Chapter 27: The Hunt
In order to preserve the image of a ‘graceful ex-girlfriend’, Xia Liang put on sobbing makeup, fully coupled with swollen eyes. When Master Zhu was giving his eulogy, she even pretended to be in a trance and mourning. Xia Liang’s performance was so good that no one came up to ask her any questions.
She choked eloquently as tears flowed down her cheeks, yet her thoughts had already fled many miles away —
Even if she knew that Zhu Yanchen wouldn’t be able to return, she didn’t have any real emotions for the moment, rather, she was only feeling a tad regretful.
According to Ai Xiaoxiao, Zhu Yanchen was already dying and only had two months to live. If it were her, she would definitely not move forward with the plan so quickly; at least she would choose to stay in the city for another month. The environment in an erosion zone was so bad that even healthy people could be severely hurt by it. Even if there was something to investigate, Zhu Yanchen didn’t have to rush to death like this.
With the situation turning like this, even though Zhu Yanchen had secretly transferred a part of his authority to her, his influence would be considered cut off starting now.
Xia Liang sighed. Hearing the murmurs of the reporters in the venue, she could guess their topic of discussion — The Xia family and the Zhu family had always been good friends. To disclose in detail, Zhu Yanchen’s deceased mother was the adopted daughter of the previous head of the Xia family. Even if she had no blood relationship, she still made up half of the family.
Xia Liang knew the Zhu family’s inside information better than anyone else.
Master Zhu’s power reached its peak when he was still young. As though the gods wanted to ensure that no one’s life could be perfect, Zhu Sheng married two wives and had two sons, yet now there was none left.
Zhu Sheng’s first wife died of dystocia, leaving behind the supposed next master of the Zhu family. Seven or eight years later, Zhu Sheng remarried and Zhu Yanchen was born.
Zhu Sheng and his eldest son looked like they were carved out of the same mold, and even their temperaments were very similar. Zhu Sheng truly liked him. Unfortunately, the eldest son died in a suspicious ‘accident’’ before he became a marshal. Barely a year after the eldest son died, the second wife also died of an illness.
No one would have paid any attention to Zhu Yanchen if it hadn’t been for the passing of the eldest son. Young master Zhu had never had much presence. He was introverted and withdrawn, and no one felt that he carried any aura of a leader. When the eldest son died, people actually believed that Zhu Sheng’s great heritage wouldn’t be carried on. But after his mother’s death, Zhu Yanchen somehow turned over a new leaf and obediently embarked on his father’s path.
It was a pity that the good times didn’t last long.
After a moment of dazing, suddenly, Xia Liang picked up the smell of overly sweet coffee. She squinted and saw Ai Xiaoxiao rushing out of the door. It seemed that the Fourth Team’s captain was rather hot-headed, nowhere as cold as Xia Liang thought she would be.
I hope things will go smoothly from now, Xia Liang put both hands into her bag and played with the chip left by Zhu Yanchen for a few seconds.
Facing such a big storm in the future, they still had a lot of things to do.
However, it turned out that even if you were as resourceful as Marshal Zhu, you still couldn’t foresee the real storm — Just when the press conference was over and everyone in the city only had their mind wrapped around it, Shu Jun, who was far away in an erosion zone, woke up again.
This time he was fully alive and waking up because of his protesting stomach. The lethargy he felt earlier was completely gone, with only an describable hunger lingering around.
His eyes went green with hunger as he looked at Zhu Yanchen.
“Let’s clean up and head back to X city.” Seeing Shu Jun’s eyes, Zhu Yanchen solemnly covered his neckline: “The mud sled should still be there. There’s a lot of food on it.”
“Wait, if I eat all of them, what will you do?”
“We’ll go hunting.” Zhu Yanchen spoke as-a-matter-of-factly: “Looking at my current state, I should be able to consume the meat of a mutated monster.”
Thinking of the jerky and salted butter in their luggage, Shu Jun couldn’t help swallowing. He was so very hungry, to the point that even Monday seemed like a good target. But no matter what, he wouldn’t be blinded by this desire.
