The soldiers reluctantly returned to where they had initially been sitting after being chided by Zhou Yicheng, but their eyes never left the big pot.
Zhou Yicheng was rather embarrassed and remarked softly, “These rascals…”
Luo Yuan laughed and said, “It looks like you guys are starving, but please wait a bit longer. The rice is still not ready. Besides, all of you can take this time to tidy up.”
Zhou Yicheng quickly understood what Luo Yuan meant upon a quick glance at his appearance as well as his companions. They looked like beggars who rolled in mud. The worst part is that they all carried a strong stench with them. It was even to the point that they would find it difficult to swallow if they were to eat around people like them.
The soldiers abruptly went to clean themselves with the hot water that was prepared.
Amidst their shower, Chen Xianfeng came back with two small beasts and stayed in a corner. He was watching everything with his highly perceptive eyes. No one paid attention to him though, except for the soldiers, since the rest were used to him after so many days.
Going back to the food… Luo Yuan said there was rice, but it wasn’t rice grains or wheat flour. Those were either depleted or extinct in this era. The rice he was referring to was a type of mutated plant. Nobody knew what it was but it was round and the size of basketballs which had an exterior as hard as a shell along with thick roots. This was just its budding state though. Once grown, the shell would crack and grow into a small tree about 5 meters tall within a night. This was a result of survival of the fittest– the miracle of evolution in a race to continue the plant’s lineage under harsh circumstances.
For it to grow into a 5-meter tall tree overnight, the ball-sized plant must contain a significant amount of starch, vitamins, and minerals. That was why it weighed almost 15 kilograms despite its size. Husking the shell of the plant would result in a ball that could last Luo Yuan and the gang up to 6 days. If it were properly preserved, its freshness could last up to a week. Besides, its texture was not too bad. It was smooth and sticky with a pleasant fragrance. Luo Yuan had accumulated lots of it once they discovered the plant. Too bad the plant was scarce and hard to find, so he only managed to find 12 of them after a long search.
“Rice” was ready soon enough and the soldiers devoured the food. They had been starving for a long time. Luo Yuan suspected that the soldiers would have eaten a lot more if not for the limited amount of food available. Not a grain of rice nor a drop of soup was left after just a few short minutes. The appetites of the injured soldiers were not affected by their injuries. Due to this, Luo Yuan only managed to get a small bowl of rice. The women were laughing at his utterly dejected expression.
After the meal, the soldiers looked as though they were high on drugs or alcohol. They had consumed way too much food. Their bodies were malnourished and would have probably already given up on them if not for their sheer determination. The nutritious mutated food they just ate was akin to coming across an oasis in the desert.
Zhou Yicheng and his comrades could not understand their drowsiness. They assumed that they were sleep deprived for so long and could now finally relax. In a matter of moments, their heads were on the table, fast asleep and snoring.
Looking at the uncomfortable postures of the soldiers, Luo Yuan made the others give some of their tents up to allow the soldiers to have a better rest. He then took a food cube and went out of the subway station.
A long walk and a small tremor later, the giant lizard appeared in front of Luo Yuan.
The lizard seemed to be taken aback when Luo Yuan threw his food cube at it, but it quickly stretched out its neck and caught the cube, swallowing without bothering to chew it. It was very excited to see Luo Yuan, and as usual, it snuggled its head in Luo Yuan’s chest.
Luo Yuan smiled and hopped onto the lizard. The creature sprinted into the distance under his instruction. The food cube was precious but time was even more so at this stage. The time set to complete the mission was a week. It was not exactly a long journey- only around 100 kilometers, but the soldiers needed to recover. Their two beasts as well! The giant lizard was doing better with at least 60% of its abilities now restored, but Lao Huang was still seriously injured with a severe limp. Furthermore, the unpredictable dangers along the journey could cause all sorts of delays to the mission.
The faster their pet beasts can recover, the stronger their defense will be during the mission. Therefore, this was not the time to be stingy on the food cubes. The giant lizard’s loyalty was now over the moon after being regularly fed food cubes by Luo Yuan. Although this could easily change at any time, it was undeniable that the lizard had become more obedient.
The giant lizard sprinted and howled across the city! Since there was no threat to it here anymore, it instinctively announced its authority… until Luo Yuan slapped it! The lizard then sadly shut its mouth.
The fortification at the sea bridge was 30 – 40 kilometers away from Jiaping City, but it was already in sight after some ten minutes of sprinting on the lizard. Luo Yuan suddenly felt the lizard slowing down as its steps got heavier. Immediately, he was alerted.
Luo Yuan observed his surroundings and noticed the strong wind and salty moisture in the air. The ground looked damp with traces of water seen occasionally.
“Traces of water?”
Luo Yuan was bewildered as it had not been raining.
He slapped the lizard again, and it stopped at once. Luo Yuan hopped off and studied the cement ground closely. Sands and stones were all around, but there was a layer of grayish white particles on their surface.
