Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 50: Clues

Chapter 50: Clues

Translator: CKtalon

Seemingly in thought when he heard this, Shang Jianyao said, “Ruthless, swift, and clean. Was this a premeditated act of vengeance?”

In his opinion, it might not be revenge, but it was definitely premeditated and targeted.

Jiang Baimian looked at the sunlit cave entrance and thought for a moment. “Not necessarily. It’s also possible that Blackrat Town’s residents had their cave exposed due to some reason. Whether it’s their Subhuman identity or the weapons, ammunition, and food for winter that they had exchanged for from the company, it’s enough to attract strong malicious intent.

“The attackers probably didn’t think of hiding their identities or eliminating traces in the beginning because having a thermobaric round is a relatively obvious characteristic. Perhaps, they discovered the radio transmitter while searching for supplies after the battle. Only then did they suspect that Blackrat Town had established a connection with a major faction and was a vassal. Then, they hastily cleaned up the battlefield in order to prevent any vengeful retaliation.”

Bai Chen couldn’t determine if the matter was premeditated or if it had happened by chance. She could only give a relatively obvious conclusion from her point of view. “Let’s not consider the motives first. What we can barely confirm now is: First, the attacker’s team has an above-average level of order. Otherwise, it would be impossible for them to clean up the battlefield so thoroughly without leaving us any clues. This basically eliminates the possibility that they were a mixture of bandits that came together at the last minute.

“Second, the fact that they have a thermobaric round and individual combat weapons means that the attacker’s team is above-average in strength. They won’t be too unknown.”

Upon seeing that Shang Jianyao seemed a little confused, Bai Chen added, “In the Ashlands, there are very few teams that hide their strength. Only by fully displaying one’s strength can they leave their followers and their enemies around them in awe; thus, allowing them to monopolize sufficient resources.

“In this regard, perhaps only large factions, lone rangers, and teams of a few people are exceptions. However, the vast majority of the former were established one bullet and one gun at a time. Only when their strength reaches a certain level will they carry out some strategic concealment. As for the latter two types, they typically do not hide their strength during battles. They will only effectively do some concealment when there are fewer witnesses.”

Jiang Baimian tersely acknowledged Bai Chen’s words. “In addition, we can deduce one detail from the current situation: The attackers are at least 20 strong, no—more than 30. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to finish off the guards on the outskirts of Blackrat Town so quickly. They also wouldn’t have been able to make Blackrat Town’s residents voluntarily retreat into their caves without attempting to counterattack and only consider using the backup tunnels to retreat.”

Shang Jianyao couldn’t help but nod. This reasoning seemed simple, but he had failed to come to such conclusions.

With Blackrat Town’s 200 to 300-strong population and the various weapons provided by Pangu Biology, they could’ve easily counterattacked if the number of attackers was lacking, even if the other party was relatively well-equipped.

“Yes.” Bai Chen looked at the area that was not illuminated by the flashlight. “From the gunshot wounds on some of the corpses, the attackers’ weapons are relatively varied. It’s almost impossible to eliminate a large faction’s army. Of course, it might be possible that the attacker delivered a second shot to create such an illusion. But a large faction’s army is not afraid of revenge, so they have no need to do so.”

Shang Jianyao gradually got used to such discussions and began to join in. “We can also exclude slave hunters. To them, the most valuable thing is the population. Slaughtering everyone in Blackrat Town isn’t their style.”

Jiang Baimian casually said, “That’s right. Even Subhumans can mine, especially Blackrat Town’s residents; they are good in this regard. Even if one can’t get over their psychological bias and are afraid of infection or mutations, they can still be segregated from ordinary mining slaves. They can be divided into individual teams and be monitored from a distance with long-range weapons.”

She then asked, “Is there anything else?”

Shang Jianyao thought for a moment and said, “The attacker’s team might not have more than 30 people—I mean core members. They can completely surround dozens of vassal members with seven to eight core members. In any case, it doesn’t matter as long as they appear mighty. After the battle ends, these seven to eight core members can either do the wiping of traces themselves or supervise others. This can also achieve very good results.”

Jiang Baimian nodded in satisfaction. “We can’t rule out that possibility. After combining what was said before and considering the conversation in the recording pen, we can preliminarily outline some of the attackers’ characteristics.

“The first possibility is that they are a human team consisting of more than 30 people. They have a reputation and are ruthless and experienced. They have relatively powerful equipment, such as thermobaric rounds and individual combat weapons. They don’t belong to or aren’t affiliated with large factions. At present, they aren’t lacking in food.

“The second possibility involves less than ten core members and a large number of vassal members or teams that they were cooperating with.”

After summarizing, the corners of Jiang Baimian’s mouth curled up slightly. However, there was no hint of a smile. “For the first possibility, although there are many similar teams in the Ashlands, there definitely aren’t many of them. The ones nearby and those who have been around recently aren’t unknown. As long as we have more contact with the wilderness nomads and Ruin Hunters around us, we should be able to filter out the main suspects quickly. Then, we can investigate them one by one.

