Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 35: Strange Death

Chapter 35: Strange Death

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong did not react immediately until the people on the two bicycles saw them.

Clang! Clang!

The armed duo immediately abandoned their bicycles and scrambled to hide behind a nearby obstacle.

Upon seeing this scene, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong came to their senses. They no longer raised their assault rifles vigilantly and reflexively. They quickly pounced to the side and used the two pillars at the hospital’s entrance to provide them cover.

The scene instantly became extremely quiet, with only the occasional chirping of birds coming from the distance.

Upon seeing Long Yuehong seemingly raise the walkie-talkie, Shang Jianyao raised his voice and shouted, “We mean no harm!”

After a brief silence, a slightly hoarse voice sounded from the other side as though it was blocked by phlegm. “Neither do we!”

Shang Jianyao immediately replied, “Maybe we can exchange information!”

After a few seconds, someone shouted, “Communicating like this doesn’t seem too convenient!”

“Then let’s get a little closer!” Shang Jianyao suggested loudly without thinking.

The other two conversed in a low voice with the obstacle in the way. However, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong couldn’t hear the exact contents due to the distance.

In less than a minute, the other party replied, “Alright!”

Shang Jianyao turned to Long Yuehong and said, “I’ll take point. You take the rear and have the honors of providing support and protection.”

“Okay.” Long Yuehong released his grip on the gun’s handle and gestured that he was okay with it.

Shang Jianyao did not attempt to make the other party leave their hiding spot. He held his assault rifle and left the pillar step by step, his muscles tense. During this process, he was highly vigilant, prepared to pounce and roll at any moment.

Upon seeing his sincerity, another person appeared on the other side with the same vigilant posture.

This person was in his thirties and about 1.7 meters tall. He wore a slightly shriveled, dirty, dark-blue down jacket with three to four patches. His receding hairline was a testament to his severe baldness. His hair was a pale yellow, and his eyes were light blue. His facial features and contours were relatively deep. An obvious difference between him and people like Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong was that he had Red River ethnicity.

Perhaps a result of him living in the wilderness for too long, his skin had many dry cracks, and his nails were clearly black. The man gripped his rifle tightly and closed the distance between him and Shang Jianyao meter by meter.

After they entered a convenient range for conversation, Long Yuehong and the other person left their hiding spots and moved closer to their respective companions.

“How shall I address you?” Like before, the bald man used the Ashlands language—the mother tongue of Shang Jianyao and the others—as opposed to the Red River language. As he spoke, he didn’t relax and remained highly vigilant.

“Shang Jianyao,” Shang Jianyao replied calmly. “An Official Ruin Hunter. What about you?”

Long Yuehong, who had wanted to answer, heaved a sigh of relief. He was quite afraid that Shang Jianyao would ‘act up’ at such a time. After all, they were not familiar with each other, and not everyone could appreciate or tolerate his ‘humor.’

The bald man thought for a moment and said, “Harris Brown, Intermediate Hunter.” He didn’t show his Hunter badge or get Shang Jianyao to show his. This was because they were in a ruin. Without a special machine to read the information in the chip, it was impossible to determine the badge’s true owner and the corresponding credit rank.

In the wilderness, many people casually registered themselves as a Hunter or obtained the corresponding item from their enemies’ corpses. Just having a badge didn’t mean anything. The technique of engraving a name on a badge was too primitive and very easy to imitate. Most importantly, the person holding the badge could simply report the name on the badge without using their real name.

Harris Brown and Shang Jianyao’s conversation was actually closer to ‘small talk’ to ease the atmosphere.

Shang Jianyao looked at Harris Brown’s companion and realized that it was a woman. She was more than 1.60 meters tall and had average facial features. Her flaxen hair cascaded down to her shoulders naturally. She wore a beige beret that was relatively clean.

“You don’t seem to have obtained anything?” Shang Jianyao turned his gaze back to Harris Brown.

Harris Brown replied without a smile. “I was just passing by and casually spent some time trying. It’s very normal not to find anything. In this ruin, it’s very difficult to obtain supplies without suitable equipment. Is it your first time here?”

“Yes.” Shang Jianyao frankly replied before asking, “Did you guys also take on that mission of finding the black-haired, golden-eyed fellow?”

Harris Brown nodded slightly. “I’ll give you a piece of advice that needs payment: Give up on this mission. It hasn’t been peaceful north of Yuelu Station recently.”

“Is it related to the anomaly in the swamp’s depths? All of you heard the roars that night, right?” Shang Jianyao pressed.

Harris Brown’s expression gradually turned solemn. “Yes, we were north of Yuelu Station back then. After dawn, we continued forward. We discovered several corpses—people that had obviously just died a few hours ago.

“These corpses didn’t have any fatal wounds, but their expressions were distorted. Some showed pain, some were filled with fear, and some seemed to be laughing. Their smiles were terrifying.”

Long Yuehong felt a chill run down his spine, and his scalp tingled. However, this feeling was quickly washed away by Shang Jianyao’s question.

“There were no fatal wounds... What about clothes? Did they still have clothes?”

What the hell is that question... Long Yuehong couldn’t help but criticize Shang Jianyao inwardly.

Harris Brown’s expression froze slightly. “No. Someone clearly discovered the corpses before we did and took away all their items.”

“Professional,” Shang Jianyao praised, making Harris Brown feel like he couldn’t keep up with the conversation.

Harris Brown then took a silent breath and continued. “Sigh, they didn’t even let go of a strand of hair. Otherwise, I could have gotten myself a wig. In short, we gave up the mission and headed straight back after we saw those corpses. We didn’t dare rest much. We just arrived here an hour ago.”

“That’s pretty fast,” Shang Jianyao casually commented.

