As time passed, some fireballs died out while others moved further.
Shao Xuan’s vision focused on one part, then zoomed in.
A pair of old, frail hands swept across the rain-soaked ground, scooping up a ball of soil. White flames erupted, then the clump started to shrink and compact, in the end turning into an egg-like rock.
Everything else was clouded in mist and Shao Xuan could not see the person’s face but he recognised the rock.
However, after the rock was formed, the white flames slowly extinguished and the person became blurry and finally turned to mist. The rock glowed white, different from other fire seeds. It came in and out of sight behind the mist like the most mysterious star in the night sky.
This was the past that Yi Xiang mentioned. Shao Xuan wanted to look into the future but he was too tired, he could no longer maintain this state.
Time passed slowly.
He gradually eased himself out of this realm, his consciousness shifting slowly and he grew colder and colder. He suddenly remembered that he was still in the icy lands.
His eyes sprung open, the gold straw rope in his hand. Everything around him was still white, though it was a thick layer of snow instead of ash.
Other than the area around Shao Xuan, the snow layer was already knee-high.
An eagle’s cry sounded across the lands. Chacha landed in front of Shao Xuan, a fish in its beak.
“Have you been waiting for a long time?” Shao Xuan looked at the eagle, thinking about the scene with Eagle Mountain he previously saw. Chacha leaned its head over and Shao Xuan petted it, then walked toward the edge of the icy land.
Shoa Xuan knew that while it felt like a short time in the realm of consciousness, a long time must have passed in the real world. When he was first here, due to the beast horde pursuing them, while Chacha was not severely injured, he sustained many small wounds. Now, those wounds were gone. The new cuts must be from his recent hunts.
The carcasses from Yi Xiang’s reanimated corpses were long buried in a thick layer of snow, frozen beneath.
The shattered ice shelf once again crept around the edge of the land. While it was not as tall as before, Shoa Xuan knew that with time, the ice shelf would return to its former state.
The ice shelf was no longer a hundred metres above sea level but still thick enough for Chacha to walk on it. Shao Xuan’s weight here was obviously negligible.
“Time to go home.”
The world was quiet, the ice and snow stopping all life from growing here. However, when he exited his realm of consciousness, Shoa Xuan saw short bursts of images-- from the future. He knew that this land of ice would soon be teeming with life.
Turning around to look at the white piece of land, he hopped unto the eagle’s back. “Let’s go!”
The skies were no longer a sombre grey, rays of sunlight peeking through the thin layer of clouds. The icy mountains no longer looked so cold in the sunlight.
After Shao Xuan left, the icy world carried on as usual. One day, a figure appeared from beneath the layer of snow on the quiet land. It stepped on the snow with its webbed feet, then stood upright and waddled, looking at the world of ice and snow in puzzlement.
More and more figures burrowed out of the snow, then the entire flock waddled towards the edge and dove clumsily into the waters. Some of its mates were knocked to the ground, sliding on their bellies into the water. When they hit the water, their fin-like front limbs paddled easily and they swam with great agility, hunting for prey. They seemed excited.
However, very soon, the figures suddenly scrambled to climb back up to land. Those who were in too much panic could not reach the top, sliding backwards pathetically.
Not far from the shore, a black and white rounded head emerged vertically out of the surface, slowly turning. Its eyes studied its surroundings curiously, especially the figures climbing up the land. After watching them for a while, the head slowly sank into the waters again.
Crack crack crack---
A dull rumble of cracking ice sounded. A large crack formed on a section of the ice shelf, quickly expanding. Many pieces of ice bobbled vigorously in the ocean at the bottom. From above, one could see a gigantic shadow approaching the surface.
A pillar of water shot out of the surface.
More and more life forms awakened in unseen corners.
The quiet, desolate land of ice was suddenly bustling with life.
On the other side, Chacha returned through the route they came but turned before they approached the desert.
They were far from the icy lands but one could still see the tall snowy peaks that radiated chills.
“Have you taken this route before?” asked Shao Xuan.
Based on the approximate map in his memory, they could reach the tribe if they flew in this direction but they must pass through the forest filled with fearsome beasts.
