Embers Ad Infinitum - Chapter 53
The man holding the watermelon knife sighed. “Don’t mention it. I was forced here by Old Bat. I kept telling him to wait one more day, but he wouldn’t listen!”
Jiang Baimian subconsciously wanted to ask who Old Bat was, but she rationally shut her mouth after opening it.
In fact, Shang Jianyao had planned on asking the same question. However, his logical inference told him that this would definitely damage their ‘brotherhood’ and leave the other party confused. Since they were brothers, how could he not know who Old Bat was?
He laughed. “Ah… Old Bat… Why is he in such a rush?”
“What can he do? Isn’t it all because someone is rushing him!?” The man holding the watermelon knife and the black pistol rubbed his greasy hair and said with a frown, “Those guys kill people on a dime. Who dares to be cursory with them…”
“Those guys?” Shang Jianyao deliberately revealed a confused expression. “My last return wasn’t that long ago, and something has already happened?”
Although he really wanted to ask who ‘those guys’ were, Shang Jianyao stayed patient.
The man holding the watermelon knife was stunned for a moment as if he didn’t expect the brother opposite him not to have returned for quite some time.
A few seconds later, he sighed again. “It’s a long story. Ever since Hyena and the rest came, we don’t even have a nest to sleep in! Several elders froze to death at night.”
When he mentioned Hyena, he instinctively looked around as if he was afraid of being overheard.
Hyena… Shang Jianyao turned his head and looked at Jiang Baimian to see if his experienced team leader had heard of this nickname.
Jiang Baimian’s expression darkened a little as she nodded thoughtfully.
“F*ck that Hyena’s mother!” Shang Jianyao deliberately cursed.
The man with the watermelon knife seemed to want to curse as well, but he ultimately didn’t dare. He said unhappily, “He doesn’t have a mother.”
At this point, the man—whose exact age wasn’t discernible—recalled something and said, “I was only a teenager back then, and Hyena hadn’t become a bandit yet. I heard that his mother was eaten by a bunch of Subhumans who came from nowhere.”
Shang Jianyao’s eyebrows slightly twitched as he blurted out a question. “Was it the Ratpeople?”
He learned from Jiang Baimian that Blackrat Town’s residents were called ‘Ratpeople’ by the humans around them. This was also a term filled with discrimination.
“No.” The man holding the watermelon knife shook his head. “That group of Ratpeople has been here for decades. They were here before I was born. They are good at harvesting and excavation. They can find and eat anything. They aren’t the kind that wanders around.”
Shang Jianyao fell silent for a few seconds before asking, “Why are Hyena and the others here?”
“T-they said that something was discovered at Yuelu Station. Old Bat asked, and Hyena’s men weren’t sure either. They’ve sent someone to investigate.”
After the man with the watermelon knife said the word ‘investigate,’ he suddenly recalled his mission. He immediately wore a glum expression. “I wonder what’s abnormal here. If I have nothing to report today, Hyena’s men might throw me to feed the dog.”
“Dog?” Shang Jianyao subconsciously asked.
The man with the watermelon knife spat. “Hyena raises a very fierce dog and treats it like his son! He also keeps saying that we’re useless and that he might as well feed us to the dog since nobody can defeat his dog in a one-on-one battle.”
After complaining, the man asked in anticipation, “Brother, what have you discovered here?”
“Nothing,” Shang Jianyao replied truthfully. “The people who set off the fireworks previously have long retreated. Nothing was left behind!”
“Is that so… Then, why did they set off fireworks? Uh… Old Bat said it was some signal explosive?” The man with the watermelon knife looked like he wanted to return.
Shang Jianyao looked in the direction the baseball-wielding man had fled in. “Who knows? Just go back. If Hyena doesn’t believe you, get him to send someone else to investigate. Oh right, I scared that brother just now. Catch up with him later and help me explain.”
“Sure.” The man holding the watermelon knife patted his chest. “When are you guys returning?”
“Soon, soon.” The corners of Shang Jianyao’s mouth curled up bit by bit. “Remember to tell Old Bat that we’ll pay Hyena a visit soon.”
“Visit…” The man holding the watermelon knife suddenly sensed that something was amiss, but he wisely gave up considering the matter when he saw the grenade launcher in Shang Jianyao’s hands and Jiang Baimian’s assault rifle.
He quickly turned around and waved his hand. “Pray we meet again.”
“Pray we meet again.” Shang Jianyao waved his hand enthusiastically.
After watching the man with the watermelon knife disappear at the end of the road, Jiang Baimian glanced at Shang Jianyao. “What? Are you still going to stand in the middle of the road, afraid that others won’t see you?”
There was no intact or formed path between the mounds and hills, but with more people traversing them, a trail naturally formed.
As she spoke, Jiang Baimian turned into a relatively obscure spot on the side of the hill.
Shang Jianyao followed and exchanged weapons with his team leader before asking, “Who’s Hyena?”
Jiang Baimian chuckled. “He’s a relatively famous bandit leader in the Blackmarsh Wilderness. His main activity is usually around the White Knight’s territory. He became famous more than ten years ago. He wasn’t considered old back then. It’s still a question if he’s even 30 years old now.
“His band of bandits grew stronger bit by bit. In the beginning, there were three to four people and four to five guns. Now, there are 17 to 18 core members with plenty of firepower and good equipment. Some people suspect that Hyena controls an Old World arsenal, which is why they developed so quickly.
