It rained heavily for days on end.
“Chang An, come here!” A’Lan called out from a distance. “Hurry, come here and help!”
Chang An shrank his neck, pretending not to hear.
A group of extremely bored men burst into laughter.
They laughed so hard that Hua Yi also stopped talking about affairs with Suo Laimu and turned around.
The next morning, when Hua Yi recalled what happened the night before, how he wished he could face the wall and slap himself firmly in the face—Just what are you doing?
He felt he was so cheap to have been possessed by ghosts1鬼迷心窍 – to be corrupted by smth; to be under an obsession that he ended up doing that kind of thing.
Hua Yi thus underwent a painful self-examination. He believed that he was simply the epitome of “Mountains and rivers are easy to change; a man’s nature, much harder2江山易改、本性难移 – a common Chinese saying about how hard it is to change one’s character.” He was a really vulgar and lecherous guy, and he couldn’t see himself changing.
Therefore, he suffered for only a blink of an eye as he decided to break the cracked jar3破罐子破摔 – Since there’s already a problem, just go all the way, ready to get down to the bottom. And just after he made this decision, he actually felt very happy. His eyes would secretly follow Chang An a few times. The more he looked, the better his mood was, and in the end, he could hardly wait to hum a song.
So Hua Yi felt more and more that he had made the right decision.
Seeing A’Lan’s botched-up tricks to flirt with Chang An, Hua Yi felt it necessary to speak up. He said solemnly, “A’Lan-guniang, you are a big girl. Have a little more dignity. Don’t always meddle with my person.”
The Chief had the people’s trust, but in private, he was often very unscrupulous. He could even do such a thing as scaring a girl with a worm. So when he blurted out these words, nobody took him seriously, and there was another burst of laughter.
Shan Xi put his arm around Chang An’s neck, winked surreptitiously at him and whispered, “To deal with women, you can’t do it like this. You can’t tell them off, and you also can’t hit them. There’s only one key to it, and that is, no matter what they say, simply nod and say yes. Just go over there with all smiles and answer them perfunctorily. You can also let them punch you twice, and everything will be fine.”
A’Lan was kneading leather with a group of girls. According to Suo Laimu, they were going to face a harsh winter. They fear they won’t have enough leather on their backs, so they were preparing in advance. The leather in their hands was still rawhide. The wild animals that came to attack them on the road happened to be trapped in the cave at this time, and so they started working on them first.
The process was to wash the rawhide through water and then scrape off the flesh. Then they’d have to repeatedly remove any dirt, as well as tan them4Tanning hide into leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of the animal’s skin, making it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition, and also possibly coloring it. Before tanning, the skins are dehaired, degreased, desalted and soaked in water over a period of six hours to two days. (Wikipedia). The rawhide was thick and heavy, and each person had to work on their own.
However, women in northern tribes all sought to support themselves. The only exceptions were the wife and daughters of the tribe Chief and the Elders. Aside from them, none had no strength, not to mention A’Lan, this robust young girl—When she hit people, she was as strong and mighty as a tiger. Her being weak was obviously just her acting coquettishly.
It was a pity that the person she was acting coquettish for wouldn’t cooperate at all and was very unromantic. On the contrary, he kept hiding behind others.
A’Lan stomped her foot and said, “I’ve been washing for half a day that both my hands have been washed broken. You’re still not coming to help!”
Everybody thought she was joking, but when A’Lan lifted her hands up in anger, they saw that her not very delicate hands were truly now red and swollen. There were even some small blood stains on them.
Suo Laimu, who had been talking to Hua Yi in a low voice, stood up, and everyone else stopped joking.
A’Ye hurriedly brought over the medicine box and took A’Lan’s hand.
Suo Laimu was silent for a while before finally saying, “From now on, everyone should not directly touch the underground water. First, use a big wok for boiling and just boil some food when it’s time to eat. Afterwards, take an iron helmet to cover the wok. When water has condensed on the helmet, you can use that.”
Someone asked softly, “What about for drinking?”
Suo Laimu thought for a moment and said, “One way to deal with what to drink is to simply not put it in ironware. If you boil it in a bamboo tube, you can still drink it. All of you should save as much as you can.”
Hua Yi glanced at the crowd and nodded. His expression was calm and composed, as if this matter were trivial.
