The proximity to the Mountain of White Snake was all scattered with vigilant mutants guarding every passage that lead into the mountain's depth.
The profound diligence with with all the mutants posed confirmed the existence of that rumored tree in the mountain's depth. The guards all seemed quite on edge while defending the mountain against any intrusions that could potentially deprive their gain of the fruit borne.
"I will climb up the cliff. I'm sure that will get me around these people," Chu Feng said. Then, he glanced back to see Yellow Ox. "Do you reckon you are able to climb after me?"
Yellow Ox proudly stood on its pair of hind hooves. Its torso was upright and stiffened, then, in an imposing manner, the calf shadow boxed and wrestled, brandishing its agile body. The calf was confirming that it was more than capable.
The two slinked around in the dense forest, covering their trails with the shadow cast by the overgrown crown of the trees above. Finally, they came near a bold cliff, unnoticed. The cliff formed a beetling wall vertical to the ground, but it was not much of a challenge for Chu Feng to clamber up.
Suddenly, Chu Feng halted all his movements and said, "If an average mutant can climb up this cliff, then there is no way that the Deity Biomedical Group would leave this place unguarded. Perhaps this route will prove to be even more dangerous than all of the others."
Chu Feng raised his head and studied the cliff. The cliff was cragged and abrupt. Not even a blade of grass grew on its rocky surface.
"Son of a b*tch!" Chu Feng noticed something odd.
He could see numerous fractures and cracks sprawling up along the cliff's surface. They were clearly not caused by nature, since there were trails that suggested someone had been deliberately attempting to conceal these fractures with great effort.
"The cliff has been bombarded by rocket launchers!" Chu Feng cried out in alarm.
He could even see patches of bloodstain smearing the rocky surface of this cragged cliff with plots of mauve marks.
This revealed someone's earlier attempt to clamber up the cliff, but clearly, the attempt had ended in a miserable failure and a brutal death.
This must have been someone who had had the similar idea in wishing that the cliff was the way around the mutants' defense, but failed to realize that it was all an ambush set up for them to be cold-bloodedly bombarded by the deadly rockets fired in unison.
Chu Feng and Yellow Ox retreated. Being degraded into a gory mixture of flesh and blood was not necessarily the only outcome if they were determined to climb up the cliff. The two decided that it was not the time yet to beat the grass and alert the snake.
The Mountain of White Snake was quite a sizeable one, so Chu Feng was convinced that there must be a loophole in the defense that could allow him and Yellow Ox to bypass and sneak in. The Deity Biomedical Group simply did not have the manpower to cover and block every entrance into this vast mountain range.
On his way to find this alternative route, Chu Feng saw tens of hundreds of mutants who were also in hiding and looking for ways to enter. The Mountain of White Snake had become a whirlpool of danger and violence. Tension was rapidly reaching a breaking point.
The earth had been stained with many patches of dried blood. There were also broken horns and fragmented scales littering under the bushes. These were once the body parts of many mutants that were now only left to become decomposing piles of despicable dirt.
Fights had broken out that resulted in severe casualties. This was only the beginning, and no-one could predict how fierce and severe the fights would evolve into once the legendary fruit became ripe and mature. Chu Feng vented out a sigh as he realized how much of a difficulty it would be for him to snatch the fruit and rise above the rest amidst all the strafes and slaughters between the mutants and the armed soldiers.
As expected, Chu Feng did find an opening through which he could infiltrate the enemy's defense and enter the mountain unnoticed. Having successfully penetrated that iron wall of defense, Chu Feng had to stay even more careful while blindly navigating on the meandering tracks carved out in between the dense woods.
A shelf of land extended from an escarpment of the mountain. It was an area of the clearing sparsely populated with colossal trees that had been living since the ancient times. The slope of the ground there grew gradual, juxtaposing greatly with the precipitous woody lands around it. There were also many other mutants heading towards the area.
Chu Feng and Yellow Ox joined the others and arrived at the region too. There were a few maidenhair trees which had grown for at least hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Decrepit barks were peeling off from the ancient trunks, exposing its inner layers that were equally pristine. The trunk was a perfect embodiment of age and authority, with an awe-inspiring thickness that required multiple adults to encircle it over.
"Wolves?" Chu Feng was taken aback.
He could sense a peculiar smell. It was the smell typical of a savage beast. With his extraordinary eyesight, he saw, in the distance, a pack of wild wolves, brandishing their cutting fangs and putting up an evident display of their inherent ferocity.
Were they guarding here to compete for the fruit?
There was one amongst them which stood out as particularly strange. Its fangs were of uncanny sharpness, protruding outwards from its bloody mouth. Its torso had the size of a grown yap; but all in all, what struck Chu Feng as the most peculiar was the fact that the furs under which its skin was layered were not furs in an ordinary sense, but instead they had calcified and formed a layer of impenetrable stone-like feature.
