaves?
To these slave masters, tribesmen were slaves. Countless slaves. They represented the hope to return to their glory days.
Fight! Fight all you want, it would be best if both suffered losses. Then they could destroy both tribe’s fire seeds and take in everyone as their slaves!
They were quite excited for this.
Their minds raced as plans were made…