Black Sand’s body gradually lost strength. His grip slacked around the sword’s handle, forcing him to switch hands. He had flipped over and the giant beetle was already right in front of him with its forelimbs raised! No time was spared for Black Sand!
Black Sand’s scalp went numb from the oppression he felt from the giant beetle.Every single muscle of his being was trembling. There was no way he could dodge it in time. All he could do was to raise his sword horizontally and block off its assault.
His whole body was almost slammed right into the sand. His grip around the sword was faltering. If it was someone else and Black Sand hadn’t grown stronger, the man would’ve been long dead by the impact! Even now Black Sand was merely holding on by a thin thread, he barely had time to think.
He could already smell the scent of death. Here he thought he’d never feel this surge of emotion after escaping his enslavement but the feeling was back. Fear flashed through his bleeding bloodshot eyes.
He didn’t wish to die. He still had plans to unite this land of scattered desert robbers. He too had fantasized about conquering all of Rock Hill City’s territory and controlling the whole desert.
But now, he could only helplessly accept the brutal impacts filled with murderous intent.
Sapphire’s attack was actually very simple, except for the beginning when it wasn’t sure of how strong Black Sand’s weapon was. It executed several probing actions, but once it determined Black Sand and his weapon’s capabilities, it had a clear idea of its approach. Now that Black Sand was vulnerable, Sapphire wasn’t about to slack off. No mercy would be spared for the man.
Without unnecessary movements, Sapphire slammed and slammed and slammed. Its attack was simple and direct. After it had knocked Black Sand into the sand, it’d extract the man from the sand and repeat its assault! If one slam wasn’t enough to kill him, it’d hit a few more times. Similar to when it chased after those sand lizards- If its target tried to hide beneath the surface, Sapphire would pull it out and then attack it. Unless its target was directly killed by its claw, it would not stop. Death had to be confirmed because oftentimes when prey were considered to be weakened during hunts, Sapphire had encountered a few escapes once it let its guard down while trying to roll it into a ball.
To avoid repeating its mistake, Sapphire’s forelimb showed no sign of stopping.
Louds thuds and thumps were heard from the sandy surface, causing sand particles to sieve and spread open like flowers. Resultant indents would be flattened and created repeatedly.
Black Sand could hear the crisp fracture of his bones, consciousness gradually slipping away. At this point, he could no longer feel the pain inflicted on his body. Truthfully, he was regretful now. He shouldn’t have forced the Blue Beetle members to a corner, or else they wouldn’t have summoned this giant beetle. Perhaps he should’ve run away as soon as he spotted the giant beetle. In that case, even if he had lost his territory and subordinates, he would be able to form another desert robber group soon with his capabilities and the sword in his grip…
Black Sand still thought that the giant blue beetle was summoned by Yiken, even till his end.
Sapphire’s assault finally came to an end. It moved its shovel-like head slightly, perhaps wondering what to do with this man. Its two paddle-shaped antennae twitched, it decided to roll its prey into a ball but this prey was just too small. It could only make a very small ball.
Just as Sapphire was stuck in a dilemma, Shao Xuan gave it further instructions.
In the end, Sapphire didn’t get to turn Black Sand into a ball. All it did was extend its forelimbs to dig the brutally flattened man out of the sand and left.
After Sapphire left, a mass of black beetles emerged from the sand. They swarmed over to the unrecognizable body left behind on the sand.
Black Sand had eaten many people in the past. He had even preyed on his blood-related relatives during his earlier escape back then. Men, women, the elderly and children… He devoured them all. But the man certainly had never imagined himself to be eaten someday by a bunch of insects.
Hidden in one of the low sandstone houses, a Viper member spied the situation through the gap of a mostly covered vent. He shrank into a corner of the house. The man dared not step out. If Black Sand could be eaten by insects, he certainly wouldn’t be spared.
Meanwhile, Yiken was circled by more than three hundred people. Those that were further away from Yiken faced occasional bites from the beetles. Yet, they didn’t dare do anything to the insects. They were afraid that retaliation would only result in harder bites or that the Blue Beetle members would kick them away and have them fend for themselves. The Blue Beetle members swallowed their complaints even if they were bitten.
