Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 30: Firefly
After a vague scream, there was only a rumbling collapse from a distance in the darkness.
Ruan Xian didn’t immediately put on his backpack. The wreckage of a certain lounge was lying under his feet, and the metal wardrobe was crushed and deformed. He bent down and pulled a white coat from the inside and put it on his body without buttoning it.
The vague white made him feel at ease, and the wide white gown perfectly hid the holster under his armpit. Ruan Xian believed that it could make him look more harmless.
Then he put on his backpack and led Tang Yibu into the thicker darkness. The smell of blood and the special fishy stench of fresh meat came from the air, and a torrent of aromas poured down from diagonally above. Those three people should be on the third or fourth floor, somewhere southeast of them.
Tang Yibu followed him lightly. The beverage bottles bumped against each other but were all wrapped in waste cloths or towels, so they didn’t make a sound. With an elegant gait, he silently ran over the broken glass and decayed wood chips, sticking behind Ruan Xian like a shadow.
There was no elevator in the stairwell two meters away, and the dark doorway was wide open. Tang Yibu swept over with the light, showing a densely covered net of some kind of creature, as compact as a loofah. Ruan Xian followed and glanced around, quite sure that there was a sticky climbing sound from the depths of the elevator shaft. He tended to shoot unnecessary curiosity and stayed as far away from them as possible.
Taking a few steps back, Ruan Xian led Tang Yibu to the dark stairwell.
The emergency exit sign was tilted to one side, still emitting fluorescence conscientiously. Intermittent crying and conversation came from upstairs, but no footsteps sounded. The three strangers were still there.
“The smell of corpses, but it’s not human. I smell the stench of ventral cockroaches.” After opening the decayed door of the stairwell, Ruan Xian suddenly stopped. “Are there ventral cockroaches here too?”
“There are ventral cockroaches everywhere. They eat everything,” Tang Yibu said in a low voice. “They will even gnaw on the corpses of mechanical life, even if the artificial tissue has no nutritional value for it.”
“I think it’s them that were eaten this time.” Ruan Xian lowered his voice even lower.
The faint sound of sucking and chewing came from the stairwell. The sound was small and light, like a lady enjoying foie gras in little bites. Tang Yibu extinguished the light, walked in front of Ruan Xian, and the two moved forward cautiously.
Ruan Xian saw something in the dark one step ahead. Unlike what he had imagined, there were no monsters blocking the stairwell.
Seeing them approaching, the corpse of a ventral cockroach slid down the wall.
The original smooth and flat wall was now as uneven as the surface of the moon, with a black hole the size of a washbasin embedded in the middle and fine fangs embedded in the edges. Centered on the giant mouth, strands of blue light flickered on the wall, which flowed towards the mouth along the radial track, creating a beautiful but deadly invitation.
However, neither of them was stupid enough to accept it.
“This is the Sea of Ruins. Can this thing be counted as a deep-sea animal?” Ruan Xian gave a huff. “A new species or…?”
“Mechanical life,” Tang Yibu said, carefully stepping across the abdomen that fell to his feet. “It is ingesting artificial tissue in the stomach of the cockroach.”
Seeing that the two of them were not fooled, the weird mouth opened and closed twice, and the blue light dimmed. It tried to stretch its mouth and sucked up the corpse shell of the ventral cockroach again.
The stairwell was empty and quiet, and the rest of the way was unobstructed. Ruan Xian didn’t go to the second or third floors, which were full of medicinal smells, and led Tang Yibu directly to the fourth floor of the ruined hospital.
The sobbing and whispering were less than ten meters away.
He didn’t know if it was because the drugs leaked, but the fourth floor was overgrown with plants. As soon as he opened the stairwell, Ruan Xian almost slipped on sticky moss. Translucent mushrooms exuded a faint milky white fluorescence in the dark, and everything in front of them was like a dream.
Ruan Xian nodded to Tang Yibu, who turned on the light knowingly.
As the lights lit up, the whispers and sobs not far away stopped instantly, and the click of metal friction sounded. The other party must have taken out a gun.
Ruan Xian held the blood gun tightly in his hand and leaned against the corner. “Don’t be nervous. We’re just here to find something.”
“People from the east.” The person not far away lowered his voice. “What should I do? Lu Ming couldn’t leave in this situation. We can’t fight them.”
“They could have just overtaken us without a greeting. Maybe they’re not malicious,” the female voice replied. “Either way, let’s try to talk first. The people in the east won’t send important people to such a dangerous place.”
The other person just grunted in pain.
Ruan Xian pursed his lips and stood out of the corner first. He raised his hands high. “We just arrived at the Sea of Ruins, and were thrown down by the people of the Stone Walkers to find something… I originally thought there was no one but us here, but I didn’t expect to hear screams halfway, so I came to take a look quietly.”
Tang Yibu immediately followed suit. He only held the locator for light in his hand. His whole person had a gentle and harmless appearance, lending credibility to Ruan Xian’s statement.
