Chapter 279 - Follow-up

When the locust plague struck, he was studying in the academy in town. The swarming locusts had really scared him, and he wanted to go home to have a look, but he was stopped by the teachers of the academy. As such, he had no experience catching locusts. 

Now, the large army of locusts had already passed, but there were still a lot of locusts left that were eating any edible dried grass and roots. They would actually still be able to catch an abundance of locusts in one day if they went! Little Shitou was excited and eager to experience the joy of catching locusts.  

Seeing the two excited fellows, Yu Xiaocao also picked up a bag and followed behind them towards the forest at the foot of the West Mountain. Throughout the entire journey, the path that was supposed to be surrounded by lush greenery was now left with the bald stems and roots of plants, and the dirt-brown color of the soil. There were still green or yellowish-brown locusts enjoying the stems and roots of the plants that were left. 

The West Mountain that was so full of life before was now akin to an old man showing signs of exhaustion. All the leaves of the forest that were edible had been consumed, leaving behind only stark branches, making it feel as though it were winter solstice. Among the once dense shrubbery, locusts were overflowing, still unceasingly eating; if one were to listen carefully, one could faintly hear the rustling. 

“Let’s catch locusts here, there's no need to go further into the woods!” Yu Xiaocao felt uneasy seeing the forest like this. If all the plants had already been eaten by the locusts, then the herbivores would most probably die of starvation. If the little herbivores died, then would the savage carnivores come down from the mountains to attack the villagers? Yu Xiaocao let out a long sigh, hoping that her worries were for nothing! 

The two little fellows, Little Shitou and Liu Fangping, had already thrown themselves into the bushes, immediately pocketing any locusts that they caught. Naturally, when locusts came into contact with humans, they would hop or fly away, so catching them was a little difficult. However,  the two boys had a lot of experience catching grasshoppers, so even though their speed in catching the insects wasn't as fast as when the locust plague first hit, they still managed to catch a few catties within two hours! 

“Hare! Hare!!” After Liu Fangping rushed into a bush, a lithe, gray figure immediately leapt out and quickly escaped. The little boy chased after it but lost sight of it after a few steps, so he returned unhappily, pouting. 

Little Shitou laughed heartily, “Little Fangping, how could your legs outrun a rabbit? I'll tell you, my second elder sister is the master of trapping hares. If you're craving rabbit meat, you can ask her to help you trap a few to bring home.” 

Liu Fangping’s bright eyes sparkled with joy and eagerness and he rushed towards Yu Xiaocao, “Is it true, Second Older Sister? You know how to trap hares?” 

This past half year, Liu Fangping had been eating and sleeping well and having fun every day under his uncle’s and aunt's care, so he had long since lost his original emaciation. Yu Xiaocao pinched his plump cheeks, smiling, “I know, but it's not as fantastic as how your Brother Shitou had described. Don't cry if we don't catch some!” 

Liu Fangping wagged his ‘tail’ and ran around Yu Xiaocao in circles, saying eagerly, “I won't! What do you need, Second Older Sister, I'll go back and bring it here!” 

Like magic, Yu Xiaocao procured a rope from her pocket and chose a dense bush to set her trap. In order to not disappoint the two children, she also dripped a few drops of mystic-stone water around the dried grass. 

“Just like this, it's done?” Liu Fangping asked disbelievingly as he circled back and looked at the simple rope trap on the ground. 

Yu Xiaocao patted his little head and said, “The rope trap is set, but it's hard to tell whether or not a hare would pass-by as it all depends on luck. Let's go and continue catching your locusts!” 

Yu Xiaocao set a total of five rope traps. Approaching noontime, the two children had already caught half a big bag of locusts, and impatiently ran towards their older (cousin) sister’s side with the same hopeful and excited looks on their faces. 

Yu Xiaocao playfully used her hands that were stained with the juices that the locusts spat out to wipe the two brats’ faces at the same time. Then, without waiting for Little Shitou to complain, she waved her arm, “Let's go! Let's collect the rope traps!” 

Among the five traps, three were empty, and the remaining two both caught something. One was a live hare, while the other was a wild chicken. Looking at the hare that was so thin it was only skin and bones, the sense of foreboding became even stronger in Yu Xiaocao. 

At noon, the two brats thoroughly enjoyed the little meat that was on the hare and wild pheasant even more than red braised meat because they felt like they caught them together with older sister (older cousin). Yu Xiaocao also shared her worries to the rest of the family. 

Yu Hai’s thick eyebrows furrowed. The Yu Family’s old home was built at the base of the mountains, and it was only a couple kilometers from the West Mountain. If there really were ravenous wild animals coming down from the mountains, the first few families that they would rush towards would be the ones that lived at the foot of the mountains. 

After lunch, Yu Hai found the Qian Family and Zhou Family who lived nearby and told them about Xiaocao’s worries. The two families immediately began to panic, and Qian Fugui, Qian Wen’s father, looked at Yu Hai, saying, “Brother Dahai, among the three of us, only you know how to hunt, so we will follow whatever that you say!” 

Yu Hai expressed his opinions to the two of them, saying, “I think we should take preventive measures. We should dig trapping pits near our courtyard walls and the empty land around us, so we are prepared when the wild animals come. Fortunately, our courtyard walls are higher, so the wild animals may not be able to jump across even if they came. The only thing we need to do is to guard the main door! I'm planning to visit town this afternoon to buy some hunting gear and distribute them among our three families. We'll start digging the trapping pits tonight, what do you think?” 

