On the vast desert, a convoy of two hundred members inched slowly along the sandy grounds. Their pace was relaxed as if taking a leisurely stroll.
However, that was not the case for the atmosphere between them.
The short and stout man’s worry was pronounced. His eyes darted often to the top of the giant golden-armoured beast’s back, anticipating some response from the young master. Filtering out the footsteps around him, the man waited for the young master behind the canvas curtains to say something.
Sadly, the silence had gone on for quite some time now. The short man wasn’t allowed a chance to relax. He wiped away the sweat dotting his forehead and brought out a waterskin made out of the skin of ocean fishes. He gulped down two mouthfuls of water.
The water stored in the waterskin was heated by the scalding sun. Swallowing it, his organs too began to feel hot. The feeling was largely resultant of placebo. With his capabilities, the water of this temperature was nothing. But the man was restless, a little puff of hot air would be more than enough to agitate him.
The man was Tu Xu, he used to be a slave master of mediocre status in White Stone City. He had trained a handful of flying desert insects in the past. The technique, however, was learned from a tribe. Back then, the Wanshi tribe had already possessed such technique. Tu Xu later merged other relevant techniques he picked up from other tribes and created a unique technique to control insect beasts. The man was capable of peering into happenings at unreachable places through insect eyes.
It was this technique that allowed Tu Xu to find out that Su Le’s party had encountered people from the Flaming Horn tribe. However, he had to perceive matters through sound alone. He could not get a clear ‘sight’ of it.
But sound alone was already sufficiently convenient to Su Gu, the young master was able to grasp the overall situation through that. This was the main reason why Su Gu spared Tu Xu in the desert conflicts back then. Though Tu Xu’s fighting capabilities were close to zero, Su Gu had cared more about this person’s insect manipulation abilities.
The events on Su Le’s end were conveyed to Su Gu through Tu Xu. Though he knew nothing of any further detail, it was true that Su Le had lost the battle pitifully.
Initially, Tu Xu was confused as to why Su Gu demanded that the (already slow) convoy to slow down further after learning that there were Flaming Horn tribesmen there that were possibly led by some guy named Shao Xuan. The convoy had slowed down greatly and had even gotten the luxury of taking multiple breaks. But now, Tu Xu was impressed. If Su Gu hadn’t demanded everyone to slacken their pace, they definitely would be facing Shao Xuan now. Perhaps Su Le might even involve them in the battle.
Tu Xu felt extremely restless. After receiving the news, he was plagued with fear. He feared that the convoy would encounter the Flaming Horns soon. After all, the staffing of Su Gu’s convoy was very similar to Su Le’s line-up. If Su Le had retreated from the fight, Su Gu couldn’t be any stronger than his brother.
There too was another worry. Though Su Gu was now aware of the situation, he did not ask the convoy to turn around. The young master resumed with their initial route. Even with a slowed pace, they were still moving forward. Would they meet the Flaming Horns soon? Tu Xu felt unease.
“What is that?!” The frontmost slave exclaimed in shock.
“Young master, there seems to be… something ahead. It looks like-” Tu Xu paused, not finishing his own sentence. The man stared ahead with widened eyes.
At the junction where sand meets the sky, something golden was flashing. Something was approaching at a high speed, one could see the intense cloud of sand created by the movement. This scene was nothing new to Tu Xu as Su Gu had done something similar in the past.
“A golden-armoured beast! Young Master, it’s the golden-armoured beast!” Tu Xu reported with urgency. His initial unrest after learning of the situation had formulated an assumption at the sight of the approaching beast.
Though there were golden-armoured beasts that roamed the deserts freely, instances where it escapes in its curled-up form was extremely rare. Since Tu Xu was already aware that Su Le was on the run, the current one ahead was most likely Su Le’s beast.
Su Gu could no longer sit still. He lifted the curtains and observed the giant rolling golden ball.
As it came closer, Su Gu was confident that this was indeed Su Le’s golden-armoured beast!
It was surprising to find an impressive amount of scratches along the giant golden ball’s body. They were fully aware of the toughness of the golden beast’s armour. The presence of so many scars meant a tough opponent. The one mark that stood out most was one that looked like a charred mark. For a golden-armoured beast to be forced into this was very much telling of the battle situation earlier. No wonder Su Le chose to abandon his carefully-trained slaves.
As the distance between the golden-armoured beast and Su Gu’s convoy decreased, the beast began to slow down.
Though Su Le and Su Gu were in the middle of fierce competition, they could not bear to see the other die and leave behind one to succeed the Fallen Leaves City. But the current situation was rather dire. If Su Le were to ask for help, Su Gu would comply. There was another person with Su Le that Su Gu did not dare to harm.
