Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 32: Review

Chapter 32: Review

In the dead of night, the winds were cold, and the rain was harsh. The entire town seemed to have been swallowed by the darkness, with only a few scattered lights shining through.

The clamor, noise, and all kinds of mixed smells quickly vanished, allowing Shang Jianyao to sense a silence, which made him feel like he was isolated from the world.

As it rained around the wooden shed, a few town guards patrolled the areas that were under shelter. The others put on dark raincoats and large woven bags that they had prepared beforehand and walked back and forth on the wall’s wooden structure.

From the light bulbs’ illumination, the raindrops looked like disconnected strings of pearls. They were densely packed together and came in droves.

“They originally had two diesel generators here, but one broke down and couldn’t be repaired, no matter how hard we tried. Well, for settlements in the wilderness, the lack of electricity isn’t too serious. Food, clothes, weapons, and clean water are the most important resources,” Bai Chen casually said.

Jiang Baimian smiled and added, “Can you speak louder? Yes, food and clean water determine whether you can survive. Clothes determine whether you will freeze to death or fall sick while weapons determine whether others will leave you food, clothes, and clean water.”

She looked around and saw the rain falling heavily. She clapped her hands and said, “We’ll repair the jeep tomorrow morning. We’ll have our first field training class tonight. We need to review our battle today and summarize our experience and lessons. Everyone has to take themselves as the lead and describe their choices and experiences back then. Bai Chen, you first.”

As a nomad who had not joined Pangu Biology for long and had never participated in wilderness field training like this, Bai Chen never imagined that there would be an after-action review. She hesitated for a moment, clearly not prepared. However, she did not object to it. The reason she could wander the wilderness for so many years and still live well was not only because of the help she received, but also because she often reflected on her mistakes.

After organizing her words, she began reviewing every detail she remembered from the moment she met the Ruin Hunters, who were part-time bandits.

She was followed by Shang Jianyao, then Long Yuehong, and finally Jiang Baimian.

After Jiang Baimian had finished, she looked at Shang Jianyao and said, “Your choice to take the initiative to shoot the two motorcycles was very decisive, but it was also very reckless. If not...” She paused and said, “If not for your good luck, the chances of you dying would have been high.”

Upon saying that, she smiled slightly. “However, luck is also considered a type of strength. You have to balance the two and try your best to increase your chances.”

Shang Jianyao was a little confused at first, but he then nodded thoughtfully to indicate his approval of his team leader’s words.

Long Yuehong felt that Jiang Baimian’s last few words were a joke. He didn’t think too much about them and raised his greatest doubts with a frown. “Team Leader, you just said that the bandit leader in the exoskeleton suit was killed by us because he made a mistake in his judgment and wasn’t careful enough.

“So how should we deal with a person wearing an exoskeleton that doesn’t make such big mistakes?”

Jiang Baimian looked at Long Yuehong. “Why do you think there’s a solution? The fact that one doesn’t make any major mistakes means that the person wearing the exoskeleton is relatively experienced. Their physical fitness also won’t be a problem. When such a person is combined with an exoskeleton, they will be killing machines even on real battlefields. They will be the best of the best.

“How can we defeat such an enemy when we lack the numbers and don’t have any heavy weapons? All we had was a grenade launcher, which we didn’t have the chance to use. Don’t you think you are underestimating a military-grade exoskeleton?”

“Then, doesn’t that mean...” Long Yuehong realized that he had really been walking on the edge of hell.

Jiang Baimian looked around and said, “The best time to deal with such an enemy is before they wear the exoskeleton. If you don’t grasp this opportunity, flee from them before they can close the distance. A military-grade exoskeleton isn’t much faster than a high-speed jeep. Some models might even be a little slower, and their endurance will be worse.

“Unfortunately, we encountered anomalous terrain and fought a Blackmarsh Iron Snake beforehand. We did not have any advantage in any aspect. Frankly, it can be deemed a hopeless situation. He obviously couldn’t bear to waste too much energy or destroy his war spoils. He was also being too calculative. This led to him hesitating. Otherwise, half of us would have died in the first round of attacks—perhaps more.”

