The tree was not big, about 7 – 8 meters tall and less than half a meter wide. It was bald and looked malnourished. What made Luo Yuan noticed it was that its bark was oddly smooth and flawless, akin to human skin.
While he thought it would not be dangerous, he was still cautious in approaching the tree, his dominance exuded from clutching his machete, stealthily.
Until Luo Yuan got closer, the strange tree did not seem to move.
“It seems like this tree was affected by the radiation… but it’s still a normal tree.”, thought Luo Yuan, as he relaxed. He chose a branch to hop on, and chopped it off effortlessly.
At that very moment, Luo Yuan seemed to feel that the tree quivered in pain, calmed itself down quickly.
Luo Yuan hopped off the tree for a closer look and observed it meticulously.
The tree was motionless, like a how a normal plant would be. He would have been baffled if the chopped branch was wriggling around like an injured snake now.
This was actually rather normal. It was natural of living creatures to avoid harm. Even though Luo Yuan laid low, the aura he exuded was much like that of a dark blue level mutated beast. A Level Light Blue tree would never provoke such a human-form mutated beast unless it wanted to face its doom. If its senses were sensitive enough, it would probably notice a genuine dark blue level giant lizard nearby. That could be considered an overlord of most of the mutated beasts.
This was also the reason it had been quiet and peaceful along their way. It was impossible for their journey to be this serene, regardless of how scarce the living creatures were left, post-radiation.
“Didn’t expect plants to play dead too,” Luo Yuan thought, but let the tree go as he did not want to cause any more trouble.
As he picked up the branch, it seemed to have been provoked and wanted to coil itself around Luo Yuan’s hand. With a grunt, he shook it harshly, causing the branch to spasm. Luo Yuan unleashed Identification and was taken aback with his observation.
“Branch of Radiation Tree”
“Rarity: Light Blue”
“Equipped Ability: Absorbs radiation from its surroundings.”
“Comment: Radiation Trees usually lives in areas of nuclear radiation, causing the tree to mutate for survival. They use radiation as food and sometimes eats mutated creatures. Its attack power is extremely strong, but its juice is the best raw anti-radiation ingredient mostly used for medical purposes.”
Luo Yuan dare not delay any further, and returned as everyone had been exposed to the radiation.
“This branch isn’t poisonous, is it?”, said Wang Shishi, disgusted, looking at the twitching branch.
“Don’t worry, it’s not. Everyone will be okay after drinking the squeezed juice later,” Luo Yuan replied.
“It’s too scary, can’t believe that even plants can move,” said Cao Ling, afraid.
“Hehe, women should like this best, wouldn’t they?”, teased Huo Dong inappropriately, losing all sense of tactfulness.
The men laughed in tacit knowledge, even Luo Yuan too, had chuckled in unison.
Not only did Huang Jiahui and Cao Ling who had experienced such situation before, were flustered, even Wang Shishi who was just a young girl flushed. Huang Jiahui glared at him, “No jokes like this next time.”
The rest of the females too, glared at him.
Huo Dong shut his mouth in obedience and apologized profusely as he could not afford to offend the ladies.
Luo Yuan then had Wang Jiahui take out a few wooden bowls as they forcefully twisted the branch. Everyone drank a small bowl of the red juice that was squeezed out, Luo Yuan included, as he was afraid his body would succumb to radiation too.
The juice was not as bad as he thought. It was bittersweet, with a light herbal aroma, capable of lifting one’s spirits after consumption.
The effect was immediate. Wang Xiaguang was healing well, while the rest of them with fewer symptoms completely recovered.
To avoid any remaining radiation in their bodies, Luo Yuan hacked a few branches off and kept them in his rucksack for emergencies, leaving the place right after getting on top of the lizard.
Due to the wide area affected by the radiation, the group had to make dozens of unecessary kilometers in their journey, but the gigantic size of the lizard enabled it to reach 4 – 5 meters with each stride. Its 15-point Dexterity allowed it to reach 20 – 30 meters per second even in the thickets of the forest. Even then, the speed was already slowed down as Luo Yuan was worried that everyone would fall off should it move too fast.
Thus, they had already arrived at the highway by 2pm despite taking a longer route.
It was several dozen kilometers away from the Heaven Pillar’s Tree; the surface of the road was still intact.
As they got onto the highway, they turned back to see a several hundred-meter tall volcano standing in the distance, with thick smoke billowing out. No buildings were saved from the destruction around the radius of over 10 kilometers; the area was blanketed by coagulating lava.
That included a small part of Hedong City.
