Chapter 13: Blessing
Lao Wei’s attitude changed and he started looking at Shu Jun with much kinder eyes.
After their Erosion Marsh escaped, the villagers also disappeared. At first, Shu Jun thought that the old man was just admitting to his wrongdoing, but his gaze was a lot yielding than any he had ever seen. It was fear.
With the villagers having run away, Zhu Yanchen had them move to a clean house. It could be seen that this room used to be a kitchen, with only some barren resources such as eroded salt and rice left behind. Shu Jun turned on the stove and skilfully roasted the mutated animal’s leg. The thing tasted much better after its skin was peeled off and its meat was slightly flavoured. If there were more spices, maybe it could really serve as a proper grill dish.
It was just that the concentration of erosive substance in this thing was too high for normal people to eat.
Zhu Yanchen stayed fixed in his spot and gulped down another nutritional supplement. This time, he also had something else — something that puffed up after being soaked in water, looking like a colourless jelly that probably wouldn’t taste good. Zhu Yanchen loosened Lao Wei’s hands and handed him some jelly, which the old man ate gracefully.
The marshal indeed abode by the rule of not talking when he ate and not talking when he slept. Shu Jun couldn’t even hear the sound of him chewing and swallowing, let alone any words of talking.
Lao Wei was also unexpectedly obedient and accepted whatever food given to him, but once in a while, he would cast a glance at Shu Jun. Being stared intensely by a half-melted person, Shu Jun felt his hands getting a little stiff.
“If you have something to say, say it.” Unable to bear it anymore, Shu Jun sprinkled some salt on the meat and asked patiently.
“Because we’re afraid of outsiders, every time we settle in a new place, we’ll also plan the next place to move to. I know where the Erosion Marsh has gone to and I can help you follow it.”
Zhu Yanchen’s hand that was holding the spoon paused for a second, while Shu Jun picked up a knife to cut off a piece of meat: “Oh, I didn’t know that you could be so cooperative. But it’s a pity that I don’t have any say in this matter, you have to talk to that man over there.”
He raised the oily knife and pointed at Zhu Yanchen, who was a few steps next to them.
“No, he won’t understand. You see, he restrained you with this chain.” Lao Wei said with a mysterious tone: “But you’ll understand, you will definitely understand.”
Saying that, he continued staring at Shu Jun with scorching eyes, as though hoping that Shu Jun would ask more questions.
Shu Jun felt his stomach churn. On the battlefield, every second was precious and he always hated having to talk nonsense in the midst of a battle. This old man was a typical example of ‘talking for a whole day yet everything was equivalent to nothing’.
“I understand. Let’s eat first, then we can talk.” He replied perfunctorily, cutting off another piece of meat and turning over the animal’s leg.
Lao Wei’s face twitched, and Zhu Yanchen coughed a few times as if choking on something.
“A Yan, how about we follow it tonight?” Seeing Zhu Yanchen’s hand holding the spoon pausing in mid-air, Shu Jun swallowed down the piece of meat in his mouth.
The Erosion Marsh had just been provoked by him, so it likely still remained on alert. The villagers were probably the same — Since their village chief had been taken hostage and the Erosion Marsh had also run away, they were definitely anxious at this moment. Zhu Yanchen abruptly arrived here bringing such bad news, so of course he must have triggered a bunch of people into full panic.
It would be better to wait until nightfall, after everybody had calmed down. Then they could ask this old man to lead the way and find a few key people to ask about the situation.
…Also, Zhu Yanchen needed to rest. This guy hadn’t slept all night.
Shu Jun played with the knife and thought about how to explain his thoughts in the simplest manner, but Zhu Yanchen opened his mouth first.
“Understood. I’ll rest first, and I’ll need to bother you to help stay on guard for a while.”
This exchange felt as comfortable as their communication in the past.
Being stared at by Lao Wei was truly uncomfortable, and fearing that the old man would continue muttering nonsense, Shu Jun simply locked him inside the kitchen. Zhu Yanchen didn’t put up any mattress. He spread a few pieces of plastic sheets on the ground and just lay down.
No one knew if it was unintentional or intentional, but Zhu Yanchen was lying on his side with his back facing Shu Jun. Shu Jun continued to chew on the meat and subconsciously lowered his sounds. Perhaps because they had been communicating with each other through texts for a long time, the atmosphere between the two of them wasn’t as awkward as he had thought.
