The strong wind that had been still in the mountains suddenly came to life, becoming bitterly cold in an instant. It whipped up the snow on the ground, sending it flying high and cutting against people’s faces like countless small knives.

In a blink of an eye, the tall and slender figure of Zhao Yunlan was enveloped by the wind. The world seemed to change, and the beam of the flashlight became feeble like a firefly.

After twenty minutes had passed, he still hadn’t returned. Shen Wei finally couldn’t sit still any longer.

“Don’t move around, and don’t get out of the car,” he said to the students. “Pass me a flashlight. I’ll go out and check on him. I’ll be right back.”

“Professor,” the class monitor called out, her voice filled with worry. “Could something have happened?”

Shen Wei paused. In the dim light, everything about him seemed hidden behind a thin lens, revealing no clues. After a while, he spoke with his inherent gentle and slow tone, “No, with me watching, what could possibly happen to him?”

Finishing his words, he tightened his clothes, pushed open the car door, and took large strides down.

The class monitor was stunned for a moment, then mindlessly said to the student beside her, “That’s not what I meant. I was asking if something had happened on the road ahead, if we can’t continue.”

The student with glasses replied, “…I know.”

The two students exchanged glances for a moment. In this terrifying moment, they felt as if they knew something… something they shouldn’t know.

The harsh cry of a bird resounded in their ears. Shen Wei wiped the lens that had been smeared with snow and looked up. He discovered that on the almost boundless expanse of snow, there stood a bird.

It seemed to be a crow, but much larger than an ordinary crow. Its slender tail feathers trailed behind it, and its blood-red eyes stared directly at him without fear. It didn’t seem startled but instead curiously examined Shen Wei.

Shen Wei took a few difficult steps forward. The large bird quietly observed him for a while, then tilted its head and let out a cry. After a long wail, it closed its eyes and silently lowered its head, its beak almost touching the ground, as if mourning for something.

The snow whipped up by the fierce wind floated before his eyes, and in no time, Shen Wei began to feel a numbness, not stiffness, but a numbness—as if the blood in his body had stopped flowing, and ice had formed on his nerve endings.

However, miraculously, Shen Wei used his frozen senses to discern a scent from the white snow. It seemed foul but not overpowering, like the smell of something decayed buried deep beneath the white snow.

He suddenly halted his steps, staring fixedly at a spot of pure white snow ahead. Unnoticeably, a section of the snow bulged and quickly rushed toward the mountaintop.

Something passed beneath the ground!

Shen Wei’s mind went blank, and for a moment, he almost forgot who he was. He unconsciously clenched the hand that rested by his side, the bulging blue veins on his pale hand prominent. In Shen Wei’s dark eyes, an indescribable ferocity swirled.

And under his gaze, the entire expanse of snow seemed to boil, restlessly undulating. The movements grew more and more intense, and whatever was hidden beneath appeared to be on the verge of bursting out…

At that moment, a voice suddenly came from behind him.

“Didn’t I tell you to wait in the car? Why did you come out?”

Shen Wei startled, and the killing intent in his eyes dissipated instantly. He immediately appeared somewhat confused. Before he turned around, his body was enveloped in a warm embrace. Zhao Yunlan, whether truly unaffected by the cold or gritting his teeth to withstand it, unbuttoned his own coat and wrapped it around Shen Wei, completely enveloping him. The warmth from his body transferred through the thin woolen sweater to Shen Wei.

A stiff but warm smile appeared on Zhao Yunlan’s freezing-blue face. “Are you looking for me?”

“Don’t respond to him, don’t respond to him!” a voice inside Shen Wei’s mind screamed frantically. However, as if bewitched, he involuntarily nodded.

Zhao Yunlan chuckled softly, his hand encircling Shen Wei’s shoulder, holding him tightly. They were roughly the same height, so walking like this caused them to occasionally trip over each other. Zhao Yunlan secured the flashlight in his collar with a small clip, and he held Shen Wei’s hand.

Shen Wei instinctively struggled a little but was held firmly by Zhao Yunlan’s resolute grip.

“Don’t move,” Zhao Yunlan whispered softly in his ear. “Watch your step and be careful, the road is slippery.”

The large bird that had been standing by the roadside suddenly soared into the sky, circled twice, and then flew far away.

Zhao Yunlan followed Shen Wei’s gaze and glanced up. “Don’t look. That’s a mourning crow. The elderly say that crows with especially large bodies and long tail feathers are called mourning crows. You can only see them when great calamity is about to strike. They only mourn and never celebrate. They are inauspicious creatures.”

Without waiting for Shen Wei to answer, Zhao Yunlan furrowed his brows, his eyes flickering for a moment, but he pretended to be completely puzzled as he asked with a hint of probing, “Strange, are you born unlucky? Why do you always encounter these things?”

“What happened?” Shen Wei clearly didn’t want to dwell on this question and immediately shifted his attention.

“Oh, I checked,” Zhao Yunlan swallowed his questions, not wanting to argue with him. He simply said, “We’ll probably need to find a place to spend the night. The road ahead is blocked, and I suspect it’s due to an avalanche.”

As he spoke, he reached out to pull the car door, but his hands were already so cold that he could hardly exert any strength. He pulled twice but couldn’t open it.

Shen Wei yanked open the door. “You go in first and warm up.”