Some were even fighting for a spot closer to Yiken. Yiken had never thought that he’d be so likeable even with his own subordinates. His authority was maintained due to fear of his capabilities. Now, that fear had respect thrown into the mix. Yiken was fully aware of their thoughts but he wasn’t the one who summoned the giant beetle nor had he done anything else.
“It’s gone! The insect swarm is gone!” Someone on the outer edge screamed.
“It really is gone! It’s gone!!” More rejoiced.
The first thing that crossed the Vipers mind was their leader, Black Sand. Now that the insect swarm had dissipated, how was Black Sand? Had he won or lost against the giant beetle?
The initial black beetles that lingered around either crawled into the sand or left directly. The black dense mass of insects before them was now only left with the original sandy ground. There were collapsed sand houses nearby along with unfortunate victims that were gnawed down to their bones.
Some of the Vipers took a few hesitant steps away- There were no black beetles in sight.
“Sir! If the insect swarm is over, does that mean the giant beetle has left too?” One of the Blue Beetle members asked Yiken.
Yiken pushed the crowd away and exited the circle.
Everyone else followed behind him closely. Though the beetles were nowhere to be seen, they were still worried. To keep close to Yiken would be their safest bet.
Yiken paused momentarily, then began to walk forward. He jumped onto the roof and peered into the distance.
“Nope. It’s still here!”
Just as Yiken’s sentence fell, everyone scrambled to gather around him again. The Vipers refused to budge even if the Blue Beetles were threatening them with blades.
“The insect swarm isn’t completely gone yet. It has left this area but for some reason, it seems to be waiting at a distance away.” Yiken reported as he jumped off the roof.
Those beetles weren’t gone yet, this meant that the giant blue beetle was still around.
The giant blue beetle had left to chase after Black Sand but nothing could be heard from their fight. Had Black Sand fled or was he already killed by the giant blue beetle?
Regardless, both possible outcomes were beneficial to Yiken. The man grew anxious. With a roll of his Adam’s Apple and the sweat mixed with sand sliding off his spine, his eyes were focused. He concentrated, hoping to detect sounds from his surroundings.
Rustle rustle rustle-
Something was approaching them.
The sound was coming from under their feet.
Everyone went silent, hearts trembling from fear.
The sound was getting close. The other part had no intention to hide their tracks, it seems.
In the middle of the desert, a blue carapace emerged.
Everyone held their breath. Some desired to run flee but after what had transpired earlier, they hesitated just as they raised their limb. After a dilemma, they retracted their extended leg and returned to their spot. All they could do was shiver in fear.
Other than the scratches on its carapace, the reappeared giant blue beetle had no other visible injuries. In fact, it seemed relatively unscathed. It held something in its jaw, which attracted everyone’s attention.
It was a sword, the one Black Sand wielded.
If his sword was here, was Black Sand dead? The crowd had their assumptions but admittedly, those that remained here felt relieved.
The Blue Beetles felt that the Vipers were no longer a threat and the Vipers were relieved that their betrayal would not garner Black Sand’s wrath. Without this sword, Black Sand was no match for Yiken.
Unsure of why the giant blue beetle had appeared before him once again, Yiken did not dare to move. The man stood stiffly. He wasn’t the one who summoned the beetle. He wasn’t sure if the giant beetle would attack him after killing Black Sand off.
With the sword secured in its mouth, the giant blue beetle lifted its legs and paced over to Yiken.
The people around Yiken quickly backed away. Some of the Blue Beetles shielded Yiken protectively but the man patted their backs and motioned them to move aside. The man would face the approaching giant beetle himself.
Yiken felt extremely pressured to face a living being like that alone. He had no choice but to stand still. He watched the beetle come close to him, mind fixated on a possibility. He stared at the sword in its mouth hard, pulse involuntarily picking up pace. His palms began to sweat.
The giant beetle brought the sword to Yiken. As if trying to differentiate something, its paddle-like antennae moved. It gave Yiken a fear that he’d be flattened by it in the next second.
