After the Flaming Horn tribesmen received all six of the Gongjia members, they did not prolong their stay. They quickly moved to exit the desert. While no obstacles were met in the beginning, it did not mean that a smooth journey was waiting for them. It was best to leave as soon as possible.
Just like the past, most nights were spent trekking while the day was reserved for rest. Sometimes they’d have to give up a few hours of sleep to rush through the journey. When hunting in the mountains, staying up all night was nothing new to the Flaming Horn tribe warriors. However, they were not used to the desert environment. Though their speed was hindered, their stamina was still ever-present.
On their journey home, the Flaming Horn tribesmen told the Gongjia members about the current living condition in their tribe.
The Gongjia members had initially prepared themselves to live with a hunting tribe in the depths of the mountains. They’d live in simple houses made out of wood and rocks and they’d pick up the outdated metal wares again. The members would allow old, coarse, linen clothes to clad their bodies as they begin their new life with a group of barbaric tribesmen.
But as they listened on, why did something feel wrong?
The Flaming Horns didn’t live deep in the forest?
The Flaming Horns did not all live in simple houses made of sticks and rocks?
Other than hunting, the Flaming Horns also knew how to cultivate crops. The area of their plantations was surprisingly large and they too were rearing domesticated animals!
What? The Flaming Horn tribe had their own trading area? And it was built like the trading areas in cities?
The most shocking thing was definitely the new bronze tools possessed by the Flaming Horn tribe along with Shao Xuan’s blade of unknown material. In terms of toughness, it was something that even the best of them all, Gongjia Ren, wasn’t confident to put his own creation up for comparison.
This was unbelievable!
Why was it so different from what they imagined?!
While conversing with the Gongjia members, it was only then that the Flaming Horn tribesmen realized that their impression of tribes was incredibly outdated!
That was unacceptable!
Though their tribes were indeed outdated in the past, the current Flaming Horn tribe was largely different. The Flaming Horn tribesmen took the Gongjia members’ opinion on tribes personally.
Shocked by the imagery of tribes painted by the Flaming Horn tribesmen, the six Gongjia members quickly realized that the mood of the tribesmen had soured greatly. It didn’t take long for them to figure that they had offended them, hence the Gongjia members began explaining themselves.
“Sorry. We’ve been living in King City all our lives. We don’t know much about how tribesmen live.” Gongjia Ren looked sheepish. Everything he had heard about tribesmen was as such.
Other than cities built by slave masters, the six Gongjia members were familiar with the communities by the coast that no longer lived tribal lifestyles.However, all they knew about the real forest tribes that preserved their tribal lifestyles were from hearsay. They found that what they heard was truly different from the Flaming Horn tribesmen’s descriptions.
Perhaps the Flaming Horn tribe wasn’t too bad of a place. Just like what Gongjia Heng said, maybe their new lives wouldn't be too far off from their original lives.
The Gongjia members always thought that the tribesmen were constantly lacking metal wares and they would face supply shortage when the moment of need came. However, Ta said that they actually possess a huge store of metal wares and had even gained some in the form of war spoils. From the Gongjia member’s perspective, it might not be much but since they were just a small group, the supply should be still sufficient for their smithing works.
Though they were aware that their new home was not shabby, the most important thing was actually opportunities to utilize their expertise and have their own workshop. Having those would be more than enough to them.
Feeling more excited about their new life, the six Gongjia members’ mood lightened up gradually. More conversations were exchanged with the Flaming Horn tribesmen.
“You should pick up our language soon if you wish to live well there. Language is the most important thing, not every tribe can understand our language,” said Shao Xuan.
The only reason behind their smooth interaction was due to the Flaming Horn tribesmen’s fluency in the coastal region languages. This was largely resultant of the merging of Zheng Luo’s part of the tribe and mutual influence later on. Plus, those Shao Xuan had brought with them were well-versed with the coastal region languages- so at least the Gongjia members’ screams for help would not go unheard. But now that they were stepping out of the desert and into the tribesmen region, it was time for the Gongjia members to adapt.
“Indeed.” Gongjia Ren nodded. It was true that they needed to learn the language.
Since they were rushing through a journey and had nothing better to do, the six Gongjia members began learning tribesmen languages and characters from the Flaming Horn members. Sometimes when they stopped to rest, they’d practise writing on the sandy ground.
The Flaming Horn tribesmen had used the best herbs on the Gongjia members. The six Gongjia members were already able to walk and jog but since they were still recovering, their speed could not match the Flaming Horn members. So they spent most of the journey on Sapphire’s back.
“I think we’ll be able to leave the desert within five or six days,” said Ta.
Five to six days wasn’t long. Gongjia Ren and the others had stayed in the desert for longer. Those were difficult times, and compared to the present, this was sufficiently relaxing. Another five to six days spent in this manner was nothing.
