Those two had been in Grape Valley the entire time, staying in the area monitored by the authorities. However, since the outbreak of the abnormality, the government was too preoccupied to mind their whereabouts. Now that the pair came into their mind again, where on earth were they going to find the two at such a short notice?
The area within a 20-km radius from Flaming Mountain had gone haywire with all light and airflow tangled together, blocking out any detection instruments. Even the satellite cloud image turned up a blur.
They could only guard the perimeter, hoping their net had been cast widely enough to catch the two when they did show up.
The abnormality broke out at one o'clock past midnight, the meeting was held at six in the morning, Lu Yuanqing arrived at eight, then went in and got out… a lot seemed to have happened already, yet in fact, not a day had passed so far.
Huo Zhou, the municipal government building.
The atmosphere was extremely tense. Despite the people walking around, whispering, and doing this and that, there was only one sensation going around.
An absolute quietness, a suffocating silence.
So much so that a sticky, transparent, yet heavy existence seemed to have gathered in the air, pressing against each individual's chest so much that it was getting hard to breathe.
Bigshots sat around the foremost screen, comprising steering group members only. The look on their faces was even graver, for pieces of news were streaming in from the front, each more despairing than the last.
"North station No.1 fell back for 5 km. The station has been destroyed!"
"East station No.3 fell back for 5 km. The station has been destroyed!"
"Muli Village and Shuigou Village on the south have been destroyed. The personnel is ready for evacuation!"
The ceaseless reports pressed on like a tightening noose, upsetting everyone. After a while, one of the members could not stand it any longer and suggested, "Sir, I think it's time to evacuate!"
"Yes, it's too dangerous here. This place can only hold on for another couple of hours."
"Evacuate?" the old man asked in his husky voice. "Where can we go?"
"We can go to Yasha County. It's far enough to stay safe and the county has all the necessary facilities to make it a temporary stronghold."
"Then what? Wait for it to reach our doorstep again and evacuate once more, all the way until we fall back to the inland?" the old man asked.
The man found no appropriate words in return and withdrew in silence. It was not that he did not want to press on, but he realized that words were useless now.
"It is shameful enough that we could not defend our country, but we are not going to behave like the defeated or some craven deserters, scurrying away before the enemy shows up." His eyes running down the room, the old man said, "Huo Zhou is a city of our own. Even it is bound to be destroyed, we will witness it until the last moment."
At those words, all men stood up and answered solemnly, "Yes, Sir!"
"No sign of the target! No sign of the target!"
"Roger that. Keep watching!"
Up on a mound on the perimeter, a soldier switched off his walkie-talkie, took up his binoculars, and scanned the surrounding area. He was staying at a rather high position, from where he could cover it all.
His main task was to find those two. Unfortunately, all that came into his sight was a deserted land without a single soul.
Two other fellow soldiers had taken up two other spots not far from his, doing exactly the same thing. The three were of a team sharing a single vehicle—very practical and utilitarian.
It felt like ages when he took a brief rest. When he resumed his watch, his heart lurched. Through his binoculars, he could clearly make out two figures in the red fog, dashing outwards at a tremendous speed.
Eyes wide open and heart thumping, he watched as the pair broke out of the fog and headed straight towards the west.
He immediately grabbed a tiny device and blowed hard at it, which gave off a shrill and clear whistle carried far by the wind. One of the two glanced in his direction and the pair turned, reaching him in no time.
"What are you doing here?" the woman asked.
"I'm looking f-for you…" The soldier was a little nervous.
"You're looking for us?"
The man finished the sentence for him with a chuckle. "How lucky. We're looking for you as well."
Honks blaring, an SUV threaded through all the trucks and made its way into the courtyard of the municipal government. The door opened and a few people jumped out.
"Mr. Gu! Miss Jiang!" The assistant that had been waiting in the yard ran up to them right away and greeted them with almost unnatural warmth. "I've been expecting you. Please follow me upstairs. The chief is on the fourth floor!"
With that, he led the two upstairs, briefing them the situation as they walked.
People coming and going were all eyeing them curiously. The two fiends of Phoenix Mountains were notorious and now they finally got to meet the duo in person.
They were somewhat baffled at the same time, though. Didn't these two just come out of the restricted area? How come they looked all fresh and in high spirits? Lu Yuanqing was miserable when he was brought back to the base.
They were soon on the fourth floor, where the old man walked up to them in a hurry and offered his hands. "How do you do! Considering the urgency of the situation now, I'll cut to the chase. The reason we need you here is mainly…"
"Excuse my interruption." Gu Yu gave the hand a shake and broke the man off. "You were looking for us and we were looking for you as well. Let's make that clear first."
The old man was taken aback for a second. Instead of being offended by that attitude, he smiled. "I was being presumptuous. Here, please take a seat."
At that, the two sat casually down in the middle among all the gaping mouths and staring eyes. The roomful of people were aghast. That was bold! Did these two know how high a rank the old man had?
Well, as a matter of fact, the two didn't know.
"What we need is easy. You have Wang Ruoxu, right?" Gu Yu asked.
The old man had never heard the name before and someone immediately whispered into his ear. After being adequately acknowledged, the old man smiled. "Oh, he is sorting something out for us."
"We would like to talk to him if that does not trouble you too much."
"Sure, that won't be a problem." The old man did not beat about the bush and gave the order right away. "Contact Wang Ruoxu immediately. Tell him to come here."
Gu Yu was slightly surprised. He had expected they would talk over the phone before the meeting was arranged and never imagined the request to be granted promptly, flying the man out here straight away. Bosses were meant to be courageous, after all.
Since the other side had showed their ready willingness, they would reciprocate the favor. Xiaozhai said, "So, you need to see us because…"
"Have you been inside it?" the old man asked.
"Yeah, just walking around the mountaintop."
"The mountaintop? You have reached the top, really?" The professor sitting beside them was instantly excited and could not help but raise his voice. Gu Yu found his question unreasonable and could not be bothered to answer.
"Exactly what is going on?" the old man asked.
"Hard to say. The formation of the mountain rocks is changing and they may turn into a new type of minerals. Not all of the mountain was in the core area. The most severely affected area was Flaming Mountain. We didn't travel to the west, but judging from the east alone, there is subtle difference in the extent of the abnormality." Gu Yu did not hold it back.
"Is there any way to deal with it?"
"What do you mean by dealing with it?"
"A complete wipe-out. Annihilation! All of it!" the old man answered.
"Well…" Gu Yu gave it a thought and said, "I don't think there is. The abnormality is a mutation of the spiritual essence and a product of nature, which makes it part of the natural law. It won't be around for too long, otherwise it'll become a force forever growing without waning—that's something not allowed by nature itself."
"But we don't know when it will ebb away, which will make no difference if it has expanded to the Northwest or even the entire country before that!"
The two fell into silence. Gu Yu spoke again moments later, "Actually, it just dawned on me that there might be a way, but I'm not sure if it'll work."