In a place surrounded by mountains, the sounds of human activity came from newly built wooden houses.
These wooden houses were only built recently, and the cuts in the wood were still fairly fresh. With lines of wooden houses arranged in such a place, it seemed like a mountain village hidden in an inaccessible location.
Thick wooden posts over ten meters tall have been erected on the periphery of the village and acted as a wall to block out some small beasts. On the high tower, there were three tanned slaves, who were standing there and looking in three different directions.
In the open space, a pile of bones that used to belong to a giant beast was thrown there, and the white fleshless animal bone that had been dissected was no longer recognizable. Only the holes where the eyes and nostrils belonged remained, marking this as the head of a giant beast.
Beast bones, horns, and teeth that were suitable for forging weapons had been dismantled, and the sound of bones being ground and sharpened could be heard everywhere. Although these slaves brought mostly bronze weapons, they had used up most of their supply. Under such limited conditions, they could only manage to repair some bronze weapons that were not heavily damaged, If it was beyond repair, they could only throw it away. Without weapons, it was impossible to survive in a place full of fierce beasts and dangers. Beast bones, horns, and teeth were more convenient than weapons made from stone. The slaves who were in charge of polishing and grinding the bones paced around with various tools and they seemed very busy.
In contrast to these movements, there was an open area surrounded by wooden houses. No one dared to run around or talk loudly there.
There was a fire pile burning in the open area, and roasted beast meat attached to bones were burning atop the fire. The fat from the meat dripped into the fire, causing a sizzling sound.
A relatively fair-skinned middle-aged man was sitting next to the fire. The other slaves were either wearing tattered sackcloth or covered with blood-stained animal skin, but this middle-aged man was wearing very clean clothes. It was also linen, but it was weaved in a much more intricate manner, and its quality was obviously more superior. Besides the scratches that were barely noticeable on the corners of his shirt, his clothes had no holes at all.
The middle-aged man was frowning, his furrowed brows growing tighter as he looked at a picture drawn on parchment made of animal skin.
There were some simple drawings on the parchment. The dark green triangles represented mountains and the shapeless green figures were other areas of the forest. Amongst these greens, a yellow sandy line stretched across and ended up at one location.
This was a simple map. The line on the map was their course of travel. At one end of the line was where they entered the forest, and the other end was where they were now.
Determined that he did not go in the wrong direction, the creases between the middle-aged man's eyebrows squeezed even more tightly than before, its folds growing deeper.
Several senior slaves who stood next to him hung their heads. They only dared to pay attention by looking at the man sitting on the stone indirectly from the corner of their eyes. They knew that he was in a bad mood and they did not dare to say anything. They were afraid that the wrong words might make his anger explode.
“It has to be here! There’s no mistake!” the middle-aged man sitting on the stone murmured. The weeds that were growing below him suffered and sank downwards as the man’s foot continuously stepped into the ground, driven by his fluctuating emotions.
The slaves standing next to him lowered their heads even more.
The smell of meat pervaded this village. The slaves who were guarding or busying everywhere sniffed their noses. The smell of meat captivated them and stimulated the secretion of saliva, but no matter how much they wanted to look in that direction, they had to turn their heads reluctantly and focus on their work at hand. They didn’t dare to look elsewhere.
Meanwhile, a group of around twenty people came back from outside, each carrying or dragging small prey that they hunted.
The middle-aged man staring at the map suddenly looked up and glared at the team that had just returned. The members of the team who saw him looking quickly looked away. They didn’t dare to look him in the eye.
The middle-aged man with the parchment in his hand was full of expectations. Seeing that they didn’t have what he wanted, the light that flashed from excitement dimmed, and what followed after was his rapidly rising anger.
“You still can’t find it?! How is this possible?! Why can’t we find it?!”
The middle-aged man’s eyes turned red due to anger.
He moved his arms and was ready to throw the parchment down to the ground, but before he did, he stopped. Instead, he kicked the ground harshly.
The parchment mustn’t be thrown away. It was their only sense of direction and guide. Even if he was mad and unhappy, he could only kick the grass below him.
The weeds that grew above their knees were crushed one after another by his steps.
“Why vent your anger on the grass when you can’t find the green-faced fanged beast?” a lazy voice said.
The middle-aged man who was holding the parchment heard this voice and glared from the corner of his eye. He didn’t even bother to turn his head, and turned to the slave who was standing next to him and shouted, “Keep on searching until you find it! If we can’t find it, none of you are going back!”
When they heard that they couldn't go back, the slaves grieved in their hearts but didn't dare to disobey. Those who just came back hurriedly ate something and set off to hunt again. The slaves who were polishing the horns and bones worked faster.
