No matter how prosperous the inner city might be, the air in the outer city made Tang Ling feel better because it held the scent of freedom.
Men, who sat in crude-looking bars with a cup in their hands while arguing with each other, would call out loudly whenever he passed by, "Hey, it's that wonder kid!"
The passionate girls on the streets would look at him with a burning gaze and were unusually straightforward. "Hey, wonder kid, did anyone ever tell you that you look dashing in your uniform?"
The lady who ran a grill stall along the street would also call out to him, "Hey, wonder kid, come to my shop and have some vetiver roast meat. My cooking is incredible, and so is my daughter! Do you want to marry her and eat the beast roast meat for the rest of your life?"
The people's admiration for Tang Ling was passionate and brazen. To them, he was the wonder kid from the outer city who got into the First Reserved Camp. He also had a crazy uncle named Su Yao who was also someone incredible although he was more of a wanderer. The uncle and nephew duo was the pride and glory of the outer city.
Tang Ling would never reject the cheap and delicious vetiver roast meat. Even though it was the most common wild beast meat, when coupled with the vetiver from the forest, the spicy and sweet seasoning plus a pinch of salt held a ton flavor. Every single taste and texture was elevated to the next level by the grill stall lady's cooking. What else was tastier than this?
Tang Ling spent five credits and bought a big chunk of roast meat, coupled with the fried biscuits that the other uncle made using scallions and corn flour. The mini-meal was very satisfying.
It was the epitome of happiness to him when the juices of the meat soaked the fried biscuits with its flavor. Together, the bite of the biscuit and the meat was unrivaled.
The warmth and satiation Tang Ling felt was obviously displayed on his face. He tried his best to reply to all the people who showed him kindness with a grateful gaze.
He liked the atmosphere in the outer city. Compared to the reserved inner city where people tended to act experienced and calm so that the inner city would look a lot more prestigious, he preferred the energetic outer city.
Tang Ling also felt like he belonged to the outer city. Straightforward, rough, and brazen emotions were in the air while the marketplace that ran through the day was the neverending energy of the outer city.
No glamour or elegance was needed in this place. It was rough and rugged like the meat and biscuit in his hands that would always satisfy him with a perfect bite and balanced texture.
He once dreamt of living in this place with his grandmother and sister. Despite the bitterness at the start, they thought they would live happily in the energetic environment. Things might not go smoothly at the beginning, but things would eventually get better once they blended in. All he wanted was to sit in front of the hearth every night, having dinner with his grandmother and sister while the fire kindled. The bitterness in life would then become better.
Tang Ling's heart stung, but the smile on his face remained bright as he did not slow down eating his meal.
After some thoughts, he spent more credits and bought more food along the way. Carrying the food, he headed into a secluded alley.
Su Yao had once told him that this location would be their temporary house. He also said that if he was not away, he would be in the house most of the time.
Tang Ling was not worried about missing Su Yao because the man had once disappeared for a month just to prepare Tang Ling for the entry of the dream, so he should not be going anywhere lately. Su Yao did not reveal any hints that he was going far away either.
However, Su Yao was obviously a liar. When Tang Ling opened the door, there was no one inside. The dead hearth did not even have ashes. The crude-looking furniture was covered in dust, meaning that no one had been there for a long time.
"Liar." Tang Ling slanted his head and grumbled, but he was not in a hurry or nervous. He turned around and headed in another direction. He would be the last one to start the cultivation anyway, and he had the communication device that he nicked from Yang Kong either, so he was not worried about being late.
Su Yao would not be far. He must be in that place—the Grand Inn.
However, it was not grand at all. It was no different than the stone house around it which was piled up with black rocks.
Maybe because the owner had a unique sense of design, the whole building was decorated with red and green leaves, making it look like a circus from the old civilization.
Tang Ling felt a little emotional about the place. It was where he had woken up in Safety Sector No. 17. He once stood by one of the windows for eight hours straight in his weakened state all because he wanted to look into the heart of the sector and tell his late grandmother and sister what this place looked like.
How sad and depressed was he back then? Even until now, the grief and despair remained, but the burden was shared among the friends around him.
Even so, he would still feel a little lost about the future. Where would he go after he got his revenge? What would he live for?
As a matter of fact, Tang Ling still could not find a replacement for the support he lost that night. Hatred could never support one's life forever.
It was rare for him to feel this emotional since he was basically a rascal to the bone at other times. However, he was soon interrupted by the bashful laughter of Aunt Rona and Su Yao's shameless and rough voice.
