The arrival of the Di Tribe had not affected the people at Flaming River Trading Point. Most people did not know about this group of people who came from the coast anyway, the Di Tribe did not like places with many changes so they did not visit the trading point.
After a few days of discussion, the Flaming Horns gradually turned their attention to other matters too. However, Shao Xuan remained pensive about the matter, thinking hard even a few days after their departure.
Was there a root cause to their transformations or did it only stem from their fire seed? Shao Xuan always thought the fire seed was related to a person’s strength but this incident made him realise it was way more mysterious than he thought.
The changes in the fire seed influenced totemic powers, physical strength and now- a person’s entire physical form!
Even if this was an anomaly, he was sure the fire seed had something to do with this.
If the fire seed could change a person’s form, what about an animal?
The pterosaur was swimming on the river surface, lifting its wings to catch the wind and steer like sails. Withered leaf birds that could fly perched on a tree branch by the river, standing in a row as they waited for the pterosaur to bring them fish when it was done playing.
If it was not sealed in ice, the pterosaur would not have survived to this day. There were no dinosaurs in the forest and pterosaurs no longer ruled the skies. There were animals bearing characteristics of their ancient ancestors like crocodiles or other plants but these were only a small portion of organisms.
At least, on the surface.
What if the gigantic beasts that once lived did not go completely extinct, instead they had switched their physical forms into another animal?
If a human could turn into a half-fish, then a beast could also turn into another beast.
The pterosaur was afraid of the fire seed maybe because it had a fire-seed related trauma from before. Had a fire seed caused large scale changes during its time? Was this why the pterosaur was terrified?
Too much time had passed since then, these were just Shao Xuan’s guesses.This living pterosaur could not speak and might not know much even if it could.
A fire seed was a peculiar thing. There was also the other type of energy within Shao Xuan. The white ball of flames that brought him to the weird rock in this world. Where was it from?
Shao Xuan sighed. It was a deep question indeed. He decided to stop thinking about it.
Before the Di Tribe left, Shao Xuan enquired about their route from the coast to Flaming Horn. While He Bian could not remember many details, the entire group of tribesmen contributed a little information each. Although their combined information still was not much, it was enough to fill up the blank space on Shao Xuan’s map about stream locations and other threats. With this approximate description, at least the Flaming Horns would not be as vulnerable if they ventured downstream again.
Dian Dian left with the giant shell because it might be of use during the journey. If she suddenly turned into half-fish again and could not change back, she could stay inside. It would also be a space for her to rest in if she was tired from swimming. It was common to sleep in shells within their tribe and He Bian did not want her sleeping directly on the wooden raft. It would be too uncomfortable!
Before leaving, Dian Dian gave twenty pearls as large as a fist kept in the shell to Shao Xuan. These pearls had been stored at the lowest compartment of the shell and covered in a layer of fish skin so they were not seen when the shell was opened.
These pearls were specifically chosen for their healing properties towards common ailments. They had previously hoped these pearls would soothe her symptoms but sadly it did not work.
Dian Dian was already recovered so she no longer needed these pearls. That was why all twenty pearls carefully chosen by their shaman were given as a thank you gift to Shao Xuan.
Each pearl was a different colour, iridescent and colorful. They were beautiful but Shao Xuan had no use for them so he gave them to Gui Ze. Girls would like pretty things like that, he thought.
On this day, Shao Xuan went up the mountain in search of Gui Ze with his second updated map in hand. She was busy in the medicine pantry with a shell bowl on the table. There was some white powder in the bowl but Shao Xuan could distinguish the larger pieces.
When he stepped into the house, he saw her place a black pearl into a stone mortar on the ground. This mortar was made of a rare hard stone that was used by generations of shamans to grind medicine since it did not affect the herb’s properties.
Gui Ze put the iridescent black pearl inside.
The pearl was crushed with a bright crunch so only powder remained.
Shao Xuan was speechless.
She even cried excitedly when she saw him, “These pearls are much better medicine than the shells!”
“...That’s great.” Shao Xuan put the map in his hand on the table filled with animal scrolls. She was going to sort the scrolls later.
Since she was busy concocting medicine, he did not stay for long. He saw Duo Kang outside who had just returned from hunting and preparing to head to the trading point.
“I heard the Longboat Tribe is preparing to go out to sea again. No, the information I received from Zheng Luo was from a few days ago. I think they might have left already,” said Duo Kang.
“They plan to pioneer a marine trade route.” Shao Xuan looked far away in the direction of the Longboat Tribe leaving for the sea.
Tribes became less restricted in movement since the merging of fire seeds, their previously suppressed curiosity now allowed to be free. After their last voyage, the Longboat tribe had fully embraced their ambitions so Shao Xuan was not surprised. The Longboats had already started to study the other side’s language and writing on the last voyage.
Not just the Longboat tribe. Other major tribes had started to leak across to the other side too.
The desert war has escalated, you say?
Even better that they’re fighting, it’s good news for us. They won’t notice us if they’re busy fighting. Plus we’re not going to pass through them anyway.
This time, the Longboat tribe left with jade stones and silk from the Mang and Eight Limbs tribe. Their destination was not the forest but anywhere with more people like a city.
The Mang tribe’s jade stones were of good quality and beneficial to human health. The slave masters would definitely like those. The spider silk clothes from Eight Limbs Tribe were also very rare and the slave masters loved rare things. Rare things were a status symbol there.
The Longboat, Mang, Eight Limbs tribes and the rest all hoped to receive more metal wares in return.
The core seeds were only found on the other side but not here. The metal wares were not in sufficient supply here so they needed to trade for more.
Speaking of metal wares…
Shao Xuan did not head to the trading point with Duo Kang, instead arriving at a mountain far from the residential area.
There were few animals here, they all avoided this spot on purpose.
There were people keeping guard on the mountain- more than the guards around the Thousand Grain Gold. Traps were set within the surrounding forest.
When they recognised Shao Xuan, their suspicious glances faded.
“Is everything going smoothly?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Thirty days ago, a batch of rocks was taken out by people from the forging place but stones were replenished on the next day. No one entered the place this past thirty days,” explained the guard.
There was a man-made cave on the mountain with a core seed inside. The ore used to forge metal wares were transported out from this place but not often. Only one trip was made every thirty to fifty days, transporting ore out of the cave and then replenishing the cave with new rock.
Shao Xuan came over because he remembered the crystals he placed inside. They had received a lot of crystals from the Zhi tribe so he instructed his tribesmen to carry them inside. The crystals seemed to turn to ore a lot slower than regular rock so Shao Xuan had not instructed anyone to bring them back out yet.
Based on his estimation, they should be ready now.