The child in the stone fish tank smiled when she saw Gui Ze enter the room. However, due to her festering skin, she looked scarier than most Drumming tribesmen when they smiled. Only her eyes shined brightly through her festered skin. They were like sunlight reflecting off a wavy sparkling ocean.
In her eyes, Shao Xuan had faded into the background. Dian Dian only glanced at him once and never looked at him again. It was the same way she viewed every other person.
“How are you feeling today?” Gui Ze went to inspect Dian Dian’s condition in the stone fish tank.
“I feel a lot better!”
Although she was sick, her illness did not affect her voice. If people merely heard her speak, they wouldn’t have thought such a severe illness had happened to her.
He Bian and the others guarding on the side looked at Gui Ze nervously. When the child lowered her head to look at the fish in the fish tank, Gui Ze shook her head at them.
He Bian and the others initially watched them with hopeful eyes, but suddenly, they were full of misery and despair. Their shaman told them to look for the solution here, but if the people here couldn’t treat this illness, where could they find their answer? Could it be that this wasn’t the place their shaman told them about? Did they have to travel further upstream?
They heard that the stone bridge was built after the Flaming Horns settled here and didn’t exist initially. If this bridge didn’t stop them, they wouldn’t have stopped, and this wouldn’t have been their final destination.
For the past two days, the Di people discussed whether they should continue travelling upstream or stay here. They still hadn’t come to a conclusion. Some people were sure that this wasn’t the place the shaman told them about and didn’t want to waste any time here. Another group felt that this was the place because the Flaming Horns already said it themselves. There were fewer tribes upstream, and the Flaming Horns were the strongest tribe in this region.
He Bian was frustrated and couldn’t decide. After all, no matter what he chose, there was no going back if he picked the wrong choice. They could very possibly suffer extermination.
Or should he ask Dian Dian for her opinion?
He Bian looked over at the stone fish tank. Dian Dian was still chatting with Gui Ze while playing with the three fishes in the fish tank.
Even though Dian Dian said her condition improved, he knew that it was only comparatively better than when she was stuck inside the shell on their way here. She could move around freely in the stone fish tank, so of course, it was better than when she was in the shell. However, upon closer inspection, he would notice that the festering condition had worsened since she came out of the shell.
Shao Xuan knelt and looked at the child at her eye-level. “I have a few questions to ask you.”
After he said this, Shao Xuan looked at He Bian and the others standing by the door.
Those people were all looking at them with watchful eyes. They were looking closely at Shao Xuan. They allowed the shamaness, Gui Ze, to chat with Dian Dian privately, but they wouldn’t allow anyone else. Plus, Shao Xuan was a man. Who could be sure what would happen?
Shao Xuan wasn’t in a rush. He waited for the person in the fish tank to decide. He knew that this child knew everything.
Dian Dian slowed her movements and lowered her head, as if in deep contemplation. After a while, he looked up and said to He Bian and the others, “He Bian can stay. The others get out.”
She called He Bian by his name. She didn’t have the respect most tribesmen had towards their chief. It was apparent that Di tribesmen felt that this was okay. From this, they could already determine how highly ranked this child was in their tribe. Even if she was the next shamaness, her sickness did not at all affect her ranking.
He Bian wanted to advise her, but after she made the decision, it was too late to change it. So, he waved his hands and gestured for the others to leave. Don’t even think about eavesdropping.
When there were finally only four people left in the room, He Bian pulled the doors and windows shut. When the Flaming Horns built these houses, the wood they used was considerably soundproof. During their construction, they compared a lot of different materials and finally decided on this wood. Now, this wood was the material the Flaming Horns used most commonly for building houses.
The noises outside slowly faded as those people left, and the room was suddenly quiet.
“Dian Dian, the two totemic powers inside your body are the reasons for your illness. This means that your tribe, the Di tribe, had two fire seeds.”
Shao Xuan’s words were like thunder storming through the room, breaking the silence. He Bian was stunned when Shao Xuan suddenly spoke.
