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Grasshopper had been basically silent most of the time. Zheng Luo and the rest thought Grasshopper was a quiet person but he was actually just a simple-minded slave. Yi Si explained that while their tribe was not a very intelligent bunch, he was quiet because he was not familiar with the language here.
When Yi Si conversed with Shao Xuan and the rest, he was using the tribal language of this area. It was a language he learned recently, an unbelievable feat since he was already quite fluent within just twenty to thirty days.
“I take that the other side didn’t fare too well from last year’s extreme climate changes?” asked Shao Xuan.
“That’s a mild way to put it. It was absolutely disastrous.” Yi Si’s heart broke when he thought about his field’s harvest.
“Actually, the year you Flaming Horns caused the commotion was the year with the extreme winter blizzards. It was much colder than the previous year. King City’s winter came early and there were often snowstorms. My field’s harvest was awful. If we didn’t have the batch of grains collected before winter, we might not have had grains to eat for the rest of the winter. Golden Grain Fields did not fare well either. He might have known about the disaster beforehand but he still could not avoid suffering losses during the actual disaster.”
Yi Si laughed mockingly. “Although the weather has improved now, I don’t have much hopes for the field. Ever since Flaming Horn caused the commotion, King City has been in a state of unrest. Many Yi family members cannot sleep well these days. Ever since last year’s change in climate, the people have become bolder. I believe you know why.”
“Rock Hill City from the desert?” asked Zheng Luo.
“You can say that but to be honest, the Yi family is not interested in Mu Han’s descendants. Oh wait, I mean Rock Hill’s Shi descendants. Mu Han had already abandoned his tribal surname. The Yi family of King City does not care what becomes of the Rock Hill Shi family. All they care about is ‘The Unlucky One’!”
“The Unlucky One?” Zheng Luo did not understand.
But Shao Xuan had heard of this person. “Yi Xiang of the Yi family? The guy who came over together with Mu Han of the Mu family years ago?”
“Yep.” Yi Si grew more and more excited. “At the time, Mu Han and Yi Xiang were extremely talented. The outcome from the Yi ancestor’s divination reading has already come true.”
“Look at you, you look like you’re excited for war,” said Shao Xuan.
Yi Si did not deny this. “I am also a person that the Yi family forced out, though my situation isn’t as bad as Yi Xiang, and I don’t have his talent. The Great Six families of King City have already started recruiting tribesmen like the Linlu tribe. And the assets held by descendants without bright futures, like me, were all confiscated to be used as bribes.”
Shao Xuan had seen Yi Si’s situation when he visited his field a while back. While it made sense, he did not believe it completely. “Just tell me, what are your true intentions?”
Yi Si’s smile vanished. “I want to see what ‘The Unlucky One’ has done during this past millennium. You might not know it but after the disaster, the guards stationed by King City at the edge of the sea were sent to cross the ocean to scout the area. In the end, other than two people who were deliberately sent back, the rest died.
After Flaming Horn crossed the ocean, King City sent a batch of guards to be stationed there. All the miscellaneous small tribes in the area were forced to move. Due to the Yi family’s divination readings, these guards all survived the disaster. However, they all died after crossing the ocean later.
Shao Xuan only knew about suspicious movements in the desert. Perhaps this was one of them.
“The two people released back to the city talked about the appearance of monsters. Apparently there were huge numbers of them, looking like humans but not entirely human. This must be Yi Xiang’s doing. I am very curious about it but it’s too bad I have no authority in my family. I cannot access such information, plus due to the pressures of my livelihood, I had to come here. But you know that the Yi’s have never been fighters, hence I brought my own slave with me.”
Yi Si studied everyone’s expressions, then continued, “After I arrived, I knew that I was unfamiliar with this place and have limited capabilities. Once I heard about the Flaming Horn Trading Point, I came over to seek refuge.”
“How did you come here?” Zheng Luo looked at him sharply. Crossing a desert and the sea were no easy feats. You can’t trick us this easily!
Yi Si did not lie either. “On a long-winged bird.”
Long-winged birds had extensive wingspans suitable for long-distance flight. They were one of the best long-distance flight birds, their wingspans ranging from half a metre to a few metres to even ten metres. They also dove into water for food.
“I know a person who has a long-winged bird as a slave. I borrowed his bird for a while, that used up all my savings.” Yi Si turned to Shao Xuan, “Have you seen the human-like monsters in the desert?”
“No.” Zheng Luo’s expression was unkind.
