Gongjia Heng felt nauseous.
He was currently lying face-down on the back of the giant beetle that almost killed him. Due to his severe condition, he still needed time to recover even after consuming medicine. He could walk but will not be able to keep up. Since they were in a hurry, someone or the beetle must carry him.
Before Gongjia Ren made a decision, Shao Xuan lifted and tossed him on the giant beetle’s back.
They initially planned to leave next morning but Shao Xuan did a knot reading to find that daytime was not suitable because a sandstorm was forecasted to cross their route. They rested during the day, leaving only at night.
They preferred travelling at night anyway. It was chilly and nocturnal desert beasts could be captured for food. They previously travelled during the day because the tracker insect was diurnal, so they could only follow it during the day. Now that Gongjia Ren was found, they no longer needed to rely on the flying insect.
Although Gongjia Ren did not remember the way, Sapphire did. They only needed to follow the giant beetle, lying on its back if they were tired. They took turns resting this way.
Admittedly, having a giant beetle saved a lot of effort and time.
The few sand lizards rolled in the dirtball had already been eaten by Sapphire. They were meant to be gifts for Shao Xuan but he tossed them to the beetle anyway. Sapphire did not need much water either because it had adapted to the desert and did not lose water easily.
Gongjia Ren realised that Gongjia Heng’s suggestion was not bad at all. The Flaming Horns did not look week. Although he wasn’t present, he heard that a Flaming Horn had hit the Lu family patriarch so hard he flew backwards years ago. That was the reason why he agreed with Gongjia Heng’s suggestion. Having a strong protector was important for survival.
He was already feeling the benefits now.
The beetle’s carapace was as cool as steel at night. Since he was still weak and recovering, he asked for a piece of animal hide. He wondered, how were his mates doing without him? The giant beetle had taken only the five sand lizards that appeared later. The dead lizard they killed together was still there. Should be enough for them to not starve to death.
However, when they arrived at where Gongjia Ren was taken away, they found no one.
“They left?” asked Tuo.
Two days had passed and these people would not stop in the same spot.
“No, they should be somewhere here. They would not be able to drag the sand lizard away but they would not want a rare game to be wasted like that. They must have found a place to hide, eat the lizard, rest and then continue on their journey,” said Gongjia Ren, speculating based on their personalities.
“But there isn’t anyone here,” said Shao Xuan.
Gongjia Ren’s eyebrows knitted, worried that the five of them had encountered trouble in his absence.
Shao Xuan looked around, then walked towards a spot and dug with his knife.
Gongjia Ren’s eyes lingered on Shao Xuan’s knife. He had seen it when he first woke up. Although it was roughly made, he had to admit it was a good knife. He had not seen this material before though.
If they were not looking for his mates, he would have inquired about the knife. Even now, he couldn’t help but stare a few more seconds.
Averting his gaze, Gongjia Ren looked at the sand. There was a skeleton- the sand lizard they killed together.
“I can’t believe it’s still here!” Gongjia Ren grew more worried.
They would never abandon the sand lizard if they had not encountered trouble. Something must have stopped them from even hiding this sand lizard because other wild animals had feasted on it.
Moving desert sands easily covered any tracks and traces. It had been two days, even the crater created by Sapphire killing the sand lizard had already been filled. They could not follow any more clues.
“What now?” Ta looked at Shao Xuan.
“As always, guess we’ll have to let Sapphire find them then.” Insects are more sensitive and could pick up faraway scents that humans could not smell. While Sapphire was not as good as the specially-bred tracker insect, it was better than nothing.
Gongjia Ren was about to say something when he felt a vibration underneath. Sapphire was stomping the ground with its front limbs.
Poof! Poof! Poof!
It was not like the violent smashing when it killed the sand lizard, more like a rhythmic signal. Its limbs were angled so no sand flew.
“What is it doing?” Did beetles search for targets like this? He’d never seen anything like it.
“It’s just happy,” said Shao Xuan looking at Sapphire’s hind legs scratching in the sand.
