Chapter 113: Ashlands Ecosystem
The wilderness looked more dead compared to the time when the Old Task Force had just returned from Qifeng Town. It was as if winter had arrived overnight, replacing late autumn.
“Is it going to snow soon?” Long Yuehong looked at the leaden sky outside the window and guessed in anticipation. He had only seen snow in textbooks and slides.
As she drove, Jiang Baimian casually replied, “It should have snowed by this time in past years.”
In the passenger seat, Bai Chen glanced at the rearview mirror and said, “It might have snowed several times north of the swamp.”
The northernmost part of the Blackmarsh Wilderness was connected to an icy plain. It was a world that was freezing cold.
Bue since the Blackmarsh Wilderness was large, the weather in the area south of the swamp was not as extreme. It was the type that had four distinct seasons.
Long Yuehong retracted his gaze and sighed with emotion. “I really want to see what it means to be covered in white.”
Shang Jianyao—who was sitting upright—immediately replied, “That’s not auspicious.”
What can you expect from a hog but a grunt? Although Long Yuehong knew this very well, he couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”
He was very sensitive to topics like auspicious, bad luck, and fate.
Shang Jianyao tersely acknowledged it. “Think about it. How can it be auspicious when everything on the ground is covered in snow and only a white expanse remains?”
“That’s true…” Long Yuehong had to admit that Shang Jianyao made sense.
Upon hearing their conversation, Jiang Baimian added, “Every winter, countless wilderness nomads freeze to death. Snow is a disaster for them, right, Bai Chen?”
“Yes.” Bai Chen tugged at the gray scarf around her neck. “Many settlements have been in disrepair for years. It’s easy for collapses to happen when the snow gets heavy. Many people don’t have enough clothes, much less be able to keep warm.”
Long Yuehong fell silent for a while before sighing. “The company is still the best.”
In any case, the employees had winter clothes and real hot water bags.
At a higher rank, one would have a higher energy allocation quota. From time to time, one could also turn on a heater for an hour or two—if they could buy it or trade for it.
At the mention of Pangu Biology, Long Yuehong suddenly thought of something and asked in fear, “Team Leader, do you think the Life Ritual cultists on the surface will ambush us in Moat Town if our mission plan was really leaked and seen by the Life Ritual parish spies?”
The route could be changed, but their destination could not be changed!
Before Jiang Baimian could answer, Shang Jianyao’s smile had already become dazzling. “We can send bait over to test out the situation in such events.”
He patted Long Yuehong on the shoulder and said, “I’ll leave this glorious mission to you.”
“Why me?” Although Long Yuehong was unwilling to admit it, he knew that he was the weakest in the team. He couldn’t shoulder the responsibility of being bait.
On the one hand, it was really dangerous, and he was very scared. On the other hand, he felt that his mental fortitude was not at his team leader and Bai Chen’s level. It was very easy for him to screw up the mission of being bait.
Long Yuehong categorized the mental fortitudes of the Old Task Force members into four grades. He was in the lowest grade—the fourth grade. The grade above him was empty. Jiang Baimian and Bai Chen simultaneously occupied the second grade. Shang Jianyao enjoyed a grade by himself.
Shang Jianyao ‘solemnly’ explained, “Because you look like obvious bait.”
“…” Long Yuehong was momentarily at a loss for words.
At this moment, Jiang Baimian—who was driving—scolded Shang Jianyao jokingly. “Don’t scare him!”
She then said to Long Yuehong, “I’ll ask you a question: Does the company know where Moat Town is?”
“No,” Long Yuehong subconsciously replied before coming to a realization. “I see…”
Only then did he remember that one of the main reasons Moat Town had been able to survive relatively peacefully since the Old World was destroyed was that its location was hidden, making it difficult for outsiders to find it.
When Jiang Baimian reported this matter, she consciously concealed Moat Town’s exact situation and only said that she had encountered their hunting team in the wilderness.
After figuring it out, Long Yuehong blushed with shame. “I actually forgot about that.”
“You are mainly prone to panic when you encounter a situation that might bring danger. Remember to keep calm and think more about things in the future.” Jiang Baimian lectured him before consoling him. “However, it’s already pretty good for you to think that the Life Ritual parishioners outside the company might ambush us at our designated destination.”
Long Yuehong’s confidence increased after being praised. His train of thought changed as he excitedly said, “Therefore, the possible danger isn’t in Moat Town but Weed City?”
The Old Task Force’s two designated destinations were Moat Town and Weed City.
Compared to Moat Town, Weed City was considered a relatively famous city between the territories of Pangu Biology, First City, and the White Knights. It was well known by many Ruin Hunters and wilderness nomads, so there was no problem finding it.
Before Jiang Baimian could speak, Shang Jianyao also excitedly said to Long Yuehong, “You’re in good shape. Keep it up!”
