Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 33: First Stop

Chapter 33: First Stop

Amidst the recital that echoed within Moat Town, Long Yuehong opened his mouth. However, he didn’t know what to say. He felt that his feelings were abnormally complicated and indescribable.

None of the four spoke, seemingly listening to the recital attentively until the jeep drove out the gates and sped into the distance.

“What were they reading? I didn’t hear them clearly.” Jiang Baimian looked at the rearview mirror and spoke in a slightly vexed tone.

“Before my bed, there’s a pool of light.” Shang Jianyao repeated the beginning of ‘Quiet Night Thought.’

“Is that so...” Jiang Baimian sighed with emotion, but she didn’t say anything else. She drove seriously, allowing the jeep to drive quietly along the intersecting and hardly distinguishable paths in the swamp.

After they completely left the area, Bai Chen looked ahead and muttered to herself, “Part of the reason I wanted to be an official member of the company is so that I can borrow a lot of books.”

“They aren’t that great...” Long Yuehong—who had lived in Pangu Biology since he was young—didn’t find anything special about them. “Are there no books or libraries in the Old World’s city ruins?”

Bai Chen’s gaze seemed to be cast far away. “Yes, there were many in the beginning. However, I wasn’t born then. Later, many of the books were taken away by large factions or certain people. The rest were used by Ruin Hunters and wilderness nomads as easily combustible fuel for fire. Some were gnawed and torn apart by mice and other animals, leaving them deformed. Only a small number of them can be found and read now.

“There may be a large number of books in the city ruins that have not been explored much. However, those places are too dangerous.”

After a brief silence, Shang Jianyao’s mind raced as he asked, “You can read?”

“Yes, my father and mother taught me. After they died, they even left me a very good teacher.” Bai Chen’s expression gradually softened as the corners of her mouth curled up indiscernibly. However, her eyes were a little unfocused. It was as if she had just woken up from a dream in the middle of the night and was sitting with her arms around her knees, staring blankly out the window.

Jiang Baimian turned her head to glance at Bai Chen before she returned to staring ahead. She then smiled and said, “Can you guys communicate louder? Are you taking advantage of my poor hearing? I’m even wondering if you guys are badmouthing me behind my back.”

Long Yuehong’s heart palpitated as he muttered, “We are saying it in front of you.”

“We are saying it in front of you.” At the same time, Shang Jianyao replied to Jiang Baimian’s accusation.

Long Yuehong felt a little amused. “Haha, how is it? Don’t I know you well? I can keep up with your train of thought!”

“How do you know I didn’t do it on purpose so that you could keep up?” Shang Jianyao didn’t back down at all.

“Not bad. You have to pay attention to the team’s atmosphere whenever you are training in the field. You have to be both serious and lively. Otherwise, it’s very easy for you to end up overly tense. It won’t be long before you crush yourself from the stress.” Jiang Baimian casually evaluated the duo.

“Alright, let’s not talk about this. Let’s discuss Mayor Tian’s experience. Let’s see if we can conclude anything useful from the details of his recount. Uh, I’m mainly referring to the Old World’s destruction.”

Shang Jianyao seemed to have thought about it and immediately said, “Heartless mostly appeared in larger cities; there were virtually none in the villages or towns.”

“The destruction of villages and towns seems more like a combined result of war and geological catastrophes,” Bai Chen added.

Jiang Baimian nodded slightly. “Wars and geological catastrophes might be equivalent. It’s possible that geological weapons appeared before the Old World was destroyed. Of course, this remains unconfirmed. We need to find the corresponding information by exploring certain city ruins.”

Upon hearing this, Long Yuehong thoughtfully asked, “What has the Heartless’s appearance got to do with war? Did their appearance lead to war, or was it war that induced their appearance?”

“There’s no way to answer that. We lack the necessary information.” Jiang Baimian smiled. “This will be the main direction of our work as the Old Task Force.”

She looked down the path, pulled the wheel, and continued to raise questions, guiding the team into thinking about certain topics. “Why do you think the Heartless originally appeared in large cities but almost never appeared in villages or towns?”

“Maybe it’s because a city’s population is denser? Is this an important condition for its spread?” Shang Jianyao replied, combining the definition of a city from the textbooks with his new knowledge.

Bai Chen took another angle and said, “A city is more important, so it’s a main target?”

“That’s possible.” Jiang Baimian did not deny it.

The four of them discussed the corresponding problem for a while. Although they couldn’t come to a conclusion, it broadened their horizons. It gave them clearer ideas on subsequent investigations and the information gathering they would carry out in the future.

As the jeep drove on at an adequate speed, Jiang Baimian raised another question. “What do you think of the fellow that the Ruin Hunters are searching for? The one with black hair and golden eyes that Moat Town’s townsfolk encountered.”