Although they tried hard to cover it up, the people on the opposite side still relaxed visibly to the naked eye.
There was a large area of long grass that resembled reeds between them. The tip of the grass had clusters of green fruits the size of gooseberries, and they emitted a bright green light. One of the people on the opposite side had inserted his left leg into the grass and was sitting at the edge of the grass, moaning in pain.
“This is…” Tang Yibu tried to prompt.
“I know.” Ruan Xian interrupted him. He had seen these things in the illustrated book of “treasures” given by the pirates. The pirates called it flickering grass, which was almost as valuable as medicine. The reason for its value wasn’t detailed, as it only mentioned that its stems and leaves could be used as raw materials for various props after treatment.
After the description, a blood-red warning was attached: “Extremely dangerous. Proceed with caution.”
The purpose of the group of people on the opposite side was obviously not in the stems and leaves. A cloth bag that was opened next to the injured person was filled with the fruits of the bright grass, and the fresh green shimmer illuminated the folds of the bag.
“They keep doing this, throwing innocent people down casually.” The woman stood up. She looked between twenty to thirty years old, her cheeks were badly sunken, and her whole body looked a little listless. “They didn’t give you a map, did they?”
“No.” Ruan Xian looked at her expression carefully.
“Since you are also looking for things in the hospital, did you find hemostatic spray and a bone saw?” The woman wiped the sweat from her face. “We don’t have enough hemostatic spray. Listen, we can give you a basic electronic map in exchange. Do you… Do you have it on you? 3 bottles of spray are enough, and the bone saw will be returned when we finish using it.”
There was indeed a bone saw in the backpack, and he had also caught a glimpse of Tang Yibu putting five or six bottles of hemostatic spray into the backpack.
“Do you mind?” Ruan Xian turned his head and looked at Tang Yibu.
“I’ll listen to you.” Tang Yibu had obviously entered observation mode.
“…Yes, but you have to pass the map first.” Ruan Xian cleared his throat.
“Then you guys throw over the bone saw first.” The thin woman bit her lip. She didn’t wear an electronic wristband. She just picked up the pendant hanging on her chest. A blurred light screen appeared in front of her. “After receiving the bone saw, I’ll immediately pass the map.”
Ruan Xian took out the bone saw from his backpack and threw it neatly to the other side, and the metal landed with a crisp sound. In almost the next second, his wristband that received the data vibrated.
“Quick, quick!” The woman immediately turned her attention to the map. “Lao Hu, you hold him down. We have to cut off his leg.”
“Prepare the blood supplement tablets first, and then talk about anesthesia!”
With a bite of the woman’s teeth, the saw that had been sterilized by the potion directly broke the flesh. The creaking sound made people’s skin numb, and the man whose legs were being sawed let out a whine that wasn’t human.
“Lao Hu, hold him down! If you move around, something will happen!”
“If you want… Why don’t we give him a firefly. I still have one left today.”
“No, Fan Lao said, at most three fireflies a day. Lu Ming has already eaten three today.”
“His screaming will attract the ventral cockroaches!” the man said anxiously. “Aren’t we desperate?! After getting so many materials back this time, Fan Lao wouldn’t care if we consumed an extra one. There are those two boys watching from the side. The sooner this happens, the better!”
Ruan Xian listened quietly to the conversation between the two. Since he threw the bone saw over, the man still looked nervously from time to time, and the woman had completely focused on her injured companion.
It was strange that there were no traces of animals around, and there were no fallen beams. If he fell into an ordinary trap, they didn’t need to use such an extreme method like amputation as soon as it came up. Ruan Xian couldn’t think of the reason for the other party’s injury.
Just as he was puzzled, the bright grass in front of him flickered.
It felt very strange. The grass that was still real just now was like a broken projection. After twisting for a while, it disappeared in place, and then flashed back in half a second. In just half a second, Ruan Xian saw the man’s leg clearly.
He took a step back and slammed his back into Tang Yibu’s chest.
That leg was bulging, and it was three times as thick as the other one. Compared with ordinary congestion and swelling, it was more like the legs of a scarecrow stuffed with too much grass. Countless grass leaves drilled out of the cracks in his skin, covered with blood, verdant, and still growing. The woman was trying to saw off the injured person’s thigh on the rapidly changing leg.
As the whole piece of grass flashed back, the wounded let out even more heartbreaking cries. The man next to the injured man moved quickly, and he took out a pea-sized pill from his pocket.
It rolled slightly in his palm, exuding a dazzling green halo, which was really a bit like a firefly. Ruan Xian could smell a sweet and creamy aroma from above. For some reason, he instinctively hated the smell.
The man exhaled, hesitated for a few seconds, and finally stuffed the pill into the injured man’s mouth.
“Hu Jian!” The woman holding the bone saw screamed.
The wounded man immediately calmed down. Through the gap in the grass, Ruan Xian even saw the intoxicated expression on the man’s face.
However, the intoxication was very short-lived.
