Stranger Danger

Chapter 7: Echo Caterpillar



Chapter 7: Echo Caterpillar

“So? Have you carved my words into your heads?” Fang Nianshui pressed with a harsh voice.

“Yes boss,” all three youngsters responded with varying degrees of distress. Fang Nianshui’s advice could mean the difference between life and death, and no one was stupid enough to take it lightly.

“That is all I ask. Now, let us continue.” Fang Nianshui abruptly lost his serious face and returned to his sunny, lackadaisical disposition once more.

“We’re not going back yet?” Li Er asked with trepidation as his legs shivered. Fị𝒏dd 𝒏ew upd𝒂t𝒆s on n(o)v/e/l𝒃in(.)com

Fang Nianshui chuckled ominously. “Of course not. Why would we go back when there’s more fun to be had?”

All three youngsters exchanged incredulous looks with each other. They didn’t dare to say it out loud, but only a maniac would agree with the hunter’s idea of “fun”.

“By the way, the places we’re passing through are all places we’re going to patrol in the future, so you best carve them into your heads as well.”

The group of four passed through the farms and stepped on a major road. Fang Nianshui would continue to explain all the routes and areas they would be patrolling as they continued.

“Hehehe… hahaha…”

Suddenly, Ye Qing heard a peal of laughter he wasn’t quite sure was real when a breeze blew against the surrounding trees. He immediately straightened up and kept his eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.

“Ye… Ye Qing, did you… did you hear anything just now?” asked Li Er beside him. The stout youngster was hunching his shoulders and scanning his surroundings with a frantic look in his eyes.

Ye Qing gave him a random excuse, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

Li Er: “...”

“Hehehe… hahaha…”

It was at this moment a gale blew at them hard enough to throw their clothes into disarray. More importantly, the laughter was growing louder and louder until it almost felt like someone was giggling right beside their ears. Ye Qing also caught a glimpse of what looked like a blurry silhouette out of the corner of his eyes.

“Aaaaah! It’s a ghost! A ghost!” Li Er let out a terrified scream before turning around and running for the village. Of course, he didn’t even manage two steps before someone appeared behind him and lifted him to the air by the collar.

“Ghost, my ass!” Fang Nianshui slapped Li Er out of his panic before explaining impatiently, “What kind of ghost appears in broad daylight? That’s the Wind Children you’re hearing. It’s harmless so long as you don’t provoke it.”

“The Wind Children?” Ye Qing concentrated his eyes on the passing wind. Sure enough, he glimpsed what looked like the silhouette of a child dancing freely in the wind.

“Yep. The Wind Children are Mundane-class Strangers. They enjoy hiding inside the wind and flying with it. Just like the Mud Dolls, they normally don’t attack anyone unless provoked. If you do, you’ll find that they are a greater enemy than even the Mud Dolls.”

“That reminds me, our Captain Lin once provoked the Wind Children by accident and nearly died despite being a late-stage Invoker. Luckily, Granny Xia and Captain Chen showed up in time to save his life. Long story short, don’t provoke the Wind Children unless you have a death wish.”

Lin Hu is a late-stage

Invoker? Ye Qing’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Since Chen Zheng stood on the same footing as Lin Hu, it should be safe to assume that he was also a late-stage Invoker.

“You know what? I’m feeling generous today, so here’s a freebie: If you run into a dangerous situation in the future, do not panic, and definitely do not scream like a goddamn girl. People like that are usually the first to die.” Fang Nianshui released Li Er before teasing him in a friendly manner, “Who would’ve thought that a big guy like you would have such tiny balls? You better grow some soon before you disappoint the ladies, lad.”

Li Er chuckled awkwardly and scratched his head in embarrassment.

“Change of plans. Ye Qing, switch places with Li Er. Let’s hope that’ll be enough to stop you from jumping at every shadow.”

.

“Yes boss,” both youngsters responded as Ye Qing moved to the rear, and Li Er to the center of their group.