Qian Fugui and Zhou Danian had nothing to oppose, and, after a discussion, the two of them said, “We will have to trouble Brother Dahai in the afternoon. As our courtyard walls aren't as sturdy as yours, we'll have to renovate it this afternoon.” 

While Yu Hai was busy discussing how to guard against wild animals, Yu Xiaocao was preparing to go to the secret spot to observe the conditions. Little Shitou insisted on following her once he found out about it, and Yu Xiaocao could only helplessly bring along this little tail. 

Who would expect that they would be seen by Liu Fangping when they were heading out? Once he heard that they were heading into the mountains, he jumped up and down eagerly telling them to bring him along. No matter how much Yu Xiaocao tried to explain the dangers of the forest, the little brat still did not listen. He even said, “If you can go, why can't I? Older Cousin, if you don't bring me along, I'll cry!” Fine, he even resorted to threatening her! 

Yu Xiaocao was forced to bring along two little burdens as she traversed the familiar forest. Most of the shrubbery was already gone thanks to the locusts, leaving, at the most, pitiful stems and roots, which made walking much easier for the three children. 

Two hours later, the three of them arrived at the mouth of a pitch-black cave. Little Fangping clutched tightly onto the corner of the shirt of his older cousin, speaking fearfully, “Second Older Cousin, there wouldn’t be a man-eating beast inside the cave, right?” 

Little Shitou wanted to frighten him, “Of course! How could there not be one? The last time I came with Second Older Sister, we even encountered a massive and imposing wolf!” 

Little Fangping’s voice trembled as he asked, “Then...how did you escape from right below the wolf’s snout? Didn’t you get hurt?” 

Little Shitou teased him as a coward, continuing, “At that time, the wolf wasn’t hungry. It left after my second sister fed it some water! Therefore, don’t run around carelessly, or else beware that a big, gray wolf will eat you!” 

Liu Fangping nodded his head obediently, vowing, “I’ll be good and follow beside Second Older Cousin, I won’t go anywhere else!” 

At both sides of the cave there were smaller openings. Little Shitou once explored inside them--some openings could only fit one or two people, while others were really big and able to contain a couple hundred people without a problem. Little Shitou triumphantly shared his experience at exploration with his little cousin whoa was only a little more than a month younger than him, and Liu Fangping marvelled jealously once in a while. 

“Second...Second Older Sister, what’s that green light from over there? A will-o’-the-wisp?” Liu Fangping looked in the direction that Little Shitou pointed in, only to see that there was a pair of green lights slowly approaching them. It frightened him so he hid behind Yu Xiaocao, only daring to peek his head out and watch the green fluorescence in fear. 

“Little wolf, is that you?” Yu Xiaocao called out at the fluorescence anxiously. The green light paused for a moment. Then, it sped towards their direction. 

Liu Fangping let out a scream, “Coming, it’s coming! Second Older Sister, let’s run!” 

As the green fluorescence got closer, Little Shitou recognized the gray wolf and tossed away the rock that he had grabbed for self-defense, turning back to comfort Little Fangping, “Don't be afraid, this is the big, gray wolf I've told you about. It won't bite!” 

Liu Fangping now saw clearly the gray wolf in front of him that was even taller than him, and fearfully said, “You said that last time, it didn't eat you because it wasn't hungry. Who knows if it's hungry now?” 

The gray wolf had already stopped two steps away from them, observing them curiously with its head tilted. It seemed to have recognized Yu Xiaocao upon seeing her, as its tail, which drooped behind him, slightly swung left and right and it took slow and graceful steps towards her. Liu Fangping got so scared he shrieked, and the gray wolf stopped in its steps, turning to observe him cautiously. 

However, Yu Xiaocao went up to it, lightly patting the gray wolf’s head, smiling, “Little wolf, why are you here in the cave? Is it to welcome us?” 

The gray wolf looked at her longingly as it licked her palm. Yu Xiaocao poured two drops of mystic-stone water from a porcelain bottle which the gray wolf quickly licked clean. 

“It's true, this big, gray wolf really doesn't bite!” Just now he was so terrified, but now, he looked at the little wolf in surprise, asking Yu Xiaocao, “Second Older Sister, can I pet it?” 

Little Shitou deliberately tried to scare him, “No! Little wolf wouldn't even let me touch it, moreover you! You mustn't outstretch your hand, or beware your hand will be chomped off!” 

Hearing this, Liu Fangping hurriedly hid his hands behind his back, nervously watching the gray wolf. 

Sunlight shone through an opening from the top of the cave so the cave wasn't dark. Yu Xiaocao silently, smilingly watched as her little brother teased her little cousin. She patted the little wolf and was about to head towards the valley when she felt a tug at the corner of her clothes. 

Originally, Yu Xiaocao thought it was Little Fangping, but she turned her head and found that it was in fact the gray wolf who was biting the edge of her clothes. She was surprised, so she asked, “What is it, little wolf? What is the matter?” 

The gray wolf turned and headed towards another opening. After a few steps, it whisked back and looked at Yu Xiaocao who had not moved, as though asking, “Why are you not following me?” 

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Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Vera