“It’s sea salt.” He thought to himself after tasting some.
He walked forward slowly with a face that was getting more and more serious over time. Some shell creatures appeared further in front. There were large ones like houses and small ones the size of fingernails. Some in striking colors and others were plain. Some were even dull like rocks. They were not only on the highway, but they were also in the farmland and forest.
As he moved forward, the numbers of creatures, he could see increased.
Suddenly, a sound came from the highway,
“ Cha – cha – cha.”
Three fierce looking crabs each the size of a water tank sped towards Luo Yuan from a corner. Not waiting for Luo Yuan to pull out his Zhanmadao, his giant lizard already leaped ahead and landed in front of the crabs. These crabs seemed to be lacking in the intelligence department as they began attacking without even analyzing their surroundings first.
With its mouth wide open, the lizard easily caught one of the crabs and crushed it with its jaws, swallowing it along with its shell. Just as the other two wanted to flee, the lizard pinned one down with its claws and crushed it. It used its fire breath to attack the other one which was about to escape.
The flame had a shape of a mushroom cloud and made a hole in the ground, burning the crab into ashes. Although the lizard had done well, Luo Yuan frowned. He pretty much understood the lizard’s behavior now that both of them had spent more time together. It was fine if the lizard attacked the three light blue to blue level crabs regularly but spewing fire was its least used attack because of a large amount of damage it had on itself. Each time it used this attack, it needed a few days to recover, so it was rarely used unless they faced a great enemy.
The lizard was acting strangely. It seemed rather anxious and too easily agitated. The only explanation for this behavior was that there was something else causing the lizard anxiety. Luo Yuan tapped the lizard’s back to comfort it and had it stay down to rest.
The lizard had not recovered from the battle. If there were a problem right now, it would certainly be an issue to them. Luo Yuan stayed down and ran towards the front. His actions were light and fast and seemed to be in a rhythm – looking like an agile leopard.
He avoided many shells that looked harmless, as well as some strange looking creatures. Mutated shells creatures were no longer the helpless things they were pre-apocalypse. Their movements were quick now in addition to their strong defense. Battling them was difficult, especially when some could even spit corrosive acid.
Some shells hide actual danger underneath them. Luo Yuan noticed that one of the shells was open and out came a colorful sea snake that was extremely venomous! Fortunately, these could not cause much harm to Luo Yuan due to his evolved state. The further he got, the stronger the sea breeze and the harsher the waves. If he remembered correctly, there were no waves at all in the last few days. It seemed unlikely that the salt water under the sea bridge could cause such waves and affect the moisture in the air so drastically.
After 10 minutes, he was finally a little relieved when he got to the fortification. The structure was on the high ground, so the seawater had yet to seep in. Otherwise, all their weapons would have been useless by now. Luo Yuan did not enter right away but decided to go further forward.
A few minutes later, he arrived at the edge of the sea bridge. The bridge was more damaged now compared to a few days before. The parts of the sea were completely wrecked, with only a pier still standing strong in lonesome. However, he was not paying attention to this.
A borderless ocean greeted his eyes. What laid at the other end seemed like a mirage now under the effects of the water vapor. This bay that was parched a few days ago but is now full of seawater. Suddenly, a large whirlpool appeared in the water as a large shadow paddled across the surface. Luo Yuan subconsciously took a few steps back. When he got out of his daze, the beast was gone without a trace, leaving his forehead drenched in sweat.
Although it was just a glimpse, the aura it brought was enough to cause palpitations. He dared not go nearer anymore, withdrawing several hundred meters away. He held onto the steel railing of the bridge and looked downwards, unable to suppress his curiosity. If his memory had not failed him, this should have been a large piece of saline land and not the sea that was less than 3 meters below the bridge. Luo Yuan did some calculations and realized that the coastline had to have pushed in at least 7 kilometers for this to happen.
The villages and hotels in his memories were engulfed by the seawater now. This bay was usually dry pre-apocalypse. Even during the few months of high tide, the water would only form a shallow layer, nothing close to the situation today. Moreover, factoring in the current time of year, high tide has not even begun so why was there such a phenomena?
Luo Yuan suddenly thought of something and was horrified by his realization.
“Sea level… the sea level has risen! Damn it!” Luo Yuan mumbled to himself.
The global mutation and warming first affected the living creatures, and now it has reached the ice in north and south poles. Over time, they would only keep increasing until the glacier formed a new balance with the current temperature.
The increase in sea level could only bring serious side effects. Most of the coastal areas would become part of the ocean. Jiangnan Province was averagely five to six meters above sea level, and this was including the mountains and hilly areas. The altitude would be lower if it were just flat land. Within a few years, the whole province would most probably be part of the ocean, leaving behind only a few deserted islands. As for Hucheng, its altitude is even lower with an average of 4 meters. Other than Dajinshan, most of the areas left were less than 4 meters above sea level. It seemed that these would no longer exist for long now.