Chapter 14: The Breeding
This old man had really approached the wrong person when he thought that Shu Jun was the ‘easier’ one between the two of them.
But Lao Wei was not to blame. Zhu Yanchen was tall and sturdy, even a little taller than the an average combatant, and his combat power in the battle against the mutated monsters earlier was amazing. Compared to a researcher, Marshal Zhu looked more like an armed guard.
Zhu Yanchen frowned: “Move a bit lower.”
The little girl made of the erosive substance was becoming more and more complete. It staggered forward on the surface of the Erosion Marsh while vaguely calling out something.
“Mom… Mom… Mom…” Its voice didn’t sound like that of a child, rather, it was strangely rough, but the woman didn’t seem to mind.
Was this what Zhu Yanchen meant when he said I could find people who are ‘my kin’ here?
Shu Jun looked left to right but couldn’t find even a flower, and the Erosion Marsh under his feet seemed to have nothing special. However, Zhu Yanchen seemed very serious. Since the start of their partnership, Zhu Yanchen had never shown any oppressing aura, but at this moment, Marshal Zhu looked like a carnivore that was ready to hunt down its prey.
This kind of aura can’t be feigned, Shu Jun instinctively straightened his back.
At the same time, the woman at the edge of the marsh started moving. Although she seemed to desperately want to touch the pitch-black figure of the little girl, she didn’t do so. As the woman knelt down and stabilised her posture, an old woman approached from behind and put down a jar she had been holding in her arms.
“My baby.” The woman murmured and scooped some pitch-black liquid from the jar, dumping it into the marsh with a respectful gesture.
This was likely the erosive substance stolen from the corpse disposal site, but Shu Jun actually didn’t expect it to be used here.
After receiving the ‘tribute’, the Erosion Marsh was satisfied and it remained calm, making a gentle grunting sound. Shu Jun tried to perceive its emotions with all his strength but failed to find any emotion that was even remotely similar to that of a child. The little girl made of erosive substance was at most six or seven years old — Children at this age, assuming that she was used to this current situation, she probably would feel no pain or fear, but shouldn’t she at least express something now that she was looking right at her mother?
All this while, the Erosion Marsh continued to boil quietly.
The woman looked as though she was afraid that the girl was suspicious of her, so she recklessly took off her mask and stared at her daughter with a gaze that almost seemed obsessive. Lao Wei squinted his eyes, as if he was completely captivated by what was happening down there.
If this was still a game, and the people below were just NPCs, Shu Jun would think this mission had quite an interesting plot. However, everything was reality and this scene could only send chills down his spine. After removing her mask, the woman spent a long time zoning out in an area with such a high concentration of erosive substance. Thereafter, another person came to take her place. The person made the same call to the marsh, fed it with the same pitch-black liquid and showed the exact same expression of not wanting to part ways.
The erosive substance continued to change, drawing out images of different dead people. There was no change in the sounds they made and they couldn’t even speak a complete word, but the people gathering around the marsh all seemed incredibly grateful and contented.
Floating in the air, Shu Jun was speechless.
The moment the jar almost ran out of liquid, the peculiar ceremony came to an end. Two villagers who still resembled a normal human entered the tent and carried out a corpse. The corpse was tightly wrapped in grey cloth, its chest wrapped with a cloth strip that had been shaped into flowers. It lay across a piece of eroded wooden support. The deformed people gathered and together, they pushed the wooden support, slipping it silently into the marsh.
The corpse sank quietly, then its grey cloth gradually shrank and disappeared.
“The one that they pushed down is Lao Chen, he’ll come back to us.” Lao Wei turned to Shu Jun and spoke confidently. “We have brought back a lot of people, and we’re not afraid of death. It’s just that they can only keep to that state and everyone feels a bit nervous. Now that I’ve seen you, I’m pretty sure we didn’t choose the wrong method —”
“Enough.” Zhu Yanchen’s said with a tone slightly laced with anger.
Lao Wei ignored him but looked at Shu Jun eagerly: “We’re the people who are more adaptable to this world. Are you from the city? Look at the chain on your wrist, how inhumane.”
…These provocative words sounded like he was coaxing a child.
Before he could voice out his disagreement, Zhu Yanchen’s muzzle was pressed on Lao Wei’s head.
“Shu Jun, let’s land.” He said: “This Erosion Marsh can’t live.”
Facing three people who suddenly landed on the ground, the one with the biggest reaction was the Erosion Marsh itself. Seeing Shu Jun aggressively approaching it, the marsh dexterously spit out a lot of clear liquid and shrank into a soft ball two or three meters in diameter, ready to run away.
While Shu Jun was still considering how to restrain this thing, Zhu Yanchen already made a move.
As though he had prepared for this, Zhu Yanchen neatly loaded a new magazine into his gun. It no longer fired ordinary bullets; the new bullet projectiled in the air and turned into a fine net that fittingly covered the whole ball with a soft sizzling noise.
The net carried a vague shade of green and a purifying effect, and the spot where it touched the marsh started clanging. The Erosion Marsh struggled and spit out even more clear liquid from its body, trying to make room for breathing and squeezing itself out through the tiny mesh.
“I can only trap it for a while.” Zhu Yanchen entered a string of codes on the handcuffs and Shu Jun’s handcuff clicked open. “Now that it’s restrained, destroy its brain.”
It seems that Shu Jun’s previous lament that the chain was restricting his movements was somewhat effective indeed. Shu Jun nodded happily: “What kind of data do you want from it?”
“We can get the data later.” Zhu Yanchen said concisely yet profoundly: “This thing is almost reaching adulthood. When it grows up, it won’t need these…”
He carefully weighed his words for a moment: “…these people who have been ‘bred’ inside it.”