Several men spontaneously stood up and took over the work of kneading leather. Chang An also stood up. He filled a big wok with water and put it over the fire.
A’Lan looked at him sideways and said dully, “Just now, I called you for so long, but you didn’t come over. Why? Is it better to work with them than to work with me?”
Chang An swept over her expression that was like a little bird with its feathers puffed up, and finally decided to do what Shan Xi told him to do. So he imitated Shan Xi’s look, stiffly squeezing out a smile, which in no way looked easy to do, and looking submissive, he said, “Well, I’m afraid of you.”
A’Lan really did punch him.
Chang An took the punch silently, and found that it didn’t hurt at all, and then A’Lan really turned around in anger and no longer bothered him.
Chang An lit a fire under the wok, and when he looked up, he saw Shan Xi giving him a meaningful glance and a thumbs up, looking a little proud. Chang An suddenly felt that this Shan Xi-xiongdi, who was tall and slender and not at all like a beastman, was actually also a capable man.
When the people saw the Chief remaining calm, they thought about it and found that they were already at this plight, and it was still no big deal—It wasn’t like they didn’t have water to drink. If they boiled water in a bamboo tube, they could still drink it like usual. It would just take a little more effort.
People had been active ever since the start of the Great Desolation. They had been subjected to the devils, to the gods, and to countless strange birds and beasts, yet their branches still flourished, their posterity endless. Perhaps it was also because the more calamities that came, the more power they could stimulate.
The power to live out of the dark, and the power to be with the people around you.
On the fourth night, Suo Laimu slept until midnight. All of a sudden, his eyes opened like a corpse suddenly moving5诈尸 – someone thought to be dead is actually still alive., and he sat up from the ground.
Hua Yi was on night watch today. He sat at the entrance of the cave and closed his eyes to rest while still very much alert. As soon as there was any movement, his eyes would open. Suo Laimu lowered his voice and said, “The rain has stopped.”
Hua Yi stared blankly, thinking, Isn’t it a good thing that the sticky, abominable rain has stopped?
Suo Laimu, however, had a solemn expression. He ran deep into the cave where it was completely dark, not knowing how many people he had stepped on, causing them to jump up. In passing, he picked up a few pieces of firewood and abruptly set fire to them. He swept a glance at the flood of water outside the cave’s entrance—The water had already reached the ground.
Then Suo Laimu went out of the cave, ran a hundred feet away, looked up the valley, and his face finally changed.
With an anxious look, he walked twice around in place like a donkey pulling the mill. Then he ran back and suddenly said loudly, “Get up! Get up! All of you, get up! Don’t sleep and leave the cave at once!”
Hua Yi grabbed his arm but found that Suo Laimu was trembling. He seized the torch from Suo Laimu’s hand and accurately threw it to the bonfire, illuminating the entire cave.
“Don’t panic,” Hua Yi whispered. Then he glanced at Ka Zuo, who was drowsily standing next to him. He ordered, “Tell everyone to get up. We’re leaving at once—Suo Laimu, come and talk with me outside. What is going on?”
Suo Laimu took a deep breath. This old, legendary mercenary, who was too feeble to truss up a chicken, calmed down in an instant and walked out of the cave with Hua Yi.
Here was a valley. In the night, the silhouettes of those chains of mountains looked particularly oppressive, almost quite eerie.
“Do you see the terrain here?” Suo Laimu shivered. He rubbed his hands and said in a deep voice, “The mountains are connected to each other and pressed into a narrow line, but the tops of the mountains are bare and green6moldy. This is not auspicious. It’s like an unsealed coffin.”7Since the mountain tops are moldy, the ground is loose, and it will be easy to topple. When it does topple, it will fill up the valley and they’ll be trapped underneath; hence, “sealing the coffin.”
Hua Yi frowned.
Suo Laimu was not in the mood to argue with him about this. Without waiting for his opinion, he said quickly, “The old man8SLM could be referring to some old man character not yet introduced… or his father/grandfather. I think it’s more likely the latter. told me that there are 2 taboos in this kind of place. The first is an earthquake, and the second is sky water—that is, the heavy rain. When it rains heavily, the water level will rise. We cannot stay for long. What’s more, I’m afraid that the ground fire has not yet settled. If we happen to meet with another earthquake, we’ll be stepping on these two taboos. I fear the unsealed lid of the coffin will smash us right on the head.”
