Shao Xuan had enslaved Sapphire so their auras were similar since its powers came from Shao Xuan. The beetle swarm was also attracted to Sapphire’s aura so while humans might not be able to differentiate both, the beetles could. They would never hurt Shao Xuan and he could even get Sapphire to issue them commands to perform tasks.
These large beetles led the swarm to search for food while Sapphire hibernated so not only were they larger than average beetles, they were stronger and smarter.
However, they were only as smart as average wild animals. Even Sapphire could not make them perform very complicated tasks. However, simple commands were still possible, e.g. luring a guard away like just now; or burrowing tunnels through sand.
Shao Xuan and the rest had followed Sapphire to this small city. A large area around it was flat without hiding spots, and this was a rescue mission- not a declaration of war. Even if they battled, they must fight after the rescue.
That was why they made another plan.
Sapphire first led Shao Xuan underground. Since Sapphire was too gigantic and attracted attention, Sapphire only led Shao Xuan for a while before passing the task to the other beetles.
With experience walking submerged in mud, Shao Xuan found walking in sand more difficult but not impossible. He had the beetles’ help underground anyway, there were many more beetles invisible to the surface.
Sapphire could confirm the approximate location of the five Gongjia people while Shao Xuan found their specific spots. He then sent a beetle to lure a guard away before coming out of the ground. There was one guard for each of the 4 directions of the small house so this face was left unguarded.
It was no wonder the beetles preferred being underground because it was indeed cooler than the surface without the sun.
There was a yard of sorts with bones scattered in the corner by the yard wall. Based on their shapes, Shao Xuan recognised them as adult human and children bones.
The house and yard were relatively short. If Shao Xuan walked outside, the people inside would see half his head. Similarly, if he stood in the yard, people would spot him from the outside.
There were about ten more people sitting leaned against the wall in one shaded spot outside the yard.
Shao Xuan did not completely exit the sand, only exposing the top half of his body to sense his surroundings and locate every guard and target. The Gongjia people had different auras from the slaves so he could confirm their specific places.
Unfortunately, they were not on this side. No worries.
The beetles that popped out of the surface congregated once again and burrowed into the sand. Shao Xuan took a deep breath and sank back underground.
Soon after he disappeared, the guard who left returned, cursing as he took his seat for failing to catch his prey. He fell back into his nap.
In a mud hut on the other side. The five Gongjia people were tied up tightly using sturdy desert vines. They might look dried and thin but they were hardy. These five were injured, dehydrated and starving, making them too weak to struggle. They lay on the ground, eyes opened or closed with only mud walls and sand around them. They weren’t asleep, just thinking.
Days ago when they lost Gongjia Ren, they met a group of robbers, one of the robbers being their former mate. Their mate led the robbers to capture them, then gave them only a little water so they would not die immediately.
The Vipers wanted them to make weapons but they refused and were locked up here. Yesterday, they had just witnessed the desert robbers eating human flesh- although they knew it was deliberate for show, they also knew cannibalism was real here. They had long heard of tribesmen eating humans and that they were barbaric. However, it was still very traumatic to witness it first-hand.
If they agreed to make weapons for the robbers, they would live- but like slaves. Based on the Vipers’ behaviour, they did not look like people who would treat them kindly. If they refused, they would become food.
Live or die?
“I want to kill myself,” muttered a younger man leaning against the wall, his head lowered.
“That’s a good idea… but I wouldn’t be satisfied with that!” sighed the older man looking up at the hole in the roof.
Yes, they had thought about dying but they still had a glimmer of hope somewhere. Perhaps they would have a twist of fate?
In the end, they were just not satisfied with giving up.
They hadn’t forged a famous weapon yet, no one would be willing to just die like that in the desert. Without this hope, how could they have struggled so long to live?
“If only we didn’t choose to come here…” Someone spoke up, then trailed off with a bitter smile.
There was no such thing as ‘if only’. They picked this path, now they must bear the consequences.
