The road was a long one.
A vehicle had been driving all the way here from Tengchong, which was a several-hundred-kilometer journey. Finally, it slowly pulled over by the side of the road at dusktime. Xiaojin hopped off, stretching out her slender body, which had to curl up in the vehicle this entire time. Her long legs kicked the ground, making a small gust of wind that sent sand and stone flying.
"Master, this is as far as I can go." Tao Yu pointed at the endless stretches of mountains on the north and asked anxiously, "Those are the Kachin Hills. Are you sure about this?"
"Haha, we're already here so we might as well get it over with. I've climbed enough mountains so far; this is just going to be another one." Gu Yu chuckled.
"No, the Kachin Hills are not just some other mountains: it's the home of devils. Other mountains have natural resources, but these ones have nothing but poisonous creatures. If you run out of food, you won't be able to find anything to eat."
"Yada yada yada. Gimme what we need and we're off!" Xiaojin was growing impatient.
"You're entering tonight?"
Tao Yu was all the more frightened. He thought they would at least find a village to stay the night, but these two were unstoppable!
"All right, we won't need you waiting on us. It's too unsafe out here. You can go back to Ruili first."
Gu Yu patted him on the shoulder, took out two giant backpacks, and dashed into the mountain with Little Soap at his heels.
Tao Yu opened his mouth, but seeing Miss Jiang hopping around as if on a picnic, he said nothing in the end.
The Kachin Hills stretched out for nearly 300 km, had an altitude of 3411 m, and 70% of their area was untouched. Rumor was that Bigfoot was found roaming around the mountains, along with Monpa People, who were still in the slash-and-burn era.
The mountains had two known features: they were damp and hot.
Rows upon rows of mountain peaks rose into the distance, each one higher than another; the swamps seemed boundless and the forests were infested with all sorts of ferocious beasts. It was September at the moment, an especially vicious time of the year, for with the rainy season, mosquitoes and leeches were in their most active period, spreading diseases such as malaria, tetanus, and sepsis, which were all highly infectious.
Back then during the wartime, the Chinese expeditionary army took this route to return to their homeland and lost more than half of their soldiers in these mountains. Some got lost and starved to death, some were killed by miasma, boas, leeches, rats, and fevers from mosquito bites, while some jumped off cliffs or shot themselves. Even before that, three Japanese divisions also disappeared in these mountains and never came out.
Right now, however, we were looking at a completely different picture.
With the backpack on her back, Xiaojin was happily chewing her bubble gum. She blew out a bubble and drew it back with a popping sound—apparently, that was a very flexible tongue of hers. "Brother-in-law, were you like this too when you were out exploring with my sister?"
"We were only searching in tourist areas back then and at least the environment was nice. It really is very uncomfortable here."
Looking around, Gu Yu raised his alert by a whole level.
There was daylight still when they entered. However, less than twenty minutes had passed and the sun was completely blocked out. Everywhere they turned, they were surrounded by squashy, thick leaves—especially under their feet, where black liquid would spurt out wherever they stepped.
One had no idea what they were stepping on.
According to the staff of the auction, the Hollow Stone was found somewhere near Hpakant jade quarry, but they did not record the exact location and only knew the general direction.
The two simply decided to forget about what route they should take and started their journey from one side of the slope, from where they planned to traverse to the other side.
"Brother-in-law, what are we having for the nighttime snack?
How about a rabbit? Oh, he said there aren't many small animals here… why, how about snakes, or mushroom— sh*t!"
Xiaojin gabbed as she walked and stumbled sideways unexpectedly, as if she had tripped on something. She swept the ground with one foot and kicked up a long bone.
The bone had a very bizzare color. Because of the extremely damp weather, it was decomposing so slowly that a strange mould was growing on its surface, together with a lot of tiny red worms.
"Is it from a human?" She was not frightened at all.
"A leg bone, probably. Maybe some beast has eaten it. Just leave it alone."
Gu Yu did not think much of it and walked on leading his sister-in-law. A moment later, with a crackling sound, he stepped on one as well. Xiaojin herself hit the jackpot—she unearthed a human skull.
"Is this a freaking graveyard?"
She scratched her shoes on the tree trunk, quite annoyed. The next second, her eyes caught something. "Hey, something's over there!"
She trotted over and pulled a rifle out of a pile of rotten leaves. She was at a loss at this finding. "Do you know anything about this?"
Gu Yu was not a military enthusiast and only learned about guns when he practiced shooting. He said doubtfully, "I think it was made in Hanyang? I'm not sure, but it looks like one."
