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Shao Xuan used two whole days to recuperate, which was already a very long time given he did not suffer any severe injuries. In the past, he only needed a night’s rest to recover from a hunt. This battle had drained too much of his energy, one night was not enough. If he wanted to go up the mountain in search of answers, he must be well-prepared too. If he was still weak, then he would be able to fend for himself during emergencies.
During these two days, Gan Qie was not interested in much. He asked Shao Xuan about Yi Xiang, then when he was told that Yi Xiang was indeed very powerful, he did not ask more questions, merely staring at the mountain range in deep thought.
Yi Cong and Yi Qi were severely injured, unable to walk. Especially Yi Qi, who did not wake after fainting and his slaves were in tears, anxious for his recovery.
“Let’s go.” Shao Xuan leapt on Chacha’s back and patted his feathers gently.
Gan Qie was also on his back. After an unwilling caw, Chacha took off.
Carrying two people on his back, Chacha took several rests along the way. The air thinned the higher up they travelled, temperatures dropped and the oppression became stronger.
Gan Qie never liked cold places. The people of the Han Tribe were suited for the hot, arid desert. After turning into this state, although his lifestyle changed a lot, he maintained his preference for the heat. His agility was also limited in snowy places, everything was just inconvenient.
However, the scent of blood lured him on. He was willing to take the risk.
Gan Qie suppressed his breaths, minimising his existence the best he could. The oppression here made him anxious, so this was an instinctive response; he was not accustomed to this cold, and his response was similar to a hibernating animal. Breathing was not necessary for him anyway, so he stopped. He now resembled a stone statue, frozen on the eagle’s back.
As they passed through layers of mist and clouds, water vapour turned to ice stuck to their faces, hair and clothes in a layer of white.
“Wait! Go there.” Shao Xuan pointed in a direction to show Chacha.
After they found a suitable landing spot, Shao Xuan leapt off his back. He stood on a protruding boulder, swept off the thick layer of snow and dragged a piece of white worm skin out.
The worm skin was the same colour as snow, the naked eye would not have been able to distinguish the two. Shao Xuan would not have found it without his special vision.
When Shao Xuan came here the first time, he also picked up a few pieces of worm skin to be made into protective clothing. They were sturdy and offered sufficient protection during a fight. Also, most importantly, it could protect people against the harmful effects of the core seed.
The white worm skins that Shao Xuan brought back from his first time at Eagle Mountain were tattered now. They had very little of it and limited people could enter the core seed cave at a time. The tribe had talked about using other materials to replace the worm skin since going to Eagle Mountain was too difficult and did not guarantee more worm skin. Unfortunately, they were never able to find a replacement.
Now, Shao Xuan could bring more back.
He stroked the worm skin, not sure when they were shed. He guessed not too long ago.
He rolled it up and tied the roll, then looked around and found a second piece. After rolling that up, he could not find a third piece. Shao Xuan did not go searching for more as their primary objective was to uncover the white worm’s secret. He could get more later.
After a short rest, Chacha took off once more.
Shao Xuan could feel a strong opposing force when Chacha flew but Chacha was still happy to fly under such conditions. Although he would not be entering Eagle Mountain, he was still excited to be here.
As they flew, the statue-like Gan Qie finally looked up expressionlessly- other than a flash of red in his eyes.
They were approaching the mountain peak.
“There!” Gan Qie pointed.
Shao Xuan gestured for Chacha to fly over. Although they were not at the peak, he knew that while the white worms were secretly feeding on the eagles’ territory they would not build nests at the icy plains on the peak. They would keep a safe distance. That was why they did not need to fly higher to search for the white worms.
Shao Xuan saw a worm nest on the mountain, similar to the one he saw when he first came here. It was made of worm silk.
“They are metamorphosing.”
Shao Xuan looked at the next. Due to his experience, he knew that the white worm would not leave the nest again, instead silently transforming inside.
“Full moon tonight.” Shao Xuan looked up at the sky. It was not sunset yet and the sky was still bright.
Gan Qie hopped off Chacha. His movements were stiff in the cold, and the thick snow caused him great discomfort. However, he ignored it for the worm blood.
To Shao Xuan’s surprise, Gan Qie walked a few steps towards the worm nest and stopped.
“What? Is there a problem?” Shao Xuan.
“No.” Gan Qie stared at the nest.
“What did you find? You don’t plan to do anything?” asked Shao Xuan.
“It’s not time yet.” Gan Qie stood still, his eyes glued to the nest.
“Not time yet?” Shao Xuan did not understand but now he was sure that whatever attracted Gan Qie was related to the white worms.
All they had to do was wait then.
Shao Xuan and Chacha went to eat some ice at the icy plains on the peak. Shao Xuan missed the taste of the ice crystal columns there, it had been a long time.
They did not see any great mountain eagles on the plains so Shao Xuan did not need to hide.
Gan Qie did not like the ice so he did not eat much, his eyes merely glued to the worm.
Time passed and the sun gradually set. The sky did not turn completely dark and the two moons that had almost merged appeared in the sky.
Gan Qie got more and more excited, his hands shaking and his eyes reddened.
