Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 24: Letter

Chapter 24: Letter

As the problem of recycling after the wearer died had to be considered when designing military exoskeletons, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong had familiarized themselves with such objects during their first two months of training. Therefore, they were no strangers to such matters. Shang Jianyao did a simple search before he found the button and successfully switched off the integration system and powerpack.

After Shang Jianyao completed this step, no further technical work was needed. Thus, he undid the metal buckles on the auxiliary joints one by one.

As Long Yuehong fiddled with the buckles on the elbows and wrists, he opened his mouth before closing it again. After hesitating three times, he finally couldn’t suppress his voice and asked, “Weren’t you nervous or scared just now?”

Shang Jianyao—who was in charge of the legs—pointed at himself. “Are you asking me?”

“Who else is here besides you?” Long Yuehong asked, bemused and angry at the same time.

Bai Chen was repairing the jeep behind him. Jiang Baimian held a pistol and had circled to the other side. Only he and Shang Jianyao were in the tiny area where the corpse was.

Shang Jianyao patted the corpse’s thigh. “There’s still him.”

“...” Long Yuehong wanted to curse the guy opposite him, but he felt a little scared for some baffling reason. He recalled the stories adults often used to scare children.

Shang Jianyao restrained his smile, and tersely agreed. “Being nervous and scared is definite.”

“But I couldn’t tell at all,” Long Yuehong blurted out.

Shang Jianyao nodded slightly. “Because I told myself in my heart: your goal is to save all of humanity.”

“...What’s the connection?” Long Yuehong felt that he was already used to Shang Jianyao’s occasional brain spasms. “I mean, why aren’t you scared or nervous any longer?”

Shang Jianyao replied solemnly, “On the way to achieve this goal, sacrifices are inevitable.”

At that moment, Long Yuehong didn’t know if Shang Jianyao was normal or not. He quickly decided to abandon the topic and asked, “Don’t you feel terrible after killing two people with your own hands? Not long ago, they could still joke, walk, and jump. They were alive with blood pumping through their bodies. Uh... It might not be terrible, but don’t you feel anything different?”

Shang Jianyao nodded indiscernibly. “Yes.”

Long Yuehong heaved a sigh of relief for some reason.

Shang Jianyao continued. “I wanted to fire two more shots.”

“...Why?” Long Yuehong gave up trying to keep his train of thought in sync with Shang Jianyao’s.

Shang Jianyao glanced at him and cast his gaze at the jeep behind him. “We never thought of robbing them, hurting them, or shooting them. Yet, they had ill intentions towards us from the beginning. They tracked us all the way here and attacked us the moment they had the chance.

“If we hadn’t acted with outstanding results and they made an additional mistake, we would be the ones lying here now with our corpses being searched. Do you think they would feel anything special about this?

“No, they only know how to sing, spit on us, eat our energy bars, eat our compressed biscuits, eat our military canned food, and cook hot pot with the Blackmarsh Iron Snake we killed. How can that be tolerated?”

The described scene instinctively flashed across Long Yuehong’s mind, reminding him of the intense hunger he had endured since he was young. He immediately flew into a rage. “No way!”

After answering, he immediately deflated like a basketball that hadn’t been pumped in a long time. “However, I still don’t find it comfortable.”

When Shang Jianyao heard this, the corners of his mouth slowly rose, revealing a slightly exaggerated smile. “This is the Ashlands. Get used to it.”

“You make it sound like this isn’t the first time you’ve come to the surface...” Long Yuehong muttered and started busying himself.

Before long, they opened up all the metal clasps and took off the military exoskeleton from the corpse.

Jiang Baimian had returned to the jeep at some point in time, and thoughtfully said, “Long Yuehong, give it a try and see if you can drive it.”

Such things always made some men fervent with passion, and Long Yuehong was one of them. He couldn’t care less that blood was still on the exoskeleton, and he quickly urged Shang Jianyao to help. With Shang Jianyao’s help, he adjusted the auxiliary bone’s length, put on the powerpack, the iron-black helmet, and locked the metal clasps in place.

After the integration system had completed its self-checks, Long Yuehong shot a glance at the indicator and quickly reported, “There’s still 23% battery left. It says it can last 1 hour and 55 minutes.”

Jiang Baimian raised her left leg and pointed at the man’s corpse with the tip of her foot. “Don’t believe that. It will only last that long in a situation when you maintain normal operation and only do the basics. If you want to fly, burrow, and jump like how this person did earlier, I estimate that it will last half an hour at most with all the systems operating at maximum capacity.”

“Okay.” Long Yuehong began doing all kinds of basic actions.

After a series of maneuvers, he said in surprise, “Team Leader, this is much more useful than the one we use in the company!”

Jiang Baimian chuckled. “That is because our company is the one making replicas. Think about what kind of capabilities our biological company can have with machines and electronics.”

“That’s true.” Long Yuehong excitedly tested the military exoskeleton’s other functions.

Shang Jianyao remained crouching in the same spot, searching the corpse’s every pocket. He didn’t even miss out the underwear’s inner layer.

