Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
Chapter 42: Trap
The NPC’s tent was some distance away from the players’, so the two sides wouldn’t communicate unless it was necessary. However, it was impossible for Hu Yan not to come over after finding out that Shu Jun was here.
For players, the standard supply for missions was basic. Most people would bring some food and drinks and try to have some fun on the journey. Hu Yan liked to eat meat, so he brought small cans of meat as usual. As soon as Zhu Yanchen arrived at the tent, he was blocked by Hu Yan.
Hu Yan had a good personality, but he was a bit blunt and didn’t hide his likes or dislikes. When Yu Jin came over to shake hands, it was obvious that he had a good impression of him—while both Shu Jun and Zhu Yanchen only received one can of meat, Yu Jin received two.
Shu Jun: “…Are you dividing it up according to body size?” You know you’re the Blackbirds vice captain, right?
Hu Yan: “Well, of course.”
Yu Jin was a bit surprised. He touched his missing left eye and happily accepted the cans of meat. “Captain Hu, you’re too polite.”
“You’re welcome. You worked hard today.” Hu Yan’s smile couldn’t be concealed behind the gas mask. “Our people are ready. We just need to complete the information… Oh, Xiao Zhang?”
Shu Jun had some impressions of Xiao Zhang. He was a logistician among the combat personnel, responsible for contacting headquarters in areas with poor signals. At the moment, the young man was running out of breath. “Captain Hu, new information from headquarters has come in. Dong Lao finished the map analysis, and the result was given. He asked us to proceed with caution. Even if the mission is canceled, there will be no punishment… But as usual, he needs your opinion.”
“Send me the weather information and map analysis.” When it came to work, Hu Yan’s playful attitude was replaced by a serious one. “Let me see…”
He deliberately opened the screen projection so that the three “NPCs” could see it clearly.
“Oh, I have to say, this intelligence is much more detailed than what Dong Lao gave before. It’s very similar to Marshal Zhu’s.” Hu Yan looked at the terrain scans and labels and touched his chin.
Shu Jun pulled on Zhu Yanchen’s coat and lowered his voice. “You’re really good at multitasking, aren’t you?”
“I prepared an auxiliary chip.” Zhu Yanchen turned his head after reading the light screen.
Shu Jun had heard of this thing. It was a special error-correcting program that could infer flaws in a plan.
Auxiliary chips were more common in industries with relatively simple plans and no personalization. In terms of tactical planning, almost no one would deal with this kind of messy thing.
The reason was simple. Firstly, everyone had a different work style, making it difficult to apply the auxiliary chip universally. Secondly, it required a massive amount of data support and a particularly thorough understanding of its opponent—that being, the behavior of the Erosion Swamp.
Perfecting the data was a hard task, which required the designer to manually input all possible developments and unexpected situations and then learn and mature based on this. In other words, this thing needed to be taught frame by frame. When it was finally learned, the effect wasn’t much different from discussing it with a live person.
Most people wouldn’t do something so strenuous and thankless.
As for why Zhu Yanchen created the auxiliary chips… From the perspective of his purpose, it was probably part of his “posthumous arrangements”.
While he was alive, the chip was worthless. But once this “tactical master” died, the chip could ensure that his successor’s command level wouldn’t collapse and could also be used to veto tactics that were too radical under the pretext of style.
But that wasn’t the point of concern for Shu Jun.
No matter how much of a genius Zhu Yanchen was, this thing couldn’t be done overnight. Even if he worked tirelessly and completed it on his own, it would take about six years. Not to mention that this person also had to conduct research on the Erosion Swamp and chummy up with the border settlements.
…When did Zhu Yanchen start planning this fake death plan?
Shu Jun’s slight feeling of ease in his heart dissipated.
The longer he spent with Zhu Yanchen, the less he understood the person beside him. But no matter what the answer was, he had to keep him alive until he got it.
Shu Jun reached out and grabbed Zhu Yanchen’s wrist, his heart’s blood turning to lead. Zhu Yanchen was startled but didn’t resist.