Previously, they wanted to burrow underground only to realise it was too difficult. With their current strength, digging a tunnel was impossible, especially when their hands and feet were tied together. The desert robbers knew of their conditions too, hence they were merely tossed here.
The sound of rolling sand.
“Little Ye! Stop playing with sand, it annoys me!” complained another, resting his eyes in a corner.
The young man against the wall looked up, confused. “I’m not doing anything.” He looked to the source of the sound to see the sand move, then out popped a black beetle.
“A bug!” gasped Gongjia Ye audibly.
The guard outside heard him but continued with his nap. There were many bugs in the desert, even scorpions and lizards were common so what was a bug?!
Within the room, ten bugs the size of a palm crawled out of the sand. The beetles did not approach the people, instead moved aside and waited.
A hand reached out of the sand.
All five people caught their breath, almost screaming. They watched as a human slowly wriggled out of the sand where the beetles came out from.
Stunned, they studied the stranger who appeared so suddenly. When they snapped to their senses, their first thought was: will he save us?
Shao Xuan looked at the five people, privately satisfied. These people weren’t stupid, they didn’t make a sound.
Someone asked in a low voice. “Who are you? Are you here to save us?”
Shao Xuan did not answer, instead asking, “Gongjia Ye, Shi, Rong, Shen, Kan?” Gongjia Ren had told him their five names.
When he spoke, five pairs of eyes lit up, about to speak when Shao Xuan gestured with his palm facing downwards, implying to stay quiet.
Five of them nodded hurriedly, eyes bright.
Shao Xuan took out a piece of cloth and unfurled it at a brighter spot. There was Gongjia Ren’s writing on it, telling them that Shao Xuan was here to save them and they could trust Shao Xuan.
The five of them could read the note clearly from the light above, almost crying from emotion.
If this person came out from underground, was he going to bring them out through the say method?
They suddenly felt this stranger was trustable and waited for his next action. There was not much time for conversation so the longer they spoke, the greater the chances of getting caught. They only had to trust Shao Xuan. With Gongjia Ren’s note, they did not need to be suspicious.
Shao Xuan walked over to the nearest person to cut his vines off, then waved for everyone to inch over.
They were ecstatic but soon realised things were going in an unexpected direction--- Wait, I know you’re helping us but why did you cut our ropes and then tie us up again?!
Yep. After Shao Xuan untied them, he tied them up together once again. Not just that, he even added reinforcements with his own rope so no one would fall out.
They looked at him with questions, unsure what next.
Shao Xuan really wanted the beetles to transport these five out but while they would not eat Shao Xuan, he was not sure about the rest. Sapphire had been asleep for too long and only met its swarm recently. He was not sure if Sapphire could control them well. That was why when there was another option available, he did not take this risk. He did not want them to be skeletons by the time they were dragged out.
After tying them up, Shao Xuan gave a command to Sapphire, who was underground outside the city, to proceed with the next step.
An avalanche of sand burst from underground a hundred metres away from the city. A pillar of sand sprayed like water high in the air, then landed again.
It was a signal.
Shao xuan looked at the sky from the gaps in the roof. After seeing a shadow high in the sky, he sank into the sand once more, leaving the five tied-up people looking at each other.
Soon, a shriek came from far away . Figuring that something had happened, the guards all rushed to follow the sound.
Shao Xuan appeared in the house once more, lifted the five people tied together, then slashed the thorned vine tying the door shut. For convenience of bringing people in at out, the desert robbers built their door wide so this door was wide enough for Shao Xuan to drag five people out.
The guards had been lured away, even the guards outside the yard were distracted by the commotion. No guards were present on this side of the house.
The five of them still did not understand what Shao Xuan planned to do until Shao Xuan lifted them up, then tossed them like a ball high up and out of the yard…
Seeing the ground leave themselves, and the little prison yard shrinking quickly below them, they felt their hearts stop as their minds went blank.
Even higher up, a shadow swooped across and brought the five people away from the compound.