Long Yuehong hissed. “I find him very strange. Not only is his background mysterious, but he’s also very strange. Normally speaking, nobody can obtain a group of people’s admiration when they first meet. Also, there are both men and women involved!”

“Actually, I’m a little curious. I’m curious about his looks and how charming he is.” Jiang Baimian smiled and replied, “However, you’re right. This is indeed quite strange. For people who can create strange phenomena, my first reaction is to categorize them as Awakened.”

“Why?” Shang Jianyao blurted out a question.

Bai Chen did not show any doubts regarding the term Awakened. It was obvious that she knew of such existences.

Jiang Baimian released the accelerator and reduced the speed of the car. “In addition to having bizarre and terrifying abilities, Awakened can also have traits that appear strange and different from normal people. Yes, such traits are the same as their abilities. However, the probability of them being the same is not high.”

“For such an Awakened to appear in the Blackmarsh Wilderness... It’s definitely not just for survival.” Bai Chen looked out the window and stared into the swamp’s depths. “He might be searching for something... There might be considerable secrets hidden deep in the swamp.”

Jiang Baimian nodded. “Indeed. Forget it. Let’s not talk about it. Our route won’t go north of Yuelu Station. Besides, it’s too dangerous to bring two rookies into this obviously abnormal situation. We can only find an opportunity to report it to the company.

“Long Yuehong, Bai Chen, you can rest now. Ah, Bai Chen, don’t be in a rush to sleep. Tell me where to go next...”

“...” Bai Chen glanced at Jiang Baimian, wondering if she was still the unusually reliable team leader from before.

Just like that, the jeep drove through the Blackmarsh Wilderness. When it was almost noon, it stopped at a cement intersection that was overgrown with weeds.

Jiang Baimian opened the door and walked out. She pointed to the left of the jeep and said, “This is the first stop for this field training session.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong alighted from the car and looked in the direction their team leader’s finger pointed in.

There was a fork in the road that led downward. The concrete ground was cracked by clumps of weeds, and almost nothing was intact. On the left of this path was what appeared to be a field, but most of it had been swallowed by the swamp. Many different types of plants grew in the remaining spots. On the right were three buildings that surrounded an open square. One of them had already collapsed, while creepers and other plants covered the remaining two.

At the end of the road was a sizable square. On both sides of the square were more four, five, and six-story buildings. However, there was also a very large, tall single-story building. A portion of the buildings had also collapsed. The rest were mixed with greenery, making it difficult to distinguish them from each other.

At the end of the square stood a two-paned, metal-black door that could allow four jeeps passage. The door was completely open, revealing rows of houses that didn’t look like residential ones.

Behind these houses, in areas that Shang Jianyao and the others couldn’t see, several chimneys—red or grayish-black—extended into the air. It was a rather spectacular sight. Their outer walls were embedded with very crude, iron-black stairs. The higher one went, the sparser the plants in the cracks.

After Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong observed the area for a while, Jiang Baimian explained why she had stopped here. “In the future, our team will inevitably encounter city ruins from the Old World, especially those that few people visit or have yet to be discovered. These city ruins will be somewhat dangerous. Therefore, you have to get used to such places in advance and accumulate some experience.”

Long Yuehong couldn’t help but say, “But this doesn’t look like a city.”

Jiang Baimian laughed. “We definitely have to start with the lowest difficulty. This used to be a steel factory, the kind with a complete social structure. It’s equivalent to a miniature city. Look, the buildings by the side of the road are part of a hospital and radio station.

“Yes, this place has been visited by Ruin Hunters many times. There’s basically nothing of value left. You have two main missions today: First, get some food here. It doesn’t matter if we find something that others haven’t found or if we target the beasts that appear here. The second is to draw a complete map and label all the key areas. How about it? Simple enough, right?”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong didn’t answer because they couldn’t determine if it was simple or difficult with their experience.

Jiang Baimian looked at the steel factory again. “Ruin Hunters often appear here. If you encounter them, you have to learn how to deal with them, interact with them, and exchange for information and supplies.”

“Team Leader, didn’t you say that there’s basically nothing valuable here? Why would Ruin Hunters be here?” Long Yuehong asked in surprise.

Jiang Baimian chuckled. “Isn’t there a saying that goes: ‘Even a rotten ship still has three pounds of nails, much less a large steel factory’? Therefore, if one fails to harvest anything useful elsewhere, they might come here and search. Perhaps they can find something useful. For example, a Ruin Hunter previously dug up the ground and removed a section of the water pipes. He then dragged it back and exchanged it for some food.”

Upon seeing Long Yuehong and Shang Jianyao nod, indicating that they had no more questions, Jiang Baimian turned around and said, “Let’s begin then. Bai Chen and I will stay here and watch the car. If you encounter any trouble that you can’t handle, send a signal for help. If you need guidance, come back within two kilometers of us and use the walkie-talkie.”

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