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Shao Xuan had already decided to return to the desert but the tribe would never let him go alone, especially when they were going to meet the Gongjia people. 

They might not care this much about other people but these were Gongjia family members. The Flaming Horns from the other side of the ocean reacted as if they heard a mountain of treasure was coming, their eyes shining bright as they clung on to this opportunity. The tribe needed these experts to help with the new metal they discovered. 

After tasting the glory of green bronze, the Flaming Horns placed more importance on good tools and weapons. 

According to Gongjia Heng’s letter, there would be about ten people coming over. Maybe only one or two were the most important while the rest were just disciples but the Flaming Horns did not mind. They were still Gongjia disciples, likely more experienced than the actual blacksmiths in the Flaming Horn tribe. 

Gui He, Ao and the rest all had the same response: We’ll take them! All of them! 

As for whether they were trustworthy… Bring them here first! We’ll deal with them if they prove to be unworthy of our trust. 

They could not bring too many people to the desert as they would be an obvious target. Good hiding spots were hard to come by in the desert. They were there to greet some people and not participate in the war so they must keep the party small. 

In the end, Shao Xuan decided to bring a hundred people over. These people were handpicked for the expedition and while Duo Kang and Ta both wanted to go, according to tradition, one of the hunt leaders must stay with the tribe. Previously, Duo Kang got to follow Shao Xuan across the ocean because they were going to meet the Taihe tribe and Ta did not know them. That was why Ta made no comment. However, this time, no one knew the Gongjia people so Ta had the right to raise his interest. 

In the end, Duo Kang remained behind while Ta went to the desert. 

This was no easy expedition either. First, there were the rumoured monsters in the desert. While Rock Hill City mainly targeted the coast, no one knew if they were also eying the desert. Second, Shao Xuan knew there were still unknown threats other than Rock Hill City. 

Why? 

If Gongjia Heng could get Su Li to send a letter, why didn’t he ask Su Li to bring the entire troop over instead? The Changle people had their long-winged birds suited for long-distance travel and they probably knew of safe flight routes. The Changle people could help solve many problems. 

Yet Gongjia Heng did not do this. Or perhaps Gongjia Heng had such intentions but was refused by the Changle people. Shao Xuan guessed that this might be the case based on the way the letter was written. 

The Changle people were not willing to bring this group over because they wanted to avoid trouble. Other groups might be targeting these Gongjia people too. If the Flaming Horns were so willing to take them in, who’s to say there were no others with similar intentions? Furthermore, the people on the other side of the ocean knew of the Gongjia talents better than him. Maybe there were also people sent to kill them. Although the new lord had promised to release them into exile, there was no guarantee he did not order secret assassinations, was there? 

A messenger would not be targeted but someone smuggling an entire group of people would be a huge target. The Changle people did not want such trouble. 

The Flaming Horns set off from the tribe to the desert, the stench of death intensifying as they approached. While the desert used to be known as ‘dead land’, there would still be signs of human activity around the fringes, e.g. small tribes like the Rain tribe. However, the Rain tribe had moved and likely the other tribes too, maybe even disappeared. Before they entered the desert, they could already feel how empty the place was. 

“The climate here is still harsh as ever,” said Tuo. 

Years ago when Shao Xuan, Tuo and Lei first came here, they also experienced sandstorms while resting at the Rain tribe. The climate seemed harsher today. 

“If this continues, the desertification will worsen. The desert might expand,” Shao Xuan pointed at the ground at his feet, “This didn’t use to look like that. Although it wasn’t a forest, at least we would see some grass. Now there’s only sand and pebbles.” 

“The place where the Rain tribe used to be is now just sand,” Lei remembered what the place used to look like. “The Rain tribe made the right decision to move.” 

After they left, the weather became drier. Without the Rain tribe, rainfall decreased drastically. 

After the natural disaster, most of the desert had disappeared. If this continued, while the desert would not be able to return to its original state even in a thousand years, it would still be a lot larger than the current size. 

Shao Xuan allowed fifty people to stay outside while he led the remaining fifty into the desert. They had four Rain stones with them. Although the Rain tribe no longer needed the stones to collect water, they would never trade these out because they were symbolic. These stones were much harder to come by after the migration so they became much more precious to the tribe. 

One of the rocks was given to Shao Xuan by Yang Sui while the other three were borrowed from the Rain tribe. Flaming Horn had even paid them some goods as a rental fee. This was already doing the Flaming Horns a huge favour, seeing as the Rain tribe currently also needed them for protection. The Rain tribe would never lend these rocks to anyone else, especially not three! 

One was left with the fifty people outside the desert. Since the air was more humid there, the stones were more efficient in collecting water droplets too. Shao Xuan brought three into the desert because they could not function as quickly amidst the dry desert air. He kept one for himself, then gave two to Ta and Xiang Chen. They divided themselves into three teams so if they separated, each leader was responsible for their team’s water supply. 

Hot desert wind and sand grains blew on their faces. It made the tribesmen used to humid forest weather miserable. 

They all covered their mouths and noses with cloths, trekking across the sands. 

The weather was not kind today. The wind brought a lot of sand up in the air and not long after, Shao Xuan found a place to take shelter from the sandy winds. When the currents died down, he finally opened the cylinder, took out the oval ball inside and twisted it open. 

The insect as big as a thumb was curled up inside, though slowly moving its legs soon after the ball was opened. Then, it extended its wings, stretched, flipped over and wiggled its antennae. 

Not sure if it was still groggy from hibernation, or unused to the desert air but after it flipped over, it rested in the ball for a while before fiddling at the inner wall of the ball with its mandibles. 

“So that’s its food.” Shao Xuan picked the half-oval and realised there was a wax-like substance stuck to the inner wall. Gongjia Heng had obviously thought of this situation when he trapped the insect inside. 

After its meal, the insect rubbed its long antennae with its front limbs, then fluttered its wings and took off. 

“Follow it!” said Shao Xuan. 

The insect did not linger in the same spot. Instead, it flew directly in one direction, meaning it had already located its target.