Within the forest beyond the trading point, a group of people waited on a cleared path.
An eagle flew past in the sky.
The group of far-travelled travellers looked at these Flaming Horns curiously, not sure what they were here for. Frequent visitors knew that it must be some important matter or the eagle would not appear here.
They were curious but did not want to be dragged into anything. If something really happened and there was a battle, being collateral damage would be horrible. That was why most people merely gave the Flaming Horns a look and left.
Shao Xuan sat on the eagle, looking far in a direction.
He had heard the entirety of Yi Sia and Yi Cong’s conversation. There had been no other people there since he had sent the guards away. The Founder Shaman Seal that Yi Cong mentioned made Shao Xuan curious because there were no mentions of it in the Flaming Horn notes. Of course, it might be due to limited tools for passing on information and the many migrations, causing information to be lost along the way.
Shao Xuan’s arrival in this world must be related to the Founder Shaman Seal. However, right now shao Xuan was not sure why the seal would appear on him. Maybe it was because of that stone or something else.
Currently, he led a group of Flaming Horn warriors to wait here for the person Yi Cong had been waiting for.
After his conversation with Yi Si that day, Yi Cong told Shao Xuan that the person he was waiting for would be arriving soon. Yi Cong was unwilling to elaborate further, insisting to wait for this day.
Shao Xuan looked ahead, then his vision focused and he patted Chacha to fly closer.
In a spot farther from the trading point, a tall figure laced through the trees in the forest. Due to their larger-than-normal physique, the gaps between some trees were not large enough so this person had to choose emptier spaces to travel, though still unable to avoid the occasional tree branch or trunk.
But this person did not care, directly slamming the trees ahead so they broke, parting vines and branches with their arm. This person looked very clumsy but their movements were hurried. Every small animal nearby took shelter.
This person’s green-grey skin had many bloody cuts, as well as wounds from both sharp and blunt weapons.
The person wiped the sweat and blood of their face, eyes glaring ahead like a fearsome beast, moving quickly. Occasionally, this person would block the branches that he let go so they would not hit him when they bounced back.
Suddenly, the green-gray figure halted and their murderous intent increased. The figure looked up at the sky, an arm protecting their back.
A giant eagle swooped across the air, circled above, then a figure leapt off and landed on the grass nearby with a ‘bam’. The ground sank into a one-metre wide crater instantly, grass bits flying everywhere.
Shao Xuan looked at this half-beast similar to Grasshopper. Perhaps due to the long journey, he was thinner than Grasshopper. The pair of sunken eyes eyed Shao Xuan cautiously, his muscles wound tight. Several wounds were deep enough to expose the bone but he did not seem to have felt them, moving unaffected.
Shao Xuan took one step forward.
Crackle crackle crackle---
Spines straightened out of his back, bristling audibly. It was a warning, also a form of intimidation. The fierce man turned even more terrifying. His torso facing sideways, the half-beast held a hand with sharp claws in front, the other behind his back in a defensive stance.
“Grey Horse?” yelled Shao Xuan, staring at the half-beast slave not far away.
Grey Horse’s animal-like eyes flashed in confusion, still glaring at Shao Xuan.
Although he did not reply, his response confirmed his identity. Shao Xuan averted his gaze from Grey Horse to a spot about ten steps sideways to himself. There was a large tree as thick as a human.
No response came either. Shao Xuan was not in a hurry so he waited silently. After a pause, a short and thin figure walked out from behind a tree. This person’s skin was striped, like an animal’s camouflage, and was suited for ambushing prey in the forest.
The shorter person ran to Grey Horse in a flash almost soundlessly, as soft as an insect’s flutter.
“Who are you?” asked Cicada.
Shao Xuan did not answer. He tossed a piece of jade at them. It was a jade used by Yi Cong for his readings, a proof of Shao Xuan’s trustworthiness.
The short and thin Cicada caught the jade and studied it, his cautious expression relaxing into delight.
Grey Horse next to him did not hide his excitement. “Master’s jade!”
Shao Xuan looked around. “Just you two? What about the other eight?” He recognised the two slaves from Yi Cong’s descriptions but he had sent ten slaves as escorts. Shao Xuan only spotted Grey Horse and Cicada.
“Gone.” Cicada’s face fell.
Only two out of ten slaves survived. If they were out any longer, Grey Horse might not have survived either. They had faced many dangers along the way, the journey much more difficult because they did not have fortune reading abilities like the Yi family.
Even Yi Si, who could not conduct readings, could make predictions based on environmental observations. That was why Yi Si and Grasshopper arrived in much better condition although both came alone. Grey Horse and Cicada were completely foreign to this continent and unable to speak the local language.
“What about the little master?” Shao Xuan looked at Gre Horse.
Grey Horse looked at Shao Xuan, then at Cicada and did not move. He was not very bright and Cicada was usually the decision-maker. If faced with an undefeatable threat, the person to stay as a flesh shield would be Grey Horse and not Cicada. Keeping Cicada alive meant the little master could be brought further but Grey Horse would be cheated by ill-intentioned people very quickly. That was why Grey Horse was more severely injured.