Harris Brown didn’t turn his head. “We were on bikes, so we could use some of the small trails in the swamp. However, cars and motorcycles won’t be able to pass through them and can only take detours.”

Shang Jianyao nodded slightly. “Final question. Are there any other Ruin Hunters or wilderness nomads here?”

“There are a few. However, considering your equipment, they won’t provoke you as long as you don’t launch an attack on them.” Harris Brown’s head reflected a little light as he stood under the sun.

Shang Jianyao seemed to be in thought as he asked, “What if we didn’t have these weapons?”

Harris Brown’s face suddenly distorted. “In the Ashlands, being weak is a sin.” His eyes became a little fierce, revealing some unconcealed hate.

Without waiting for Shang Jianyao to ask again, he exhaled and restored his expression to normal. “It’s my turn to ask. This is the payment for the advice I just gave.”

He actually didn’t expect Shang Jianyao to give a definite answer or go back on his word. After all, the information contained in his advice wasn’t too valuable because many Ruin Hunters that had pulled out of the mission had more or less discovered something abnormal.

Besides, more than a day had passed. Furthermore, it would take at least a day to reach north of Yuelu Station. At this rate, even if Harris didn’t give them any advice and allowed the two people opposite them to go, they might not be able to make it in time.

“Can I use another form of payment?” Shang Jianyao released his left hand, which was holding the assault rifle’s magazine—and reached into his pocket.

“It depends.” Harris Brown and his companion suddenly raised their guard, afraid that Shang Jianyao would take out something dangerous.

Shang Jianyao quickly took out two small bags of compressed biscuits and showed them. This was supposed to be part of his lunch in the factory ruins.

“...Excellent. You’re very generous.” Harris Brown didn’t expect him to be willing to pay with food. The biscuits were barely enough for them to settle a meal.

Shang Jianyao immediately threw the two small bags of compressed biscuits over.

Harris Brown and his companion didn’t pick them up, allowing the two small bags of compressed biscuits to fall to the ground. They were afraid that the other two would fire as they caught the biscuits.

“Let’s chat later.” Shang Jianyao smiled as though he was bidding farewell to a good friend.

He and Long Yuehong immediately walked towards the steelworks factory ruins’ entrance. They didn’t let down their guard against Harris Brown and his companion.

It was the same for the other party.

After sufficient distance was between the two parties—such that even a sharpshooter couldn’t hit them—Harris Brown got his companion to pick up the compressed biscuits and pushed their bicycles over.

After watching the duo leave the ruins on their bicycles, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong looked around the square beyond the door with their assault rifles.

“It should be the residential area outside. Shall we search this place or inside?” Long Yuehong asked hesitantly.

Shang Jianyao didn’t look at the ‘green’ buildings that had collapsed or were dilapidated on both sides of the square. He pointed at the door and said, “Let’s go inside first and figure out the basic layout.”

“Alright.” Long Yuehong didn’t object.

They then passed through the iron-black door that could accommodate multiple cars.

Long Yuehong looked back and sighed. “It seems like Ruin Hunters have limits. This door wasn’t removed and moved away.”

Shang Jianyao looked over. “Maybe it’s not worth it.”

They didn’t say anything else and walked deeper into the steelworks factory along the wide but tattered road.

On the right side of this place was a row of very tall, unoccupied, and spacious individual rooms. Furthermore, they were not like the ones in the outpatient department. Walls separated these small rooms. There was only a pillar in the middle as a dividing line.

In some of the rooms that did not have walls to their left or right, they could see grooves that allowed people to stand or lie down.

“What is this place?” Long Yuehong asked in confusion.

Shang Jianyao shook his head. “I don’t know. However, don’t you think it would be very convenient to repair the bottom of a car while standing in those grooves?”

“This is a repair area? The space beside us is equivalent to a garage?” Long Yuehong came to a realization. “Remember to label it later.”

On the left of the road was a putrid pond, a small cluster of trees, and a small building hidden deep in the greenery.

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong temporarily ignored these places and walked deeper into the factory area.

Before long, they arrived near the towering ‘chimneys.’ They saw many steel frameworks and rugged buildings erected around them.

Large iron-black pipes that resembled dragons slid down from the ‘chimney’ to different areas at not very steep angles.

These pipes were not sealed. They seemed to be the remaining half after being sliced perpendicularly.

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong entered the area and walked up and down the road, traversing the rusted steel forest.

An incomplete guardrail soon appeared at the edge of the road. Outside was a pool filled with rainwater, but it was unknown what it was used for.

As this place was shielded from the sun’s rays from above, it made the surroundings appear very gloomy and dark. In addition, there was no sound—only silence. Long Yuehong’s heart palpitated as he walked.

He couldn’t help but say, “Wasn’t it said that there are other Ruin Hunters here? Why haven’t we encountered any of them?”

Shang Jianyao glanced at him. “It doesn’t seem auspicious to say such things at a time like this.”

Just as he said that, a sudden clang sounded from high above.

A black figure quickly fell. After colliding with the steel frame and the parts that extended from the building a few times, the figure heavily landed not far in front of them.

It was human. His body had already been damaged, and blood rapidly flowed out.

At this moment, the crashing sound still echoed in the area. It had not completely subsided.

Before Long Yuehong and Shang Jianyao could react, they saw a figure walking over from the corner of the road ahead.

This figure was slightly taller than Shang Jianyao. ‘His’ entire body was made of black metal. ‘His’ left arm was equipped with a grenade launcher, and ‘his’ right palm contained a flamethrower’s nozzle and a laser firing hole.

‘He’ was wearing a tattered, yellow monk’s robe and a large red kasaya. On his face was a pair of shimmering red eyes.

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