Words would not do justice, in describing the force of mother nature.
Everyone was dumbfounded, unable to recover from the daze.
“Will it erupt again?” Huang Jiahui suddenly asked, looking at the dense smoke.
“It’s an active volcano but it might take much longer before erupting again. But that’s uncertain too. Maybe it’ll erupt again next time,” Luo Yuan answered.
“Wouldn’t Hedong City be very dangerous if the volcano were to erupt again? Apart from the survivors, there are still hundreds of thousands of people living in the underground base,” said Huang Jiahui, her face losing its color.
“Sister Huang, life and death have been destined. We can’t even protect ourselves, so why even care about others so much?” Cao Ling asked. She was triggered with the mere mention of the underground base. She had planned to go there but was takem away before she could even see the gate, thus having only ill-feelings about the place.
Not only Cao Ling, the rest of them felt indifferent too.
“My daughter might be inside.” said Huang Jiahui solemnly after a while, “I thought she would be very safe… looks like not even the underground base is free from harm.”
Her ex-husband was the leader of the armed forces; he would be in priority, regardless of defense power or job position. This was why she made her daughter follow her ex-husband, thinking it would be much safer for her.
Everyone was sombre.
Intense sadness flashed across Huo Dong’s face, as his 8-year-old son was separated from him during the chaos too. He did not have much hope, given that a little kid would hardly be able to survive the chaotic situation. But deep down, he still hoped that his son would’ve somehow stayed alive.
“Nobody knows when they would meet their doom in this apocalypse. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow… us included. So don’t get too caught up on this. At least they’re in a safer place now, compared to us.” Luo Yuan hugged Huang Jiahui, and assured her gently, “Your daughter will too be fine, let’s go.”
Huang Jiahui nodded but turned her head back from time to time, her expression indecipherable.
The giant lizard moved much faster as it got onto the highway, unleashing the high dexterity attribute as its speed picked up.
The surrounding blurred out of their line of vision as the wind blew against them.
Everyone grabbed on tight to the carpet nervously. Wang Shishi clung onto Luo Yuan’s elbow, terrified of being flung away.
They had finally arrived at the sea bridge before the sky had darkened.
Luo Yuan stopped the lizard and frowned, looking into the distance, “Damn it, we still won’t be able to pass. Looks like we have to go around it again.”
The sea bridge that used to look like a long dragon was crooked and laden with cracks now. The coarse cables hung onto the structure, as some large pieces of cement were suspended. Even the abutment that served as the bridge’s pillar, laid horizontal in a mess.
Due to the low tide, there were lots of plane surfaces except for a few lower spots that still contained sea water. Moss grew sparingly under the bridge, possibly forming a forest soon with time.
Luo Yuan’s heart felt heavier when he saw a large footprint on the sea bed even from afar. This was obviously left by dangerous ocean creatures.
Fortunately, they had left with the low tide, as he could see none of them now.
“If we go the other way round, we can only use the provincial highway. That would be an additional several hundreds of kilometers, and we’d have to through a forest. We don’t even know if there’s still a route there.” said Huang Jiahui pensively, “Can we go beneath it?”
“The sea bed is too soft… I’m worried if it could be a deep swamp instead. It’d be bad if we were to sink into it,” said Luo Yuan thoughtfully. He was only afraid of running into swamps, as he would be helpless, should one of them had sunk.
“No need to think about it now. The sky is getting darker, we’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Luo Yuan continued, after looking at the overcast sky.
As the sea bridge was across the ocean, it was more dangerous than the land, so the defense was much tougher compared to the highway. Enormous fortifications were built on both sides of the sea bridge’s entrance.
3 rusty tanks were parked at the gate and there were another 2 multi-barrel rocket launchers behind the gate. The pile of rocket launchers were 3 meters long each, and gave an impressive deterrence.
In addition to the multiple cannons, Luo Yuan guessed that it would be enough to defend even a beastly wave.
Luo Yuan made the lizard stop at the entrance and went into the fortification. The first floor was the control center; it was a mess inside with documents and cigarette ashes scattered around. The people seemed to have left in a hurry as he noticed a photo frame, which was such a personal item, was left behind.
Luo Yuan turned and went into another office. The stench of a rotting corpse greeted him as he pushed the door open.
A sea of black beetles escaped in a rush, frightened by Luo Yuan.
A skeleton wearing a major’s uniform sat was seen sitting on the chair of the office. Its skull had fallen to the floor, a circular hole was on its temple and a pistol laid where the arm hung – a sign of suicide.
Did something strange happen here?