Back in Grass River Mouth, the old man had a few mu of not-so-fecund land and was running a little store of his own. With the peach blossom on the island as a tourist destination, he was able to obtain a relatively steady income every year. It was not much, but enough to sustain the life of two.
Now that the island was filled with the toxic miasma, the government chose to resettle the residents when no alternatives seemed available. It was also a last-ditch move, for relocation meant a fundamental change in housing, employment, education, consumption level, and even social connections of all households.
In all fairness, the authorities did a decent job with the resettlement by taking a thorough consideration of various aspects. The fact that the old man was going to extremes was partially because of his unwillingness to part from his hometown and partially the result of his son taking the money away. He was all wrongheaded in his fixation on finding out what exactly that toxic miasma was and when he could go back home.
So much so that he was shouting at two strangers and rambling to himself at the same time, "I'm going again tomorrow. I'm going again tomorrow. They'd have to step over my dead body if they do not give me a definite answer…"
After having a fair idea of what was going on, Zhang Hongru found himself speechless. The old man's action aside, the child was innocent. With his insignificant position, Zhang Hongru knew his words would not carry much weight. All he could do was to leave some money for the old man and gave He He a few words of comfort before taking his leave.
Immediately after starting the car, he called his superior with the suggestion that they should closely monitor the potential instability within the migrant community and, better still, send someone down here to counsel the old man.
Such issues should not be taken lightly. A glimpse of a tiny corner could reflect the whole picture. Even if 99% of the population were willing to accept the reality, the remaining 1% still should not be overlooked.
Especially in a moment like this, when speculation on the toxic miasma was running wild over the media, their countermeasure should be more careful than ever.
Unlike the operation on Iron Mountain, which was a special small-scale night job and easy to handle, what took place in Grass River Mouth involved an evacuation of 60,000 people, a complete close-down of a town, the closure of connecting provincial roads, traffic diversions between Bai Town and the city of Dongyun… all those measures made it impossible to keep the news from the public.
The media dared not run the story in the beginning, but they could not stop the townsmen's own brainstorming, which spread out rapidly. Two theories were drawn initially, one being a wildly fantastic apocalyptic story, which few actually bought despite all the buzz.
The other one was a malfunction of some secret weapon of the army, which was relatively plausible and had quite a few supporters.
However, all such content was soon censored while the authorities provided the plausible toxic gas theory. Specialists were also brought forward to explain to the public.
Such explanation was shaky to begin with, no to mention that there were always some busybodies around—even more so were those bold and curious busybodies.
Centering around Grass River Mouth, all peach trees had been removed within a radius of dozens of kilometers and an army was stationed there now. Even so, every other few days, a couple of odd visitors would be caught, who were there to "case the scene" and weren't exactly secretive about it.
Some even went so far as to broadcast live on their mobile phones their "quest" into discovering the mystery.
The mystery of Grass River Mouth had already turned phenomenal. Despite the relentless disciplinary actions against the above-mentioned people, such activities simply could not be stopped. The vexed authorities had probably cursed enough words in their heads to fill an encyclopedia.
The car drove to the station at the northern slope, where the representatives of Yuan, Lei, and Zeng families were waiting as usual.
Gu Yu noticed that the road's condition was improved again. The dirt road was replaced by a gravel one, which made the drive much smoother. Had it not been for the fact that they needed to keep a low profile, the three families were more than financially capable enough to build an asphalt road.
After greeting the representatives, Gu Yu made his way casually up the mountain.
As the weather turned warmer, more tourists started pouring in. Gu Yu deliberately walked around the boundary between the inner and outer sections, taking in the sparse bustles and banters, as well as the curses from being blocked by the barbed wire.
"This wasn't here when I came last time. What the hell?"
"I was thinking of hiking the mountain. That's not happening, I guess."
"We pay 60 yuan for a ticket and there's restricted area, how desperate are they for the money?"
Shaking his head, Gu Yu quickened his steps and entered the black thorn forest before long.
The place was the same. Tall trees were surrounded by shimmering thorn bushes, the dark mass of canopy blotting out the sun and the sky, giving the woods an eerie look.
He did not think much of it and was about to go directly through it. However, a few steps into the woods, he heard a "buzz" coming from somewhere.
They actually ventured out at this hour?
Surprised, Gu Yu looked up and saw a plume of bloody fog filling the air and expanding rapidly towards him. It was made up of none other than the mutated venomous mosquitoes.
They were even bigger than before, their entire bodies blood red and their mouthparts straight and long—they were almost too hideous to look at.
Immediately after that, swarms of mosquitoes gushed out of the woods from his left, right and behind. The insects floated in mid-air like red clouds, their presence only partially tangible.
The four groups of mosquitoes approached Gu Yu but did not attack. They only surrounded him in the center.
Such a scene did not rattle Gu Yu, who only looked around and chuckled. "Xiao Qiu, come out!"
"Teehee, can you find me, Brother?"
As expected, a melodious voice rang out, which sounded fixed to a spot, but also coming from all directions. Blinking, Gu Yu dug out a few peanuts out of his pocket and whistled.
A fatty squirrel dashed down from the top of a tree at the whistle, then leapt onto Gu Yu's arm and started stuffing the peanuts into its mouth.
"Gosh, you glutton!"
Jumping down after the squirrel, Long Qiu gave Brother Fatty a quick knock on the head, which the latter ignored completely; its cheeks were stuffed plump with all the nuts. She gave it an earful, then waved her hand, at which the mosquitoes floated back in unison as if under an explicit order.
"Is that your Undead Insect of Blood Mosquitoes?"
"Uh huh, those are the offsprings. The mother insect is with me. It can move around on its own and doesn't need me to follow it everywhere."
She mumbled a few words in Miao language and a strange blood mosquito flew out of her body, which was about the size of a bottle cap.
Ordinary mosquitoes only had a pair of membranous forewings and a pair of hindwings that had degenerated into balancing poles. This mother undead insect, however, had as many as four pairs of wings in total. Rather than ugly, there was a strange beauty about it, for it almost looked like something carved out of blood jade.
Gu Yu eyed it curiously and asked, "Do you have to feed it with fresh blood all the time?"
"Not all the time. Once a year is probably enough. I can use my own blood."
Long Qiu was not at all concerned and even raised her arm to bare her little muscles, "See, I'm very strong now."
Gu Yu was utterly speechless. But seeing that Xiao Qiu was brimming with health and full of vitality, he stopped worrying.
As a matter of fact, having learnt the essence-consuming method and the forty-eight hand movements, she was absorbing the expertise from them both and was quite capable a fighter already; all she needed was some actual experience in battle.
They passed through the black thorny forest and walked into the small valley. Cottage of Pure Mind stood quietly as always; they were back in arcadia.
"Where's your sister?"
"She has closed herself in since yesterday, saying it was a critical moment and would not allow me to disturb her."
Gu Yu understood her reaction completely. He went back to his room and slumped onto his bed. Wow! Every cell of his was at ease. Having been loafing about in the outside world for all these days, he now realized that there was nowhere else like home.
Long Qiu brought in some tea and the two chatted on about the days when he was away and their day-to-day anecdotes.
Before they realized, it was deep into the night. Finally, there was some movement from the house next-door. The door opened first, then came the calling of his girlfriend.
"Gu Yu! Gu Yu!"
He leapt to his feet, somewhat exhilarated. As the saying went, the reunion after a brief parting is as sweet as a honeymoon and the longer a couple stayed together, the more passionately attached they became to each other. He was still brooding over the idea of a tear-soaked smooch when the voice came again. "Come out here! Let's have a fight!"