“I’m not used to staying with other people for an extended period.” Zhu Yanchen suddenly spoke when Shu Jun thought that he was asleep: “…If you don’t like it, just say it, don’t keep it to yourself.”
If it wasn’t for the chain between the two, Shu Jun would have a silly thought that they were travelling companions who headed out together for sightseeing.
Forget it, he was the unplanned variable anyway. The A Yan he knew had never been outgoing in the first place, so if he ignored their current complicated situation, the guy’s attitude right now could be considered pretty good.
“Uhm.” Shu Jun replied in a low voice, almost choking on the meat.
Zhu Yanchen let out a nearly silent sigh, arched his back slightly and breathed out softly.
With these sharp claws, Shu Jun couldn’t just happily lick the oil on his fingers. He wiped the oil with a cloth towel, realising that this was a rare peaceful moment. Zhu Yanchen was asleep and there was no interference, which was just nice for some quiet thinking.
He meant no hostility towards Zhu Yanchen for the time being, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t hate the ‘NPC’ organization that was controlling his teammates. After learning the truth, he had a severe headache and was made to quickly forget the content of that truth. The players… No, the synthesised humans had some control mechanism in their brains. Seeing that even Marshal Zhu Yanchen had a hard time dealing with it, it seemed that this control mechanism wasn’t so easy to handle.
Zhu Yanchen never talked to him about this topic, but he needed information. Even if it took time to completely understand his physical condition, he couldn’t just follow Zhu Yanchen stupidly and do nothing by himself.
Shu Jun glanced at the chain on his wrist.
At this moment he only had one wish: it would be great if Zhu Yanchen was really a ‘friend’. He didn’t know why Zhu Yanchen, a high-ranking and powerful officer, ran out here alone, and why he spared Shu Jun’s life. At this stage, they were getting along fairly well, but if the two of them had to stand against each other in the future…
Shu Jun sighed and moved his eyes along the chain to reach Zhu Yanchen. The man still turned away from Shu Jun, his back slightly arching. Shu Jun couldn’t feel his usual sense of discipline, as if he was going through some pain. Thinking of the wound on the guy’s arm, Shu Jun leaned forward, trying to check the bleeding.
Only after the smell of grilled meat had dissipated that he realised Zhu Yanchen’s smell seemed a bit off.
It wasn’t any peculiar smell, nor did it smell bad. Shu Jun’s sense of smell wasn’t actually very sharp; it was just that he found this smell familiar. As the leading combat team of [Erosion], the Blackbird team was on the battlefield’s front line all year round. In addition to direct deaths in battles, it wasn’t uncommon for them to succumb to injuries.
The wounded always carried a certain smell, and Zhu Yanchen right now smelled like eroded moist soil.
With that new wound alone, it was impossible to brew such a distinct smell so quickly. This person mustn’t be very healthy, and the state must have lasted for a long time. Shu Jun frowned and moved closer. He began to sincerely dislike Zhu Yanchen’s protective clothes and mask that concealed all possible clues. The distance was so close, yet he could only see a bit of pale skin through the goggles.
Now that he thought about it, he had no idea if Zhu Yanchen was born with such fair skin or he was pale with sickness. Zhu Yanchen’s movements were neat, his combat power wasn’t low and his physical strength seemed to pose no problem, so Shu Jun never thought about that at all.
As he was busy observing, Zhu Yanchen, whose face was directly opposite his, suddenly opened his eyes before Shu Jun could move away.
Zhu Yanchen: “…What’s the matter?”
Shu Jun was embarrassed for a moment and quickly adjusted his emotions: “Nothing. I wasn’t being myself. I was just feeling that it’s actually a good thing that I kidnapped you.”
As expected, Zhu Yanchen didn’t think it was any funny joke. But instead of looking alert, the emotions in those eyes were extremely complicated, so complicated that Shu Jun couldn’t understand it.
“It’s indeed a good thing.” Zhu Yanchen answered calmly: “I’ve had a good rest. Let’s see how Lao Wei is…”
“How long have you been sleeping?! Was it even fifteen minutes?”
“I’ve had a good rest.”