This beast was a Stone Wolf!
Clearly, this was the yield of a mutation like that on a human being!
The Stone Wolf, however, was dwarfed in size when compared to one of its companions. There was another wolf who had the size of a house. Its body gleamed with a metallic glister as if its body was made of bronze. It opened its bloody mouth, revealing the horrific inside of its cavity. The fangs, too, had a bronze color and a metallic texture.
"Metal Wolf?" Chu Feng was astounded.
Both wolves had mutated to an otherworldly being. Both might have consumed a mystical fruit of some sorts which then caused them to evolve and improve in power and ability.
The two had lead an entire pack of fearsome wolves to guard the region. Clearly, they were also waiting for the fruit to become mature.
Chu Feng made his way to another position to catch a clearer sight of that legendary tree. Earlier, it had been hiding behind a maidenhair tree outside his line of sight.
It was a pine tree, and just like the legend said, it was rather short and small. It only measured around a meter in height, and judging by the fresh bark of its trunk, the tree had not lived its life for more than two years. However, it had somehow mutated, and this mutation rendered its leaves glittering with a lively hint of green.
The pine tree was growing luxuriantly. The presence of an air of extraordinary vitality was evident around it. Standing far in the distance, Chu Feng could still tell that the tree was leading off a fairly good life.
A pine cone was cultivating amidst the verdant crown of this exuberating tree. Layers of seeds formed sheets of rugged layers within it.
The pine cone itself was half green and half golden. The green was light and soft, while the golden luster had a pleasant purplish hue, glittering and dazzling.
A pine tree of this size should not bear any fruits; however, the mutated pine tree had broken all norms: its body was gleaming with a verdant hue, and its pines had grown larger than a grown man's fist.
Upon anyone's first sighting, they would know that this tree was a kind of its own.
The pine was yet to split to reveal its turgid inside, but a delightful and alluring aroma of such intensity had already started suffusing the air to warn all those who were lurking nearby to peel their spying eyes and stay mindful for the development of the fruit.
All the mutants who had come here uninvited had all stayed alerted and vigilant. No-one dared to boldly commit a regrettable action, fearing that any inattentive behaviors might result in their tragic death. Even the wolves were patient, silently lurking in the proximity, poised for a fight.
"Are those bodies?"
Chu Feng was bewildered. He saw dead bodies piling up between the bushes not far in the distance. Many of them belonged to the once powerful mutants, and some belonged to the ferocious beasts who had been prowling nearby.
Their bodies shared a universal trait of displaying a purplish blackness. This suggested that their deaths were not caused by brutal combats, but by insidious poison.
"Be careful. It seems to be the case that anyone who stand within a ten-meter distance away from the tree would be instantly killed by incorrigible poison. Look at those bodies. Those are the product of this insidious poison."
"The Deity Biomedical Group had discovered this place long before us; however, the expedition team they sent out had all been killed by this same poison. But those bastards did not disclose any of these to the outside, so people still would come and unknowingly die here."
"Yes, I heard about that too. There had been numerous attempts made by some of their rival companies who sent out men to snatch the fruit long before its maturity. But, unsurprisingly and, as you guessed it, all died a horrible death."
"Let's go, man. It's not safe here. Let's just wait this out and see how things will turn out after the fruit becomes mature."
They were whispers in the darkness under the shadows of the bushes. Everyone seemed to have reached a consensus that although Deity Biomedical Group seemed to have relaxed their vigilance in guarding the defense line along the outer boundary of the mountain, this could as well be trap set by them to lure the unknowing and the unaware to their demise.
The whispers in the bushes faded as more and more mutants started leaving in fear of a potential tragic death.
"Do you think we should just go for it? Take the fruit and run?" Chu Feng asked Yellow Ox.
Yellow Ox shook its head, but its eyes were pleadingly fixated on that pine cone in the distance. Clearly, the cone was as much of an attraction to it as anything else that were edible, but there was something holding it back from its ardent urge.
"Taking before maturity, the fruit will melt." Yellow Ox wrote on the ground.
This made Chu Feng resign from his risky plan.
At the same time, he also agreed with the words that were whispered between those mutants. The Deity Biomedical Group must have prepared something to be used as their trump card if needed. With all the toiling preparation works done up to this stage, it was unlikely for them to drop their guard in the last second.
Chu Feng stood in the dark alongside the eager Yellow Ox for quite some time before suddenly, a light thumping noise sounded in the distance. Some of the boulders and sand had been pushed aside, revealing an inconspicuous crack on the ground. There were someone peeking out through the fissure!
Someone was hiding underground?!
Chu Feng was astounded. He was afraid that the entire mountain might have perhaps been hollowed up by the Deity Biomedical Group, and everything was indeed within their control.