“Be careful for the time being,” said Shao Xuan out of the blue.
Ta and the others, who were drinking water, asked, “Is there trouble ahead?”
“Mm.” Shao Xuan crushed the straw rope between his fingers. Then he tossed it into the sand and buried it in with his toes. It was difficult to tell apart straw debris and dry sand at a quick glance.
“There’s no way around it?” questioned Ta.
“It would be difficult. They might have been searching for us.” Shao Xuan thought of the Silknose encountered long ago. Slave masters who had lived in the desert for centuries would definitely have an army of beasts skilful at tracking. They might even have other tricks up their sleeves. It wouldn’t be easy to lose them.
Hearing Shao Xuan’s words, everyone turned serious.
“Are they from Rock Hill City?” asked Tuo.
“Probably. Anyhow, please be vigilant.”
Gongjia Ren and the others wondered why Shao Xuan was able to predict the future. But seeing the trust placed in the man by the Flaming Horn members and the tense atmosphere of the group, they dismissed the urge to question. After all, the Flaming Horn members were in the desert for the few of them.
Following that, the group fell silent. The six Gongjia members no longer asked questions. All of the Flaming Horn members’ attention was placed on observing their surroundings, they really couldn’t afford to entertain them at such a time.
“I heard that Rock Hill City created a monster that can’t be killed. Have you encountered that before?” Lei asked Gongjia Ren.
Gongjia Ren shook his head. “We’ve only seen it once from a great distance away. I don’t know if it can’t be killed but after the monsters were slashed into halves, their upper bodies could still move about. There was no bleeding and their bodies were black.”
When they crossed the sea, a conflict was going on. They had seen it from a distance while taking the long route on their boat. The scene was eerie, causing the few Gongjia members to break into a cold sweat. No wonder King City received word that the battle was going south. Regardless, anyone who needed to face such a monster would certainly shiver in fear.
As soon as they heard that the monster wouldn’t die even when in halves and was still able to walk around with their arms like weapons that couldn’t perceive pain, the Flaming Horn members braced themselves for the worst-case scenario. They could feel goosebumps forming along the length of their arm.
“Will chopping their heads off work?” Tuo asked.
“Not sure.” The Gongjia members really had no idea. All their strategies had prioritized avoiding battlefields and chasers. There really wasn’t the luxury to place more attention on the monsters. They barely escaped alive. How could they be bothered to observe if decapitation could kill those monsters?
“It’ll work,” said Shao Xuan.
The Flaming Horn tribesmen and the Gongjia members turned to look at Shao Xuan. Other than Ta, who knew a little part of the reason, the others truly had no clue.
“Those monsters have no organs. They have no heart and the head isn’t the most important part of their body. Decapitation will affect them to an extent but they’d still be able to move around.” Shao Xuan continued, “So if you ever encounter one, you can slash their heads off first then dismember them. However, they wouldn’t be ‘dead’ from that. You must not let your guard down. It’s possible that they’d ambush you with their broken arm or something…”
Shao Xuan’s words made their hairs stand. Gongjia Ren couldn’t help but touch his neck. At the mention of dismembering, the man rubbed his arm. It felt creepy. After all, the Gongjia members were brought up differently from the Flaming Horn tribesmen. Those words were more impactful on them.
Though the Flaming Horn tribesmen felt fear, they seriously imprinted Shao Xuan’s words in their memories.
“Remember, they’re merely reanimated corpses controlled by people. They have no soul and cannot bleed. They feel no pain and bear no sentience. Other than a strong body, it is no different from dried pieces of log. The main key is the people controlling them. If there is a chance, I’d finish off the puppeteer first,” continued Shao Xuan.
The Flaming Horn members nodded in unison, showing that they had remembered his words. Since the monsters were not human and more like logs, they too would apply the same treatment to those ‘dead’ moving ‘humans’ just as how they would do to logs.
High on alert, the group continued their path for two days.
It was this day that Shao Xuan heard an eagle screech faraway.
It was Chacha.
“They’re near!” Shao Xuan looked into that direction.
“They’re fast!” Not long after, Ta could feel a rapidly approaching presence. Their speed was way faster than theirs. No wonder Shao Xuan mentioned that it’d be hard to avoid them.
The Flaming Horn tribesmen took their places.
In the faraway horizon where the desert meets the sky, clouds of dust were rolling. There was a particularly eye-catching figure that reflected off golden rays. It was humongous.
It was a long oval-shaped giant beast. The reflection itself had told them that its whole body was clad in tough armour. There were people atop its spine but their identity remained hidden by the canvas canopy around them.
The giant golden beast was surrounded by people in golden armour. They looked similar to the Golden Armours Shao Xuan had encountered in the past.
