Chapter 16    Post-Battle Town

The sky was dimly lit from the break of dawn. Gentle sunlight rose from the east and spilled on the streets of the safe zone. Shadows of buildings, trees, street lamps, and telephone lines intertwined on the gilded brick pavements like a warm, golden painting. A refreshing zephyr came through the town that just experienced a massacre from afar. The zephyr blew across the intersecting alleyways, mingling the scents of grass, mud, blood, stench, and gunpowder together.

The cawing noises came from the roofs and telephone lines above. The jet-black feathers of the ravens reflected the morning sun as they left their nests earlier than usual. Their beady little eyes rolled around in the middle of their tiny heads as if they wanted to look down at the river of blood and the fetid pile of human and dreadwolf bodies.

For a while, bird caws circled around above the town, bringing tidings of death everywhere. The cawing sounds added an extra layer of melancholy to the town after a bloodbath.

Clean up tasks were carried out orderly. Members of the mercenary squad held megaphones from the civilized era and shouted at high decibels to gather every single civilian that hid in the buildings. An Yi made an unprecedented decision to use food as an incentive for cleaning up the dead bodies on the streets. They used jute bags, shrouds, and just their own arms as tools to carry away those broken bodies. These bodies that were bitten to death by dreadwolves exhibited all kinds of horror, and they were carried outside the town for mass burial.

To the west of the town, there lay a cemetery that had been in use since fifty years ago. A slightly tilted cross made from wood boards was placed at the entrance of the cemetery with the words “Resting Place” engraved by a knife. Broken logs were the boundaries that separated the cemetery that was more than ten acres. Whenever someone dies in this town, their bodies would eventually be buried in this cemetery. For those who had families, their relatives would bury them with a wood board or leave some clothes that they used to wear as tombstones. Those who didn’t have families would be buried by the mercenaries casually with nothing to show.

The cemetery’s soil was more of a dark grey color compared to normal soil. It seemed like the color was from the broken down skeleton powder that seeped through and mixed with the soil after the dead bodies had been decomposed by mutated bacteria. Every time it rained, even if it was a light rain, a stinky black liquid would flow out from the cracks on the ground of the cemetery. The stench was enough to make any living creature, human or animal, puke out the food they ate from the past three days. Nobody dared to enter the cemetery because they were afraid to get infected with the mutated corpse bacteria.

Thank goodness there was no rain after the battle. The orangey gold morning sun shone through the cirrus clouds and glazed the cemetery. The shiny shrapnels at the other side of the dozens of wood boards recorded the final moments of people’s lives, reflecting the two sides of light and darkness.

At that moment, hundreds of civilians carried either dead bodies or shovels and started digging at places that were not previously used. The long line of workers moved continuously like a river, dumping the bodies into the deep pits. The falling bodies chafed against the dirt, making rustling sounds in those holes. Once a hole was filled with enough bodies, the workers would cover the hole with dirt. This routine kept on repeating.

Zhou Qing and two other mercenaries were in charge of maintaining discipline at the cemetery. The morning sun painted Zhou Qing’s back the color gold, but his front side hid in his own shadow.

The air smelled bloody and rancid, but Zhou Qing couldn’t even vomit. He just stared at the civilians that carried the bodies do their routine in complete silence, and once they were done, he’d run to a corner and try to puke. In a place where the sun didn’t shine, two dried up tear tracks were on his gaunt face. He tried his hardest to direct and supervise because had he stopped, he’d feel a sadness that numbed his throat, as if about to choke him.

That emotion was part of human nature. Humans were social creatures, and it was natural for humans to feel sad when they see the death of their own kind. Such sadness was unavoidable. It was almost like a spiritual plague, infecting every single person in this town, the town that just suffered a terrifying attack from dreadwolves last night.

Wu Qi, too, was infected, but not that obvious. Emptiness and numbness never appeared in his dark eyes of a stormy ocean, only a little bit of grievance hid on the inside, leaving a gloomy mark at the bottom of his heart.

He and Old Li were responsible for carrying the dreadwolves’ bodies. They carried thirty-one intact or broken bodies to the entrance of district A’s campsite. Once they finished, Wu Qi carried his traveling bag on one shoulder and the leather-sheathed long blade in his right hand. He strolled on the clean streets that grew more golden by the second. The sun warmed up his back, unlike the night where his body was always surrounded by chilly winds.

The opening of the bag loosened as July stuck its tiny head out, fighting for some fresh air with its small nose. It rubbed the skin on Wu Qi’s neck with its furry little paws and struggled half of its body outside. Then, it sat on Wu Qi’s left shoulder.

July quietly hid in the bag that Wu Qi carried with him in the battle before. Wu Qi didn’t dare to leave this little red fox alone because it couldn’t defend itself against a dreadwolf. Now, he was bringing it outside for some fresh air.

As he walked, Wu Qi caught the sight of Old Kang, who was curled up at a street corner against an abandoned store. He was covered in an old, dark purple cotton coat. His body looked like he was cold because he kept on shivering.

Wu Qi softly walked near Old Kang and saw what was blocked by Old Kang’s body. A young man leaned against Old Kang’s shoulder peacefully. The young man was donned in an army green mercenary uniform. His face was nowhere close to the roughed and wrinkled Old Kang. His face was youthful, smooth-skinned, and had defined angles.

The young man’s eyes, however, were closed. His chest was not rising nor falling. He didn’t even bother to shoo away the huge black fly that landed near his temple. He looked like he was sound asleep from exhaustion. The golden sunlight only lit up half of his young face. The young man’s hands were placed on his bent legs, and a  long shotgun lay flat at the space between his thighs and stomach. A huge crimson mark on his chest spread from his ripped mercenary uniform, and it had dried up for a long time.

Wu Ai had some impressions of this young man. His name was Ah-Bing.

He sacrificed his life during the battle. Perhaps, that was the reason there weren’t any dead bodies of civilians on this street.

Wu Qi turned around and left without bothering Old Kang. The sunlight sparkled in July’s beady little eyes. It sat on Wu Qi’s shoulder, not making any sounds or movements.

A human and a fox’s shadows were elongated under the golden sunlight, disappearing at the end of the street.

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