On the city road beneath the mountain, Xiao Bai carried Jiang Shaoliu as it sprint towards the city center.
Sitting on the tiger's enormous back, Jiang Shaoliu was quietly lost in thought.
It would take no more than 10 minutes to reach the center of Yungang City from Huaguoshan at Xiao Bai's speed, but he had already been running for at least half an hour. The scenery around them was not the what Jiang Shaoliu had grown accustomed to. Instead, there were huge fissures in the earth everywhere and vast, barren, deserted areas stretching for miles and miles.
It seemed as if the land had been stretched and the distances between landmarks had become greater. What used to be 10 miles apart was now over ten times further away.
On the road, many monsters tried to attack them, but most of them were scared away by the hulking white tiger. A few brave ones rushed at Jiang Shaoliu, but he effortlessly slapped them away or killed them with his fists.
"This is really getting old." Jiang Shaoliu smacked a huge, swooping eagle's claws as they grasped at him. Its claws mangled and bleeding, the eagle bolted away sideways into a grove of gigantic trees. Its 7 or 8-meter wingspan was too much to maneuver past these obstacles and the eagle crashed into a tree with a loud thud, a lazy shower of leaves covering it.
Minutes later, a mouse as big as a cow, with fangs that flashed with a poisonous green light, came charging out from behind a rock. Jiang Shaoliu threw a bone-crunching punch, caving in its skull and sending brain matter splattering in all directions.
The mouse plopped on the ground, its four strong legs twitching. It didn't matter how poisonous its sharp teeth were, since they couldn't break through Jiang Shaoliu's skin anyway.
Walking and fighting, Jiang Shaoliu began to feel numbed by the sheer bloodiness of the killing spree. Xiao Bai, big as an elephant, grew increasingly violent, blood staining and dripping from his white fur.
"Xiao Bai, wait a minute!" As they walked, Jiang Shaoliu suddenly put his hand on the tiger's lumbering form. He heard the faint sounds of struggle in the distance.
After his period of training, Jiang Shaoliu had become so sensitive that he could notice even the slightest rustle of leaves or hint of movement in the distance. The sound came from half a mile away, but he could still hear it clearly.
Xiao Bai growled lowly and shook his hide. His massive claws slid back into his toes, making the hulking tiger's footfalls as light and quiet as a feather.
Jiang Shaoliu nodded with satisfaction.
They crept onwards quietly in the direction of the sound, eventually stopping behind a ruined building. Around the corner were ten strong, young men in ragged clothes, engaged in a fierce battle with a group of monsters.
The biggest monster was a two-story-tall lion, covered in bleeding wounds, some of which were so deep bones could be seen through them. It was staring with rage in its eyes at a man holding a huge broadsword with both of his hands.
There were three men surrounding this lion. The two others were unarmed, standing in fighting postures on the beast's flanks.
"Is that some kind of martial art?" Jiang Shaoliu thought.
Every one of the monsters was injured. One of the most seriously wounded was a two-meters-tall black bear, blood dripping from its slack tongue. Pieces of broken bone were jutting out through the muscles of it right hind leg and it was roaring and trembling in pain.
"These monsters don't have life rings but they are still putting up a hell of a fight. How can they be that strong?" Jiang Shaoliu thought quietly.
With a resounding roar, the lion leaped at the man with the broadsword, its steel claws tearing through the air.
The strong man swung the broadsword heavily and struck the lion's steel claws, simultaneously making a hasty retreat while his two companions rushed towards the lion, pounding its flanks with their fists.
With a low roar, the lion's tail lashed around like a steel whip, striking one of the men.
There was no time for the man to dodge. He could only try to cover himself with both arms and lean away from the blow.
The man screamed, launched like a rocket as the lion's tail swept across his forearms. He rolled heavily across at least ten meters of ground before coming to a halt, the flesh on his arms torn down to the bones. Bleeding profusely and unable to lift up his arms, he had lost the ability to fight.
"Damn!" Eyeballs bulging with rage and effort, the strong man in the middle raised his massive broadsword high above his head and brought it down heavily onto the lion.
But the lion was cunning. Turning its voluminous maw to the man, it let out an earth-shaking, sky-shattering roar, which almost made him faint on the spot. In this momentary paralysis, his muscles slackened and the broadsword fell from his hands, impaling the dirt by his feet.
