Ahero looked down at the mermaid who was facing the South and asked, “What’s wrong with him?”
Suo Laimu turned his eyes away. He didn’t seem to care about that wall of water several feet high as he looked to the South with the mermaid.
After a while, he said, “Looks like the real earth-shattering changes are gonna happen in the South. I fear we’ve only been swept all the way here.”
With that, Suo Laimu bent down and patted the mermaid on the head. He said, “Look at him, the scales on his body disappeared when he became a human, and his hair is not so thick. It’s not like he doesn’t know how cold it is, for he always likes being close to fire. The sea is the same as the shore. The further North you go, the colder it gets. He should have come from the warm South.”
Ahero asked, “In that case, how did he get the wound on his back?”
Suo Laimu said, “When an earthquake shakes the seafloor, it will raise the waves so high. Legend has it that mermaids dwell in underwater reefs, so he should’ve been hit by a random rock.”
Ahero was curious. “Why do you know so much?”
Suo Laimu turned to look at her. After a moment of silence, he said softly, “Because I have travelled around the continent, been to many places no one else has been, and even sailed the seas. Having been blessed by the gods to have survived until now, it’s only natural to know more.”
“Oh.” Ahero then remembered. “Right, you’re an old mercenary. They call you the Envoy of the Gods. Even I have heard of you.”
She looked at Suo Laimu, sighed, and said with a very natural warm attitude, “It’s a pity you’re not one of our winged people. The beastmen that roam the continent are sometimes surprisingly short-sighted, always looking down on their own sub-beasts and women, as if one has no other use for them if they cannot turn into a beast. A person like you would surely be infinitely honored if you were to one day visit our Far North.”
Ahero was a harsh speaker. After a few days together, she was very fond of Suo Laimu. It even gave birth to a bit of a desire to use this winter to abduct him away from Hua Yi.
And Suo Laimu was so smart that he naturally heard what she meant. However, he didn’t point it out, and merely said respectfully, “Winged Chief, do you1Suo Laimu is using the respectful form of you know why I won’t work honestly as a carpenter in the tribe I was born into? Why I insist on living this life on edge, this life of courting trouble?”
Ahero narrowed her eyes at him.
Suo Laimu echoed the mermaid’s singing voice in such that he had a weird tone when he said, “Because there are so many things I want to know. I want to know why everything is born, and why there is death. I want to know what death is, and whether people will silently go out like a lamp when they die. I want to know if there’s an end to the skies and to the earth, and what the end to the skies and the earth are. Are all those missing gods buried there? I want to know the meaning of the existence of gods, and of the existence of men. Why does a flower bloom and then fade away in the blink of an eye? Why do the seasons have their cycles and the sun and moon have their ups and downs… I care not if others respect me, my Queen, because, ah… I am a madman.”
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When the madman finished talking, he knelt down with the mermaid, took off his top hat, and placed it in front of him. He reverently knelt towards that wall of water that was screaming at the mountains and the sea, and worshipped the god that exists in some unknown corner of the world.
After living in the cave for so long, those pheasant feathers on top of Suo Laimu’s head became bald, making him look more and more lonely. But at this point, no one would laugh at him.
Hua Yi sat silently at the side, thinking about what Suo Laimu said just now, from which he heard a bit of unreconciled grief. He thought that the ambition of Suo Laimu, this mortal man, was truly astounding. He was always unwilling to muddle through life, always wanting to grow a pair of penetrating eyes that could pierce through the firmament.
Then he looked up at Chang An not far away. Hua Yi used to think that A’Ye was right, that Chang An’s heart was made of stone. It seemed that the boy had always been like that. Even if the sky and the earth had turned upside down, he still kept doing his own thing, never wavering and never faltering. He had only the simplest of rules in his heart, and going along with it, he cared not even if his head broke and bleed, not knowing what was good and what was bad.
But just a few days ago, Hua Yi realized that all these were wrong.
For a moment, Hua Yi felt that he had touched something in his heart through Chang An’s eyes, and he was deeply scalded by it.
Chang An didn’t waver, simply because those things that made people panic all day long couldn’t beat him, and thus, it made him look idle.
Hua Yi thought of his father’s evaluation of him when he was young, saying how he was only a sheep with fangs and claws. Over the years, he always refused to accept it, for he had killed so many powerful people and accomplished so much more than anyone could have imagined. But on that day in the stone hut on the top of the mountain, Hua Yi finally admitted that he was still a coward.
That fainthearted young man from dozens of years ago never left. Instead, he lived for a long time in the most hidden corners of his heart.
The movement in the sea was as Suo Laimu had expected—they were only swept to the side, a big false alarm.
