Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 49: On-Scene

Chapter 49: On-Scene

Jiang Baimian stopped when she approached the cave entrance. She turned around and ordered Long Yuehong, who was wearing the exoskeleton, “Stay and guard this place.”

She thought for a moment and added, “Look beyond the woods more often. If the jeep is lost, Bai Chen and I will be fine, but the two of you will have some ‘enjoyment’ awaiting you. There are many things that humans can accept and adapt to if things progress in difficulty one step at a time. However, if it becomes hellishly difficult all of a sudden, most creatures will break down.”

“Yes, Team Leader!” Long Yuehong was not disappointed that he could not enter Blackrat Town. Instead, he heaved a sigh of relief.

From the deaths of the Blackrat Town residents outside, he seemed able to foresee the tragic situation in the cave. He suspected that it would deal a strong blow to his mind, leaving behind psychological trauma that needed treatment.

After giving Long Yuehong instructions, Jiang Baimian turned around, bent down, and walked into the 1.4-meter-high hole.

Bai Chen and Shang Jianyao each held their weapons and followed behind, one on the left and one on the right. However, one had to bend his back while bending his knees greatly, making it a little difficult to walk. The other walked with relative ease.

They did not observe the situation outside before entering as taught in training manuals. Instead, they trusted their team leader’s sensitivity to weak electric signals.

In this regard, Jiang Baimian had already demonstrated sufficient reliability.

The cave entrance was still illuminated by the daylight, barely allowing them to see their surroundings. But the deeper they went, the darker it became. It became so dark that they couldn’t even see their fingers.

At this moment, Jiang Baimian took out a flashlight—which had a silver-white outer shell and a clear granular feel. She then pushed the switch on.

A yellowish light beam shot out, illuminating a certain area ahead. Coupled with the natural light from the entrance, Shang Jianyao could vaguely see the scene in front of him.

This cave was still considered wide. The deeper parts were still covered in darkness, making it impossible to see the end.

The stone pillars—which had originally formed naturally—had mostly snapped. Covering the ground were many rocks, moss, and dust that fell from the ceiling.

Centered around the spot illuminated by Jiang Baimian’s flashlight were traces of scorch marks on the ground, which radiated outwards.

In the innermost potholes closest to the flashlight’s origin, there were no intact corpses to speak off—only countless charred pieces of flesh and blood mixed in with the rocks and soil.

In the middle circle of potholes, short corpses lay prone. Their bodies were charred black, and they were dismembered in many areas. Their deaths were tragic.

As Jiang Baimian moved the flashlight, Shang Jianyao saw what had happened beyond the central circle and near the cave’s rock walls.

Corpses of Blackrat Town’s residents laid on the ground in various states. However, their bodies were basically intact. There were only certain burn marks. In addition, some thick black hair remained.

Some corpses did not have any obvious external injuries, while some had terrifying bullet wounds on their backs and chests. Many of them were also shirtless.

In the cave that Shang Jianyao’s gaze landed on—apart from small pieces of porcelain, clay bowls, and mud bowls—nothing was left behind.

There was no need for anyone to explain such a scene. Shang Jianyao and Bai Chen instantly understood a fact: Blackrat Town had been massacred.

Jiang Baimian silently looked around and sighed. “It might be a thermobaric round fired from a shoulder-held, man-portable combat weapon... Those who didn’t die on the spot were killed with an additional shot. Very professional.”

The thermobaric round was a combination of high explosive rounds and fuel-air explosives. They were mainly used to kill enemies in cramped spaces such as caves and underground bunkers.

After a thermobaric round exploded, it would exhaust the surrounding oxygen and release a large amount of energy, producing a rapidly expanding fireball. This fireball would be accompanied by a high-pressure shockwave that swept through the tight space, killing the enemy and destroying equipment with maximum impact.

For Blackrat Town—which only had a 1.4-meter-high entrance—it was clearly not a wise choice to rush in and fight the residents, who were accustomed to such an environment. The best solution was to fire thermobaric rounds and various explosives directly inside.

Bai Chen tried her best to calm down and replied simply, “Not many teams have such explosives; not even some large factions.”

Although she was formerly an experienced wilderness nomad and was accustomed to fighting and killing, this was the first time she had seen a town—a settlement—get massacred.

The corpses and ground meat that covered the ground filled her with indescribable shock and horror, even though they were Subhumans.

In any case, apart from their height, nails, and body hair, the residents of Blackrat Town were almost no different from normal humans.

Bai Chen had actually seen settlements that had been massacred, but she had seen the devastation a long time after the tragedy had happened. Apart from a small number of bones and dilapidated houses—which were already uninhabited—there were little traces of anything left.

Jiang Baimian nodded. “Take out your flashlights and split up to search for clues. Maybe, just maybe, there are a few survivors?”

Shang Jianyao immediately removed the flashlight and the standard Ice Moss pistol from his belt. He used one hand to illuminate the area and held the gun with the other as he walked to the edge.

