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640 Hunter or Soldier?

 The beehive the bear cub rolled to her yesterday was still there. Gu Nianzhi dug out a bit of wild honey, slathered it on the fish, and continued roasting it. Soon the sweet aroma of roasting fish filled the forest. Gu Nianzhi had just picked up the freshly cooked fish to devour when she suddenly heard rustling in the trees behind her. The grass thumped slightly, and the next second, a round bear cub practically tumbled to her feet. It was her old friend! Gu Nianzhi's mood brightened as she gave him a dazzling smile. She picked up a half-cooked fish without honey from the grill and passed it to the bear. "Here, this is for you."

The bear cub looked up at her, sticking out its tongue to lick the half-cooked fish before opening its mouth wide and swallowing half of it. Gu Nianzhi immediately shrank her hand back to avoid being bitten by the bear cub. "Don't eat so quickly." Gu Nianzhi rolled her eyes. "There's still plenty, take your time." She had caught five fish, and there were another two with honey for herself. The other three half-cooked ones could be given to the bear cub. Gu Nianzhi sat on the grass after speaking and leisurely ate her two honeyed fish. The other three half-cooked fish ended up in the bear cub's belly. Both the human and the bear were completely satisfied and laid on the grass to enjoy the sunshine after the meal.

Gu Nianzhi was feeling sleepy, but her mind was still replaying the day's events. How had those people found her? She laid on the grass with a sweet and sour wild weed between her teeth as she carefully considered the entire situation. She couldn't recall anything strange. She hadn't met anybody when the bear cub took her to the nunnery, and there was no way the bear cub could betray her. She also didn't get a chance to borrow the Reverend Mother's phone, so how did those people find her? She then thought of the Reverend Mother's unkind attitude towards her. Was it her doing? Maybe the Reverend Mother disliked her and called the police?

She thought about it for a while, and something still didn't feel right. Most people didn't call the police on people they didn't like at first glance--it was illogical. There must be something she didn't know yet, but she didn't want to mull over it anymore. She'd better find a way to move forward, since she couldn't continue staying in the same place.

After resting in the grass for some time, Gu Nianzi stood up to shake the bits of grass off and waved goodbye to the bear cub. "Little Black, I'll be going now. If I can make it out this time, I'll... make sure to do something for you guys." She didn't know what to wish for, and the bear cub probably didn't care about what she wished for. She only did it for her own reassurance.

Making a bundle out of her long nun's habit, Gu Nianzhi wrapped up the new undergarments and carried the pack on her back before striding out. After walking some distance, the sun was already setting in the west, and it was going to get dark soon. The sun shone from behind, and when she turned around, she saw the bear cub was still watching her, its lonesome figure stretching into a long shadow from the setting sun...

Gu Nianzhi missed him a bit, but thinking about how difficult her path was ahead, she didn't want the cute bear cub to perish under the bullets of those people trying to harm her. She made up her mind to leave without turning back again.

...

She walked alone along the rugged peaks of the Alps and began to feel depressed. She used to need nightlights when she slept and didn't dare to go to bed alone. But now she was able to sleep wherever she needed. Not only was no light necessary, but she was able to sleep all alone, even in the wilderness. Gu Nianzhi grimaced internally, thumping at her legs and looking around. She would have to sleep outside if there weren't any dwellings ahead.

Gu Nianzhi sat on the grass and took off her shoes to discover her soft and fair soles were blistered. Using the small spike on her Swiss Army knife, she pricked open the blisters and soaked her feet in the creek. Afterwards, she laid in the grass and crossed her feet in the setting sun to let them dry. Once her feet were dry, she slowly put on her shoes and planned to forage for some berries. She was exhausted and didn't want to catch any fish. Because she also had two grilled fish in the afternoon and had eaten another one in the morning, she was already sick of fish and didn't want more.

As the sky gradually darkened, the sound of fluttering bird wings came from the evening sky. Gu Nianzhi squinted at the birds flying across the sky and found that they were all heading to the forest diagonally from her. Was that where the birds nested? Gu Nianzhi followed them over. Entering the forest, she indeed found many nests atop the tall trees. Swallowing hard, she quietly crept up a tree with a nest, and as expected, there were bird eggs. Gu Nianzhi took advantage of most birds having not yet returned to skim through all the nests. She didn't empty any of the nests but chose to take one or two from each nest to not be too obvious in hopes that the birds wouldn't notice.

Climbing down the tree, Gu Nianzhi had already collected a pocketful of eggs. She cradled them and walked to the riverbank, set up a small fire, and buried the eggs in the embers. Soon the eggs were cooked, and Gu Nianzhi sat cross legged on the grass to peel three eggs for a full meal. She saved the remaining seven or eight eggs for breakfast tomorrow. After finishing the roasted eggs, she went to find a mountain spring for some water and to rinse her mouth before returning to the grass. Taking her nun's habit, she covered herself with it and fell asleep on the grass.