In less than half a minute, the man who was still screaming opened his mouth wide, and grass leaves emerged from his mouth and nose at a speed visible to the naked eye, immediately filling his eyes and ear holes. The section of the wound that the woman was about to finish sawing also gave birth to grass, followed by the torso, arms, and the injured person’s whole body swelled softly.
The woman was still kneeling on the ground, holding a bloody bone saw, her face in a daze. “Lu—Lu Ming…”
As if hearing the call, the wounded man stood up by himself. His posture was weird and soft as he waded through his own blood. But instead of walking towards his companion, he rushed into the grass behind him.
The sound of landing was almost negligible, and soon the grass became thicker again.
“He—He’s infected. Linlin, he’s infected. We were too slow,” the man known as “Hu Jian” murmured. “If I knew, I would have brought Lao Pan down with me. Damn it, at a critical time, I couldn’t find anyone…”
The bone saw slipped from the woman’s hand, she buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking badly.
“I’m sorry,” Ruan Xian said softly. “Do you still need hemostatic spray?”
“…No need.” The woman stood up shivering and sniffled hard. She picked up the blood-stained cloth bag full of fruit at her feet and held it tightly in her arms. “You—You see… This is such a dangerous place. Newcomers shouldn’t be allowed to come down at all. If it weren’t for our limited equipment this time, I could take you away.”
“Thank you, but we have collected enough things.” Ruan Xian smiled soothingly. He could guess what she wanted to hear.
Sure enough, the woman’s expression eased a little, and her eyes were still flushed. “You are a nice person. Not suitable for the pirate nest in the east.”
“If you and your friends are having a bad time over there, there is information on the map. You two can defect to Elysium,” she added, after operating the equipment that seemed to be a position device in her hand. “The captain of the Walking Stones is a bastard who doesn’t treat humans like humans. You will know it when you see it. The living conditions on our side are much better, and you’re welcome to come over at any time.”
Two sets of metal spacesuits hung from the ceiling. After stuffing the loot and bone saw into the backpack, the only pair of men and women left stepped into the metal clothes and quickly sank into the ceiling with the cable.
“Elysium.” Ruan Xian turned his attention back to the grass in front of him, muttering in a low voice.
“Interesting, she shows no signs of lying.” Tang Yibu took out a knife from his backpack and aimed it at the roots of the grass.
“That’s because she believes what she said is true,” Ruan Xian snorted. “Humans do this occasionally.”
According to the man, the party was supposed to be a four-person team, but there were only two sets of metal spacesuits that had just been sent down. The person who answered above could adjust the number of metal spacesuits according to the content of the communication as there was no claim that the equipment was limited. Her tone was sincere and truthful, and she was unambiguous when she took the bone saw away. Her whole person is full of contradictions.
He didn’t have a good impression of the two of them just now.
Seeing Tang Yibu eager to try on the pile of grass, Ruan Xian also took out the knife in his backpack and decided to put the woman’s proposal on hold for the time being. “Tang Yibu, I just observed it. Before these grass flickers…”
“It will shake three times.” Tang Yibu shrugged, cutting the grass with a click. “I also noticed it too. From the situation just now, that kind of flicker may be the way they prey on animals—flashing into the body tissue, and then taking root and growing.”
Ruan Xian was slightly surprised. “Its fruit…”
“It has a slightly creamy flavor and a psychedelic component. It looks like it is not yet mature, and there are remnants of petals at the bottom of the fruit, but since they can bear fruit in this kind of place, we have to be careful about pollinating things.” Tang Yibu tied the grass as he spoke. “You wanted to say this?”
Ruan Xian put away his momentary surprise, and when he realized it again, a smile had already hung on the corner of his mouth without authorization.
Tang Yibu stopped pressing the straw bales into his backpack. “…This is the first time I have seen you smiling like this, Mr. Ruan. Is there any problem with what I just said?”
“No, let’s go.” It seemed that he didn’t need to slow down for someone else this time. This feeling wasn’t so bad.
But after returning to the territory of the market pirates, Ruan Xian’s subtle good mood quickly disappeared without a trace.
“Yo, Lao Tu is right, they are really two little white faces*. How rare.”
*[Xiao bai lan] (小白脸) Specific term used derogatorily to describe good looking men who rely on women for financial support. It can also be used to describe men who are handsome and fair-skinned, as opposed to rough and muscular men.
Across the glass curtain of the small room, a muscular middle-aged man was slumped on a chair not far away. He straightened his head. His beard was rough, and his facial features were tough and rigid. Combined with the slickness and ruffian-like expression; what little bit of possible righteousness disappeared without a trace.
The man stretched out, picked up the wine bottle on the table, and walked crookedly towards them. Then he lowered his head, and his frivolous gaze passed through the thick bulletproof glass and swept across the faces of the two of them. After observing, he blew a whistle and even knocked on the glass in front of Ruan Xian a few times with his knuckles.
“This is the first time I have regretted that I don’t like men. Oh, what a waste.”
The author has something to say:
Ruanruan is actually super suitable for the pirate’s den (×