“If it weren’t for the fact that he doesn’t occupy a relatively good mine or field, he definitely wouldn’t have only 17 or 18 core subordinates. He could have expanded his forces to at least 200-300 people. This way, he can build a large settlement that he can call his own, one that’s similar to Weed City. Then, he can consider which large faction he wants to be roped into. From then on, he would have a guarantee or be a small faction with influence.
“Heh heh, it’s also possible that Hyena finds it too tiring to have hundreds or thousands of people under him and that it’s too troublesome to manage a city. Cities also have to suffer the wrath of large factions usually. It’s far worse than being bandits who can live a carefree life. That’s probably why they maintain their current scale.
“Ah, yes, his real name is Lin Li.”
Shang Jianyao listened carefully and concluded, “They’re very suspicious, and there are more people than we expected.”
They had nearly 20 core members and at least 100 vassal members.
“They even have armored vehicles, heavy machine guns, and rocket launchers,” Jiang Baimian added. “However, they probably don’t have any military exoskeleton equipment, bionic artificial intelligence armor, Gauss weapons, or plasma weapons. From the looks of it, even if the rumors are true, the arsenal held by Hyena only consists of common-grade weapons. There’s nothing of high-quality.”
Upon seeing Shang Jianyao remain silent, Jiang Baimian smiled and said, “With our Old Task Force’s current strength, we do have a high chance of getting rid of this band of bandits if we launch a surprise attack. Those vassals won’t really risk their lives for Hyena as long as we don’t give him a chance to command his troops. However, with their members’ quality and equipment, we have to be prepared for at least half of us dying.”
As she spoke, Jiang Baimian turned her head to look outside their hidden spot. “Besides, there might not be a chance to launch a sneak attack. You actually let that wilderness nomad return just now. Aren’t you worried that he will sense something abnormal if he changes the environment? Aren’t you worried that he will report the matter and let Hyena guess that we have Awakened?”
“Otherwise? Kill him?” Shang Jianyao replied without changing his expression.
“How soft-hearted.” Jiang Baimian scoffed. “Me too. People hailing from large factions like us—who have never experienced the Chaotic Era’s various disputes—tend to be soft-hearted.”
She then said, “But if we really want to launch a sneak attack, we should’ve completely controlled the wilderness nomad, only releasing him after this matter is over. You should already have considered this. You have always been very vigilant about when your abilities are ineffective.”
At this point, Jiang Baimian laughed. “In conclusion, you’ve already given up on the idea of attacking the bandits by yourself. What a good friend!”
“We still can’t be sure that it’s Hyena’s group,” Shang Jianyao replied expressionlessly. “Let’s wait for the company to send the troops.”
“Good idea!” Jiang Baimian smiled and praised him.
Shang Jianyao looked around and suddenly frowned. He asked, “Team Leader, what kind of reaction do you think Hyena and his people will react when they hear the report?”
“I’ve never interacted with them before, so it’s very difficult for me to make a judgment. However, I can tell from the nickname ‘Hyena’ that these people are good at bullying others with their numbers. They are good at tailing, tracking, and launching sneak attacks. Although they are ruthless and cruel, they are definitely not crazy or rash.
“Ah, I’m just saying. I can’t be sure, so I’ll have to verify it with Bai Chen later,” replied Jiang Baimian after some thought. “Anyway, there are only two scenarios. The first is to reverse search this area before the company’s troops arrive, kill us investigators, and erase the corresponding traces. However, the fact that the emergency flare was a trap itself has to be taken into account. Hence, there’s a possibility of them walking right into it.
“Second, immediately abandon the vassals that are entrenched here and move the core members away. They don’t have a lot of people and have sufficient transportation tools. They have also obtained a lot of supplies from Blackrat Town. Their movement definitely won’t be as draggy and slow as a large troop. Furthermore, there are too many areas where they can hide in the wilderness.
“After they figure out who the enemy is, they can migrate to other large factions’ territories and change their region of banditry.”
Upon seeing Shang Jianyao’s eyes light up, Jiang Baimian deliberately snorted. “Are you thinking that you will wear the exoskeleton and destroy them one by one if they dare to do a reverse search?”
Without waiting for Shang Jianyao’s response, the tall woman with a ponytail smiled. “How can I give you such a chance? I will obviously be the one doing the honors!”
She then changed the topic. “However, I believe it’s more likely that Hyena and the others won’t have any reaction.”
“Why?” Shang Jianyao was rather puzzled.
Jiang Baimian restrained most of her smile. “The vassals—who were coerced—might not necessarily be loyal to Hyena. They can’t wait for a large faction to chase away Hyena. After all, the worst that can happen to them is being captured and enslaved. It’s better than being cannon fodder for Hyena. Besides, they have plenty of chances to escape if a fierce battle really ensues. If that Old Bat is smart, he will know what to report and what to hide.”
Shang Jianyao seemed to be in thought as he slowly nodded.
The two of them stopped discussing and continued observing their surroundings, but they didn’t discover anyone suspicious.
When it was almost time for lunch, they ended their operation and returned to the hidden camp on the hill.
The day passed uneventfully. In the middle of the night, Shang Jianyao—who was sleeping in the tent—was woken up by Long Yuehong. He carried the Berserker assault rifle and took over the night duty.
After patrolling the area, he cast his gaze down. He could directly see the forest and Blackrat Town’s blocked entrance.
In the dim and extremely quiet night, a boulder around the cave suddenly dropped.