In the gloomy forest, the rustling leaves seemed to suggest that there were some horrible creatures shuttling through the canopies. Everyone held their breaths as they kept their eyes on that strange, white figure in front of them. It was as though they were afraid that their “aura” would provoke it into attacking them.
Why was there a woman scratching a tree with her back facing them in a place like this? Nobody could understand it.
But the more they couldn’t explain it, the greater their fears.
Next to him, Ren Xiaosu found that Yang Xiaojin looked very nervous for the first time. He could see her pursing her lips while her knuckles turned white from gripping the gun so tightly.
Xu Xianchu’s shadow clone was standing right in front of him. It seemed that it was guarding against the woman in white in case she suddenly pounced at him. But in reality, that woman was still dozens of meters away from them.
“Should we take a detour?” Ren Xiaosu whispered, “She might not follow us.”
Just as he finished speaking, a strong wind gusted through the forest, and the woman in white seemed to float up.
Xu Xianchu clenched his teeth and said, “We can’t avoid it. If something like a ghost can stop us here in our tracks, how do you expect to get to the Jing Mountains?!”
Xu Xianchu then commanded his shadow clone to move towards the woman in white as he followed closely. Ren Xiaosu and Yang Xiaojin gave each other a look. They did not expect Xu Xianchu to be so brave in this situation.
Some people tended to make outrageous claims in normal times but would get timid, nervous, or scared in the face of something serious. Others were different. The more dangerous a situation, the calmer they would be. There was a kind of ferocity embedded in their bones!
“Let’s catch up,” Ren Xiaosu said.
A second later, Ren Xiaosu and Yang Xiaojin tacitly followed Xu Xianchu. As they were all in the same boat now, they couldn’t let Xu Xianchu take on the risks by himself.
Liu Bu was trembling as he said, “What should we do? Should we follow them?”
“But what if something else like that also appears beside us?” Luo Xinyu said in fear. After that, she caught up to them with Wang Lei following close behind.
Seeing that he was all alone, Liu Bu got even more frightened. He whispered, “Wait for me!”
Ren Xiaosu said to Xu Xianchu from behind, “Once you find that you’re no match for her, restrict her movements with your shadow clone and buy us some time so that we can concentrate our firepower on her.”
Xu Xianchu, Ren Xiaosu, and Yang Xiaojin were all carrying guns. On the surface, this was the strongest direct form of attack they had. If this woman in white turned out to be unafraid of bullets, there was nothing more they could do!
Xu Xianchu answered softly, “OK… watch my back, and pay close attention to the surroundings.”
Ren Xiaosu was a little puzzled. Perhaps the people in the stronghold had not experienced life like those who lived in town, so they were more trusting of others than the refugees.
Living in town, there was even a need for someone to keep watch at night while they slept. People who grew up in such an environment would never ask someone they barely knew to watch their backs.
Was that the difference between the town and the stronghold?
The three of them cautiously approached the woman in white. However, a strange feeling grew inside them the closer they approached.
Ren Xiaosu was initially crouching because this posture was the easiest for him to make a move. In the end, he slowly straightened up as he stood and said, “What the hell is this?”
Xu Xianchu was also confused. He commanded his shadow clone as it swayed towards the “woman in white” and “plucked” her down from the tree.
It was a… tattered, plastic, female doll, the type that looked inflatable.
“Uh…” Ren Xiaosu walked beside Xu Xianchu and looked at it for some time. “What is this thing?”
“I don’t know,” Xu Xianchu said, shaking his head. As they had never seen this thing before, they all expressed their lack of knowledge. “But it looks to be in terrible condition.”
Ren Xiaosu asked, “Is this not something from the stronghold?”
“I’ve never seen it before in the stronghold,” Xu Xianchu denied again.
Everyone did not know whether to laugh or cry as they wondered what this doll was. They were just frightened by something as crappy as it! It wasn’t until they got close to it that they realized something was off!
“Wait a minute, there’s something else under the tree.” Ren Xiaosu happened to spot a metallic box that was caught within the knotted tree roots.
Ren Xiaosu took his dagger and poked the rusty box. As a result, the metallic box, which was already badly corroded, crumbled the moment the dagger touched it slightly.
The metallic box contained several light-red pieces of paper. When the metallic box crumbled, the pieces of paper also turned into powder along with it. In the blink of an eye, only one item was left from inside the metallic box.
It was a piece of green plastic. Rather, it was a piece of green paper wrapped between two plastic sheets. The green paper had mysterious twisting and turning patterns, not unlike tadpoles, printed on it.
“This…” Xu Xianchu was stunned as he looked at the “plastic sheet” in Ren Xiaosu’s hand. “Could this be something that was left behind by human civilization from before The Cataclysm? And that plastic doll too? It takes several hundred years for plastics to fully decompose, even if they’re buried underground. So while everything else has already decomposed, this thing was preserved.”
“But what’s this strange pattern on it? Is it hiding some kind of a secret?” Yang Xiaojin frowned and wondered about it.
“Don’t you all think it looks like a map?” At this moment, Liu Bu and the two who had rushed over said, “These symbols contained within the square grid are turning in all sorts of different directions. It looks just like a maze!”
Xu Xianchu and Ren Xiaosu’s eyes lit up. “Could this be a map of that mysterious city in the Jing Mountains?!”
“Eh?” Luo Xinyu said, “Look, there are some words on it.”
Due to the decomposition, the plastic sheet had discolored and yellowed. But after Luo Xinyu’s observation, they took notice and saw a small line of words below the mysterious pattern.
Ren Xiaosu carefully read aloud, “Please scan the QR code for payment?”
The group was confused. “What’s a QR code? Who do we pay it to?”
“What? We still have to pay to get through the maze?”
Because knowledge of civilization had become lost through the generations, nobody knew how some things worked during the Pre-Cataclysm times. Some of these practices had been abandoned by humans because they had no use for them, while others were forgotten during the Dark Age of Survival.
No one had seen these things in the stronghold or town before, so its function had become a mystery.
In any case, it was not a map of a maze.
Ren Xiaosu looked at Xu Xianchu. “Are you sure there’s a mysterious city in that place? Can the mystery of the evolution really be found there?”
“If not, how do you explain the current changes occurring in the Jing Mountains?” Xu Xianchu asked.
“Indeed…” Ren Xiaosu said, “The mountains are always full of secrets, but I keep getting the feeling that the city might not be that mysterious….”
“Let’s go, we’ll only find out after we see it for ourselves.” Xu Xianchu carefully placed the QR code into his breast pocket as though he was afraid of damaging it.
“Should we take this tattered doll with us?” Liu Bu asked.
“Just bring it along, I guess. Who knows if it’ll be useful or not?” Xu Xianchu said.