Finally, he looked at the items in front of him in disdain. “There are only two bags of biscuits.”

These two packets of biscuits were not compressed. On the wrapping were rows of Red River words. Due to the severe wear and tear, Shang Jianyao could barely identify the words ‘scallions’ and ‘soda.’

In the Ashlands, the two most mainstream languages were the Ashlands language and the Red River language. The former was the common language of Pangu Biology, the Salvation Army, and other factions. The latter was mainly used in the Red River Zone and the factions closest to the Red River Zone. This included First City, the White Knights, and the Orange Company.

In addition to these two packs of biscuits, Shang Jianyao also found two pieces of paper and a badge. One of the two envelopes was neatly folded, while the other was randomly folded.

Shang Jianyao unfolded the neat, clean letter and casually evaluated it. “This has been folded many times.”

After Jiang Baimian instructed Long Yuehong to guard the surroundings, she went to Shang Jianyao’s side, squatted down, and read the letter with him.

This letter was in the Ashlands text: “Dear Father, I led a good life in First City in the beginning. Although I still have some problems reading the language, there’s basically nothing wrong with my conversational speaking skills. No one will ever discover that I come from the wilderness...

“...The ranks here are very strict, but it’s beautiful like heaven compared to the outside world. As long as you follow their rules and obey people of a higher ranking than you, find your own social class and status, you can lead a smoother life...

“...You don’t have to worry about my studies. With that person’s help, I’ve already been transferred to a formal school. As long as I graduate successfully, I can get rid of my slave status and become a citizen...

“...I wonder if there’s still enough food in town? Although it’s still summer, I heard from my classmates that winter will be especially torturous this year. I don’t know where their judgment comes from, but I feel it’s necessary to tell you so that everyone can make some preparations as soon as possible. Even if it’s a rumor, I’d rather believe it than ignore it...

“...You previously said that you became a Ruin Hunter. This is a good thing. Compared to being a bandit, this occupation is clearly safer. Of course, it’s also very dangerous... Don’t go to the newly discovered city ruins, and don’t go to the city ruins that few people return from. Also, don’t be a bandit any longer, even though it’s the fastest way to bring back winter food to town...

“...I will try to find merchants in the city who dare smuggle food, but I don’t have the confidence or the resources to exchange for them. I only hope that I get an opportunity from the descendants who introduced me to the Senate Elders...

“...Finally, I hope that you will always be healthy. I hope that the famine won’t come. I hope that Uncle Ji Shun, Uncle Jinfeng, Ah Yu, and Qian Ning will lead a good life. I hope that they will all be able to bring back enough food for their families. I hope that everyone can wait for the Senate’s approval until the day they join First City as citizens, not slaves. Also, that person is very good to Mother. There’s no need to worry about her...

“...Your baby, An Ji.”

After reading it, Jiang Baimian and Shang Jianyao didn’t speak for a long time.

“This is the Ashlands.” After a while, Jiang Baimian laughed self-deprecatingly.

Shang Jianyao replied in a low voice. “He has read this letter no fewer than 20 times...” He could make a judgment based on the letter’s creases and the paper’s condition.

Jiang Baimian wanted to tell Shang Jianyao that there was no need to feel guilty about fighting to the death in such a skirmish. However, she suddenly recalled something and could only pat Shang Jianyao’s shoulder. “Everyone has two sides, sometimes even more than two. They’re completely different to a child and to a stranger. As a stranger, you don’t have to care about what happens to that child after he loses his father. You just have to be thankful that you’re still alive.

“I know what you’re thinking. I’ve also heard some rumors, and I can tell you with certainty that our company’s people will not be reduced to wilderness bandits of such a level. If we want to plunder, we will only plunder an opposing faction’s supplies and transport team.”

Shang Jianyao didn’t say a word. He folded the letter and stuffed it back into the muscular man’s inner pocket. He then unfolded the other letter, a crumpled one.

“Mission description: Explore the northern area of Yuelu Station and gather information regarding the target.

“Target description: Male. Unknown origins. About 1.8 meters tall, has black hair and golden eyes. He’s very handsome and has the same outstanding charm. He likes to wear a trench coat, boots, and gloves. His hair is always neatly combed. He’s nothing like a wilderness nomad. His danger level is temporarily considered High.

“Reward: One ton of ordinary-grade flour (Guild guarantee).

“Quest level: C, 100 credit points.”

“This is the Hunter’s Guild’s mission document,” Jiang Baimian introduced. Then, she thoughtfully picked up the badge that Shang Jianyao had found. “Yuelu Station is an Old World ruin in the Blackmarsh Wilderness. Further north is the Great Swamp’s depths. It’s filled with danger.”

As she spoke, Jiang Baimian checked the badge in her hand. The badge was brass in color. Embossed on the front was a human face with blurry facial features. On the human face’s cheeks were a saber and a spear. On the back of the badge was a small chip.

This was a badge from the Hunter’s Guild.

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