That night, under the merging moons, the world looked like daytime. Every year, on the day of the merging moons, both humans and animals would be affected. Fierce beasts that were most affected by the moon acted completely different on this night.
However, there were no other fierce beasts near the peak on this range. Animal roars echoed from far away but they were near the peak far from the ground. One could only imagine how deafening these roars actually were.
Tonight, these animals would be extra excited. Not sure if Yi Cong, Yi Qi and their group would be able to avoid those excited beasts.
Shao Xuan heard a tiny sound. Ignoring everything else, he looked at the nest.
Like before, Shao Xuan saw a wingless butterfly-like insect with two sticks in front as the antennae. The tiny crackling sound was made from its movements in the snow as it crawled out of its nest.
Shao Xuan looked at Gan Qie. Although Gan Qie was very excited, he was not moving. Other than the red glint in his eyes, he still stood like a statue and suppressed his aura.
When the white insect crawled out of the nest, it moved to a protruding boulder. With a white flash that resembled electricity, two long wings grew out of its thorax. Its body looked much more slender in contrast to its wings.
The wings extended fully, glowing white as they flapped. Many butterflies straightened up at the same time, paused, then suddenly flapped their wings and took off.
Star butterflies. That was what King City’s people called them. Night looked like day with the merged full moons, these butterflies were the only starlight visible today.
Both moons were almost completely merged now. The world was as bright as day while white dots appeared in the sky, flying away from the mountain range. Those were butterflies from other areas of the mountain.
The white worms that crawled up the mountain had undergone metamorphosis on the mountain and turned into star butterflies on the same night.
The wind near the mountain peak cut like knives, snow flying haphazardly. However, these butterflies in flight flew even higher and farther in spite of the brutally cold wind. No one knew where they went.
During his first time here, Shao Xuan had stared at these butterflies for a long time. This time, once they took off, he turned his attention.
Gan Qie had entered the worm’s nest. When Shao Xuan went over, he found Gan Qie squatting on the ground. There was a puddle of what looked like melted ice where the worm used to be.
Gan Qie dipped his finger in the ‘melted ice water’ and put his finger in his mouth.
“This is it!” There was intense excitement in his suppressed whisper.
Shao Xuan recalled that he had wondered where the pupa shell went after metamorphosis. He thought they just did not have a shell. Perhaps this meant that they did have a pupa shell that disappeared.
This ‘melted ice’ was probably its pupa shell!
This ‘ice’ was melting quickly and the ‘water’ evaporated fast.
Without much thought, Shao Xuan pulled out some wormskin and tied a simple knot so it became a simple bag. He did not have any liquid container so this would have to do. Since both substances came from the worm, using worm skin to store the water should be safe.
It did not matter if this liquid was related to weapon forging, they should collect it first. Anything that caught Gan Qie’s attention must be special. The white worms held too many secrets-- worm skin, worm silk all turned out to be very useful. Looking at Gan Qie’s excitement, this must contain surprises too.
“Are you in a hurry to drink? If you’re not, you can help collect some.” Shao Xuan passed him a worm skin pouch.
Gan Qie did not speak. After taking the pouch, he went to search for the next nest. He did not have special vision but had a sensitive nose that could track the next nest accurately.
Since they had found the substance, Gan Qie was in no hurry to drink them all. Like what Shao Xuan said, they should collect it first. They were in a hurry and must collect as much as they could.
Shao Xuan collected the ‘melted ice’ and drew the pouch close tightly. He noticed that the ‘ice’ stopped melting inside the pouch- this was good news. He was worried they might turn into gas too quickly and render their efforts useless.
Chacha also helped search for nests, cawing for Shao Xuan to come wherever he found one.
Although Shao Xuan and Gan Qie worked quickly, they still could not find all the nests. After visiting about ten nests, they arrived at only a small puddle while the next few had no more liquid.
Shao Xuan had no choice but to give up, keeping the ‘melted ice’ he had well.
Drawing the pouch close, he put it aside and told Chacha to guard it while he went to collect worm silk.
If he did not collect them in time, the silk would slowly peel off from the boulder and get blown away by the wind.
Some worm silk -produced by the worms to form the nest- stuck to the boulders very tightly. However, he could still rip them off after activating his totemic power. Shao Xuan had done this before so it was a smooth process.
Worm silk was light, much lighter than the worm skin. They were useful too, and he had almost used up his previous supply. This was a good time to harvest more to be used during hunts and trap setups.
Gan Qie did not know what these worm silks were for but assisted Shao Xuan too. Without Shao Xuan bringing him up, it would have been difficult for him to get here anyway. The conditions on the mountain severely restricted his movements and only received his precious ‘worm blood’ because of Shao Xuan. That was why he also helped with the worm skin and silk.
Since worm silk was light, they could collect a lot of it. Worm skin was too heavy and the worms often kicked the skin off the mountain, making them difficult to find. After about twenty pieces, Shao Xuan stopped the search.
With his mysterious ‘melted ice’, worm silk and worm skin, Shao Xuan finally went down the mountain.
Shao Xuan was extremely satisfied with their haul this time!