Those howling sounds made a nerve in Chang An’s head throb with pain. It hurt so much, it felt like something was tightly pressing against his chest, and his mind went blank from that suffocation. He instinctively wanted to grab onto something, but his fingers were numb. For a moment, he didn’t even know that he had actually lost consciousness.
Hua Yi caught him in time when he swayed, only to see that Chang An’s knuckles had turned white from clenching. When he reached out to touch him, he felt cold sweat, and the young man’s skin also felt ice-cold.
Hua Yi was shocked, and he bent over to carry him, but it was like picking up a wooden stake. Chang An didn’t give him the slightest response, and his whole body was shaking.
It wasn’t from feeling very cold, nor was it from hurting too much. It was more like an unconscious convulsion.
Hua Yi put him on top of his knees and stared him in the face. He found that, although Chang An’s eyes weren’t completely closed, his pupils were lifelessly dilated and unfocused.
What visions, what calamities—Hua Yi immediately threw them to the back of his mind. An indescribable panic suddenly surged in his heart, as if someone was pinching the tip of it with a fingernail, hanging it up with his breath caught in his throat.
Before, Hua Yi had always thought that Chang An’s bad complexion was because of trauma. There were some people who, after being bitten or scratched by a wild beast, will have a fever because of the wound festering. But at this time, even though he knew nothing about medicine, he could tell that this wasn’t a symptom of inflammation after sustaining injuries.
So Chang An… was really sick?
Sick like Luo Tong’s son?
But how could this be?
His miraculous xiao xiongdi, with killing skills as unmeasurable as gods and ghosts1神鬼莫测 – Idiom which means “unpredictable”, who was only this old and had a heart like snow which had never been stepped on, who had no impurities, and who could sleep well so long as he had eaten his fill, and who would always say one thing and mean just that… How could he be like Luo Tong’s terribly sick son who would pant after merely walking?
How could this be? How was it possible?
Hua Yi found his hands suddenly trembling. Fortunately, Chang An wasn’t unconscious for long. It was only a moment, and almost no one noticed except for Hua Yi.
He shivered for a while, and then woke up, his eyes slowly regaining their vigor. His neck seemed unable to exert any strength, so he leaned softly on Hua Yi’s shoulder. Chang An’s eyes closed completely after blinking for a moment, and his eyelashes trembled slightly. He unconsciously arched his back, disturbing the wound on his shoulder, making him grimace in pain.
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Chang An heard Hua Yi whisper in his ear: “Come. Let go, put the blade down—Let go first. Want some water? Would you like to drink some water?”
Hua Yi had never spoken in such a gentle voice before. Chang An’s consciousness became a bit clearer, and he obediently handed over his saber. He cupped the water bowl that Hua Yi passed, but Hua Yi still didn’t let go. He simply fed him a few mouthfuls at a time.
After a few sips, Chang An finally got impatient with how he fed him little by little, and he snatched the water bowl from his hand. Hua Yi sighed and gently stroked his arched spine. He took care of him so cautiously to the point of causing anxiety for himself, simply treating Chang An like a rare treasure.
“You fucking frighten people more than the sudden fire.” Hua Yi slapped him on the back without restraint, stopping Chang An’s move to stand up. He wound both hands in a circle and wrapped Chang An in his arms, scolding, “Behave yourself.”
Chang An impatiently looked at his blade on the ground and said, “I’m fine.”
When Hua Yi heard his voice, his rising heart was finally laid down. He placed Chang An in front of the big rock, letting him sit there and lean against the stone. He crouched on the side, worrying for a while, then said, “When we set off later, sit on me, okay? I’ll carry you.”
Chang An let out an “ah,” and then said slowly, “I still have to bring up the rear.”
Hua Yi rolled his eyes and put his hand on his forehead. “Many are bringing up the rear, not just you.”
When Chang An heard this, he looked at him with some distress and said, “That’s no good. There’s no such thing as living for free.”
Hua Yi was stunned for a long time before he realized what he was talking about. He immediately simply didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This guy unexpectedly acted like this when given a mallet2Full idiom is “to be given a mallet and regard it as a needle.” It means to take something too seriously..
He looked at Chang An, and his heart softened into a mess. Suddenly, an idea came out—How I wish I could give him all the good things, wish he could grow smaller and smaller, so small that he won’t look like human, and I could hold him in the hollow of my hand like a bead.
This feeling was so complicated that after this idea came out, Hua Yi reached out and rubbed his temples in annoyance, feeling he was simply devilish. What kind of bullshit is running in my head?
Just as he was feeling distressed, Suo Laimu came over.
Suo Laimu’s big, tall hat was hanging askew on one side, and he looked like a mess. It was nothing for him to always pay respects to the Mountain God and the River God, his knees seeming to have no bones. But at this time, while many people were kneeling, he was the one still standing straight.
Even after having a bowl of warm broth, his voice was still terribly hoarse. He laboriously came over, almost on his hands and knees just to get to where Hua Yi was.
Everyone knew that he knew a lot of things, so quite soon he attracted the attention of many people. The people waited for him to say something, but after a long silence, Suo Laimu said only one thing in a soft and duck-like voice.
He said, “It’s not over yet.”
After he spoke, Suo Laimu lowered his head, wiped his face with his sleeve, and coughed twice.
