Chapter 21: Another Wolf
This was Luo Duan’s second entry into Y City. Just like the first time, Yi Ning’s assistant drove over to pick him up and took him all the way to the Y City Central Headquarters. Through the car window, he could see the silhouettes of people in the city, but that was all his eyes could catch.
As the capital of this land, Y city was many times more prosperous than the combatants’ stronghold. But compared with the ‘real world’ in which Luo Duan lived, it still looked a bit backward and destitute. Here, people dug up extremely intricate electrical appliances from erosion zones, yet they might put up very crude homemade crafts at home. There might be an oil lamp next to an ultra-thin futuristic computer, completely blurring the boundaries of time.
Seeing a car belonging to a public department coming, people spontaneously gave way to make room. Luo Duan originally thought that this was preferential treatment for a ‘player’, but now that he thought about it again, as the car passed by, people’s fear seemed to carry some deeper meaning inside.
The only thing he could really set foot on was the courtyard of the Central Headquarters.
Luo Duan chuckled a few times and watched the assistant leave in a hurry while waiting inside Yi Ning’s reception room.
Just like what Zhu Yanchen was to Shu Jun, in terms of setting, Yi Ning was Luo Duan’s direct superior. For ordinary players, as the captain of the world’s second-ranked team Groundwater, Luo Duan had the right to apply to meet with Yi Ning. Compared with Shu Jun, who treated his boss as air, Luo Duan was softer and got along with Yi Ning fairly well.
What used to be their usual behaviour in the past was now an excellent cover.
The door of the reception room opened.
“Wailing Rain.” Yi Ning perfectly carried his NPC cover and called Luo Duan’s game ID as usual: “There’s no mission for now. Since you to specially see me, is there a particular reason?”
“I want to apply for indoor training.” Luo Duan smiled slightly.
Yi Ning frowned. ‘Indoor training’ was a type of regular mission for a player of [Erosion]. As the name suggested, the location was indoor and the content was quite simple — players had to fight against mutated monsters of all levels while not being allowed to bring backup support. During the training, players could still die and exit the game.
For the coalition government, ‘indoor training’ was a controllable simulated battlefield, and researchers relied on it to collect battle data from synthesised humans. Indoor training could actually be done at the border strongholds, but since Luo Duan specifically requested for it…
“I’ve tried the indoor training at our stronghold a few times.” Luo Duan continued: “I’ve read the information. The high-level training ground is at the headquarters, so I’m thinking of trying it here.”
Yi Ning didn’t immediately agree: “I hope you’ll think about it more carefully. Your ability is to support the team and not suitable for individual training. Don’t impulsively hurt yourself, it’s not worth it. “
To put Yi Ning’s words in the most blatant manner, Luo Duan might be strong, but the issue now was with his physical state — he was almost at the end of a synthesised human’s lifespan, and it was hard to say whether he could even make use of 70% of his strength. Let’s take a step back and think about it: Luo Duan was already on the verge of being scrapped, so it would be a bit wasteful to let him use this important resource that should be reserved for future generations of synthesised humans.
Luo Duan seemed to have anticipated his answer and refused to give up: “My team is on holiday now and I just have some time on hand. Marshal, I’m about to retire, maybe this is the last time I come here. I just want a little more… experience.”
After that, the smile on Luo Duan’s face arched up a bit more. His looks truly matched his water-type special ability: his facial expression was soft and his temperament was gentle, which rarely made people feel uncomfortable.
Hearing his reasonable response, Yi Ning knew that it would seem unnatural to turn him down. Yi Ning had to follow the regulations: “Well, I’ll arrange a room for you here. During the period, there will be someone to accompany you, and the mission can be interrupted at any time. If you’re seriously injured, we’ll forcibly stop the mission. Are there any other questions? “
“What if I get some light injuries?”
“Treat them until you’re ready fight again.”
“I understand, thank you.” Luo Duan politely stretched out a hand that was covered in a black glove. “The application form has been filled out, please accept it.”
Yi Ning stretched out his hand and shook hands with the guy — Strange, did Luo Duan ever wear gloves before?
“See you tomorrow.” Luo Duan quickly retracted his hand and smiled neatly. “……I’m looking forward to it.”
“If you’re being bothered by your loss to Blackbird, I have to say that their captain has never applied for this before.” Before Luo Duan stepped out, Yi Ning couldn’t help but add.
Luo Duan stopped at the door for a few seconds without looking back.
“…That’s because he doesn’t like being indoors and prefers to make his moves in the wild. I don’t have that strong attack power. This kind of training is just right for me.”
Right at that moment, Shu Jun was making his moves in the wild, but he wasn’t so happy.
An hour ago, Uncle Pan showed his business acumen again — Zhu Yanchen had a slip of the tongue when asking for information and unfortunately revealed that they wanted to buy a mud sled. As a result, by the time the two of them finished packing their luggage and was about to step out of the hotel door, Uncle Pan had already found a mud sled merchant and even a guide.
“This is a contact of mine, if you aren’t satisfied, there are others. Xiao ge, I’ll only take 10% as the introduction fee. Good quality, cheap price, guaranteed no cheating. Have a look first. You can just pay together with the room rental, the pancakes, the soy sauce. So convenient.”
