Dominion’s End Volume 3: Ice-Bound Splendor and Majesty
Original novel in Chinese by: 御 我 (Yu Wo)
Chapter 4: The Laboratory, Part One—translated by Elkin (proofread by Arcedemius; C/E edited by lucathia)
As the door opened, the soft metallic sounds of guns being gripped tightly surrounded me. It was dim outside the elevator, and the lights above flashed erratically. The damage here was not as bad as in the room above us. The explosion we had heard just now was probably some distance from here, but that was a good thing; otherwise, the elevator might have stopped working.
The scouts split into two parties as they scanned the surroundings. When they were certain that it was safe, they signaled “clear” to the back, and only then did the group follow them.
I was at the center of the group. Judging from the surroundings, this was a huge hall. This was a bad sign. If just the hall was this size, then this whole place must be enormous. Not only did this mean that we would have to expend more effort in our search, there were probably more experiments than we’d originally thought.
After checking out the hall without any incident, the soldiers started allocating tasks. Some were put on guard duty, and someone was sent to find the main switch. Blackie was even sent to take a look at the computers to try and repair them and see if they had any useful information.
“So? Can you pull up a map of this place?” the second lieutenant asked anxiously.
“Give me a minute. It takes time.”
Blackie didn’t even bother turning his head and focused his attention on the monitor. The monitor was huge, like a large TV screen.
I was standing to one side, a bit curious. I didn’t expect Blackie to be in charge of this.
The second lieutenant growled in frustration, “Goddammit, why the hell is it so quiet here? How the hell are we supposed to find them?”
“Quiet!” I hissed, and the second lieutenant immediately glowered at me, “Silence means only one of two things, and one of them is that everyone here is dead.”
Everyone’s expressions sank.
“The alternative is that something is forcing them to be quiet.” I glared at everyone coldly. “Does anyone want to draw out that something? Is there anyone here stronger than Ah Qing and his crew?”
The second lieutenant’s face turned white and he shook his head as he said, “No, and they took the top troops with them.”
So you’re telling me that you’re the leftovers? I suddenly felt the future prospects dim.
One of the soldiers said uneasily, “If the Lieutenant and the others can’t deal with it, w-what’re we supposed to do?”
Shit, I mustn’t scare them away. I said coolly, “A lot of the experiments have gotten away, so the situation probably isn’t as bad as it seems. Maybe they’ve got too many injured people with them. But no matter what, just keep quiet!”
The second lieutenant nodded. I had no way of telling if he really did buy what I was saying, or if he was still disgruntled at being told off by me, but it didn’t matter either way. As long as he was listening to me, all was good.
Throughout this exchange, Jiang Xiaotian was sipping on his long life milk. Just the thought that he was the revered Ice Emperor and one of the twelve world elites made my face twitch. Dàgē, please stop training my acting skills. Do you know how hard it is to maintain the facade of an arrogant and cool pro…? Actually, maybe he doesn’t really know. My Dàgē was born with an intimidating aura but, based on my observations to date, he had his fair share of acting like an idiot despite his competencies. This might also explain how he formed an idiotic team of competent soldiers.
I suddenly felt as if my mental image of the “Ice Emperor” had been dashed to pieces. No wonder people said that distance creates beauty. When you could hug the Ice Emperor to sleep, my only impression left of him was how adorable he was.
“I’ve got the map!” Blackie suddenly shouted.
“…” I face palmed.
A few soldiers immediately rushed up to cover Blackie’s mouth. Not understanding what was going on, he struggled a few times but couldn’t get free, and he looked around uncomprehendingly at everyone around him.
I walked up to gaze at the large screen, the bad feeling in my heart turning into reality. This place was truly humongous, and there was no way this could have been built after the apocalypse. This was probably a secret research lab even prior to the apocalypse.
Jiang Xiaotian tugged at my pants. I picked him up to give him a better view. He pointed at a part of the monitor, and I nodded to indicate my understanding.
