The rain stopped, but the flood did not subside as fast.
Danger might still be lurking under the dirty waters, so it was clear that they could not make a move just yet. However, everyone’s mood seemed to have brightened along with the weather. Even Luo Yuan did not seem as distant, and he surprisingly took the initiative to go find some food.
Actually, there were still many sources of food in the flooded forest as long as you paid attention and could tell what was poisonous.
Luo Yuan found all sorts of weed tubers, some tree juice as sweet as cow milk, random wild fruit and even a large fish.
It had both surprised and delighted him.
He was surprised because the flood had connected all the rivers and lakes, making the water extremely dangerous, and he was delighted because this light blue level fish was gigantic. It could probably last them until the flood subsided.
Luo Yuan dragged the big fish back to the tree hole. The tree was depleted of its energy, its leaves turning yellow in one night.
He had to chop the fish into several parts as it was too large to fit into the hole.
Realizing that he had returned, everyone came out to help. They carried and stacked the parts in a corner, forming a one-meter high stack of meat. Luo Yuan kept the fish skin as it was much thinner and flexible than mutated beast skin, and it was suitable for carrying water or other things.
Huang Jiahui and Cao Ling collected the remaining firewood and started a fire. They were not worried about burning the whole tree down as the hole was still damp from the rain.
Huo Dong carved some stakes from the tree and used them to grill the fish. The smell and sound of the fish cooking in the fire filled the tree with an appetizing aroma.
Huang Jiahui gave everyone about a glass worth of tree juice and saved the rest.
The refreshing taste of the juice had everyone sipping it preciously instead of gulping it down. The weed tubers tasted good too, their rough texture allowing them to be eaten like rice or fruit.
Everyone stuffed themselves after starving for so long. Even Wang Shishi, who ate the least, had three times her usual portion.
Luo Yuan had more than 10 catties of fish, making up for not eating the past few days. Considering his exceptional physique, he could not be considered a normal person anymore. He could stay in good spirits without eating for days, but could also consume a few days’ worth of food in one sitting.
As the days passed, everyone’s injuries recovered substantially.
After the third day, the flood had finally subsided, leaving mud everywhere. Some piranha-looking mutated fish were flapping somewhere in the distance, making a last effort to survive.
Huang Jiahui obsessively checked their luggage again and again, only stopping after she’d made sure nothing had been left behind.
They actually did not have much to bring along – several dozen catties of tree juice in fish skin, about a dozen of fish jerky, half a catty per piece, three lighters, personal weapons and bullets, and some clean, worn-out clothes that not even beggars would want to wear.
That was everything.
Luo Yuan was carrying in his rucksack about a dozen short stakes that he had made recently. Before jumping off the tree hole, he pulled out the sword, which had been stabbed into the tree.
The rest of them got on the giant lizard, laying down cautiously on the carpet on its back.
They had not been completely idle the past few days. The lizard’s back was now covered with a simple carpet made of rattan skin, so they didn’t have to be afraid of slipping off it.
With a low growl, the lizard got up and started moving forward slowly.
Flying insects were everywhere as water accumulated in places while the flood subsided. These insects were smaller than rice, but flew in colonies, looking like mist in the air. They dared not go near Luo Yuan, but they were still killed if they flew too slow.
Luo Yuan had noticed the same thing when they had still been in the tree hole. They had left a tiny hole by the entrance because they’d been concerned about insufficient oxygen supply, but not one insect had flown in during the day or night.
The insects were not trying to avoid him or the giant lizard, but his sword.
Since the sword had evolved to green level, the blade exuded a faint dominance that took a lingering physical form.
However, the dominance was still very weak. Normal people could only feel it once it was honed and razor-sharp, but it was different with insects. That kind of weak dominance was-life threatening to them considering their small size, so normal insects dared not go near it.
After half an hour, the trees started to lessen, giving way to the sky. It was still gloomy. Clouds were hovering above, and the sun would probably remain hidden for days as the volcano eruption had brought along copious amounts of debris.
However, that did not stop them from feeling ecstatic.
“We’re finally leaving,” Huo Dong said in excitement.
“I think we’ll be out of the forest in less than ten minutes,” Cao Ling added with a smile.
“I have to find a bed and a blanket, and get a good night’s sleep. The cold kept me awake every night,” Wang Shishi said in her sweet, spoiled voice.