"You are really here." Tang Ling had nothing but despicable thoughts about the man. Nevertheless, he was still excited when he sprinted into the Grand Inn.
Tang Ling was considered a familiar acquaintance to the owner of the Grand Inn since he was the wonder kid that wowed the crowd and the madman Su Yao had taken him as his own.
The owner of the Grand Inn did not stop Tang Ling. Instead, he allowed the excited young man to sprint all the way to his destination.
Aunt Rona's room was at the end of the corridor on the first floor. If the evening was not that crowded, she would stay in the room rather than linger in the kitchen.
Moreover, Su Yao and her laughter had revealed their location.
"Aunt Rona!" Tang Ling ran to the end of the corridor. He somehow missed this kind lady who had given him two hot eggs before his exam and even cooked for him.
The wooden door was not tightly shut, so he barged in.
Then, before he got a clear look, he heard Aunt Rona scream in shock. Both Rona and Su Yao were in bed!
After she shrieked, she shrunk into Su Yao's arms.
Su Yao was in a rather embarrassing state. The covers were messy, and he did not have any clothes or pants on him, exposing his broad back and half an ass while Rona was behind him.
Incensed, Su Yao turned to Tang Ling and bellowed, "Kid, do you want me to kick you out right now?"
Tang Ling's face was so red that he could boil a kettle of water. Petrified, he wanted to walk out.
A man and a woman together? Naked?
Never doubt how naive Tang Ling was. Throughout his 15 years, the only time when he felt something in his heart was during a faint memory of a kiss on his forehead, but it eventually turned into a tragedy in his dream. Even if it was not real, it sealed the slightest thoughts he had about the relationship between men and women.
After that, he devoted himself to his training, searching for the traces of conspiracy in complicated situations and looking forward to the day when he could locate a place to live safely.
He always got hurt and would always be on the path of recovery. What he did was just to fill his stomach, and maybe because of his actions, the feelings between men and women, which should blossom during one's youth, were neglected.
Did he really neglect the feelings? Who knew? Not Tang Ling.
The naked scene on the bed caused a huge impact on Tang Ling, as though it awakened something deep in his heart, but he could not tell what it was.
Tang Ling stood outside the room, feeling lost. His heart came to a decision. Should he talk to Orston about this kind of thing?
Andy was not the proper person to talk to because his hobby was studying literature works of the old civilization with the girls. Yu might be even worse than him. That guy might not even able to differentiate between men and women! Vian and Christina? No. The thought of going to them was scary enough for Tang Ling since he might be beaten to death.
While Tang Ling was combing through the messy thoughts in his heart, rustling came from inside the room.
A while later, Su Yao's heavy bellow came, "Get your *ss in here!"
Tang Ling walked in, feeling rather embarrassed when looking at Rona.
Rona had dressed properly. When she noticed Tang Ling's awkwardness, she chuckled as if she had discovered something funny. When she walked past him, her chuckles got louder. She even pinched his red hot cheeks and said to Su Yao in an upset tone, "Su, it seems like you didn't teach our Tang Ling well about the manly stuff. The girls will laugh at him, won't they?"
Laugh at me? Tang Ling was triggered! Wouldn't people laugh at you if they knew that you kissed each other naked?
Rona did not explain much. In this era, some matters took a big step backwards compared to the old civilization.
When survival was harsh, reproduction became extremely important. A girl reaching 15 years old was considered legal for marriage although it was not common. Reaching the age of 17 would be the ideal age for marriage.
Therefore, many youngsters matured early and youngsters as pure as Tang Ling were really rare.
"I'll go make you guys something to eat. Do you want any alcohol, Su?" Rona's eyes were overflowing with kindness.
"Of course, it's better to get some warm alcohol at night," Su Yao simply replied. He pulled a stool over, sat down and signaled for Tang Ling to do the same.
Of course, Su Yao did not want to have a men's talk with Tang Ling. As Tang Ling's senior, he was not a delicate man to start such a conversation, so his effort would always fall short.
I guess I'll have to give him some money and throw him into that place.
Su Yao had always been this straightforward. They were actually discussing credits.
Su Yao's neck stiffened with thick green veins popping out. He slammed the table and bellowed, "You little piece of shit, how dare you ask 100K of credit from me?!"
"I'm borrowing it!" Tang Ling righteously corrected Su Yao's words.
"What are you going to return me with? Don't you even start with that working bullsh*t. If you so much as speak a word about that, I'll beat the shit out of you and you'll never walk out from this inn." Su Yao pinched a cigarette in his hand. After a second thought, he tossed another one at Tang Ling.