I’m in good shape… Wait, why am I excited? This is such a serious and dangerous matter! Long Yuehong suddenly wanted to slap himself in the face.
“Why are you so excited?” Jiang Baimian reprimanded Shang Jianyao again before saying to Long Yuehong, “Not bad, not bad. It’s good that you can react so quickly. For the rest of the journey, we have to think about how we can enter Weed City without exposing ourselves. How can we determine if there’s anything wrong with the company’s intelligence personnel there? Heh heh, there’s no rush. It’s still early. Let’s settle Moat Town first.”
“Yes, Team Leader,” Long Yuehong replied loudly. He felt like he was slowly transforming into a trustworthy team member.
After driving for a while, Bai Chen looked outside for a long time and frowned. “There are many traces of animal migration.”
Upon hearing this, Long Yuehong realized that many footprints were concentrated in an area on the gray, yellow, and withered wilderness. It was as if they had trampled a path that led north and south.
“The weather this year is abnormal. Many monsters are migrating, and so are the animals.” Jiang Baimian recalled the information and news she had seen and heard. Her expression showed signs of emotion. “For many wilderness nomads, this winter will be a tough one.”
Just as she said that, a flock of strange birds flew across the sky. They were much larger than crows, and their bodies were covered in black feathers. Their skulls were exposed and stained with filth.
The flock of birds flew lower and lower before quickly landing in a nearby swamp. During this process, they didn’t make a sound. They were so quiet that it felt like they didn’t exist.
Upon seeing this, Bai Chen sighed and said, “Harbingers of Death… It seems like there are many corpses over there.”
“Harbingers of Death? Is that a kind of crow?” Long Yuehong inquired curiously. He remembered that the textbooks had mentioned that many places in the Old World viewed crows as ominous and called them Harbingers of Death.
Bai Chen retracted her gaze and explained, “This is a type of mutated creature. We call them Harbingers of Death or Bone Crows. They only eat corpses. Death will definitely exist wherever they gather.”
The driving Jiang Baimian nodded and added, “Such mutated crows are very magical. They can actually live perfectly fine despite having their skulls exposed. They aren’t aggressive toward living creatures, but you have to be careful if you encounter them. They have a proboscis that extends out of their mouths like that of a fly, which can spit out digestive fluids. These digestive fluids are very dangerous. It can quickly melt a corpse to aid the Bone Crows’ feeding.
“Since this digestive liquid can melt corpses, I believe the effects won’t be too different when used on living people.”
Long Yuehong imagined the scene and gasped.
“Then, here’s the problem,” Shang Jianyao said excitedly. “How’s the quality of this crow meat? What does it taste like when roasted?”
Jiang Baimian turned her head and glared at him. “This kind of crow has mutated. Coupled with the food they eat and their living environment, I wonder how many toxins and pathogens they carry.”
After she said that, Bai Chen suddenly said, “The meat is very good.”
Jiang Baimian held the steering wheel with one hand and touched her ear with the other. “You’ve eaten them before?”
“Yes, it was during a winter like this one. There wasn’t enough food. Compared to humans, I think it’s more acceptable to eat Bone Crows…” Bai Chen spoke in a tone of reminiscence. “The meat was surprisingly good. Their eggs were the best eggs I’ve ever eaten…”
Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong raised their hands at the same time and wiped the corners of their mouths.
After doing this, Long Yuehong came to a realization and felt ashamed.
Shang Jianyao turned his head and said to him seriously, “I controlled you with Inference Clowning, so you did the same thing as me.”
“Really?” Long Yuehong was enlightened and horrified.
“No,” Shang Jianyao replied with a smile.
Jiang Baimian ignored their conversation and asked Bai Chen curiously, “Were you not poisoned or infected with a disease?”
“The poisoning might not have been obvious, but it was still fine.” Bai Chen subconsciously looked out the window. “However, more than ten to twenty of us were sick, and almost half of us died. Their corpses also raised more Bone Crows…”
The corners of her mouth curled up slightly with a hint of mockery that was directed at an unknown entity.
“In the Ashlands, sometimes we can only choose the lesser of two evils.” Jiang Baimian sighed sincerely.
During this exchange, the grayish-green jeep sped through the wilderness. Before the sky turned dark, it burrowed into the swamp and arrived at Moat Town after making many turns.
As they already knew and had made transactions with each other, they were trustworthy people. Therefore, after Bai Chen appeared, the guards directly let them into the town and got them to stop the car in its usual spot—outside a wooden shed near the corner of the perimeter walls.
Jiang Baimian had just alighted when she saw a familiar face.
“Dog.” She smiled and greeted him.
The town guard—whose nickname was Dog—blushed and muttered, “I-I’m Ding Ce…”
Bai Chen didn’t give Dog a chance to continue and directly asked, “Where’s Mayor Tian?”
Ding Ce’s expression immediately became sad. “T-the mayor has fallen ill. H-he’s not going to make it.”