Dominion’s End Volume 2: Aberrant City
Original novel in Chinese by: 御 我 (Yu Wo)
Chapter 8: The Many Tales of the Town—translated by Elkin (proofread by Arcedemius & EvlNabiki; C/E edited by lucathia)
As I drove, I kept turning to look at the passenger seat. A three year-old kid was wearing a seat belt, head slumped to one side in slumber and lips in a slight pout. He was super adorable. It was hard to believe that this was Dàgē, the Dàgē who had become the Ice Emperor!
Enough! Even though on the inside, I was a thirty five year-old woman who had never had kids before, it was no excuse to gawk at the child all the time. I needed to find a map, not play around with children!
Jin Feng had given me a map of Zhongguan City and the surrounding suburbs, but what I needed was a map of a wider region. Otherwise, if I could drive to Luo’an City just by knowing that it was in the east, I’d start suspecting whether I was actually a GPS instead.
Originally, Dàgē had probably left some maps behind. The basement hadn’t been completely empty. There had been a few boxes left there, with supplies probably meant for me. Unfortunately, the ice tornado had been brutal and had wiped the whole house off the map, to say nothing of what it could do to a few boxes. There wasn’t even a speck of dust left of them.
So my current mission is to locate a map and food. I glanced again at Xiaotian. And hunt for crystals to feed the child, too.
I’d already reached the edge of the map, so I didn’t know which road to take anymore. My only option was to continue heading east. However, this was risky, not to mention the skies were darkening. We were better off looking for somewhere to stay the night.
Soon, I saw a sign pointing to a “Fuli Town.” After a moment’s thought, I decided to head over for a look. Towns were quite good resting stops because they were safer than cities, but they were also guaranteed to have aberrants that I could hunt for crystals. Further, they’d have some supplies as well as the map that I wanted.
Suddenly, a dark silhouette flashed by in front of me. I frowned, already realizing that it was a woman holding onto a child.
I spun the wheel to one side, bashing aside an abandoned car in the next lane. Then, I drove around it and headed off, throwing a quick glance at the rearview mirror afterwards.
The woman behind us was absolutely furious, yelling and swearing so loudly that I could still hear her from a distance. But then a few others rushed out to slap her, before glaring angrily after me.
Hmph, do you think I’m an idiot? That distance was perfectly calculated, close enough that I can see it’s a woman and a kid, but far enough that I can brake in time and not really crash into them. If there aren’t people lying in ambush, waiting to rob us the moment I stopped the car, my name isn’t Jiang Shuyu!
I looked over at the seat next to me. Jiang Xiaotian was rubbing his eyes, looking confused. My abrupt yanking on the steering wheel had woken him up, but he didn’t cry or look scared. Even though he had lost his memory and shrank in size, the Ice Emperor really wasn’t your ordinary kid. This was great! After all, bringing a three year-old child along for a ride in the apocalypse really was no joke. The moment a child starts wailing, shit hits the fan, and the apocalypse has no lack of things that could scare a child to tears.
“We’ll be stopping soon. Are you hungry?”
Jiang Xiaotian hesitated, looking at the hipflask, and said, “Yes.”
You’ve probably been hungry all this time, right? Cold sweat beaded on my forehead. There was no way I could fill this child’s belly. This was just the start of the apocalypse, so I had to risk my life to get even a tier one crystal. But even tier one crystals would probably do no more than take the edge off his hunger.
“I’ll get you something to eat soon.”
After driving a while, I saw a sign declaring “Welcome to Fuli Town.” We had arrived.
I stopped the car haphazardly by the roadside, leaving the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked. I shouldered my backpack, scooped up Jiang Xiaotian, then made my hasty exit.
This car was one we had randomly taken from the streets. There were plenty of cars to go around, but gas was in short supply, and this car’s gas was almost used up, making it worthless. Besides, all the roads in the town were filled with cars, so we couldn’t drive in. When it was time to go, we’d just drive away in one of the cars parked on the outskirts of town.
The town’s architecture lent it a sense of antiquity. All the buildings were just a few stories high, the only exceptions being the dozen or so taller buildings in the distance forming what was probably the town center.
This place had probably been a popular tourist spot, judging from the multitude of carts gathered by the roadside. Perhaps it had been a historical street of some sort. In the past, I’d loved visiting these sights. I missed it quite a lot, but unfortunately, I hadn’t gone back to an earlier time; otherwise, I could relive the times before the apocalypse.