“What about this- take me in, and if you catch one of those monsters you can let me study it. It’s something a Yi family member made so perhaps I’ll be able to answer your questions. What do you think?” Zheng Luo was about to speak when Yi Si added, “Of course, I won’t just stay here without working. I can help you with your accounts. Your Grand Elder, Shao Xuan, knows of my capabilities. Although I cannot do readings like the other Yi family members, at least I am confident in my calculations. Plus, my slave, Grasshopper, can also help you with manual labour. He’s as strong as you guys.”
Zheng Luo did not speak. He looked at Shao Xuan, who nodded, then took out an animal skin scroll. He looked at the town blueprint and finally picked a house close to the Flaming River Castle. While Yi Si currently did not have any form of assets on him, they still would not let him stay there for free. This was considered a loan to him.
After sending someone to bring Yi Si and Grasshopper, who had finished his meal, to the assigned house, Zheng Luo turned to Shao Xuan. “How much of that do you think can be trusted?”
“Half. Keep him close, and keep an eye on him,” said Shao Xuan.
“Alright.” Zheng Luo thought so too. Although he did not like people from the Great Six, he had to admit that the Yi family were talented people. He must not be underestimated even if he did not have divination skills. They must observe him first. It would be great if he could help the Flaming Horns but one suspicious move and they’ll kill him.
An eagle’s screech echoed from the skies.
Shao Xuan and Zheng Luo’s face changed.
It was Cha Cha. Two days ago, Shao Xuan received an animal skin scroll sent over by an eagle from the tribe. They said that they would send the ‘monster’ they caught over but were not sure when.
Shao Xuan told Cha Cha to observe the area, since eagles were more perceptive. He would definitely notice an eagle approaching. This screech meant that the ‘goods’ were here.
Both of them rushed up the top of the castle. A giant mountain eagle landed with a long wooden box in its talon. It was an eagle from the Hui tribe, there was even a rider on its back.
When Yi Si asked if they had seen the ‘monsters’ from the desert, Zheng Luo said no and it was the truth. Shao Xuan was the only one to have seen one here, when he was invited to the Hui tribe.
“This is it?” Zheng Luo approached curiously.
“Yep. But it is best you open it indoors, avoid sunlight. We sealed it with some herbs that will lose effect in light,” said the Hui tribesman.
Zheng Luo carried the coffin-like long box inside, carefully moving it into a secret chamber.
There was no one there, only the Hui tribesman, Shao Xuan and Zheng Luo. After dragging the stone door close, there was no light inside.
Shao Xuan took out a water moon stone for light.
The rectangular wooden box was built like a coffin, lying silently in the middle of the dark chamber. Everyone felt a chill despite it still being closed.
Zheng Luo felt an inexplicable shiver.
“Open it.” Shao Xuan gestured to the Hui tribesman.
The Hui tribesman nodded, took the dagger Shao Xuan gave to him, his eyes lingered on the green metallic blade, then cut the ropes tied around the box.
The box was tied tightly but the sharp blade cut through them effortlessly.
He secretly stared at the dagger longingly when he passed it back to Shao Xuan. He admired the Flaming Horns for having such good quality weapons.
The ropes were untied and the box was opened.
The wooden box was cracked open. When Shao Xuan looked inside, his first thought was: Mummy?
Within the box, the Hui tribesmen had wrapped their ‘goods’ tightly with animal skin. Thick fur helped decrease friction and movement during transport. A faint silhouette of a human body could be seen through the dark green wrapping.
A peculiar smell wafted through the air, mixed with the smell of decay.
Zheng Luo gulped. “This is it?” This was the monster that everyone, including King City’s aristocrats, feared?
“These fabric strips have been soaked in herbs so the body will decay slower. If you want to see it, you can take the strips out but we won’t be able to stop the decay,” said the Hui tribesman. “Our shaman says that it’s best you all leave it here and not bring it into your tribe.”
Shao Xuan nodded. He had received a scroll about not bringing the body into the village. The Hui shaman said the monster was too peculiar so it was best kept away from the tribe. Also, he noticed the body decayed faster the nearer it was placed to a fire seed. Although the Flaming Horns no longer had a primitive fire seed, there was a huge population at the main village so the fire seed aura would be strong. In the end, Shao Xuan decided that the Hui tribesmen could send it to the trading point.
He took out a scroll he previously prepared. “This is what your chief and shaman want.”
The Hui tribesman took the scroll and kept it carefully. He did not have any reason to linger so he excused himself. There were people waiting for him near the trading area. He would not transport something so important, of course. He only came alone to prevent attracting too much attention.
