Chapter 9: Underground Well
The dim and damp sewer pipe led to its end, where a metal grate blocked their path.
Torn T-shirt approached and fiddled with it, causing the metal grate to swing open like a door. The group crawled out of the pipe and entered the “home” of the three robbers.
Zheng Luozhu stood under the murky and dim lighting, feeling a sense of melancholy. “Can your situation get any worse? You’ve ended up in the Underground City, and now you’re living in underground tunnels?”
This place was part of the underground drainage system of the Underground City. It was a space where three drainage channels converged, with a vertical clearance of about three meters and a horizontal width of seven to eight meters. The walls were made of densely packed dark gray bricks, with pipes embedded in each brick wall. Three rusty metal grates blocked the openings of the three pipes, sealing this place into a simple yet secure refuge.
There was a folded single bed and a wooden chair as the only two pieces of furniture. Daily necessities were piled against one wall, and a few rolls of bedding were spread along the base of the other wall. It might be a bit cluttered, but it wasn’t too dirty, and there was no visible trash. It was clear that there had been some cleaning efforts made.
“What’s all this graffiti?” Zheng Luozhu walked over to the wall where miscellaneous items were kept. On an arched brick wall, there was a graffiti mural with a chaotic yet colorful design.
“I don’t know, it was like this when we arrived,” Torn T-shirt replied. He gestured for Chubby and Old man’s shirt to roll up the bedding on the floor, clearing up more space.
Although he couldn’t understand the graffiti, Zheng Luozhu still admired it for a while. In these dreary underground tunnels, seeing some colors, even if he couldn’t decipher the meaning, lifted his mood.
“So, someone had been living here before you arrived?” Tang Lin sat down on the clean floor, opened his travel bag, and took out a few cans of food.
“Of course. When there’s nowhere else to go above ground, you have to find a place like this,” Old man’s shirt replied to Tang Lin, but his eyes were fixed on the cans, he was practically drooling.
“No self-control,” Torn T-shirt patted his henchman’s head and then sat across from Tang Lin, patiently waiting.
Tang Lin didn’t keep them waiting and immediately distributed the canned food.
The three of them devoured it, driven by their extreme hunger. If someone didn’t know better, they’d think they were taking revenge on the cans for something.
Fan Peiyang checked the “room” thoroughly before taking off his coat and sitting next to Tang Lin.
Tang Lin finally found the opportunity to ask him, “When are we going to start the real challenge level?”
Fan Peiyang shook his head lightly and replied, “I’m not sure.”
The last message in the room still read “The Stationery Tree has been generated……” from when they had just entered the Underground City. After that, there were no new prompts or information.
This challenge’s task and how to pass it are completely unknown. All the information appeared to be blank.
Of course, there are other ways to obtain information besides the cheat sheet, such as the three robbers sitting across from them.
Fan Peiyang shifted his gaze to the three of them, and before he could say anything, Torn T-shirt, who had overheard him talking to Tang Lin, jumped in.
“Don’t even think about challenging the challenge level. The opening times of the level are unpredictable. The last time it opened was two months ago.”
Fan Peiyang was momentarily stunned, and a subtle frown appeared on his forehead. “Two months ago?”
“Yes,” Torn T-shirt said, “You can’t challenge the level every day. The challenge gate must be open for you to enter.”
“Is there no regular schedule for the opening times?”
“It’s completely random. It might be every two months, or every three months, or even just every week. But…”
“Every time the challenge gate is about to open, there will be a seven-day advance notice.”
Fan Peiyang remained silent for a moment and then asked, “Where is the challenge gate?”
Torn T-shirt had just stuffed a big piece of canned meat into his mouth and mumbled, “At the central subway station in the city.”
A breeze seemed to come from somewhere and blew through the ducts, causing the metal mesh to sway and make a faint noise.
Zheng Luozhu leaned against the wall, his heart sinking. Were they also going to wait here for two months? No, judging by the state of the other challengers on the road and the current condition of these three individuals in front of him, it might be even longer than two months…
“How long does it take to return to reality from here?” Fan Peiyang asked again.
As Torn T-shirt was busy eating, Chubby helpfully answered, “Return? Only in your dreams.”
Old man’s shirt also lifted his head and added, “I’ve been here for a year, and I haven’t gone back, damn it.”
Fan Peiyang fixed his gaze on the two of them and pressed, “Be more specific.”
Chubby sighed, “To be more specific, once you’re in here, there’s no way to go back. You’ve come, so resign yourself to it.”
“It’s not as absolute as that,” Old man’s shirt added, “It’s said that if you make it to upstairs, there’s a chance to go back, but it’s all hearsay. Anyway, I haven’t seen it.”
“Upstiars?” Fan Peiyang heard this word for the second time, the first being from the fake Zhang Quan’s mouth.
“That’s the next challenge level,” Old man’s shirt explained. “Once you pass this challenge level, you can go up to the next one.”
“Don’t even think about going back,” Chubby chimed in. “Think about how to survive down here. That’s the real deal. The food distributed every day is mostly divided among the various factions. If you don’t join a faction, you’ll either have to fight for food or sit around and wait to die.”
Every day, food, factions.
Fan Peiyang quickly grasped the key points, tapping his fingertips on his knee. “Who distributes food every day? What’s the quantity and distribution method? Why do the factions support so many people, and what’s their purpose?”
Chubby only caught the first question and then got lost in his thoughts. Fan Peiyang’s expectant gaze made him feel inexplicably embarrassed, as if he couldn’t answer these questions, like he was taking a salary for nothing… Wait a minute, this isn’t a company meeting, why was he feeling guilty?
