Bai Zhi weighed his options, then asked the information broker, ”How much? ”

”For this piece of info…
at least 500 Coins. ” Astolfo extended a hand, palm up…

And Bai Zhi promptly turned to leave without another word.

”Wait! Waitwaitwait, don ’t you know the principle of ’shoot for the moon, haggle after ’? ” Astolfo called out in a panic, afraid to lose the only customer that he had managed to attract in a while.
”At least hit me with a counteroffer, right? If 500 is too high, name a price, I ’m willing to negotiate! ”

Bai Zhi stopped in his tracks and turned back.
Extending a single finger with great aplomb, he said, ”One Coin. ”

Astolfo froze, the struggle between his pride and business sense seeming to play tug-of-war with his face as he wrestled with his decision.
Finally, he managed a stiff nod.

”…Fine! One Coin it is.
Consider it a token of goodwill, and remember me, Astolfo, as a friend! ”

Now, tell me about Sanity. ”

With a quick nod, Bai Zhi sat back down at the stall and slid the card he had just received from Astolfo across the table.
”There, that ’s worth a Coin.
Now we ’re even. ”

The fact that, here, the faces of the Players were obscured notwithstanding, Bai Zhi had a strong feeling that Astolfo was staring at him in marked disbelief.

Astolfo sighed, then pocketed the card.
”…All right.
What Sanity is will become clear when you reach Level 10.
Your Sanity right now should be about 10 to 13, right?

”You must have noticed how Sanity behaves differently from the other attributes.
Unlike the six core attributes, Sanity automatically increases as a Player levels up.
A high Sanity allows you to survive an encounter with terrifying, unspeakable horrors without losing your mind and going completely hysterical. ”

Bai Zhi glanced at the ”??? ” that was displayed for his Sanity attribute and chose to offer no comment.

Astolfo continued, ”Our world is like a sandcastle on the beach, at risk of being swallowed by the sea with each wave that comes at it, and we, the Players, are the bulwark that stands between the sandcastle and total destruction.

”As the truly dangerous and fearsome entities begin to make themselves known, a mighty tsunami is brewing in that sea—our world is edging closer and closer to a crisis… ”

Bai Zhi raised an eyebrow again.
”Have the creatures—or horrors—that can drain Sanity already appeared? ”

not yet. ” Astolfo shook his head firmly.
”But according to Chi Tsi ’s predictions, Sanity may seem like a useless attribute, but since it exists, it must mean that the— ” He dropped his voice into a whisper.
”—horrors—will inevitably appear. ”

”Who is this Chu Tsi? ”

Bai Zhi recognized the name as the person identified as the Maker of the Pass.

”They say he is a legendary Player with a military background, ” Astolfo replied cheerfully, ”within the official organization known as The Concerning Department, and one of the OG Players.
I hear he has doctorates in both Physics and Mathematics, a bona-fide Boss-character type! In fact, they ’re the founding member of The Concerning Department.

Astolfo grinned.
”Well? Only fifty Coins for this much valuable information, what a steal, huh? ”

”People who say things like that are usually making a profit of 49 while shedding crocodile tears*. ” Having got the information he needed, Bai Zhi smirked derisively and stood up.

”Oh, one more thing.
Do you know about Shadow Crystals? ”

Crystals? ”

Astolfo racked his brains for any relevant information, but finally shook his head.
”Nope. ”

”Farewell, then. ” Bai Zhi gave the merchant a curt nod and made for the exit.

Upon noticing the direction Bai Zhi was headed, a certain information broker suddenly decided to leave the bazaar and return to the real world.

This Player-organized trading post occupied a sizeable area.
From a bird ’s-eye view, it looked like a massive circle that was perfectly divided into four sectors, each oriented in the four cardinal directions and bounded by high walls.

Bai Zhi was currently in the eastern sector, and was keen to explore the town outside the walls.

As he approached the only exit out of the sector, a Player who stood by the gate, seemingly a peacekeeper, looked Bai Zhi up and down, then handed a booklet and a card to him.

”This is a newbie guide specially compiled and printed by our organization.
If you lose it, come back anytime and you can get a new copy.
The Concerning Department welcomes all Players. ”

Spotting the familiar card that was offered with the booklet, Bai Zhi got a bad taste in his mouth.
Wordlessly, he accepted the items.

[ This is a lost haven, a ruined world…
Players are advised not to step foot outside of town…

[ …compound was created by a coalition of major organizations for the benefit of the wider Player community…
violence of any kind is prohibited within the compound…

[ Special Reminder: A strange new natural phenomenon has been observed.
They are known as ”Doorways ”.
Doorways come in various colors and may randomly appear at any location in the world.
No evidence yet exists of any Player successfully returning from exploring Doorways of other colors except for black Doorways.
Please exercise extreme caution.

[ …we predict that the Sanity attribute is used to…

[ …our world is like a sandcastle on the beach, and the sea is…

[ …the world is edging closer and closer to a crisis, join The Concerning Department to be the bulwark that stands against the tide! ]

[ Signed, Chu Tsi ]

Bai Zhi ’s eyes took in familiar lines as he scanned the booklet—so familiar, in fact, as to be the same lines, almost word for word, that he had heard from a certain merchant not five minutes ago.

Is it because this is a gathering spot for Players of Level 10 and above? Seems like they ’re making most of this information freely available as an effort to recruit Players.

Bai Zhi sighed when he saw the name at the end of the booklet.

Chu Tsi, huh…
Why not just call himself Chu Xuan**?

Turning to look back at the bazaar, he was not surprised to see that a certain stall had disappeared, and a certain swindler along with it.

”They do say never to trust a friendly businessman.
I thought he was making 49 Coins off me, but it ’s clear now that he scammed me for every single Coin…
I ’ll remember this, Astolfo. ”

Bai Zhi tossed the booklet and Pass into his Inventory and walked out of the compound.

” ’A drop of water bestowed shall yield a gushing spring in return ’***—I swear I ’ll shake you down for at least 5,000 Coins, or my surname ’s not Bai…! ”

*Describes a common outcome in a haggling situation, whereby, after the buyer haggled the seller ’s touted price down to a reasonable level, the buyer will claim to be selling at a loss while secretly still profiting a lot because the item was worthless in the first place.
”Crocodile tears ” refers to the fake emotion shown by the seller in such situations.

**Main character from another webnovel, Terror Infinity.

***Chinese proverb, in this case twisted to mean that a slight shall be repaid with vengeance many times over.

Astolfo, the sly merchant?.jpg

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