Shao Xuan’s gaze swept through the crowd closest to the beast. Though they were fully protected by armour, and even gave off the same feeling as the earlier Golden Armours, Shao Xuan was more bothered by the figures running in the outer radius.
They were covered with thick fabric garments. They looked unassuming, heads covered by the same fabric as well. But if this were normal humans, they’d certainly be sweating buckets if they ran under the hot desert sun dressed like this. The golden armoured bunch near the beast looked relatively normal, their exhaustion was evident. In comparison, the odd ones on the outer radius seemed like they felt no exhaustion. They probably couldn’t feel anything.
It was them!
Those were the legendary monsters!
Only those without sentience, unable to experience pain and exhaustion and changing temperatures, could function like a machine. Their steps were eerily matched too!
If that was all, they’d look more like well-trained soldiers. But in reality, they were nothing but puppets.
They were getting close. The sand and dust limited their vision but as soon as wind broke through it, the general situation could be gauged.
They were a convoy of about two hundred people.
In between these two hundred people, half were armoured men and the other half were monsters.
Noticing the presence of another giant beast, the six Gongjia members got off Sapphire’s carapace. Sapphire would evidently be required in this battle, it could no longer carry them. Plus, the Gongjia members were well enough to walk and run. With the new bronze weapons given by the Flaming Horn tribesmen, the Gongjia members stood with them, in the middle surrounded by the tribesmen.
The convoy was getting closer and closer. They began to slow down one hundred metres away, took a few steps forward and then paused.
It was then that the Flaming Horn members noticed the one hundred people nearest to the beast. Their pause was followed by unmistakeable panting. Even with armour, the rise and fall of their chests were evident. The beast too looked like it was panting. With its head lowered, each exhale stirred the sand on the ground.
However, those on the outer radius weren’t panting at all. Heck, they didn’t even seem like they were breathing! After the convoy stopped, those people stood there stiffly. They really were like hard logs. Covered entirely by thick linen cloth, no one could make out what they looked like.
Despite that, the Flaming Horn members already had their assumptions. Those people were most probably the monsters everyone had talked about.
At the sight of the giant beast, Sapphire moved beside Shao Xuan. It raised its two long forelimbs and glared ahead threateningly.
Giant beasts rarely got along well.
“Hand the Gongjia people over.” A cold voice rang from atop the golden armoured beast’s spine. Though the canvas had hidden his identity, thick arrogance and disdain rolled off his tongue.
The person did not wait for an answer. He continued right away, “Which is Gongjia Ren? Come forward.”
Shao Xuan’s brows twitched. Ta and the other’s expressions shifted. Why was the man asking specifically for Gongjia Ren? Without gazing over to Gongjia Ren, Shao Xuan gestured behind his back- a signal for the Gongjia members to ignore the question.
The man waited for a moment but no answer came. Lowering his voice to another octave, this time his words bore obvious venom. “Who is Gongjia Ren?! If you refuse to answer, all of you will die!”
Shao Xuan tried to recognize his voice. It sounded familiar but it had been far too long, he couldn’t match a face to the voice.
“And who are you?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Shut it! You haven’t answered the young master’s question!” One of the armoured personnel strode two steps forwards and pointed at Shao Xuan.
Then, a slightly demure voice was heard from behind the canvas canopy. “Second Young Master, there is no need to waste more time talking. Kill off a few and they’ll start talking naturally.”
“Indeed.” The first voice responded, but it was now devoided of the initial pomposity. He seemed to fear the other person.
“Second Young Master? Second Young Master Su Le of the Fallen Leaves City?” Shao Xuan was suddenly reminded of him.
Back then when they first entered the desert, they had visited the Fallen Leaves City. The Fallen Leaves King, Su Lun, had three sons- The eldest young master, Su Ka; The Second Young Master, Su Le; and the Third Young Master, Su Gu. They were brothers born of different mothers. Though they shared the same father, their dynamics were like fire and water.
Plus, it was Shao Xuan that allowed Su Gu to rob the place that should’ve been Su Le’s and went to the Beast Battle City.
As soon as Shao Xuan spoke, the person on the giant golden armoured beast peeled the canvas curtains away. Peering down like a bird, his eyes narrowed as a cold glint flashed through it. “Shao Xuan from the Flaming Horn tribe?!” Almost every word was squeezed out through clenched teeth. The pure hatred was so strong that even the Gongjia members could feel it.
The Flaming Horn members turned to look at Shao Xuan, asking with their expressions: You guys are enemies?
Even Shao Xuan wasn’t expecting Su Le to remember him. It was so long ago but the noble still remembered him clearly.
How could Su Le forget? If it wasn’t for Shao Xuan, Su Gu wouldn’t be the one accompanying his father to the Beast Battle City and he wouldn’t gain the right to be involved in important affairs. Things wouldn’t have developed to the point of conflict between them!
