"That's true. But compared to a modern science-fiction type setting, I like this better." Ling Lan smiled. The familiar architecture and the familiar surroundings made her feel at ease instantly, sweeping away the tiredness that had been accumulated over several months of high-intensity training.
When Little Four heard that Ling Lan liked it here, all his nerves and anxiety fled. Now wasn't this just a fortuitous mistake? Thinking of this, Little Four started to become a little smug — as I thought, I'm really the smartest intelligent bio-entity. Even when I make a mistake, I make it in such a perfect way!
Leaving Little Four's private celebration aside, Ling Lan brought Little Four along as she toured the entire capital city. Of course, she was only window shopping. For one, this identity didn't have a corresponding central bank account, and so had no way to pay with credits. Although Little Four could have found a way to handle it, Ling Lan was of the mind that they should avoid doing unnecessary things to avoid trouble. Most importantly, she was afraid that the central bank would run scans at irregular intervals — if anything was exposed, it would be troublesome for both her and Little Four.
Secondly, this identity also didn't have any safe dummy mailing address. Was she supposed to get the stores to deliver anything she bought to the Ling family estates? Then what would be the point of going to the trouble of making this fake identity?
Ling Lan was just like an imprisoned bird which had been set free — she was full of enthusiasm no matter what she saw. Being able to freely walk the streets and browse was fulfilling a dream of hers which spanned both her lives.
In her previous life, she had always been confined to her sickbed. She dreamt every day of having the chance to go out and explore the streets, but unfortunately, till the end, that dream had never been realised. And then, since she had been born in this world, she had always been restricted to her home. And after that, she became restricted to the scout academy — although the virtual world of the scout academy also had shops, the items they offered were extremely monotonous, all having something to do with learning. Furthermore, the shops were all too science-fictiony, so Ling Lan just couldn't experience any of the enjoyment of regular shopping there.
However, this capital was completely different. The classical buildings, as well as the decorations of the stores were all very similar to that of the stores in her previous life, giving her the satisfying feeling of 'flattening a road' 1 . Her mood was endlessly buoyant.
If it weren't for the fact that every time she entered a store, a store introduction would pop up right before her eyes, Ling Lan might have believed that she was actually browsing a real street.
The capital truly lived up to its status as the capital. Whether it was in terms of fashion, food, activity, or accommodation, the sheer variety was dazzling. Just as Ling Lan was engrossed in her sightseeing, the people around her, who had also been busy with their shopping, suddenly stopped walking, as if receiving some unknown signal. On their faces were expressions of excitement. Some of them even yelled out involuntarily.
Very quickly, they changed their personal plans, all of them heading mutually towards the same direction.
"What's going on?" Ling Lan was a little bewildered by this, and hurried to ask Little Four.
Without delay, Little Four immediately began a search. Then, with a surprised expression, he said, "There's actually a mecha combat tournament happening here. And it's a cross-level J6 challenge against a J8, can this be real?"
Ling Lan, who knew almost nothing about the world outside in this life, said dumbly, "J6? J8? What's that?"
Little Four slapped his forehead; only now did he remember that he had forgotten to supplement Ling Lan's knowledge on this front. So, he quickly gave a general overview of what mecha combat tournaments were all about.
In the virtual world, this mecha combat tournament was actually a type of combat game that was open to all members of the public. Any citizen could participate in the combat game as long as they were 13 years old and above. Meanwhile, the students of the scout academy could get rid of the seal of the scout academy once they turned 13, and enter the real virtual world. In other words, if they followed the normal schedule, Ling Lan would only be able to come here after she turned 13.
Regardless of age, any newbie who just started the game would be at level J0. They needed to learn how to operate mecha and go through related combat training before unlocking the newbie arena. After earning 100 points, they would successfully move forward into level J1; and after accumulating 1000 points, they'd enter level J2. Calculating forwards from this, you can just imagine what an astronomical number of points was needed to achieve level J9.
Little Four told Ling Lan that very few mecha operators managed to advance to level J9 — of the billions of people in the entire Federation, there were only about three to four thousand people who had done it. Of course, there is also a level higher than J9, but those people who could achieve it would not bother with this sort of mecha combat game for the masses. Little Four didn't elaborate much on that, for he felt that these things were still a little too far off for Ling Lan to worry about.
"It's lucky then that cross-level challenges are allowed?" Otherwise, going according to the regular flow, slowly accumulating points bit by bit, who knows how many months and years it would take to enter J9? Ling Lan felt a little dizzy just looking at the countless number of zeroes behind that extrapolated number.
"It's allowed, but the conditions for a cross-level challenge is very strict. If a challenger fails, the punishment may make the person regret it so much that they'd kill themselves ..." said Little Four in a flat tone. Advantages are not so easily obtained.
"For a cross-level challenge, winning one fight isn't enough. You would have to consecutively defeat three randomly selected high-level opponents over the course of three days before your cross-level challenge is considered successful. Only then will you really enter the ranks of that level. But if you lose, the point deduction is extremely harsh. Take that J6 for example, he might very likely lose so many marks that he would fall directly back to level J3, maybe even J2." Little Four explained the rules and punishment related to this cross-level challenge.
"Well, it still seems worth it. Even if he falls down to J2 or J3, he can just challenge a J7 or J8 next time. As long as he can manage 3 wins sometime, won't he be right back up?" said Ling Lan, disagreeing.
