“You two wait here. I’ll go have a look.” Cheng Yang said in a quiet voice.
The cry for help came from somewhere on a cliff above them. So, Cheng Yang took a sword out of his ring and sprung upwards in a mighty leap. At the zenith, he pushed the sword into the stone as if it were tofu. Then, once it was stable, Cheng Yang pulled himself onto the hilt and jumped up once more.
With barely a centimeter to spare, Cheng Yang grabbed the edge of the cliff. If anyone from before the apocalypse saw this feat of strength, it would have shocked them. Cheng Yang had scaled an astounding ten-meter cliff in just two jumps.
When he pulled himself over the edge, his nose met an ungodly stench. Fortunately, he had smelled much worse before, so the odor was barely tolerable.
Glancing around the small plateau, Cheng Yang saw a pitiable trio of people. The first was a dead woman, the source of the smell, who looked to be in her sixties. Next to her was an unconscious man in his thirties who was lying in the juice her decaying corpse produced. He would appear dead if not for the faint oscillation of his chest. Finally, there was a young girl who was maybe eleven or twelve at the most. She was curled up on the ground with her back to the wall.
The girl’s eyes were out of focus, but she was still weakly calling for help, even in her current condition. Cheng yang didn’t need to ask her what happened to get the gist of the situation.
“Liu Wei, come on up.”
Cheng Yang summoned a bottle of water and a coil of rope out of his ring. The rope he tied to an outcropping and the water he pressed against the girl’s lips.
The water trickled into her mouth and although she weakly swallowed most of it dripped out. However, it was enough to bring her back to reality.
“Help… my dad.” The girl weakly pointed towards the unconscious man once she realized Cheng Yang was there.
Cheng Yang nodded, and at the same time, Liu Wei made it to the top of the cliff. She immediately understood what had happened and, instead of shirking away, rushed forwards to use Healing Light.
With the heavenly glow of the healing skill, color returned to the girl’s cheeks, and the ravages of hunger and atrophy disappeared.
“Please, help my dad.” The girl said with more strength this time. “Please, mister and miss, save my dad.”
Liu Wei moved on and cast Healing Light on the unconscious man. However, despite his condition improving, he didn’t wake up and seemed just as close to dying as before. Even if the damage caused by prolonged starvation was cured, the weakness didn’t disappear.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t save him anymore.” Cheng Yang said while handing the girl an energy bar. “He’s given up and no longer wants to live. If you want your father to stay with you in this world, you’re going to need to force him to.”
The young girl took the energy bar and devoured it with watery eyes. After a short pause, she turned to look at her father and struggled to use her stiff limbs to crawl towards him.
Seeing this, Cheng Yang sighed. Then, he picked her up and closed the distance for her.
“Dad…” The little girl cried out in a weak voice. “Get up. Don’t leave me alone. You promised you wouldn’t like mom did.”
The man’s eyelids fluttered but didn’t open. However, his head tilted upwards slightly.
“Ling-Ling… I’m sorry…” The man said with a raw voice. “Dad wants to go… see your… mom and grandma… now.”
“No! Please, dad, you can’t!” the girl said with passion while gently shaking him.
The man’s eyes finally opened, allowing everyone to see that they were the eyes of a corpse.
“You there.” He said when he saw Cheng Yang and Liu Wei. “Take care… of Ling-Ling. I can’t an-“
“No.” Cheng Yang harshly cut the man off and dashed his hopes. “Your daughter is your responsibility. If you want to die so badly, I’ll let her die here with you.”
“I…” The man’s eyes filled with a strange light as his lips twitched into a frown. “This…. the world is… perhaps… it is better.”
“Pathetic.” Cheng Yang stared down at the man with angry eyes. “Even a child is struggling to live in this world, but you’ve given up. The world has changed, but that’s not an excuse to abandon your daughter. If I can survive, why can’t you?”
Cheng Yang’s harsh words brought life back into the man’s eyes. He watched his daughter desperately crying before staring into Cheng Yang’s eyes with determination. Then, he fiercely trembled as he tried to force his body into a sitting position.
