The recovery of the spiritual essence followed a pattern: the density in the cities was lower than that in small towns, which in turn was lower than that in the mountains. According to Gu Yu's rough analysis, it should have something to do with the natural environment and the population density.
The fewer people around, the more natural the atmosphere and the denser the spiritual essence.
During his recent trips, he had been keeping an eye on the changes in the spiritual essence in various areas. From May the year before last when he ate the red fruit up until this November, he was almost certain that the entire country was now covered by the spiritual essence.
The direct impact of such a coverage was the mutation of living creatures, which, if expanded to an entire particular area, would become an abnormality.
Only a handful of residential sites were scattered around Qingning Province and the region was mostly vast, bleak wild lands, which was ideal for mutation to take place.
Almost as soon as Gu Yu rescued those soldiers, the reinforcements arrived. They regrouped and headed for Huagou Town right away.
The town had the strangest atmosphere—it was tense yet relaxed, busy yet casual. The soldiers mingled incongruously with the civilian.
Living around the frontline gave the folks access to certain information on a daily basis, which had inevitably enabled them to grasp some form of truth. Miraculously though, over ten thousand people still chose to stay behind.
Instead of the town government, Gu Yu went to the command post of the army.
Most of the troops stationed in Huo Zhou had been operating here ever since the migration phase. During their six-month rambling around the area, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai had had frequent contact with them. Actually, the army here had been delivering their water, rice, vegetables and alike when the two lived in the Grape Valley.
Hence, standpoint aside, both sides had left the other with good impression.
The officer in charge here was a senior colonel, who proposed to give the two a reception, which Gu Yu declined politely and only asked about the strange birds.
"Are you saying that there was one before this?"
"Yes, just a fortnight ago. There were three birds, which all scattered and fled. No damage was caused, so we didn't think much of it." The officer sighed. "But from the look of it, we will be on constant defense from now on."
"What's the natural reserve like? Can it be cleaned out?" Gu Yu asked.
"It's a vast wetland and impossible to clean out." The officer shook his head and went on, "Huagou Town is the only staging post left. Beyond this small town, it'll be nearly 500 km before one could reach the next city. Logistics are a nightmare here. All we can do is send for additional firepower, set up more anti-aircraft weapons, and garrison here for the long haul."
Gu Yu pondered for a moment and offered some information. "The birds are cannibals. They are very cunning and we cannot rule out the possibility of them attacking residential areas directly. Their meat is edible and contains a little amount of spiritual essence. Their feathers have some protection power and their blood is toxic and has an extremely strong smell."
The officer was taken by surprise. "Mr. Gu, what are you…"
"I think we should set up an information-sharing platform. Strange creatures are only increasing and it'll benefit all of us to draw up the entries soon."
The officer was a very sensible man and replied right away, "Of course. I'll send the report as soon as possible!"
The so-called entries were another name for a database.
Take the strange bird as an example. Its name, behavior, physical characteristics, usage and value, capture mechanism, level of hazard, etc., all needed filling in.
As vast as the country was, it would be unrealistic to leave the task entirely to governmental personnel or Gu Yu. The only plausible way was to make the people the driving force and let them provide the information, which would be standardized, arranged, recorded, and finally made into an encyclopedia on mutated creatures.
Of course, the specific methods would be left for the authorities' decision.
The three stayed overnight in Huagou Town. Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu set out the next day, whereas the fellow Yang Di, who had fallen head over heels with admiration for the two, volunteered to stay behind and wait for them in the town.
Speaking of which, Gu Yu's first trip here was to investigate the abnormality and he travelled here twice more to fetch the fire spiritual essence, which made this trip the fourth time he was in Huo Zhou.
He could bypass the military camp and sneak in, but that would be unnecessary. He would rather do things openly. After all, the government also needed information on the situation inside.
"Mr. Gu, this is as far as we can drive you."
Huo Zhou border, 30 km into the interior, a jeep stopped at a warning line. The soldier at the wheel found it a pity, for he, too, wanted to see the world inside. Unfortunately, his body could not afford that.
"Do you need me to stay here and wait for you?" the soldier asked.
"No, that's ok. I'm not sure when I'll be back."
"All right. Please be careful."
It was only after the soldier left when Long Qiu started hopping around, her voice filled with amazement. "Wow, so this is what Huo Zhou looks like. It is indeed miraculous!
"Is this the dead sand? It's whiter than I imagined.
"Why, there's a gray tree over there. It must have been flourishing when it was alive. Such a pity."
As if out on a picnic, she looked this way and that, as happy as a 174-cm little girl. Fiery fog filled the air all around her, which drifted slowly.
The air above was also foggy, as if the sky was no longer there. Looking down, they saw nothing but white dead sand, rustic debris and powder, as well as gray, shrivelled plants.
It almost felt as if those were the only four colors existing in this world.
It was no wonder that only those that had experienced that catastrophe were able to perceive the shock of seeing life draining away and the fear of watching the world collapse.
Gu Yu's feeling was slightly different. The fire spiritual essence had become steadier here and a stable natural environment had already taken shape.
Don't despise it. An abominable environment was as much an environment as a beautiful one. It destroyed things, but gave birth to other things all the same. As long as the energy and substance reached an equilibrium, life was bound to return.
Such was what was happening here. The two had walked only a short distance before they discovered a cluster of dark brown bushes.
The plant was about 5 cm tall, had seven striped leaves, and grew in a tight little heap. They looked weak but determined as they hung on toughly.
"That's unbelievable. New life already."
He crouched down, picked a few, and put into his gourd.
They then walked on. No more than 10 km later, a twisted short tree suddenly came into their sight. Under the tree was a hole, from where a rat with red skin and black tail was just coming out, its long whiskers shivering in the air. However, seeing Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu, it hurried back in.
Gu Yu and Xiao Qiu exchanged a look and tacitly fell back for a few steps, where they watched in silence.
A while later, the rat reappeared. It scurried off to a small mound nearby, shoved out a small red stone, and stuffed it into its mouth.
"Oh my, is it eating stones?"
Xiao Qiu blinked, finding that amazing. Gu Yu said, "It's not the stone it's after, but the fire spiritual essence inside."
As predicted, the rat chewed, then spit out a lump like a muddy ball. The fire spiritual essence inside had been drained.
Gu Yu found it very intriguing. He did not find the muddy ball gross, but picked it up and put it into his wooden box.
The two collected like so as they proceeded, discovering quite a few short and small plants and animals, all mutated species.
Meanwhile, in Yiwu, Yangji, Banyan, Longxi, and other places, a few groups of people had snuck into Huo Zhou with the help of some corrupted soldiers.