Mu Fa rested on a boulder among the grass, a few Longboat tribesmen had just returned from scouting the path ahead.
The rest of the Flaming Horn convoy and Longboats were at the back. Mu Fa and his scouts first scouted the path ahead since they were familiar with the area and could predict the situation based on every detail. They mainly wanted to check if the slave masters and aristocrats had taken any action.
Based on the shortest route, they must pass through the area near Chao Qiu City so the Longboat tribe visited them the most.
As one of the six main cities, Chao Qiu City was also the farthest from King City. They received news the slowest too so if Chao Qiu City knew that the Flaming Horns were coming, the rest would too.
However, the scouts told Mu Fa that there was nothing different with Chao Qiu City and this worried him. If Chao Qiu City did not know about their arrival, would they attack the Flaming Horn’s convoy when they met?
Mu Fa’s brows knitted with thought when he suddenly looked ahead, a dangerous glint in his eyes.
Everyone looked over cautiously.
There were many robbers in the area, the Longboats encountered people like that every time they came. All thirty Longboat tribesmen’s eyes fixated on the commotion ahead.
They picked up a scent. A scent they hated most.
“Black Mackerels,” said one of them in a low voice with a disgusted expression like he smelled faeces.
“Mm.” Mu Fa maintained his sitting posture on the rock, his eyes staring ahead.
The Black Mackerels were a younger organisation, only a decade old. They were strong swimmers, good with ships, risk-takers and very aggressive.
In the past, they only frequented the rivers and occasionally the ocean. Being at sea was dangerous and there were not many targets so they focused on the rivers inland. They traded, transported both people and goods, robbed other groups and everything else. Of course, if they only did this, they would just be a negligible bunch amongst so many groups. After the disaster, when both continents grew closer, the Black Mackerels capitalised on the opportunity and expanded their operations into the ocean. They charged high prices to bring people over to the other side. These two years, they recruited at least two thousand new members, a portion staying on land to further their business while the rest expanded their coastal territory.
The Black Mackerels also thought about buying boats from the Longboat tribe since they were good at it. Every ship could withstand many voyages and was large enough- much better than the ones the Black Mackerels owned. The reason why they still had not truly set foot on the other continent was that their current ships could only smuggle some people or goods over, though unfit for marine warfare and transporting precious goods.
Unfortunately, the Longboats refused to sell their boats. No matter how the Black Mackerels intimidated, threatened and enticed them, they still refused.
When the Longboat tribe was conquering their own territory, Black Mackerel had worked with two other groups to harass the Longboats. That was why the Longboats always looked disgusted whenever the ‘Black Mackerels’ were mentioned.
Very soon, a group of people appeared within Mu Fa’s field of vision. It was a group of two hundred, very loud and had no intentions of hiding themselves. That was why Mu Fa and the rest noticed them so quickly.
“Ah, and I was wondering who it was! So it’s you.” The leader of the group was clad in grey clothing not made from land animals but from marine beasts. Half of his outfit was made of sharkskin, a favourite amongst the Black Mackerels. A necklace of maroon beads shone on his neck. They were made from bones and rocks from the ocean.
This person’s name was Sea Sand, chief of the Black Mackerels.
Mu Fa looked at the people behind Sea Sand. There were five large bow-horned bulls pulling wagons filled with goods. They must be returning from business at Chao Qiu City.
The five bulls were too noisy, they would not be able to hide if they wanted to.
Bow-horned bulls were animals used to pull wagons, larger than other bulls. The horns on their head resembled bows, longer than other bulls. They were easy to tame, more placid than other bulls though they looked intimidating.
Looking at the goods, this must have been a successful haul. That was why they were in a good mood.
Sea Sand was privately surprised to see Mu Fa unresponsive. IN the past, the Longboats would give them looks of disgust, even if they did not fight or speak, they would even give a scoff. Right now, they did not seem to even want to look at them.
But that was fine. Seeing as there were so few Longboats here, a cunning sneer crept unto Sea Sand’s face. He turned to the people around and exchanged a look. They all wanted to teach these Longboats a lesson today.
Sea Sand’s actions were not subtle, he knew the Longboats were watching. He wanted to see them fume but when he turned, he noticed a strange expression on their faces. They were not worried at all- in fact, they seemed to be mocking Sea Sand.
Shock registered for a second in his eyes as Sea Sand’s face fell.
Something was wrong.
Sea Sand must obviously be an observant person to become the leader of the Black Macherels, helping their entire organisation thrive. He gestured to the people behind, implying for them not to move.
Why were the Longboats so calm in the face of their deliberate mockery? Where was their confidence coming from?!
As he tried to figure out the reason, he saw a few birds in the sky.
The five bulls scraped the ground with their hooves, mooing anxiously.
Sea Sand’s sneer disappeared completely. He looked up at the trees behind Mu Fa’s group.
Approaching footsteps. Sea Sand’s ear twitched, he could tell that there were predator beast footsteps too, and this beast was not small.
Who is it?!