Shao Xuan had given the Hui tribe a scroll containing notes of his tribe, Rain and Drumming tribe’s experiences of merging with the fire seed. Although more people knew about the change in the Flaming Horn’s fire seed after the banquet, and Shao Xuan had already spoken to the people of the major tribes, these people were still hesitant. Now, the Hui tribe’s request signified that they had made the decision to merge.
As a thank you gift, the Hui tribe sent over the ‘monster’ that Shao Xuan had requested. They did not make any progress leaving the body in their tribe anyway. Plus the monster was decaying even quicker now so the chief did not see the use of keeping it. When Shao Xuan made the request, he agreed without much thought.
When the Hui tribesman left, Zheng Luo looked at Shao Xuan. “Should we open it now? Or wait for the rest to come?”
“I’ll take a look at it first.”
Shao Xuan put on a pair of gloves made from fish skin. He did not want to touch the herbal preservatives on the body.
The fabric was wrapped from the monster’s feet to its head, hence unwrapping was in the opposite direction.
Zheng Luo watched on the side as Shao Xuan unwrapped the fabric strips at its head with his green-grey fish skin gloves.
The monster’s head was revealed as the fabric was unwinded off its head.
Zheng Luo’s face twitched when he saw the monster’s decayed face.
“This… this… Is this human?” Zheng Luo was already prepared after knowing that the body would decay after reading the scroll. He had seen both dead humans and beasts. However, he felt a chill when he saw this grotesque face.
The body decayed in an unusual manner. This ‘monster’ had oxidised, so when Shao Xuan unravelled the fabric, it creaked. There were even pieces of black dried flesh stuck to the cloth as if it had been dyed beforehand. The bone underneath was revealed in places where the flesh had been torn off.
The Hui tribe had mentioned that the body was so decayed it was almost a heap of bones. They were right.
“You mean ‘people’ like this one are moving around the desert? Why are they there? Which tribe are they from?” Zheng Luo had many questions. Which tribe had such unique morphological characteristics? They were probably not completely human, like Yi Si’s slave.
Shao Xuan shook his head. “The body did not look like this the last time I was at the Hui tribe. It has just dried up and hardened.”
Zheng Luo heaved a sigh of relief. He thought it was a particularly odd-looking tribe.
He sighed too early.
As Shao Xuan unwrapped the cloth, more of its body was revealed.
The head was passable as a human but its body revealed a huge secret.
This monster did not have organs. The dried torso was sunken. Even dried bodies did not shrivel up like this, it was so sunken Zheng Luo was sure there were no organs underneath its abdominal skin!
Zheng Luo’s first response was, “The Hui tribe dissected it?”
“No, not the Hui tribe. They don’t do that.” The Hui tribe would never dissect humans or animals unless it was prey they were about to consume.
“Then… then why…” Zheng Luo stuttered, not sure how to ask his question. He had a guess but refused to believe it. How could it be?
“The monsters they referred to are ‘people’ who do not have organs, blood or pulse,” said Shao Xuan.
Zheng Luo was shocked. “B-b-but can anyone live without organs and blood?”
“Who said they’re alive?”
“If they’re not alive, why is everyone so afraid?”
“You’ll have to ask Rock Hill City that. I haven’t seen these ‘people’ move before.”
“Unless this is the thing the Yi ancestor created? The one Yi Si mentioned?”
Zheng Luo felt a chill down his spine, his clothes were already drenched in sweat as his scalp turned numb. These were dead bodies, yet ‘alive’ enough to move and kill.
“Not sure how Rock Hill City turned ‘people’ into this. Maybe they somehow transformed dead slaves into this?” muttered Zheng Luo.
Shao Xuan’s eye twitched.
“There were many people in the desert but these monsters were present in large numbers. They do not have enough live slaves, especially after the desert war. However, if you count in the dead, then that’s an unimaginable number. And we don’t know how long Rock Hill City has been preparing for this.”
Shao Xuan thought about the time he took the core seed from the underground chamber in the desert. At the time, he fought Dao Yu in the chamber, and met a Rock Hill person after killing Dao Yu.
If Rock Hill City could transform the dead into monsters like that, then could they have modified the dead Dao Yue too?
Zheng Luo rubbed the goosebumps on his arm as Shao Xuan stared at the monster with furrowed brows. “Rock Hill City is definitely scary. At least their target is on the people on the other side of the ocean.”
Shao Xuan closed the wooden box, then shifted it to another underground secret chamber beneath Flaming River Castle. He must study this body carefully. At least he would be better prepared if they ever encountered one.
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