Tang Ling lit it up and said, "I won't say something like that. Uncle Su Yao, don't you think it's worthwhile to invest in a future Purple Moon Warrior?"
"F*ck off! I've seen more Purple Moon Warriors than you, Harsheen boar! Why must I invest in you instead of other stronger Purple Moon Warriors? Besides, with your appetite, my investment will be anything but positive!" Su Yao looked askance at Tang Ling.
"This is just the start of the return that you'll get. I've brought you and Aunt Rona something to eat." Tang Ling put the warm vetiver roast meat and fried biscuits on the table.
"I can buy these myself." Su Yao flipped the food over in disdain, but then he picked two biscuits up and sandwiched some meat inside before shoving it into his mouth.
"You'd better come up with some good reason to persuade me, or I'll come up with a hundred reasons to beat you up just because you asked me for 100K credits," Su Yao said in a muffled voice because his mouth was stuffed with food.
Tang Ling did not say anything and he started to unbutton his uniform.
"What are you doing?" Su Yao raised a confused brow. Did he somehow get smart? But why is he undressing in front of me?
Tang Ling was not on the same page with Su Yao. He removed his uniform and took off his shirt, revealing many horrifying wounds on his body. Although the wounds had started to recover due to his astonishing healing factor, there were still many fresh wounds.
Su Yao was first stunned before he reacted excitedly. He stood up and said, "Kid, did you enter the dream and pass?!"
"If I didn't pass, I wouldn't be here standing in front of you," Tang Ling replied with a question, "I passed decently, but it wasn't easy at all. Thankfully, I still have the qualification to enter the dream."
"That's great!" Excited, Su Yao could not hold back his emotions and gave Tang Ling a big pat on the back.
The pain was like a lightning strike on his back, so he clenched in teeth in pain. He would never get comfort from Su Yao, hence he continued, "That's why I am running low on resources. I actually got everything prepared and can sustain me for a while, but I've consumed half of the 2.5kgs of Level 2 vicious beast meat.
"Besides, after I passed the dream, I started the cultivation class. Coincidentally, I got something from the Mysterious Store. This." Tang Ling then took the precious manual of the Thousand Satin Skill addendum from his backpack.
There was nothing he would hide from Su Yao. If Su Yao needed this addendum, he would share it without a second thought.
Su Yao reacted calmly, but the twitching muscles on this cheeks stated that he was covering something up. He picked the manual up and simply flipped through it. Then, he asked out of uncertainty, "Did you just get this?"
"More than that actually. I…" Tang Ling wanted to continue but was stopped by Su Yao's frantic wave.
With the cigarette in his mouth, Su Yao looked out of the window for the night scenery. A while later, he said, "Fine, I get it now. You need resources, but borrowing credits from others is not a long-term plan."
"I have my own ways to settle the shortage, but I don't want to slow down. If I cultivate according to this addendum, plus the consumption in the dream, I'll soon run out of resources and I can't cover the loss even with the riskiest hunt." Tang Ling was straightforward with his concerns.
"I understand." Su Yao did not say anything more either. He stood up and put on his coat before telling Tang Ling to do the same. Then, he took him out.
It could not be helped. Like a seedling sprouting from the ground, it was the weakest but it also required the most care, similar to human babies who required the richest nutrients to boost their growth.
Su Yao had to take care of Tang Ling regardless of the consequences. He was not a lucky and happy kid, but he should not have suffered like this.
Tang Ling followed Su Yao out.
The duo met Rona, who was carrying a hot pot, along the corridor. She asked in shock, "Are you guys not having dinner?"
"We are going out for some business and we'll come back later," Su Yao said briefly.
Su Yao brought Tang Ling across the street and alley under the moon. Ten minutes later, the duo arrived at the bar where they used to meet.
Business was bad as usual, but strangely, the owner did not care. Su Yao brought Tang Ling to the owner and said, "Open the passage. I am bringing him to the Black Market."
The owner skipped the chatter and replied with a question, "Now?"
"Yes, now." Su Yao was also being straightforward.
To Tang Ling's shock, he asked, "Uncle Su Yao, you do know about the Black Market!"
"You know about it too?" This time around, it was Su Yao who was shocked.
"I know." Tang Ling always told Su Yao what happened to him. As a matter of fact, he said a lot during their last meeting but since time was running low, he skipped those non-important details.
Dealing with the black market was not as important in Tang Ling's opinion.