Hua Yi had never believed in these strange, superstitious things. However, Suo Laimu’s words were so firm that Hua Yi looked up, half-believing, and glanced at those oppressive mountains. Unexpectedly, he also felt a chill climbing his back.
Anyhow, it was right to be cautious. Hua Yi made a resolute decision to take the people out of the valley that very night.
Suo Laimu, who was leading the way, was simply insane. He was very fast on the road. If it weren’t for Hua Yi helplessly giving an order midway to let some beastmen change into their beast forms and carry those old and young already gasping for breath, perhaps half the line would’ve already been left behind by Suo Laimu.
Chang An was still bringing up the rear after the last break. As he walked, he felt that something was wrong. When he looked up, he found that all the trees in the forest had lost their leaves—it was as if they had been uniformly shaved bald. One after another, they stood bare. The barks seemed to be corroded by something. Mottled all over, they faintly showed a lifeless look.
“It got wet from the rain, and the rain was filled with the grievances from underground. Living things must not touch it.” Hua Yi followed his gaze, then asked with a soft voice, “Are you tired? If you’re not feeling well, I can carry you on my back.”
Chang An shook his head. When the rain fell, the tightness in his chest actually felt better, and the air outside seemed to be full of qi again.
But the more Hua Yi looked at his poker face, the more he felt uncomfortable and wanted to talk to him more. He grabbed Chang An by the shoulder, squeezed him on the sides, and sighed, “Now homeless and miserable instead of seeing you look sick… Ai, I don’t know when this day will end. Now that I think about it, when I insisted on you joining the tribe and telling you that you could live comfortably, I didn’t expect it would actually be a burden on you instead.”
Actually, having plenty to eat and drink, Chang An didn’t feel so homeless and miserable. He glanced at Hua Yi and said briefly, “It’s fine. It’s very nice.”
At the moment, they were about to walk out the valley. Hua Yi’s hanging heart had been mostly put in place, so the more he was in the mood to talk nonsense. He asked, “Who’s very nice? Am I nice?”
Chang An nodded his head dispensibly.
Hua Yi was smug for a while, but then he felt that this reaction was not quite right. He then asked, “Who else is nice? Is Suo Laimu nice? How about A’Ye? Shan Xi and Lu Quan? Is A… is A’Lan nice?”
Chang An said joyfully, “All nice.”
Hua Yi: “……”
He was silent for a while before he asked sullenly, “Is A’Lan the same as me?”
Chang An just found A’Lan a bit annoying, but he didn’t really hate her.
When he was in the tribe, A’Lan would always give him things. Today, it was a self-sewn shirt; tomorrow it would be a carefully cooked deer leg. Chang An had nothing to give in return, so he had to pick and choose from the pile of things that Hua Yi had given him and send them to A’Lan’s father. But in his heart, he had always felt that these things were not as good as the ones that people have made with their own hands and their own efforts, and he even felt a little bad about it every time.
Hearing Hua Yi’s question, Chang An first looked around. Seeing that neither A’Lan nor her father were nearby, he revealed a little smile and unconsciously lowered his voice, “It’s the same. A’Lan is a very nice girl.”
Apart from being too talkative, their voices were also too loud.
Hua Yi took a breath and silently ground his teeth. He had a premonition that his love road wouldn’t be going so smoothly.
He coldly scanned A’Lan’s back in front of him. On one hand, glaring, while on the other, admonishing himself—What do you wanna do? Fight with a little servant girl over a man?
So he said, “I just…”
But he had only said two words when the ground suddenly shook violently. Hua Yi was stunned for a moment, only to hear a loud sound behind him, like a stone breaking apart.
Hua Yi’s face changed, and he suddenly pushed Chang An forward. At the same time, he said to the people in front of him, “Don’t just stand there, run!”
Chang An hurriedly looked back and saw that the entire valley they were in before had collapsed. The ground was shaking, and the mountains were moving—this was a real earthquake.
Huge rocks lined up to fall down on the rain-corroded trees, and the tree that a few people were sharing snapped down the middle and was crushed into two shockingly large pieces. Countless mud rolled down the mountain right after, raging and roaring like a big, murky, black monster.