Instead, I’d come back just three days before the apocalypse and had only realized that the apocalypse was coming on the second day. I’d almost run out of time to stock up on supplies, so there was no way I could have found time to enjoy the good old times. Even when I had gone to the supermarket to buy up supplies, my brain was full of thoughts of how the apocalypse was coming once again and whether or not I should just die beforehand and spare myself the pain. Hardly the mood for reminiscing about the days before the apocalypse.
As we walked, I searched for any tracks or traces. Dàgē and the others were heading in the same direction as I was, so if they had come by this town, they must have taken this route as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything useful. The road was clogged up with vehicles, and there was no sign of any of them having been moved. A lot of car windows had been smashed open and the luggage compartments pried open, but the carnage looked like it’d been done quite some time ago.
Suddenly, I heard a soft crunching. I spun on my heel, to see two rats nibbling something by the gutter running along the street. It was narrow, long, and white in color—maybe a bone?
Corpses both inside and outside the cars filled the air with the smell of rot and decay. It stank, but thankfully not too strongly. Currently, corpses were very popular and human corpses would be stripped to the bones. In fact, some aberrants would gobble up the bones as well. A hungry aberrant would eat anything, even other aberrants’ corpses.
So what had been left to rot was mostly blood, as well as the scraps of flesh and sinew that were stuck to the skeletons.
I glanced at Xiaotian who was sitting in my arms. As expected, he wasn’t afraid, gazing at the scene like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. For someone who’d lived in the apocalypse for over ten years, this was indeed a common sight. Although later on, the colonized cities and towns would no longer look like this, there would still remain many desolate and empty places.
The problem of overpopulation had been terminally resolved, and if anything, the population density had become so thin that you could take over a few hundred mu1 of wasteland for farming and no one would care. That was assuming you weren’t worried about the possibility of being eaten by, rather than eating, the rice you grew.
High property prices also stopped being an issue. You could keep changing to whichever building or house you wanted to live in everyday, for 365 days a year. Even so, every era had its “expensive” neighborhood. Property prices at the center of large colonies were dead expensive. You had to swap a huge bunch of crystals for a place there, and it could become a very “deadly” affair trying to get one.
As I gazed at those two rats, they in turn stopped eating to stare over back at me as well. Although they were about the size of small poodles, they hadn’t mutated too much, so they weren’t aberrants. Plants’ and animals’ natural instincts meant that they wouldn’t really attack humans without being provoked in the first two years of the apocalypse, unless they were large, wild carnivores.
I walked away quietly. Although the rats were edible, I didn’t really want to eat things like that yet.
As I strolled below the balconies, I could see that many of the windows and doors had been destroyed. I picked a house and entered it. Then, I set Xiaotian down and crafted a small ice knife in my hand as a precaution, before walking a circuit around the first floor. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything, so we moved on to the next one.
“Come, Xiaotian.” I lifted Jiang Xiaotian’s hand, only to discover that he was staring fixedly at the ice knife, so I handed the knife to him without thinking.
Jiang Xiaotian happily took the knife and immediately cut his finger. I gaped at the sight. The Ice Emperor wanted to play with an ice knife and even got cut?
“Children shouldn’t play with knives.”
I hastily took back the knife, but Jiang Xiaotian’s face immediately crumpled, looking like he was about to burst into tears. His eyes were still fixed on the knife. Seeing him like that, I wanted to cry myself. O Ice Emperor, you’re the idol I most respect and adore, and the one person I want to emulate in this life. But how can your fan still worship you when you’re like this?
I took out a bandage for Xiaotian’s finger from the backpack, but once I wiped the blood away, the wound was nowhere to be seen. I stared at his finger for a moment before putting away the bandages. When I next looked around, the child had started crying in earnest. He didn’t make a single sound, but tears ran down his cheeks and dripped to the floor. My heart ached at the sight.
Quickly, I conjured a tiny ice hammer for Jiang Xiaotian. This was a good toy for children, and if an aberrant really came springing out of nowhere, it could even be used to whack their heads. So useful!
Jiang Xiaotian immediately brightened up as he clutched the tiny ice hammer. Although he still had streaks of tears on his cheeks, he looked the picture of joy.
I rubbed his head, then took his little hand and progressed to the next house. I didn’t know whether we were lucky or not. After searching seven or eight houses, we’d found a fair amount of food but not a single aberrant.
I sunk into deep thought. Situations like this happened at the beginning of the apocalypse mostly because there was a particularly powerful presence nearby, so nothing else dared to approach.
Maybe a tier one aberrant? If so, that’s perfect. Xiaotian needs a tier one aberrant’s crystal.
