Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 30: Tiny “Transaction”

Chapter 30: Tiny “Transaction”

Jiang Baimian, Shang Jianyao, and the others did not rush Tian Erhe. They quietly sat by the fire as if they were attentively waiting for dinner.

After about ten seconds, Tian Erhe’s eyes focused again. He chortled and shook his head. “The city was covered with corpses and Heartless, who had lost their minds. It was the same on the streets, in the residential estates, and in the malls.

“The Heartless ate corpses, leaving their mouths bloody. They looked no different from the most ferocious of beasts. They could even climb high-rise buildings like monkeys before suddenly swinging down from nearly ten meters high and appearing behind you. They also knew how to use firearms...

“There were a total of eight of us back then. Half of us quickly died when faced with that situation. Perhaps it was because of my young age... I was short and inconspicuous. I didn’t suffer any attacks in the first wave, so I survived.

“In our panic, we ran crazily and entered a nearby police station. We were still considered lucky. Although the Heartless could shoot and reload, they didn’t actively search for weapons. We found quite a number of guns and bullets on some of the corpses in the police station.”

Having said that, Tian Erhe smiled and said to Bai Chen and Jiang Baimian, “Do you think that we eventually broke through the encirclement with those weapons? Not at all. The few of us, including the older uncles and aunties, didn’t know how to use guns. The sound of gunfire only served to attract more Heartless.

“Back then, I thought I couldn’t take it anymore and cried. Fortunately, those uncles and aunties had a strong desire to live. They didn’t abandon me either. They kept themselves on the go and arrived at a parking lot.

“We found an SUV there, with the doors open and the key inserted. However, the owner was gone. I guess he turned into a Heartless and wandered off without any mind or reason. Anyway, we sent several Heartless flying and rushed into the streets with the SUV. There weren’t many Heartless in the area. We seized the opportunity and rushed out of the city. It was much safer when we reached the suburbs.”

Tian Erhe sighed. “Before I left Moat Town, I hoped to return home and see if my parents were around. In the end, I never saw them again.”

After sighing, Tian Erhe looked at the iron pot that gradually steamed and continued speaking. “We had to return the way we came. On the way, we gathered some food and clothes. We then abandoned the SUV and crossed the destroyed roads with the things we had gathered. We eventually found the two cars that we used to drive out of town.

“Just like that, we returned to Moat Town. Since we were already in winter and, with no sign of help coming, we came to a consensus and decided not to consider the problem of aftershocks. We began using the buildings that remained relatively intact in town. It isn’t like people can force themselves to freeze to death, right?

“Thanks to the Lunar New Year, every family had prepared new year goodies. There was also a lot of food in the supermarkets. We didn’t worry about food much the entire winter. However, some uncles and aunties suggested that it wasn’t wise to distribute food as we were doing. They claimed that it was easy to develop complacency and waste precious time. They suggested using labor in exchange for food.

“Most people agreed. Before spring really came, we divided the few buildings here into many small rooms. We repaired the perimeter walls and maintained the canals in the fields outside town. We also built the water tower here for the water plant and familiarized ourselves with the use of firearms...

“The subsequent developments later proved our actions to be extremely important. Be it the response to famine or the defense against wild beasts, bandits, and Heartless that chanced upon us, they played a great role.”

Tian Erhe’s gaze became unfocused again as if he had returned to that year of collective labor. His voice unconsciously softened a little. “When the weather warmed up, and the spring cold ended, we finally confirmed one thing: help was never coming...”

Tian Erhe looked up and forced a smile. “You should be able to guess our subsequent experiences. It was nothing more than using the opportunity of numerous Heartless dying during winter to begin exploring the ruins of the surrounding cities. From there, we gathered food, clothes, firearms, ammunition, batteries, and fuel supplies. At the same time, we organized a production line and attempted hunting. We also sent people far away to see if there were any surviving cities.

“How is it? Do you still want me to continue?”

Jiang Baimian nodded slightly. “Yes!” With that said, she smiled brightly. “You can tell us as we eat. We can listen as we eat.”

The braised beef in the pot had almost finished heating.

At this moment, Shang Jianyao rubbed his stomach. “Let me go to the bathroom first.”

“Me too.” Long Yuehong stood up.

“Alright, we’ll wait for your return.” Jiang Baimian understood the two team members who had just come to the surface very well.

The first time she left the company and entered the Blackmarsh Wilderness, she had resisted the idea of relieving herself. Unless she couldn’t hold it in any longer, she was unwilling to hide in the woods or behind bushes to relieve herself.

Taking a piss was fine. It didn’t take much time, so the effects the environment had on them wouldn’t be too great. It wouldn’t worsen one’s sense of shame. As for taking a dump... it required one to muster their courage.

From her observations, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong had yet to take a dump since they left the company.

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong followed Tian Erhe’s instructions and passed through the haphazard buildings before walking to the public bathroom that was parallel to the perimeter wall. During this process, they took in all kinds of smells. These smells mixed together, making it impossible to determine what they were. All they knew was that it didn’t smell good. They had to put up with it, or they would have definitely retched.

Shang Jianyao also saw a few families gather together and share a stove for cooking so as to conserve charcoal. He saw people squatting by the door without bothering to take off their clothes that were covered in mud. They were slurping thin congee that obviously didn’t have much grain in them.

He also saw sick people lying in a half-open building as they groaned in pain before pulling over a spittoon. He saw a mother carrying a baby that was definitely not yet a year old. As she couldn’t return home in time, she could only let the child urinate on the spot. He saw many children under the age of ten helping their parents start a fire for cooking or brushing their clothes...

