A sweltering summer ’s day.

First Central People ’s Hospital, Marina City.

As the air conditioner struggled to tame the heat of the afternoon, a dozen or so students struggled to pack themselves into an otherwise serene hospital ward.

”The students affected by the incident are all here, but if you ’re going to be here a while, please watch yourselves and keep the noise down, ” said a young nurse in a white coat and a face mask, addressing the group of students who had come to see how their friends were doing.
With that slightly stern warning, she left the room in a rush.

A total of fifteen students had been admitted to the hospital as a result of the gas leak incident that occurred a few days ago at Marina City University.
Thanks to the medical attention provided, their vital signs were in good shape, but not a single one of them had shown any signs of waking up, so returning to school was out of the question.

A committee of students had organized this visit on behalf of concerned fellow students, and Bai Zhi had somehow snuck in amongst the group.

One thing baffled Bai Zhi—why had they taken special care to buy baskets of fruit like watermelons, bananas, and apples?

The patients they were visiting were comatose, after all.
Who was going to eat all that fruit? Certainly not the patients.
Not to mention, the weather was so hot that their ”thoughtful ” gifts would likely spoil before the end of the week.

O poor apples, how sad they must be with nobody to eat them…

Bai Zhi casually tossed the core of the apple he had just finished into a nearby bin and headed into the toilet.
Bai Zhi found a shady corner, then activated the Shadowland Pass.
Several seconds later, a doorway of purest black materialized before him.

Based on firsthand experience, he had reason to suspect that those students could be trapped in that bizarre corridor in another dimension, which explained why they were still comatose.
As it happened, there was a piece of property in that so-called Shadowland waiting for him to claim it, so making the trip would mean killing two birds with one stone.

Just as this portal took shape, Mu QianSe, who was also visiting the hospital with her friends two rooms away, felt the urge to turn her head.
Unbeknownst to her, she was looking right at Bai Zhi.

With Bane in hand, Bai Zhi stepped through the dark portal.
His vision blurred momentarily, then he found himself in the middle of a wide space, surrounded by bustling activity.

”See what you like! Like what you see? If you ’re looking for equipment, come to me! Quality goods at low, low prices! If you like what you see, buy one or three! ”

”Passes and skill cards, Passes and skill cards! I ’ll buy your Passes and skill cards! Name your price, name your price, satisfaction guaranteed! ”

”Level 15 Berserker DPS Tank build looking for long-term party members! Noobs and casuals NOT welcome! ”


The sky above was empty, gloomy and dark, but the scene on the ground looked like what one would expect from a bazaar in medieval times—hundreds of stalls lined the walls that bounded the compound and the loud cries of the vendors hawking their wares, along with the sounds of haggling and conversation, buzzed endlessly in Bai Zhi ’s ears.

However, perhaps due to a quirk of this dimension, he could not see any faces clearly.
Everyone he looked at seemed to have their visage obscured by some dark, gauzy film.

After the initial surprise, Bai Zhi quickly gathered his wits.

So, a trading post dedicated to serving Players, huh…

As he pondered over all the new information, he let himself be carried by the flow of the crowd and made a tour of the bazaar.
Nobody paid him any attention, since people suddenly appearing in the center of the compound, just like he had, seemed to be a common occurrence here.

”Strength potions…
skill cards…
Elite equipment… ”

As he passed by stall after stall, Bai Zhi discovered many items of interest.
Nonetheless, the price tags were invariably in the thousands and millions, far beyond his means.

Once he had completed a circuit, Bai Zhi thought for another moment, then made a beeline for one of the stalls.

”I knew you ’d be back! I ’ve met plenty of new Players just like you! So? Have you decided if you want my help with a little newbie…
orientation? ”

Behind the display table, a merchant with the handle ”Astolfo ” grinned slyly.

”Fif-ty Coins upfront, thank you! ”

Without the slightest hesitation, Bai Zhi slapped the required fee on the table and asked, ”What is this place? ”

”This? This is a lost haven, a forgotten corner of the world.
You might even think of it as a parallel universe. ” As soon as he pocketed the cash, Astolfo was quick to honor his side of the deal and spoke freely.
”Word to the wise: don ’t step foot outside of town—it ’s safe enough inside, but the area beyond the border is infested by all manner of gruesome monsters.
The worst part is, they don ’t drop loot or give XP—it ’s simply unprofitable! ”

While he was speaking, he reached into a bag and brought out a card, which he now handed to Bai Zhi.

”Players of your level shouldn ’t normally be here, anyway.
Most Players who find their way here are over Level 10—aren ’t you the lucky one? Here, a free gift for new customers. ”

[ Item Name: Pass ]

[ Type: Consumable ]

[ Class: Junk ]

[ Description: A Pass that leads to an area outside the Auction House ]

[ Special Trait: None ]

[ Requirements: None ]

[ Note: Allows one Player to remain at the area for one hour.

[ Maker: Chu Tsi ]

”What ’s this? ” asked Bai Zhi, frowning slightly as he took the card.

”Normally, you ’d find something like this after you reach Level 5, when you visit the Auction. ” Astolfo pointed to the west of the bazaar.
”They sell Passes for really affordable prices there—only a Coin each…
This is a modified version of those.

”See, this area is a black market of sorts, founded by members of the major Player organizations who were sick of the high commissions demanded by the Auction House.
To get here from the Auction requires passing through two rather dangerous alleyways, which not everyone appreciates, so someone found a way to modify the Passes to lead here instead.
It ’s pure coincidence that you managed to show up here… ”

Astolfo ’s eyes suddenly lit up, and he said smugly, ”A-ha, you probably walked through a black Doorway, didn ’t you?

”Funny things, Doorways.
They only started showing up a month ago, and they come in all sorts of colors, not just black.
Black Doorways sometimes lead here, but as for Doorways of other colors…
I ’ve seen Players step through them, but none of them ever came back here.

”There ’s no telling where a Doorway will take you, so thank your lucky stars you ended up here on your first try.
Best look before you leap next time! If you leave them alone, they ’re harmless, of course—but if you rush headlong into them, it can only end in disaster! Well then, that was 50 Coins well spent, don ’t you think? ”

Bai Zhi raised a skeptical eyebrow.
”…In other words, you don ’t know where this place is either? ”

Astolfo shrugged.
”Well, the point is that it ’s a parallel universe—a ruined world that exists apart from our world.
Other Players have theorized that this world is very likely one that was overrun by monsters and supernatural entities, which destroyed everything and turned it into a dead world.
If this world even has a name, who can say what it is? Nobody cares about such things.

”Right, any other questions? ”

”Yes. ” Bai Zhi nodded as he pocketed the Pass.
”What does the ’Sanity ’ attribute mean? How much Sanity do you have? ”

”Sanity? Heh… ” Astolfo chuckled mysteriously, as if he had been waiting for Bai Zhi to ask this exact question.
”My dear customer, information like that is not something I would reveal for a mere 50 Coins… ”

Sitting up in his chair, he said gravely, ”It ’ll cost ya. ”

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