After continually defeating a few tier one aberrants over the past few days, I was confident that I should be able to handle that tier. Worst come to worst, we could manage to run away. So rather than being afraid of running into aberrants, I was more concerned about the problems that would crop up if Xiaotian continued to starve.
After going through another five or six houses, we still hadn’t encountered any aberrants. We found even more supplies, so much that I couldn’t fit them into my backpack. I had to grab another big bag, and I filled it with bread, cans, and drinks. I even stuffed in a few changes of clothes and shoes for Xiaotian.
In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to leave behind the cans of food we’d found. I resorted to child labor and got Jiang Xiaotian to help me carry some stuff. Of course, his bag was full of instant noodles while mine was full of cans.
It might seem like we’d managed to find quite some stuff, but this was actually the bounty from over a dozen houses, and we had to dig through less conspicuous places. These houses had been searched before, but because it was just the start of the apocalypse and supplies weren’t that hard to come by, the raiders hadn’t been thorough in their search.
Maybe a powerful group wiped out all the aberrants here, then left after ransacking the place, so that’s why this area is empty?
It was certainly a possibility. Thinking back to the area around our home, it had been equally empty of humans and aberrants and stripped clean of all supplies.
With that settled, I decided that we should stay the night. The sky was already pitch black, so we might as well catch some sleep. Once the sun rose, we would go for a wander around the town center. If we really couldn’t find any aberrants, then we’d move on swiftly to find the next place to hunt for crystals to feed Xiaotian.
I found a comparatively clean house, which even had a gas stove. I could heat up whatever food I could manage and finally have a hot meal.
Jiang Xiaotian ate, but he kept eyeing the hipflask. Food alone wasn’t enough to satisfy him.
“Xiaotian, can you bear with it? Is it very uncomfortable?” I was worried whether or not the Ice Emperor’s energy could last. Would he really “starve” to death?
Jiang Xiaotian’s eyes started brimming with tears, but he refused to cry. He simply nodded as he replied, “I’m so hungry.”
When I heard that, I instantly gave up on my plan of sleeping. Anyway, my body was pretty robust and missing a night’s sleep wouldn’t affect me much.
“Okay, then we won’t sleep. Let’s go hunting for crystals.”
Jiang Xiaotian rubbed his eyes, mumbling, “But Xiaotian wants to sleep.”
That was troublesome. After racking my brain for some time, I took him along my search in the outside area. Fortunately, we managed to locate a motorcycle that was parked in a garage. It came with sturdy leather saddlebags that hung off its back, so I could put away the supplies and secure Xiaotian at my front by wrapping a light blanket around us.
We really had hit the jackpot. A motorcycle was far more mobile than a car, but no one had taken it. Perhaps the ones who had ransacked this place were part of a big group, so they didn’t think a motorcycle would come in handy? Furthermore, with aberrants everywhere, most people preferred to drive a car, so at least there would be a layer of metal between themselves and the aberrants.
This was perfect for me, however, since I couldn’t wait for aberrants to throw themselves at me.
My Xiaotian is hungry!
“Xiaotian, you sleep first.”
At my bidding, the child closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep immediately. Is he tired or just hungry? Increasingly worried, I advanced toward the town center on the motorcycle.
This town wasn’t that big, and soon enough I pulled to a stop near the taller buildings. There were still no aberrants to be found. If this really was the work of a large group, they probably weren’t far away.
I frowned. I still had to catch up with Dàgē and the others, and I really didn’t want to get tangled up with any more people. If not for the fact that Xiaotian was hungry, I’d have continued the pursuit after finding some food.
After passing through another street, I happened to look up, then had to brake immediately at the sight, astonished at what was in the distance.
It was a giant tree.
Ten stories tall, it wouldn’t have been out of place deep in the mountains or in an ancient forest, but this was a small town. Trees simply didn’t grow to that size in urban areas. If not for the fact that the tree had very few branches and leaves and happened to be hidden by the tall buildings around it, I’d have spotted it long ago.
No wonder. So the reason why there aren’t any aberrants here is because they were all eaten by this tree?
Seeing as I’d made it all the way here without getting attacked, the tree hadn’t turned aberrant yet. This also explained why there weren’t any aberrants or humans to be found in this small town. Aberrants had turned into nourishment, and while humans probably would quite like this small town, they’d be scared away by the sight of the big tree.
“Oh, a banyan tree!”
Xiaotian, who was lying against my chest, suddenly cried out, and only then did I realize he was awake and staring at the tree. A banyan tree? I wasn’t too familiar with the different types of trees, and this tree had very few leaves, so it was hard to tell.
