Chapter 52 - Searching for the Gold
“You bastard, can you at least say something that actually makes sense?” retorted Mazha. He shook his fist to the other man in an attempt to seem angry but the smile on his face belied his pretense.
After seeing one survivor, the young soldier wished for more miracles. Although he knew it was folly, he desperately hoped that all of the soldiers buried under the sand dune would pop up, one by one, and curse him out for thinking they were dead. He could imagine them scolding him, “Oi, dumb Mazha! We’re all still breathing. Get off your lazy bum and lend us a hand…”
On the other hand, Tang Can stared at Shen Yu for a long time before he could get himself to believe that she was alive. He soon realized that it wouldn’t be good to leave her arm in its busted condition and hastened to reassure her, “Let me try to pop your arm back in. Hold on for a bit, it will probably hurt a lot!”
Shen Yu gritted her teeth and nodded. She turned her face to the side so she wouldn’t be able to see Tang Can’s work. For a brief moment, she felt jaw aching pain but then it was over. The young officer then asked her to try to move her arm a little. If she wasn’t able to move it, he would have to dislocate it again and reattempt the attachment. Shen Yu felt cold sweat drip down her back at the thought of having to go through that again. She cautiously moved her arm a little, found it wasn’t difficult, and let out a sigh of relief.
Shen Yu turned towards Tang Can, “Looks like it’s back on.”
Since they were stuck in the middle of the desert with no reliable medical care, Tang Can treated her like a princess. Better to be cautious now than to discover ill results later on. He slipped her shoelaces off of her feet and used them to create a makeshift sling for her injured arm.
By the time he finished, Mazha had come down from the sand dune and was asking him about their next steps. Tang Can looked at the time and found that it had already reached four in the afternoon. He still thought that heading due east was the best choice they had. He looked at his watch and decided to go in the direction of the 9 on it.
Shen Yu still remembered seeing a pile of gold during the sandstorm and asked, “Did we really see gold earlier?”
After losing so many soldiers, the rest of them had long forgotten about the gold.
Mazha reacted strongly to her question, “Who cares about the gold deposit? We’ve lost so many comrades just for some shitty gold!” The most pressing detail to him was that he still didn’t know what had happened to Zhang Fei. Was she alive or dead? That thought, and the fact that so many other soldiers died, rankled at him.
“The wheel of fortune is constantly turning. Sometimes you may have all the luck in the world. Other times, you may not have anything,” opined Guo Pingan philosophically. From that statement, they could all perceive that he was a well-educated man.
“Wheel of fortune? Who the hell cares about stupid shit like that?” growled Mazha, irritated by the other man’s cryptic words and wanting to pick a fight. “It’s not like it’s of any use to us now!”
“I only think…” Guo Pingan trailed off before he could finish his thought. He pushed his glasses up on his face in a long practiced gesture before he remembered his glasses were busted beyond use. He shook his head in exasperation and then continued, “What I was trying to say was: we don’t have any food or water right now. It’s questionable whether we can get out of this desert alive. If we’re going to die all the same, why don’t we try to die more heroically? If we can find this deposit of gold, our names will be remembered throughout history!”
After hearing the other soldier’s thoughts, Mazha had nothing more to say. Deep within his heart, he knew the other man was right. It would be unlikely for any of them to survive under these circumstances. He thought for a bit longer before finally agreeing with Guo Pingan. “If we’re actually able to find the gold, all I ask is that all of our elders back home regard us as heroes in the future. That would be enough for me.”
On the other hand, Tang Can was more concerned about the national prestige and fame they could bring by finding the gold. Earlier he had watched with open eyes as Zhang Fei blatantly lost the dog’s head gold that Shen Yu found. The memory still elicited deep regrets within him. Now that they had seen a glimpse of a more gold, he needed to find where it was, even if it meant sacrificing his own life!
The three men had reached a common goal. Even though Shen Yu was a woman, she had enough courage to best any man. When Tang Can asked her whether she would be okay with searching for the gold, she had nodded vigorously in assent. Life was fragile in this world; that was a fact she had just faced today with the sandstorm. If she was meant to die here, she wanted to do something meaningful before that happened. On the other hand, she also had a selfish thought driving her. If they really were able to find the legendary gold deposit, that would be doing the country a great favor. Wouldn’t she be considered a martyr for the rest of history? The nation would definitely take care of her parents then. It could be considered her last act of a filial daughter. Regardless, the powers of fate were at play here. Whether they succeeded or not was up to the gods!
The sun still shone brightly in the sky, and they used it to find their bearings in the desert. They pooled their minds together and did their best to comb through their memories. With the four of them working together, they managed to piece together a working plan.
“Alright, let’s head in the direction towards 5 pm!” ordered Tang Can after he decided the right direction. The directions he gave were given in military terminology. 5 pm corresponded to the northwest direction.
All of them gathered their energy to head out. Before the sandstorm had hit this area, there were only some gentle slopes of sand. After the storm had passed, large dunes appeared, making it more difficult for them to walk. Every step they took sunk a bit into the sand.
Tang Can supported Shen Yu with every step they took. He was afraid that if he didn’t help her, she would end up tumbling down from a large hill. They had already encountered enough bad luck earlier, they didn’t need more unfortunate things happening now!
The team struggled heavily to go up a sand dune but going down proved to be much easier. Mazha and Guo Pingan simply sat down and slid down the hills. Tang Can refused to let Shen Yu try. He didn’t want her to accidentally get jostled in her injured arm and end up with permanent damage. It was better for her to go down slowly than to risk another accident.
At this moment, Shen Yu suddenly thought of little kids playing in the sand. Children loved to build hills and then destroy them. She had a sudden feeling that the desert winds were similar to children. Sometimes they would build up sand hills, other times they would flatten them out. It was all random.
Another thought struck her: the desert was always moving! She wasn’t even sure if they would be able to find the lost gold. Earlier they had watched helplessly as the desert consumed several soldiers such that even now they couldn’t find a trace of those people!
They were currently in the deep desert with no landmarks to help. In these conditions, it was very easy for them to incorrectly judge their surroundings. Before they had encountered the storm, the team had been walking around in circles without encountering any gold. The first time the storm appeared they were able to find the gold, but now, it was hard to say exactly where it went.
The doubts that she had in her heart were all said out loud by Guo Pingan.
“Lop Nor is most famous for its Tarim mummies. They were first discovered by a Swedish explorer’s expedition team. Not only did they find a large burial complex but they also discovered the ‘Smiling Princess’. However, when they came back another time to Lop Nor, they were no longer able to find it anymore. Another seventy years passed before they reappeared again. The mysterious Smiling Princess showed herself again. I feel like the gold we saw earlier is of the same ilk! It’s constantly getting hidden and uncovered by the desert. I sincerely hope that we will be able to see it again and not have to die before it is found again!”
“You brat, can’t you say something more encouraging?” snarled Mazha, a little annoyed by Guo Pingan’s pessimism. Finding the gold again was the only him driving him on. If they really couldn’t find it again, they were pretty much all destined to die a slow, painful death. It would be more merciful for another sandstorm to appear and kill them off if that was their ultimate fate.
Tang Can had stayed silent this entire time. The young officer bent down to scoop up some sand from the ground. Under the sunlight, the grains of sand seemed to be glittering faintly…
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