Su Yao instantly looked a little heavy, but he did not want to press on the topic at that moment. The bar owner brought two black hooded mantles and two wooden masks over.
Su Yao and Tang Ling put the disguise on and walked to the back of the bar. The owner opened a hidden wooden door in the wooden fence that surrounded the building. A dark passage was revealed.
Su Yao brought Tang Ling in. After walking forward for a dozen meters, a dim oil lamp came into sight.
It was then that Tang Ling realized the passage was no longer a one-way passage. It was connected to many intertwining passages.
Tang Ling thought of the map that the Black Market trader, Tony, had given him. The map listed 12 secret entrances to the black market, not including this one which Su Yao had revealed to him.
How many secret entrances were there to the Black Market? Could the entire Safety Sector No. 17 be filled with numerous holes in the Black Market? If that was the case, these intertwining and complicated underground passages would not be as astonishing anymore.
But how powerful was the Black Market? Was it really a simple secret organization controlled by the higher-ups of Safety Sector No. 17?
"Kid, now tell me everything about the encounter you have with the Black Market...everything," Su Yao lowered his voice. There was no joke in between the lines.
Tang Ling knew there must be something serious whenever Su Yao asked him questions in such a tone.
He dared not keep secrets either, so he told Su Yao everything about the meeting and trades with Tony, including how many trades had they exchanged and what they exchanged for. He also asked Yu to be a guarantor of sorts.
Su Yao was quiet along the way. He did not say anything even after Tang Ling finished as he was in deep thought.
"Uncle Su Yao, did I do something very serious?" Tang Ling was smart. He thought of something but was unsure of the consequences.
"Tang Ling, do you know how big is this world?" Su Yao did not answer Tang Ling's question and asked him a seemingly unrelated one instead.
"I don't know." Of course, Tang Ling had no idea. He had never stepped out of the sector's range!
"Now, let me tell you the answer. This world is enormous, even bigger than the old civilization." Su Yao was unusually stern and deep with his words.
Tang Ling was a little confused. What did he mean by "bigger than the old civilization"? How should he accept such a revelation?
Su Yao did not have the intention to explain though. He said, "If it's big enough, humans will get a breathing window in another century or two, people will regain some hope and life. It also means that there will be a bigger human population than when the old civilization was wiped out. Furthermore, how messy is this world already, and having failed to reach a single union, what do you think will happen then?"
"It will be chaos. I mean the complications between powerful forces." Tang Ling caught on the point quickly.
Su Yao's large hand held on to Tang Ling's shoulder and he said softly, "That's correct, and the most chaotic of all is the Black Market. The Black Market is a place where every force is allowed to have a say. Other than exchanging goods, they also deal with information, understand? It might be the biggest intelligence trading hub in the world."
"Then…did I make a huge mistake?" Tang Ling verified his own thoughts in a second.
If Tony revealed the deals and trades he had with Tang Ling, with a little thought and analysis, people would be able to figure out his strength and power, albeit Tang Ling using Yu as cover.
"It is still not that serious. Show me the badge that Tony gave you. Did you bring it with you?" Su Yao asked.
Tang Ling loved to put everything into his backpack, so he was able to get the badge after a quick search.
Su Yao took it and checked it carefully, he then told Tang Ling, "It's not that serious. This badge isn't trifled with because the trader that you encounter is the lowest rank, there even some decent cover ups here, but… the Level 3 mutated insect is still a little mistake. But with some Level 3 vicious beast meat, I can fill in the hole with a new layer of cover, given that you did not attract some unwanted attention."
"And…is that Yu reliable?"
"He is." Tang Ling skipped the excuses and gave the most direct answer.
"Trusting your friends is good. Even if you go through pain, there will be friends that are worthwhile of your trust." Su Yao strangely did not ask any questions about Tang Ling's unusual persistence in his trust.
"Uncle Su Yao, are there different levels of black markets out there? Even in the safety sector?" Tang Ling had a question in his mind and maybe if he could get it out of his head, it would help him in the future.
"Of course, there are different levels of black markets. The puny safety sector can never stop the black market. The only thing they can do is to get a share of the black market. The black market that the higher-ups of the safety sector control is only the lowest level of the black markets," Su Yao simply gave a quick and precise explanation.
"Then, what about the higher-level black markets?" Tang Ling was a little excited.
"Higher levels? Hehe, you can even get in touch with scientists in the higher-level black market." Su Yao tried to sound relaxed but his brows were tightly furrowed behind the wooden mask.
Still, Tang Ling could not see the reaction.