In the following months, the beastmen and winged beastmen humbly lived in the cave and repeated the same routine: When they see the fire warning, they would climb to the top of the mountain, watch the sea toss and turn for a while, then go back to the cave. So much for being “swept aside,” as Suo Laimu had put it. It could be assumed that the mountains in the South had flattened, while the seabed had risen into tall mountains.
However, after the sea calmed down, the days ahead were really difficult.
It was almost spring, but the weather was getting colder and colder. It became more and more difficult to leave the cave. Hua Yi banned Chang An from leaving, ordering him not to follow him outside. Only the strongest beastmen in their beast forms dared to leave the cave under a snowstorm. They had only one task, and it was to gather food; the more, the better.
Two months later, they entered the first summer of their lives that was accompanied by a howling northwest wind. The mouth of the cave was sealed tightly with several layers of animal skins, and the people no longer went out, for the sea near the land was frozen over.
No one had ever heard that seawater could freeze, and yet it happened.
It was really too cold, and Luo Tong was unable to endure this unusually cold and long winter. After a few days of grogginess, he suddenly woke up, grabbed Qingliang’s hand, and refused to let go of him. He babbled incessantly into his ear until Qingliang fell asleep, curled up next to him.
When Qingliang woke up the next day, he found that his father had gone stiff.
Before many people could wake up, Qingliang suddenly burst out crying. Losing his father, he was like a small animal. Unable to weep tears in the bitter cold, he just stalked his neck and wailed mournfully. He cried without tears, lost and confused.
The two brothers, Lu Quan and Shan Xi, helped carry Luo Tong’s body out. Qingliang followed them all the way, howling as he walked. But the northwest wind couldn’t feel the pain of him having lost his father. Opening his mouth would nearly choke him, and Qingliang would cough till his face turned red.
Even after the beastmen buried Luo Tong as fast as they could and walked back shivering, Qingliang still stood there unrelentingly, refusing to leave.
Although Lu Quan spoke in a dull voice, he was nevertheless a warm-hearted person. His warm-heartedness was reflected in the fact that he walked over, swung his arm round, and slapped Qingliang on the face. He forcibly picked him up and slung him over his shoulder like a sack, dragging him all the way back. Only in this way could he stop this little boy, who had grown an adult body, from freezing to death outside.
Qingliang’s face was so swollen, it was like he had two faces. Without even the strength to cry and howl, he just sat alone in the corner with his mouth open and didn’t move. No one paid any attention to him. When he came back out again, the few tears he did shed had frozen on his face, making him look miserable and a little frightening.
When Ahero saw it, she lamented, “Ouch.”
Seeing Qingliang, she suddenly took a worried glance at her little daughter, who was leaning against her—she was only so old, and she talked like a kitten, so tender that she would be frightened when others got too angry. Ahero began to worry. She didn’t think she could outlive her daughter, but if she died, what would the little one do later?
Luda turned up another scimitar from somewhere, then walked to Qingliang and dropped the blade on the ground.
Clank. Qingliang finally moved his eyes and looked up at this little foe who was always bullying him.
Luda wasn’t very good at talking, so he looked back at Chang An, but seeing him, he remembered that this shifu of his wasn’t any better. He could only stand still for a while, racking his brains to find something to say to Qingliang. “Waste… Qingliang, your A’die is dead, and so is my A’die. But I still have to live, and you also have to live.”
This sentence simply hardened the fog in Qingliang’s dull eyes.
“What else can you do?” Luda said bluntly. “It can’t be helped ah—Do you want to learn? I can teach you some simple moves.”
What he said was merely the truth, and there was not one superfluous word in it. Qingliang sat on the ground and looked up at him for a moment, then wiped his eyes hard, picked up the scimitar, and went off with Luda.
Hua Yi looked on from the sidelines and said to Chang An, “You have taught a good boy. And since you’ve removed his shackles anyway, then he’ll no longer be a slave. If he’s any good, I’ll give him the dignity of a warrior.”
Chang An turned his eyes to him and asked, “When will winter pass?”
“Soon.” Hua Yi smiled at him, softening from the corners of his eyes to the tips of his eyebrows. “When the first shoots of grass sprout, we’ll start a new tribe here, okay?”
Chang An naturally had no qualms about this, and he nodded.
Hua Yi then took his hand in his and rubbed it gently. He clutched it over his hand, enjoying himself despite Ka Zuo’s weird look from the sides.
A year later, when the dried meat, dried fish, shellfish, and even the barks of dead trees were all gnawed clean by the people, a silver lining appeared2天无绝人之路 – Literally, “Heaven doesn’t seal off all the exits.”. The ice on the sea finally melted into pieces of floating ice, which were gradually taken away by the waves. Since then, though still scarce, people have regained their sources of food.
A year and three months later, the first shoots of grass Hua Yi had spoken of sprouted out of the melting snow.
Winter was finally over.
The Author has something to say:
The last chapter about the natural disaster~Next is about the man-made disasters