Hu Yan’s voice came from the other end. “…Good, good. Originally, I was worried that the other side would drop a level and I would have to drop mine, thus we would lack a critical member of our team*. I was afraid we might run into trouble on this mission.”
*Two tanners can’t work without one who stinks (臭皮匠二缺一) Idiom referring when in a group or team, there’s always one person who has a unique or important skill that others don’t have, and that person is essential to the success of the team.
“Captain Hu.” Shu Jun gritted his teeth and adjusted his emotions for a moment. “Let’s keep things auspicious and stop talking nonsense.”
Hu Yan coughed twice. “What do you guys think?”
“It seems fine, and the weather is stable. But just in case, we should explore during the day and camp at night. It’s safer that way.” Yu Jin spoke first. “This way, we can make things more secure than usual.”
Zhu Yanchen looked meaningfully at Shu Jun, who understood and tightened his grip on Zhu Yanchen’s hand. “I didn’t notice anything wrong. But the data is indeed a bit strange, and I agree with ‘One Eye’s’ opinion.”
“Alright, my thoughts are similar. Leave 30 people as backup for emergencies. Cleanup teams A and B continue forward and carefully purify the surroundings. The vanguard, prepare 9 people. We’re setting off in ten minutes.”
The Erosion Swamp hated light and loved water, which was why the sky was particularly gloomy nearby. The dozen or so members of the vanguard entered the heavily eroded area first, each of them tightly wrapped in protective suits, looking like a team of wobbly gingerbread men.
Gingerbread Shu Jun was still holding Gingerbread Zhu Yanchen’s hand. People thought they were just supporting each other and conserving energy, so their attention was focused on the Erosion Swamp on the horizon.
Unlike Sweet Edge, this Erosion Swamp was even stranger.
The nearby ground was quite moist, and the dark clouds were reflected in the black water, disturbed by concentric ripples. The remains of a rocky hill protruded slightly on the horizon, and a slender column of erosion liquid extended from the mountain, pointing straight to the sky that was impossible to see the end of it.
It was like a suspension cable connecting heaven and earth.
There was also good news: There were no mutant beasts nearby. But with the strange atmosphere around them, this good news was starting to turn sour.
Three NPCs were leading the way, checking their surroundings as they walked. Their speed was as slow as an old ox strolling. The protective suits were already dull and heavy, and people gradually lost their desire to chat. As the sun was about to set, the team gradually came to a stop.
Apart from the fact that the nearby Erosion Swamp was a bit closer, the surrounding scenery had hardly changed. There were rolling dark clouds in the sky and on the ground, and they seemed to be advancing in a state of chaos.
Only one person still had plenty of energy at the moment—
“That Erosion Swamp looks a lot like a garden eel.” Shu Jun observed the swamp in the distance and initiated a conversation. “We’ve come this far, but I still don’t have any special feelings, and there’s no camouflage mirage nearby… The distance should be safe.”
“The concentration of erosion substance hasn’t changed significantly, which is a bit strange,” Zhu Yanchen raised his wrist and glanced at the detector.
“Except that it’s a bit damp here, I haven’t noticed any difference. The ground is just too wet, making it a bit difficult to set up camp.” Seeing the two of them start to chat, Yu Jin joined the conversation while panting.
After installing the erosion-resistant road signs to mark the route, the water vapor from his breathing caused the protective goggles to get wet and then dry. “It’s hard to explain. Logically, things should be going smoothly, but I just feel like something’s not right. Anyway, let’s call it a day here and tell Captain Hu. We should set up camp… Oh, that’s great. Despite the strangeness, we have canned meat to eat tonight.”
As soon as they finished setting up the waterproof stand, an unexpected event occurred—
Messenger Xiao Zhang had come again.
Thanks to the safety markers, Xiao Zhang caught up with them using a mud sled—they were completely cut off from the outside world here and could only use human messaging.