Meeting the merchant, Zhu Yanchen took out his wallet at once. Shu Jun suspected that Marshal Zhu had never heard of the phrase ‘before buying something, you need to see at least 3 shops first’.
He laughed and put down his luggage, then dragged Zhu Yanchen to make one round around the market. The reality proved that Uncle Pan didn’t lie — Even with the introduction fee, his price was still much lower than the market’s.
In the end, they trotted back to the hotel with two full bags of newly bought supplies on their backs.
“Back already?” Uncle Pan greeted them cheerfully: “You two are unfamiliar faces. The people in the market won’t go easy on you.”
Shu Jun: “……” But we’re wearing masks, how could they tell?
“People who often stay in the erosion zones will have deformed bones. You two have a straight back and are looking to buy a mud sled and a guide, so with one glance, anyone can tell you’re newcomers.” Uncle Pan said as though seeing through Shu Jun’s question. “The merchant I introduced you just now… Oh, this xiao ge is happy to buy it. You two should come again next time!”
Zhu Yanchen swiftly made the payment, then he cast a special glance at Shu Jun.
“What are you staring at me for?” Shu Jun tried to make his face appear firm: “Uncle Pan is a sincere person, I have nothing to say about it…… I wasn’t afraid that you would be cheated, it’s just that, it’s not wrong to save some money.”
When he thought about the fact for the first half of his life, he had been saving committedly in that so-called ‘real world’, he felt so ironic it was almost scary.
Zhu Yanchen kept looking at him.
“Save a little more money, and when we come back here, we can be a bit extravagant and celebrate with something.” Shu Jun said with his usual confidence.
Zhu Yanchen was stunned for a second and his eyes softened — Shu Jun spoke with a rather resolute tone and that captivating charisma that he always carried with him, so much so that for a moment, Zhu Yanchen even had the illusion that he would be able to come back here alive.
But they didn’t need to waste their energy thinking about that aspect. Zhu Yanchen thought for a moment and removed the concealment atop the balance amount in his electronic wallet, then he showed Shu Jun the string of numbers.
…Shu Jun’s gaze drifted in bafflement and he stopped talking for half an hour. After they packed up the new supplies in their luggage, Shu Jun whispered miserably: “If so much money is transferred out, aren’t you afraid that people will be suspicious about this your kidnapping case?”
Zhu Yanchen said with a serious tone: “There won’t be any issue. I usually bring that much money.”
Shu Jun: “……”
An hour later, the two of them were rapidly moving through the mud in an erosion zone. The sky was still grey as always, with only some gravel and dried trees on the greyish-black ground. The skid marks of the mud sled blended in with the footprints of mutated monsters. No one knew if it was because of the rumoured incident some time ago, but Shu Jun and Zhu Yanchen was the only people in sight. Even the air smelled of desolation here.
The land in a heavily eroded zone was turning slowly into an Erosion Marsh, with soft, muddy puddles everywhere, which made it difficult to ride any vehicles or walk on foot. Faced with this kind of road conditions, the rich would make mud boats while the poor would use mutated monsters to pull their mud sleds. Over time, many people simply rowed mud boats to pull mud sleds and acted as ‘erosion zone guides’, charging quite an exorbitant price.
The guide was also a bald, brawny man, with a similar shape to Uncle Pan. He also had two lumps on his head, but they were brown. Shu Jun glanced at the shape of the lumps and wondered whether Uncle Pan was actually sincere in his introduction — Aren’t these two obviously related?
“I heard my ge say that you two want to head east?” The guide was having a gas mask on his face, but they could hear his smiling voice. “I can take you for two days at most. I won’t go any deeper.”
“Two days are enough.” Zhu Yanchen said.
“The south side is also very good. A while ago, someone dug up an entire jewelry store there. Why bother with the east side? Actually, if you go to the south side, you can travel in a small boat. A mud sled will need a separate carrier for the luggage, alas, my poor dog.” The guide obviously wanted to continue talking randomly.
The ‘dogs’ in his talk were pulling the mud sled and running fast. The six dogs were pitch-black from head to toe, their cracked heads dripping with saliva and their legs digging through the mud as though running on flat ground. Fresh red meat was hanging in front of their heads, making them look like donkeys led by carrots.
“Speaking of the east side, it’s not that I’m scared. Previously, I guided a group there for three days, but now it’s two days at most. I don’t know if my ge told you, recently, something happened over there. It’s really terrifying, a bunch of people found a strange monster corpse…”
Now they knew where Uncle Pan’s continuous intelligence came from. Zhu Yanchen slowly lay down, pulled the blanket and cast a ‘I’m handing over to you’ look at Shu Jun.
“What’s your name?” Shu Jun took over the burden and interrupted the guide who wouldn’t stop talking: “Mr. Pan…?”
“Actually, my brother and I are both from the old Chen family, Pan what Pan? I blame these two lumps on our heads.” The guide chuckled: “But for business, we just take on something that’s easy to remember. You can follow others and call me Uncle Xiong.”
Shu Jun: “…Uncle Xiong.”
