There were only a few hundred refugees in this small settlement. Ren Xiaosu saw a child running around the entrance of a mud shelter a distance away. By the looks of it, this small settlement was formed only a short time ago.
There were many rivers in the valley. In Ren Xiaosu's opinion, places near rivers should be lush with vegetation. However, the valley here was not like that.
Most of the sand here had turned into soil, and where the rivers cut through, the flow of water would sweep away the soil from the two banks. Perhaps in another few years when the rivers dried out or changed course, the riverbed here would turn into a new valley like a scar running across the ground. Across the land here, the formations all looked to have been carved out by rivers.
The area the refugees chose to settle was relatively flat and suitable for planting crops.
Ren Xiaosu and Yang Xiaojin had planned on staying here with the refugees for some time to get a better understanding of the banditry in the region.
As they were talking, a cloud of dust suddenly emerged in the distance. From afar, it could even be mistaken as a small sandstorm.
An older woman said nervously, "Why are they here again? Which group is it this time?"
Ren Xiaosu asked, "Are those the bandits?"
"Definitely. That dust cloud is made by the motorcycles they ride." As the older woman spoke, she ran towards the mud shelters and shouted, "Take the children back into the houses."
But the bandits in the distance were rapidly approaching. Everyone could already see their figures. The motorcycles they were riding were like taut and muscular beasts, while the rumbling of the engines and exhaust sounded like their roars.
This was an especially rough and savage sight to behold.
Even from afar, the refugees could hear the excited cries of the bandits. When they saw the refugees, it was as though they had spotted their prey.
Ren Xiaosu and Yang Xiaojin looked at each other and blended in with the refugee group. They wanted to observe the situation first.
The refugees seemed to already have experience in dealing with such situations. After hiding their children away, they stood in line on the flat ground as though they were about to welcome their superiors. The only difference was that their line was rather crooked, and everyone in the group had starkly different moods.
Ren Xiaosu did a count and found slightly more than 20 bandits in this band. A group of this size would not be considered a very powerful force in this valley. However, he did not know how many other members they had back at their lair.
The gang of bandits rode their motorcycles and circled around the refugees while roaring. This was a show of force by the bandits. Round after round, the circle became smaller, and the refugees cowered together in fear.
When the refugees became visibly scared, the bandits slowly came to a stop. One of them jumped off his motorcycle and pulled down the scarf covering his mouth. "You people are farming here?"
"Yes, that's right!" One of the refugees said in fear, "We've been farming here for several years already!"
"What's so interesting about farming?" the bandit said as he spat out the sand in his mouth onto the ground. Then he smiled and said, "I see quite a few men here. Men are born to do lofty deeds. How can you call yourselves men when you're cowering here and farming every day?"
"But what are we gonna eat if we don't farm?" The refugee said meekly, "We only want to grow some crops to feed ourselves with."
"From today onwards, all of you will become my subjects." Patting the face of the refugee in front of him, the bandit boss said, "Follow me and you'll have meat to eat and wine to drink. In the past, the consortiums bullied you. Join me and we'll go bully them in the future!"
Ren Xiaosu observed these people and thought about what Yang Xiaojin had said. There was an 80% chance their motorcycles were new, while the automatic weapons in their hands were even newer than the motorcycles. It was obvious they had just changed their equipment.
Even more ridiculous was how many of these people were carrying two guns on their backs. It was as if they had too many guns and nowhere to use them.
Perhaps the new equipment had given additional confidence to these bandits. With only a few more than twenty people, they even boasted about bullying the consortiums!
When the refugees heard these people were going to declare war against the consortiums, they became even more afraid. "We don't want to fight the consortiums. We only know how to farm."
The bandit boss's face sank. "You have to fight even if you don't want to fight. Gentlemen, round them up and bring them back!"
Ren Xiaosu was stunned. So it turned out they were here to abduct them. They were probably doing so because they had too many guns, more than the people in their group. So they knew they had to expand.
This had to have something to do with the bandit's civil strife that was going on in the north. The entire valley was in a state of chaos as everyone started deviating from the "rules"!
"Are we gonna go with them?" Ren Xiaosu asked in a low voice.
"We should." Yang Xiaojin replied, "We might get to understand more about the situation in the valley this way. Besides, they only have about 20 people. If we really want to leave, they won't be able to stop us."
"Well, why don't we just eliminate them here," Ren Xiaosu mumbled.
With so many guns pointed at them, the refugees had no choice but to return to the mud shelters to take their children with them. Then they started being escorted north.
The bandit boss was riding a motorcycle next to the group of refugees. With the motorcycle's engine rumbling noisily, he shouted proudly, "Don't you people think that I, Jin Lan, am a tyrant. It's just that you were living in the outermost region of the valley, so you might not know about the situation in these lands. The people in the northern settlements have already been abducted by the other groups from the other mountain places. Even if we don't take you away today, others would come for you tomorrow."
"But we don't know how to fight," the refugees said in distress.
"Who doesn't know how to fight? I'll give y'all guns, and don't worry 'bout saving ammo. Just shoot! Besides, even if you don't wanna fight, you can contribute in other ways." Jin Lan laughed heartily.
Nobody knew what these other ways Jin Lan mentioned were, but what he said was enough to confirm Ren Xiaosu's suspicions. It looked like they had really captured all these people because they had an excess of guns and ammunition.
However, Ren Xiaosu wondered how many firearms Qing Zhen and his people had invested in this area. Why did it seem like the entire valley was chaos?
If this went on, a lot of people in the valley would die.
The big fish devours the little fish; the strong prey on the weak. This had always been the case since ancient times.
And when the war subsided, an even more powerful bandit organization could rise up after all the bandit gangs in the valley had been unified.
Was that Qing Zhen's goal? To use a massacre to clear away the "tainted impurities" in the valley and achieve the goal of consolidating all the bandits who were active here? After that, would he take control of this force for his own gain? And all he had to do was invest some guns and ammunition to make these bandits get conceited.
Although automatic rifles were a favorite among the bandits, the consortiums knew well that these guns and ammunition were worth close to nothing.
Although he had no evidence, Ren Xiaosu was certain that Qing Zhen was behind all this. No one else would do something like it.
Moreover, Ren Xiaosu was also certain that Qing Zhen still had subsequent plans for the valley, and that would be the power he would eventually use to complete the consolidation of the bandits here.
At this moment, because the Yang Consortium was at war with the Li Consortium in the South, their defenses in the North were virtually empty. They would have, at most, an independent force garrisoning each of their strongholds.
If this bandit army attacked south, they would definitely not be able to bring down the strongholds. However, they could easily destroy all the factories outside the strongholds, and that could set the Yang Consortium's economy back by three years.
Meanwhile, the Yang Consortium was probably still thinking that the northern bandits would not amount to any threat. After all, which organization would be afraid of bandits? They were totally fine with leaving them in the valley to play by themselves.
Facing such an opponent, the Zong Consortium and Yang Consortium would most likely have a really bad headache to deal with.