“I have something to tell you.” Shu Jun glanced at Zhu Rong’s corpse: “……A very important thing.”
As Shu Jun finished talking about Sweet Vanguard and Zhu Rong, the two nicely reached X City. The mud sled was still in its original position, and Shu Jun couldn’t wait to jump onto the luggage carrier to tear open a bag of butter. He wasn’t put off by the greasiness at all and completely gulped down the butter by itself.
Before leaving, Zhu Yanchen retrieved his briefcase and flipped through his backpacks on the luggage carrier, putting on one weapon after another. After Shu Jun had his share, his brain no longer buzzed, and by this point, Zhu Yanchen had also fully equipped himself.
After being temporarily relieved from his hunger, Shu Jun began to chew slowly on the jerky. Seeing the way Zhu Yanchen was dressed, he couldn’t help but chuckle.
Now that he was immune to erosion, even in this heavily eroded zone, Zhu Yanchen was casually donning thin clothes that made it easy to move around. His thighs, ankles and back were all tied with close-fitting weapon belts jammed up with all kinds of hot weapons, but they were very well-organised.
“You really know everything… What’s next, Marshal? Now you have no more deadline to die.” Shu Jun threw a bag of jerky over and Zhu Yanchen smoothly caught it.
After getting the jerky, Marshal Zhu gently took a bite and chewed on the meat: “Let’s investigate X City a bit. One reason is to study that Alpha… Sweet Vanguard’s past living conditions, and the other is to look for clues regarding what happened that year.”
Shu Jun let out a soft “heh”, then he squeezed his broadsword and leapt towards Zhu Yanchen: “I’m not asking about that.”
Zhu Yanchen swallowed the jerky in his mouth and frowned.
“Simply looking at the result, you saved me once. Now that I’ve paid this favour, our situation has become much steadier. Why not take the opportunity to have a good chat?” Shu Jun stayed very close to Zhu Yanchen with a smile on his face, yet his eyes were incredibly sharp: “……After all, I’m in a hurry.”
His team was still living in a lie, but luckily, there hadn’t been many competitions recently. When their rest period was over, his comrades-in-arms would have to face the Erosion Marshes again without any knowledge of the truth. Thinking of this, Shu Jun’s stomach almost burst into flames.
Previously, Zhu Yanchen had a deadline and Shu Jun had to rely on him to stabilise his physical condition. There was always a bargaining chip for cooperation, and Shu Jun wasn’t good at acting rashly. But now everything was different. From telling him the truth to taking him to investigate Zhu Rong’s affairs, Zhu Yanchen’s stand on this matter had become clear — Marshal Zhu obviously didn’t like the Player System very much.
Since they both had time and similar goals, it was better to talk as soon as possible. Only then would they not miss out on any opportunity.
“Yes.” Zhu Yanchen looked at Shu Jun earnestly and answered almost gleefully, and even his breathing didn’t flinch: “But I have a condition.”
Shu Jun raised his eyebrows.
“You aren’t full, are you?”
“……Huh?” Shu Jun thought that Zhu Yanchen wanted to say something extremely important and was a little confused.
“I want to talk while hunting.” Zhu Yanchen also got closer and, in a way that annoyed Shu Jun since Zhu Yanchen was taller, he lowered his gaze: “Let’s go together.”
What condition is this? Shu Jun’s mind was full of question marks. But a pack of butter wasn’t enough to keep him full, so he had no objection.
Until they really did get on their hunting.
Shu Jun actually found that this man wasn’t in a hurry to hunt at all. Rather, Zhu Yanchen seemed like he was testing his new body or enjoying a compensatory break after a long illness, or perhaps it was a show-off of his power — If Shu Jun didn’t use his special ability and directly confronted Zhu Yanchen, he probably would win, but the process leading to his victory wouldn’t be very easy.
“The Player System can’t continue.” When he said this, Zhu Yanchen was stepping on a mutated giant snake with his boots — The creature was originally lying still in the mud, ready to sneak-attack Marshal Zhu, but it ended up getting shot neatly in the head.
“What was your original plan?”
Shu Jun waved the broadsword and split the monster into two. As the dark purple blood spurted out, most of it was sucked up by Monday.
