What Lin Naoi had once predicted now became reality. Even the weeds by the roadside had now begun to blossom with fruit. The fruit was red and aromatic. This certainly did not come as anything extraordinary.
Chu Feng could no long rest under his train of undulating thoughts.
This world had changed. Whether it was for better or worse, it had for sure altered the course of this world into something beyond anyone's recognition.
"Do you think it's edible?"
One had to admit that Zhou Quan was one of those people who would never lend themselves to worry or anxiety no matter the situation was. Allured by the strong aroma of the fruit, oh how he wished he could take a bite of it straight away. His temptation was understandable, but it was admittedly very inopportune and very out of accord with the times.
"Go ahead! Give it a try."
"No, no, no. To hell with it. How dare I? Who knows if it's poisonous. A bright red fruit grown out of a weed? That's preposterous and ominous. I don't want to be the cannon fodder giving in my life just like that." Zhou Quan fiercely shook his head.
But his physiological reaction said otherwise. He was drooling as his gaze fixated on the bright red color. It had a tempting hue that was highly suggestive of delightful tastiness. Its smell was, too, stronger and more aromatic than any everyday fruit.
Even Chu Feng felt surprised. This particular berry of a weed carried a gleaming luster. It looked like a red agate, though perhaps much tastier than one of those invaluable stones. So, under no ordinary circumstances, could this possibly be the yield of an ordinary weed.
Other passengers on-board were also impressed, but no-one seemed too astonished. Recent days had just been filled with too many things that never should have happened. Especially after the eerie encounter with that maidenhair tree, nothing could turn out even stranger.
Wild weeds giving birth to fruit was a bizarre incidence alright, but no-one would fear it.
But it was an utterly different story when it came to that giant tree. People had raised serious doubts about the possibility of it becoming a tree spirit that would wreak havoc on people.
"Take us away from here! I'm starting to feel more and more uneasy," cried a middle-aged man with a pale face. He was too afraid to get off the train, so he was instead glued to his seat throughout the duration of his endless waiting.
However, the train had never shown signs of moving ever since it made the stop by the station.
Time flew as another quarter of a clock went by. Chu Feng got off the train as well, looking into the distance from the platform.
That old tree was indeed a majestic being. Its body seemed even taller and bigger than an ordinary hill. It had a luxuriant foliage too, guarding the whole village against the sun.
"Look! Look what we've found."
A couple of people walked towards Chu Feng from a distance not far away, each of them carrying a blade of leaf as tall as an adult. Those were leaves from the maidenhair tree, but now it had mutated into something oddly gigantic.
Another man even managed to bring back a fruit that had grown to the size of a basin. He was struggling while carrying it. It was a yellowish ginkgo nut.
"How is this possible? Where did you guys get them?"
They pointed into the distance.
The maidenhair tree truly had an impressive size. Many of its branches and twigs had stretched out for hundreds of meters, hanging over the ground where Chu Feng stood. There were leaves and fruits falling from
the branches, serving both as a spectacle and a treat for those who had the grit to come near.
"Many of the locals are preparing to leave. They seemed rather anxious and worried," said someone who seemed familiar with the local situation.
"The train has halted here for quite some time. I wonder what on earth had actually happened on the railway ahead. This has not been the first time, just to remind you."
Some people could not wait any longer. They became restless with anxiety.
Up till now, no-one had heard from the crew for any further updates.
"Hey brother," Zhou Quan softly whispered and nudged Chu Feng with his arm, "I don't feel right about this. For so many years until now, not a single incident have ever occurred to this line. Today is way too weird."
"I wish I can get out of here in no time, but sadly, the current situation doesn't seem helpful at all." Chu Feng nodded.
It took the train all of fifty minutes before the engine came to life again. Most people had turned all flighty and impetuous as a result of their worn-out patience, but fortunately, now they could finally leave this place behind.
"Thank God. At long last, we are finally getting out of here." An elderly breathed a sigh of relief. Indeed, it was an immense relief to most passengers on board.
Far off to the east, dark clouds scudded across the sky. The deafening clap of thunder was soon followed by a garish stroke of lightning. A rainstorm was imminent, proving the capricious nature of weather once again.
Suddenly, the world outside became prematurely darkened.
Fortunately, everyone was on board.
"God! Why is that thing glowing?" someone cried out in alarm. Through the window, Chu Feng could vaguely see that giant tree gleaming with a layer of green luminescence. The glow was hazy and dim, yet it was soul-wrenchingly horrifying.