He didn’t believe that there would be any survivors at the center of the explosion or its surroundings.

As he examined the corpses, Shang Jianyao saw a woman curled up with her back facing him.

This woman still had clothes on. Her hands and feet were folded as if she was tightly hugging something and pressing it under her.

The corpse’s thick black hair could be vaguely seen on its back. There was a wound where dark-red blood had congealed. It was obvious that someone had shot the woman to ensure she was dead.

Shang Jianyao—who was already bending down—squatted down and used the flashlight as a pole to flip the Blackrat Town resident’s corpse over.

As the beam of light shook, Shang Jianyao saw a little girl.

She was wearing a very old but relatively clean white dress. The adult woman tightly wrapped her arms around this little girl. At first glance, she didn’t appear to be injured at all.

Shang Jianyao placed the flashlight on the ground and tried to check the little girl’s condition, but he couldn’t pry apart the adult woman’s hand.

After giving up on this instinctive attempt, Shang Jianyao saw that the little girl’s face was purple. There were traces of dark-red blood flowing out from the areas that were tightly pressed against the adult woman’s chest and abdomen.

He then used his finger to see if the little girl was breathing and felt her temperature.

A few seconds later, he slowly retracted his palm.

After he had flipped over the two corpses tightly hugging each other, Shang Jianyao quickly discovered a depression that extended deep into the juncture between the cave’s walls and ground with his flashlight. There were obvious fingernail scratches on the depression.

Upon seeing this depression, Shang Jianyao seemed to see what happened back then: During the enemy’s attack, a woman from Blackrat Town was anxiously using her talent at digging to create a refuge space for her child.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t faster than a bomb.

Shang Jianyao reached out to touch the depression and realized that there was a small naturally-formed hole. There seemed to be a cold, unknown object in the hole.

Shang Jianyao took it out.

With the flashlight’s help, he realized that this item was a black, rectangular object—which was slightly longer than his middle finger.

Above this item was a mini display that resembled liquid crystal. In the middle were a few buttons, and below them was a speaker covered by mesh.

Shang Jianyao had studied electronics in university, so it was naturally not difficult for him to determine what this broken, old object was.

This was a recording pen from the Old World, a recording pen that had been repaired and modified by Blackrat Town’s residents.

Perhaps it had fallen into the depression previously, or maybe it was because it was quite far from the explosion’s center and was blocked by a body, but there were no signs of damage on the electronic equipment.

Shang Jianyao crouched on one knee and studied the object for a while before pressing a certain button.

Amidst gunshots and all kinds of chaos, a young voice asked in fear and confusion, “Mommy! Mommy, why are they killing us?”

A slightly hoarse and trembling voice replied, “Because we’re Subhumans.”

The young voice asked, “What’s a Subhuman?”

The slightly hoarse voice fell silent for a few seconds before it replied, “T-they are people who are sick.”

The young voice became even more confused. “But Mommy, are they going to kill us just because we’re sick? I-I know how to fix electronic equipment. I’m very useful...”

The gunshots suddenly closed in as if the enemies had arrived at the cave entrance. The sound of an object crashing to the ground was heard immediately after, and the recording stopped.

Shang Jianyao listened in silence before casting his gaze at the two corpses again.

Be it the adult woman or the girl, their faces didn’t have thick black hair. There were clear signs of shaving, and they looked clean. This was the same for many female employees of Pangu Biology.

This recording was rather loud. Jiang Baimian and Bai Chen—who were walking in different directions deeper inside—heard it relatively clearly.

They also became abnormally silent. Nobody spoke or moved for a long time.

After a while, Jiang Baimian slowly exhaled. “Continue searching for clues.”

Shang Jianyao solemnly placed the recording pen in his pocket. He then picked up the flashlight and stood up with his back bent.

As the beam of light swept the area, he saw some words on the cave wall.

These words were in the Ashlands language and had clearly been around for many years. Many parts of the words had long become indistinct, so they clearly weren’t left behind by Blackrat Town’s residents when they were attacked.

Shang Jianyao swept the flashlight over and carefully read the words for about ten seconds before finally recognizing a few words.

“...I was here...”

“...Jin and... forever together...”

At this moment, Jiang Baimian seemed to have seen something similar. She waved the flashlight and sighed with emotion. “This seems to be a scenic spot before the Old World was destroyed? Who would be willing to come somewhere this cramped?”

After saying that, she stared at the rock wall for a long time.

After a while, Jiang Baimian finally looked away and searched for any possible clues.

About ten minutes later, the three of them met at the cave entrance, where there was natural light.

Jiang Baimian said regretfully, “The people of Blackrat Town had previously dug out two escape routes. Unfortunately, the thermobaric round or other similar explosives are just too fast.”

“The attackers didn’t leave behind any clues,” Bai Chen replied.

Jiang Baimian shook her head. “It’s not that the attackers didn’t leave any behind, but that they had deliberately spent some time wiping away the clues after the battle ended.”

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