“What’s the matter?” Hu Yan was a bit surprised to see Xiao Zhang jump off the sled. Contact in the heavily eroded area was extremely difficult, so the next order wouldn’t usually come so quickly.
“Dong Lao’s new order.” Xiao Zhang still looked short of breath. “The previous scanning data was incorrect, and the result of this Erosion Marsh is normal. Don’t waste too many resources. It’s best to go early and come back early.”
Hu Yan didn’t make a fuss. Instead, he furrowed his brows. “Are you sure?”
“Very sure.” Xiao Zhang nodded and took a few steps forward. “Captain Hu, I’m also very surprised. But their information is absolute. This time, Dong Lao didn’t even give new intelligence data, and it’s likely that they really made a mistake.”
“I understand. Thank you for your hard work.” Hu Yan nodded. “You should use the mud sled first—”
Before Hu Yan could finish his sentence, a black shadow swept by, and a large sword split Xiao Zhang directly into two pieces. Hu Yan didn’t react and remained standing in place.
Shu Jun wielded his sword horizontally, separating Xiao Zhang and the rest of the team—he loosened the white cloth that covered Monday’s mouth and brain. Despite his clothes being bulky, his movements were still clean and neat.
Just a step away, “Xiao Zhang” fell down. His entire body was cut neatly into two pieces, but there were no hot and fresh internal organs or blood gushing out.
He was empty.
The outside of “Xiao Zhang” was covered by a protective suit and skin, indistinguishable from a living person, but inside there was only air, like a paper doll that had been stuffed and made to look alive. It sagged softly when it was cut by the large sword and gradually dissipated in the black water on the ground. The next moment, the mud sled also leaked air and melted into the ground.
“What—What—” Hu Yan was tongue-tied, but his gestures weren’t slow. Before Shu Jun could put away his sword, the Blackbirds members had already formed a defensive formation.
“The ripples it created don’t seem quite right,” Shu Jun whispered. “It doesn’t feel like a heavy object was ‘stepping down’, but more like a balloon ‘bouncing up’.”
“Retreat!” Seeing this anomaly, Zhu Yanchen almost immediately reacted. “We must retreat immediately. Otherwise, we will—”
“I guess it’s already too late,” Shu Jun muttered.
“What are you talking about?”
Hu Yan was still a bit stunned, while Yu Jin was still fiddling with the waterproof stand in place. Zhu Yanchen and Shu Jun looked at each other and stepped away from each other.
“Use your captain’s authority to activate maximum erosion protection for everyone’s protective suits. Then activate the emergency oxygen supply,” Zhu Yanchen said to Hu Yan. “Right now!”
“Take the waterproof cloth from your tent and wrap it around yourself as tightly as possible!” Shu Jun twisted the speaker on the protective suit and deliberately pinched his throat. “Hurry up. Don’t just stand there!”
The Blackbirds members looked at each other, but since this person was an official NPC and his tone of reprimand was quite familiar, they subconsciously followed his instructions.
Hu Yan was also decisive. He took a deep breath and gritted his teeth as he followed the instructions.
“It’s done, now tell me why—shit!” Before he could finish his question, he got his answer.
There was a disturbance coming towards them.
At this point, Hu Yan had also come to his senses. If the giant liquid column was the flower stamen, this evil flower had hidden its thin petals beneath the surface of the water. The Erosion Swamp had spread its erosion substance extremely thin but was still solid, so the concentration of erosion substance along the way wasn’t very high.
Now that it had been exposed, it had collected these flattened “petals” towards the center, wrapping them in a circle. As for the water used to hide the erosion substance, it converged into a broad and unrecognizable petal and surged up, turning into a huge wave that attacked everyone.
From the moment the vanguard team stepped into the heavily eroded area, they were facing a trap.
Yu Jin reacted quickly. He ran over with the waterproof cloth and wrapped the four of them inside. Shu Jun held onto Monday with one hand and Zhu Yanchen, who was closest to him, with the other.
The murky water instantly engulfed the team.
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