To many people, the desert was a deadly place. In the dry and windy weather, it was rare for them to see even a spot of green. The desolate desert made people want to run away just from hearing it.
But for this group of slaves, even though the desert had less food than these forests that were full of trees and beasts, they were already used to life in the desert. Many of the people in the team belonged to a family that had been slaves for generations, and their slavery nature had been carved deep into their bones. They didn’t know what else to do besides being a slave. In their hearts, the desert of Rock Hill City was their home, their master, and their religion. Not being able to return was equivalent to killing them.
Now that Rock Hill City became the king of the desert, the slaves felt an even stronger sense of pride and became more loyal than before. These slaves who were dispatched were all willing to die for Rock Hill City, so their loyalty was never doubted.
The five hundred people who had been dispatched encountered many dangers in the forest, and along the way, their total casualties were already beyond a hundred, dead and wounded included. Fortunately, they already found their final destination marked on the map. The problem was they had been searching for their target for days and yet they still couldn’t find it.
The middle-aged man returned and sat on the rock beside the fire again. He was sulking from unhappiness. He was embarrassed to go back without finding the green-faced fanged beast, yet he had no choice. There was no way he could turn the mountains upside-down to look for it.
After taking a few deep breaths, the middle-aged man couldn’t help but ask, “Robber Four, how’s the situation on your side?”
“We didn’t find it.” Those lightly expressed words were similar to this person’s attitude. He was completely indifferent and without hurry. He looked so comfortable like he was playing a game. He seemed to be enjoying his time here.
“Then why aren’t you looking for it?!” It was like the middle-aged man said through gritted teeth. He really didn’t understand why Shi Shu asked the robbers to help them. What else could these people do besides stealing? Eat?
Robber Four walked slowly to the fire and sat down. He picked up the cooked ribs that were resting atop the fire and began to eat in spite of the heat. While chewing, he said unclearly, “If it was that easy to find, Rock Hill City wouldn’t have only found three for the past few hundred years.”
“Oh, that's right, Shi Shi.” Robber Four suddenly recalled something. He then said, “There are tribesmen following us.”
To Robber Four, their robber identity set them apart from the others. They were neither slaves nor tribesmen and he was very satisfied with his Robber status. He saw himself as a bit higher in rank than the average tribes, so whenever he spoke of tribes, he usually meant other tribes rather than other robbers.
“Tribal people? So soon?!” Shi Shi didn’t expect the tribal people to catch up so quickly. They’re here for the green-faced fanged beast too?!
Even as he sensed a murderous vibe from Shi Shi, Robber Four continued to speak in a slow manner, “Actually, you don’t have to worry about them. Perhaps they could even help us find the green-faced fanged beast.”
Hearing this, Shi Shi’s eyes flashed but he remained silent. He agreed with the robber. They had no progress even after so many days. Maybe those tribal people could end up finding some new clues.
After eating the beast meat, the robber didn’t stay much longer. He walked out of the village into the dense forest, and the guards could only pretend they didn’t see him leave.
In the forest, the heat from the hot weather was replaced by the humidity in the air. Under the branches that blocked away from the sun, a gentle breeze swept across the forest, bringing with it a refreshing coolness.
Robber Four walked into the woods. Most of the weeds on the ground reached his waist, and he looked as if he was engulfed by a green ocean.
Here there were no slaves around.
“So?” Robber Four asked.
Five steps away from him, on the trunk of a large tree, an indistinct outline of a figure slowly became visible.
“I didn’t hear anything,” the person on the tree said with a doubtful voice. “The slaves only knew that they were coming to look for something, and nothing more. But one thing was for sure. Shi Shi was growing anxious. What could he do with the green-faced fanged beast?
“We won’t know if Shi Shi doesn’t tell us. But for now, we don’t need to take any action. As long as the group of slaves or the tribesmen find the green-faced fanged beast, it will be good for us either way.”
With that said, the man leapt from the tree trunk and departed. In the blink of an eye, he disappeared out of sight.
A centipede with dark green skin suddenly stood erect amidst the thick grassy field. Its sharp plier-like teeth stretched in an unnatural angle. It rushed in ambush towards the robber, but in the next moment, the robber who used to be there disappeared into thin air.
The centipede that was in the middle of an attack came crashing, missing its targeted prey.
The two rod-shaped antennae on its head turned rapidly from left to right, sensing for its prey. After a while, it could not detect anything and eventually gave up on its previous prey. It bent down into the ground and disappeared into the thick grassy field.
From afar, the breeze blowing on the grassy field created waves atop the grass and leaves. The waves flowed in one direction, sweeping through the field and eventually left as it had come. It looked like ripples on the surface of a lake. The waves grew weaker and soon became settled.
The forest returned to its original quiet state.