“My second lesson to you lot is to remain calm and observe your surroundings no matter the circumstances. The more stressed and nervous you are, the easier it is to lose control and consequently, your life.”

Fang Nianshui continued after a pause, “Alright, we’re going to make another round here.”

By now, the trio was somewhat ready for what was to come. At the very least, they weren’t overreacting like when they encountered the first two Strangers anymore.

“That mountain over there—the tallest and biggest of them all—is Little August Hill. You might’ve noticed, but our village is named after it. While it looks calm and peaceful from the outside, trust me when I say it’s very dangerous. Not even our martial artists would dare to enter Little August Hill without cause.”

After pointing at a tall, lofty mountain in the distance and providing a brief explanation, Fang Nianshui said, “And that’s it. We’ve patrolled all the areas we have to patrol. Oh! Look at me. We’ve walked all morning, and I still haven’t told you our main responsibilities yet. First, a watchman is responsible for protecting the farmers so that they may toil without fear from the Strangers. Second, a watchman is responsible for protecting the farms so that the Strangers cannot plunge us all into a famine, and third, a watchman is responsible for protecting the village from a Stranger attack. Also, we must report back to the higher-ups if we spot any dangerous Stranger nearby.”

“Alright, we’ve been walking for almost three hours, and I’ve told you everything you need to know. It’s time to go home.”

“Oh thank heavens! We can finally go home!” Li Er exploded in excitement. He even swung his stick around a little.

“Oh thank heavens, we can finally go home.” The reserved Zhou Nian said the same thing, but in a stiffer voice.

“Let’s go then!” declared Fang Nianshui with a wave. This time, he did not chide Li Er despite him causing a commotion.

“Let’s go then!” Zhou Nian repeated Fang Nianshui’s words.

“Zhou Nian? Why are you repeating after us?” Li Er asked in puzzlement.

“Zhou Nian? Why are you repeating after us?” Zhou Nian repeated in the exact same intonation.

“Seriously, are you alright? Wait, I think your nape’s bleeding.” Li Er looked completely confused, but the blood on Zhou Nian’s neck drew his attention away before he could say anything more. He was about to walk over and inspect his friend’s injury when Ye Qing held him in place, frowning.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

As soon as he said this, Zhou Nian’s eyes abruptly turned bloodshot like he was about to fly into a rage. Then, he actually let out an animalistic roar and swung his sword wildly at Ye Qing and Li Er.

Caught completely off guard, Li Er wasn’t able to react at all. He would’ve died just like that if Ye Qing hadn’t pulled him out of the way. He unsheathed his saber and clashed blades with Zhou Nian.

Clang!

Zhou Nian’s sword flew into the air, but the saber’s momentum wasn’t spent yet. It cut through the youngster’s neck and sent his head flying into the air. Zhou Nian’s headless corpse took two more steps before it finally collapsed on the ground with a dull thud.

“Aaaaaa—”

It was only now Li Er’s brain finally processed what just happened, and he opened his mouth to let out a bloodcurdling scream. However, he was cut short when an icy voice spoke behind him,

“Silence, fool. Do you want to die that badly?”

The voice belonged to Fang Nianshui. Li Er snapped out of his funk and clapped his hands around his mouth, but his panic was plain for all to see.

“Boss, I—” Ye Qing tried to explain himself when Fang Nianshui looked at him, but the hunter interrupted him with a wave and said,

“I’m not accusing you. It’s the Echo Caterpillar.”

Fang Nianshui walked up to Zhou Nian’s head and took a quick look. Then, he lifted his feet and stomped down on it. The second the head was crushed, a worm about half a finger’s length crawled out of the gore. It looked just like a cabbage caterpillar.

Somehow, it had burrowed into Zhou Nian’s head without anyone noticing.