"Made in Hanyang? The weapon of the expeditionary army?" Xiaojin blinked and scanned the ground, then said in amazement, "Are you saying these are all remains of the soldiers?"
An idea struck Gu Yu and he looked at Little Soap again.
"Bury them all you want. Why are you looking at me?" She was as blunt as always.
"Haha, in that case, bear with me."
He grinned. He examined the terrain first, then walked to a spot that seemed like the center of this area and began to activate the Small Moving Technique.
All of a sudden, the rotten leaves tumbled and the poisonous miasma that had been buried beneath for a century erupted all at once, which shook leaves off the trees and sent wind howling as if ghosts were crying in the woods. The decomposed remains gathered in front of him, soon piling into a black mound.
Gu Yu put a ragged army cap on the top of the mound, and with a flash, Flaming Cloud Needles materialized in midair.
"Zhoujue Palace marks the dwelling of the emperor and Liangshi Palace forms mountains; they shine so bright that they seem to burn the sky and the light dances like the sun. Mingchen Palace is sharp as a sword and Huzhao Palace towers over green mountains; the front gates open to the refinement well and the verdant forest. Qifei Palace and Lianyuan Palace both lead to spectacular spirits and devils. All six heavens cross the northern sky and the heroes rest in peace here. Go!"
He chanted the Soul-appeasing Spell he learnt from Chao Kongtu and sent the red flame through the tip of the pile of bones. The damp remains burst into flame right away, emanating an intense, unbearable stench.
Gu Yu waved with both hands and a breeze arrived, refreshing the air, and the stench soon dissipated, leaving behind a fire that was burning softly. After a while, the pile of bones was consumed in the fire, but there was not a single spec of ash left. All that was left was a dry ground that had been warmed up.
Despite her temperament, Xiaojin watched this simple, crude, yet unusual ritual in silence.
Gu Yu picked up his backpack and gave the place a final look, then sighed. "Let's go."
The two had been walking for over three hours after entering the mountains.
Outside, night had already fallen; inside, it was so frighteningly dark that ordinary people could not see things five meters away. It felt as if lurking ghosts were closing in, ready to devour one any moment.
Although they could see in the darkness, there was no point wasting their energy. They couldn't find any dry and even ground and ended up hanging up their hammocks on two trees they found.
Xiaojin's hammock was above and Gu Yu's below. They lay there in the swaying beds, which were surprisingly comfortable.
Silence filled the mountain and darkness filled their eyes. Every now and then, there was a crackling sound of some animal knocking into their confinement. Little Soap was making little noise and seemed to have fallen asleep. Gu Yu lay there with his eyes closed as a million things went through his head.
He had lost count of time when a question came from above. "Did my sister and you sleep like this every time you went out searching?"
"Well, sometimes we got to sleep on an even ground; other times we might not get to sleep at all. Hammocks are a treat, believe it or not."
There was a brief silence and she said, "Brother-in-law, it's nice to come out with you. I'm really happy."
Gu Yu was about to turn to his side, but froze at those words. He remained in an unnatural position for a couple of seconds before replying, "You'll know what's it like after a few more trips. This is your first time venturing out. That's why everything looks interesting to you."
"Well, I'll still be happy and still finding everything interesting. I just know it. Growing up, no one cared what I did. My mum was nasty to me and although dad was nice, I didn't like the way he treated me. My sister was the only one I found awesome, even if she beat me all the time… um, now I find you pretty nice too. To be honest, I've always wanted someone like you to be my…"
Every nerve of Gu Yu was tensed up and sweat covered his head. Three fingers of his hand seemed to be having a fever, while the other two had gone ice cold...
'Where is this place? Who am I? I think my sister-in-law is going to reveal her feelings to me, what should I do? I need answers now! It's an emergency!'
He was all flustered when he heard the rest of the sentence, "I've always wanted someone like you to be my brother…"
Gu Yu could finally breathe. 'A brother! That can totally work for me!'
"Sigh, you know what my sister's like. I've been worried about her since we were little. What would become of her? It turns out okay, though. You're not exactly Mr. Right, but you're at least Mr. Alright. I like you two as a couple."
Maybe it was because of the surroundings, Xiaojin was not her usual self tonight and let her emotions show.
"Haha, I guess a thank you is obligatory, then. Forget about us two; you'll find your Mr. Right someday and live happily ever after." Gu Yu chuckled.
"Ha! No, thanks! Life is boring enough, why do I have to put myself through something even more boring? I choose having fun every time… well, no stars tonight. Sleep tight!"
Xiaojin turned in her hammock and mumbled in jabberwocky. The trip seemed to have exhausted her and she soon fell asleep.