Long Yuehong’s face turned pale when he heard this, and he gained a deeper understanding of the Ashlands’s danger. Shang Jianyao and Bai Chen listened attentively, clearly sensing that Jiang Baimian was not done.

Jiang Baimian tersely acknowledged something. “Before Shang Jianyao killed the motorcyclist and agitated that fellow, I had two plans. The first plan was to surrender immediately to close the distance. I have the means to counterattack as long as I enter a certain range, even if I’m seriously injured and unable to move.”

After saying that, she smirked. “The biggest problem with this plan is that Bai Chen and I have a high chance of surviving and becoming captives. At the very least, we will be temporary captives. As for the two of you... it was very likely that both of you will be directly shot to death unless one of them prefers men.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s expressions instantly became complicated.

Upon seeing their reactions, Jiang Baimian said in a good mood, “The second plan is to use that fellow’s overly apprehensive attitude to devise a trap so that he can’t dodge in advance. As long as he doesn’t dodge in advance, I have a high chance of hitting his unprotected vital spots.”

“What kind of trap?” Long Yuehong blurted out a question.

Jiang Baimian looked at him for two seconds before she shrugged. “I haven’t thought of one yet.”

“...” Long Yuehong’s and Shang Jianyao’s facial muscles twitched slightly.

Jiang Baimian immediately acted up. “It happened so suddenly, so how could I have thought out of a plan so quickly? Things also changed while I was still thinking. There was no need for me to waste my brain juices further!”

She then turned her head to look at Bai Chen, who was listening quietly. “What do you have to add?”

Bai Chen thought for a moment before saying, “Most bandits in the wilderness have the goal of plundering supplies, not killing people. If there’s really no other choice, I’d consider giving up the jeep and the supplies inside. For example, I’ll make the unmanned vehicle rush into the swamp. This way, I can draw their attention away. I’ll then take the opportunity to hide elsewhere in the swamp.

“In many places in the Great Swamp, humans can barely traverse it with difficulty. However, it won’t do for those wearing exoskeletons because of their excessive weight.”

Jiang Baimian nodded in satisfaction after hearing that. “That’s right. This is the difference in perspective between wilderness nomads and people from large factions when it comes to handling the same matter. Have you guys learned anything?”

Clap! Clap! Clap!

Shang Jianyao didn’t miss the opportunity to clap. Even Long Yuehong subconsciously clapped.

What am I doing... Long Yuehong quickly reacted and awkwardly replied, “I’ve learned something, but I still have to digest and absorb it slowly.”

After reviewing the battle during the day, the four of them split up into teams like yesterday. As teams of two, they took turns guarding the area.

As it had just rained, the weather was much colder than the night before. The charcoal that Tian Erhe provided free of charge was also limited. They took out thick cotton coats from the trunk and wrapped them around themselves.

Rain poured down, washing away all things in the darkness. It did not stop until the sky gradually lit up.

Moat Town had a mature, working drainage system. There was no flooding because of it, but the ground remained wet. Some of the soil had even turned muddy.

Bai Chen drank some water and finished the compressed biscuits. She then began to swap the jeep’s parts and carried out a relatively simple repair.

At this moment, Tian Erhe walked over in the thin morning fog and asked with a smile, “Bai, can you fix it? If you can fix it, we’ll take the light machine guns and the motorcycle.”

Bai Chen didn’t turn around and raised her hand to indicate an affirmative. “Sure.”

Tian Erhe immediately called out to the town guards around him. “Come, move that machine gun. Aiyah, I feel like you guys have given me too much. Why don’t I throw in a tent for you guys?”

“Sure.” Jiang Baimian had no objections.

Tian Erhe only saw the Blackmarsh Iron Snake’s outer skin on the jeep’s roof at this moment. “This...” His eyes widened.” Did you guys kill this? ”

When the jeep came in yesterday, it was already dark due to the dark clouds. They did not clearly see what was tied to the top of the vehicle and thought that it was a black tent.