Most of the dust and the bright, gaudy paint on his face were wiped away, revealing double eyelids that were a little wider than others. Those eyelids seemed so heavy that the corners of his eyes drooped slightly. They looked like they were carrying a deep-seated sadness—He wasn’t ugly; he just looked naturally miserable.
Ka Zuo asked, “What do you mean it’s not yet over?”
Suo Laimu stretched out a finger, pointed to the surging volcano, and said, “Legend has it that there are twelve mountains in the northern part of the continent that are connected to the bottomless abyss under the ground. When the continent just formed, there were movements from time to time, which were later suppressed by the gods. To this day, they have been silent as if they were dead, but now they’ve all suddenly come to life.”
His voice was as coarse as rusty iron rubbing against each other, and it sounded cold and threatening.
Suo Laimu’s eyes dimmed a bit. “I’ve only heard such stories farther north—Twelve mountains will spill forth the fires from the abyss at the same time. They will burn through the ice sheets in the Far North, causing the melted glaciers to set off huge waves in the sea, slicing across the continent. By that time, not a place will not tremble. Level ground will rise into high mountains, and deep valleys will split open. It will be dark all around, and the day will have no light until…”
Ka Zuo: “Until what?”
Suo Laimu sighed. “Until the coldest winter comes and all beings are frozen to death. Afterwards, not even a blade of grass will grow for a whole year. Only when spring comes back again will the deeply buried seeds be able to germinate.”
The Ground Fire was still combusting. The people were at a loss with what to do, and so they turned to their Chief… But Hua Yi was somehow bringing two fruits from somewhere. He handed one to Chang An, and put the other in his mouth, biting off half of it in one bite.
Shan Xi couldn’t help but call out: “Chief!”
Hua Yi waved his hand. The surge of the Ground Fire seemed to have already weakened, but the suffocating stench in the air was even more intense. He was silent for a while, save for the sound of his cheeks leisurely chewing. After a long time, he said, “Don’t worry. You won’t die. After everything died, where did the ‘deeply buried seeds germinate again’? Or do you think that you’re not as good as a seed?”
Suo Laimu pfft-ed. The bitterness on his face seemed to have suddenly washed away in a minute. For the first time, he discovered that no one was as suitable as Hua Yi in being the Chief, because no one was as broad-minded as he was.
Hua Yi thought for a moment and said, “Tell everyone to eat at ease and rest in place for a day. Eat what you should and sleep when you should…”
Shan Xi asked, “Shouldn’t we get out of here as soon as possible?”
Hua Yi looked in the direction where the ground fire was spouting and said, “There’s no hurry. At this distance, those ashes will not float over for a while—You heard what Suo Laimu said. Now is not the time to randomly choose a path3慌不择路 – To flee in any path without heeding what you choose; to panic and not think carefully of your actions and get tired on the run. If this is still not over, we must figure out how to survive.”
Suo Laimu said next to him, “Tomorrow, we will go down the mountain, and the mountain can become a part of our protective screen. Further south, there is a large plain where we can slow down our journey and stock up some food.”
Hua Yi nodded. “Ask the doctors that we’ll have to trouble them a bit more. There are many wild beasts on the top of this mountain. The unwounded beastman warriors will line up and, changing shifts every shichen4A unit of time; one of the 12 two-hour periods of the day, be responsible for guarding. The killed beasts will be handed over to Suo Laimu and be hung to bleed dry. Don’t worry, on the basis that we need four times the amount to get through the winter every year—Chang An, what are you doing? Sit down for me. Drink some water, and then go find A’Ye. Guarding is none of your business.”
The Chiefs of the scattered tribes who were admitted along the way never got a chance to speak. They looked at Hua Yi thoughtfully.
Hua Yi helped Chang An up, and walked with him to A’Ye’s side. Without delay, he then swept his gaze over the faces of those Chiefs. Then he showed them a kind and warm smile, saying, “Rest assured, brothers. Take your men and follow us, and so long as the sky doesn’t fall, it will be fine. I guarantee that.”
Suo Laimu took Chang An’s other arm and accompanied them to A’Ye’s side. While pointing out that Hua Yi should lower his hand to not tear Chang An’s wound, he asked in a low voice, “Can we just leave those outsiders like this?”
“En,” Hua Yi lowered his head and replied in a low voice. “Don’t argue with me on this. If we encounter them later, we’ll still have to let them in. I don’t mind having too many people. In times of calamities, men are not a burden, and talented people are vital.”
There was no need for him to say this. Suo Laimu also understood. He nodded slightly, and asked with some worry: “What if these people have ill intentions…”
Hua Yi sneered coldly. “In my domain, what I say is what should be. If not… it would be just killing one or two people. It won’t delay anything.”
He spoke in a murderous manner, but his hands moved very gently. He escorted Chang An to A’Ye, and then confiscated his saber. He then said to A’Ye, “Take a good look this time. I don’t think it’s just a wolf scratch.”
A’Ye hurriedly made room for Chang An to lie on.
Being fiddled with by her was naturally much more comfortable than being moved around by Hua Yi’s rough hands. Hua Yi was self-aware and let go of his hand. In order not to interfere with her, he simply stood a little farther away from Suo Laimu, waiting for the results of her inspection.
At this time, Hua Yi stopped smiling and sighed heavily.
Suo Laimu asked, “What’s wrong?”
Hua Yi waved his hand. “Ugh, don’t mention it. I nearly treated my sworn brother like a wife. I am so fucked this time.”