The others found it difficult to breathe.
After a moment, the giant blue beetle slackened its mandibles. The sword fell onto the ground, just right at the side of Yiken’s foot.
Leaving behind the sword, the giant blue beetle turned and left.
Yiken stared at the sword beside his foot. He bent down and gripped the sword’s handle with trembling palms. There were some marks on the blade but it wasn’t deep. The blade wasn’t damaged too.
Yiken swiped his palm over the sword, brushing away the sand and dust on its surface. There was still a sheen to the blade that felt divine. Despite the glaring sun above their heads, the blade was still cool to the touch. Its temperature was akin to the sand beneath the ground.
Lifting his head to watch the giant blue beetle leave, the sunlight reflected off its carapace had a faint hue of blue. Yiken released the hilt and supported the blade up with both hands.
He raised the golden sword with engravings high and knelt on the burning sandy ground roasted by the sun. And with that, he bowed to the leaving blue figure.
The other Blue Beetles mirrored him. Everyone knelt and bowed to the blue figure.
It was this moment that they seemed to experience a feeling that they had only heard about and never felt before- Faith.
Many of their ancestors were slaves. Anything regarding tribes was heard from the mouths of their elders when they were alone. This was why they could not resonate with how the tribesmen would worship totems. But now, this moment seemed to have triggered something.
The totem on their arms, chests, spine and others felt hot. It was now imprinted into their hearts. The totem they had found ridiculous in the past was now holy, just like how they were worshipping a giant blue figure.
Perhaps a little faith could support their stubborn survival in the midst of this merciless desert.
While the Blue Beetles knelt, the Vipers locked gazes in hesitation.
Should they kneel too?
If they don’t kneel, would they be devoured?
Ah, it was better to kneel. Since they’ve chosen to join the Blue Beetle, how could they still be standing when the leader himself was kneeling? If they don’t display their loyalty now when else would be the right time?
Following the Blue Beetles, the Vipers who had chosen to join them kneeled as well.
Under the worship of more than hundreds of humans, the giant blue beetle disappeared into the desert.
The smaller beetles that were waiting nearby left as well. They disappeared into the sand and soon, they were all out of sight. This time, the insect swarm was gone completely.
Waiting till none of the beetles had remained, Yiken held onto the sword and stood. He stared into the distance with a deep and unreadable expression. This felt like a new chance at life. He could finally understand the elders’ words better now.
After instructing his subordinates to count their new members, Yiken entered the sandstone house. This morning, this ‘luxurious mansion’ still belonged to Black Sand. Now, it had a new owner who had claimed it. Yiken, however, wasn’t all that serious about this area.
Walking towards a stone table, he found a finished animal skin manuscript written by Black Sand. It was the terms of their cooperation. Though it was meant to be cooperation, everything written had intentions of enslaving the Blue Beetles. This was the main reason behind Yiken’s reluctance.
Before the giant blue beetle appeared, under Black Sand’s pressure and the other’s anticipation for his decision, perhaps he had thought of agreeing to it and come up with a new solution after getting past this obstacle. But Yiken was fully aware that agreeing now would allow Black Sand to bring out his completed terms and have the Blue Beetles return to being slaves again. Even if the giant blue beetle hadn’t appeared, Yiken would not agree to it either. The man had even braced himself to die in battle but unexpectedly…
A faint pain throbbed on his palm. With furrowed brows, Yiken wiped his blood on to the animal skin and slashed it with the sword.
He exited the sandstone house. Yiken raised his head and looked into a direction, where the Heavenly Waters’ desert robber group’s underground palace was located. They had been in despair and experienced so many difficulties. In the future, they too would experience glorious days.
A massive storm was about to happen in this place the desert robbers called home.
Shao Xuan felt no need to find out what the desert robbers plan to do next. Their existence would definitely become a threat to the Rock Hill City members, even if the current leaders were still not very experienced. They hadn’t even truly improved their capabilities yet. But as long as there was time, they would come to threaten all the other powers in the desert in the foreseeable future. It’d be best if they could hamper Rock Hill.
