The light dimmed when they entered the forest. The leaves above them blocked all the sunlight, creating a chilling atmosphere.
The forest had looked dense on the outside, but there were many paths inside it made by countless beasts walking through. No weeds or moss grew on those paths.
There were fallen trees on both sides of the road from the earlier beast wave. Blood and bones remained on the ground, but there were no bodies in sight. Countless ferocious beetles scampered away from the bones as the giant lizard approached.
Luo Yuan’s heart grew heavy at the sight. The volcano eruption had not chased away all the creatures living in the area. Those of them who had reacted slower to the danger were still there.
The giant lizard moved forward, following the wide path. All sorts of strange-looking trees, rattan, and colorful fungi could be seen along the way.
Everyone looked around curiously, petrified.
Animals had mutated in waves upon the apocalypse, all species multiplying as they mutated in all sorts of directions.
Most of the species had been eliminated by the competition while those who had survived continued evolving, the cycle going on and on.
Traces of civilization could be seen everywhere on the ground, a constant reminder that this had once been human territory.
As the lizard moved, their surroundings remained quiet, except for the occasional rare mutated creature and some insects squeaking and hissing.
Two hours later, the sky was completely dark. When Luo Yuan checked his watch, he realized it was only 3 p.m. Usually, there would still be another 2 to 3 hours before sunset, yet now it was already dark.
This was not just because the dense forest was blocking the light, but also because the debris from the volcano eruption had blocked the sun.
Luo Yuan tapped the lizard’s shoulder. The lizard lay down, and Luo Yuan jumped off, taking the unconscious Wang Xiaguang with him.
The rest of them mimicked him. Most of them ended up falling, their legs giving out beneath them. The dark blue lizard’s aura had weakened them after riding on it for such a long time.
Luo Yuan checked out the area with Wang Xiaguang in his arms. The ground was flat and there were no traces of buildings. It had probably been a farmland before.
Unbeknownst to them, they had already left the outskirts.
Too bad that the map had been lost along with their luggage, making it impossible to determine where they were. They seemed to be lost, but Luo Yuan guessed that they were not far from the highway. He looked towards the north, but he could not see anything.
Huang Jiahui stepped on a small bug that had been trying to climb onto the back of her leg. It cracked with a light firecracker noise. She retracted her leg with a frown, “Are we spending the night here?”
It would be difficult to stay overnight in the forest considering they had no tents and there were no abandoned buildings. They would probably die before the next sunrise if they slept without any protection. While the area looked serene, that did not mean that there was no danger. A lot of mutated insects and beasts were still in the forest. Even the smallest bug could cost their lives.
Luo Yuan shook his head. “We better find a cave to stay in for the night. Otherwise, we’ll have to dig a pit, or sleep in a tree trunk!”
Everyone’s heart felt heavy. Their unease was written all over their tired faces.
Sleeping in a deserted forest would have been very dangerous even before the apocalypse, let alone now. Huang Jiahui was starting to regret persuading Luo Yuan to move towards the West. It was too late to turn back now, though. Only death would be waiting for them if they headed back. The volcano was still erupting; moving on was their only hope.
Luo Yuan retrieved his sword and walked into the forest carefully. He chopped and cleared the branches along the way easily. About ten minutes later, as they were passing by a small hill, he suddenly stopped. There was a cave there, camouflaged by thorny vines and leaves. It was easy to overlook. There were no footprints near it. They would have totally moved on if Luo Yuan had not sensed that it was there.
It was hard to understand animal intelligence. Animals would usually do astonishing things on instinct, following the cruel laws of nature. Not doing so would mean extinction. As a result, this cave was better hidden and safer than any manmade cave.
The entrance of the cave was only about 1.5 meters tall and 70 centimeters wide. One had to crouch to enter, but there was nothing else they could do. It was already getting late. Their only other option was sleeping in tree trunks, which would only result in a sleepless night.
“You guys wait here. I’ll go in and see,” Luo Yuan said.
Not waiting for a reply, Luo Yuan crouched down and entered the cave. It was pitch black inside, and there was also a strange scent. It smelled like fish and rotting corpses – it was absolutely nauseating. The cave wall was smooth, and the inside of the cave was winding as it extended under the ground. Luo Yuan almost ran out of patience. He had to walk for several hundred meters before he discovered a space a few dozen square meters in size.