As they walked, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong arrived at the public bathroom under many vigilant, guarded, and curious gazes. Drawn on the left was a figure of a woman in a dress, and on the right was a stickman.

As soon as they turned right, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s eyes widened.

The public bathroom was completely different from what they had imagined. It was nothing like the public bathrooms in Pangu Biology.

Across the front wall was a long urinal. Towards the back was the same length but seemingly wider latrine.

The town relied on equipment situated at the junction with the women’s bathroom to flush at fixed times. There was no blockade in the middle. When flushing, it would wash away everything.

It was as though two streams had been moved in.

The only thing that comforted Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong was that Moat Town paid attention to the public bathroom’s hygiene and made it relatively clean.

“Shall we?” Long Yuehong was a little hesitant.

“Let’s do it.” Shang Jianyao led the way. He chose a spot, took off his pants, and squatted down.

Long Yuehong chose a spot further away from him and stealthily unbuckled his belt. “I-I find it a little strange...” He couldn’t help but turn his head to look at Shang Jianyao. There was nothing in between the two of them.

Shang Jianyao pinched his nose. “You should watch what you eat.”

Long Yuehong was speechless.

Just as they thought that this was the most awkward scene, a group of Moat Town residents rushed in from outside. They sized up Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong. Some went to the urinal, and some found a spot to squat down.

“This makes it even stranger.” Shang Jianyao said what was in Long Yuehong’s mind. Then, his train of thought chugged over to a strange place. “If Mayor Tian were also squatting here, will a person come in front of him and greet him when they enter...?”

The townsfolk beside Shang Jianyao subconsciously said, “The mayor has an individual bathroom in his room.”

The two of them began chatting in the strange environment, making Long Yuehong gasp in amazement.

Finally, Long Yuehong finished relieving himself. He pulled up his pants and went to the sink outside to wash his hands. He took in a deep breath of relatively fresh air and firmly confirmed one thing again: Compared to the nomad settlements outside, Pangu Biology’s underground building was as beautiful as heaven.

After a minute or two, Shang Jianyao walked out and washed his hands.

They didn’t discuss the public bathroom, and tacitly maintained their silence. They once again passed through the haphazard area with brick houses, mud huts, and tents.

Suddenly, a little girl ran to Shang Jianyao. She was about seven or eight years old. Her hair was gently draped over her shoulders. She wore a light-green sweater that had many lint balls and two obvious holes on the inside. She wore a patched jacket that almost reached her knees and had been washed white on the outside.

The pants she wore on her lower body were of an indistinguishable material—a grayish-blue color with patches of other colors. She wore a pair of black shoes made of tattered cloth. Her face was thin and jaundiced, but her eyes were very bright.

This little girl held a pile of junk in her hand. There was thread, torn pieces of cloth, a faded button, a snapped hair tie, a glass ball with embedded flower petals, an empty matchbox, and a clump of rubber.

She looked up at Shang Jianyao eagerly. “Hello, can I use this to exchange for some of your food? Just a little would do. Can I? Can I?”

In the corner of the wooden shed, the fragrance of braised beef wafted over.

Shang Jianyao silently looked at the girl for two seconds. Before she spoke again, he squatted down, stretched out his finger, and pulled at the pile of junk a few times. He picked out the transparent glass ball with yellow petals embedded in it and stood up with a smile. “I’ll take this.”

“...Thank you! Thank you!” The little girl was initially stunned, but she quickly thanked him profusely.

Shang Jianyao turned his head and looked at the wooden shed where Jiang Baimian and the others were. “Let’s go over.”

The little girl tersely acknowledged him and followed closely behind him.

Long Yuehong didn’t know what to say. He looked around and followed.

They soon returned to the jeep.

“Who is she?” Jiang Baimian looked at the girl and expressed her doubts.

Shang Jianyao smiled clearly and said, “She used something very good to exchange for a piece of braised beef from me.” He immediately sat down and picked up his bowl and chopsticks. “Can we begin?”

“Sure.” Jiang Baimian and Tian Erhe looked at each other.

Shang Jianyao quickly picked up a piece of beef and placed it in his bowl before passing it to the little girl.

The little girl gulped and quickly took it, wanting to stuff the entire piece of beef into her mouth. However, Shang Jianyao took the bowl and chopsticks back at that moment.

The little girl quickly looked up at him, confused and aggrieved.

“Don’t burn yourself,” Shang Jianyao muttered expressionlessly. As he spoke, he pressed his thighs together and placed the bowl there. Then, he held a pair of chopsticks in one hand and tore the large piece of beef into several tiny pieces slowly and seriously.

After doing this, he picked up a piece of beef and brought it to the girl’s mouth.

The little girl’s eyes lit up. She bit it and quickly chewed.

“Does it taste good?” Shang Jianyao watched her finish the small piece of beef.

The girl nodded heavily. “Delicious!”

Shang Jianyao immediately smiled and offered her another piece.

Upon seeing this, Jiang Baimian couldn’t help but sigh. “You...”

As she sighed, she pointed into the distance with her chin.

Shang Jianyao looked up and saw that more than ten to twenty children were in the square where all kinds of houses were hastily built, eagerly approaching with a pile of junk in their arms.

Shang Jianyao’s body suddenly stiffened.

Tian Erhe sighed and turned his head with a smile before roaring. “Go back! All of you!”

The children immediately revealed unconcealed disappointment as they walked back home, turning their heads with every other step.

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