Chapter 50 - The Storm, Pt. 2
Shen Yu groggily opened her eyes. The sun was shining again, and the wind had slowed down.
She shook her body, dusting sand off of herself, and stood up in the ditch. There was no one around her. Even Tang Can had disappeared.
For a moment, she felt scared at the prospect of being alone. Then she heard the voices again. They were yelling “gold mine, gold mine” just like earlier. The sound seemed to be coming from somewhere closer to her. Shen Yu turned around and almost screeched in fright when she saw a pillar behind her. The dust on the “pillar” soon fell off, and she could see a military uniform. She quickly calmed down after identifying the person in front of her.
Everyone around her was looking at where a soldier was pointing. About ten meters in the distance, there was a pile of gold, glittering underneath the sun.
“It must be a mirage!” exclaimed Tang Can, who had suddenly reappeared. He skeptically shaded his eyes and tried looking at the site from a different angle.
“Impossible! If the sandstorm didn’t recently go by, I would also think that was an illusion. But because the storm went by, the temperature surrounding us has gone down. It’s unlikely for a mirage to form under these circumstances,” retorted a soldier called Guo Pingan. He carefully wiped his eyeglasses with a handkerchief, but when he put them back on his face he found that his vision was worse with the glasses on. Earlier, the sandstorm had pummeled the lenses, leading to fine cobweb cracks forming. Because of that, he was unable to see the shocked and excited expressions on everyone’s face.
Shen Yu knew that, out of all of the soldiers here, Guo Pingan was the only one who had a college education. She searched back in her memory and decided that the young soldier’s conclusions were correct. Mirages only appeared when there was no wind or other moving air in the area. Anytime there was something to mix the air, it would make it difficult for rays of light to reflect perfectly. Any image that had formed before then would quickly disappear.
After Mazha heard Guo Pingan’s explanation, he fervently shouted at the other people, “Comrades, what are we waiting for then? That’s the gold mine we were looking for right there!”
At this moment, another blustering wind blew up and started picking up loads of sand. Tang Can hurriedly ordered, “Forget it! It looks like another sandstorm is forming!”
Right after he finished his commands, the storm started raging quickly. Sand filled the air, and the sky soon became dark again. Tang Can grabbed onto Shen Yu and pushed her down into a nearby ditch. Next to them, Mazha and another soldier came along. In the thick of the mess, the young woman managed to hit her nose on somebody’s head, but she couldn’t see who she had struck. Blood dripped out of her nostrils but under these circumstances a small injury like that was nothing to be concerned about. The rest of the team huddled together as close together as possible. Unfortunately, two soldiers, who had run out earlier, came back too late. The winds from the storm lifted them into the air. A couple of frightened screams tore the air but soon even that disappeared.
For the first time in her life, Shen Yu tasted despair at the back of her throat. Ever since she entered the Xinjiang province, she had been inundated with stories from other people about the hazardous desert storms. Sandstorms were more deadly than the demons under King Yama, the overlord of the afterlife. Wherever they blew, they consumed life indiscriminately. The only thing left from their passage would be a pile of bones. The animals living in the desert would cow in fear, with some just waiting to die. After they got consumed, their skeletons preserved their last kneeling position. The grisly sight reminded her of sinners receiving their punishment!
By the time this sandstorm rolled over, the group had lost several soldiers. Other than the two who were blown away in the beginning, other people had been lost after being buried alive by sand.
Shen Yu and her smaller group had been buried by tons of sand. Luckily, the three men were only under a shallow amount and their heads were not suffocated. Tang Can, Mazha, and another soldier named Xiao Xiao managed to struggle their way out of their sand coffins. When the young officer didn’t see Shen Yu around, he became frenzied, as if he was a mad man. In an effort to protect her, he had pushed her down as deep as possible. In this case, that might have harmed her more than he had anticipated!
Tang Can’s eyes were red as he desperately dug in the sand around him. Xiao Xiao and Mazha helped him. The three of them worked grimly to excavate the buried woman from the ground. Finally, they found her, but she had already stopped breathing. Her body lay limply on the ground. No matter what Tang Can screamed or hollered, there was no reaction out of her.
“Wake up! She’s dead! We can’t spend all of our time on her, we need to find our other comrades!” hollered Mazha after he saw Tang Can’s crazed state. In an effort to bring him back, the male soldier slapped the officer hard on the face. Tang Can rapidly calmed down after getting hit. Gritting his teeth, he reluctantly helped Mazha look for the other soldiers. The three of them were able to save three more people before their luck ran out. No matter how hard they tried afterwards, it was of no use!
With heavy spirits, they continued to yell and dig methodically in an effort to rescue more people. But everyone’s hearts were clear, there would be no more survivors from this storm. Anyone else they found would likely have perished earlier!
Mazha stumbled to the ground with a loud thwack and kneeled in front of a newly formed sand dune. He howled pitifully, “Comrades…” Soon after that, fat tears rolled down his eyes as he screamed in despair. The other surviving soldiers were influenced by the crying soldier and started sobbing with him. They kneeled in front of the mound of sand, slapping their hands on the ground.
All of them were hoping beyond hope that someone would pop out from the sand dune and laugh, “Why are you all crying? I haven’t died yet!”
But this type of hope was like life in the deep desert, it was dead!
Who would have thought that their friends, who had been laughing and joking with them a short while ago, would all perish in the storm? They couldn’t even find any remains left over!
Thinking about all of this started to drive Mazha crazy. In a fit, he screamed, “We can’t leave our dead brothers here alone! Even though they’re dead, we must find their bodies and bring them out of this forsaken desert!”
“Yes!” exclaimed the other soldiers.
“A falling leaf must return to its roots! We can’t leave our friends to this cold, deadly desert. All of their family would be heartbroken knowing they were left here!” Mazha’s words touched all of the hearts of the surviving soldiers. The exhausted group soon found new energy to continue searching and digging.
Tang Can had long recovered and was able to think clearly again. His eyes were dry when he stared fixedly at Shen Yu’s prone body on the ground. He tightly grasped his hands together in a fist and some moisture started forming at the corners of his eyes again. However, he gritted his teeth and pushed his sorrow down. He stood up from the pile of sand and stumbled at first before he finally caught his footing. Now steady, he ordered the rest of the soldiers to stop what they were doing.
The dead were dead, but the living must go on! All of them had already used up too much energy and their bodies were weak. In this situation, they were all lucky to still be alive. However, they weren’t completely safe yet. They still didn’t know how to get out of the desert. How could they possibly bring dead people along when they didn’t know whether they would survive or not?
Mazha yelled at Tang Can, accusing him of being cold blooded. Inside the dune was their brothers, the soldiers who had gone through tribulations together with them!
However, the rest of the soldiers had already accepted the truth of Tang Can’s words and stopped working. Mazha was the only one who was unable to face reality.
Mazha continued to stubbornly dig until he ran out of strength. He lay down on the sand, exhausted, his eyes filled with despair. After resting a bit, he regained a bit of energy and looked up. When he saw Tang Can cradling Shen Yu’s body in his arms, fury rushed to his head.
“You don’t care about our dead comrades, but you care about that dead woman? What is the matter with you?” he screamed.
Tang Can showed no reaction. After a long period of time passed, Mazha angrily asked him again. Only then did he raise his head to look at the other man, a bitter and mournful smile on his face…
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