Chapter 16: Interlude
Translator: virtual group Editor: virtual group
Long Yuehong was shocked. He instinctively grabbed the Berserker assault rifle beside him and jumped up.
While he hesitated about throwing away the lunch box in his other hand, Jiang Baimian looked around calmly. “There’s nothing…”
She then smiled at Long Yuehong. “Don’t be nervous. It still hasn’t come close, right? Sit down, sit down. We can eat when the canned food is heated up.”
As she spoke, she patted the grenade launcher, nicknamed Tyrant, beside her.
On the other side of the bonfire, Bai Chen carefully observed their surroundings for a while before returning her attention to the food.
“But Team Leader, there’s something approaching us! Aren’t you worried that we might be ambushed?” Long Yuehong couldn’t understand Jiang Baimian’s attitude.
Jiang Baimian stared at the canned food that had been opened a long time ago and said, “Isn’t Shang Jianyao on guard against such a situation? If that thing doesn’t come close, will we not eat and wait here for it? If we keep waiting until we are really starving and exhausted, that will only affect our performance.”
She gradually smiled. “In short, as long as the sky hasn’t collapsed, it shouldn’t stop us from filling our stomachs.”
Long Yuehong sat down doubtfully. From time to time, he would look up at Shang Jianyao, afraid that he would make a mistake and not discover any enemies that had entered a dangerous range.
The liquid in the can melted as the flames flickered, and an indescribable fragrance constantly spread out.
This was the scent of pork, soybeans, salt, and spices mixed together in a complicated process. It made everyone present feel like a hand had stretched out from their stomachs and uncontrollably drilled through their throats before arriving at their mouths.
“It’s done.” Jiang Baimian smiled sincerely.
At that moment, from the top of the collapsed building—where green vines entangled—a black figure pounced over and went straight for Long Yuehong, who was by the bonfire.
As the flames flickered, Shang Jianyao and the rest finally saw the black figure’s appearance clearly.
A female human. Her clothes were tattered, revealing her dirty skin that had thick hair growing. Her greasy hair hung down messily, congealed into many locks. Her nails were long and sharp as they shimmered with a cold light. Her eyes were bloodshot and turbid, like those of a wild beast’s. Her body was arched, and she was extremely fast. She resembled an ape that swung over with a vine.
Shang Jianyao had just raised the assault rifle in his hand when he heard a gunshot.
The black shadow fell to the ground heavily. Her face was facing upwards, and there was an exaggerated, grotesque, bloody hole in her left chest that reached her shoulder. There was nothing intact in the middle.
After twitching twice, the female human lost her life.
Jiang Baimian retracted her United 202 and calmly said, “A Heartless.”
Heartless… Long Yuehong curiously looked at the corpse in surprise. This was a term that no one could skip learning when studying the Ashlands’ history. It was also something described in great detail in Pangu Biology’s textbooks.
Heartless were also known as Lost Hearts. The term referred to humans who had Heartless disease. This disease was also known as the Bestial Transformation Disease or Atavism Disease. It meant that humans who had contracted the disease would lose all their rationality, thoughts, and feelings, turning into creatures that were no different from beasts. All that remained were their instinct to hunt, their survival instincts, and the instinct to use simple tools.
They were unable to communicate with each other and would take the initiative to attack normal humans, treating them as prey.
The earliest case of the Heartless disease appeared when the Old World was destroyed. In a short period of time, a large number of humans in each city became Heartless, and many more people, who were caught off-guard, died at the Heartless’ hands.
As the Heartless needed to eat to survive, they were like real beasts. Therefore, after humanity’s law and order collapsed, ushering in a great famine, they quickly lost a large portion of their city’s ‘food reserves.’ Less than 1% of the original population remained.
According to the observations of many historians in the Ashlands, in addition to hunting humans, the Heartless also preyed on beasts, excavated roots, harvested fruits, and captured mutated and unmutated mice to eat. When they were most hungry, they would attack each other.
Such a ‘diet’ and living environment made it very rare for Heartless to live past the age of 30. However, they had the instinct to reproduce and had a large number of descendants.
Meanwhile, the Heartless from subsequent generations had a little more intelligence and were equipped with better hunting abilities.
Logically speaking, after humans restored a level of law and order and came into control of sufficient firepower, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to deal with the Heartless—who were closer to beasts—but that wasn’t the case in reality.
On the one hand, although the Heartless didn’t know how to dismantle and maintain weapons, they knew how to use them. It was as if they had this instinct. This instinct became stronger with every generation of Heartless. Furthermore, the Heartless had the intrinsic qualities of humans. They could suffer corruption and mutate. This resulted in the painful deaths of a large number of Heartless, as well as the creation of a group of top hunters.
Of course, no matter how good the Heartless were at using weapons, they did not know how to conduct scientific research, nor did they know how to organize themselves to produce and maintain them. Even if they became top hunters, they could not cause too much trouble in the face of the firepower-rich human armies.
After all, humans had the technology to induce mutation and genetic modification. Even if they were not mature and had a low chance of success, they could still crush the Heartless, who depended on luck for food.
On the other hand, humans had never been able to figure out the Heartless disease’s pathology and spreading nature. They didn’t know how to prevent contracting such a disease. This resulted in soldiers not being willing to go to areas where the Heartless gathered, fearing that they would be infected.