“Nonsense!” Lao Wei roared: “We raise the marsh ourselves, you —”
“Let’s hurry up.” Zhu Yanchen continued to ignore Lao Wei.
Shu Jun had fought with Erosion Marsh for ten years, and this thing had previously tried to kill him to obtain information. Although he didn’t quite understand what was going on right now, he didn’t want to let such a complicated situation go on any further — After all, this Erosion Marsh had been frightened by him once, then it was carelessly captured by Zhu Yanchen on their second encounter. If this marsh was really just a kid that was obsessed with its own brain, if Shu Jun and it ever had to meet again for the third time, it might become a lot more careful.
So now was the best time to attack.
“Roger, Marshal.” Without the handcuffs, even Shu Jun’s tone felt lighter.
Seeing the attack from the opposite side, the villagers panicked. Some picked up their guns and fired at them hastily, while some grabbed cleavers and kitchen knives and began to furiously cut open the net.
“All of you, don’t move.” Zhu Yanchen said each word clearly as he pushed Lao Wei forward. No one knew when he had changed the gun’s magazine again, but the muzzle was already pointing at the back of Lao Wei’s head.
“Run with the marsh!” Lao Wei said: “You can just snatch back my body later! We can’t lose the Erosion Marsh or abandon all our efforts half-way!”
Shu Jun moved faster, blew up a wind and landed neatly atop the soft ball. The hole in the net had just the right size to allow his arm to pass through. Once again, Shu Jun used his eroding arm to ruthlessly penetrate into the marsh, looking for its brain.
Seeing that it couldn’t escape, the Erosion Marsh used its usual method and immediately started screaming. There was never a shortage of mutated monsters inside an erosion zone. They came from around the village’s new location, however, looking at the time, they might not be able to reach here so fast — Shu Jun once again caught the soft tendons. Now the size of this Erosion Marsh was so small, so it was only a matter of time before he could finally grab its brain.
The villagers gathered anxiously around the marsh but they couldn’t reach Shu Jun with their attacks. They tried to shoot, but their weapons were too old to break Shu Jun’s wind shield. Shu Jun didn’t stay idle either; his hand moved along the soft tendons, feeling as though he was almost able to grasp this monster’s brain.
But the marsh suddenly changed.
As though no longer caring about what might be the consequence, the Erosion Marsh once again spit out a lot of clear liquid, and the abrupt reduction in volume left Shu Jun’s hand empty. The Erosion Marsh of an original area of more than 20 square meters had shrunk into a block of 0.5 cubic meter, with a texture close to solid.
Shu Jun landed softly on the ground and stretched out his hand again without hesitation. Since the erosive substance had become too thick, the marsh wouldn’t be able to produce liquid pillars. To escape, this Erosion Marsh had chosen to give up on attacking. This monster had been totally cornered and the moment it got caught was just in sight.
However, when Shu Jun raised his eyes again, he realised that the situation wasn’t so simple.
The cube of marsh lumped into the shape of a little girl again. It jerkily struggled with the net on its body and rushed towards the woman who was cutting the net with a kitchen knife.
“Mom… Mom…” It cried hoarsely, staggering into the woman’s arms.
Seeing such a pitiful appearance of the girl and also the look of the mother, Shu Jun subconsciously hesitated for a moment. The woman hurriedly tore off the net from her ‘child’ and held it tightly in her arms.
Shu Jun could feel the emotions of the Erosion Marsh. There was no pleading and no fear, only the exact same tension and panic that he felt from the marsh earlier, now even laced with a hint of hunger. The hunger obviously didn’t come to him.
At the spots where the woman couldn’t see, her protective clothing was quietly dissolving.
“Mom… Mom…” The Erosion Marsh continued.
Shu Jun tried to pull away the marsh with his hands, but the woman, like a crazy lioness, directly bit him. The woman was quite big in the first place, and the marsh shrunk itself further till the woman could almost entirely wrap it in her arms. It was already difficult for Shu Jun to pull it away, let alone attack it with his wind skills.
“Let us go, let us go!” She screamed: “It’s already like this, what else do you want to take from us?!”
“That is not your daughter.” Even if these people were at the very bottom of the society, Shu Jun wouldn’t want to kill indiscriminately. “Hand it over, we won’t do anything to hurt you. My partner will definitely give you an explanation, we…”
The Erosion Marsh was in a state that was easy to control. Now that it had removed most of its liquid, if they added another net atop it, it wouldn’t be able to expand and escape.
The woman smiled miserably: “And what if she isn’t? Hush, hush, baby, don’t be scared.”
“Mom…” Seeing Shu Jun stop attacking, the marsh frantically tried to provoke the woman further.
The villagers quickly surrounded the woman and kept her in the middle, like a swarm of ants gathering before a disaster, each carrying the same expression of resolution on their face. Shu Jun gritted his teeth. Now that things had turned out this way, he could only resort to violence.
As the woman cried and the villagers sent curses at Shu Jun, the bullets didn’t stop. Zhu Yanchen was also fighting in the distance, trying to figure out a way to end this mess as soon as possible.
Looking at this situation, as long as the Erosion Marsh tried get back its liquid at all costs and ate those fleeing villagers, it would be difficult for them to track it again. If this somewhat intelligent marsh ran amok, no one knew how many other marshes it would help to evolve later.
It was troublesome enough to think of a way to deal with humans. Even if Shu Jun managed to save all his teammates, they wouldn’t be able to handle so many Erosion Marshes. If he didn’t handle this one correctly, more trouble was bound to come later.
…What was Zhu Yanchen thinking when he planned to come here by himself?
Shu Jun felt the Erosion Marsh’s emotion gradually turning into arrogance, and a plan started being formed in his mind.
“Little friend, if I can’t even beat you up, I don’t deserve my position as the captain.” He grinned.
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”.