In the past, they used to enter the forest only from the tribe but now, they passed directly over the mountain range. Several large figures swooped past, they were giant mountain eagles like Chacha. Other than Chacha, who was an anomaly, most eagles loved the snowy peaks. Flying ahead, Shao Xuan saw the icy plains and snow on the tall mountains, similar to Eagle Mountain. This mountain range was just too long, he could not see both ends of it.
Melted ice flowed down and aggregated into streams, flowing down the valleys into a large river.
This river… is it the river in front of their tribe?
Is this the head of that river?
What was up with that edgeless large river from before then?
That’s not right, when Shao Xuan crossed the river, the ‘edgeless’ large river was actually not as wide as it seemed. He was just not as strong or experienced.
There were many secrets in this world, waiting to be uncovered. Just like how a long, long time ago, when the fire seed first appeared, if no one learned to control it, fire would still be a presence to be feared.
Shao Xuan saw a scenery he had never seen before as they flew along the river. In the past, they only entered the forest to hunt, departing from the village and only hunted in a limited area. The farthest he went was to Eagle Mountain. This time, returning to the tribe from this direction felt very different.
“Years ago, you departed from the Hui tribe, flew around the desert and took this route to Eagle Mountain?” asked Shao Xuan.
When Shao Xuan went to the other side years ago, Chacha remained in the tribe. He once flew to the Hui tribe and found some mates to head to Eagle Mountain together.
“Chirp---” answered Chacha, Shao Xuan guessed right.
Even if they had not been, the giant mountain eagles had a natural instinct towards their sacred land, they had a compass in their heads to tell them where to go. That was why eagles could always locate Eagle Mountain when they reached a certain age no matter where they were. It was their instinct, a faith embedded deep in their bones even though they had never seen their ‘ancestors’ before.
On the way back to the tribe, when Shao Xuan hunted in the forest, he often saw different fearsome beasts in the forest that reminded him of what he saw in the ancient past.
The disaster had changed the entire world drastically. Humans only thrived because they took their opportunity for themselves. If that did not happen, even if the humans survived the fire, they would remain at the bottom of the food chain. The world was cruel, one would only become prey if you were too weak.
After several stops, they finally arrived in familiar hunting grounds. Shao Xuan’s mood lifted.
The first time he held a stone knife and entered the forest, Shao Xuan had sensed that he would never be able to go back to his previous world anymore. He had been in Flaming Horn for many years. In the beginning, he felt indifference but now, he felt responsible for the tribe. Only Shao Xuan knew how this felt, everyone merely knew him as a person who walked out of the cave.
He could finally see Flaming Horn territory.
Behind him were cheering patrol guards, running excitedly.
In front, the shaman and chief were waiting with a crowd.
Within the Flaming River Trading Point.
Bei Mi was with his people in a yard he bought. After arriving here, Bei Mi had made a decision to buy a huge yard in the trading area, then assigned some of his people to stay here permanently. They were in charge of purchasing gemstones and anything that was rare on the other side of the ocean.
He was chatting with them when cheers erupted from the Flaming Horn tribe on the opposite side of the river. The cheers were so loud they could be heard over the bustling trading point.
A horn sounded while all the Flaming Horns ran hurriedly.
“What is happening?!”
Newly arrived travellers were all confused, asking around for an explanation.
The people familiar with the Flaming Horn tribe quickly calmed down after the initial surprise. They pointed at the Flaming Horn tribe opposite the river. “I think the Grand Elder of the Flaming Horn tribe… the one no one knew where he went… is back.” He gave a look that implied ‘this happens very often, there’s no need to be afraid’.
In the man-made river around the trading point, a little pterosaur dropped a fish into the water as it looked up at the noisily chirping Withered Leaf Birds on the opposite bank. It spread its wings, then cried a few times at the water when it passed.
A few figures leapt out of the waters, their bodies soaring through their air in a bright arc, then landed in the water once more.
No one knows what truly happened across history. The past becomes more fun with imagination.
[TL Note: Don't forget Epilogue 1 & 2!]