“I’m going to take a look at the corridor where the lab is.”
The second lieutenant immediately retorted, “The monsters probably came from there. There’s no way the Lieutenant and the others would stay there.”
“Regardless of whether anyone is there, at least we can figure out what’s going on with those things. I’ve killed a fair number of monsters out there and none of them were as smart as these.” I turned to look at the soldiers and asked in confusion, “Since you’ve been inside the city to look for food, haven’t you noticed that the monsters here are completely different?”
No one answered.
The second lieutenant said uneasily, “The research center gave us a vehicle. We don’t know what’s in there, but as long as we drive that vehicle into the city, very few monsters would come close. And the few that do are small fry. We finish them off using silenced guns, load up the supplies, and come back. We’ve never actually seen much of the monsters before.”
No wonder. With something like that, it explained why the refugee camp held so many people but no aberrants ever attacked. But for the MORC to actually have something as amazing as this? I’d never heard of this before. I looked down at Jiang Xiaotian. He was frowning but kept silent. I couldn’t tell if he hadn’t heard of it before either, or if he simply didn’t want to talk in front of these people.
I intentionally mumbled out loud, “It’s only been four months into the apocalypse. There’s no way this place could have been built in that time. So what were they researching originally? The lab is buried so deep underground, and the layout doesn’t look like it’s for weapons research.”
The soldiers’ expressions changed, and now suspicion colored their faces.
Someone muttered, “Don’t tell me… the black fog is because of the MORC?”
Bro, you have amazing deductive abilities. It must be thanks to Ah Qing! I gave him a “like” in my heart but kept quiet and left things to their imagination. It was best to turn the MORC into the ultimate final boss, so in the future I might not even need to be the one to take down this research center.
“I’m going to check that place out. Come or don’t come, I don’t really care.”
I memorized the route. Along the way, you had to pass through a large part of the research center. If I encountered Chen Yanqing and the others, then I’d save whoever I could. If not… there probably wasn’t anyone left alive. After all, the exit was this way. If they were forced to flee in the opposite direction, then they must have been in an awful spot.
The second lieutenant said irritably, “You really don’t have the slightest bit of discipline. The most important thing in a group mission is to obey orders. You can’t just go wherever you want!”
“I never was one of your people, so why do I have to obey?” I asked coldly, “I made it out of a city all by myself and have survived up to now with a child in tow. Hmph, compared to the likes of you, I’d rather trust myself!”
With that, I turned and left. I couldn’t be bothered to debate this any further with them. I was better off finding out the MORC’s secret and then legging it out of here!
A research center of this size being reduced to this state by its experiments? It was probably close to impossible for the experiments that had gotten out to pull off something like this, so there had to be something even more dangerous inside. But I had no way of knowing if it had gotten away or if it had stayed behind. But in any case, I shouldn’t stay too long.
I wielded a gun in one hand and crafted an ice dagger in the other, then looked back at Jiang Xiaotian. He had been following quietly behind me all this time. The soldiers were so far behind him in quality that you could fit eight whole cities between them!
Time to set off…
I took in a deep breath to calm myself. These were the leftovers, so I mustn’t have overly high expectations. I turned around and said expressionlessly, “You have ten seconds to talk. I’m starting the countdown now. Ten, nine…”
The second lieutenant’s face stiffened.
Blackie immediately shouted, “We’re going with you!”
I shrugged, and waggled my gun toward the front and said, “Then, lead the way.”
Blackie grated between ground teeth, “Do you have to be so fucking harsh and use us to clear the path for you?”
I didn’t answer his question and asked instead, “Do you know how old I am?”
Blackie stared at my face and hazarded, “Twenty three? Four?”
I almost gave an angry snort of laughter. You sure are good at lying to yourself to think that a face like Jiang Shuyu’s is over twenty!