Therefore, after the large factions eliminated the Heartless around them, they were unwilling to deal with the ones residing in the Old World’s ruins. Until today, Heartless remained a shadow that loomed over humans.
This was because a person who lived perfectly fine in a settlement might lose their rationale and intelligence after a nap and become a ‘beast,’ even if they had never directly come into contact with a Heartless. Their family and friends would be completely fine with no signs of infection at all—this was the conclusion the humans came to after prolonged isolation.
Several years ago, a large faction’s high-ranking member—who was extremely afraid of the Heartless disease—slept in a quarantine room. People had to wear a gas mask and a chem suit when they entered; likewise, he wore the same when out. Yet, he still became a Heartless one day.
Fortunately, the average rate of a Heartless disease outbreak wasn’t too high since the beginning of the New Calendar; otherwise, humanity might have already collapsed.
The corpse’s tragic state made Long Yuehong—who was looking at a corpse for the first time—feel a lump in his throat. He subconsciously turned his head away and didn’t dare look again.
“Looks like she’s a first generation.” Bai Chen recalled what had happened and made her judgment.
“From the tattered state of her clothes, it hasn’t been more than a year since her illness acted up.” Jiang Baimian looked at Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong. “Do you need me to go through Heartless knowledge with you again?”
Shang Jianyao did not answer and suddenly said, “This isn’t the figure I saw just now. The figure I saw was a little shorter.”
Jiang Baimian nodded slightly and said, “The two of you, search the corpse and see if there are any valuable items. Then, carry the corpse outside and bury it. Don’t go beyond the area that’s illuminated by the fire.”
She thought for a moment, walked to the jeep, took out four black objects, and threw one to Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong each. “Walkie-talkies. Effective range is two kilometers. It will have further range in open areas. Inform me immediately if anything happens. I believe you guys know how to use it, right?”
“I know how to repair it.” Shang Jianyao didn’t answer her question. He and Long Yuehong graduated from the university’s electronics department.
Long Yuehong latched the walkie-talkie on and walked hesitantly to the Heartless corpse.
The smell of blood, mixed with an indescribable stench, rose, almost causing Long Yuehong—who was cowering and not daring to look at the corpse—to vomit.
Shang Jianyao walked over and took the initiative to search the area. Then, he stood at the head of the corpse, which was close to where the gun wound was.
“Shall I do the honors?” he asked Long Yuehong.
“Uh…” Long Yuehong wanted to say that it wasn’t nice for Shang Jianyao to carry the corpse on his back.
“I mean, do you need me to do the honors of carrying you?” Shang Jianyao explained expressionlessly.
Long Yuehong laughed dryly. “No, it’s fine.” He bent down and grabbed the corpse’s feet.
Shang Jianyao placed his arms under the Heartless’s armpit.
Blood dripped down bit by bit. The two of them carried the corpse out of the clearing and dug a pit at the edge of the bonfire’s illumination range to bury the corpse.
This affected Long Yuehong’s appetite, making him eat only one compressed biscuit and half a can of soybean pork.
The sky became darker and darker. Jiang Baimian was just about to schedule their night shifts when a roar suddenly sounded from the distance.
“Howl!” This roar echoed through the clouds, sounding hoarse and desolate like a nightmare at night.
As soon as the roar ended, howling sounds echoed endlessly from different parts of the swamp.
Long Yuehong felt a little apprehensive and couldn’t help but ask, “Is that a wolf pack?”
“Have you seen a wolf pack scattered across different areas?” Jiang Baimian chuckled.
“Is it common for wild beasts to howl all over such a large swamp?” Long Yuehong asked nervously.
Jiang Baimian shook her head with a smile. “Not at all.”
“W-what should we do?” Long Yuehong blurted out a question.
Jiang Baimian looked at him in amusement. “This is indeed a little abnormal, indicating that something might have happened deep in the swamp. However, from the general area and direction, it doesn’t intersect our route or destination in any way. Therefore, ignore it.”
“Ignore it?” Long Yuehong looked at Shang Jianyao beside him and realized that he wasn’t afraid at all.
Upon hearing this, Bai Chen—who was in charge of guarding the surroundings—calmly said, “An abnormality or accident happens every few days in the Blackmarsh Wilderness. How can we manage all of that? In such a large wilderness, the chances of these matters affecting you are very, very low.”
“But what if it affects us?” Long Yuehong asked.
Shang Jianyao stared at the bonfire and said, “That only means your name sucks.”
Long Yuehong gritted his teeth and nodded. “…That’s true. If I’m unlucky, I won’t be able to escape it no matter what. If I’m lucky, I won’t encounter it at all.”
Jiang Baimian could not understand their conversation and was embarrassed to ask. She could only smile. “We are far from the area where the roar originated, so we don’t know the exact situation. Therefore, we can’t make any preparations in advance. Under the premise that we don’t retreat to the company, the only choice is to circle around that place and go further away. And that’s how our route is supposed to be.”
“This sounds much more reasonable than how you previously put it…” Long Yuehong thought for a moment and realized that two expressions with the same meaning had different effects.
Jiang Baimian smiled. “Therefore, you have to learn how to capture the essence of things. In this regard, Shang Jianyao is much better than you. Look, he has never been nervous.”
Shang Jianyao nodded slightly and said, “I’m just considering whether I should participate.”
“Huh?” Jiang Baimian, Long Yuehong, and Bai Chen wore looks of confusion.
Shang Jianyao opened his mouth and let out a sound.