Chapter 236 The beginning of a disagreement
In these wastelands, there stood 178 strongholds. Stronghold 178 in the northwest was the westernmost one in all the territory controlled by the strongholds. The weather was extreme in that locale.
If you stood on the rampart walls of Stronghold 178 and looked into the distance, all you would see would be an endless stretch of devastated loess, and even the river that ran east was murky yellow too.
The Qing Consortium, the Li Consortium, and the Yang Consortium were situated in the southwest of the territory. Due to their geography, these three organizations were always the most intricately linked in the southwest. As for the territories of the other organizations, they had always found it difficult to expand southwest due to the region being inaccessible to them.
Of the southwestern region, the Li Consortium was farthest south. Reportedly, if you headed south from there, you would reach a rainforest you would very likely get lost in. In it were countless venomous insects, and legend had it that no one had ever managed to trek through this forest to get even further south.
But due to the effects of tectonics, the weather in the region of these three organizations was becoming much colder. In recent years, the rainforest’s ecology had also changed dramatically. The Li Consortium had even once planned to draw this rainforest into its own territorial lines and build a new stronghold within it.
The Qing Consortium was northeast of the Li Consortium on terrain that was easy to defend but difficult to attack. Stronghold 111 was even hailed as a mountain city due to it being built next to a mountain, and it acted as an extremely important land and water hub in the southwestern region.
The Yang Consortium was inside a huge basin with Longnan’s Zong Consortium and Stronghold 178 to its north. But in recent years, the Zong Consortium had been constantly plotting to usurp the northwestern territory that was controlled by Stronghold 178, although they didn’t have much of a conflict with the Yang Consortium.
This geography meant the southwestern region was a tripartite division where a power struggle was ongoing. The three organizations did not share their resources, and whatever the Li Consortium had, the Yang Consortium didn’t. Whatever the Yang Consortium had, the Qing Consortium didn’t.
There would always be a reason for war, and resources tended to be the true motivation.
But there used to be people who said they had visited the Central Plains to the east before and described it as a very prosperous place. There were even large human settlements that existed outside of strongholds too.
But in the Post-Cataclysm world, the world they knew was no longer around.
As New Year’s Eve passed, Hu Shuo probably arrived back inside Stronghold 108. The three war machines of the consortiums had already deployed their forces to hold their borders, where they waited within dozens of kilometers of each other for the real war to break out.
Yan Liuyuan and the others were very excited at first. But as it got later, they couldn’t endure anymore and fell sleep. Ren Xiaosu was sitting by the campfire alone as he thought about their future plans. He was thinking of what he could do to ensure that everyone would survive the ravages of war this time.
According to Hu Shuo, he could send Yan Liuyuan and the others to live in Stronghold 108. Even if the Experimentals attacked, they wouldn’t be able to break through the tight defenses of a stronghold. Besides, the effects of the war between the three consortiums wouldn’t affect the stronghold so quickly either.
Fighting a war was like playing a game. Nobody smart enough would go all-in at the very beginning
It started snowing. One of the house’s doors suddenly opened, and Yan Liuyuan came walking out wearing a coat. He sat down beside Ren Xiaosu. “Bro, are you worried about the war?”
“Mhm,” Ren Xiaosu acknowledged.
“Why don’t we leave this place?” Yan Liuyuan whispered, “Even if we have to head deep into the forested mountains, we could live very well there.”
Ren Xiaosu gave him a look and said, “And not have any more contact with the outside world ever again?”
“Bro, I know that you want to go to Stronghold 88 to look for Big Sister Xiaojin. But why didn’t she come and look for you instead?” Yan Liuyuan said, “Actually, I’ve already found out where Stronghold 88 is, but I don’t want to tell you. That’s because I don’t think it will be any different for us there. She’s an important figure of the Yang Consortium and we’re just refugees.”
Ren Xiaosu looked at Yan Liuyuan. They often had disagreements in the past as well, for instance, when Yan Liuyuan did not want to attend school and learn how to hunt instead. Ren Xiaosu used to reject his requests, and it led to them quarreling.
But this time, Ren Xiaosu realized Yan Liuyuan was really resistant to the word “stronghold” from the bottom of his heart. This made him hate those who lived in the strongholds as well.
Yan Liuyuan said, “Bro, the stronghold doesn’t welcome people like us.”
Ren Xiaosu sighed and said, “It looks like you were lying to me when you said that you were getting along with your classmates quite well back at Stronghold 109.”
“Mhm.” Yan Liuyuan nodded and said, “No one wanted to talk to me and Wang Dalong. In fact, they even avoided us like the plague. Their parents were always nagging them as though they were afraid their children would make friends with us. When the teacher asked a question in class and I couldn’t answer it because I’d never learned it before, the teacher would say that it was only normal that we refugees did not how to study and that we were stupid. Once, a classmate of mine lost something, and everyone immediately suspected me and Wang Dalong of stealing…”
Ren Xiaosu was silent. That was the stereotype the people in the strongholds had of refugees. It was a mindset that had built up within them over several decades.
Yan Liuyuan continued, “They searched both our desks and found nothing in the end. But at that time, Big Sister Xiaoyu often gave me pocket money for school, and it was a lot too, much more than what the other students would get. When the teacher saw the money, I was accused of stealing it, because they felt that a refugee couldn’t possibly have so much money.
“I tried to explain it to them, but it was of no use. Wang Dalong was so scared that he cried. But, Bro, don’t worry, I didn’t cry. You’ve mentioned before that this world doesn’t trust tears.” Yan Liuyuan said, “Bro, I don’t like it in the stronghold, nor do I like those who live inside of it. Maybe Big Sister Yang Xiaojin is different, but what about her family and friends?”
Ren Xiaosu sighed and said, “I don’t know.”
“So, Bro,”—Yan Liuyuan suddenly sounded resolute—”wait for her to come and look for you instead. If she doesn’t come, then it’s meaningless for you to travel all the way north to Stronghold 88. You once told me not to let the sorrows of our era become my sorrow as well, but this era’s sorrows have already become a cancer that’s ingrained within the stronghold’s residents.”
“You should have let me explain it to the teacher on your behalf,” Ren Xiaosu said.
“How would you have dealt with it?” Yan Liuyuan looked at Ren Xiaosu.
“I’d kill whoever dared to wrong you.” Ren Xiaosu said with a laugh, “We can’t go the north now anyway, so I’ll send y’all back to Stronghold 108 early tomorrow morning. You don’t have to attend school anymore. Just get Ms. Jiang to teach you. She might be a Chinese teacher, but she’s had formal training in education. That should be more than enough to teach y’all math, physics, and chemistry.”
Yan Liuyuan’s eyes lit up at the words. “I like Ms. Jiang Wu. I think she’s quite suitable for
“You little rascal!” Ren Xiaosu shot him a look.
Then Yan Liuyuan suddenly looked up at the hill. Ren Xiaosu followed his gaze and looked as well. He discovered the Wolf King standing there alone and looking straight back at Yan Liuyuan.
Ren Xiaosu was very certain the Wolf King was not looking at him but Yan Liuyuan. This was an event that had happened before when they were fleeing the previous time. However, Ren Xiaosu had some doubts in this moment. The Wolf King should have already led the wolf pack deep into the mountains. But on this night when Yan Liuyuan came to the outpost, it actually risked its own safety and came out just to have a look at Yan Liuyuan?
Ren Xiaosu asked, “Have you ever crossed paths with the Wolf King?”
“No.” Yan Liuyuan shook his head.
 Longnan Prefecture in south Gansu (bordering Shaanxi and Sichuan)