The situation was far worse than Luo Yuan had expected. The next morning, when he walked out of the cave, what he saw was endless greenery. The flood had mostly dissipated.
There were several new mildly-flowing streams in the forest, and the grass that had been frequently pruned had grown a few inches taller, reaching a child’s height overnight. Thousands of strange insects were flying happily between the grass, the whole area looking vibrant.
The messy scene in the forest the previous day had disappeared without a trace. The forest had not been destroyed. On the contrary, it seemed to have gotten even more green, the space cleared by the storm occupied by new branches. These new branches looked weak and fragile. Their leaves might not have fully opened yet, but they seemed like they could not wait to conquer their new territory.
Luo Yuan was overwhelmed by the vigorous forest in front of him. He would have thought that it was an illusion caused by the storm if he had not seen the landslide by the entrance.
The growth rate of the plants was too fast, even though it had just been one night. If the storm had gone on for ten days, the impact would have been unimaginable. Plants were at the bottom of the ecosystem, so if there was any change on them, the whole ecological chain would be highly impacted.
Luo Yuan was worried. He looked around for a while before returning to the cave. Everyone inside was cleaning up the moss. After the flood had dissipated, the rock on the ground had been fully covered by moss. It was disgusting, and it could also attract a lot of insects. Therefore, early in the morning, everyone had gotten busy cleaning it up. It had turned out to be far more difficult to clean up than they’d expected, because they did not have the right tools.
In addition, there was a kind of biological property to the moss. It would stick closely to the ground once injured, thus increasing the difficulty of the cleaning process. They had been trying to get rid of it for a couple of hours, but only a small portion had been cleaned up. The most troublesome part was its roots, which were latched onto the rock, making it very hard to eradicate. As long as there was a tiny bit of moisture, it would grow back again the next day.
Luo Yuan watched for a while before he suggested, "This way takes too long. It doesn’t have to be this hard. All plants are afraid of fire. Once the firewood outside is dry, you guys can burn it and clean the moss."
He was now a lot quicker to think and could come up with new ideas easily. Stunned, everyone dropped the stones in their hands and looked at each other. What Luo Yuan had suggested was very simple and efficient, but surprisingly none of them had been able to think of it.
In fact, they had been blinded by their common sense and caught in the inertia of thinking. If moss grew in an average person’s house, their first thought would certainly be to shovel it out rather than light a fire to burn it. That was an abnormal reaction as setting the house on fire was not as easy as it sounded. It was just that a fire would leave behind smoke and ash, which tends to irritate most people.
However, after the apocalypse, the whole world had become perilous and unpredictable. One could be killed at any time, so focusing on these details was equal to committing suicide. Ensuring their own survival had to be their first priority.
Suddenly, Chen Jiayi screamed.
Huang Jiahui, who was standing beside her, took a look and said in shock, "Luo Yuan, come and see!"
Frowning, Luo Yuan quickly went over and asked, "What’s wrong?"
"Look at her thumb!" Huang Jiahui said.
As he looked at her hand, Luo Yuan’s heart grew heavy. He saw a piece of green moss growing on her thumb. It was about the size of a one-cent coin, and looked like a stain from afar.
He grabbed her hand and touched it gently. When the moss was stimulated, it contracted deeply into her skin, leaving only a trace of light green on the smooth surface. There were no penetration holes. Other than the strange color, it looked almost the same as normal skin, only smoother and moister, as if coated with a layer of cream.
By now, everyone had gathered around. When they saw the mutation on Chen Jiayi’s hand, they were shocked and quickly started checking their own exposed skin. None of them found any abnormalities. They were really relieved. No one would have thought that ordinary moss could be so dangerous.
"When did it happen?" Luo Yuan asked Chen Jiayi.
"I… I don’t know, I just felt a bit itchy on my finger…" Chen Jiayi looked pale and her whole body shivered.
Suddenly, Luo Yuan’s heart pumped faster. The green spot had grown bigger in only a moment, covering her whole finger. Will had limited destructive power on plants, and considering that it was protected by a layer of skin, it would be less effective to remove the moss that way. However, that seemed to be the sole solution at the moment. Luo Yuan would rather give it a try than do nothing.
He concentrated his Will, his hands instantly lighting up with a layer of mist as he took Chen Jiayi’s palm. It took just one touch for Chen Jiayi to almost faint. She looked very pale.
"Jiayi, how do you feel?" Huang Jiahui said quickly.
The two young boys, who had a close relationship with Chen Jiayi, stood to the side with a nervous expression on their faces. They dared not say a word before the group of adults.