“At this stage, if you crash, I’ll be in trouble too.” Shu Jun dismissively pushed the guy back: “Do not get up before you’ve slept for five hours.”
Anyway, he can’t strip this person off to look for clues, and there was no doctor around to verify. Shu Jun randomly sat down on the plastic sheets, closed his eyes and began to think about the next plan.
Zhu Yanchen’s fingers twitched as if he wanted to catch something, but he said nothing and turned his back to Shu Jun again, then fell into a deep sleep.
Lao Wei stayed locked in the room until sunset.
“The new place the villagers are moving to isn’t far away, just to the west.” Lao Wei’s legs had been completely eroded and he couldn’t walk at all. Had Shu Jun not been able to control the wind, there would certainly be lots of trouble along the way.
To talk about the benefits of flying, vision was definitely one of them. The Erosion Marsh was pitch-black and encompassed with grey soil, which was rather eye-catching even at night. In addition, it carried four dots of fire around it. Although the villagers tried to hide those lights, they never thought about the possibility of someone looking down from the sky.
Seeing that they were only some distance away from the village, Lao Wei called for a stop.
Shu Jun grabbed the two of them and braked sharply in the air. The sky in an erosion zone had always been gloomy, so the three of them stopping in mid-air wasn’t too conspicuous.
“The ritual is happening.” Lao Wei’s eyes lit up, and coupled with his melted state, he looked even more terrifying: “You can take a look first. Wait a bit.”
Shu Jun and Zhu Yanchen looked at each other.
As if afraid that Shu Jun would respond perfunctorily again, Lao Wei hurriedly added a few more words: “Young men, I don’t know who you are. It was our fault that we caused the deaths of those soldiers at the corpse disposal site, but we’re also suffering. You’ve seen it too. If we stay in the city, we’re just waiting for death, and we can’t even get buried peacefully even when we die. We’ll be used as food for the Erosion Marsh by that man surnamed Zhu.”
Zhu was definitely not a very common surname. Shu Jun turned around, looking obviously intrigued. Zhu Yanchen hadn’t revealed a word, yet Shu Jun received this information right at his doorstep, for free.
Seeing Shu Jun being interested in this topic, Lao Wei’s spirits heightened and he started talking even more happily.
“I’ll make it clear. The real corpse handler is my grandson. He’s still in good health and lives in the city. People from inside have told me a lot of things, and my words are true — For many years, they’ve been trying to strengthen the purification ability, and this Zhu Yanchen has insisted on carrying out many weird researches. But after ten years of research, there’s still no result.”
“We’re just waiting for death, but we also want to die with dignity. In any case, we’re unlucky people who can’t even recover with medicine. But is it fair for us? Since that man Zhu couldn’t produce any results, we thought about moving out of the city so that we could at least have a grave and die with dignity. Only the gods pity us… You see, look over there.”
His half-melted finger pointed to the Erosion Marsh below.
Shu Jun once again saw the woman who posed as the corpse handler, for her hairpin was very easy to recognise. At this moment, she was carefully touching the edge of the Erosion Marsh and whispering softly: “Baby.”
The next sight caused Shu Jun’s hair to almost stand up.
The liquid pillars on the surface of the Erosion Marsh stretched higher, drawing a blotchy outline mid-air. The silhouette consisted of more than one person, as if a group of transparent figures blended with erosive substance was floating in the air above the Erosion Marsh, where only the parts covered by the pitch-black liquid could be seen.
At first glance, a mix of various body parts was hanging above the marsh. They just hung quietly, like dry black lotus leaves.
The woman was still yelling: “Baby, come to me.”
The pillars continued to rise, barely forming a little girl that moved staggeringly, trying to get closer to the woman. Eventually, it stopped a few steps away from the woman and opened its arms as if asking for a hug.
Shu Jun had personally killed many monsters controlled by Erosion Marsh and even fought with the marsh itself, but he had never encountered such a scene.
“We’ve found a way to survive.” Lao Wei said excitedly: “I knew it! The gods above aren’t so cruel, they really pity us!… Maybe it isn’t bad luck that our bodies are like this, it’s a blessing.”
“I saw that you were leaking out erosive substance earlier. How did you survive?”
“We can also survive like you and change back to normal people, right?”
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.