Long ago, when productivity was still at an all-time low, the tribesmen weren’t as skill as they were now. Their equivalents of keys were created using bones, rocks and straw ropes. These were most commonly known as bone locks or stone locks. The names were still used until this day, especially among the ‘Bi’ organisation.
“The Chief’s Bone Lock?” While the others were clueless about the item, they could guess that it was something like the Xi and it was very special, which could be seen from the usage of the word ‘Chief’.
“Yes.” Robber Seven looked delighted. “That is the symbol and proof of status for the Bi leaders. When the new succeeds the old, the old chief would pass it to the new chief. According to the rumours, the lock was made from the toughest bone of some extinct beast.”
Other than the Xi used to untie knots, the slave masters of the Bi organisation possessed another Xi that represented that was an identity representation. Something akin to an identity token.
Within the Bi organisation, those with higher positions would hold intricately designed Xi-s. But the level of complexity wasn’t very focused on aesthetics like the nobles. Most of its attention was placed on functionality. The Xi would be used as an aid to tie more complicated knots and the same tool would be used to quickly untie said knots.
If the Xi possessed by regular civilians were a key, then the higher authorities of the ‘Bi’ organisation would all hold a relatively complicated key. Their Xi-s had incorporated the functions of different shaped Xi-s. Every curvature and every hollowed out portion had its own use. In the skilful hands of a practised person, the Xi would become an invincible tool to untie knots.
What Robber Seven had stolen, was indeed the very item used to signify the chief’s identity. It was something of considerable weight. Without it, the succession from old to new would be lacking one process. While it wasn’t as important as the legendary jade seal of the state- “**Receiving it would be one’s acceptance of Heaven’s Order, losing it would be the end of one’s reign”- no one would be willing to become a chief without the full ritual. It felt like something was lacking and it was certainly detrimental to one’s dominance.
[**TL Note: This is a direct translation of ‘得之则受命于天，失之则气数已尽’. It is an ancient text engraved on the jade seal that is used in the inauguration of ancient Chinese emperors. The first half indicates that the emperor is the son of Heaven and in charge of looking after the mortal realm in place of Heaven. One must not challenge the emperor’s order. The second half is as directly translated, losing the seal would be the loss of the emperor’s authority.]
Stealing something like this was bound to warrant wrath.
“Did you really steal the Chief’s bone lock from the Bi people?” The others couldn’t help but question him.
“Of course. I stole this from Chief Si of the Bi people.” Robber Seven was displeased by their scepticism. He was one of the greatest robbers, how dare they question his expertise?
“So you hid among the slaves to avoid getting hunted down by Si?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Yes.” Not only did Robber Seven not find his escape plan embarrassing, but he also felt pretty proud of his intelligence. Si certainly wouldn’t have thought that he would blend in with the slaves.
Robber Seven had been stopped twice by Shao Xuan and even got demoted as a result. If the others that ranked behind hadn’t died, he would’ve been demoted to Robber ‘Eight’! That would be shameful!
After the two tectonic plates were brought closer by a series of natural disasters, the robber’s attention had been placed on attacking the nobles of the region. Robber Seven too had come up with an in-depth analysis after his last failure. The man tried his best to improve himself and further refine details. He even learnt how to switch up the scent of his sweat. With that being said, Robber Seven was now able to imitate other people’s scent perfectly. This was why he could avoid the chaser insect beasts with a sharp sense of smell.
However, Si was still able to hunt him down. Though unsure of his approaches, the man was still able to locate him albeit a little slower.
The robbers were skilled in disguising themselves. While Robber Seven was on the run from Si and had decided to blend into the slaves, this method had successfully hidden him from a few waves of searchers dispatched by Si. Si did not wish to publicize the issue so all the dispatched personnel were his most trusted subordinates who held higher positions in the Bi organisation. This slave escort team’s leader was required to be extra courteous when meeting those searchers. Sadly, the darkness was not without reason. Robber Seven was secretly delighted at the sight of the searchers brushing past him without recognition. The robber couldn’t help but think of himself as a genius.
The old slave had passed away from sickness one night. Robber Seven waited for the right time to drug the surrounding slaves into unconsciousness then moved the old slave’s body away. Following that, he disguised himself as the old slave.
Based on Robber Seven’s plan, he was aiming to enter the Chao Qiu City then escape. He’d then hide in the crowd. The more human traffic, the more he’d benefit from it. However, not even in his wildest dreams that he’d imagine himself getting caught by the Flaming Horns.
Robber Seven still couldn’t believe this. He had tricked an entire palace worth of people, tricked the most powerful slave-trading organisation ‘Bi’’s leader and managed to avoid suspicion from the veteran slave masters that could read humans well. Yet, he was stopped not once but three times by the same person! From today onwards, Robber Seven decided that if he ever encountered Shao Xuan again, he’d run right away without hesitation.