“The second possibility is that they consist of vassals and cooperative teams. This means that there are many things that can’t be truly kept confidential. Word will get out with so many people. Additionally, apart from the resources they will use for themselves, the remaining resources obtained will be traded away. These are all clues.

“Oh right! Later, search the area around this hill carefully. If it’s the second scenario, we can’t rule out the possibility that the seven to eight core members will kill their vassals and collaborators to keep this a secret.”

As she spoke, Jiang Baimian walked to the hole and muttered, “Seriously, why don’t you guys discuss it outside? Don’t you feel uncomfortable bending your backs and knees while talking here?”

Shang Jianyao was still slightly immersed in the shock of Blackrat Town being completely slaughtered. He didn’t expect Jiang Baimian to have returned to normal—at least on the surface. He had no choice but to follow quickly.

After arriving outside and informing Long Yuehong of the general situation, Shang Jianyao took the initiative to ask, “Team Leader, what should we do next? Apart from searching the surrounding areas to see if there are any traces of silencing, that is.”

Jiang Baimian looked back at the cave. “This is a major event. Isn’t there an emergency flare in the car? Fire it to let the company know that something has happened here. Yes, we have to head somewhere higher. This way, the subsidiary factions in different areas will see the flare and send a telegram, even if the company’s peripheral sentry posts fail to discover it due to the distance.”

“This will probably attract many wilderness nomads, bandits, and Ruin Hunters over...” Bai Chen looked at Blackrat Town’s entrance worriedly.

Jiang Baimian nodded slightly. “That’s true. For those who want to stock up on winter food, this is good meat. It will be a great harvest if they wash, marinate, and dry them.”

“Team Leader, you make it sound so scary...” Long Yuehong couldn’t help but take a deep breath.

Jiang Baimian glanced at him. “I said that on purpose so that you and Shang Jianyao can get used to it as soon as possible. This is to prevent both of you from being incapable of recovering from the shock when witnessing such a scene with your own eyes. Heh, the chances of encountering such things in the Ashlands are not low.”

She didn’t say anything else regarding this. After some thought, Jiang Baimian said, “Let’s do this. We’ll go to the neighboring hill or the top of the hill and release a signal flare to lure the Ruin Hunters and wilderness nomads in that direction.

“Blackrat Town is the company’s only partner in this area. As long as it doesn’t exceed the corresponding range, the emergency flare will make these scavengers think of Blackrat Town very quickly, no matter where it is fired.

As she spoke, Jiang Baimian looked at Long Yuehong—who was wearing the exoskeleton. “Look for relatively larger boulders. Move them here and block the cave entrance. Oh right, we have to block the backup tunnels as well. This way, we can prevent wild beasts from coming over due to the smell and destroying the traces. It also prevents Ruin Hunters and wilderness nomads from immediately discovering the cave when they search the area. Yes, it will be relatively difficult to remove the obstruction with the equipment they have, even if they discover it. As for the company, we have professional personnel.”

Long Yuehong easily understood his team leader’s words and began searching for boulders that far exceeded the human body’s limits and required an exoskeleton to move.

After bringing the corpses outside the cave back to Blackrat Town, Jiang Baimian, Shang Jianyao, and the others cleaned the traces of blood as they watched Long Yuehong—who wore an iron-black metal skeleton—transport the boulders over. They first blocked the backup tunnels before sealing the cave entrance.

“Alright, let’s go back to the jeep and release the signal flare elsewhere.” Jiang Baimian stared at the pile of boulders for a few seconds before turning around to leave.

When she was about to get into the car, she paused and turned around. “After we release the signal flare, we’ll find a hiding place nearby to camp at. After that, we have to stay here to prevent any accidents or the scene’s destruction until the company’s personnel arrive. In addition, we can also submit the information regarding the city ruins and the Monks Conclave.”

Shang Jianyao, Long Yuehong, and Bai Chen had no objections to this arrangement, believing that it was inevitable. Compared to the small mission of delivering a water filter chip that could last a few days or even half a month, things here were clearly more important.

“We’ll probably have to wait two to three days.” Jiang Baimian smiled slightly. “It’s just nice. We can train your survival skills in the wild.”

Without waiting for Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s response, Jiang Baimian went to the driver’s seat, opened the door, and sat inside the jeep.

More than ten minutes later, Shang Jianyao, Bai Chen, and Long Yuehong quietly stood on the top of a hill further south.

Jiang Baimian did not immediately fire the emergency flare carried by the Old Task Force with the grenade launcher. Instead, she waited until it became gloomy—when the clouds drifted over and blocked the sun—before pulling the trigger.

With a bang, a dazzling red light exploded in the sky like a blooming, bloodthirsty flower.

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