Chéng Yáng headed to the front of the convoy to meet the man stepping out of the truck: Lǐ Wànshān, the owner of the lumber mill. For him to personally oversee the delivery process showed just how greatly he valued the transaction.
When Lǐ Wànshān saw Chéng Yáng approaching he jumped down from the truck and surveyed his surroundings with a worried expression.
“Mr. Chéng why did you get the wood shipped way out here? It’s impossible to build anything right now, the foundation isn’t even flat yet!”
Chéng Yáng laughed, “Don’t worry Mr. Lǐ, in a few minutes this area will be as flat as the Sìchuān Basin.”
Lǐ Wànshān laughed with him. What a joke! Even though Phoenix Mountain wasn’t steep, it would still take a tens of workers using heavy construction equipment at least a few weeks to flatten enough space for a house.
“Just unload the wood here by the side of the road, I’ll handle what happens next. Once you’re done I’ll trouble you for a ride back to the lumber mill to complete the payment.”
“Alright.” Lǐ Wànshān said with a sigh, “That’s your problem in the future, not mine.”
Lǐ Wànshān turned around and hollered at the muscular worker’s he’d brought with him to start unloading the cargo. The lumber was delivered in pallets of several dozens of boards, each of which required two people to move. The pallets were a lucky addition. Although the extra wood they provided wasn’t much, Chéng Yáng might be able to squeeze an extra unit of Wood or two out of them.
When Chéng Yáng returned to his friends, Yú Kǎi was trying to suppress a bitter grimace.
“Yángzǐ, please tell me that’s not what you spent our money on.”
“Sorry, but every cent went towards a down payment on that lumber.”
“Yángzǐ, if the apocalypse is really going to end, wouldn’t it be better to spend that money on food? Can you eat wood? Also, why’re we in the middle of nowhere? Surely there’s a better spot to try and survive.”
“You wouldn’t understand unless you saw it for yourself, so just wait and everything will become clear.”
Although he said that, Chéng Yáng was growing apprehensive.
If he was wrong… and the world didn’t end today… what then? Would he have to scramble to gather the money he owed Lǐ Wànshān? Or would Lǐ Wànshān just keep the deposit and take the lumber back? Either way he would have wasted his friends’ savings. Those worries were a heavy weight on Chéng Yáng’s shoulders.
Chéng Yáng threw those worries to the back of his mind. The world was definitely going to end. The existence of the Territory Altar proved that. If it didn’t happen today, he would just have to find a way to stall Lǐ Wànshān until it did.
— 4:50 PM —
Just ten minutes to go and Niú Bīng still hadn’t arrived.
Chéng Yáng pulled out his phone and gave Niú Bīng a call, but the response he got was disappointing. Niú Bīng had only just left Xiāngyáng a few minutes ago! Chéng Yáng had wanted to yell at his friend for not valuing his own life, but there was no way his friend understood the significance. All he could do was urge Niú Bīng to convince the taxi driver to drive as fast as possible.
Chéng Yáng’s heart felt heavy. It was nearly impossible for Niú Bīng to get to Phoenix Mountain in the eight minutes he had left!
“Kǎizǐ, Hàozǐ.” Chéng Yáng called out to his friends. “Whatever happens in the next few minutes, don’t panic and stay in this area for as long as possible. I’m going to go talk to Mr. Lǐ.”
Chéng Yáng darted towards the convoy of trucks before his friends could even respond.
“Mr. Lǐ, why don’t you let your workers sit down on the grass and rest awhile? When doing physical labor, taking a break is necessary to ensure accidents don’t happen. They have just taken a long drive so let them smoke a cigarette or two. Here, it’s on me.”
Chéng Yáng pulled out his personal pack and handed it to the man.
Lǐ Wànshān looked up at the sky and smiled.
“Well, since its early I won’t turn down your hospitality. Everyone, come on down and rest for a few minutes.”
Watching the burly men jump off of the trucks one by one, a smile spread on Chéng Yáng’s face. As long as they weren’t by the trucks those men should be able to survive the earthquake easily. If they did, Chéng Yáng would be able to effortlessly recruit them. He didn’t want to see one of his future subordinates get hurt.
— 4:57 PM —
— 4:58 PM —
— 4:59 PM —
Time slipped by, second by second, but there was still no sign of Niú Bīng. He wasn’t going to make it.
Chéng Yáng nervously began to chew at his nails, which put Yú Kǎi and Liú Hào on edge as well. In stark comparison, Lǐ Wànshān’s group was happily relaxing in the afternoon sun. Occasionally they would look over in confusion at the stiff expressions on Chéng Yáng and his friends’ faces.
