After all, anyone would know the wilderness was not entirely safe. As the saying went, one must be vigilant to not be harmed. If it were Ren Xiaosu, he would never offer others a lift.
Of course, not many people would hitch a ride from him either.
The middle-aged man said with a smile, “It’s along the way since we’re also heading to Stronghold 74. However, we need to make a stop at a remote place midway, so if you don’t mind that, we can offer you a lift to Stronghold 74.”
Ren Xiaosu was stunned. He broke out into a smile and said, “Sure, thanks.”
The young man in the front passenger seat also said enthusiastically, “Get in quickly then.”
Ren Xiaosu got into the backseat. He then heard some music playing from a cassette in the vehicle and wondered why the singer’s voice sounded so familiar.
Ren Xiaosu only managed to react a few seconds later. Wasn’t this Li Ran’s voice? Although he had never listened to her songs before, her voice was very recognizable.
In that instant, Ren Xiaosu did not know what to say. He had clearly escaped so he could avoid that woman. But now that he was outside, he still had to listen to Li Ran’s songs. She really was just like a lingering spirit.
During the journey, Ren Xiaosu realized the middle-aged man and the young man were not father and son. From the way the young man kept addressing him as his teacher, it seemed they were actually a master and disciple.
The two of them did not ask about his identity, nor did they ask why he was heading to Stronghold 74. It seemed like they were simply giving him a lift.
However, the middle-aged man had specifically mentioned they would have to make a stop at a remote place to handle some affairs. This made Ren Xiaosu very wary. What could be in a remote place? Very few people lived in the wilderness, so if they really turned into some remote place, could they be planning to lead Ren Xiaosu into a trap?
However, Ren Xiaosu did not say anything. Instead, he asked calmly, “May I know why the two of you are heading to Stronghold 74?”
The middle-aged man smiled and said, “Actually, we’ll only be passing by Stronghold 74. After dropping you off near the stronghold, we’ll be heading into the mountain range west of Stronghold 74 to pick some herbs. Now that very few people are living in those mountains, there will be plenty of treasures naturally growing there.”
Ren Xiaosu asked, “Do you mean the legendary Heavenly Materials and Earthly Treasures?”
The storyteller told stories such as The Investiture of the Gods, and in those stories, the Heavenly Materials and Earthly Treasures were herbs that were extremely helpful for cultivators.
When the middle-aged man heard Ren Xiaosu ask this, he said with a smile, “No, no, I was just referring to mountain products, common herbs that can help strengthen my disciple’s body.”
Ren Xiaosu nodded. From the sound of it, they were martial artists?
There was an old saying that went, “The poor study, while the rich learn martial arts.” That was because studying could change the fate of the poor, while those who were not rich had no way to practice martial arts since they could not afford the herbs and tonics to strengthen their bodies.
But were they really going to pick herbs in those forested mountains? Ren Xiaosu did not believe it.
In the afternoon, the off-road vehicle suddenly deviated from the main road and drove towards a more desolate wilderness. Ren Xiaosu sat quietly in the backseat and did not show any expression.
He thought to himself, ‘They might be making a move soon.’ Be it robbery or revenge, these two had probably been plotting this for a long time.
After the vehicle came to a stop, the middle-aged man placed his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Ren Xiaosu frowned. They actually had partners?
Following, there was a rustle in the woods nearby. Five honest-looking refugees emerged from it, and they said to the middle-aged man in surprise, “Old Li, you haven’t come here in a long time.”
“Enough talk, the medicine’s in the trunk. Hurry up and unload the items from the vehicle.” The middle-aged man named Old Li said with a smile, “We brought antibiotics this time. That’s something you guys lack most in the wilderness.”
Behind them, Ren Xiaosu, who was ready to kill at a moment’s notice, was shocked. He thought the two people had taken him here as a convenient place for them to make a move on him. As it turned out, they were only delivering medicine to refugees?
Ren Xiaosu knew exactly what refugees looked like. He tried looking closer at the woods but could not see what was in that darkness.
When Old Li opened the trunk, Ren Xiaosu saw two cartons simply sealed with adhesive tape.
One of the refugees handed a basket of eggs to Old Li. “We don’t have anything good here, only these eggs. Please accept them.”
Each of the eggs was the size of a fist, and it was clear they were from chickens that had evolved in the wilderness. They were completely different from the domestic eggs found in the stronghold. In the past two years, eating exotic meat had become very popular in the strongholds. Whoever could treat others to a meal of exotic meat would be very popular and well-respected by their friends.
In the past, Ren Xiaosu was able to sell sparrows for a living because the stronghold residents were fond of such exotic fare.
But no matter how expensive wild chicken eggs were, they could not be more expensive than antibiotics. Medicine could save lives!
Old Li did not decline their gift. He took the eggs from the refugee and handed it to his disciple. “I still have to go to Stronghold 74, so I won’t be eating with you today. What else do you need? I can bring it for you when I get back from Stronghold 74.”
A refugee hesitated for a moment before saying, “It’ll be winter soon. Some children in the mountains won’t be able to endure the cold. Can you buy a few coats for them? But if it’s really inconvenient, then never mind…”
Old Li asked decisively, “How many do you need?”
“OK, I’ll make a trip to the town at Stronghold 74 then. There’ll be coats for sale there,” Old Li said with a smile.
That refugee rubbed his hands together and said with a smile, “I’m so sorry to keep troubling you.”
“It’s nothing,” Old Li said and smiled.
“I wonder, how much do the coats cost in town now?” the refugee asked. “We still have some savings here.”
Old Li pointed at the eggs in his disciple’s arms and said with a smile, “These wild chicken eggs are already worth a lot, so that’ll be enough.”
After the trade was concluded, Old Li and his disciple got back into the vehicle and started the engine. Ren Xiaosu could not help but feel that these two did not seem like drug peddlers either.
“You can at most trade one coat for that basket of wild chicken eggs. I’m quite familiar with the prices in town. You two are purely performing good deeds, arentcha?” Ren Xiaosu asked.
Old Li said with a smile as he drove, “We have a rule that after we become a Ri—an adult, we must go to the towns to experience how the refugees live. Back then, I was so arrogant I almost couldn’t survive in town. It was this group of refugees that fed me and allowed me to live. Later, they escaped when they couldn’t stand the consortium’s exploitation of them and the stress of living in town.”
Ren Xiaosu nodded. So it turned out there were also honest people in town, and some would silently endure where they could. This caused those arrogant people who mistreated them to become even more arrogant. In the end, the honest people could only escape town when they could no longer stand the suffering.
Besides, even if they continued working for the consortiums, they would still have nothing to their names other than a shack when they grew old. Even if they farmed for the consortiums, they would still only be drawing a salary.
Therefore, some people would rather choose to live a hard life in the wilderness. At least the crops they cultivated would belong to them.
 The Investiture of the Gods or The Creation of the Gods is a 16th-century Chinese novel and one of the major vernacular Chinese works in the “gods and demons” (shenmo) genre written during the Ming Dynasty. | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investiture_of_the_Gods