Because she had a small fire by her side, the beasts would be too frightened to approach her at night. White smoke drifted up from the fire, mixing in with the evening mist on the Alps, so even the rangers didn't notice. Gu Nianzhi slept peacefully, and when she woke the next morning, she was surprised to find she wasn't sore at all. Obviously, she was now used to sleeping on the grass.

After sitting in a daze for a while, she burst out laughing. Humans had an unlimited ability to adapt. Getting up to find a mountain spring to rinse her mouth, she then ate three of the roasted eggs from yesterday, then wrapped up the nun's habit to carry and continued walking. This time, she walked along the river until evening before finally getting tired.

She sat on a large rock by the river to rest her feet and planned to find a nearby forest to see what else she could forage--berries, eggs, or mushrooms would do. Gu Nianzhi could distinguish between which mushrooms were safe and which were poisonous. Wiping the sweat on her forehead, Gu Nianzhi walked towards the forest. The trees grew denser but weren't too thick or tall, so they probably weren't that old. Gu Nianzhi looked around and immediately noticed several berry bushes nearby. She quickly walked over and was about to bend over to pick them when she heard a crackling sound. It was like someone was walking on dried leaves. Gu Nianzhi's heart sank. How could she be hearing that here?

In that moment, Gu Nianzhi's body reacted before her mind. Just as she understood what was happening, she had already fallen to the ground and rolled quickly to hide behind the bush. Whoosh! A series of silenced bullets were shot from a certain angle, aimed directly where Gu Nianzhi was just bending over! If she had fallen to the ground one second later, the bullets would've cut through her waist and rendered her half paralyzed.

Gu Nianzhi seized up. Could those people be pursuing her again? But this time, she didn't see any police or squad cars. Shrinking behind the bush, she slowly edged back. The forest wasn't that big, but the dense foliage made it difficult to find someone in there. Gu Nianzhi gradually shifted towards the denser trees. Several gunshots could be heard from outside once again. However, this time, they weren't aimed in her direction but far off in a three o'clock position. Thud! A large bird fell from a tree, then there was a whistle followed by cheers. Gu Nianzhi could tell that they were speaking German, saying, "Good job!" Her mind spun as she listened hard to what they were saying.

The intermittent conversation drifted closer, then farther from her before finally leaving the small forest. "Hans, how was this season for you?"

"Pretty good. I got a snow wolf, some foxes, and plan to kill a bear."

"That many? I only got a few rabbits and one bird."

The people laughed heartily. They all had male voices. So these were hunters. Gu Nianzhi instantly recalled overhearing the conversation when she was dining with He Zhichu at the hotel. They had mentioned it was hunting season in the Alps. So the hunting season had officially begun.

Gu Nianzhi curled up silently in the tree and waited for the voices to completely fade before emerging from the forest. It was already dark, but she completely froze as soon as she walked out. Several men wearing cowboy hats and sunglasses calmly aimed their guns in her direction--right at her! Gu Nianzhi quickly fell backwards. Whoosh! Several bullets nearly grazed her forehead before hitting the ground, stirring up large amounts of dust and bits of grass.

Gu Nianzi rolled back into the forest and hid behind a large tree trunk as she shouted to the men outside, "What are you doing?! Aren't you hunting?!"

"Right, we're here to hunt." The men boomed with laughter. "You're our prey. It's not illegal to kill you."

Gu Nianzhi nearly saw red. She never imagined that such a barbaric practice still existed in modern civilized society! But it was true that killing people during hunting season bore no criminal responsibility. She could only blame herself for accidentally entering the hunting grounds and losing her life. But Gu Nianzhi was never one to sit idly. Those people were mistaken thinking they could plan to silently eliminate her. "It's not up to you whether it's illegal or not!" Gu Nianzhi couldn't help arguing with them. "Kill me if you have the balls. Let's see if you end up in jail!"

Only silence greeted her, but soon after, a series of well-trained and disciplined footsteps could be heard from outside the forest. The men walked in front of the forest and calmly called out to Gu Nianzhi inside, "Come out, or we'll burn the forest down."

Gu Nianzhi cried out, "Burn it down, then! The rangers will punish you if you do!" As soon as she spoke, a bullet from a silenced hunting rifle whizzed straight at the tree Gu Nianzhi was shielding herself with! They were deliberately provoking her so she would argue and reveal her position! This marksmanship was incomparable! Gu Nianzhi immediately shut up and changed location but kept her eyes on that tree.

Whizz! Another series of bullets flew in from outside the forest, hitting the tree and nearly cutting straight through it! She concentrated on listening to the footsteps and felt like they seemed to be in position, calm and orderly. Who were these hunters?! They were clearly trained soldiers! Gu Nianzhi's heart caught in her throat. If she guessed correctly, they were not normal hunters or even police, but real, proper soldiers! Of course, they probably weren't normal German soldiers, because those were subject to US-led NATO surveillance. There was no way they could send out assassins, so mercenaries were the only possibility.