Robber Seven decided to tell the truth for two reasons- One, he was hoping that the Flaming Horns would spread word of his glorious deed; Two, he had already figured out a way to escape. The man would lead the Flaming Horns on a ‘search’ and then find an opening to flee.
“Where is it?” Gui He asked, “Where did you hide the Chief’s Bone Lock?”
Ah-ha! There it was! Robber Seven calmed himself down and was ready to put his plan into action. Just as he parted his lips to answer, Shao Xuan interjected, “No need to listen to his lies. A few of you, search his body now.”
Robber Seven was speechless. Wait! Wasn’t it supposed to happen this way: He’d tell that he hid the item in one spot and when the Flaming Horns asked him to lead the way, he’d bring them on a search everywhere and then disappear? Why were things deviating from planned?!
The tribesmen surrounded Robber Seven. Even if the robber had three heads and six arms, he wouldn’t be able to escape this.
Just as Robber Seven tried to talk his way out of this, he caught a glimpse of Shao Xuan brandishing his sword. The sunlight bouncing off the blade was eerily icy, intense fear forcing Robber Seven to birth an idea.
“Wait! You can’t kill me!” Robber Seven quickly changed course, now screaming.
“Then you better do it yourself. Show us what you hid at your abdomen,” said Shao Xuan.
Despite being filled with whacky ideas, Robber Seven’s mind immediately went blank at Shao Xuan’s words.
“W… What?” It was rare to hear Robber Seven stammer.
Shao Xuan tapped the tip of his sword against the robber’s abdomen. “Take this thing here out. You’re not nesting an egg.”
Robber Seven clenched his jaw. “...How did you know?”
Everyone’s confusion immediately transformed into recognition. Robber Seven was hiding something!
The surrounding tribesmen stared at Robber Seven’s stomach.
Knowing that he really couldn’t run from this, Robber Seven gave up his intentions to flee. With a demure expression, he moved his shoulders. “Release me. I can do this myself.”
The tribesman holding onto Robber Seven’s arm released his grip. With a twitch of his finger, a fingernail-sized bone piece appeared at the edge of Robber Seven’s nails. The edge of the bone was razor-sharp, it sent shivers down the tribesman’s spine. If Robber Seven was determined to put on a fight, the tribesman would be the first to die. He wasn’t careful enough!
Ignoring everyone else, Robber Seven had his mind fixated on how to keep his trophies.
Using the small bone piece, Robber Seven grazed it along his abdomen to create a shallow line that was about as long as a finger. The others had thought that bit of force wasn’t enough to break the skin but soon, they realized that the shallow opening was growing in size. Robber Seven lifted the skin flap up and a skin cover that looked almost too similar to human skin was peeled away.
It was a disguise!
For the sake of improving their chances at success, members of the “Robber” organisation would study the art of disguise. Not only were they able to change their physical appearances, but they had also used external tools to aid their disguises.
When the fake skin was peeled away, a depression in Robber Seven’s abdomen was revealed. A fist-sized item that looked like a beast tooth was hidden inside.
“Could this be the… Chief’s Bone Lock?” Gui He guessed. It must be something special for Robber Seven to hide it this well. Plus, the robber had mentioned stealing the lock from the Bi’s leader. Hence, there was a high chance that his assumption was correct.
“So it was hidden there. No wonder he had been bending over. Is he not afraid of getting injured?” questioned Ao. Though the Xi wasn’t as sharp as a blade, it still had a curved sharp tip. Even if it was wrapped in something else, it still wasn’t very safe. If the organs around the abdomen region had gotten injured from the items it hid, that would undoubtedly bring great danger. After all, there was less chance to seek assistance from a shaman out there.
Robber Seven’s lips were pressed in a thin line. He was silent. Through the other’s perspective, Robber Seven was indeed trying his darndest to hide his loot. However, Shao Xuan’s special vision had allowed him to notice that the robbers possessed a very different body construct from the others. Robber Seven had four additional bones at the abdomen that functioned to protect his organs. This way why he dared to place the Xi inside the depression. Naturally, the robber had considered it from many different aspects.
There was no regular way to comprehend the existence of the robbers. Their bodies were essentially constructed to facilitate and improve their disguises. At the same time, it was also constructed to protect themselves. Complete bone dislocation, muscle contractions and dislocation of organs would not affect them at all.
While many organisations were made up of members of different bloodlines, the robbers were all descendants of the same ancestor. Because of their descent, they were born with a natural advantage for impersonation. Even so, their bodies were different from one another. Just like Robber Eleven and Robber Twelve who Shao Xuan had encountered before, their performances were relatively paler than Robber Seven as the latter was more advantageous in the body construct department. Perhaps Robber Seven could possibly be one of the top three robbers very soon.