Crack crack crack---
Consecutive cracks of broken branches ensued, then grey wolf claws emerged from the forest, then a wolf much taller than a human burst out, breaking surrounding trees effortlessly. There was a bleeding deer in its mouth, warm air exhaled through its blood-stained teeth reeked of blood.
The atmosphere tensed immediately.
Sea Sand noticed that a person was sitting on the wolf.
Then, twenty more people walked out of the forest, one of them carrying a snake as thick as two people. The snake head had already been chopped off and its body was coiled up with some vine, the man swinging it playfully as if he was flinging a rope and not a snake. These people still radiated murderous intent from their hunt and when they saw Sea Sand’s group, their senses heightened. These people radiated explosive violence resembling forest beasts, different from the murderous energy within Longboats after weathering harsh climate.
Sea Sand had grown the Black Mackerels into a famous organisation in just ten years since its establishment so he was observant enough as a person. He started to grow cautious, very puzzled.
At least ten out of this group were at least as powerful as himself. That was also just from a quick glance. If he studied them better, he would discover more hidden masters.
Who are these people? Where are they from? How are they related to the Longboat tribe?
The more he thought about it, the stranger everything became.Sea Sand’s pupils shrank, his eyelid twitching. Both the people and the wolf threatened him. What made him more anxious were the footsteps coming from afar. There were many people coming, at least a few thousand too!
Riding on Caesar’s back, Shao Xuan scanned Sea Sand and his men, then looked at Mu Fa sat on the rock. “Trouble?”
Sea Sand’s eyes were fixed on Mu Fa.
Mu Fa looked at Sea Sand, who was pale from terror, then after a silent pause, finally smiled. “None.”
Sea Sand’s face twitched, then he forced a smile. “Since you’re busy, I won’t be staying.”
Sea Sand left quickly with his people, even changing their routes to take a longer one, avoiding this convoy.
Mu Fa stared at them as they left. To tell the truth, he wanted to take this chance to kill Sea Sand and his men but if they attacked, the Black Mackerels would definitely retaliate by attacking the Longboat’s port when they were gone. The Black Mackerels held grudges. Based on Mu Fa’s understanding of them, if he let them go, they would not use this opportunity to harass the Longboat port either. Although he did not like Sea Sand, he knew that Sea Sand was a reasonable person.
Sea Sand had given him one last look before he left. Mu Fa knew what it meant. At the same time, Mu Fa privately heaved a sigh of relief. Indeed, coming with Flaming Horn was the right decision.
The Longboats were no loners and liked to seek help where possible. At least right now, Longboat and Flaming Horn could mutually benefit from each other.
On the other side, Sea Sand ran far away with his people. Once they confirmed that they were not being pursued, they sighed heavily. There was both frustration and relief.
Thank goodness the Black Mackerels hadn’t attacked yet!
“Who were those people, Sir?” someone asked.
“How would I know?!” huffed Sea Sand. “Definitely not Longboats.”
“I haven’t met them before. Unless some tribe is moving their village?” guessed another. Tribes further from the cities have been migrating often these two years.
“No, not moving!” a figure landed lightly in front of Sea Sand, like a leaf touching the ground. This was a scout Sea Sand sent.
“What do you mean?” asked Sea Sand.
The person was very direct in his answer. “A moving tribe would have sick, weak or old people among them. But this group has none of those. No matter man or woman, they were all very healthy and strong. Even the thinner-looking ones seemed dangerous.” When he recalled the way a young man with red patterns drawn on his eyelids grinned at him, he felt goosebumps all over. That young man seemed dangerous, thank goodness he was not attacked.
“How many people were there?” asked Sea Sand.
“Many! About four to five thousand!”
The two hundred people, including Sea Sand, drew a sharp inhale.
“Where… where the heck did they come from? Why are they here?” asked someone cautiously.
Sea Sand squinted, deep in thought as he stared out towards the ocean.
“Unless they are tribes from the other side?”
“How is that possible?!” gasped someone. But when they recalled the Longboat tribe’s boats, this was very much possible.
“But the people we saw were so different from the rumours.” The scout was very confused.
“Rumours?” Sea Sand burst into laughter. “Rumours cannot be trusted!”
When he first met the Longboats, he had started to question the rumours but since so many believed the same thing, he too believed the rumours. They rarely met tribes from the other side and the human traffickers did not bring anybody different from what they expected. After a while, Sea Sand started to believe the rumours, thinking that those tribes were starving, stupid savages who only used bones for tools and had never seen metal before. The Longboat tribe must just be an anomaly.
Now, he realised that all those rumours were wrong!
Exception? How could there be SO MANY exceptions?!
Yes, perhaps there were many stupid savages who barely had enough to eat on the other side. But they definitely aren’t the majority! Even if they were, they must be a group of dangerous savages!
Perhaps the ones who crossed the ocean did not return not because they were happily settled there-- they were just dead.
The scout recalled the image in his memory. Those tribesmen looked like they lived good lives based on their clothing, blinding gemstones and weapons.
After a long pause, Sea Sand said, “Don’t touch Longboat’s turf these days, tell your subordinates to keep a distance from them. You can watch from far but do not step into their land. Also, keep an eye on Chao Qiu City.”