Silence. Not a single person raised any more objections to leading the way and the soldiers shuffled themselves into formation. Just as the second lieutenant shouted, “Move out!” gunfire rang out in the distance.
Dammit, plans always lag behind changes! I shouted, “Go toward the sounds of gunfire, quick!”
The whole group started running, and I quickly reminded them, “Watch your surroundings. It’s too dark in here. Don’t go exploring by yourself. You have to move in groups of four. If there aren’t enough people, the others should make up for the short fall! Everyone, remember the two people on either side of you and don’t lose anybody.”
Our advancement immediately slowed down, but this couldn’t be avoided. The lights here were damaged much worse than in the hall, throwing our surroundings into even deeper shadows. The area that could be lit up by a torch was simply too small, and the moment someone slipped up, well, forget not being able to save people, the whole group might even pay the price for that mistake. After all, the people who were trapped here were the top troops, while we were the leftovers!
Along the way, I glanced back to check on Jiang Xiaotian. I only relaxed when I saw that he was able to keep pace, but his expression was strange. It was almost like he couldn’t recognize me, and this made me a little anxious.
“Jiang Shuyu” certainly had no way of ordering around troops from the get go, but Guan Weijun was different. At the start of the apocalypse, I had probably acted as a leader more often than Xia Zhengu. That brainless dolt always got hurt partway through missions and was rarely able to pull off a successful retreat.
As his girlfriend, carrying her heavily wounded boyfriend on her back, there wasn’t anything I could contribute except to issue orders. And as time went on, some of my comrades became used to the commanders changing partway through missions, and some even started agreeing with my plans at the start and objecting to Xia Zhengu’s suicidal plans.
Come to think of it, it was probably because me saving his butt and my leadership experience at the beginning of the apocalypse that stayed Xia Zhengu’s hand from actually killing me. Doing so would risk alienating our comrades… and scaring the wits out of the women he had as well.
I had so many people standing on my side, from our old comrades to the women he had had. If I hadn’t given up on myself because of my boyfriend cheating left, right, and center; if I hadn’t given up on training because my special ability was useless enhanced vision and worked to raise my actual combat prowess; if I had put up a fight, I might have been the one to kill off Xia Zhengu. What a pity!
I’ll never do anything that I’ll regret in this life! I’ll bust my ass to get money to buy a house… Oh wait, I mean, train myself, protect my family, and have kids!
There was a sudden tug at my pants. I turned to look at Jiang Xiaotian. He said just one word: “Listen.”
I froze and pricked up my ears. There was a very soft sound, and it was growing louder and louder. The others seemed to have noticed it as well.
“Is that a cat?” some of the soldiers looked bewildered, but not one of them looked scared.
“It’s the sound of a baby crying,” I said calmly, “It’s probably bait. Just ignore it. Keep going forward.”
One soldier growled, “They were experimenting on babies?”
That was a female soldier, but she looked even buffer and darker than Yunqian. I hadn’t even noticed her gender until just now.
I hurried them, “Keep going!”
The female soldier had a sour look on her face, visibly reluctant to leave. The second lieutenant too frowned and said, “We have a duty to protect civilians.”
Right, that sure is a good duty. Then, why is it that soon enough the military will become a terrifying cancer among humans? Were you guys driven to insanity by the apocalypse, or is there something going on behind the scenes, something that ordinary people like Guan Weijun had no way of knowing?
But that would come later. The soldiers in front of me were pretty gung ho, and they even knew to protect ordinary citizens. They were a true rarity. I sucked in a deep breath and said, “Let’s first meet up with Ah Qing. Every extra body we have is more power to us, and they’re the ones who know what we’re facing. We need them, whether it’s to retreat or to rescue people.”
Hearing that, everyone calmed down. Amidst the sound of a baby’s crying, we forged on. With every step we took, people’s expressions darkened. This was because the sound of the baby’s crying wasn’t growing fainter with distance, but becoming increasingly clearer, like it was crying right next to your ear. The crystal clear and pervasive sound was giving everyone the chills.
