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At this moment, outside the city gate, a gradual stream of stronghold residents were leaving in an orderly manner as they headed northwest.
They collected their rations at the relief station at the entrance and embarked on their destined journey of vagrancy in this chaotic world.
Most of these people had never seen Zhang Jinglin before. Even those who lived in Stronghold 144 did not have many opportunities to meet Ren Xiaosu. Therefore, the crowd did not have much of a reaction when they saw Ren Xiaosu and Zhang Jinglin initially.
But when Zhang Xiaoman came over and shouted for the future commander, the crowd got excited. Some of them had surprisingly fanatical expressions on their faces, especially the young girls.
Zhang Jinglin said with a smile, "You're beloved in Stronghold 144. I think your reputation in the Northwest will get even higher in the future. Let's go and see those friends who have just returned from the snowy mountains. It won't be too late for you to set off for the Southwest after meeting them."
The return of the Riders was news that even Ren Xiaosu was surprised by.
After they parted ways, the Riders said they were going to scale the highest peak in the world. At that time, Ren Xiaosu thought it would probably be many years before they met again, or perhaps they wouldn't even see each other again. Because he knew that scaling the highest mountain in the world was a very dangerous activity, and dying in the attempt was very normal.
After humans entered the high-altitude zone, it would only take an altitude of 6,000 meters above mean sea level before one might likely suffer from acute illnesses such as alpine pulmonary edema. In just 20 minutes, it would be enough to kill them.
At an altitude of over 7,200 meters, everyone's thought process would start slowing, and they would become like walking corpses.
So it was not an easy thing to conquer the mountains.
However, the manner of the Riders' return was so unique.
Even Zhao Wankun himself found it a little unbelievable that he had opened an enchanted doorway to the snowy mountains. He did like mountaineering in the past, but he did not specifically think about which mountain he wanted to climb. Therefore, he was also unsure of where his enchanted doorway led to when it was first activated.
But now, everyone found out it was the world's highest peak behind that enchanted doorway.
It seemed that was the place Zhao Wankun subconsciously wanted to conquer the most.
Back at the military-controlled zone, Ren Xiaosu saw Qin Sheng, Li Yingyun, Zhang Qingxi, Xu Ke, and the others waving at him from afar.
They were all carrying huge hiking backpacks with a pair of wind goggles over their foreheads. They were fully adorned in hiking jackets and had crampons on their feet.
In the hot summer weather, these people appeared to be from another world.
Ren Xiaosu got out of the vehicle and asked, "How did y'all discover this enchanted doorway?"
"Oh, we had just descended from the summit and were taking a short rest at the campsite at 7,900 meters high when we encountered your people," Qin Sheng said excitedly.
Although everyone knew the enchanted doorway had failed to open up to Fortress 178, Ren Xiaosu still chose a few soldiers to carry out a preliminary exploration.
This was mainly to find out where the place beyond the portal was.
Even though there was a need to take cover from the artificial intelligence, they did not necessarily have to go to Fortress 178. As long as it was a place they could settle down behind the portal and not get affected by the flames of war, that would be enough.
Therefore, it was the soldiers who were exploring the new area Qin Sheng and the other Riders encountered.
"Did y'all succeed?" Ren Xiaosu asked, "I heard you say that you had just descended from the summit?"
"We did it!" Qin Sheng said excitedly, "To adapt to the high-altitude climate, we first set up camp at an altitude of 6,000 meters. We had to acclimatize for nearly a month before we continued climbing…"The temperature there is really low. I had to curl up in my sleeping bag every night. But when I saw the sunrise and sunset each day, it felt like I was embracing the entire world…
"The moment I reached the peak, it was as though I saw a whole new world."
The young Qin Sheng and Ren Xiaosu were good friends. Of the 12 Riders, he was the youngest one, so his personality was also the most quirky.
The fact he had reached the top of the world was enough to make him so excited he could not sleep.
More importantly, with the enchanted doorway, they did not even have to do the descent anymore. They could just pass through the portal and arrive in the Northwest.
Ren Xiaosu thought even though this enchanted doorway could not be used as a new evacuation route, it would have to be kept secured.
Once the war came to an end, he could totally use this enchanted doorway to help those rich people realize their dreams.
He had already thought of how to advertise it: "As long as you're rich, the roof of the world is just one step away."
At this moment, the level-headed Li Yingyun asked, "Xiaosu, this is Stronghold 144, right? Why are the stronghold residents leaving? Did something happen?"
Qin Sheng stopped talking. After his excitement wore out, he also realized something was amiss.
Ren Xiaosu recounted the current situation with a solemn expression. Xu Ke, the former president of the Qinghe Group, suddenly asked, "Are you saying the entire Central Plains has already fallen into the hands of the AI?"
This matter suddenly made all of the Riders feel stifled. They knew full well what this meant.
Moreover, the Luoyang City they used to protect was probably no longer around at this moment.
Seemingly sensing that time was running out, Li Yingyun asked, "How can we help?"
Ren Xiaosu hesitated. Although he also wanted to get the Riders' help, he had to make things clear first. "Are y'all willing to help the Northwest?"
Li Yingyun shook his head. "To be clear, it's not the Northwest we're helping but you."
In fact, Li Yingyun and the others had already verified Ren Xiaosu's identity through a DNA test some time ago.
Therefore, the founder's heir whom the Riders had been searching for over the past two centuries was Ren Xiaosu.
By now, Ren Xiaosu had also become aware of this fact.
Initially, Li Yingyun and Zhang Qingxi had two different views. Li Yingyun felt they should pledge their loyalty to this Rider's heir once they found him. However, Zhang Qingxi felt that even though everyone believed in that Rider, it did not mean they had to automatically worship his descendant as well.
If the other party's character and strength were lacking, there would be no need for the Riders to pledge their loyalty to him.
But when they realized Ren Xiaosu was the person they were looking for, their previous disagreements completely went away.
Be it Li Yingyun, Zhang Qingxi, Qin Sheng, Wen Meng, Wu Dingyuan, or the other Riders, they were all convinced by Ren Xiaosu.
There was no need to mention his strength. More importantly, everyone also fully approved of Ren Xiaosu's character. Especially after Ren Xiaosu became the guardian of Luoyang City, everyone felt that this might just be fate.
Ren Xiaosu started laughing at this moment. "So y'all already knew?"
Li Yingyun said with a laugh, "From now on, your will is the will of the Riders. Unless banished by you, we'll never renege on our promise."
Ren Xiaosu said, "Then I'll be blunt. This war is much more difficult than we imagined. We have to unite all our forces to have any hope."
Zhang Jinglin, who had been watching from the side, finally said, "Yes, we must unite all our forces. Xiaosu, it's time to head to the Southwest. Qing Zhen must not die in this war."
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