Averting his attention away from Robber Seven’s body, Shao Xuan received the Chief’s Bone Lock proffered by the robber. Robber Seven was absolutely reluctant to let go, his expressions filled with conflict as he held onto the lock.
Compared to the Xi-s worn by the other slave masters, its general shape did not look too different. It merely had more hollowed-out patterns adorning its edges. There were more curved arcs at the edge. The sharp edge had retained the shape of the beast fang and the blunt end was carved into the shape of a beast head. Meeting the eyes of the vaguely sculpted beast eyes, one could feel the pressure wafting off the item. Even if the fang’s owner had died long ago and its one was carved into something else, anyone who encountered it could still feel its ancient and majestic presence at first glance.
The bone lock was the reason why Shao Xuan was able to recognize Robber Seven. In his special vision field, this item had shone radiantly. It stood out like a sore thumb as the skeletons of the slaves and slaves masters had relatively paled in its presence. It was like the only shining star on a foggy night, which made it difficult for Shao Xuan to ignore it.
And of course, to find something like this on a dying old slave was definitely bewildering.
Frankly, Robber Seven’s impersonation skills had truly improved by leaps. Shao Xuan wasn’t able to recognize him at first glance among the crowd. It was the Chief’s Bone Lock that piqued Shao Xuan’s attention and prompted him to inspect the slave closer. It was only then that he noticed some clues.
Ever since leaving the dark realm of the Yi family, Shao Xuan noticed that he could see the different fire seeds merged in various people. Everyone’s fire seed all had a unique display, it was just like fingerprints. No matter how hard Robber Seven tried to hide, Shao Xuan would still be able to identify him as soon as he got serious.
Gui He and the others were curious about how Robber Seven was able to steal such an important item from Si. However, the answers to their queries had involved exposing one’s techniques. Hence, Robber Seven refused to answer.
“Ah Xuan, what do you plan to do with this?” asked Gui He as he took the Chief’s Bone Lock from Shao Xuan’s palm to study it.
“I’ll hold onto this. This will be useful during our discussion with the Bis. If they suggest unfavourable terms, they won’t be getting this back,” answered Shao Xuan.
Gui He nodded, he too shared the same thought. The Chief’s Bone Lock was an exquisite item. It was so tough that perhaps not even the new bronze could scratch its surface. While this was just a tool to untie and tie rope knots, this was a tool that bore great significance to the Bi. Instead of owning the item, why not utilize its maximum potential and use it against the Bi?
The ‘Bi’ and ‘Robbers’ were like mosquitoes and beetles to the public. No one liked them. To steal this from a robber and then use it in a discussion with the Bi was the best-case scenario.
Seeing that the Flaming Horns had no plans to return his loot, Robber Seven felt thoroughly helpless. He was forced to delay his plan to rank in the top three.
No! He mustn’t give up easily!
Robber Seven worked his brain to conjure up a way to retrieve the Chief’s Bone Lock from the Flaming Horns. When he was first captured by Shao Xuan, the Flaming Horns had released him after establishing some terms…
Robber Seven shouted after Shao Xuan and Gui He. The robber spared a hard look at the Chief’s Bone Lock in their grip. He turned to Shao Xuan. “I'd like to exchange it with an intel.”
“What is it?” Gui He was admittedly interested. He’d like to find out what information the robber would offer to get his loot back.
“It’s definitely something valuable to you! If you wish to learn about it, you must return the lock to me. Holding onto the lock will bring more harm than good to you. Plus, you have no use for it,” elaborated Robber Seven.
“Tell us what you have.” Shao Xuan stared at Robber Seven.
“No. I’ll say it only after you agree to my terms.”
“Then you can forget about it.”
“Hey! Wait! What are you in a rush for!” Robber Seven gushed after Shao Xuan as if worried that the man would leave if he was a tad bit slower. “I know you’re here for your missing tribesmen. I’ll exchange the tool for a very important intel about the ‘Bi’. Perhaps it will be of help to the discussion between ‘Bi’ and King City.”
“‘Bi’ and King City?” Shao Xuan and Gui He immediately picked up the message hidden between the robber’s words.
“How did you even learn of such important news?” asked Gui He.
Robber Seven’s immediate answer was filled with unmasked delight. “I overheard it while stealing.”
Stealing was not a sin in a robber’s take on life. Instead, it was something to be proud of.
At his answer, Gui He fell silent. He took a glance at Shao Xuan, to which the latter returned a nod and raised a palm to motion the others to give them privacy. The only ones allowed to remain were Gui He, Shao Xuan and Ao.