The woman wore several layers of torn clothes, also colored with the pigments, covering herself up securely. She held a pistol and murmured as she walked, “Lao Huang, it’s so dangerous outside. Why did you ask me to come out? If there’s nothing important, I’ll beat you up.”
Luo Yuan felt a sense of déjà vu, as he witnessed the scene.
The woman was just a little taller than the beast’s calf. It could have stomped on her by accident, yet its tongue hung and its tail wagged as it lowered itself to pander to her, under her nagging.
The beast stopped and howled towards where Luo Yuan was.
The woman’s gaze followed and landed on Luo Yuan. She was stunned, not even noticing that her pistol had fallen on the ground as her lips quivered, “Xiao Yuan.”
Nobody called him Xiao Yuan anymore now, not even the oldest Huo Dong in his group. The familiar voice put Luo Yuan in a state of trance; unsure as he uttered, “Sister Yali?”
The woman was none other than Zhao Yali. She was beyond shaken, “You’re still alive?”
She had imagined their reunion countless of times, but her imagination had gradually shattered with the increasing cruelty of the apocalypse. She even felt that he had died alongside the others, who were killed by the mutated beasts.
She passed Donghu City with the refugees before, but the once-vibrant city had turned into a slum, even Hedong City had fallen. She no longer carried any hope; her memory of Luo Yuan fading with time. Who would have known that she would actually meet him on such an ordinary afternoon.
Looking at Luo Yuan who was just as striking as he was pre-apocalypse, and the clean clothes on him, she was at a loss of words, her hands smoothing her dirty tangled hair, before tugging at her stained wrinkled clothes to straighten them.
Luo Yuan went a few steps forward and was equally shaken, “It’s really you. What about uncle and aunty?”
“The fifth day after you left, dad and Lao Huang went to the farmland to find food again but didn’t return after a long time. Mum was worried and went to find them. By the afternoon, Lao Huang dragged two bodies back, both poisoned to death by worms,” Zhao Yali said with a sob.
“I’m sorry,” Luo Yuan sighed.
“It’s nothing, it’s been a long time now,” Zhao Yali wiped her eyes, smudging the pigments on her face.
It pained Luo Yuan, as he extended his hands in attempt to grab hers, but she pulled out gently, turning her head, “Don’t be like this.”
Luo Yuan had thought that she was just a little not used to it, given that they had not met for so long, and attempted again but was cut off by a deep voice.
“Yali, who’s this?”
A man holding a spear ran over to Zhao Yali’s side, without a care for Lao Huang. Lao Huang’s tail wagged again, obviously familiar with the man.
Listening to how the man had addressed Zhao Yali so intimately, Luo Yuan had a bad feeling about this.
Zhao Yali was caught off guard, “He’s my friend in Donghu City last time, we just met again.”
Her gaze then avoided Luo Yuan, “Xiao Yuan, this is my boyfriend, Zhu Hao.”
The man seemed to have missed the scene earlier as he smiled, “It’s such coincidence that you’ve found this place. We’re pretty hidden. Since you’re Yali’s friend, you’re my friend too. If you have nowhere to go, stay here. It’s pretty barren and you have to struggle in the mud to get here, but nothing is more important than safety at times like this.”
Luo Yuan was irked, forcing a smile with a few deep breaths, “Thanks, but I won’t stay here for long. I came over just to see if this was a passable route. It was only by chance that I met Sister Yali.”
He should have known earlier that with Zhao Yali’s good looks, even if she was ugly, as long as Lao Huang was with her, it would be impossible to not have any suitors. In this extreme era of hunger for power and safety, no man without the least ambition would miss seizing the opportunity of acquiring a dark blue level creature.
Both of them had a fling in the past. Even if there were feelings involved, they had faded with time too.
Zhu Hao had a good built. It could be seen that he was not bad looking even with a full face of pigments. Besides, his voice was in a rich baritone, and he spoke in a gentleman-like manner. His status would definitely not be low in this survivor’s camp. Woman like Zhao Yali who was gentle and a little unsure of herself, would never be able to resist him as long as he put away his pride or status to court her.
“That’s good too. We can’t stay here for long anyway. The tide is coming soon, we’ll have to find a new place by then. But isn’t it too rushed to leave so fast? Stay for lunch, you can catch up with Yali since you both haven’t met in such a long time,” Zhu Hao smiled.