Bones were piled right in the middle of it, but the spot was very clean. Soft, fluffy straw covered it and judging by the obvious dent in the middle, that must have been where the previous resident of the cave had rested.
Luo Yuan announced that it was safe, and everyone entered the cave. Their exhausted faces finally broke into smiles when they saw the spacious inside under the weak light of Huo Dong’s lighter.
“Yay! I can’t believe we were able to find such a place! I thought we would have to sleep in tree trunks!” Wang Shishi said excitedly. Her spirits were even higher than when they had first moved into the villa. As for the creepy bones and the disgusting stench, those things were nothing compared to being able to rest overnight in a safe place.
“Tree trunks are too dangerous. Did you see all those bugs along the way? I get goosebumps just looking at them. If Boss Luo didn’t beat them off, we might have gotten bitten,” Huo Dong said with a smile.
“It’s too dark here. Huo Dong, you and Lin Xiaoji go out and find some dry leaves and branches. We’ll start a fire later!” Luo Yuan said, indifferent to Huo Dong’s pandering.
They both walked out with their blades without hesitation.
“Won’t there be too much smoke if we start a fire?” Huang Jiahui asked when the two of them had left.
“No, there’s no wind in here. The smoke will be okay if we start the fire near the entrance of the cave. It could even stop small insects from coming in,” Luo Yuan replied before he sat down.
As he started to relax, the pain made him break out in cold sweat. He could not take it anymore.
“Brother Luo, are you okay?” Cao Ling asked once she noticed that something wrong with him.
Luo Yuan shook his head with his eyes closed. “I’m fine. Just let me rest for a while.”
Looking at Luo Yuan’s pale face, everyone felt guilty for having him lead the way. He had gotten rid of every danger along the way, but it was obvious that he had sustained some serious injuries.
“Let’s keep our voices down, and let Luo Yuan sleep for a while,” Huang Jiahui said softly with tears in her eyes.
“I’ll go out and find some food!” Chen Xianfeng said uneasily, noticing that he was the only man around.
Huang Jiahui was stunned. She had not expected Chen Xianfeng to be so brave. Considering the danger, she said, “Wait a bit. We’ll go together when Huo Dong and Lin Xiaoji return.”
Chen Xianfeng was not used to talking to beautiful women. His face flushed and he lost the ability to speak.
Huo Dong and Lin Xiaoji returned later with a bundle of branches each, leaving them at the front part of the cave. Lin Xiaoji had even brought a beheaded frog as big as a basket. He was holding it in his right hand.
“We got lucky, I saw the frog in the bushes. I chopped its head off fast, otherwise it would have run away,” Lin Xiaoji said in a bragging tone with a smile.
“Don’t speak so loud, you’ll wake Brother Luo,” Wang Shishi said in dissatisfaction. “This frog is too small. There won’t be much left if we divide it among everyone here.”
Lin Xiaoji’s expression hardened, but he did not argue with Wang Shishi. Noticing Luo Yuan, who was leaning against the wall, he asked, “Has Brother Luo fallen asleep? I’ll go out to find more. I can’t let everyone starve!”
“It’s too dangerous outside. Let’s all go, except for Wang Shishi and Cao Ling. We can look out for each other!” Huang Jiahui said as she pulled out her pistol.
“Sister Huang, let me come too. I feel better already.” Wang Shishi stood up weakly.
Huang Jiahui knew that Wang Shishi was good at telekinesis. They would be much safer if she followed, but thinking of Luo Yuan’s safety, she rejected her offer, “You can’t go. You have to take care of your Brother Luo. You can handle it if there’s any danger.”
Wang Shishi realized this, and after her initial fear, she agreed. Luo Yuan was the most important person to her after all.
Cao Ling wanted to speak up, but she kept quiet. She was the weakest out of them. What else could she do other than stay back?
Wang Xiaguang woke up not too long after everyone had left. She coughed a bit and tried to sit up.
Cao Ling went over to lend her a hand. “Are you up?”
“Luo Yuan? Where’s Luo Yuan?” Wang Xiaguang asked anxiously, her voice raspy. “Where am I? Why is it so dark?”
