After showing Mei around for a while in the streets of Spring Leaf City, the four found themselves at the Shao Clan bakery.
Seeing the sign, Hei spoke.
“This is our home.”
“This is it?”
Mei was a little surprised. If the city were likened to the forest, then their home would be considered quite small. Only the weakest of creatures would live here. Even her small cave was quite the luxury. Most of the inhabitants of the forest didn’t even have a place they could call their own.
Knowing that Hei was particularly strong, and having seen Tianlan’s fast movements, Mei was sure that they would have a large territory. But instead, what she saw was a small bakery.
Even other bakeries they had passed were bigger than this one and had more customers to boot.
But either way, it was more than she had before.
Seeing that Mei was confused, Hei decided to inform her.
“Well, it’s not like we couldn’t get a bigger place. And if we wanted, the bakery would be full of customers. It’s just that Grandpa is a little quirky…”
After saying this, Hei led the way inside the store.
In truth, he also found Shao Chen’s actions hard to believe.
In fear of knowing too much, in other words, finding out some troublesome information, he decided to avoid asking about this. But he was quite curious to know why their grandfather blocked so many customers.
It was as if he were looking for someone, a fated encounter if you will. So, he stopped the majority of people from frequenting the store. It would probably increase his chances of achieving whatever goal he had.
That, or he really was just quirky.
This was what Hei had guessed anyway. He still didn’t want to actually ask.
After they entered the kitchen area, Shao Chen noticed their presence.
“Hey! I told you not to bring customers back here.”
Hei was surprised to hear this. Shao Chen hadn’t even turned to look at them. Yet he knew that it was more than just the three. It could be explained by him having heard extra footsteps, but Mei was a four-legged creature, her weight was distributed over four points, so her footsteps were quiet.
Not to mention, he didn’t have any cultivation.
After speaking, Shao Chen turned to the three with an annoyed face, but then his eyes opened wide.
“A scarlet arctic fox? Where did you find this fellow?”
Tianlan was the one to respond to the question.
“When we were playing around in the forest, we stumbled upon her. Then Hei became a weird stalker and forced her to come to our house.”
Hearing this, Hei turned to Tianlan with an annoyed face. He didn’t respond though, because he had something more important on his mind.
“You know that she is a scarlet arctic fox?”
Shao Chen had easily identified Mei’s kind, which interested Hei. He felt that anything that could surprise Shao Chen would be something quite eventful. After all, he was from the middle continent, where all of the experts and advanced knowledge were.
“Mm. But to see one here…”
Shao Chen turned to Mei and thought for a while before he spoke:
“Are the other arctic foxes your friends or foes?”
This was an odd question, not because of its content, but because it was spoken in Beast Language. Evidently, Shao Chen had also learned it at some point.
Mei was surprised to hear this question. She turned to Hei, who responded.
“If you have secrets, they are safe with us.”
Hearing this, Mei hesitated before she spoke.
“My… father… I think he was my father, but I can’t be certain. He told me not to return until I reach adulthood. Then I felt really hot and fell asleep. That’s all I remember before waking up in a burnt part of the forest.”
Shao Chen thought for a while before he continued:
“It looks like things are beginning to move. Ah well, it has nothing to do with me.”
He was ready to ask why they had brought Mei here, but Hei spoke.
“Grumble. Grandpa, please tell us what you know.”
Hei was not too pleased with the situation. The words Shao Chen had just spoken obviously foreshadowed some troublesome stuff. And what’s worse, they had already stumbled on some middle continent drama, before even leaving their first town. What kind of progression was this?
He now needed to know more. All of the information on Mei’s situation would be helpful when the time came.
Hearing Hei’s question, Shao Chen had a surprised look.
“You want to know? For what?”
“It will probably be useful in the future.”
“You’re planning on getting involved?”
“Sigh. If need be.”
“Haha. Your life really sucks. Not only are the eastern guardian and even the heavens themselves using you as an errand boy, but you’re also getting involved in this mess. I remember when I had to do stuff like this and let me tell you. When you reach the top, you find a whole lot of nothing. It’s far more interesting to learn the ins and outs of baking. That’s what I have learned.”
“Yeah, yeah, Grandpa. Baking is the very essence life. But some of us need to reach the top, so would you help your poor, ignorant grandson out?”
Hei had heard the whole pitch before. Shao Chen and even Xiulan would frequently remind the three that they were walking down a dead-end road, and that they would one day come to realise that true happiness comes from baking.
It sounded nice and all, but Hei needed to get home. How was baking going to help him do that? Was there some kind of baking Dao? Would he reach the peak of the world one loaf at a time?
He wanted to get the useful information first. The philosophical stuff could come later.
After hearing Hei’s words, Shao Chen decided to inform him.
“Well, you see, there are several powerful clans in the middle continent. The Shao Clan that I used to belong to is one of them. Another is the spirit beast tribe of arctic foxes. They are in the same league as the dragon race, so you can imagine their strength.”
Hei could understand this. And as a bonus of the explanation so far, he had confirmed that this world had a dragon race.
There were already stories of dragons in the books he had read, but apparently, the information in the lower continent had to be taken with a grain of salt. And all of the books mentioned that dragons wouldn’t be found in the lower continent.
Hearing it straight from Shao Chen, he was more confident in the information. As a result, his search for a mount had a new prospect.