“This is an Echo Caterpillar, a Mundane-class Stranger. It isn’t threatening in itself, but it can bite through the victim’s skull and burrow into their brains without anyone noticing. Then, it would make the body repeat everything it hears. If someone sees through its act, it would immediately control the body to attack everyone around it. It’s incredibly difficult to guard against, and many watchmen were injured and even killed by their own allies because of the Echo Caterpillar.

“Clearly, the Echo Caterpillar had burrowed into Zhou Nian’s head and controlled him for heavens-know-how-long. You did well, Ye Qing. If not for your swift and decisive action, you and Li Er may have been in danger before I could step in and save you.”

Ye Qing did not respond to Fang Nianshui’s praise. For some reason, he was squinting his eyes and shivering a little. He also looked quite pale.

“Ye Qing? Are you alright?” Fang Nianshui asked worriedly. He thought Ye Qing was feeling scared because this was the first time he took a human life.

Ye Qing shook his head, but Fang Nianshui thought that he was just putting up a brave front. He did not know that the young man was really trying to suppress his bloodlust.

When Fang Nianshui had crushed Zhou Nian’s head—no, even before that, when his saber had sliced through the youngster’s neck—his blood had immediately boiled up at the sight of bright red blood. He could feel them screaming at him to devour every last drop of blood in Zhou Nian’s body.

“Hmph!” Ye Qing dug his fingers into his palm almost deep enough to gouge out his own flesh. Thankfully, the terrible pain was enough to push down the bloodlust.

Feng Nianshui comforted Ye Qing, “It’s okay. Everyone gets like this the first time they take a life. You’ll get used to it eventually. Also, Zhou Nian was no more from the moment the Echo Caterpillar had burrowed into his head. You’re actually taking revenge for him by taking out his controlled body, so there’s no need to feel regret over this.”

The Echo Caterpillar looked just like an ordinary caterpillar without a head to attach to. Although it was crawling away from them, it was so slow that they had all the time in the world to kill it. Feng Nianshui was about to do just that when suddenly, Ye Qing cried out in alarm, “Wait!”

“What? What?” asked the hunter while looking left and right hastily. He thought that danger had crept up to them without him noticing.

“I’ll do it!”

Before Fang Nianshui could make sense of his words, Ye Qing rushed forward and stomped down on the Echo Caterpillar. It let out a disgusting “pssh” sound before green liquid began forming around his shoes. When Ye Qing looked up and saw Fang Nianshui staring at him with an odd look, he let out an awkward cough and said, “I er, I just want to take revenge for Zhou Nian myself.”

“Well, sure.” Fang Nianshui frowned but didn’t press the subject. He pulled out a talisman from within his shirt and ignited it with a spark of qi. Then, he tossed it over Zhou Nian’s corpse and burned it into ashes in an instant.

“Boss Fang, why did you… we could’ve taken him home for a proper burial…” Li Er stammered. Clearly, he hadn’t recovered from the shock of Zhou Nian’s death yet.

“There are two reasons why we do things this way. One, it’s unnecessary. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Zhou Nian is dead, and it doesn’t matter if he’s cremated or buried. Two, a corpse like this will give off a blood stench. It may attract dangerous Strangers that we are ill-equipped to handle. That is why you always cremate the body with a fire talisman,” Fang Nianshui replied.

“Speaking of dangerous Strangers… you wouldn’t happen to mean that, would you boss?” Ye Qing suddenly interrupted and pointed in a certain direction. When the hunter looked, he noticed that the sky was covered in pitch black clouds. What was strange was that the clouds were moving toward them and cutting through everything in its path like a hot knife through butter. Even the Wind Children had escaped far, far out of their range.

Buzz… buzz…

It wasn’t until the clouds got close, and he heard a loud buzzing noise that Ye Qing realized what he was looking at. The “clouds” weren’t clouds, they were a gigantic swarm of pitch black mosquitos! There were so many of them that they looked like clouds from a distance. Worse yet, they were man-eating mosquitos!


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