This town probably didn’t have any aberrants, so we’d have to travel during the night and try our luck at other places. Just as I was able to leave, Jiang Xiaotian started to become restless.
“I don’t wanna go. I want to sleep!”
I smiled as I said, “Xiaotian can sleep. I don’t need Xiaotian to steer the bike.”
Jiang Xiaotian frantically shook his head while nestled against me, repeating once again, “I wanna sleep here. I wanna sleep in a bed.”
My heart of a thirty-five year old woman melted at the sensation of the little head rubbing against my chest in refusal. How could I possibly say no? So I found a place to park the motorcycle, and set off like a housewife who had come back from the market, multiple bags in both hands and a child lying against her chest. I found a clean house and kicked open the door… Whoa, that’s a corpse lying in the living room. Next!
By the time I’d found a place and had cleaned up the bed, Xiaotian was already sound asleep. Moving carefully so I wouldn’t wake him up, I placed the child on the bed. Then, I settled into a deck chair in the room to take stock of the supplies we had. The food was enough to last a week between Xiaotian and me. As for water, we didn’t take much, since I could create ice myself. At most, we had taken some drinks that had calories.
The weather was starting to turn cold. In the past, autumn could be so hot that it was as ferocious as a tiger, but the temperatures now were quite cool, particularly in the evenings and mornings. People with weaker constitutions would already need to start wearing jackets.
I sized up Xiaotian’s clothing, feeling like it wasn’t enough for him. The Ice Emperor could probably run around buck naked in deep winter with no problems, but now that he was a mini Ice Emperor, I didn’t feel confident about his ability to handle the cold. I had to make sure he was wrapped up warmly.
I walked over to the children’s room next door. Just now, while checking out the house, I’d noticed that this was a family of three generations— a couple with two children, and while I wasn’t sure if both grandparents had still been around, the photographs covering the wall all had a pair of grandparents, so it was clear the family was very tight-knit.
The door to the children’s room had been destroyed, to the point where there was hardly any of it left. Blood covered the floorboards, and a set of tracks outlined in blood extended all the way from the small, race car-shaped bed to the entrance.
The other bed had once been a small, white bed with pretty floral engravings, but now it was dyed almost completely in a deep red.
So there had been at least two aberrants of different types, which explained why they hadn’t been willing to eat in the same room. One had directly devoured the girl in her bed, while the other had dragged the boy out.
Were they the parents or the grandparents?
Speaking of which, children almost never turned into aberrants in the black fog. If they turned aberrant, most of the time it was because they had died. But at the beginning of the apocalypse, every aberrant was very hungry, and whenever they caught hold of a person, they would gobble up every bit of them, even the bones, so very few children had the chance to change into aberrants.
It was both a tragedy and a relief. A tragedy, because of what had happened to the children, but a relief because I didn’t need to deal with children-turned-aberrants. Just imagining them made me feel sick and sad.
I quickly rummaged around for a coat and thick pants in this oppressive children’s room, then returned to the main bedroom.
Lying on the bed while hugging Jiang Xiaotian, I once again was reminded of how lucky I was to still have a child I could hug to sleep. Once I found my dàgē and xiǎomèi, the four siblings would live together in pure bliss!
As a result of being too happy, I overslept the next day. After quickly washing up, I dashed to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. I returned to the room with two plates covered in food to see Xiaotian had woken up already. He was sitting on the bed, looking somewhat lost and even a little panicked.
“Time to eat!”
The child jolted and his head jerked up, finally noticing my presence. His eyes widened a little, then he stared at me hungrily.
As expected of Dàgē, his eyes were always so expressive.
“Jiang Xiaotian, what’s got you staring with such wide eyes?” I strode forward and set the plates on the bedside table, ordering, “Go brush your teeth and wash your face, then come back and eat.”
The corner of the child’s mouth lifted, and he said with a smile that was not a smile, “Jiang. Xiao. Tian?”
I had little choice but to verify, “Dàgē, have you recovered your memory?”
“Yes.” Jiang Xiaotian arched an eyebrow and stood on the bed, giving off the aura of a king. Unfortunately, he still had the appearance of a three year-old kid, so he couldn’t cow people into obedience. Instead, he went from a cute little kid into a bad boy who needed a good spanking.
“Then…” I gave it some thought and concluded, “Dàgē, go brush your teeth and wash your face, or the food will get cold.”
Mini Ice Emperor nodded, the kingly aura vanishing, and he turned into an obedient child who walked into the bathroom.
