“I won’t find it tiring at all.”
An Xiaoning followed the lady boss to a room on the fourth storey.
There were two large windows in the room, one facing the ocean and the other facing a range of mountains.
The climate there was much warmer compared to S Nation.
The weather happened to be breezy that day. Thus, An Xiaoning decided to open the windows and allow the wind to cool the room.
An Xiaoning placed her luggage onto the bed and stood in front of the window to gaze at the ocean from afar.
Beneath the calm and peaceful expression on her face laid a growing worry and anxiety.
Realizing that it was still early and that the summer sun would only set much later in the day, An Xiaoning decided it would be a good time to go out and reconnoiter around the area.
She brought her personal belongings and important items with her and left her clothes and luggage inside the inn.
Despite not knowing if Jin Qingyan was still in the area, she still went ahead with searching for him mindlessly.
She asked the residents of every single house she came across and even checked their rooms, one by one.
By the time the sun had set and the sky had turned dark, she still made no progress.
Several days had passed since An Xiaoning moved into the inn and searched the houses near the beach.
Just as she was about to leave to search in another area, the lady boss of the inn asked, “Have you gone to search in the mountains?”
“Yeah, a lot of people have moved to live in the mountains because they’re afraid that a tsunami would strike again. Thus, many families have settled down in the mountains where they rebuilt their homes.”
An Xiaoning decided to go have a look.
She headed to the mountains that afternoon.
Indeed, she caught sight of an abode after walking for just a short while.
However, she still could not find him.
He was nowhere in sight, despite having searched the houses one by one like she did at those near the beach.
Her legs had begun to ache from treading through the mountains painstakingly and searching everywhere by foot the past few days.
She sat down on a large rock and took a few sips of water from her bottle of mineral water.
Just as she twisted the cap back onto the bottle, An Xiaoning caught sight of a middle-aged woman who was panting heavily and walking in her direction while carrying a bag of items on her shoulders. She also had a bandage around her arm.
An Xiaoning stood up and offered to help, “Auntie, let me give you a hand.”
“It’s alright, I can manage,” Mrs. Bu politely declined.
“Your arm is injured. Let me help you,” said An Xiaoning as she took the initiative and carried the bag.
“Thank you so much then,” Mrs. Bu thanked her smilingly.
“No problem. Where do you live?”
“I live just above there, not too far away from here,” Mrs. Bu answered, pointing at a spot nearby.
“Alright. Auntie, how did your arm get injured?”
“I went on the mountains to gather some firewood yesterday and fell down accidentally. My arm got injured in the process, but it’s nothing too serious. You don’t sound like a local, Miss,” Mrs. Bu said.
“I’m indeed a foreigner. I’m here to look for my family.”
“To look for your family? Did your family member go missing here?” Mrs. Bu asked.
“Yes, but I haven’t been able to find him,” An Xiaoning said with a wry smile.
“May I ask how your family member’s related to you?”
An Xiaoning had initially wanted to say that it was her husband. However, she suddenly remembered that she was wearing the human skin mask and thus answered, “He’s my brother.”
Mrs. Bu’s expression changed upon hearing her answer. “How old is your brother?”
“32 years old.”
The tension within Mrs. Bu eased, for she thought that Nick appeared way younger than 32 years old and thus would not likely be An Xiaoning’s brother.
“Miss, you’re not that old yourself either, are you?”
“I’m not very young actually. I’m already 29 years old.”
“Twenty-nine? You barely look a day over 23, seriously. You look so young and pretty. I thought you were about my daughter’s age. She’s 23 years old this year.”
Twenty-nine isn’t that old either … An Xiaoning thought to herself.
Soon, they arrived at Mrs. Bu’s doorstep. An Xiaoning took a look to see that it was a house made of stones and rocks piled atop one another.
“Auntie, did you use to live near the beach too?”
“Yes. We moved here to the mountains ever since the tsunami. Although it’s a remote area and pretty hard to get around, it’s at least safer here. We lived in a tent when we first settled down here. Not long after, my husband and I began moving stones and rocks here one by one to build a house. We still have two more rooms to build actually, but my arm is injured…”
An Xiaoning took a look around the dilapidated house, which did not even have a proper bathroom.
“You may leave the things here.”
An Xiaoning removed the bag from her shoulders and put it down onto the ground.
“Miss, come in and have a seat. Thank you so much.”
“It’s alright, I’ll take my leave first.”
“No worries, don’t be in such a hurry to go. Come in and have a seat. Take a rest before you go,” Mrs. Bu insisted, dragging her into the stone house enthusiastically.
An Xiaoning had no choice but to sit down. She scanned her surroundings to see that there were no proper furniture in sight and there were several items scattered around the ground. The things in the house were poorly organized, with pots, pans, and crockery lying around. The entire place was extremely cluttered and seemed just like a warehouse.
This was what natural disasters brought to its poor victims.
An Xiaoning took the cup of water Mrs. Bu handed her and said, “Thank you, Auntie.”
“I should be the one thanking you instead. But, are you searching alone for your brother?”
Mrs. Bu sat down and said, “Oh dear, it must be tough for such a pretty girl like you to be searching for your family alone in a foreign land. But you have to be very careful. There are more and more crooks around now because of how little people there are left here. I don’t allow my daughter to go out at night either.”
“It’s alright, I can defend myself. I’ve trained in martial arts,” An Xiaoning said smilingly.
“That’s at least better, but you still ought to be on your guard at all times. It’s not quite safe out there,” Mrs. Bu cautioned. There had been many people coming forth to search for missing persons, and they’ve actually come by on several occasions,” she added.
“I heard about that from the lady boss of the hotel inn. I even heard that someone is offering a hefty reward to find a missing person,” An Xiaoning said agitatedly.
“Yes, that’s true. They’re offering five million dollars! I’ve never seen so much money before. In fact, I’ve never even dared to imagine having that much money.”
“Five million? Who’s the person they’re looking for?” An Xiaoning asked, pretending to be shocked.
“I heard he’s the young sir of some family,” Mrs. Bu said with a smile.
“This used to be a popular tourist attraction. There’s bound to be many tourists, most of which come from wealthy families. The people who offered five million dollars must be searching for someone from an extremely wealthy family. His family must be worried sick. I can’t even sleep well at night because my brother’s missing, let alone those whose husbands and sons are missing.”
“Yeah, they must be worried sick and looking for him eagerly, but sadly, there’s nothing much they can do. Are you living in an inn now?” Mrs. Bu asked.
“Yes, it costs 100 dollars a day.”
“That’s so expensive!”
“It’s not too bad. Um, Auntie, I shall take my leave now.” An Xiaoning stood up slowly and bade Mrs. Bu goodbye.
“Alright, be careful.” Mrs. Bu then sent her to the door.
An Xiaoning made her way down the mountain slowly.
Just as she left, Bu Xianxian and Jin Qingyan returned to the house.
“Mother, why are you standing there?”
“A kind-hearted lady saw that my arm was injured and offered to help me carry the things here. She just left not long ago. Where did you guys go to gather herbs?” Mrs. Bu asked.
“We went to the peak, but we’ve almost retrieved all the herbs there. I’m planning to go to another mountain tomorrow.”
Mrs. Bu turned around and said, “Alright, it’s up to you. Xianxian, come here and help me cook.”
“Okay!” Bu Xianxian said to Jin Qingyan smilingly, “Nick, leave the herbs over there then go get some rest in the tent.”
Jin Qingyan nodded in agreement.
“You know, that lady just now was much older than you, but she was really gorgeous. She came here alone to search for her missing brother.”