Suddenly a massive gale blew directly downwards, flattening the tall grass and causing trees to creak. Wind didn’t blow towards the ground naturally, so everyone looked up to find the source of the breeze. The originally blue sky had turned grey, almost as if the entire world was being covered with a layer of wool.
“What’s goi-” Lǐ Wànshān started to ask a question but was silenced by a sudden, violent rumbling of the ground beneath him
“It’s an earthquake!” One of the workers shouted, causing the others to panic.
“It’s finally here.” Chéng Yáng murmured with a serene expression.
Even though the world was ending for a second time there wasn’t even a hint of bitterness in his eyes.
“Yángzǐ! This can’t be… Is this what you told us about!?” Liú Hào shouted over the wind.
“This is just the beginning!” Chéng Yáng shouted back.
The intensity of the earthquake continuously increased, but thankfully the trees on Phoenix Mountain had deep roots preventing a rock slide. Even so several large branches were torn off by the wind and cut through the air like knives.
“Everyone stay put!” Chéng Yáng yelled seeing that Lǐ Wànshān’s workers were running for the trucks, “This clearing is safe but there’s no guarantee that you will live if you run off!”
Although it was hard to hear him over the howling of the wind Chéng Yáng’s message still faintly reached the worker’s ears.
Even after five minutes the ground continued to shake like a sieve forcing Chéng Yáng and the others to their knees. It was utterly terrifying for Lǐ Wànshān and others who hadn’t known anything beforehand. Even for Liú Hào and Yú Kǎi it was a horrific disaster.
As they watched a commercial jet fall out of the sky to the west of them several questions raced through their minds: How many buildings will be destroyed in Xiāngyáng? How many people will die? How long will it take to recover?
Chéng Yáng already knew the answers to those questions.
Right now Xiāngyáng would be in utter chaos right now. As powerful as humanity was, they were helpless when faced with a natural disaster of this scale.
Despite its severity, not a single building would have collapsed yet. It was a small act of mercy from the Gods, but it gave the vast majority of people a chance to survive. After ten minutes, every building in the world would simultaneously collapse, making the towering cities of humanity a relic of the past. The only thing left to mark their glory would be rubble and dust.
The real danger of being in a building would be the stampedes as everyone struggled to escape. Millions of people would flood out of skyscrapers around the world. Too scared to take the elevators, those huge crowds would flood the tiny halls of emergency stairwells like a tsunami.
Once they got out, people would stand in the streets desperately trying to call for help or their loved ones, only to find their phones were dead.
What’s going on? They would wonder. How could an earthquake cause my battery to die?
If it was just their phone they might assume it was just out of battery, but since everyone’s they would find it very strange.
As the wind would continue to blow and the earth would continue to shake for what seemed like an eternity, every person, no matter how rich or powerful they were, would be filled with a feeling of helplessness. Even then, they wouldn’t realize the true horror of what was happening. They would believe it to be a simple earthquake, and the only thing on their minds would be a desire to survive.
Everyone on Phoenix Mountain was lying face down in the ground. Even if they wanted to get up, they would just be thrown back down again. Or worse, the wind might pick them up and throw them into the river.
“Look! At the summit!” Lǐ Wànshān cried out, “What in the world is happening?!”
In front of everyone’s disbelieving eyes, Phoenix Mountain was sinking into the ground like a melting candle.
Aside from Chéng Yáng everyone present panicked.
“Shit! We’re going to get trapped in a sinkhole!” Yú Kǎi shouted, “Yángzǐ, I think we should run…”
Chéng Yáng shook his head firmly.
“We can’t leave! If we do there will be more problems. At the very least I can guarantee we won’t be sucked underground!”
Chéng Yáng’s friends trusted his words but how could the workers who didn’t know him place their lives in his hands? Several of them got up and ran as best they could towards the road.
“Come back here!” Lǐ Wànshān roared at the fleeing men. Sadly his voice wasn’t strong enough to be heard above the wind, and even if it had been, the workers were too panicked to listen to him.
While the workers were cowering on the road the ground underneath one of the trucks gave out causing it to flip over. Although they tried to run, two nearby workers weren’t able to escape and were crushed underneath it. Soon after they stopped moving altogether. Fear spread like a plague amongst the remaining workers after the sudden deaths, and no one dared to stay on the road any longer.
Ten minutes later the previously towering mountain was gone. Even Chéng Yáng who’d known it was going to happen was in awe. He hadn’t realized how imposing the scene would be in person.
After half an hour the earth stopped shaking and the gale turned into a gentle breeze. Just when people began to think that the tragedy was over a voice burst out from within their skulls, a voice even the deaf could hear.
“Lowly vermin of earth! Your lethargy has angered the Gods! The universe is supposed to evolve through constant fighting! Although they are angry, through their infinite mercy they have seen fit to grant you the perfect environment to evolve.”