“Don’t force yourself. I can see you’ve made the right choice.” Cheng Yang said, pushing the man back to the ground before tilting the water bottle into his mouth. “I’ll help you both as much as I can.”
Once the bottle reached the man’s lips, he greedily started drinking the water. When his daughter saw this, her tears turned to laughter. She knew that her dad had decided to live.
“Hey, Ox, wait down there a while longer.” Cheng Yang called over the side of the cliff. “There’s no danger, but I need to take care of something for a while.
Once the girl’s father was sitting up against the cliff and eating an energy bar, Cheng Yang and Liu Wei asked the girl for her story.
Her name was Chu Yiling, and she was from a family of farmers who lived in the area. On the day of the earthquake, her father, Chu Qiang, drove her and her grandmother to the nearby general store. While they were there, the earthquake struck, and this mountain rose right in the middle of the store, demolishing it.
When the earthquake subsided, they found themselves on this platform and initially considered themselves unlucky since other patrons were at the foot of the cliff where Lau Hui was. They threw foodstuffs up to the trio since the distance was too far to jump while they waited for help.
However, the family soon learned that they were the lucky ones when they watched everyone else get devoured by monsters. After that, the family never considered trying to get off the small plateau they were on. All they could do was hide and hope they never encountered a monster capable of scaling the cliffs.
Their only problem was food since a water stand was on the plateau with them. There was a lot they could scavenge from the store, but it was only enough for a week or two.
The first week passed with no sign of rescue; no planes in the sky and nothing but the howls of monsters to break the silence of the forest. Qui Yiling was optimistic, but her family was able to see the situation for what it was.
On the ninth night, the grandmother used a knife to kill herself. When Qui Qiang discovered this, he was wracked with grief. Although he knew she was trying to help her family conserve food, the incident dealt a massive blow to him.
Ever since then, he’d sat next to his mother’s body, unwilling to throw it to the monsters below. Until, finally, three days ago, their food supply ran out. If Cheng Yang hadn’t arrived, they would have starved to death.
Although they were doing better now, Cheng Yang wasn’t sure what to do with them. If he took them to Yicheng, the journey would take forever, and they’d probably die. He could leave them enough until he was traveling back to Phoenix Village, but it would only delay the problem.
“Chu Qiang, I’ll be honest. I can’t take you with me right now. I can leave you some food and come back for you later, but I can’t say when only that it would be soon.
“Thank you, sir.” Chu Qiang’s face changed, but he seemed to accept that.
“No! Please don’t leave us!” Chu Qiling, on the other hand, was distraught.
Cheng Yang sighed. “It’s not that I want to leave you, it’s just too dangerous. I can protect you, but right now, I need to do something. Relatively speaking, you’ll be safer here.”
“We can come, my dad can protect me.” Chu Yiling protested.
Cheng Yang shook his head. “The world is different from how it used to be. Even if your dad were healthy, it wouldn’t be enough.”
After saying that, Cheng Yang cast Icicle Blast, creating a crater in the side of the cliff.
The father-daughter duo was shocked. Taking advantage of that, Cheng Yang summoned a mass of food out of his ring. Then, he jumped off the plateau with Liu Wei.
A few short moments, the forest hid Cheng Yang and his group from view.
“Dad, will that man come back to save us?” Qin Yiling’s voice quivered.
“He will.” Qin Qiang said with a firm nod. “He gave us his word so we can trust in him.”
Qin Yiling nodded, satisfied with her father’s words. “Dad, since that man is so strong, do you think he’ll be able to find mom when he gets back?”
“I don’t think so, Ling-Ling.” Qin Qiang said, fighting back the tears. “Mom went somewhere very far away, so he won’t be able to help us find her.”
He wanted to believe in his wife, but how could she have survived? She would have been home alone in the fields. Maybe she was still hiding somewhere near their house, but… the fate of the others who had been in the store with him crushed any hope that she survived.
“I can wait.” Qin Yiling said, “Mom will come back someday, right?”