Cao Ling was woken up by the cold in the middle of the night. The cave was pitch black when she opened her eyes. Only some sparks were left among the ashes.
The loud roar of lightning and thunder came from outside as cold, moist wind blew through the cave’s entrance. Judging by the sweet moisture in the air, it had to be raining.
She was cold and hungry, her body trembling even though she was hugging a bundle of straw.
She could not stand it anymore. She got up carefully to start another fire.
It was quiet inside the cave as everyone was fast asleep from the day’s exhaustion. Even Wang Shishi was snoring lightly.
After searching in the dark for a while, she finally found the lighter beside the bonfire.
The flame flashed in the wind, producing an eerie feeling. She squatted down to light the fire, hands trembling. She tried not to look anywhere, lest she should see something scary.
The light and heat from the fire seemed to bring a huge sense of comfort to her. She sighed in relief, watching the fire grow brighter as she added more firewood.
The cave became bright as day, everyone curling up against the straws like homeless people to keep themselves warm.
Cao Ling’s frozen body slowly regained feeling under the fire’s warmth. She felt itchy and scratched her arm subconsciously, only to realize that she was scratching her wound when it started to hurt.
Under the light of the fire, she saw something white wriggling on her wound. She thought her eyes had to be fooling her. Her heart tightened as she willed herself to look again.
Countless maggots were wriggling around the wound. It wasn’t just her arm. There were maggots everywhere that she had wounds. On her calves, knees, elbows, even on the back of her hands.
She felt completely disgusted. Suddenly, as if thinking of something, she touched her face. It felt slick as the pads of her fingers touched a soft maggot.
No longer able to hold back, she screamed as loud as she could.
Everyone woke up with a start, hands going straight to their weapons as they stood up.
“What’s going on?” Luo Yuan jumped up and checked around, not finding anything unusual.
Cao Long could not stop screaming, her hands waving in the air as her body trembled like a sieve.
Luo Yuan walked over and slapped her hard. “Calm down! What’s going on?”
The pain brought Cao Ling temporarily back to her senses, but the fear still remained on her face as she stuttered, “Maggots, maggots everywhere. I’m dying! Save me, Brother Luo, save me!”
Luo Yuan pulled her hand over and checked the back of it with his sharp eyes, sucking in a deep breath as he got goosebumps too. “How can there be so many maggots?”
Everyone crowded over, frightened by the sight. Suddenly, they were all checking their own wounds, women’s screams filling the air. Even the men’s faces turned a pasty white.
Other than Luo Yuan and Lin Xiaoji, everyone had maggots on their wounds. Wang Xiaguang had the most as maggots filled her whole wound, their wriggling motion nauseating her.
Huang Jiahui and Wang Shishi were not any better. Their faces were pale as they screamed.
“Calm down! Everyone calm down now!” Luo Yuan shouted.
Huang Jiahui had not sustained as many injuries and her Physique had not been bad to begin with, so she had the smallest number of maggots. She quickly calmed down and said anxiously, “How could this be? We’ve been injured before, but our wounds were usually fine!”
“Maybe we got in contact with the insects’ eggs when we passed through the forest,” Luo Yuan guessed.
“The forest is too dangerous. I don’t want to stay here anymore. I’d rather die by the volcano debris than let maggots grow all over me!” Wang Shishi shouted, tears spilling from her eyes as she dared not touch her wounds.
“Don’t talk like that. When the volcano debris subsides, we will return to the highway. Let’s deal with this first. We need to take care of the maggots now, before they get more dangerous,” Luo Yuan said seriously. The maggots had already grown to the size of chopsticks, and it wasn’t even midnight yet. Who knew what would become of them if they let this go on any longer. Hopefully, they would not wriggle into any other orifices, or else…
Luo Yuan dared not imagine a stomach filled with them, maggots bursting out of it.
Huo Dong gritted his teeth and poked his finger into his wound. A disgusting slick feeling greeted his finger as he got goosebumps. The shallow wound was deeply rotten, almost engulfing his whole finger. Maggot after maggot, each about 5 centimeters long, were pulled out of his wound and thrown into the fire, the worms cracking loudly as they burned.