Huang Jiahui smiled quietly. The young girl had suffered these past few days – sleeping outside like in prehistoric times and not brushing her teeth for several days in a row. Thankfully, all this was about to end. The defense fortifications along the highway would have blankets, beds and all sorts of personal hygiene items.
They chatted all along the way, but their smiles were about to be wiped off their faces.
The trees grew less dense as they walked deeper into the forest, but they also got stranger. Their trunks were twisted and had a lot less leaves than normal trees. Most of the leaves had wilted too, making the trees look like abnormal, deformed creatures.
Skeletons of mutated beasts could be seen along the way, most of them were half-buried in the mud. However, as they moved on, the small skeletons were replaced by bigger ones.
It seemed that something had happened there.
Luo Yuan, who was bolder than everyone else, was not surprised or disturbed as easily. As long as no creatures above light green level appeared, he had nothing to be afraid of. He did not stop the lizard from moving forward, even though he did feel a little strange. This route was the closest to the highway. If they went around this area, they would have to walk a lot more to reach it.
About ten minutes later, the trees started to lean in a certain direction. The sight of wilted trees increased, and only a couple of living ones were left. Even those looked strange, though. They had no leaves, and their branches looked like ghostly claws struggling in the air.
Death seemed to permeate the air as their surroundings became eerily quiet. Not even the hissing or squeaking of insects could be heard. Everyone felt like they were on the way to Hell.
The giant lizard was also disturbed. Its nostrils flared with smoke, and it seemed reluctant to move forward.
Huang Jiahui suddenly exclaimed in a shaking voice, “Hold up! Let’s go back. This is where the nuclears exploded.”
Luo Yuan looked shocked. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t you remember? Several atomic bombs were detonated in the wilderness around Hedong City. I’m afraid this is where they exploded,” Huang Jiahui said anxiously.
The blood suddenly drained from everyone’s faces as they looked around them in fear.
No wonder it was so quiet. The plants were growing in odd shapes because this was where the atomic bombs had been detonated. It was possible that a large amount of radiation still remained in the area. Luo Yuan tapped the lizard’s head immediately and signaled for it to head back the way they had come from.
“We’ve been here for so long. Will anything happen to us?” Wang Shishi asked worriedly. The photos of deformed humans that she had seen in school had left a deep impression on her.
“No, our bodies are much stronger than before. Besides, we’ve only been here for about ten minutes. We’ll be fine,” Huang Jiahui said. It was more to comfort herself than anyone else. “See, aren’t some of the trees still alive?”
“But they look so strange. Have they mutated?” Wang Shishi asked uneasily.
Huang Jiahui was silent for a bit before saying, “No, they were already mutated plants.”
Suddenly, Wang Xiaguang’s body jerked and she almost fell off the lizard. Luo Yuan grabbed her quickly and asked, “Are you alright?”
Wang Xiaguang shook her head, replying in a trembling voice, “I’m just a bit dizzy.”
“Me too. I feel like vomiting,” Wang Shishi said softly, her hand clutching onto Luo Yuan’s clothes.
Everyone looked troubled. They all felt the same way.
“Hold on a little longer, we’ll be out of here soon.” Luo Yuan looked at everyone, feeling his heart get heavy. It would seem that other than himself and Lin Xiaoji, everyone else had been affected by the radiation. Even Wang Shishi was experiencing the symptoms.
This time the radiation was different than last time. In that case, it had been several dozen kilometers away, the amount of it insignificantly low, so normal people were able to get over it easily. This time it was too close.
The vitality of mutated plants was exceptionally strong, so radiation could not do much harm to them. Such wide range of death could only mean that they had been extremely close to the center of the nuclear explosion.
“Brother Luo, can you help me break a branch here?” Cao Ling suddenly said, looking at the strange trees.
“What do you want the branch for?” Luo Yuan asked.
“These trees don’t have leaves. The radiation looks really serious, and there’s no other living organisms around. These kind of plants don’t use living things as a food source, so chances are they’ve absorbed the radiation,” Cao Ling explained, looking slightly excited.
“It could be possible. There’s this saying that says, ‘Wherever there are poisonous worms, there must also be a cure,’” Huo Dong cut in, feeling a sliver of hope.
Luo Yuan looked at the oddly-shaped trees and thought that Cao Ling’s hypothesis might be right. He quickly said, “You guys wait here. Let me go check it out.”
He jumped off the lizard’s back and briskly walked towards one of the trees.