"Do any of you smell anything?" Luo Yuan suddenly asked just before noon, on their second day.
"We don’t think so!" The rest of them shook their heads.
Luo Yuan hesitantly took another sniff, this time the smell was more pungent. It smelt as though something had been charred with rotten eggs. The smell was vaguely familiar to him, as if he had come across it somewhere before.
He soon recalled that it was the smell of a volcano, as the odor was similar to that of a volcano eruption. Luo Yuan however, did not seem to be bothered as the risk of running into an already-erupted volcano and a volcano that was soon to erupt, were two completely different things. If the former happened, the best-case scenario was to run as far as possible. On the other hand, if the latter happened, thick smoke will be emitted continuously and perhaps even a hundred years will pass without so much as a spurt.
As they got closer to the volcano, one by one, the rest started to catch a whiff of the odor.
The group stood atop a huge rock on top of the mountain and gazed into the far distance. They were shocked to discover that there was not only one, but a chain of volcanoes along the mountain range, akin to a fire being lit one after another on the Great Wall. Their hearts quivered with fear upon catching sight of the thick, billowing smoke.
"Why are there so many volcanoes? China does not have any active volcanoes, does it?" asked Huo Dong, his face turning slightly pale.
"Maybe, but that was before! "Luo Yuan looked at the stretch of volcanoes, and took a deep breath, "The sea level had undergone dramatic changes, and the cosmic storm had affected the lava activities. This stretch of volcanoes may not erupt any time soon, but once it erupts, I am afraid that it would turn into a super volcano. Not only would this whole place be submerged under the magma, even the Reconstruction Area would also be affected."
"It wouldn’t be that serious, would it?" asked a shocked Lin Xiaoji.
"I’m just making a rough prediction!" replied Luo Yuan. He had watched documentaries about the super volcanoes prior to this.
When a volcano erupts, the lava should be the least of everyone’s concern. The most harmful substance will be the volcanic ashes and gas. Furthermore, with a size as big as this super volcano, each eruption can thrust about a few hundred million tons of volcanic material into the air. If that were to occur, day will become night, while summer days will turn into harsh winter nights. How about the Reconstruction Area that will potentially affect more than half of China? When the time comes, although the death of a large range of mutant beasts remain uncertain, it would definitely worsen the situation for those that were struggling to stay alive.
We must return to the Reconstruction Area as soon as possible to report this matter," The commander said immediately, after hearing what Luo Yuan had said.
Luo Yuan nodded his head. Suddenly he felt a tug in his heart, and he looked towards one of the volcanoes.
Suddenly, the tip of the volcano was spewing with lava, bursting with flames that shot about a hundred meters into the air. Initially, he thought to himself that they were only unlucky, running into an active volcano that was about to erupt. However, accompanying the spewing of lava, was a worm-like monster emerging from the volcano, with its head sticking out of the volcano pit.
"Quick, take a look, what is it?" By this time, the others had also noticed it. All of them stared in horror, without so much as a blink of an eye, at the mysterious creature that had been living in the heat of the lava.
Although it was almost six or seven kilometers away from where they stood, everyone could see it clearly due to its huge size. It looked similar to a red flatworm; the surface of its body was marked with cylindrical pattern. Below the body were two rows of dense black feet. It did not seem to have eyes, only a round opening that occupied most of its head, where flames were firing from.
At this point, the creature’s head was swaying about violently, and a hundred meter-long high pressure flame was swaying in unison, shooting haphazardly in the air.
A few nearby trees that were scorched by the fire had burst into flames. Only after a few seconds being set ablaze, the trees disintegrated into a heap of black coal, evident that the temperature was extremely high.
The fire continued to blaze. In another vent, as if receiving a certain signal, a second worm came crawling out, followed by a third, and a fourth. Luo Yuan was horrified to discover that almost all the volcanoes had been inhabited by the mysterious creatures.
The subsequent events had the whole area turning into a worm fiesta. Innumerable streams of fire were shooting back and forth in mid-air. The extremely high temperature had caused distortions in the air and even from where Luo Yuan stood, the temperature had increased by several degrees. The smell of something burning started permeating the air.
The congregation lasted for a full half an hour before it finally stopped. One by one, the worms burrowed back into the volcanic vents.
Everyone turned slightly pale after witnessing the incident, and did not come to their senses until a few seconds later. They did not dare to linger around the area any longer. After waiting for the worms to disappear, they tried to distance themselves from the volcanoes, and continued to move forward.
As they adjourned, although the terrains were uneven and surrounded by endless mountains, they could feel the altitude decreasing. The gradual disappearance of the snow-capped mountains nearby, and the peak of the mountains becoming lower were imminent of nothing but good news to them.
On the fifth day of their journey, they even found some traces of human beings.
There was a rundown deserted village nearby, with several stone pillars lying on the ground. Overgrown weeds, broken pieces of bricks and rotting furniture could be found everywhere. Huang Jiahui even found a ceramic bowl – fully intact – belonging to the Mao dynasty, among the ruins.
This proved that the village was not isolated from the outside world, and perhaps after a period of time, they too will be able to escape this mountainous zone
This filled their heart with excitement, yet at the same time, harboured mixed feelings. They had encountered various difficulties and obstacles throughout their whole journey. They were agitated and filled with an unimaginable amount of pressure.