Almost a dozen maggots were pulled out of a wound the size of a ping pong ball. The flesh in the wound was like a honeycomb, some of the holes a faint white color. There were obviously still some maggots deeper inside.
Hopelessness flashed across Huo Dong’s face as he broke down and hit his wound. Blood and white pus splattered out as a large area around the wound deflated. The inside seemed to have been eaten away.
Everyone watching turned pale. They all felt chilled to the bone.
Luo Yuan’s expression changed. He could not keep his calm anymore. He quickly took a hold of Wang Xiaguang and placed her on the straw just as she was about to collapse. Her wounds were mainly on her back and calf. The wound on her calf was only the size of a palm, but the surface on her back was larger. Because it was on her back, she could not even see the severity of it.
Luo Yuan felt heavy-hearted. His fingers tried pressing lightly around the calf wound, but the skin dented before much pressure could be applied, the action making the maggots inside wriggle.
Wang Xiaguang lay motionless on the straw, her eyes looking up at him hopelessly as she asked in a trembling voice, “Am I going to die?”
“No, you won’t. I saved you, I’m not going to let you die,” Luo Yuan said decidedly, “I need the sword.”
“What are you going to do?” Wang Xiaguang asked hurriedly.
“The maggots are not deep yet. You’ll be okay as long as the flesh is cut off,” Luo Yuan replied.
“But then I won’t be able to walk!” Wang Xiaguang said.
“I’m not chopping off the whole leg. You’ll just be limping a little,” Luo Yuan said after remaining silent for a while. He didn’t tell her about her back, because he didn’t want her to lose all hope.
“No. Even if I can still walk, I will need to rest a lot. I don’t want to be a burden.” Wang Xiaguang bit her lips, tears streaming down her cheeks as she shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t come to the West with you anymore. I should’ve died anyway. I should’ve died the night my mother committed suicide!”
Her parents’ deaths and the distance between her and Luo Yuan had already made her want to give up. The condition of her body was only the last straw.
Luo Yuan looked at her soulless eyes, a sight all too familiar for him. He had seen it from two different people, both of whom had committed suicide in the end. He was upset. “You’re not a burden. Even if your legs were chopped, I’d still take care of you. You’re still young, there’s a lot of things you have yet to experience. The West is a peaceful place. Our adventure will be over once we get there. We’ll be able to live normally. You must persevere.”
Wang Xiaguang’s dull eyes suddenly shone, her pale face flushing a little. “You’re saying you’ll take care of me forever?”
Luo Yuan realized that Wang Xiaguang had misunderstood, but he could only go along with it now. “You must keep living. Don’t be scared. It’ll be okay after the initial pain.”
Wang Xiaguang’s face paled again. “Then be quick!”
“Shout if you’re in pain!”
Luo Yuan pulled his sword out and traced it over the wound on her calf repeatedly, his palms sweating. His usually steady hands were now trembling. Just as he was about to dig the blade in, he thought of something. “Lin Xiaoji, can you bring the frog over?”
The frog’s flesh and blood had a numbing effect, but it was not poisonous. It was the best kind of anesthesia. Luo Yuan suddenly felt grateful that he had not wanted to move last night, and that everyone else had been too concerned about their safety to go out and throw it away. Otherwise, Wang Xiaguang would have had to take the pain now.
Lin Xiaoji quickly brought the frog over.
Luo Yuan opened its stomach. Half a night after dying, its blood had already began to curdle. He did not need much, only a few drops. He picked up a straw and dipped it with some blood, dropping the droplets onto the wound.
Suddenly, something unexpected happened.
The maggots seemed to have felt the impending danger, and started wriggling out of the wound in an erratic movement. Soon, the wound was clear. Even the maggots that had wriggled into other orifices had come out.
Luo Yuan was both stunned and thrilled.
The atmosphere suddenly became merry as everyone dropped the frog’s blood carefully onto their wounds.
This particular frog seemed to be the maggots’ natural enemy. As they came out of the wounds in an effort to escape, everyone either stomped on them in anger or threw them into the fire. A burning smell filled the air, but no one cared.
When they were done venting, the women’s mood went down the drain again. Even Huang Jiahui had become quiet. Although the maggots were gone, they had left them with several disgusting wounds that they could not bear to look at. They were afraid that the wounds might leave terrible scars on their skin.