Following Tian Erhe’s gaze, the surrounding town guards saw the snakeskin that imposed an oppressive pressure on them.

“Blackmarsh Iron Snake...” Someone muttered this nightmarish name.

Jiang Baimian chuckled. “This fellow is too big. We could only skin him.”

The townsfolk fell silent, so silent that Jiang Baimian felt a little awkward. Since she had nothing to do, she looked at the town—which was beginning to bustle—and asked, “Mayor, can we walk around and take a look?”

“Be our guests. Where do you want to go? I’ll bring you there.” Tian Erhe adjusted the hat on his head. “Why don’t we visit the classroom? Weren’t you guys interested in our classes?”

Under the bright morning light, the wrinkles on his face became increasingly striking and deep.

“Sure.” Jiang Baimian turned to Shang Jianyao and said, “Follow me. Long Yuehong, help Bai Chen keep an eye on the surroundings.”

Shang Jianyao did not refuse. He followed Jiang Baimian and Tian Erhe to the three buildings.

On the way, they passed by the haphazardly-built residential area. They saw holes in some of the walls, which could only be blocked with wood and dry grass. They saw some townsfolk drink a ladle of cold water before they rushed to the fields behind the town. They saw a tent that had turned damp from the rain last night and seemed to be leaking water. They saw jaundiced, thin people in tattered clothes running in different directions.

After passing through this place, they arrived at the town square, which was paved in cement. The flagpole remained standing, but there was no flag.

Shang Jianyao and Jiang Baimian continued forward with Tian Erhe. They circled around the first building and entered the building on the left. They then went up to the third floor.

On one side was an aisle with a railing, and on the other side was a small room. It had sufficient light and excellent ventilation.

After taking a few steps, Tian Erhe led the two of them to a relatively large room.

Through the bright and clean glass window, Shang Jianyao and Jiang Baimian saw more than twenty tables and chairs. The aisles were very narrow, and the gaps were very small.

At this moment, more than twenty children—all less than ten years old—were wearing all kinds of tattered and dirty clothes. They sat behind tables and chairs, looked up at the podium, and listened attentively to the teacher’s lecture.

Some of their bodies trembled slightly as if they were still not accustomed to the early morning’s cold. Some of them had their younger brothers and sisters hanging down their chests in swaddling clothes. From time to time, they had to coax the baby.

The children were of both genders, and all looked different. However, their backs were very straight as they sat upright.

Shang Jianyao looked over and saw their timetable on the wall. “Morning exercise... General knowledge... Language ... Mathematics... History...”

“These are the secondary school students,” Tian Erhe introduced in a lowered voice as if he did not want to disturb the children inside.

Jiang Baimian stared at the scene for a few seconds before tersely acknowledging his words. “Let’s go. Don’t disturb them.”

After touring Moat Town with Tian Erhe, the two of them returned to the wooden shed. Bai Chen had already finished repairing the jeep.

As there wasn’t much food in Moat Town, nor did they have sufficient meat, Jiang Baimian didn’t attempt to make any further transactions. She said to Tian Erhe, “Mayor, we have to go.”

Tian Erhe nodded gently. “I hope we can meet again.”

“Yes.” Jiang Baimian smiled and nodded.

“We will,” Bai Chen replied at the same time.

They quickly packed their things and got into the jeep. Jiang Baimian was the one driving.

As the jeep slowly drove toward the gate that led to the barbed wire, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong looked at the area filled with haphazardly-built buildings.

The residents there had already gone to the fields or gone out hunting, leaving only a few people at home. This made the area appear increasingly decrepit with signs of decline.

In the silence, Shang Jianyao and the others suddenly heard a regular and young voice coming from the building in the depths. “Before my bed, there’s a pool of light... I wonder if it’s frost on the ground. Looking up, I find the moon bright. Then bowing my head, I drown in homesickness.”

Note 1: The poem above was derived from Li Bai’s “Quiet Night Thought.”

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