Sapphire liked to move its hind legs when it was happy, as if about to roll a dung ball. Shao Xuan knew it well.
“Happy? Why is it happy?”
Everyone else was as confused as Gongjia Ren.
Shao Xuan did not offer an explanation. He pointed at the ground. “Look at the ground.”
Everyone looked down.
“No!” gasped Ta.
A strange sense of danger lingered in the air like a gust of cold wind, raising goosebumps across his body.
Experienced hunters with sharp instincts all felt the same.
The desert was silent. Other than the sound of rustling sand, it was as if all living things had stayed away from this area.
Gongjia Ren on the beetle’s back shivered for no reason. Although the sun was shining high and the beetle’s back burned, he felt a chill that came from his bones. While he did not have instinct like the Flaming Horns, he had been surviving in the desert for many days.
They stared at the sandy ground, wondering what was underneath.
Tiny sounds could be heard from beneath the ground, as if many tiny objects were about to burst out.
They’re getting closer.
A black dot emerged from the yellow sand.
Two black dots. Three, four…. ten… one hundred… one thousand black dots…
Densely packed black dots covered the yellow ground.
Gongjia Ren took a deep breath as he watched, his voice shaking, “T-t-t-that…”
A beetle swarm!
It is considered one of the legendary desert disasters!
More and more black beetles emerged from the sand, there was no stopping!
No yellow could be seen around them. Far away, black dots slowly engulfed the yellow sands.
More and more beetles gathered around the giant beetle.
The person with the strongest reaction was obviously Gongjia Ren, who was lying on Sapphire’s back. He felt too weak to even sit up as sweat dripped down his forehead.
Most of the Flaming Horns had witnessed this before when they had come to the desert the last time. They knew that as long as Sapphire was here, the swarm was not a threat. They knew that this unconfirmable feeling was just an instinctive reaction. However, beetles were even more difficult to deal with compared to fearsome beasts. They could see that they had become deadlier since the last time.
Gongjia Ren looked around nervously, realising that other than a few people, most Flaming Horns looked calm. There was no panic in their eyes, some of them even looked excited.
When he thought about it, Gongjia Ren understood everything. He was currently lying on the back of a giant beetle! These tiny beetles must be on the same side as the giant, or maybe they will even listen to its commands!
All that panic for nothing. He heaved a long sigh of relief but had a sudden thought mid-sigh: this beetle swarm couldn’t have eaten his mates, could they?
After they appeared, the tiny beetles burrowed back into the sand once again. They did not like travelling on the surface, especially not when the sun was out.
When the beetles had all burrowed back underground, Gongjia Ren asked, “Do you think my mates encountered the beetle swarm?”
“No,” confirmed Shao Xuan.
It was true that if Gongjia Ren’s mates had encountered the swarm, they would not be able to escape and will become beetle food. However, they had not seen any human skeletons so far. If these beetles had also eaten their bones, it would not make sense to also leave the sand lizard’s skeleton untouched.
That meant that the five people had not encountered the insect swarm.
That meant they had left due to certain reasons.
Shao Xuan instructed Sapphire to follow their scent.
After the giant beetle walked a few circles, it started heading in one direction.
“Follow it.” Shao Xuan waved for everyone to catch up.
After a while, Shao Xuan checked his Universal Eye. “That direction isn’t towards Rock Hill City. I think we’ll encounter desert robbers that way.”
“They would never head towards the desert robbers unless they had no choice.” Gongjia Ren’s heart sank. This was not good news.
Did they seek protection from the desert robbers?
Searching for support out of desperation was not impossible. Some of the people in their group had done so after a few days in the desert. However, Gongjia Ren believed they must have been forcefully taken. They would never go willingly.
No matter what, they would find the answer soon.
Initially, Gongjia Ren was worried that the Flaming Horns would choose to abandon the plan so as to not provoke the desert robbers. However, he swallowed his words when he heard the Flaming Horns discussing a plan to rob the robbers.
He thought about the giant beetle, then the beetle swarm probably following them underground. Suddenly, Gongjia Ren was no longer afraid.