Chapter 818: What the Northwest is like
In the secret prison, the Great Hoodwinker yelled, “Are we not allowed to have dinner anymore? Hey, does your Kong Consortium still care about human rights? Prisoners are human too, alright?!”
However, it was completely quiet in the corridors of the prison. No one answered the Great Hoodwinker, nor did anyone come out to make him be quiet.
“That’s strange.” The Great Hoodwinker muttered, “Even the prison guards here have left as well?”
At this moment, two prison guards came from the gate at the end of the corridor and walked straight through it.
The Great Hoodwinker shouted, “Hey, if you don’t let us out for dinner, at least deliver our meals here!”
However, the two prison guards did not even look at the Great Hoodwinker and left through the other end of the corridor.
“I wonder if those people still have any humanity left in them?” the Great Hoodwinker lamented as he leaned against the cell’s bars.
“Something is wrong.” Wang Yun, who had been silent all this while, suddenly said, “Those people were walking much faster than usual, and their stride was about one centimeter wider too. Something must’ve happened that we’re unaware of.”
The Great Hoodwinker was stunned. “Y’know, you’re even more unbelievable than me right now, huh? You actually remember how wide their usual stride is?”
“I can remember how they used to walk and replay it in my mind to compare with how they’re walking now. It’s like overlaying two pieces of film and playing it at the same time. If it’s different from before, I can tell straight away at a glance.”
“It would be such a pity if you don’t join the Prosperous Northwest,” the Great Hoodwinker admired. “Honestly speaking, don’t you think it’s a waste of your talent working for a measly organization like the Kong Consortium?”
“Why’s it a waste of my talent when our Kong Consortium is part of the tripartite power in the Central Plains with the Wang Consortium and the Zhou Consortium?” Wang Yun said coldly.
“Then do you know how big our Northwest has become?” The Great Hoodwinker said arrogantly, “The entire Northwest belongs to our Fortress 178, and we have been fending off external enemies all these years. What has the Kong Consortium done? They only think about exploiting the people every day. Let me ask you this: Why did the Central Plains start building strongholds in the first place? Was it really because y’all wanted to keep out the so-called wild animals? I don’t think so. That’s nothing but a lie to fool the people.”
Wang Yun did not say anything more. They were all smart people, so there was no need to refute this.
The Great Hoodwinker continued, “Back then, there was indeed a bug epidemic, and the wild animals really did injure a lot of people. But did the various forces really not have the ability to eliminate those threats at that time? Weren’t they just trying to seize territory for themselves by building the strongholds? After building the strongholds that gave them a natural class superiority, the people outside the strongholds would have to keep working for them generation after generation. It’s just like how the Zong Consortium supported the bandits to induce fear in the refugees. They left them with no choice but to rely on the protection of the strongholds.”
“Not all of them are like that,” Wang Yun replied.
“But most of them are,” the Great Hoodwinker said with a sigh.
It became quiet again in the corridor. After a long time, Ji Zi’ang suddenly asked in the next cell, “When did you save my wife and child? Did they suffer any humiliation in the Zhou Consortium?”
“Around a year ago. But I think it’s better that you don’t hear about it.” The Great Hoodwinker said as he lay back down on the cold bed and crossed his legs, “Although our Northwest often goes around encouraging people to join and support the development of the border areas, sometimes even resorting to underhanded tactics to do so, if your wife and child did not encounter any danger, we would not have taken them away to a distant land thousands of kilometers away. But don’t worry, the things you were most worried about did not happen. Your son is very healthy. I even saw him attending the school’s sports meet when I was back at the Northwest.”
“You all were already planning to recruit me a year ago?” Ji Zi’ang asked.
“Oh, it was even earlier than you think,” the Great Hoodwinker replied. “Ever since you killed that merchant, we’ve started preparations to recruit you. But before our preparations were complete, you got set up and were sent straight to the secret prison.”
“Tell me, what kind of place is the Northwest?” Ji Zi’ang said in a low voice, “Since you want me to go there, you should at least tell me what the place is like.”
“The Northwest?” The Great Hoodwinker had a reminiscent look on his face. “Actually, when I first got to the Northwest, I thought that only an idiot would want to stay there. At that time, I really had no place to turn to. I was chased there by an enemy and ended up immediately joining the military. I thought that no matter how powerful my enemy was, they couldn’t possibly dare to provoke the damn fucks of Fortress 178, right? Fortunately for me, Fortress 178 happened to be recruiting for the military, so I enlisted.
“Later on, my former commander at the boot camp I was attending believed that I was a frivolous person and thought I needed to go through more hardship to train me up. After graduating from boot camp, he sent me directly to the border outpost…. Now that I think about it, I have the urge to curse out my former commander. He’s such a jerk! Is that outpost a place fit for humans?”
Ji Zi’ang said, “Keep talking about the Northwest.”
“Well,” The Great Hoodwinker recalled, “the outpost was probably the toughest place I’ve been in the Northwest. The farthest outpost can only be reached after walking for 15 days via the mountain paths from Fortress 178. At temperatures 30 below zero, there can even be ground blizzards. Sometimes, if you missed your footing, you would fall into a crevasse. Back then, I used to set out at 8 o’clock every morning to trek across five mountains that stood 5,000 meters above sea level for my patrol duties. After that, I trekked back down the mountains at 5 PM to return to the outpost. It was like that on the first day, the second day, the third day, and…”
The Great Hoodwinker went silent for a while before saying, “Day after day, our boring lives went by just like that. At Dashan Outpost, I experienced an unprecedented sense of loneliness. But now that I think about it, that loneliness was also a source of strength. Have you ever heard of the saying ‘a decade of chewing ice is not enough to cool one’s passion’? Actually, a lot of people only know what it means, but they don’t know how miserable it is to have to chew ice. When we went on our patrols, we couldn’t bring our canteens with us, because the water would just freeze inside. If we wanted to quench our thirst, we could only do it by melting snow in our mouths.
“Later, I heard that the sentries of Fortress 178 would always ask for a photo from the girl they liked before leaving for the outpost. Regardless of whether the girl liked them back or not, she would give them the prettiest photo of herself. That way, the sentry guards could stare at the photos and not go crazy from the isolation. But as I wasn’t fucking from the Northwest at that time, I wasn’t aware of said tradition. When the others looked at the photos they were given, I could only scratch my feet….” The Great Hoodwinker actually chuckled as he related this.
Ji Zi’ang suddenly said, “Who would want to go to such a forsaken place? Since you felt so bitter back then, why didn’t you leave? Aren’t you afraid I’ll go back on my word after learning about how bad it is in the Northwest?”
The Great Hoodwinker turned serious. “It’s because you’ll truly be happy there. Because you’re protecting your compatriots behind you in that remote place. When your commander drops by for a visit, he also has to personally navigate the mountain paths that you previously walked. You might not believe it when I say this, but I saw Commander Zhang trekking on foot for 78 days that year to visit all 178 outposts outside of Fortress 178. He even made dumplings for each of us. Because of the high altitude, it was difficult to cook the dumplings. But for me, Zhang Husheng, that was the most unforgettable meal of my life.”