The tree fiercely rocked in the strong wind. Against the backdrop of flashing lightning and rumbling thunder, the eerie green glow became ever so menacing and ominous.
Suddenly, there was a deafening thump, which was then followed by a sequence of discordant crunches. Chu Feng hastily thrusted himself against the window, then realized that the tree had been struck by lightning. Its glow still lingered, but many of its branches had broken off, with many more gigantic leaves burnt and falling.
Clouds had turned the world into a dark void. Nothing but that glowing tree was visible to human sight.
Many ginkgo nuts cracked open, one after another, then oddly, they rose to the sky in an orderly formation like seeds of dandelion; then the wind came along and whipped them into piles of churning masses.
Nuts that had landed gleamed with faint light. Their shell formed under a film of fine hair. The wind tried to loosen up the hair and pull them away from where they originated. Then a gusto came by, carrying the loosely-rooted hair into the distance.
"Is this maidenhair tree or is this dandelion?" Zhou Quan seemed rather awed at the sight of this scene.
Within the carriage, people were all dumbstruck. That was a strange scene alright, but it was, at the same time, somewhat divine and otherworldly. It ignited anxiety, but for sure, it also evoked admiration and astonishment.
As all the drifting seeds settled, that old tree begun to return to quiescence. The branches, the leaves, the tree, all as one entity, stood the test of the fearsome storm. The tree still remained there, standing tall and upright, staying proud as ever.
The gale was blowing dead against the train. Through the rain-splattered window, the world became a distorted image. Nothing could be seen.
As the train soared away into the distance, the fuzzy silhouette of the old tree faded in the horizon.
"This world must have gone mad. Or is it you and I are going out of our minds? What on earth am I seeing? Everything contradicts to everything I've come in terms with. Am I going bonkers?" Zhou Quan said to Chu Feng.
There were far more people than just him who felt the same way. Silence hung amongst everyone on the train.
That place was now left behind. No one here would know what would ensue. But what everyone did know was that the world was restlessly moving. Anxiety, confusion and unease filled everyone. They knew that ever since then, nothing would remain as it was.
Many people tried to engross themselves in the communicators they held in their hands. Browsing through thousands of headlines, all they wanted was to learn more from these sources.
However, not a word had been mentioned about the old maidenhair tree.
But anomalies that had happened elsewhere were being repeatedly reported. In some places, rare beasts that had been supposedly extinct for thousands of years were now being spotted. Dry wells that had been exhausted hundreds of years earlier were now pouring out gushes of sweet spring.
All kinds of extraordinary omens seemed to suggest something major, something significant.
"Purple light runs on Wangwu Mountain. Is this for real?" Someone was surprised and bewildered.
This news update was astonishing to say the least, but going by the comments left by users around the country, it seemed dubious to most people.
But for those on board who had just witnessed a paranormal event by the old maidenhair tree, most were still half believing, half doubting.
Soon afterwards, another news update reported that the surface of the Dongting Lake was glistening with luster. A thin haze of smoke hung in the air as thin wisps of mist straggled up through the trees by the lake, turning the scenery into a wonderland.
This prompted conjectures and discussion amongst people.
As time went by, the train left the rainstorm and entered the boundary of a new piece of land. The sky ahead was blasted with glistening daylight, perfectly juxtaposing with the dark void behind.
An hour later, there was a new update on that floating tree. It was an unobstructed satellite image. This piece of news had been exerting its influence both nationwide and worldwide.
Those trees had a rapid growth cycle, and all had been assured by botanists that they belonged to the species on Earth. These were the ones normally seen as earthbound plants.
How did they get to the space? And why could they still grow while being suspended in mid-air? Up till now, answers to these question was yet to be officially given.
Undoubtedly, this railway journey had not been a particularly plain sailing. It stopped again at dusk.
But it wasn't long before everyone had figured out that they had stopped in the middle of nowhere. This was not even a proper station.
People became discontented and resentful, tasking the crew members to give a thorough account on the situation.
"We have just been notified. This line, for some reason, has been encountering all sorts of issues. Parts of the railways were no longer level. So my guess is, it's more than likely that the train may have to make a permanent stop here."
The passengers burst into an uproar, then into panic and confusion.
A porter then announced that the railway ahead was currently undergoing an emergency investigation. Safety and stability must be ensured before they could move any further.