The path towards the village was camouflaged by plants and was well-hidden, but after looking carefully at the tracks to compare the compactness of the ground and the similarity of the gravel, a single path could be identified.
The giant lizard walked forward, according to the direction of the small path. Along the trail, the ruins of the village could be seen everywhere. By the evening, they stumbled upon a cement road in front of them.
The cement road was badly damaged. Its surface was laden with potholes and was covered with moss and weed, almost blending into the jungles on both sides of the road.
As they walked onto the cement road, traces of human dwellings were increasingly obvious and the dense canopy of trees gradually became thinner.
A lot of collapsed buildings were found, and brightly coloured trash were strewn everywhere. The air was also reeking of decay and mildew. Despite all that, it was puzzling as to why everyone was still excited when they saw the site.
"Where is this place?" asked Huang Jiahui, trying hard to suppress her mixed emotions.
"I guess this used to be a town here. Very soon, we will arrive the city, and there must be a well-preserved map," said Commander Xia, in a high-pitched voice.
As darkness descended, the group simply discussed among themselves, and decided that they will not stay the night, and would instead hurry onto the nearest city.
Because the highway was a relatively flat terrain, the giant lizard could finally unleash its lightning speed. It strode with heavy footsteps, and under Luo Yuan’s spurring, the giant lizard began to pick up its speed, easily approaching eighty to ninety yards. As the wind blew strongly against them, everyone tightened their clutch onto the rattan cover on its back, to avoid being flung off by the force.
Their location was situated at juncture of Qinghai and Tibet, where it was sparsely populated. Apart from a single highway, it was almost impossible to find a village. A few car tires were found shrivelled up and scattered across the road. As for the car, it had long been corroded into a mound of red rust.
The whole ride was quiet and lonely, except for the heavy footsteps of the giant lizard and the king kong, which echoed into the night sky.
At nine o’clock in the evening, they finally arrived at the city within the forest.
The city seemed ancient, possibly dating back to at least a thousand years ago. The atmosphere was filled with aging time and tide, as well years of decadence. The original architecture had long since faded away, and even the colour of the reinforced concrete was blanketed by a deep shade of green.
But the squad were already used to this scene, and were unfazed by this.
Although most of the buildings were decayed and had now collapsed, there were still some buildings standing erected with the support of some vines. They were almost blending into the woods nearby.
"Let’s go to the tallest building there to have a look," said Luo Yuan.
The building that was five to six storeys high had its surface camouflaged with thick green vines. This building was the only tallest, well-preserved building nearby. Luo Yuan dismounted from the giant lizard, and hacked all the plants surrounding the building with his Zhanmadao, quickly exposing the heavily-corroded concrete wall.
He extended his leg to give it a kick. A clatter sound was heard, and a big hole suddenly appeared on the wall.
Although his kick wasn’t a weak one, a normal wall would not have given way so easily. But as this concrete wall had been corroded by plants, its sturdiness had long been lost. It seemed to have been hollowed out now, as even a gentle kick had easily knocked it down.
Luo Yuan let the giant lizard and king kong back away a little, before immediately drilling into the hole. He first cleared a few mutated beasts’ nests away before the rest of the group followed along in a single file.
Inside, it was pitch black and humid, and emitted a pungent, rotten stench.
"Boss Luo, did you find anything?" Huo Dong asked, as he walked over.
"No, it’s too wet here, even the office desks had decayed, let alone a paper map. I will go upstairs to have a look, feel free to take your leave first," Luo Yuan said. The building here was very fragile, like a meek pulp of tofu. With a little push, the building would possibly have collapsed. Given the circumstances, except perhaps for Luo Yuan, nobody was completely safe.
"Be careful!" said Huang Jiahui.
Luo Yuan nodded his head, and walked quickly towards the stairs. The stairs had been thoroughly broken, and he had no choice but to leap towards the second floor. The strong impact of his jump as he landed caused a large piece of flooring to collapse. Thankfully, he had left that precarious spot and with some stealthy moves, he managed to enter one of the rooms.
It seemed that this building was an office building. Luo Yuan saw a lot of computer remains, as well as some disintegrated paper documents.
Luo Yuan carefully went through each of the documents, in attempt to find any form of useful information. Unfortunately, all the handwriting had now become indiscernible, as the paper had already decayed into a powdery, damp substance.
"Huh?" He noticed a safe deposit box propped by the corner.
It was covered in rust, but there were no damages. His face gleamed with joy, as he brandished his Zhanmadao, and gently cut it open. Inside, laid a thick stack of documents and invoices.
These documents were well-preserved, except for a few that had been affected by the moisture. Sadly, there were no maps. But come to think of it, it was pointless to lock up a map inside a safe deposit box anyway.
He picked up one of the documents; it appeared to be a commercial contract. Luo Yuan did not take a close look, but flipped to the underside to look at promisor and the promisee of the contract.
Promisor: Jiu Chuan Yongle Advertising Co., Ltd.
Promisee: Jiuchuan Shengde Tourism Real Estate Co., Ltd
He also looked through the rest of the documents, and found that most of the addresses had stated ‘Jiuchuan’. It looked like in all probability, this city could be called Jiuchuan after all. The only problem now, was that he had absolutely no recollection nor even a slight inkling of its name.