“The little master is well.” Cicada had not let down his guard completely.
Shao Xuan did not mind. He could sense breathing behind Grey Horse. As long as the little master was alive.
“Follow me.” Shao Xuan turned to head back to the tribe.
Grey Horse looked at Cicada. Seeing Cicada follow, he followed too.
On Grey Horse’s back was a shell-like container woven with vine. There was a basket with a child inside.
That was Yi Cong’s six-month-old son.
It must have been difficult to bring a six-month-old from King City.
Shao Xuan brought Grey Horse and Cicada to the cave where Yi Cong was locked up. These days, Yi Cong kept conducting readings. No one knew what he found but his hair had greyed immensely.
With reddened eyes, Yi Cong took his son, his hands shaking. They had prepared a secret formula specially made for long journeys so the baby would sleep deeply and not hinder the progress. That was why when the baby arrived, he was still sound asleep.
When Yi Cong left the Yi family, his son had not been born yet but he conducted a reading right before leaving. After discussion with his wife, they made a few preparations. The moment trouble came to the Yi family, they would send their child away.
No one in the Yi family knew that this Yi Cong, who had been stuck in a bottleneck, actually managed to successfully conduct a reading before leaving. Other people thought he left to train and break through but only his closest circle knew that Yi Cong had other plans.
His young son was smuggled out of the city and on the Yi family’s side, Yi Cong’s newborn mysteriously went ‘missing’ amidst the chaos.
However, at the time, Yi Cong had not decided where to send his child. He only made the decision after the battle with Yi Xiang ended. He had been searching for the safest shelter to keep his son safe from the chaos in the Yi family. A child this young might not survive such conflict. But Yi Cong never would have expected the safest place to be here.
Initially, Grey Horse and Cicada did not know where to send the little master either. Their master gave them instructions through their consciousness, all they had to do was walk and they soon met Shao XUan.
That was why Yi Cong wanted to negotiate ‘a life for a life’ with the Flaming Horns.
Yi Cong was the one who joined the troops that pursued the Flaming Horns, his son was innocent. Unfortunately, this did not matter to many people because exterminating the entire problem from the root up should be the way to go. In order to convince the Flaming Horns to keep his son alive, Yi Cong decided to sacrifice his own life, using up all his remaining life force to help expand the Flaming Horn tribe!
This was the sincerest offer he could make to the tribe. Even the leaders found it most difficult to refuse!
The Flaming Horn Elders, chief and shaman all agreed to his conditions. As long as he did nothing to harm the Flaming Horns, they would let his son live on their land.
Yi Cong passed his son to Yi Si next to him. “I’ll have to trouble you!”
The only person he truly trusted here was Yi Si. Although Yi Si had left the Yi clan, he was still part of the Yi main family!
Yi Si took the ‘bundle’ exasperatedly, feeling like his future would not be as carefree as before. He had to be a father and care for eight slaves.
“You mentioned you hadn’t named him yet, right? Have you thought of a name?” asked Yi Si.
Yi Cong’s eyes glinted like a firefly in darkness. He enunciated, “Ce. My son will be named Ce!”
Yi Si’s eyelid fluttered as he stared at Yi Cong.
There was a saying: *to turn a plan into a staff.
[TL Note: *以策为杖 --- 策 (Ce) means a strategy/plan- the implicit meaning here is a little deep + diverse and this is my best interpretation of it- a strategy is as good as a weapon]
What did Yi Cong mean by this?
Who needs this staff? Who will wield this staff?
Yi Si felt like Yi Cong was playing a large game of chess. This move was not against the Flaming Horn tribe but the Yi family.
What the heck did Yi Cong see in his readings these few days? Yi Si still could not get an answer out of him.
After settling Yi Ce and the eight other slaves, Yi Cong began executing his promise to the Flaming Horns. Yi Cong knew that the more benefits he brought to the tribe, the better Yi Ce’s future life here would be. Just like Yi Si, his son will become a ‘normal person’ living on Flaming Horn land.
Yi Cong did not understand why he would trust the Flaming Horns so much either. Perhaps the Founder Shaman Seal on Shao Xuan had alleviated his concerns.
Legends depicted that the Founder’s first student to receive the knowledge about fire seed utilisation was also the Yi clan’s founding member. That made the Yi family fire seed to be the second fire seed ever controlled by the human race! That was why it contained the same white colour as the Founder’s own white fire seed!
Yi Cong never rested during the next ten days.
Yi Cong told the Flaming Horn tribe everything-- the most suitable place to dig wells, build towers, build underground stores, even the likely dates for severe future disasters. Just like that, he did not sleep for ten days and ten nights. Even the Flaming Horns advised for him to rest but he never did. He was like a fire torch running on its last embers, its only desire was to fulfil its purpose before death.
A person’s life force is a limited resource. After ten days, Yi Cong had changed from a strong youth to a frail, elderly man. His hair was white, and his face as wrinkled as tree bark.
“Will you all... keep your promise?” Yi Cong, sitting in a wooden hut provided to him on the mountain, asked the group of Flaming Horns.
