Far away, a black horizon seemed to creep closer and closer towards them. They could all see it, clear as day.
It was a stampede of wild animals, heading their way. It was a magnificent view, such that even Ye Chong, who did not lack experience with grand situations, felt slightly chilled inside. The stampede was made up of all kinds of animals. However, they did not seem bothered with each other, running like their lives depended on it, as though something terrifying was coming after them from behind.
Everything seemed tiny compared to this animal stampede. Nothing could stand in its way.
The earth shook. The stampede was loud. No one could remain calm against this adversary.
Ye Chong was the first to recover from his initial shock. He turned to the pale village head, Old Sang De and asked, "What’s happening?"
Old Sang De did not seem like himself, only muttering incoherently, "How could this be … How could this be …"
Everyone was panicking. Ye Chong could only turn back to look at the stampede as he waited for them to calm down. The stampede was still some distance away. Besides, judging from the direction of movement, the animals would probably pass by the plains in front of the Sang Family Village.
As everyone stood around in shock, Ye Chong sat in a corner as he waited for them to calm down in order to find out what was happening. He could see from their looks that they knew what was happening, but were strongly affected by it.
Ye Chong did not panic, nor did he get too excited. He watched calmly like a third party observer. The ground beneath him shook, and the rumbling sound came like thunder from afar. Ye Chong watched calmly at the animals running for their lives.
‘"What’s happening?" After a while, Ye Chong asked calmly, pointing towards the stampede. He had heard Old Sang De’s breathing becoming calmer.
Old Sang De answered with a trembling voice, "It’s the beast stampede … The beast stampede … 10 years … There should be 10 more years …" Old Sang De spoke hopelessly.
Beast stampede? Ye Chong did not understand.
Old Sang De vented his frustration for a while before finally calming down, and began to explain to Ye Chong about the beast stampede.
The beast stampede happens once every 200 years. These wild animals were herded. Archipelago’s beast stampede was caused by the migration of a particular species of bird. The steelbat was a bird species that lived in the deepest parts of the Archipelago, and the real king of this world. Their sharp claws and steely beaks and legs could break through the defenses of a scalex, king of the land animals. With the exception of the animals that lived underwater, the steelbats were the nemesis of all other beasts. This supremacy was a result of their ability to fly.
The most terrifying thing about the steelbats was that they always come in swarms, in the hundreds and thousands.
The beast stampede was caused by these steelbats. Every 200 years, the steelbats would migrate. They could group together and fly towards the other side of the Archipelago. Steelbats liked to kill during their migration. Any animals in their way would be killed. With the advantage of flight, they were an uncontrollable killing wave. Hence, about three months before the migration began, the sensitive animals would run desperately to save themselves, hence causing the beast stampede.
Ye Chong was speechless. He never imagined that an animal could be so terrifying. However, he quickly accepted the fact. It was logical that the flying steelbats had the defini
te upper hand. Besides, with their offensive claws and beaks, it was no wonder that they were at the top of the food chain.
Old Sang De felt hopeless. "I didn’t think that the beast stampede this time would happen 10 years earlier. It looks like we’ll have to move with the beasts. But we’re not prepared this time, we’re not …" Everyone looked grim. A large scale migration was not so easy to achieve. No one knew what lay ahead. Without preparation, a long distance migration like this would be disastrous for the villagers.
"We’re migrating too?" Ye Chong asked abruptly.
Old Sang De replied helplessly, "Or what? The steelbats always come in huge waves. According to our ancestors, whenever the steelbats come, they would cover the skies. The migration would take an entire month. No one wants to leave here. We don’t even know what’s ahead of our journey. However, we’re defenseless against the steelbats." Old Sang De looked pathetic, and the people around him also wore saddened expressions.
"The beast stampede happens three months before the steelbats migrate, right?" Ye Chong asked suddenly.
"Yes," Old Sang De answered carelessly.
"Three months …" Ye Chong muttered as he made a quick estimation. If they migrate now, no one knew when they would reach safety. His plan to safe Mu and Shang would also be ruined.
"Those d*mned steelbats!" Ye Chong cursed inwardly at the species that he had never even met before.
According to Old Sang De, the steelbats were very formidable. However, Ye Chong believed that no matter how powerful animals were, they were still animals, and could never compete against humans. If they had mechs, they would never be so afraid of the steelbats! In the Five Galaxies, there were even adventurers who specialized in hunting mutants.
"Mechs!" Ye Chong realized then. "That’s right, mechs!"
Ye Chong did a quick calculation in his mind, and made his decision.
Ye Chong asked Old Sang De, "The migration this time, how many do you think will survive it?"
The question was the centre of Old Sang De’s worries. He replied in a frail voice, "If we’re lucky, maybe a third of us. The mayaberries still need another two months to ripen. We don’t have enough food." However, he quickly gathered himself and said, "Don’t worry, sir, we will ensure your safety. Once we reach our new home, you’ll be able to help us thrive again, sir." Old Sang De looked to Ye Chong sincerely.
"I have a plan," Ye Chong said plainly, looking straight back at Old Sang De.
The atmosphere in the Sang Family Village was hectic. Everyone busied themselves with their tasks.
At the bone dumping site, the villagers made a long line, with Sang Ling and Sang Fan at the entrance to organize them. Every villager received some skeletons from Sang Fan, and an animal hide with a picture drawn on it from Sang Ling.
Sang Fan raised his voice and said, "Everyone listen up, once you get your skeletons, carve them based on the drawings that Sang Ling pass to you. You must have received the tools from our good sir. You’ve all made skeleton love tokens before, so this will not be hard. However, remember, you must follow the drawings exactly when you carve. Once you’re done, pass the skeletons to me for inspection. If you ruined your skeletons, come here and find another one yourself. I believe you all know what’s happening now. Yesterday, the beast stampede had begun. Right now, what we’re doing is for the protection of the Sang Family Village. Everyone, please work as fast as you can. Our survival depends on it. The more skeletons you carve, the better our chances to survive this. Understand?"
"Understood!" The villagers promised in reply.
The 300 most skillful carvers of the village were gathered together. They worked like students, silently and intently. Leading them was the second most influential person in the village, the healer Sang Rubei.
The short, old man looked solemn. He spoke lowly, "Your tasks are key to our plan. The drawing you see before you is your carving objective. Everyone is assigned with only one kind of part. From today onwards, your job is to carve, and only carve. Food will be sent to you. All you need to do is carve and carve. The fate of the village lies in your hands. Let’s work hard!"
"Yes." The reply came not too loudly, but in perfect sync.
All the women and children were assigned with other tasks by the village head. "Those in charge of the mayaberries, your tasks remain unchanged. We are two months from harvesting, do not slack in your duties. The village depends on you."
A middle aged woman answered for the rest, "Don’t feel sorry, Village Head, we’ll be diligent."
Old Sang De nodded, satisfied. He then turned to the younger people around him and said, "Children, it’s time for you to contribute to the village, are you afraid to work hard?"
"No!" The innocent, young voices replied in waves, but there was the unmistakable quality of youthful vigor.
"Alright, you’re all good children!" Old Sang De look at them warmly, patting one of them on the head in gratefulness. "Now this grandfather here has a mission for you. You see those mildstones? You’ll each get a box later. All you have to do is to shape them such that they could fit inside the box. Remember, they must fit exactly."
"Okay," the children answered with determination.