Seeing this, the rest of the men left behind the monsters they were fighting and rushed to help him.
Jiang Shaoliu wanted to help, but realized it was too late for him to do anything.
Suddenly, a white figure flew over the lion, before going back and disappearing behind the bear.
"He's so fast!" Jiang Shaoliu's eyes widened.
Those who were fighting with the monsters didn't see this person clearly, but Jiang Shaoliu had a good vantage point.
It was a young man in white Tai Chi robes, carrying a long, thin, black sword of unknown material. The sword struck like lighting, and the swordsman moved so fast the monsters were helpless to even keep track of him.
His sword dancing every which way, the young master shuffled, pirouetted and leaped among the giant beasts, the black blade leaving a mesh of afterimages and streams of beast blood in its wake.
"Wow, what a sword!" Jiang Shaoliu compared himself with the young master and decided he wanted to spar with him, since they seemed to be similarly skilled.
After ten seconds, the young master stopped. The monsters were all lying limply on the ground, red gashes all over their bodies. The ones still alive were spouting a white vapor as life slowly left them.
The men who fought with the monsters helped each other up and gathered around the broadsword man, staring at the young sword-master vigilantly.
"Now what?" Jiang Shaoliu was a little puzzled. The wielder of the black sword had helped them kill all the monsters, but they didn't show any appreciation and even seemed a little apprehensive at seeing him.
"The black sword in your hand…" That broadsword man gripped his weapon tightly and said in a low vice: "In that case, you must be Liu Haifeng, the famous life ring master from Yungang City's Hongfa Group."
Turning the black sword upside down, the man smiled and said: "I've been hunting for treasure in the suburbs of Yungang recently and I've heard that you've got a strange fruit. I've been looking for you for a while now. Now tell me where the fruit is; just show it to me."
Hearing this, the other men grew grim.
They had just gotten that strange fruit from a place over 300 miles away, they took great pains to bring it this far, until that group of monsters ambushed them, forcing them to fight for a whole day and night. After all that, Liu Haifeng helped them kill those monsters just to get his hands on the fruit.
Their efforts would all have been in vain if they gave him fruit. On the other hand, they had no chance of winning against someone like Liu Haifeng.
"Liu Haifeng," said a shirtless young men severely: "the world has changed and humanity is in danger. The strong, like us, have to work together to fight for the people, but you…"
Before he could finish, Liu Haifeng sneered and said: "Haven't you ever heard of 'survival of the fittest', young'un? You don't even have a condensed life ring, only some puny magic weapon martial art. That fruit will be useless to you anyway!"
Many unique plants with marvelous properties had appeared since the great changes that had occurred on Earth. When consumed, some of them could make one stronger; some would make severed limbs regrow and cure diseases, while some would cause one to grow horns, tails, or even wings.
This was a time of danger and opportunity. Everyone wanted to get their hands on the fruits of these magical plants.
"Getting a life ring is only a matter of time for us!" said the man with the broadsword, somewhat embarrassedly. "Liu Haifeng, you must have plenty of these special plants in your Hongfa Group, right? Why do you even care about a common fruit like this?"
Liu Haifeng snickered, staring fiercely at the broadswordsman: "Hehe. Young'un, don't you know even the most common one is a treasure? My bronze life ring will become a silver life ring if I eat the Ling Bao fruit in your possession!"
"This fruit can improve life rings?" Jiang Shaoliu's brow creased as he considered this.
He had previously condensed a golden life ring, but the golden hook reduced it down to a bronze one. He wondered whether he could get back his golden ring is he had this special fruit. He listened raptly to every word coming out of Liu Haifeng's mouth.
"Give me that fruit and you will have a good life in the future as associates of the Hongfa Group. This is option number one." Said Liu Haifeng. Then he flourished the black sword in his hand and sneered: "Of course, you also have option number two - I kill you all and take the fruit anyway."
The greatest change brought about by the changing of the world was the collapse of the social system. There was no longer a judicial system keeping the peace, only the law of the jungle.
Might made right. It was as simple as that.
Sensing Liu Haifeng's killing intent, Jiang Shaoliu vigilantly squinted his eyes from behind the ruins.