Su Le was a vengeful person. Even if it had been a long time ago, anyone who had offended him would be kept in mind. Of course he would remember Shao Xuan.
As the confrontation between Su Le and Shao Xuan went on, a convoy of similar staffing as Su Le was marching towards that direction a distance away. Even the giant beasts they had were of the same type.
A short and stout figure shot up. He carefully ran over to the side of the giant golden armoured beast and shouted upwards, “Third Young Master! We received updates!”
“Oh? What is it? Did the other bunch find them already?” The person sitting atop the beast’s spine brought a fruit to his lips and munched on it hard, as if to vent his frustrations. Jeez, the other party got there before them again!
Su Gu’s bad mood was obvious. The stout man could only brace himself. “Yes, the Second Young Master has found them. But it seems like they’ve got protection too and it seems to be from the Flaming Horn tribesmen. This is odd, why are the Flaming Horn tribesmen here…?”
“Ptui!” Su Gu spat out a mouthful of fruit and threw most of the crispy fruit out. He shouted back, “Come up and talk!”
The short man flinched in surprise but was quick to respond. He began climbing the beast. While his actions looked cumbersome, he was actually quite agile. Before long, the man had made it to the front of the canvas canopy on top of the giant beast’s spine. He bowed. “We just received word that the Flaming Horn tribe was the one who brought the Gongjia members away. Currently, the Second Young Master is trying to snatch the Gongjia members away. Third Young Master, shall we make haste? If we slow down, the Gongjia people will be all snatched away!”
Letting his sentence die, the short stout man waited for a response. However, Su Gu did not reply. Feeling odd, the man prompted, “Young Master, would you…”
“We’re not going there.” His voice rang from inside the canopy.
“Yes! Right away- W… What?!” The short man thought his ears were going bad. Wasn’t the Third Young Master and the Second Young Master always at each other’s throats? They literally fought about everything. After all, the Fallen Leaves Lord Su Lun had mentioned that there would only be one inheritor to his current assets. The Second Young Master, Su Le and the Third Young Master, Su Gu were now the only children alive.
In the past, many would’ve expected the fight for the throne would be between the eldest young master, Su Ka and the Second Young Master, Su Le. **But after the shift in the desert, the head of Fallen Leaves City no longer called himself king. He was now demoted to merely the lord. When comparing the current Fallen Leaves City with its past, it was at least one fold larger than before. In regards to being king or not, since they could never challenge Rock Hill City, titles and designations were no longer important.
[**TL Note: the previous translator translated ‘王‘ (King) as Lord and we have so far translated the leader of each city as ‘lords’ where it should have been ‘kings’. But here, the author mentions that now, the Kings cannot call themselves that, and they are demoted into lords of each city. We will keep calling these people ‘lords’ since I can’t find another word for it, but this is just a short explanation! xx]
The expansion meant an increase in resources and wealth. Plus, they were assigned important affairs by Rock Hill City, the current ruler of the desert. The temptation was real.
Su Lun’s decision was still the same as ever- There would only be one heir to almost all of the resources and wealth. So it was only natural for the public to assume the conflict would be between the Eldest and Second Young Master. However, no one expected that the Eldest Young Master would perish in an accident while out on a task. After he was killed by the people of the coastal region, the only ones left behind were the Second and Third Young Masters.
Under those circumstances, many assumed that since the Eldest Young Master had passed, the throne would definitely be given to the Second Young Master. In a turn of surprising events, the Third Young Master, Su Gu, began to thrive! Till this day, the two lords were evenly matched. Hence, they competed fiercely for everything.
In the past, as soon as a mission was accepted and Su Le had gotten there first, Su Gu would be on the edge of his seat. He had the urge to pick up pace but this time, he had reacted very differently.
“I said we’re not going! Do you hear?!” Pausing for a moment, Su Gu continued from inside the canopy, “Slow down. There’s no need to hurry.”
“Understood.” The short and stout man wiped away the sweat dotting his forehead. He thought to himself: This young master sure is difficult to please. First he says he’s not going, next he says he wants us to slow down. Is he going to regret this?
Regardless, the convoy had adhered to Su Gu’s request and began slowing down. The initially rushing convoy now looked like they were taking a leisurely stroll. Their movements were languid and each step was relaxed.
“Why would the Flaming Horn tribe be here?” Su Gu pondered hard. If people from the Flaming Horn tribe were here, their leader would most probably be Shao Xuan. Truthfully, Su Gu was rather intimidated by Shao Xuan. This was a fear he had harboured since their time in the Fallen Leaves City. The following events too increased Shao Xuan’s intimidation. But the young master wasn’t willing to give up just yet. Thus, he made the convoy slow down. It would be best if they arrived at a time where both the Flaming Horn tribe and Su Le’s group were worn down and battle-tattered. That way, Su Gu could be spared from lots of trouble.