Chapter 9: Dark Night (I)

“Wu Qi, my name is An Yi. You can call me Uncle An because of my age. It’s cold here, let’s go inside and talk. You can let us know if there is anything you need.” An Yi guided Wu Qi to the town eagerly, then waved at other squad members, “Let’s all go home.”

It was pretty easy for Wu Qi to talk to the leader of an area populated with unknown humans. He didn’t resist An Yi’s enthusiasm. Efficiency was crucial in the jungle life that valued strength, food, and time. An Yi was the leader of the armed force in this area, with his power and connections, he could be very, very useful to Wu Qi.

They walked on the unevenly-paved grey rocky road that still had some puddles of water left in the cracks. Wu Qi quickly studied the human residence area. Tattered flyer papers and scratches covered the streetlamp poles that didn’t have electricity, shop fronts on both sides of the road had been eroded by the wind, there were a few abandoned cars that parked on the roadsides, and almost every one of them was so old that they were rusty and dusty with broken windows. If you looked inside those cars, you can see the eyes of the poor children that used these cars as shelter.

An Yi took Wu Qi to an old-style residence area of the town. He opened the iron door downstairs, and the two of them went up to the second floor via the grey staircase.

They turned at the corner, An Yi took out his keys from his pockets to open one of the mailboxes near the door. He took out a key that had a cloth tag with “202” on it. He pointed at the door that was labeled 202 and said, “Hey, come in.”

Wu Qi took the key and opened the door to room 202. There were some furniture from the civilized age, but not a lot, and they were all covered in a thick layer of dust. The clock on the wall had spider webs on it. Obviously, this place needed to be cleaned to live. The advantage was the intact windows and walls that did not have giant crevices in them, which meant it wasn’t prone to getting wet and moldy from the rains. The room wasn’t big, around fifty square meters, which was pretty small for humans during the civilized era. But to Wu Qi, who had spent the past nine years in a wild mountain cave, this place is big enough and dry enough.

Wu Qi had virtually no memories before age seven, the only knowledge he had about humans were the ones Ruorong taught him in those six years. He remembered an idiom called “no gains without pains.” Wu Qi stood in front of the room and asked An Yi.

“Those children on the streets are barely surviving in old cars, and you gave me a place to live when I entered your territory and just met you. What do you want from me, Uncle An?”

An Yi chuckled and looked at Wu Qi with admiration. He said, “Resources in our safe zone aren’t scarce, but not abundant. In the past fifty years of the Dark Night Era, the people that lived here were attacked by mutated beasts. Most houses have been ruined or seriously damaged, so there aren’t a lot of places like this that are still intact. You need a good price for a privilege to live here. I brought you here because I can see that you can offer a good price.”

Wu Qi said, “Uncle An, you’ve had your eyes on the animal pelt in my back since we were at the gate. I can sell it to you because I don’t need it anymore.”

Then, Wu Qi took out a bunch of animal materials from his bag, including the five-meter-long and four-meter-wide bear pelt rug, crocodile skin, tiger skin, sharp claws and teeth from the Crogerdragon. An Yi’s eyes sparked each time Wu Qi took something out.

“I can give you all of these in exchange for the privilege of living in this room, as well as clean food, distilled water, and clean clothes. I’d also like some meat so I can feed July.” Wu Qi laid out everything on the table as he stroked July’s fur.

The big smile on An Yi’s face was ear to ear. As a seasoned mercenary, he knew how valuable the pelts of the Ironclad Brown Bear, the Giant Crocs of Abysmal Swamp, and other mutated animals were. He said generously: “Food and water will be here within half an hour. You also have the right to live here.”

Wu Qi nodded, then asked curiously: “Do you not use money in here?” According to the knowledge that Ruorong taught him, humans used money as a medium in exchange for goods and services.

An Yi was taken aback, then he chortled: “Haha, I almost forgot if you didn’t mention, Kid. Of course, this safe zone has been operating for twenty years, after all. But it is not like fifty years ago anymore where people exchanged things with food.”

 

Half an hour later, Wu Qi exchanged his animal materials for one hundred and twenty dollars of new-age currency, ten bottles of five hundred milliliters distilled water, ten boxes of sealed food and two cans of meat, some clean underwear and clothes. He sold for nine hundred dollars worth of goods and two months of residency. An Yi told him he could sell his animal materials or work in exchange for food after Wu Qi admitted these animal materials were hunting trophies.

However, in An Yi’s heart, he still didn’t believe a sixteen-year-old kid could hunt the Ironclad Brown Bear and Giant Crocs of Abysmal Swamp with just a blade, beasts that even his own mercenary team had trouble conquering. He believed Wu Qi was just plain lucky. But to be able to survive in the wild mountains outside the safe zone with only a blade and a red fox as a pet, this sixteen-year-old had an aura of mystery that An Yi could not see through.

If “harbinger” was used in lieu of “mysterious,” then that could clear everything up. An Yi’s respect for Wu Qi and the bit of unimaginable “awe” he had for the “mystery” was based on answers he had yet to discover.

The sky was covered by curtains of dark clouds. Most of the silvery and dim moonlight was covered by the clouds. The stars were not bright and sparkly. The broken street lamps have stopped working decades ago, and only the puddles of water on the street reflected some starlight. Two or three ravens rested on the tall cable wires and cloaked.

Nights at the safe zone were not so quiet.

Wu Qi entered room 202 and cleaned up using the mop and broom that were there. He opened the windows for some fresh air and to ensure the amount of dust in the room wasn’t concentrated enough to hurt his airways. The nine-year experience he spent living in the cave gave him the eating habit of a python and the habit of saving water. He got enough calories and drank half a bottle of water, then opened a can of meat for July. Afterward, he tucked himself to sleep under thick blankets, on a bed that was a hundred times more comfortable than the animal fur rug.

In the dark room, Wu Qi’s eyes stared at the ceiling and reminisced Ruorong’s face in his mind. He thought about what and how to ask An Yi about Sister Ruorong tomorrow. As he held July and drifted off to sleep, he heard knocking sounds coming from the door.


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