"Hurry up! Let's leave this place." Chu Feng had been shuddering in fear since the moment he landed foot in this mountain. Now, it seemed like the perfect time for him to exit from this place where one was apt to get into trouble.
Yellow Ox had always been wary and aware of its surroundings. It felt threatened too.
The two quickly scurried off in the homeward direction in silence.
"It's too difficult to acquire the fruit, but I will at least take some of that dirt away with me!"
This was the minimum goal Chu Feng set for himself.
He expected that the soil that had been cultivating this mutated tree could perhaps prove to be more valuable than the fruit.
While all the mutants had set their eyes onto the wondrous fruit, few would solicitude for the customary soil underneath. This was an opportunity for Chu Feng, and it was also a safer task to commit.
Chu Feng lingered in the mountain then transferred all the rocket launchers he had captured earlier to separate locations in the proximity of the Mountain of White Snake, burying them deep underground.
"If the plan goes smoothly, this will be my get-away route. Then, if anyone dares to chase after me, I will greet all of them with these rocket launchers!"
Born and raised in the area, perhaps no-one knew their way around the mountains here better than Chu Feng did. Chu Feng attentively drew out a route on a map on his mind for escape. Then, in Yellow Ox's company, they embarked upon their homeward journey.
On their way home, the two passed by the very spot where Chu Feng encountered Yellow Ox for the first time. It was here where Zhou Quan hastily swallowed the scarlet fruit without scruple, which, in turn, granted him the power to project flaming blaze that could melt stones and gold.
Yellow Ox, on the other hand, only managed to snatch a few leaves from the grassy plant and disgorge the rootstock in the end.
Chu Feng was pleasantly surprised as he suddenly caught sight of that very rootstock lying at the same spot. There were still no signs of withering even weeks after getting discarded, thanks to that nail-sized chunk of dirt that had entangled something glittering within.
So far, he had collected five special samples of soil that Chu Feng was hoping to grant life to the seeds he had planted.
Chu Feng spread his newly acquired fertilizer with each seed being reburied with a minute chunk of the special dirt.
In the end, he was still left with another two chunks of the dirt, but he was worried that an overdose of these powerful dirt might prove to be fatal for his seeds. Sometimes, going beyond the limit could be as bad as falling short.
"Tsi Wang Mu and Fairy of Ninth Heaven! How I wish that that I can see you sprouting in action right now!" Chu Feng murmured.
Chu Feng fetched a stone box. He planned to use it to store the two chunks of dirt he had been left with.
This was the box he acquired at the foot of Kunlun Mountains. The three seeds were found in there.
The box was three-inch-tall with a perfect cubic shape, but after revealing its inside, one could tell that its capacity was rather limited. Accommodating three shrivelled seeds had already proven to be much of a stretch to its ability, let alone storing chunks of dirt that were significantly greater in volume than the box's interior.
Chu Feng withdrew his trusty old stagger, planning to thin the walls of the box so that its holding capacity could extend a bit more. Chu Feng had planned to use it as a storage to hold any more special dirt he would find in the future.
As expected, the cutting blade of the stagger cut clean through the stone as though it were mud. The stone that formed the unnecessarily thick wall of the box was minced to bits and pieces of powdery fragments, allowing the box's interior to extend for quite a bit.
Suddenly, Chu Feng could feel a force of immense resistance stopping him from twitching the cutting blade of his black stagger any further. The blade had reached the edge of the stone box, but it suddenly became impossible to cut through.
Chu Feng was taken aback by the loud metallic clonk that sounded. He carefully examined this wondrous box while his blade continued digging. The amount of resistance the tip of his blade received made him realize how firm this box had suddenly become. Even his blade could do no damnification to it at all.
Having blown away the chips of the stone's powder, he drew the box closer to his eyes. He caught a vague sight of some etched patterns on the inside of the wall. This prompted him to question: was this whole thing a man-made artefact or just a naturally-formed wonder?
Before long, he realized that this was the true face of this box. The stones he just chipped away had been, in fact, stuffed into this compact box by its original designer. No wonder he could remove them that easily.
Yellow Ox came closer. It looked at the stone box, then fixated on the stone fragments on the ground. To Chu Feng's surprise, the look on its face seemed ever so solemn.
It lowered its head then held the stone box in its hooves, thoroughly examining its composition. It then started nibbling at the pulverized pieces of the dug-out stones, thoughtfully tasting it in its mouth.
Suddenly, its expression took a shift!
The calf hurriedly scribbled a line of words on the ground.
At the same time, Chu Feng's communicator rang a shrilling ring. The voice of Lin Naoi sounded as he picked it up. Her words were simple and plain: "I will be at Taihang Mountains tomorrow."
Just then, the exclamation, "You old witch", almost slipped out of his babbling mouth as an instinct; but luckily, it was stopped in time. To his surprise, it not that same woman this time.