His smile seemed sincere to Luo Yuan, with not a hint of discontent traceable. Luo Yuan was sure that he himself would not be able to act the same. This man was not an easy person. Yet, only a man like that could survive in this harsh world now.
Thinking about it, he did not want to stay any longer and said shaking his head, “It’s alright, my friends are still waiting for me. I’ll leave after asking about the route here.”
Zhu Hao was relieved but Zhao Yali cut him just as he was about to speak, “You should leave after a meal together. Aren’t you happy to see me again? If you’re worried about your friends, ask them all over.”
Luo Yuan could not reject her invitation, finally nodding after looking at her imploring gaze, “Okay, I’ll ask them over.”
Looking at Luo Yuan’s retreating back, Zhu Hao turned and spoke to Zhao Yali, “We just caught a large eel. I’ll ask them to prepare it. Would you like to come help?”
Zhao Yali did not seem like herself, apologizing after some time, “I’m a little tired, let me rest for a bit. Call me when Xiao Yuan’s here.”
Then she left for her tent.
Zhu Hao’s expression darkened immediately. Anyone who was not blind could see the odd tension between them. They would probably have each other in a passionate embrace had he not rushed over in time.
He had been abstaining from sex to court Zhao Yali, rejecting a few women who had offered themselves to him and showing great concern for her along their way of fleeing, even being subservient to please her. After all the effort he had put in, he did not expect this obstacle out of nowhere when he was so close to succeeding.
He stared at Luo Yuan as he walked away for some time, before finally turning to leave as well.
It was already two hours later when Luo Yuan and company arrived.
To prevent unnecessary panic, Luo Yuan did not bring the lizard along. Even their luggage was left where they were.
The campsite was filled with garbage; an inexplicable stench permeating the air. A skinny woman in torn clothes pulled down her pants and started to pee in front of everyone.
A few men eyed her fair exposed buttocks and dragged her into a nearby tent before she could even finish peeing. Along the way, her bed-games and the men’s teasing chides was clearly audible to everyone’s ears.
Huang Jiahui who had not been too happy, became even more upset watching the scene.
A lot of people were digging the mud by the village’s side in search of food.
A bony man fell in spasm in the midst of digging, people around him moving away with a flash of terror on their otherwise emotionless face, but that was all. Nobody screamed nor ran away, everyone resumed digging around the mud, after looking at him and avoiding the spot.
Apart from being shaken with what they saw, the group was grateful to have followed Luo Yuan. Had it not been for him, they would end up being one of these people.
There were more than a hundred people in the camp, but the difference was stark even when both sides were survivors. Perhaps it was the shortage of food, causing most of the survivors here to be pale faced and dull eyed, with not an ounce of energy left in them.
There was still a handful of healthy-looking ones but these were mostly comprising strong men and beautiful women.
Luo Yuan knew that a status quo would always exist regardless of era. It used to be intelligence, now it was strength. Only the stronger ones would live better in apocalypse and acquire more resources, be it food or women.
A muscular youth came to get them soon enough. He looked at Luo Yuan challengingly but his eyes shifted its focus upon seeing the women.
They were too clean compared to the women in the camp. Their clean clothes, immaculate appearance and decent features stood out like a sore thumb here, especially Wang Shishi – her delicate face was akin to that of a painting; her soft skin radiating like alabaster.
Wang Shishi retorted with offense, “What are you looking at?”
The youth smiled thoughtfully, “Everyone, follow me.”
The group followed him to the front of the biggest tent, and he stopped, “Weapons are not allowed in here. You have to pass them all to me, I hope you would kindly co-operate.”
“So many of you are scared of the few of us?” said Lin Xiaoji, vexed.
The youth smirked, “This is where we hold meetings. No one is allowed to bring any weapons in here. A rule is a rule; no one is exempted.”
“Since when did your rules ever apply to us?,” questioned Cao Ling.
Luo Yuan hesitated and then said, “Forget it. We’re guests, it’s not nice to bring weapons. Pass them to him.”
He then passed over his machete.
The youth’s face changed just as he got hold of it. The heavy weight of the machete made him hold it with both his hands quickly.
Astonishment ran through his face as he stared at Luo Yuan, who had been effortlessly carrying the machete single-handedly all along.
Everyone followed suit, since Luo Yuan had already passed up his own weapon, and the group then walked into the tent.
Plank covered the base of the tent, and a thick layer of carpet covered the wood but it was still a little damp.
A round table was placed in the middle with 7 people already around it, Zhu Hao sitting at the leading position but Zhao Yali was nowhere in sight.