The two of them hopped on the train. The seat beside Zhao Yali was occupied, so Luo Yuan asked to exchange seats with the person sitting there. He helped Zhao Yali arrange her luggage, and then sat down beside her. There were two girls and a guy sitting across from them, and Luo Yuan naturally paid more attention to the girls. They looked like they had been crying. Their eyes were red and they seemed scared. The guy was tall and skinny, with lots of pimples on his face. He was comforting the girls softly. The three of them seemed quite close to each other, and Luo Yuan assumed that they were studying together at university.
“What happened to the train just now? Why was there so much blood?” Luo Yuan knocked on the desk softly, asking the guy.
The guy looked at Luo Yuan before he explained, “A big bunch of birds was flying this way and hit the train out of the blue. It was lucky that the cabins are thick and strong enough, and that the windows are bulletproof. Otherwise, we would have all been hurt.”
“A big bunch? That many birds?” Luo Yuan asked. He looked doubtful.
A guy in a business suit sitting beside him joined in the conversation, “He’s not exaggerating at all. The sky suddenly went dark, and when I looked up, there were birds covering the sun. Soon there were some weird sounds coming from the windows, and the whole train was shaking. Eventually, the train was forced to stop for more than 10 minutes until the birds left. Look, there are still blood stains on the windows as we speak. I saw at least five birds hit the window in front of us, and it freaked me out. Thankfully, this is a train and not a plane, otherwise we would have crashed and everybody would have died.”
The businessman kept shaking his head. He looked scared.
Luo Yuan checked on the window carefully and found that there were also six white prints on it beside the blood stains. Apparently, they had been caused by the birds’ beaks during the collision.
“Thank god we were able to catch the train in time, or we would have been terribly scared,” Luo Yuan said, smiling.
The businessman went on, “Things are getting worse, and we can’t predict the future. China has been reported to be the most stable country right now. Africa has practically lost contact, and Europe and the US are both in a mess as well. I’ve heard that many gigantic beasts have made an appearance,” he said with a sigh.
“China has a very big population and a small forest area, which is not comparable to other countries,” the young guy from university joined the conversation.
“You’re all still in university, right? Have you finished your classes already?” Zhao Yali asked as she recovered from the shock.
“A few people have died on the campus, and classes were forced to stop. We’re treating it as a winter break, but I don’t think we’ll be going back to campus anymore,” the young guy said helplessly, looking at Zhao Yali.
She asked him more questions, “What about your degree? Is that a lost cause?”
The two girls began to cry again.
“Who cares about our degree now? There would be no jobs available, even if we had a degree,” the young guy said. Zhao Yali was left speechless, her mouth slightly open.
The train was now moving slowly, getting gradually faster. All the mountain peaks along the way had been burned, but there were new crops growing already. Perhaps there would new forests again in no time. An hour and a half later, they finally arrived at Yushui City. The train slowly moved into the tracks, and the door was opened when it reached the platform. Luo Yuan and Zhao Yali disembarked, following the other passengers. Luo Yuan went up to the courier service counter to collect his wooden box. He opened the box quietly, relieved to see the knife lying inside. He opened his attribute board and allocated the remaining five points to his knife skills.
He closed his eyes and felt instantly energetic. He slowly opened them again and said, “Let’s go!”
“Alright,” Zhao Yali replied and began walking. After a while, she asked, “What happened to you just now? You looked scary.”
“Scary? Are your eyes alright?” Luo Yuan asked.
“I’m not sure, but it felt weird. Perhaps my eyes fooled me.” Zhao Yali looked at Luo Yuan, doubting herself. Luo Yuan wondered whether there was something wrong with him.
He recalled the differences and soon felt the changes. Other than gaining a deeper understanding of the knife skill, he was also more sensitive and alert to the outside world. Plus, he could focus his mind very easily now. He wondered whether upgrading the knife skill could affect his psychological behavior as well. Suddenly, he turned around and looked at Zhao Yali seriously, “Did I look like this just now?” he asked.
Zhao Yali looked into his eyes for a few seconds before quickly looking away. She seemed stressed and covered her own eyes. She hit him once, saying angrily, “Don’t you try to scare me again!”
“Alright, alright,” Luo Yuan said, smiling. He was delighted.
Although it was a complementary effect of upgrading the knife skill, it was still effective. People would get scared of him even before they had begun to fight.
“How did you do that?” Zhao Yali asked.