“Brother Luo’s tired, he’s fallen asleep. Let’s lower our voices so we don’t wake him up. We’re in a cave. Everyone else has gone to find food, but they’ll be back soon,” Cao Ling answered with a sigh.
“Sister Wang, what’s your relationship with Brother Luo?” Wang Shishi suddenly asked.
Wang Xiaguang was a little uncomfortable knowing that Wang Shishi was there too. She had heard her voice, and she tried hard to maintain a calm tone as she answered, “We were colleagues, but we’re very close. You look young, how old are you?”
“I’m the youngest one here, I’m only fourteen!” Wang Shishi said smugly.
Disbelief was written all over Cao Ling’s face.
Wang Xiaguang’s reaction was the same. She had not expected Wang Shishi to be this young. She had thought that she was at least sixteen or seventeen, maybe even eighteen. She quickly asked, “Does Luo Yuan know you’re this young?”
Wang Shishi was not stupid. She knew what she meant and she said without a care, “Brother Luo knew it all along. So what? I like him!”
“How could he?” Wang Xiaguang said to herself, unable to believe it. The image she had of Luo Yuan was collapsing.
Luo Yuan had only been resting his eyes. He could not take it anymore, so he coughed. His face was a little flustered, but luckily no one could see, otherwise his image would be hurt. He changed the topic, addressing Wang Xiaguang, “You’re awake! Are you feeling any better?”
Wang Xiaguang turned around. She didn’t want to acknowledge him, but she did not feel right ignoring him either. Finally, she said quietly, “Don’t worry, I’m much better!”
“You’re too weak. Drink some more high-level beast blood later, will you? You should be fine after a few days,” Luo Yuan said, looking concerned.
“Brother Luo, don’t you want to sleep? Did we wake you?” Wang Shishi was jealous. She didn’t like watching Luo Yuan talk to Wang Xiaguang the moment he woke up, so she changed the topic again.
Luo Yuan blamed her in his heart. It was her fault he’d had to wake up. He glared at her, but Wang Shishi didn’t notice. Then he said, “I wasn’t sleeping anyway. How are you now, still having a headache?”
“Much better already, but my head is still pulsing like it’s about to explode. Why don’t you massage it for me?” Wang Shishi spoke in her sweet voice. She looked like she wanted to show off to someone.
Luo Yuan noticed Wang Xiaguang’s upset expression, but just as he was about to get angry, he was reminded of how Wang Shishi had risked everything to save him. His voice softened, “You want someone injured so badly to massage you? Cao Ling, you massage her, please!”
Cao Ling stood up obediently.
Wang Shishi had forgotten about Luo Yuan’s injuries. She quickly said, “Sister Cao, there’s no need. I’m okay.”
Hearing that Luo Yuan was injured, Wang Xiaguang felt both pain and worry. She bit her lips in an effort not to say anything.
Soon, everyone came back. Other than Chen Xiafeng, who was carrying something wrapped in a couple of leaves, everyone else carried nothing but bundles of firewood.
Huo Dong lit up the dry leaves and added some firewood, illuminating the cave in an instant.
“You didn’t find anything to eat?” Luo Yuan asked.
“You’re awake!” Huang Jiahui said in concern before she sighed, “There aren’t many animals out there. There’s nothing edible, except bugs. We found some cocoons on some trees, but we don’t know if they’re safe to eat.”
“Let me have a look at them,” Luo Yuan said.
Chen Xianfeng quickly passed the contents of his hands over. There was a total of nine cocoons of the same insect. Each of them was the size of a palm, and their surface had some complex pattern. Luo Yuan took one and extracted a scary-looking pupa with his sword.
He used Identification discreetly before he said, “They’re totally edible. Nothing to worry about. Hand the frog over, too,” he said. Extra caution was always necessary when dealing with food.
He used Identification once more, and shook his head. “You can’t eat this. Your body will go numb. Throw it away!”
Everyone was surprised. Luckily, they had not eaten it yet, or who knew what could have happened. They thought Luo Yuan could identify food toxins, so they did not suspect a thing. Only Lin Xiaoji looked a little upset. After all, the food he had caught with so much effort had turned out to be poisonous.