“If you directly put a stop to the Player System, the outermost layer of protection of the entire coalition government will be as good as zero. Even if you’re a team leader, you’ll be totally crushed if you do that. Not to mention, you’re…… hm, technically dead.”
Of course, Shu Jun really wished that the Player System could be abolished immediately and that all synthesised humans got to know the truth. However, as a team leader, he also knew the consequence of blindly acting on his personal feelings — If they knew that they were destined to die soon, most synthesised humans would definitely go berserk and riot against humanity. At best, they would inflict damage on both sides, or at worst, they would fight until both sides entirely perished.
However, things hadn’t yet reached the point of despair. If even Zhu Yanchen could be saved, Shu Jun might hope that his comrades would fight with the goal of ‘earnining a better life’.
There were a lot of things they had to prepare for.
“Actually, before, I didn’t think that the Player System could be destroyed within this generation.”
Zhu Yanchen turned around, smoothly hitting another monster. He threw it to the ground and fired two more shots. The creature’s blood splashing on his pale face made a particularly appalling sight.
“I just want to take the first step to prove that this system has vulnerabilities. You’ve also seen that humans can only influence an Erosion Marsh as much as what those villages did to Monday. Humans can’t pose a big threat to the Erosion Marsh. But synthesised humans are different, you’re ‘designed’ to resonate with them. In a way, it also means that an Erosion Marsh will have an easier time absorbing your information.”
“But you’re an exception to all exceptions. Sweet Vanguard was only strong enough to retain a bit of consciousness after being swallowed by an Erosion Marsh and barely managed to keep herself within X City…… Shu Jun, if you’re a marsh that has fully obtained human intelligence, what would you do?”
“Go into hiding.”
As Shu Jun said these words, a chill ran down his back.
It was very simple. If it were him, he would hide far away and let the least intelligent marshes under him go to the front to collect information and take down the humans. Then, when the information was sufficient, he would kill both humans and synthesised humans at once.
“That’s right.” Zhu Yanchen emptied his gun and neatly changed the magazine.
No wonder this man had to go deep into the erosion zone before he died, Shu Jun glanced at Zhu Yanchen. As long as there was no hard evidence, these could only be guesses. Humans wouldn’t give up their current comfortable life just because of a few guesses.
Even if Zhu Yanchen brought himself back as evidence, his situation was too special. His goal was to prove that ‘an Erosion Marsh could become dangerous after consuming human brains’, but just one wrong step would make people think that ‘a synthesised human could conquer an Erosion Marsh’. This would only stimulate more development of the Player System.
Behind the 200 years that humans had been living in safety lay an unknown terror that no one knew when it might strike. Shu Jun used to think that the situation already looked bad enough, but now, it even seemed far more complicated just to keep his comrades alive.
Was this a battle no one saw coming?
On the other side, the mutated monster corpses gradually piled up and were enough to make one week’s worth of jerky. Zhu Yanchen pulled back one hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead and a little more vitality emanated from his face. Seeing that Shu Jun hadn’t responded for a long time, he looked at Shu Jun with worries, but what he saw was a smile on Shu Jun’s face.
“Interesting.” Shu Jun shook off the blood on his hands. “Marshal, let’s not even think about the first step, just solve it all at once. As usual, you can help me stabilise my condition, then I’ll go to meet those hidden friends of mine soon —”
“And you’ll help me take down the leader of the marshes?” Zhu Yanchen continued Shu Jun’s sentence.
“……And also we’ll try to solve the problem of synthesised humans at the same time. How about it, can you do it, Marshal?” Revealing his sharp canine teeth, Shu Jun stretched out his hand.
This wasn’t a formal statement. He was actually waiting for either a courtesy handshake or Zhu Yanchen questioning his arrogant speech. But, Zhu Yanchen didn’t hold that hand. Instead, he leaned closer, stretched out his thumb and wiped the blood on Shu Jun’s face.
His finger was so warm. As the fingertip rolled across his skin, Shu Jun’s back went stiff.
Zhu Yanchen said softly.
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”.