“In the northeast corner of the Underground City, there’s a massive pipe that connects from above,” Torn T-shirt, now done with his meal, was finally able to chat. “Every day, at a fixed time, food slides down from the pipe. Don’t ask me who provides it, or where it comes from, nobody knows for sure. All we know is it comes from above. And don’t even think about climbing into the pipe to go up; anyone who’s tried that has died…”
“Objectively speaking, they provide quite a bit of food—bread, milk, sausages, fruits, and sometimes vegetables and meat. But given the number of people in the Underground City, it’s not enough, so each faction stations people by the pipe. As soon as the food arrives, they take their share…”
Torn T-shirt took a breath. “Now you know why there are factions, right?”
[Basic accommodation, food rations, daily necessities, simple medical care – these are all the guarantees that White Team can provide.]
Tang Lin remembered what Lu Jue had said, and now, with the information provided by Torn T-shirt, he could see the whole picture.
Factions formed to secure resources, and resources became the leverage for expanding their influence.
However, the fact that there were fruits implied the existence of fruit pits and seeds…
“Why not try farming?” Tang Lin asked, purely out of curiosity.
“Of course, people have tried everything you can think of,” Torn T-shirt replied with a look of despair. “No matter what they planted, whether in soil, water, with or without soil, it didn’t work. Nothing grows here.”
The sound of water flowing could be heard from deep within the pipe.
The “room” fell into silence, with Fan Peiyang lost in thought since earlier, and Zheng Luozhu leaned against the graffiti-covered wall, wearing a serious expression.
What exactly was “upstairs”? Who provided the food? These questions had to be set aside for now. Just not being able to return to reality and the scarcity of food were dire enough.
Tang Lin also understood the situation was unfavorable but couldn’t suppress his curiosity.
The danger of death in this world scared him, but the unknown aspects of this world piqued his interest.
Taking advantage of the moment when no one was speaking, he leaned in closer to Torn T-shirt and the others, whispering, “During the fight earlier, what stationery did you guys use?”
Being cautious with their words, the three of them truthfully answered:
Chubby: “[Overgrown Thorns].”
Old man’s shirt: “[Capture].”
“[Swords are Blind].” Torn T-shirt said, then added, “But they’re all Stationery Trees; we don’t have disposable stationery.”
Thorns, black ropes, and a sword rain.
Tang Lin recalled the battle and matched them one by one.
“What’s your Stationery Tree?” Torn T-shirt was also curious, especially since this person hadn’t used any abilities yet, making him mysterious.
Tang Lin thought about his yet-to-be-unlocked Stationery Tree in silence.
He was curious too.
Without waiting for Tang Lin’s answer, Torn T-shirt noticed that Fan Peiyang was looking at him. He immediately seized the opportunity and asked, “What stationery technique does that canned food of yours represent?”
Fan Peiyang kept looking at him, unfazed.
Torn T-shirt: “…Well, I won’t ask anymore.”
Some people withdraw, while others remain persistent.
Tang Lin stared at Fan Peiyang without blinking, his eyes filled with curiosity.
They maintained silent eye contact for a long time, and Fan Peiyang, with a serious expression, rolled up his shirt sleeves and opened his Stationery Box, offering his arm.
Tang Lin immediately lowered his head to inspect it.
At the root of Fan Peiyang’s Stationery Tree, the permanently unlocked stationery was “[The Lazy Person’s Blessing].”
“…….” Tang Lin helped him lower his sleeve and patting it down to smooth out the wrinkles.
Zheng Luozhu was extremely curious but dared not sneak a peek, feeling even more heartbroken.
No matter how others asked, he kept it all hidden, but with just a single glance, the boss extended his arm—such a blatant double standard.
After eating and drinking their fill, Torn T-shirt and the others began yawning incessantly, indicating their need for sleep.
As they yawned, Tang Lin also felt the drowsiness creeping in. There was only one bed in the room, and Torn T-shirt insisted on giving it to Tang Lin. Tang Lin knew that if he went to sleep now, it would cost him a few cans of food. He was contemplating whether it was worth it when Fan Peiyang gave his approval.
Tang Lin really wanted to tell Fan Peiyang not to treat him like a patient all the time, but looking into those eyes, which concealed so many emotions, he swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue.
It didn’t take long for Tang Lin to fall asleep.
While Torn T-shirt, Chubby, and Old man’s shirt were still arranging their sleeping mats, he peacefully entered slumber without a sound.
Fan Peiyang covered him with the black coat and pulled a chair to sit by the bed, quietly gazing at that face.
Before getting involved in this world of challenges, he had spent many nights like this in Tang Lin’s hospital room. Doing nothing, just watching, and in the blink of an eye, the night would pass.
Back then, Tang Lin always had a smile on his face, the doctors and nurses praised his good attitude. Only Fan Peiyang knew that this person would frown in his sleep, clutch the blanket tightly, and reveal all his anxiety and fear.
Tang Lin didn’t even know himself.
So it’s enough, Fan Peiyang thought. A healthy Tang Lin is enough.
For the dangers, the deadly ones, he would shield him.
For the losses, the forgotten ones, he would find them.
Six notification sounds echoed in the underground passage, as effective as a devil’s alarm clock.
Everyone was abruptly awakened from their slumber. The only one who hadn’t been sleeping, Fan Peiyang, immediately checked his arm—
: The Level 110 challenge gate will open in seven days. Please prepare yourselves, challengers.
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