Later in the evening, Chu Feng called his parents to check on them. He felt oddly anxious. He was worried that as the world started to become riddled with anomalies and peculiar signs, not a single place could stay intact from calamity.
In fact, his parents were, too, concerned about his safety while he was travelling all by himself.
As one might have expected, the train never came back to motion ever since it made the last stop. In fear of a major safety accident, the train could not move an inch until all latent dangers were eliminated.
In the carriage, many people were communicating with their family. Some did seem panic, since there was every sign to show that nowhere was by any means peaceful. As travellers, they were dying to return to a familiar habitat.
The attendants prepared water and food for the passengers.
If it had not been delayed, the train was scheduled to arrive in the evening.
At night, unease along with panic had sent people into a state of insomnia. No-one could fall asleep.
People whispered to one another to restore each other's nerve.
The carriage gradually diminished to silence as night became darker.
It was pitch-black outside. Even starlight had dwindled their usual shine. In a complete darkness, everything seemed more quiet and lonely.
Suddenly, an intense tremble awakened everyone with a start. Everyone struggled to open their eyes. The initial look of confusion was soon replaced by layers of fear.
What happened? What could possibly make such a heavy carriage tremble? Did something slam into it?
Many people's faces were as pale as a sheet. The restoration of peace was not enough for people who wanted an answer. The state of not-knowing lurked a growing sense of unease.
Some people tried to look outside, but it was too dark for anything to be unveiled. This was a mountain range. No starlight could penetrate the depth of the canyons. The darkness seemed ever so horrifying, so gloomy and so crippling.
Roars of beasts and hoots of night owls occasionally echoed in the mountains above. It was an orchestra of sounds and noises, yet amidst the dire and dreary situation that was right now, every sound could imply danger and calamity.
Another blast of rumble came with an intense episode of tremble to the train car. A shrill screaming then followed after. It was an involuntary cry of some passengers whose nerves had long been set on edge by this sequence of insufferable tortures.
"What is it outside? How strong can it be to quake an entire train car?"
This yelp of fear soon rippled across the entire carriage, turning it into an incredible din.
"Stop shouting!" Chu Feng snapped.
He was right. In a situation like this, staying calm is the key to stay alive.
"I know this placed," said a middle-aged woman in a fearful trill, "This is an ancient battlefield. Thousands who fought the war died here."
"Shut up! Don't you start with this load of baloney," roared Zhou Quan. But he did not exactly look well either. The paleness of his face proved the intensity of his fear and panic.
He was a frequent traveller on this line too. He knew exactly what this place had been.
"Right, you! Stop it! Ghosts don't exist, and even if there is anything invisible to us existing out there, I would say it's most likely to be a distorted magnetic field. But it will soon restore and dissipate," reassured another passenger.
Soon afterwards, everyone realized that all of their communicator had lost connection to the outside world!
At this very moment, everyone gasped in their demise. To them, this might well be the moment that would seal their doom. Undoubtedly, this blood-curdling moment of realization had further added to their woes.
This would sure be a restless night. No-one was in the state of mind capable of relieving for a second to catch up with some sleep.
A growing sense of unease unnerved many passengers from looking outside. Might daylight soon arrive was everyone's wishes. Many were still worried that a ferocious beast might be lingering nearby. Every minute of uncertainty took its toll on people's strain.
Before dawn broke, it became slightly darker outside. Fog rolled in, shrouding the mountainous region with its vast expanse of whiteness.
"What's the situation out here?" asked Zhou Quan.
"Let's go have a look," said Chu Feng.
"No, no, no. Don't disembark the train. Let's just wait until dawn." Zhou Quan fiercely shook his head.
"I think it's fine. If anything were to happen, it should've happened ages ago," Chu Feng asserted.
At last, Chu Feng, Zhou Quan and a few other young men decided to exit the train, hoping to find out what was really happening.
The dense white fog billowed over the landscape. It had severely reduced the visibility outside. Chu Feng and the others could not catch a sight of anything outside a range of a few meters. It was truly an ominous place to be in.
Everything was dead quiet. Not a single whisper could be heard.
"Fxck! What... what is that?" Suddenly, one member of the expedition crew screamed in distress. His eyes were wide opened with undiluted fear and terror. His gaze was rigidly fixed ahead.
This daunting yelp of terror possessed both the expeditors and those in the carriage. Everyone's nerves were stretched to a breaking point. The stifling tension lingered in mid-air.