"How could it be that easy? Each person only has three chances to initiate a cross-level challenge every year. Unless he wins all three times, otherwise, if he loses just once, he would have to start over and accumulate points again. As everyone knows, points are extremely hard to collect in the mecha combat tournaments. It requires a lot of time and matches. More importantly, the so-called cross-level challenges are actually just a cross-1-level challenge. A J2 can only challenge a J4, a J3 can only challenge a J5 ... so even if he waits a whole year, he still wouldn't be able to return to his original position. Boss, do you still think this kind of cross-level challenge is worth it?"
Little Four's words stunned Ling Lan. "So that's how it is. Then, isn't the cross-level challenge just for show? Probably very few people would choose to try a cross-level challenge, right?" It looked like the creator of the game really hated people who took shortcuts, actually posing such imposing restrictions and obstacles.
"Of course, otherwise the people here wouldn't be so worked up over this current challenge. There might still be many cross-level challenges in the lower levels, but a high-level cross-level challenge is very rarely seen. Especially this type of J6 vs J8 challenge — I've heard that you might not even see one within 100 years. Boss, you're really quite lucky." Little Four reported everything he had learned from his searches to Ling Lan, telling her that this upcoming mecha fight was really very uncommon.
"Then let's go take a look." Ling Lan's interest was thoroughly piqued by Little Four. They moved along with the crowd towards their destination — a seven-storey tall pagoda.
"Drats, we need to buy tickets." Ling Lan was about to walk through the entrance when a line of text suddenly appeared before her. Her mood fell — apparently tickets were required to enter.
This was also the first time Little Four was entering a battle stadium to watch a mecha fight, so he hadn't known they had needed tickets either. Hearing Ling Lan's words, he said, "Wait one moment," and disappeared.
Ling Lan thought that Little Four would be away for some time, but surprisingly, it had only been a few seconds when Little Four returned. He made a victory pose with his hands and said smugly, "Boss, everything's settled."
As Little Four was speaking, another person completely covered up in a black windbreaker was just about to buy the ticket number he was interested in when a notification popped up on his communicator: "Sorry, the ticket number you've selected is no longer available. Please make a new selection."
"Eh? Weird, someone was actually faster than me? It's been taken ..." muttered the person to himself. He had no choice but to choose the seat right next to the one he had wanted. Seeing the words 'purchase successful' appear, he closed his communicator and walked into the battle stadium.
At this moment, Little Four was extremely pleased with himself. He had finally gotten the chance to show off his skills as an omnipotent underling in front of Ling Lan — for a godlike existence like him, sneaking Ling Lan in without a ticket was nothing.
Um ... no, Little Four was an obedient babe — he would never do this sort of underhanded thing. He was just ... doing a favour, yep, doing a favour by showing up to watch.
Receiving Little Four's confirmation, Ling Lan walked towards the entrance of the battle stadium once more. This time, the words that appeared before her was no longer a reminder to buy a ticket. Instead, the words were a welcome — thank you for your patronage, your seat number is XX-section XX-row XX-number.
Ling Lan sighed in wonder yet again; Little Four was truly very useful. Whether it was in the real world or in the virtual world, she just couldn't get by without Little Four's help.
Ling Lan stepped through the gates and felt the scenery twist before eyes. And then, she found herself standing at the entrance to a random passage, rows and rows of seats before her.
"Could you please give way?" An icy voice rang out from behind Ling Lan. She quickly turned and saw a man in a windbreaker standing there. What surprised Ling Lan was that the man's face was almost wrapped up completely by the large hood of the windbreaker — only his lower jaw and slightly quirked thin lips could be seen from within its shadow.
"Uh ... sorry." Ling Lan ducked her head apologetically, and hurried to give way. Her head lowered, Ling Lan did not let the other discover her shock. She clenched her fists tightly, annoyed at herself for being careless.
Just now, Ling Lan actually hadn't sensed the presence of anyone behind her. This was the first time someone had been able to get close to her without her noticing — if the other had had any bad intentions and ambushed her, she would definitely have been KO-ed directly and become deader than dead.
And when she had faced the man, a pressing sense of danger had risen from her heart. This was the first time she could actually feel danger emanating from a person's body.
The man did not say anything, only nodding at Ling Lan lightly to signify thanks before moving past Ling Lan. It looked like he was also an audience member who had come to watch the match.
Ling Lan did not follow after him right away; she was still a little wary of that man, and decided that it would be a better idea to keep some distance from him. The man finally walked off into the distance, far enough that Ling Lan could no longer see his silhouette. Then, she heard Little Four say, "Oh crap, that fellow is a hacker ... no, he's very likely one of those rumoured spectres."
"Little Four, by spectre, do you mean those beings capable of wiping out a person's consciousness in the virtual world?"
"Of course! The aura of that person is very similar — it's a type of mental mutation that belongs to a spectre hacker," confirmed Little Four.
Even within the virtual world, Ling Lan could feel cold sweat breaking out on her forehead at these words. No wonder she had sensed so much danger from the man — it turned out that he was a being who could kill someone without a trace ... Boo hoo hoo, this virtual world was really very dangerous.
Even if Ling Lan could KO a person like this a hundred thousand times over in real life, in the virtual world, she still needed to give these people a wide berth.This is a saying that was typically applied to young couples in the past, who walked back and forth over roads as they talked and deepened their relationship. There weren't that many dating spots then, hence the hanging out on the roads. Here, Ling Lan is just talking about being able to happily walk up and down the streets as many times as she wants. :p