Sapphire, who had been worshipped like a holy relic by Yiken and the others, had been in fact summoned there by Shao Xuan.
Of course, the conflict between the two desert robber groups wasn’t the only motivation behind this. Shao Xuan had deliberately allowed Sapphire to engage Black Sand in a fight to have the man become the beetle’s whetstone.
After unlocking Sapphire’s fourth lock, Shao Xuan didn’t have a clear idea of its current abilities. Thus, it required a real battle to gauge it. Plus, Sapphire was native to the desert. The advancements and changes brought by the fourth lock were most certainly geared towards the desert environment. It could live well here and there would be more beetles around it. There was no way Sapphire could follow Shao Xuan to the Flaming Horn Tribe’s headquarters.
If Shao Xuan brought Sapphire out of the desert, the beetle wouldn’t be able to utilize its advantages elsewhere. This was why Shao Xuan had no plans to bring it elsewhere. The desert was most suited for Sapphire.
Despite that, there were people from Rock Hill City and many scattered desert robber groups in the desert. While the current desert robbers had yet to show remarkable development and the leaders hadn’t had enough time to improve themselves, humans were complicated and cunning. To survive in the desert, Sapphire would need to learn more about this. These could be comprehended through fighting Black Sand.
Though Black Sand had broken away from his master-slave bond, which was equivalent to using the powers his former owner bestowed for himself, the power in his body wasn’t stable enough to achieve well-rounded development. This was similar to the tribesmen who had just learnt how to merge with their fire seeds. They weren’t able to absorb the fire seed’s power completely yet. Black Sand was just at the beginning and with his current abilities, could not secure his advantages against Sapphire. This was also another reason why Shao Xuan wasn’t too worried about sending Sapphire after the man.
However, Black Sand’s sword was able to cause certain damage to Sapphire. Though it was nothing like the swords made by Gongjia Heng, it was still a weapon forged by the Gongjia members that could serve a personal signature. It wasn’t easy for a weapon to leave behind such scratches on Sapphire’s carapace.
Shao Xuan wished for Sapphire to understand that seemingly vulnerable beings could still utilize certain strategies to defend themselves. Sometimes, it may even play tricks and Sapphire would have to come up with corresponding approaches in response. When strength wasn’t absolute, one must be smart. The insect swarm was attention-grabbing and Shao Xuan hoped that Sapphire had learnt plenty from this experience. This was his first slave, he didn’t want it to be reduced to cannon fodder in the desert.
Thankfully, Sapphire was a smart one. The sand blast it had conjured in the beginning may look like a defence and attack mechanism but it was actually just to probe Black Sand and the sword.
The resulting sound from the friction of sand against the blade was enough for Sapphire to gain an understanding of the overall situation, allowing it to decide whether to attack with its carapace. As soon as it determined that the sword could inflict no real damage, it seized the opportunity. Escape wasn’t an option for Black Sand.
Finding food in the desert was never easy, so all beasts would treasure each opportunity well. Even if Black Sand had thought of running away, it would only be wishful thinking.
The reason behind Yiken’s immunity against the smaller beetles’ attack was Sapphire instruction. Sapphire had made it clear that the smaller beetles were not allowed to go near the man.
There were limitations to the smaller beetles’ execution. They weren’t able to distinguish between too many people nor execute overly complex instructions. Hence, it was impossible for Shao Xuan to have them stay away from the Blue Beetle desert robbers. The next best thing would be to have them avoid Yiken.
The Blue Beetle desert robbers had piqued Shao Xuan’s interest. However, Sapphire could no longer remember them and Shao Xuan failed to comprehend the real picture. If Shao Xuan wasn’t around, the insect swarm would definitely attack every single person. Worse, Yiken would’ve suffered the same fate as Black Sand.
After this incident, Shao Xuan had told Sapphire to remember Yiken’s scent. If it ever comes across his subordinates in the future, as long as they did not harm it, it shall not attack them with the insect swarm. After all, their totem was a blue beetle rolling a dung ball.
