Shao Xuan and his entourage ran across the desert, following the flying insect.
It was a hardy one, only resting at night, licking the wax-like substance in the oval ball whenever hungry. Shao Xuan also fed it some water. Being an insect, it did not consume much anyway.
Shao Xuan also sensed Sapphire’s presence while following the insect. He planned to look for the people first as it was the most pressing task. Then he would look for Sapphire. Their consciousness were connected anyway, Sapphire being his first slave. Knowing that Sapphire had awakened, Shao Xuan let it be for the moment. It would come if it wished.
Right now, Shao Xuan could feel Sapphire approaching and coincidentally will pass through their route. If they continued to travel in the same direction, they should meet eventually.
They rested in a spot with boulders, drank some water, refreshed themselves and then continued on their journey.
“We still haven’t met the monsters.” Tuo scanned their surroundings. Their vision was distorted from the hot desert air.
They did not sense anyone or any dangerous beasts around. Opening a flask and downing some water, he noticed something beneath his foot and pushed some sand aside, revealing white bones.
This was too common, they often tripped over white bones along the way, some human while others animal. Must have been recent deaths or their bones would not remain.
The scratches on the bones meant it was killed by something sharp. Not beast claws or teeth, more like human weapons.
“Other than the monsters from Rock Hill City, there are also sand robbers here. Keep vigilant,” said Shao Xuan.
“Ah Xuan, do you think those Gongjia people are still alive?” asked Lei. Conditions were harsh here. Would all ten people survive their journey across the desert?
“They’re definitely alive. If they had been eaten or killed, their bodies would never be left behind in a place like this. And the insect would stop flying.” Gongjia Heng had written about this in the scroll. If the flying insect stopped or started to pace around without travelling forward, they should stop searching because it meant they were out of luck.
“I see. That’s great, the people we’re looking for are still alive,” smiled Lei. He did not want this trip to be a waste. All he had seen so far were bones.
As they spoke, they noticed Shao Xuan looking in a direction. Tuo asked, “Ah Xuan, you sense something?”
He shook his head. “Just Sapphire. It’s travelling in our direction right now, we should meet it soon.”
“Sapphire? It’s here?!” Tuo and Lei looked around. They still remembered the beetle Shao Xuan reared, it was tiny when they first saw it, small enough to be squashed by a finger. The next time Shao Xuan brought Zheng Luo and the rest over, Sapphire was already taller than a man.
“It’s been a long time, I wonder if it grew any more,” said Lei.
“It must have grown a little.” Based on past experience, Sapphire grew larger every time a lock was unlocked. The fourth lock had been opened now, so Shao Xuan knew it must be larger.
Some of them had never seen Sapphire and only heard stories. All they remembered was that this beetle could trigger a sea of insects and it was as terrifying as a sandstorm.
They looked forward to seeing a sea of insects.
The group continued to hurry along their journey. On the second afternoon, Shao Xuan stopped abruptly and stared ahead.
Ta and the rest shielded their eyes from the sun and looked ahead.
Something was approaching.
It wasn’t human, it was an animal.
Ta was about to warn them when Shao Xuan waved a hand. “It’s Sapphire.”
Tuo looked in front and finally saw a large ball appearing on a sand dune in front.
Yep, a ball made of sand. There was also something inside.
After the peak of the dune, the ball rolled down the slope.
“Move!” Everyone made way for the ball to roll past them.
Everyone could feel its mass from the breeze that came with the rolling ten-metre-tall ball.
Their eyes did not linger on the ball for long because a blue silhouette was approaching quickly behind it.
Lei’s jaw dropped, pointing at the approaching beetle. “Sapph… THAT’S the beetle?!”
“Yep,” nodded Shao Xuan.
“This is what you meant by ‘a little’?!” Lei looked at the giant beetle larger than his house, now ten strides away from himself. “How could this be?! What has it been eating?!”
The beetle was previously already taller than a man, now it was twice his height!
The Flaming Horn warriors who were seeing Sapphire for the first time stared in shock, whispering softly, “Didn’t you say it was as tall as a man?”
“It wasn’t this gigantic the last time I saw it!” gasped another.
Sapphire was ecstatic to see Shao Xuan, circling him several times but since there were other people with him, they were included in its circles.
Despite knowing that the beetle would not harm them, many were still terrified. Having a beetle of this size so close to them was incredibly stressful.
After circling them a few times, Sapphire hurriedly ran off after the sand ball that had rolled far away, then stood upside-down and rolled the ball over with its hind legs, stopping in front of Shao Xuan.
This was a slave’s present for its master, a welcome gift. Sapphire had gathered a lot of food to be rolled into this ball. Rolling stuff it found into a ball was its hobby anyway.
When the ball was in front of Shao Xuan, Sapphire stood next to it, waiting quietly like a slave waiting for its master to comment on it, slightly nervous.
Everyone finally saw what it was.
Although it was mainly a sand ball, beast claws and scales peeked out.
“There are desert beasts wrapped inside?” Lei leaned over closely. “How did it make this ball? It’s so compact, can’t believe it doesn’t fall apart.”
Shao Xuan did not reply. Seeing the flying insect pacing above the ball, he had a very bad feeling. Then, he looked at the ball and saw some skeletons. His face froze.
There was a glint from his blade and the sand ball split open. A man rolled out.
“Hahahaha who is this? He’s very unlucky to be rolled into Sapphire’s ball!” Lei and the rest laughed. Who was this? Someone from Rock Hill City? A desert robber? Probably the latter since there were rarely normal people around since Rock Hill City released the monsters. The desert robbers were a nuisance anyway, their deaths were none of the Flaming Horns’ business.
Very soon, they saw the flying insect fly in a circle and finally landed on the sand-covered, unrecognisable man.
Shao Xuan: “...”
Everyone else: “...” No one was laughing now.
OH NO! IT CAN’T BE?!
This insect was bred to be a tracker. For accuracy purposes, Gongjia Heng said this insect only tracked one person. It would never make a mistake.
So this tracking insect had currently landed on this person, who appeared to be dead.
When they snapped to their senses, they all rushed forward. Ta hurriedly checked if this unconscious person was breathing. If he wasn’t, then this trip was a waste of time.
Soon after, Ta heaved a sigh of relief. “A weak pulse but at least he’s still alive. He’s not doing well though.”
“Let him drink this.” Shao Xuan dissolved a pill in his flask and passed it to Ta.
“This person… is the Gongjia person we’re looking for?” asked Tuo.
“Based on the flying insect, yeah.”
Shao Xuan turned to Sapphire.
Probably aware that it had made a mistake, Sapphire scratched at the sand nervously. It had wanted to please its master but instead almost killed the guy Shao Xuan was looking for.
Gongjia Ren was just collateral damage when it was rolling the sand lizard up. If Sapphire’s target were the humans, the other people hiding in the sand would be here too.
“I’ve fed him the medicine. We’ll have to observe him now.” Ta got up.
Now that they had found their target, they did not need to travel anymore. They found a place to rest during sunset and cared for the injured Gongjia Ren.
A tent was set up once they found a suitable spot, its poles made of new green bronze. Every pole could be used as a weapon. When assembled together, all they needed was to cover it with fabric and a temporary tent was ready.
Fifty people could squeeze inside but if there were no sandstorms, they would rest outside.
This tent was currently set up for Gongjia Ren. They would never let him die after spending so much effort searching for him.
Thank goodness Gongjia Ren’s condition stabilised after consuming medicine. His weak pulse gradually strengthened and he was no longer at the brink of death.