Although I didn’t know what was going on, I was positive that no one would ever mention needing to rescue any babies again.
I stopped and looked around. Amidst the bone-chilling cries of the baby, there was a soft yell. I knew what I had heard, but because it was too dark and I didn’t know the soldiers very well, I couldn’t tell who was doing the yelling. So I could only call out, “Look around you, is anyone missing?”
Everyone immediately checked, and then the soldier at the very back gasped, “The guy on my right’s gone! H-he was just there a moment ago!”
I snatched a torch from a soldier next to me and shone the light around. There weren’t any open doors on either side of the room, so I reflexively flicked the light at the ceiling. Without any warning, a huge shadow appeared before my eyes.
Not caring to figure out what that was, the soldiers opened fire while roaring angrily.
“Shuyu, blood!” Jiang Xiaotian screamed.
I threw my hands in the air, crafting a huge piece of transparent ice, and shouted at the same time, “Get to a wall!”
Blood showered down. Most of it struck the ice and started making corrosive sounds. I hastily followed my own orders and flattened myself against the wall, then flung aside the layer of ice. The blood, mixed in with the ice melt, showered onto the ground, and continued to make the sounds of acid eating into the ground.
Thank god we had Jiang Xiaotian’s warning; otherwise, this shower of blood from above would have cut our numbers by a third.
In that instant, something black dropped to the ground with a plonk. If not for the fact that everyone’s torches lit up the silhouette of a soldier, everyone would probably have started firing like crazy once more.
I shone the light at the ceiling once more. That black shadow was gone. The attack just now wasn’t enough to finish it off, but it might be a good thing that it got away. Things with blood that could damage people were very tricky, and if we didn’t do a proper job when attacking it, we might hurt ourselves as well. We were better off not fighting it.
I crouched down and flipped the soldier to face up. Half his face was missing, and his head down to his shoulder had been corroded to the point where his bones and some reddish-white stuff underneath were showing. Worse, the corrosion was continuing to eat into him. He gurgled and his body twitched.
Seeing his injuries, I drew an ice blade out of the air and stabbed it into his brain.
When I stood up, I looked up just in time to meet the incredulous gaze the second lieutenant had leveled at me.
“You killed one of our men! Just because he was injured? We could have taken him to the medics. All we needed to do was just take a lift!” The second lieutenant rushed up to grab my collar. I gripped his hand, and the chilly rush of energy forced him to let go. Still, he glowered hard at me.
“Fuck the medics!” I hollered, “You think he can still live?! Look at him, I’m telling you to take a good look at his face and neck! And those bullet wounds on his body! Who was the one who fucking killed him, huh?!”
The second lieutenant jolted and fell silent when he looked down.
The soldier’s face was corroded right to his skull, and half his neck was gone, revealing his trachea. Quite a few bullet holes dotted his body, the result of the soldiers firing at the ceiling just now. No matter what, he wouldn’t last more than a few minutes, so he was better off being put to rest than experiencing another few agonizing minutes where he wanted to die.
I looked around and growled, “If anyone wants to be an idiot again, I’m ditching your asses hard. Otherwise, I don’t know who’s going to be the one to kill me!”
When they saw what had happened to their comrade, the soldiers were all shocked, and looks of shame flashed across their faces. It was only when I saw that that I breathed a sigh of relief. Honestly, given that they haven’t had much experience fighting aberrants, there was no way they would know much about how messed up things could be. But I had no choice but to whip them into shape, or else I really might end up dying at their hands. After all, I hadn’t trained to the point where I was impervious to guns and knives!
Gunfire sounded off in the distance again, a few shots followed by silence. I frowned. Something was off. A few bullets simply weren’t enough when you were going against an aberrant or an experiment, and would instead only serve to draw more of them to you.
“Xiao Yu, we better hurry!” Blackie said anxiously, “The Lieutenant and the others could be in danger!”