“Yes.” Gui He did not speak much but gave a solid answer. He did not like Yi Cong but admittedly, he respected the man.
Yi Cong looked at Shao Xuan, finally relaxing when Shao Xuan nodded.
Yi Cong did not have much time left. He wanted to spend his last moments talking to Yi Si.
When the Flaming Horns left the hut, Yi Cong said, “I sort of understand Yi Xiang’s motives.”
Surprised by such a sudden remark, Yi Si stared at him, puzzled.
“The Yi family has long been sick, it is sick from the roots,” uttered Yi Cong in a frail, old voice. The Yi family was no longer what it used to be, that was why Yi Xiang did not care nor placed importance on the family, even wanting to exterminate them. It was unrelated to the past grudges that everyone thought was the reason. Since they were all useless, what’s the problem with killing them off? That was probably what Yi Xiang thought. As for why Yi Xiang waited until now to act, perhaps he was waiting for a suitable opportunity.
Within the Yi family, the main family and its side branches were slowly drifting apart, especially in terms of their mentalities. This time, the main branch was hit hard by the battle and the side branches would definitely not let this opportunity go. The clan would plunge into internal war and would be vulnerable to external attacks.
Before leaving the Yi family, Yi Cong had foreseen this possibility of conflict in his readings. Although he was at a ‘bottleneck’, this man was still one of the most talented Yi members after all!
But when he had to choose between partaking in Yi family affairs to calm the conflict and keeping Yi Ce safe, he chose the latter.
“This is laughable! But so sad!”
Even Yi Cong did not expect that the safest place to retreat to would be Flaming Horn, the exact tribe that the Yi family treated with contempt!
The Yi family was supposed to be blessed with foresight but they were so stupid!
Since some time ago, the Yi family had become blinded by luxury and status, they were all blind! They were only relying on dirty, lowly tricks passed down generations for their own tiny benefits!
A person without fortune reading abilities like Yi Si turned out to be the smartest guy in the family. He was the earliest to hide from the storm. When the storm arrived, he had already broken free of the family and found the safest shelter.
“Our ancestors could read the heavens and the earth, could they have foretold such an ending for their descendants? I know that everything must come to an end. The Yi family needs a new beginning.”
The current Yi family was an old, dilapidated house that could not even keep the elements out, brinking on collapse. Instead of wasting efforts on minor reparations, might as well demolish and rebuild the house!
Yi Cong lifted his shrivelled twig-like fingers, grabbing Yi Ce’s tender little hand.
“The Yi family’s eyes should not be set on a tiny King City, nor just the mainland. They should do as our glorious ancestors did, to familiarise themselves with the mountains and rivers and oceans of the world, study every rock and plant, observe life and death, be a student of the universe! The Yi family should set their eyes on the world! The whole world!”
There was truth in every word within Yi Cong’s last furious cries.
Yi Si’s heart ached. Of course he knew of the Yi family’s current states. If he wasn’t this disappointed, would he have chosen to leave his family and seek survival so far away?
Tears flowed down Yi Cong’s ancient face.
To use strategy as a staff. If more people were awakened by this, then his life would not be a waste. His only regret was that he would never live to see that day.
Yi Cong looked at Yi Si. “If possible, my wish is for him to follow that person.”
“That will be difficult.” Yi Si understood that Yi Cong meant for Yi Ce to follow Shao Xuan. Just like in the Yi ancestral records, the person who first received the knowledge on fire seed utilisation, also the person closest to the Founder, benefited the most. It was only because the Yi founder did not have ambitions to rule the world. If he did, the current lord of King City would not be a Ji family member!
“I’ll do my best.” Yi Cong’s tone was not hopeful.
“If Yi Ce turns out to be of mediocre talent, how will he live up to your wishes?” asked Yi Si. It was not a curse but the Yi family members often varied greatly in talent. Although one was powerful, his son might not be as talented. Just like Yi Si- his grandfather and great-grandfather were powerful but this talent did not pass down. Yi Si’s father was mediocre, then Yi Si received zero of the fortune-telling abilities. If he did not have other skills, he would have starved to death already. Yi Cong might be a prodigy of their generation but that did not guarantee Yi Ce’s abilities. His talents were not apparent now, Yi Si could not predict Yi Ce’s future talents even with his observational skills.
“He will!” There was firm resolution in Yi Cong’s eyes.
Yi Si did not know why Yi Cong looked so sure. Perhaps he saw something in his readings, or it was just his stubbornness. Yi Si did not know which.
The more talented a Yi person was, the more skills he mastered, the more difficult they would be to read. That was why outsiders tend to think that the Yi members were mentally ill.
Yi Cong did not speak anymore. He retracted his twig-like finger from Yi Ce’s tender little hand, then hobbled to the door of the hut. Refusing help from Cicada and Grey Horse, he sat leaning against the door frame, staring off at Shao Xuan not far away.
He saw it. The figure behind Shao Xuan. That was the white figure that appeared behind Shao Xuan along with the Founder Shaman Seal during the battle.
With a smile on his face, Yi Cong closed his eyes.
Far into the horizon, the sun set and tired birds returned to their nests.