When he returned to his senses, He Bian couldn’t fight the urge to object, “How could there be two fire seeds?! Nonsense!”
When Shao Xuan talked to him privately, he also asked the same question but He Bian thought it was because he didn’t have common sense and was speaking nonsense, now…
After He Bian grumbled, he noticed that Dian Dian was silent. She did not object.
His eyes went back and forth from the person who was in the fish tank to Shao Xuan and Gui Ze. His mouth opened more, and from his facial expression, it was clear how shocked he was.
Shao Xuan continued to speak after noticing how the person in the fish tank was quiet. “That other fire seed. It’s the Di Fish, am I right?”
He Bian was already stunned by what he just heard. After he listened to this question, he no longer grumbled. Instead, he immediately looked to the person inside the stone fish tank.
Now, the person in the stone fish tank finally lifted her head to look at Shao Xuan. There was a sign of surprise in her eyes. She never thought Shao Xuan would know this.
She was silent and didn’t object to any of these questions.
“It-i-i-it’s true?!” He Bian’s lips trembled as he spoke. His sun-tanned face paled. Even though he knew some things in their tribe that no one else knew about and had questions about the Di Fish, he never thought this was the case.
Did the Di Fish have a fire seed?!
Why haven’t they noticed before?
Where was their fire seed?!
This was unbelievable! This information was beyond everything they had known before.
Shao Xuan told Gui Ze about this speculation before they came and Gui Ze was also shocked for a long time. Dian Dian’s reaction proved that Shao Xuan’s hypothesis was indeed correct.
Dian Dian looked at the water in the stone fish tank. Her hands reached for the fish in the fish tank. “A long, long time ago, after our ancestors received the help of the Di Fish, they came to Di Mountain and established our tribe, the Di tribe. At the same time, Di Fish became a sacred creature in our tribe, and all the descendants were told to treat it with the same respect. If any Di tribesman passed away, our ancestors would hand those bodies to the Di Fish. Our ancestors said that Di Fish would bring us to a better place.”
This was the story passed down by previous generations of Di tribesmen. He Bian was also brainwashed by this story from a very young age. They never had doubts about it because Di Fish would help them. Whenever they had insufficient food, the Di Fish would throw some fishes onto the shore to feed them, and if any Di tribesmen encountered any troubles at sea, the Di Fish would also come to their aid. The Di people would also try their best to help Di Fish if they encountered any troubles.
Their relationship seemed to be based on mutual benefit.
However, after He Bian became the chief, he gained a different way of thinking from the previous chief’s handwritten notes. Most of these were around a few hundred years old and had differing views. In summary, they warned him to be on his guard against the Di Fish, or else their tribe would suffer from extermination.
People also had illnesses similar to this one very long ago. Perhaps it was back then when the Di ancestors noticed the problem, but the key person who knew about this could only be the shaman. He Bian didn’t understand why the shaman had been keeping it a secret. It was probably because he was still doubtful or worried that this was a very disrespectful thought because of their ancestor’s respect for the Di Fish, but it could also be other reasons.
The chief wasn’t the shaman after all. In the Di tribe, the things that He Bian could know were limited so he couldn’t know the truth behind this illness.
More and more people were getting sick, but most Di people never made the connection between their sickness and the Di Fish. However, what did this Grand Elder just say?
Di Fish was the reason behind their tribe’s strange illness?!
The person in the stone fish tank never took a single glance at the other three in the room. She continued to mutter as she played with the three fishes in the water, “Seven hundred years ago was the first time someone got sick. There was no cure, so he jumped into the ocean where the Di fish lived, but the Di fish saved him. Our ancestors’ records showed that the Di fish surrounded the person and pushed him to the shore. They stayed near the shore and didn’t leave him. Soon after, that person passed away. Only then did the Di fish bring him to the bottom of the sea.”
He Bian’s eyes twitched suddenly. He heard these stories before, but when the elders mentioned this story, they emphasised how the Di fish had protected them and how grateful they were. They could even tell that the person was sick and didn’t want to bring them under the sea. This was enough to show how much the Di fish cared for the Di people.