“I used to practice martial arts before, when I was in university. Perhaps it’s affected my mentality as well. Anyway, people usually get scared of me when they look into my eyes,” Luo Yuan said calmly.
“So you must be really powerful, right?” Zhao Yali was surprised and curious.
“It depends on who my opponent is. Normal people are usually no match for me.”
Luo Yuan was not trying to be humble. He knew that Zhao Yali lacked determination and he needed to boost her confidence. This mission would be a challenging one, and he expected a dangerous and unpredictable journey. He thought it would be good to prepare her psychologically for such a situation in order to avoid any distractions while he was fighting.
“Wow, I wouldn’t know if you didn’t tell me! You sure know how to keep a secret.” Zhao Yali sounded like she was blaming him. She felt relieved and thought there was nothing to be afraid of as long as she stuck by him.
The two of them talked while they walked to the nearby bus station. Luo Yuan noticed that the cars there were weird compared to cars in other places. Bars had been installed on their windscreens and windows, and there were thick iron boards around the cars that also covered the tires. They looked like iron monsters. Zhao Yali was stunned. She could guess how bad the situation in Yushui City was just by looking at the modified cars.
“Let’s go! Don’t think about it. What bus should we take to your house? Your call,” Luo Yuan said as he pulled her away.
“There’s no direct bus line to my village. We need to take bus 203 to the East Station and then transfer to another one,” she said as she recovered from the shock and pointed to the bus. They hopped on it and sat down. The bus departed after a while.
Yushui City looked desolate. There were few people walking on the streets and most of the shops were closed. The few that were still open had their doors and bars half down. Nobody seemed to be cleaning the streets. There was garbage everywhere and dark red blood stains were still visible on the asphalt. Apparently, there must have been some kind of incident there not long ago. Several armed jeeps passed by transporting fully-armed soldiers. The sound of gunshots could be heard in the distance, making Luo Yuan uneasy. Some passengers disembarking from the bus saw the scene and got scared. Their faces turned pale. They wondered how the city had ended up like this.
Zhao Yali looked out the window and remained silent. Luo Yuan tapped her hand and she grabbed his arm before he could pull it back. Everyone looked depressed and stayed silent. Luckily, nothing happened on the way to the East Station. The station was deserted. There were hardly any people walking around, and a few plastic bags were being blown around in the air. The area became livelier when about a dozen passengers disembarked from the bus.
“We’ll take the bus to Shuimen. It’s about 30 minutes to our destination,” Zhao Yali said as she led the way. There was only one bus to Shuimen, and it looked slightly different. There were blood stains and squashed flesh on its front, and holes all along the rest of it. It looked scary.
Luo Yuan suddenly asked, “Does the bus pass by Yushan?”
Zhao Yali looked surprised as she answered, “Yes, it will pass by a small distance of about 3-4 km.”
Luo Yuan walked into the bus while he thought about something. Zhao Yali inserted four coins into the farebox and they took a seat in the back. There were only about eight passengers on the bus. The driver looked frustrated and kept checking his phone. He went outside to make a call. No one could hear what he was saying, but he returned after one minute with red eyes. Luo Yuan noticed that there was an axe inside the driver compartment. After about five minutes, two girls go on the bus and took a seat in front of Luo Yuan. They made some small talk and then stopped talking altogether.
A moment later, a phone rang. The driver checked his phone but did not pick up the call. He started the engine and drove away from the bus station. Luo Yuan thought that the bus was stuffy and tried to open the window.
One of the girls in front suddenly screamed, “Don’t open the window!”
The driver stepped on the brakes very hard and yelled at him in a dialect. Although Luo Yuan did not understand what he had said, he knew it wasn’t something good. He quickly apologized and closed the window. The driver continued to nag him for a while before he drove away again.
Luo Yuan was confused and turned around to ask Zhao Yali, “What did he say just now?”
Zhao Yali bit her lip while she explained, “He told you not to open the window because that would attract rats.”
Luo Yuan was terrified. He quickly looked out the window. There was a mountain in the distance surrounded by mist. There were lots of holes in the middle of the mountain that exposed the yellowish gray stone inside it. There was even smoke in some places. That had to be from the bombs. He recalled the rumors of armed trucks entering the city. He was suddenly shocked. He wondered why Yushan was getting bombed. Then he connected the dots linking Yushan, the rodent attacks and the armed trucks. Yushan had to be where the rats came from.