Nevermind. The fact that Su Le had failed miserably would not change. The Second Young Master would be punished upon return and more resources would be allocated for Su Gu.
Just Su Gu racked his brain for a solution, the giant golden ball had rolled to the front of their convoy. Just as the golden beast was about to unfurl, it quickly tightened its curl and rolled aside. The golden-armoured beast beneath Su Gu began to feel restless.
With great force, sand rushed for the skies. The slaves at the front hurriedly avoided it.
A giant blue beetle made its presence known, blocking the intended path of the rolling golden-armoured beast in time. With its two legs, it stomped the giant golden-armoured beast to a height of at least one human in the air. The giant golden ball’s rolling was not only hindered but also forced to roll in the opposite direction.
Su Gu gaped, speechless at the sight. What the heck?! What was with this giant blue beetle that appeared out of the blue!
“Young Master! The giant beetle is with the Flaming Horns! Perhaps the insect swarms are triggered by it!” Tu Xu urgently shouted at Su Gu. Tu Xu was in so much shock that his entire back was moist with sweat.
At the mention of insect swarms, Su Gu’s slaves began to tremble. They did not wish to remain here and end up as insect feed.
Su Gu was even more reluctant about that. He initially planned to take it slow. The Young Master was thinking of inspecting the site after the Flaming Horns had left. However, this seemed impossible now.
“Retreat! We need to leave this place immediately!”
Su Gu screamed and studied the hooded figure behind him. Dressed similarly like the one beside Su Le, the hooded figure was typically dispassionate. When Su Gu called for a retreat, the person did not oppose. While he too wished to check on the puppet slaves there, it was best for them to leave now.
“Are the Flaming Horns coming too?” Su Gu anxiously asked Tu Xu.
Just as Tu Xu was about to answer him, his eyes were assaulted by abrupt darkness. His brain felt like it got covered by a brass bell jar and someone was knocking on it relentlessly. It was torture.
Tu Xu was aware of what this feeling was. The bond between his two dispatched flying insects were broken. Those insects were equivalent to his slaves and there would only be one reason behind a broken bond- The insects were dead!
On the other end, a group of black beetles spread their wings and took flight. They headed towards an unassuming flying insect with the intention of surrounding it. While the flying insect could travel faster than the beetles, it had already lost its chance to hide. As more and more beetles taunted it, its wings finally fell victim to its mandibles.
Soon, a second beetle, then a third beetle, and later more beetles surrounded the flying insect and shared a meal.
On the ground, the dense black insect swarm had already devoured all golden-armoured slaves left behind. Any slave with the intention to escape would be slashed by the Flaming Horns and fed to the insect swarm.
The Flaming Horn tribesmen had done their best to contain the monsters to let Shao Xuan deliver the final blow. Doing this was more efficient and they wouldn’t be near the monsters. Every single bone on the monsters could be turned literally into lethal weapons. The most they could do was to shatter the monster bones and slacken its movements.
As Su Le and the puppeteer were further away, these monsters were evidently not as agile as before. To be honest, the increased distance between the puppeteer and their slaves did not necessarily provide visible results. But the hooded figure had suffered greatly from the backlash of broken bonds, which weakened their control over the monsters plenty.
The flaming knife was stabbed through a monster’s chest. The spasming monster was pinned to the ground as the crackling sound of burning wood were produced. Not long after, the monsters would slump over and remain motionless.
This was when the monsters were really ‘dead’.
The clash of two powers had brought changes to the monsters’ bones. If the bones were dissected, one would notice that the only thing left in the bones was a greyish-white powder. It looked akin to the ashes of burnt foliage. This destruction was irreversible, hence this meant that the corpses could not be reanimated again. The bodies would decay at an alarming rate like real dead people.
After all the monsters were taken care of, Shao Xuan carefully investigated their remains. Confirming that danger was eradicated, the Flaming Horns could finally exhale in relief.
After instructing the others to tend to casualties, Shao Xuan paced over to Su Le’s abandoned canopy.
The perimeter of the canopy was fully surrounded by black beetles. The other Flaming Horns dare not go near, Shao Xuan was the only one that would be spared from the beetle attacks. The beetles would even clear a path for the man.
Su Le’s rushed escape did not permit him much time to bring away his other items. This canvas canopy had housed two large lounge chairs, a low table with bottles and cans filled with water and food. There were two wide-mouthed jars that held fruits that looked fresh and plump.
In such weather and a long journey in the desert, it was almost impossible for fruits to remain fresh. Unless there was something special that kept it that way.
Shao Xuan found a few yellowish-brown rocks of irregular shapes in the jars that contained fruits and food items. It was about the size of an egg and rather fragile. By exerting slight force, Shao Xuan was able to crush them.
The rocks were found in every food holding container. Evidently, these rocks were capable of prolonging freshness.