The enemy had actually contracted mercenaries to eliminate her! This was the first time Gu Nianzhi sensed she might not survive, but she had always been one to give everything her best try before giving up. She would never surrender until the very last moment.

Gritting her teeth, she crouched down to silently make her way through the entire forest and crawl past the mountainside behind the forest. Behind the forest was a range of the Alps that wasn't too tall. These were all remnants of the Ice Age, and the stone was so hard, even blades couldn't leave marks on them. Luckily, she was slim and small-boned, so she was able to weave through the narrow gaps in the mountain. Soon after leaving the forest, the moon rose, and its light illuminated the earth to veil the entire mountain area in a glow. Gu Nianzhi poked her head halfway through the mountainside, and the people holding binoculars in front of the forest were able to spy on her.

"Over there! She ran off!"

"After her!"

Several men put away their hunting rifles and chased after her along the mountainside. Gu Nianzhi kept turning back as she ran to see those people were somehow able to follow her so quickly. She was temporarily shocked and realized they must have binoculars, so it was easy to locate her position. Gu Nianzhi calmed herself down and ran in a crouch along the cliff. She never stayed in the same spot for over a second and completely ignored the incessant silenced bullets behind her.

She focused on finding a path ahead. Grabbing a long vine, she vaulted over a cave and nearly twisted her ankle when she landed on the grass on the other side. However, she managed to steady herself right away and ran zig zag on the mountain. She ran quite a distance in one breath and felt like her throat was being stabbed with a knife. Her lungs burned with such pain, she could scarcely breathe. Just as she stopped to hold her stomach for a break, a silent bullet grazed her arm. The top layer of Gu Niazhhi's skin was cut, and blood instantly gushed out, dying her entire sleeve red. The soldiers pursuing her were closing in, and despite the pain in her arm, Gu Nianzhi ran even faster and didn't dare to stop again.

The smell of fresh blood attracted the wild animals. Not far away, Gu Niaznhi spied pairs of glowing green lights in the mountain peak across from her. Upon closer inspection, she saw they weren't lights but the eyes of wolves. The number of green eyes increased, which meant more wolves were there. Gu Nianzhi cried out internally. She was being chased by soldiers and also had wolves ahead waiting to attack. What should she do?

Looking up at a rock ahead, it abruptly blocked her bath. Gu Nianzhi had been running madly without direction all this way, so she froze when she saw the rock blocking her. She couldn't move forward or retreat. Was she totally trapped? Pressing hard against the wound on her arm, she stood in front of the large rock to study it for a bit, then noticed her wound had finally stopped bleeding.

Unwilling to give up, she looked around again and discovered a spring flowing out from behind the rock. Since water was flowing out, there must be a path behind it. Gu Nianzhi walked behind the rock and found a narrow hole hidden in the vines behind the rock. Brushing them aside, she discovered that the hole was just big enough for one person to pass through at a time. The person had to be very thin or be a small child. Even a slightly muscular adult wouldn't be able to enter. Gu Nianzhi hadn't had full meals in several days and had been running around in the wilderness, so she had lost a lot of weight. There was no way she could've fit back when she was slightly plump, but she happened to be the perfect size right now.

Feeling inside with her hand, she was happy to poke her head in to crawl through. This time, she sniffed the cave first to ensure there were no strange smells. Last time, she almost got herself killed by going into a cave where a mother wolf was giving birth. She hoped she didn't have such bad luck this time. After crawling in, Gu Nianzhi walked sideways. The passage was very narrow, and even in her current thin state, she had to keep holding her breath and tightening her chest only to barely squeeze through. She didn't know how long the path was, but as long as she could avoid the soldiers and the pack of wolves, she didn't care how far she had to walk.

The cave was too narrow. The soldiers arrived and discovered Gu Nianzhi had disappeared. They looked around and finally discovered the cave as well, but as adult men, they couldn't get through. They tried repeatedly and held their breath until their chests burned. One of them even broke a rib trying to squeeze in.

"Goddamn it!" How could she run off!?" A man cursed as he shot angrily into the cave with his hunting rifle. Whizz! A series of bullets splintered the cave with shards of rock, stirring up dust inside, obscuring vision. Gu Nianzhi grunted and pressed her arm once again. This time, her left arm had been grazed by another bullet. The wound that had just stopped bleeding was cut open once again. Gu Nianzhi didn't dare to look at her bloodied arm and nearly closed her eyes as she pressed tightly down on it. The pain made her shake uncontrollably, and she shrank like a cooked shrimp against the cave wall.

Luckily, the soldiers couldn't go in, so she didn't have to rush out of there. She was squished between the stone walls, inhaling and exhaling hard. After the pain subsided a bit, she continued forward. After walking for some time, she only knew her chest and legs were completely numb as she passed through a section of the cave that almost suffocated her. Eventually, she saw a wider space. There was finally a place in the cave where she could sit down and rest a bit.