March 30th, a day bound to be remembered forever.
The sun leapt out of the eastern horizon in the early morning, carrying thousands of splendid beams of light into this world. However, they were not splendid enough to penetrate the dense red cloud and were stopped at around the edges.
As a result, three spectacular phenomena were exhibited on the sky all at once: the golden sunshine, the crimson fog, and the half-blue, half-red sky. It was a living catastrophe.
SUVs and trucks roared angrily as they drove in and out of the abandoned city of Huo Zhou. In them were materials and soldiers constantly transferred from one zone to another.
The municipal government building had been turned into a temporary command HQ. The old man with the black-rimmed glasses was the deputy chief of the steering group, taking care of the operation here at the front line.
On a podium, a professor was briefing the team. "The abnormality broke out at around 1:00 a.m. and with the exploration a few colleagues from the observation station carried out by risking their lives, we managed to obtain quite a lot of data.
First of all, let's look at the nature of this thing. As proved by modern-day experiments, in a dry environment, humans can withstand up to 15 minutes at a room temperature of 120 degrees Celsius 1 , whereas with a moist atmosphere, it only takes 48 to 50 2 degrees to reach that limit. The level of tolerance has dropped significantly because in the second scenario, the sweat cannot evaporate.
However, bear in mind the above mentioned was the external temperature. Humans are much less tolerant to internal temperatures. Once the body temperature exceeds 42 degrees 3 , a severe disorder will be caused in the central nerve system, which is life-threatening. Therefore, to the human body, the alarm line is set at 40 degrees 4 ."
In a grave tone, the professor went on, "Unfortunately, it just so happens that this thing is not simply an external temperature. It can invade the human body the same way as it has with the animals and plants, directly destroying the body functions. In a very short time, we will be dehydrated and then drained of all flesh and blood as if the thing has a pump.
Its core area is around 12.5 km^2 and our fittest soldier cannot withstand more than ten minutes in that range!
It is moving at a average speed of around 2.5 km/h—that's advancing 0.7 meters in a second. Therefore, it should arrive at Huo Zhou at 9:00 p.m. tonight!"
The professor paused a little to catch his breath and continued, "Flaming Mountain is surrounded by cities and towns on three sides and Kumtag Desert on the fourth, beyond which is the city of Urumqi. The desert has an area of 2500 km^2 and 400 km across from east to west. It will take the thing 160 hours to cross the desert advancing in a straight line. Huo Zhou, on the other hand, is 240 km across from south to north and 300 km east to west, with a total area of over 70,000 km^2. It will only be a few days before the thing take it over entirely!
Yet there is nothing we can do but accept it passively. We can't find any substance that could react with it. The spiritual essence is the only thing effective, but with our current ability, there is no way we can fight this colossus…"
He could not go on from there. Looking dejected, he walked off the podium.
The old man looked around the room. The same expression was visible on all his colleagues' faces—a mixture of unwillingness, anger, resignation, and a hint of bewilderment.
They couldn't help it. What was happening was so demoralizing! Ever since the dialectical materialism scientific perspective had set forth, they had never experienced anything even close to this.
"Ok, keep your chins up! We'll do whatever there is we can do. The most important thing at the moment is to minimize the loss brought by the catastrophe," the old man called out in a stern voice and started issuing commands. "From now on, all scientific research teams should not scatter. Keep their focus on the observation from the east, the south, and the north. The army units should retract their force and make sure of everyone's safety.
Alert Yiwu, Yangji, Bayan, Urumqi, Sha Zhou of Longxi, and Ngari of Tanggute: get ready for evacuation!"
He mentioned a few names in a row, all neighbouring cities of Huo Zhou or the province of Xichui. Then, he paused a little before asking, "Are people from Qiyun here yet?"
"They'll arrive in two hours."
"Ok. Remind me then. I'll go pick them up myself."
Lu Yuanqing was on a plane.
The moment it happened, Tianzhu Mountain was notified. Then, moving as fast as they could, they arranged him a flight.
Huo Zhou had a small airport, but because of its special geographic setting and natural environment, it was mainly used as an alternative for flights going to Urumqi and did not have regular flights of its own. It was not until last year that the first permanent air route was open—one that linked Huo Zhou, Yiwu, and the capital city.
Before taking off, the weather was closely monitored. Fortunately, the direction towards Yiwu had not been affected, which made the flight possible.
Being a Taoist priest cultivating in seclusion, he did not get much of a chance to ever take a plane—let alone a small private one. Lu Yuanqing was now sitting on a wide, soft sofa and soft drinks and fruit were laid out on the table in front of him. Yet he had closed his eyes in meditation, moving not even a single hair.
To be honest, the city-destroying abnormality level would belittle any individual. The reason they had fetched him out there was to help with forecasting, as well as… well, since they had finally obtained a successful graduate, to make this man useful was the least they could do.
Before he knew it, there came the sound of strong air current brought by the descending airplane and the shudder of the wheels hitting the ground. The private flight had finally landed.
"Priest Lu, we've arrived at Huo Zhou."
Lu Yuanqing opened his eyes and swiftly got off the plane, his loose-fitting robe and wide sleeves flapping with his movements. Several vehicles were already waiting on the tarmac. The old man went up to shake his hand as soon as he caught sight of the young priest and blurted out, "Finally! We're in a desperate situation here and can really use your help."
"At your service."
He returned the greeting with a Taoist salute and was completely cooperative, with no sign of resisting at all.
"Good! You're indeed the Taoist talent as they claim you to be!"
The old man was pleased with his attitude and led Lu Yuanqing to his vehicle. They then drove fast towards the downtown area.
The professor briefed him on the way, which confused Lu Yuanqing a little. "With all due respect, my individual power is very limited. What can I do here?"
"For one, run some tests for us. We have tried with ordinary people and they could never reach the core area, but it might not be the same with you—we will need some data from there. The other things is, we really hope you could go up Flaming Mountain and check what is happening there. See if you can find a clue."
The professor handed him a stack of files. "We're building an abnormality database, which will be categorized according to the degree of harm to ordinary people and cultivators, nature of calamities, range of affected areas, etc. You're the only one capable enough to provide the data. We'll be in touch quite often from now on."
"I see. I'll do what I can."
Lu Yuanqing took no notice of the condescending tone and was reading the materials attentively, losing no time to get to learn the details.
Soon, the vehicles arrived at the municipal building. As soon as he set foot in the lobby, the old man asked eagerly, "How is everything?"
"It has pushed forward by another five kilometres and everything else stayed unchanged!"
Without any delay, the old man briefly introduced Lu Yuanqing and said, "Priest Lu will go deep into the core and explore the area. In two hours, we will…"
"I can go in right now," said Lu Yuanqing all of a sudden.
The old man winced, but was immediately gratified by the announcement. "Sure. Thank you for all your help."
Right away, without a minute of rest, Lu Yuanqing went downstairs with a few soldiers, who drove him to the frontmost observation station.
It was only a few kilometres from the core area and was ready to be evacuated in any moment.
Three trucks were parked outside the door. In them were valuable equipment and the most needed materials at the moment: water, medicines, coolant, as well as various energy supplements that could provide quick boosts to the lost nutrients.
There was no time for chitchat. The soldiers loaded their vehicle with some materials and drove on. A short drive away, they saw a warning line cut deep into the ground, which was also marked by a flag.
On the other side, the red snake soared, devouring everything; the surviving lot shivered on this side under the remaining clear sky.
Heaven was a mere line away from Hell.TL/N: 248 F TL/N: 118 to 122 F TL/N: 107.6 F TL/N: 40 F