Chen Jiayi’s face turned white quickly. She was getting so weak that she was unable to stand. It seemed like she wanted to say something, but nothing came out of her mouth.
Luo Yuan sensed something strange and quickly checked Chen Jiayi’s hand. His facial expression changed fast. The piece of moss had moved past her finger and spread quickly, covering her entire hand and extending to her arm. In barely a second, it had almost covered her whole arm, the speed of its growth was alarming to say the least.
Luo Yuan quickly dissipated his Will and picked up Chen Jiayi’s hand. He lifted her sleeve, only to realize that most of her arm had turned green.
Everyone looked at Chen Jiayi’s greenish arm in suspense.
Luo Yuan’s heart felt heavy. He had not expected the moss to be so tough. It had not been killed by Will. Instead, it had grown rapidly in an attempt to overcome the threat.
Now there was only one solution left.
"Everyone please go out, except the women," Luo Yuan commanded coolly.
They all could sense what he meant and felt sad about what was about to happen. However, this seemed to be the best solution at this point. At least she could still survive.
All men walked out of the cave quickly. Once they had left, Luo Yuan took off Chen Jiayi’s clothes and threw them on the floor.
Chen Jiayi had been well-nourished all this time, so she had become chubbier, her body maturing in advance.
Although she was very pale, she suddenly blushed at the thought of being naked in front of a crowd, especially in front of Luo Yuan. Her body trembled with nervousness, looking like a frightened deer. Luo Yuan only took a glance, trying to avoid her eyes, Zhao Yali could not bear it. It seemed like she wanted to speak out, but she was pulled back by Wang Xiaguang.
"Close your eyes for a while. It will be okay," Luo Yuan told Chen Jiayi gently as he took out his Zhanmadao. By that time, the moss had spread to her upper arm.
Chen Jiayi’s blushing face turned pale once again. Her lips trembled as tears started to fall down her cheeks. She was only twelve years old. She would normally still have been in middle school, yet now she had to bear this kind of pain.
Luo Yuan sighed. He picked up her hand and gripped the knife handle, preparing to chop it off. When the silvery long knife was about to fall, a strong fear filled Chen Jiayi’s heart, making it throb.
"No… No…" she whimpered, starting to struggle.
"Don’t be afraid. The pain will only last for a while. It’s fine to live without an arm," Huang Jiahui quickly tried to comfort her.
"I’m begging you, please don’t cut my arm. I don’t want to be a cripple," Chen Jiayi suddenly shouted, blubbering. She was having an emotional breakdown.
After all, she was only a twelve-year-old girl. No matter how strong she had been until then, she was still not mature enough.
"If we don’t cut your arm, you’ll die. Don’t be afraid, the wound will heal soon," Huang Jiahui advised her.
However, Chen Jiayi was too emotional. She did not respond, she just kept crying. The best time to cut her arm had passed, and the moss had begun to spread through her blood. Before, the green color had just been limited to her arms, but now it had slowly spread to her chest, stomach, and face.
Luo Yuan noticed this and sighed. He reluctantly stopped. He had no other solutions now. The moss had spread to Chen Jiayi’s whole body. There was no hope of curing her anymore. He slowly inserted his knife back into its sheath. He had kind of liked this little girl. She had been adorable and sensible, always eager to help with cooking and cleaning. She had been more active than anyone else.
Several women had also noticed the scene, and their facial expressions had changed. Some of them even cried for a time, the atmosphere becoming quiet.
Huang Jiahui could not help but ask, "Is there nothing else we can do?"
"She might not have much time left," Luo Yuan whispered, shaking his head. Then he picked up her clothes and dressed her carefully. Chen Jiayi had stopped crying. She just looked numb.
"Uncle Luo, am I dying?" she asked suddenly after getting dressed.
Luo Yuan hesitated for a while before he finally nodded. "Everyone dies. Some people just die earlier than others. Do you have any last wishes?"
Dying was the scariest thing in the world for everyone, even more so for a little girl. Chen Jiayi shivered and covered her mouth tightly as tears started to fall down her face again.
"Before you do, go talk to your friends outside," Luo Yuan told her softly. He was feeling uneasy too.
Chen Jiayi nodded. She kept crying as she walked step by step towards the door. The sun had risen outside, and the sunlight shone down on her body, the moss in it coming to the surface once again.
Chen Jiayi looked down at her body, standing still for some time. Suddenly, she seemed to feel a trace of joy, and a shallow smile appeared on her pale desperate face.
The moss accelerated, spreading to her whole body under the sunlight. It did not take long for it to cover her entire body. Everyone gathered around her, holding their breath without realizing it.