Now that the Blue Beetles regards Sapphire as a figure of worship, the misunderstanding would be best continued.
Outside the Viper’s small city, some skeletons could be found occasionally. Those were the unfortunate souls who failed to escape the insect swarm in time after noticing its emergence.
Shao Xuan returned to where the Flaming Horn tribe was waiting.
“Are you alright?”
Ta and the others quickly came over to ask.
They’ve heard the commotion at the small city and saw the insect swarm happening. Ta had insisted that they stay put until Shao Xuan’s signal was received. But soon after, the insect swarm appeared. They did not dare to step foot into the areas plagued by the insect swarm, they weren’t Shao Xuan. They would definitely be attacked as well.
Many of the Vipers had fled the city towards different directions. Those that had escaped towards the Flaming Horn Tribe would be slaughtered upon encounter. It was a need to avoid exposing their presence.
The bodies scattered across the floor was cleaned up by the beetles under Shao Xuan’s order. Masking everything with sand, no evidence could be found.
This was no place to extend their stay. Perhaps the Blue Beetles would soon rush over to accept the last remains of the Viper’s influence. There weren't many who knew about Shao Xuan’s relation to the insect swarm, at least the desert robbers were completely clueless. Perhaps they would find out in the future but it was best to not tell them now.
The Viper’s small city wasn’t a good place to rest. Returning to that spot would have the five person held captive anxious. They rather sleep on the desert ground than step foot into the small city again.
Coincidentally, the Flaming Horn Tribesmen too didn’t wish to stay with the desert robbers. They began to leave, making their way out of the desert. Gongjia Ren and the other five people were carried on Sapphire’s carapace. With food, water and their injuries tended to, their mental conditions had improved significantly after some rest.
“Uh… Elder Shao Xuan…” Among the rescued bunch, the eldest Gongjia Kan voiced carefully.
“Yes?” Shao Xuan looked at him.
“That traitor…” Gongjia Kan was referring to the traitor that had betrayed the Gongjia family.
“He was eaten,” said Shao Xuan. He was the one who watched him drown in the insect swarm.
Hearing that the traitor was eaten by insects, the six Gongjia members exhaled in relief. At least the traitor had received the punishment he deserved. But following that, they sighed. They were both implicated and forced to step up. Everyone was helpless but it was unexpected that the other party had the nerve to betray them. The traitor had even led the desert robbers to capture them. Yet, this outcome was as such.
“Huh? You feel bad for him?” Lei continued, “If someone from the Flaming Horn Tribe decided to betray everyone, they’d be hunted down. No matter how far they’ve escaped, we’d do anything to kill them upon meeting. Just like… Who was it? The one who betrayed his tribe and sought refuge with a slave master?”
“Dao Yu,” Tuo helpfully supplied.
“Yes, yes. Him. Dao Yu. Even though he sought refuge in a slave master and lived well in the desert, wasn’t he killed by Ah Xuan in the end?”
Lei’s mention of Dao Yu triggered Shao Xuan’s memories of that time. If his assumptions were correct, Dao Yu hadn’t completely disappeared though he was dead. The man was probably ‘living’ in another form.
On a random corner of the desert, a two hundred member convoy trekked the sands.
Different from the desert robbers, the array of this convoy was rather unique. The most attention-grabbing of them all had to be the gigantic armoured beast walking in the middle.
The shape of the giant beast looked rather oval. It wasn’t as flat as Sapphire and it was slightly longer than the beetle. When it moved, its carapace was stretched in rings almost as if it was formed by several sections. The seemingly heavy carapace had armed most of its body. Its numerous long legs were extended out from its ventral, supporting all physical movement of the beast.
On the back of this giant beast was a metal frame covered with canvas that functioned to block out sunlight. Like a small house, the wide chair inside laid a person.
“Have you found him yet?” A languid voice questioned from within.
A short and stout man quickly caught up to the giant beast, wiping off some sweat in the process. He replied respectfully, “Not yet, third young master.”
Above him, the canvas was lifted and a hard fist-sized fruit pit was thrown against the man’s skull. A stern cold voice rang, “Then hurry up!”