Now, hearing the story from Dian Dian’s mouth sent shivers down his spine. He Bian had a bad feeling about this.
“After that, every few decades, this kind of sickness would spread in our tribe again, and it would grow on children who just awakened their totemic power not long ago. Still, there was no medicine. These children wouldn’t be able to live long. At most, they could manage to live up to two years, but soon, this illness happened more frequently, and more people became sick. Now, it has infected more children than ever. Our shaman even said that the Di fish had begun to take action. Their fire seed was already strong enough…”
“Why haven’t we killed them?! We already know that they’re the cause! Kill them!” He Bian was growing furious, and the muscles on his face trembled, tearing up emotionally. He was so mad that even his expression looked hideous.
“It’s too late. It’s already too difficult to separate the two fire seeds. Even if we take action, it could very possibly madden the Di fish, causing them to attack. The Di fish can come ashore, so if we fight them, our fire seed will become damaged too. The shaman already told me before we came that we don’t have much time left. Either we win this fight, or we die. But the shaman still hoped that we could find other solutions.” Dian Dian lowered her head and observed the fishes in the tank.
He Bian thought about the ancestors of the Di tribe. They had been accepting the stories as they passed down as the ultimate truth. Even if the shaman had other opinions, not every shaman felt the same way. Even if they noticed something was wrong, they would hesitate to take any action and waste too much time. When they finally decided to take action, it would already be too late.
“For the past few hundred years, the Di shamans have been searching for a solution, but they found nothing. This time, the shaman said he finally found the solution. It was to follow this river upstream until we can’t travel upstream anymore.”
As she said this, Dian Dian looked at He Bian, “Do you know how our tribe’s totemic sign was created?”
He Bian shook his head. His expression looked as if his world was falling apart on the inside.
Dian Dian looked at Shao Xuan and Gui Ze and said, “Let me borrow a brush.”
Shao Xuan took out a brush and blank linen cloth. The tip of the brush was already stained with ink. Shao Xuan made this brush himself. There was ink in the brush, so it could be used immediately after it was uncapped.
Dian Dian looked at the brush in her hands and then bent over the side of the stone fish tank. He Bian was holding onto the linen cloth next to her.
“When the Di tribe was first established, our totem looked like this.” A strange-looking human face was drawn near where He Bian’s left hand was on the linen. This was a little different from the drawing of the face with spectacles He Bian drew before.
As Dian Dian continued to draw, Shao Xuan also noticed many differences in the new picture. Fish scales and fishtail were growing around the face, but it wasn’t as extreme as the first one He Bian drew.
After she finished drawing, Dian Dian continued to draw beside He Bian’s right hand. “Now, the Di tribe’s totem looks like this.”
The second drawing was similar to the one He Bian drew before, and the one Shao Xuan saw on the shell when it opened. The human’s face was smaller, and there were some new lines. It looked very unusual. The fish scales and fishtail took up more space compared to before. On the other side of the face, there were also more lines.
If they didn’t have the first drawing to compare to, it was hard to notice what was wrong about the second one. Every Di tribesmen could recognise their totem, but most of them only saw it during their sacrificial rite inside their fire pond. They would mark that down as what they needed to remember, and if they remembered wrongly, they would make corrections.
Dian Dian did not stop there, however. She pulled on the linen and continued to draw on the black spaces beside the second drawing. “If this continues, our totem will look like this in the future.”
As the brush strokes painted out the third picture, He Bian’s hands trembled even harder.
On this new drawing, the face was about the same size as the second one, but on the other side of the face where Shao Xuan saw a few extra lines were finally complete.
It was a fish mouth.
On one side of the human’s face, there was a fishtail. On the other side, there was a fish mouth. It looked like the human’s face was swallowed by the fish.
“The Di tribe’s totem had transformed from a ‘combination’ form to a ‘swallowed’ form!”
He Bian, who was holding on to the fabric, appeared even more perplexed and worried. Sweat dripped from his forehead as words tumbled out of this mouth, “They’re...swallowing our fire seed!”