He was still wary of the ‘Paragon Dragon’ that Crystalia had mentioned, so he wasn’t too set on it, but if the opportunity presented itself…
“Well, among the arctic foxes, there are generally two variants. The arctic foxes, which are white in colour. And the scarlet foxes, which are red in colour. The arctic foxes are the more dominant of the two.”
“Eh? Then why aren’t they two tribes?”
“Because, even among scarlet foxes, arctic foxes can be born. And the same is true vice versa.”
“Now comes the interesting part. Every now and then, there will be a third variant. This would be the scarlet arctic fox, which can be red or white, but has markings of the other colour on their fur, like your little friend here.”
Hearing this, Hei was reminded of his original reason for wanting to go into the forest. It was the red fox with white markings and white eyes.
“Oh? We also heard of a red fox with white markings. Could there be two scarlet arctic foxes in the forest?”
“No, that was also your little friend.”
Shao Chen turned to Mei.
“Isn’t that right?”
Mei nodded her head in response.
Hei was surprised to hear that Mei was the same fox he had been looking for, but now that it was confirmed, he did recall her being injured when they had met.
It was just that it had been almost a year since the incident with Fang Lian. Why was Mei still hurt after all that time? Did she get injured again at some point, or did Ji Dian use some interesting form of attack?
‘Explosive attack, was it? Maybe it’s worth taking a further look.’
Hei planned to see this attack for himself. A long-term-harm attack had interesting utilities. Even to the point of being a villain only to then save your victim later, creating a false gratitude, and planting the seed of undying loyalty…
But of course, Hei would never do such a thing. Unless…
Oblivious to Hei’s thoughts, Shao Chen spoke.
“Well, that seals the deal.”
“Since your little friend can take both forms of the scarlet arctic fox, she is a very special individual. There is only one born every, well, very long time… I don’t really know the specifics because I learned about it while I was tying up some loose ends. I was going to retire from the cultivator life, and since I didn’t want any unnecessary trouble, I just ignored it.”
‘Ugh. We’re the same. Does that mean I’m going to become some weird baking sage in the future?’
“Anyway, your friend here is basically destined to rule over the arctic foxes. The fact that you found her here. It could only mean internal conflict. Someone wanted the position, and her existence threatened it, so they tried to get rid of her. Unfortunately for them, she is still alive and well.”
“Wait. You said that the arctic foxes live in the middle continent. How did Mei end up here?”
Hei had already asked Mei about where she had come from. She knew that she wasn’t native to the forest, but even she herself didn’t know where she was actually from.
If it was the middle continent, as Shao Chen had described, then how had Mei managed to get here?
“I’m assuming it was the work of the ‘father’ she had mentioned. When you get to a high enough level of cultivation, you have the ability to understand the laws of the world. This particular instance was probably an application of spatial laws.”
‘Spatial laws? Hehe. My Gate of Chainylon is only a matter of time.’
“But to transport someone all the way here…”
Shao Chen turned to Mei.
“If it was your father who told you those words, it was probably the acting chief. Sigh, I warned him about that uncle of his, but no, he insisted on stabilising the tribe. Now, look what happened. The fool.”
Shao Chen seemed to be saddened at his own revelation, but he quickly got over it.
“Well, he’s a goner. No way he’s still alive after bringing you here. It is also most likely that anyone who cares about you in this world is dead. That is your father, your mother, any siblings you may have, and anyone who would like to see you rise to power. Basically, you are alone in this world, and you have a whole bunch of enemies. Good luck with that.”
After hearing this, Hei stepped in.
“Grandpa! That was quite insensitive. Don’t you think it’s a little too much?”
He was kind of sad for Mei. To be told so bluntly that her father had died for her, and basically no one loved her…
His odd connection with Mei, was telling him that she wasn’t taking this too well.
“Too much? Would you rather I had said nothing, and then once she had come across one of her tribe, she would trust them right up to her death?”
“This… You could have used different words.”
Shao Chen turned to Mei.
“But I can tell you right now. There are only two types of arctic foxes. Those that want to kill you, and those that want to kill you. To clarify, there are those that want to steal your life essence, and there are those who want to stop them. Either way, you will die if you fall into their hands.”
Mei had a troubled expression as she heard these words.
“That is unless you reach adulthood as your father had said. In that case, you will be able to stomp all over the other arctic foxes. It won’t even be fair. That father of yours probably brought you here to protect you from those who are too strong and let you grow. But in exchange-”
Hei cut him off.
“Don’t say it, Grandpa!”
He felt that this information would not be helpful to Mei.
If what Shao Chen had said were true, then the hot feeling Mei had, was probably her father being burnt alive by the eastern guardian, and the burnt section of the forest was the symbol of his sacrifice.
To knowingly destroy himself in order to save his daughter’s life. Hei admired Mei’s father.
However, he was removed from the situation. He had no ties to Mei’s father, other than Mei herself. And telling this kind of information to a young child… He wasn’t sure how it would affect her, but he didn’t want to find out either.
Hei turned to Mei and placed his hand on her head.
He then spoke as he stroked her fur.
“We will go to the arctic fox tribe and seek answers. I promise!”
Hearing this, Mei’s eyes sharpened.
There was something she hadn’t shared. And that was her father’s last words to her.
“Avenge us, my daughter.”