The car’s heater made Zhao Yunlan feel dizzy. He furrowed his brows and pressed his temples. He accepted a piece of chocolate handed to him by the girl. “This road has been open for seven or eight years. It’s considered a relatively niche self-driving route. It even appeared in a travel magazine. I remember there are several natural villages downhill. Since there are often tourists coming, the local guesthouses provide simple accommodations. But the road ahead is impassable now. It’s just a vast expanse of white. I could barely see a few large trees buried in the snow with my telescope, only their branches exposed. I suspect there has been an avalanche…”

The bespectacled student asked cautiously, “Could the people who passed by earlier be villagers who died in the avalanche? I heard from the elderly that during the Tangshan earthquake, people also saw these ghost soldiers passing by.”

Zhao Yunlan shook his head, took out his phone, and made a call to someone. After a brief chat, he inquired about the local geological disaster monitoring situation. After the conversation, his brows furrowed tighter and tighter until they were almost twisted together.

“Okay, okay, thank you, thank you. It’s fine, we can hold on for one night… Mm, I know what to do.” Zhao Yunlan hung up the phone. “We’re in trouble this time.”

“Is it really an avalanche?”

“Mm,” Zhao Yunlan said, “It was just reported on the news. It’s a major natural disaster. It’s said that several natural villages below are completely buried. The rescue teams are trying to save people, but from the current situation, there’s almost no hope of survivors.”

The two young students in the car fell silent simultaneously.

After a while, the class monitor asked, “Then… where will we stay? In the car? Can the air conditioning run all night? What if we run out of fuel?”

“We have enough fuel, but it’s not safe to stay here overnight after an avalanche. We need to move to higher ground. Don’t be afraid. Follow me. There’s a small cabin on the mountaintop. I’m not sure what it’s used for, but I took a look through the telescope. Although there’s no one inside, at least it has a roof.” Zhao Yunlan warmed up a little and buttoned up his coat before getting out of the car. He flipped open the trunk and pulled out a large bag of food, as well as a few outdoor jackets, which he tossed to the others. “Put on your jackets, eat something, and take what you can’t finish. I’ll call the others behind us. They’ll bring the sleeping bags and tents. The girl can take care of the food. I’ll carry your sleeping bag for you.”

The others in the car received Zhao Yunlan’s call and quickly got dressed before rushing over. Shen Wei was always observant, and he noticed that there seemed to be one more person accompanying them.

That person was at the back of the group, always silent. Based on her figure, she was probably a woman, but her thick clothes covered her head and face, making it difficult for Shen Wei to discern.

This person was extremely strange, as if frozen. Her movements were always slightly discordant.

Zhu Hong occasionally walked to the back and spoke to her, but she only nodded or shook her head. Shen Wei also noticed that whenever her head moved, her footsteps would involuntarily pause. After shaking her head, she would continue to move forward with slow, deliberate steps, as if only one part of her body could move at a time.

Just as he found this peculiar, a hand suddenly reached out and grabbed his shoulder, with the back of the hand against his face.

Shen Wei’s skin was already numb from the cold, and it took a moment for his senses to return. He immediately froze in place, unable to avoid or resist. Fortunately, Zhao Yunlan only made brief contact and quickly moved his hand away. “Why are you so afraid of the cold?”

“No, I’m not cold,” Shen Wei replied.

“It’s nothing. Your lips are turning blue,” Zhao Yunlan interrupted him, unbuttoning the newly worn jacket and firmly wrapping it around Shen Wei.

Shen Wei still refused.

Zhao Yunlan softened his tone. “Hurry up, don’t make people worry.”

Shen Wei couldn’t withstand his tone and gaze, almost fleeing in panic.

Zhao Yunlan forcefully wrapped the clothes around him and walked to the back in big strides. “Watch your step, hold hands with each other, don’t let go. Xiao Guo, bring Zhu Hong’s luggage. Don’t you have a good eye? Keep an eye out for any vents.”

Zhao Chu’s anger still lingered, causing Guo Changcheng to shrink his neck and quietly walk to the back of the group to fetch Zhu Hong’s luggage.

Shen Wei stared at his figure for a moment, then gently rubbed the spot where Zhao Yunlan’s warmth remained. He zipped up his jacket, pressed the small pendant against his collarbone, feeling the faint warmth emanating from it. In the vast expanse of ice and snow, it was incredibly comforting.

They walked for almost half an hour before they saw the small cabin Zhao Yunlan had mentioned. It took them another half hour to reach it.

Strictly speaking, the house was built with stones and supported by a wooden frame. It had a roof covered with some kind of cowhide paste that protected it from the wind and the weight of the snow.

The cabin was surrounded by a small courtyard, enclosed by a dilapidated fence that was almost buried in snow.

It appeared worn-out and lonely, standing on the mountaintop with no signs of human presence, quietly eerie.

As Zhao Yunlan reached out to push open the small wooden gate of the fence, Daqing, who had been hiding in Zhu Hong’s bag all along, suddenly pounced forward. Before anyone could wonder where the cat came from, it let out a sharp cry, its fur standing on end.

Zhao Yunlan reached out and scooped up the big cat, running his hand along its fur as he asked softly, “What’s wrong?”

Daqing’s eyes were fixed on the yard buried in white snow, and a voice came from behind him.

Wang Zheng spoke in a sigh-like voice. “Zhao Chu, Daqing wants to tell you that something is buried in this yard.”