The next two days were rather uneventful. Except for when he needed to check on Shu Jun’s physical condition, Zhu Yanchen seemed to fall in love with sleep. Whenever he had time, he would take a nap. Shu Jun could quite understand his mood — There was nothing to see in this heavy eroded zone. They encountered only a couple of kittens and puppies, let alone any Erosion Marsh. Beside, there was an outsider next to them so they couldn’t talk much.
On Zhu Yanchen’s side, he worked and went to sleep, then got back to work after waking up, and on Shu Jun’s side, he had to sneak out to hunt some mutated monsters while Uncle Xiong was sleeping. After eating, he had to bring some meat back to feed Monday, so as to prevent it from crying out of hunger when Uncle Xiong was awake.
Shu Jun thought that he would have to bear with this for only two days and totally didn’t expect that the problem happened on the last night.
On the night of the second day, they came to a river.
The water in the river was naturally not clear, but it was particularly conspicuous amidst this barren land. When Uncle Xiong saw the river, he said: “The stopping point is here. You’ll have to ride the mud sled by yourself.”
As he said, he removed the luggage hanging behind the mud sled and helped them install the mud sled head on the spot: “Don’t you want to buy dogs? Else, you’ll exhaust yourself. In any case, there’s only me on the trip back, so I can sell you a few.”
But before he could finish his words, Zhu Yanchen decisively drew his gun and shot the mutated monster in front of him into two pieces.
“Hey, if you don’t want to buy, don’t buy, what is this for?!… F**k!!!” Uncle Xiong cursed but his voice stopped halfway, because — Countless greyish-black ‘straws’ poured out from the monster’s body and crawled towards the three of them.
Shu Jun snorted and pulled off the cloth covering his broadsword, then he bolted towards the creature. The sword was truly much more convenient than his claws — Unlike Zhu Yanchen’s purification gun, the moment the sword’s edge swept across the monster’s delicate limbs, those limbs were sucked away like rice flour. After only a short moment of Shu Jun slashing his sword beautifully, the monster’s body was reduced by a third.
Uncle Xiong’s eyes changed behind his face mask.
“High-tech, high-tech.” Shu Jun quickly explained: “My boss is rich, he came out here to experiment with weapons. Right, boss?”
Zhu Yanchen’s shot almost went off-track. Luckily, Uncle Xiong was so horrified right now that he didn’t even bother to pursue the matter anymore: “Or I can take you back now. There’s a Corpse Parasite here, which means there must be an Erosion Marsh nearby. No matter what you two do, life is the most important thing.”
“It’s okay.” Shu Jun followed along with Monday’s mood and replied happily: “You go first, we can handle it.”
Uncle Xiong didn’t insist otherwise. The next moment, he pulled the reins and quickly fled the scene.
Shu Jun wasn’t nervous, for this wasn’t the first time they had encountered a Corpse Parasite. It could only attack Zhu Yanchen, but he was definitely not an easy target. As long as Shu Jun guarded him, Zhu Yanchen would be fine even if an Erosion Marsh came to knock on their door.
“A Yan, follow me closely.” Without Uncle Xiong watching them, Shu Jun felt a lot more relaxed. This was just a regular encounter — he originally thought so.
However, when his broadsword started eating up the Corpse Parasite, Shu Jun heard a faint laughter.
To be precise, it wasn’t a laughter in the physical sense, but rather, it sounded like the emotion he used to sense from the marsh. Cold sweat broke out behind Shu Jun’s back.
Erosion Marshes functioned like a bee colony or an ant colony. They were a biological aggregate that followed instinct, with simple emotions and thinking at best.
Even if they were lucky and met a marsh like Monday, one that had obtained some rare intelligence and even had a brain, Monday’s emotions were still quite simple. But the laughter that came this time was different — It wasn’t a pure laughter of a child, rather, it sounded more like an adult’s chuckle after being amused.
Shu Jun’s nerves tensed up in an instant. He turned to face the place where the ‘laughter’ came from and shielded Zhu Yanchen behind him: “We have to go.”
Unfortunately, these words of his came too late.
A vague shadow appeared amidst the fog. It was about two meters tall, with an outline that looked like some kind of insect at first glance. It was moving dexterously across the mud with four long, thin legs that seemed to carry a jointed appendage structure, with several joints on each leg.
A droplet-shaped body was hanging from where the four limbs met. Standing less than a hundred meters away from them, the creature looked like a dancing spider ghost with its slow movements.
Shu Jun was quite sure that the laughter came from there.
[So it’s not the leader.]
Its thoughts were passed to Shu Jun. The words came from no particular language, but their meaning was very clear to his mind.
[In any case, how could a leader come to such a place?]
[Where is your herd of marshes? ]
It started to laugh again, and raised one question after another.
[Why do you look so strange?]
[Why don’t you answer?]
As it got closer and closer, beads of cold sweat rolled down Shu Jun’s forehead. The creature’s thinking rhythm was so fast that he didn’t know how he should respond — When he successfully sent his thoughts to the Erosion Marsh before, it was just some unconscious swear words.
[We already have a leader, we only need one leader.] It said again.
[Since you don’t answer me, you’re an invader.]
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”.