The soft, huggable child was gone, making me a little down. But it was terrific that the Ice Emperor was able to recover his memories, and super terrific for all of humanity! If I wanted a soft, huggable child, I could always have one later, but the Ice Emperor was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you wouldn’t get another if you missed him!
“Um, ahem. Shuyu, I can’t reach the sink.”
What happened to being cool, suave, and handsome? What happened to leading humanity into a prosperous future? Our Ice Emperor can’t even reach the sink to brush his teeth. What should I do?
Trying to school my expression so that I didn’t look like I was about to cry, I found a small stool for the Ice Emperor to stand on. Then, under the watchful gaze from his little face filled with embarrassment, I excused myself from the bathroom. I wasn’t going to stay there and watch the almighty Ice Emperor brush his teeth with a child’s toothbrush.
The mini Ice Emperor exited the bathroom, his eyes locking on me the moment he looked over. It was almost as if just by looking at me, he could fulfill all his desires in life. But he suddenly frowned and panicked, hollering, “Shuyu, where’s Shujun?”
I quickly replied, “Shujun’s with Dàgē, along with Uncle, Auntie, and the mercenaries. Everyone’s still alive! I’m the only one separated from the group, so I’m trying to catch up with them.”
Mini Ice Emperor looked stunned… it’s really weird calling him that. Whatever, I’m still calling him Jiang Xiaotian. When he reverts back to his original size one day, then I’ll call him the Ice Emperor again! Pairing this adorable appearance with the mighty title of the Ice Emperor was the ultimate irony, and every time I called him that, I wanted to cry.
Jiang Xiaotian frowned as he said, “Shujun isn’t with me.”
“She’s with the past you,” I hastily explained. “Dàgē, don’t forget that you’ve traveled through space and time. Right now, this world has two Dàgēs.”
“But at the time, I wasn’t by your side,” he said in a tone of bewilderment. Then, his expression darkened. “The apocalypse came, but Dàgē wasn’t by your side. I…”
I cut him off. “Dàgē, you were in fact with us. Before the coming of the apocalypse, I had a prophetic dream, and I warned you. Then…” I explained that, because of the prophetic dream, I knew the apocalypse was coming, so I made him return home sooner. So now, everything had changed.
Jiang Xiaotian was both shocked and confused. Frowning, he said, “If the past has changed, how can there still be a me to travel back to the past? It doesn’t make sense.”
Dàgē, your logic sure is something. Much as I’d like to explain about parallel universes, I don’t think I can know about parallel universes from a prophetic dream…
Okay, honestly, I don’t dare to tell this Dàgē about Guan Weijun.
“Does your neck still hurt?” Jiang Xiaotian asked suddenly. I discovered I had unconsciously placed my hand against my neck. He looked guilty, not knowing what to do, and he looked down at his little hands, seeming to want to chop them off.
I intentionally wailed in the most tragic way possible, “I-it hurts a lot! Dàgē, you better pay me back for this; otherwise, I’ll never forgive you! So, why don’t you teach me how to use the ice ability?”
Jiang Xiaotian nodded solemnly, and responded in absolute seriousness, “Of course. I never imagined that Shuyu would also become an ice user. I have a lot of experience I can pass on to you.”
When I heard that, I exploded with joy.
My teacher’s going to be the Ice Emperor! Can I get any luckier? What should I do? Suddenly, these apocalyptic days seem so happy? Will I get beat up for being so happy?
“When I meet up with my past self, he’ll need to train even harder with his ice abilities. You two need to become stronger to protect Shujun, Uncle, and Auntie!”
“Ah. Dàgē, actually your other self doesn’t have ice abilities. Because things have changed, it seems like his ability has been affected as well.”
Jiang Xiaotian was momentarily stunned. Then, he nodded to indicate his understanding and asked, “So what is it now?”
When he heard that, Jiang Xiaotian’s little brow frowned deeply, and it took a long while before he could force out his next words, “Shuyu, you’re going to have more to do.”
“Nah, Shujun’s electricity powers are pretty strong, too. She’s really amazing!”
Jiang Xiaotian stared at me, stupefied, and asked in disbelief, “Electricity? Shujun?”
A three year-old wearing a dazed, silly expression was super adorable! Unable to resist teasing Jiang Xiaotian, I grabbed his hand, pledging, “Dàgē, don’t worry. Shujun and I will always protect you. You just have to keep healing us from behind. Your dìdi and mèimei will handle everything, so no one will get past us to hurt you!”
Jiang Xiaotian’s expression became so complex, it was impossible to describe.
1 “mu”: A unit of measure for area used with fields that equals to one fifteenth of a hectare, or 667 m2.