Auctions were scenes seen frequently enough in storylines. Their raison d'etre was mainly entertaining the pretenders and bargain-seekers, as well as providing occasions for face-slapping, girl-wooing, buddy-making, etc.
Back then, a roomful of sons of the rich gathered together at the foot of Phoenix Mountain for the exchange, which was already an auction in embryonic form. However, the environment then was not favorable enough, nor did they have the adequate permission to move it towards that direction, so it was kept rather low-profile.
With what was happening these days, the underground non-governmental forces were so intrigued by the implicit signals the authorities let out that plenty of cannon fodder was jumping out of their hiding places and making it clear that they were stirring things up.
The long street was dimly lit by the street lamps and the shadows seemed to be swaying gracefully in the night. The black commercial vehicle drove away from the shop, heading deeper into Spring City at an unhurried pace.
The inside of the vehicle was quite spacious, giving enough room for all five to sit distantly from one another. With the masks on, they were all utterly quiet. The only sounds were coming from the driver shifting gears occasionally and the rumbling of the engine.
Okay, that was actually an illusion...
"Brother-in-law, what kind of crap do you think they're selling?"
"How am I supposed to know? Nothing good, that's for sure. So far it still seems a society created by ordinary people, but I can't say if some cultivators are not behind it."
"Cultivators my a*s! Aren't all the cultivators of this country in the Taoist community and our Phoenix Mountain? Don't tell me you're counting those Tame Head clowns too?"
"You shouldn't look down upon them just because they practice Tame Head. It's a type of sorcery, a strange and inscrutable skill. Never underestimate your enemy."
They had long set up a confinement around their seats in the last row, so no one could see their moving lips.
Xiaojin would not shut up for a second, gabbing all the way from the auction to the spare rib rice-flour noodles they had for breakfast, then to Long Qiu's breasts before moving onto a new lipstick that had just come out… Gu Yu himself liked to leap around in his trail of thoughts, but it was nothing comparing to what Xiaojin was doing.
About twenty minutes later, the vehicle slowly came to a stop.
The driver said nothing and only sat there in silence. The other three were apparently familiar with the drill and went out one by one.
Gu Yu and Xiaojin followed suit. Outside was a deserted street with stairs reaching downwards. A dozen steps down was a signboard lit by colored lights—it was an underground pub.
They followed the three in, thinking the pub was the venue. However, the three zigzagged and exited through a small door, where they resurfaced onto the street, threaded through a narrow alley and, another couple of minutes later, entered a red iron gate.
It was dim inside. Two tall and strong waiters guarded the gate at either side and demanded in a polite yet intimidating tone, "Invitation card, please!"
Gu Yu handed him the cards. The waiter did not ask him to remove the mask to verify his identity—it seemed the card was the only permit they needed. They passed the threshold easily like so. Those three people walked in the front and had kept quite a distance on purpose. Gu Yu and Xiaojin cared little for that—they'd rather explore on their own.
The venue was quite sizeable and was in two storeys. Waiters walked around holding beverages and snacks. There weren't many customers—less than a hundred, probably. Had it not been for the masks and the strange atmosphere, it would not seem much different from any other ordinary clubs.
"Tsk, tsk, I almost thought I'm in the movie 'Eyes Wide Shut'," Xiaojin blurted out after looking around the room, then asked, "Hey, have you watched that one?"
"I have. There's just one thing I did not quite get." An honest man as he was, Gu Yu answered honestly, "The woman that got punished at the end, was it his wife?"
"It all depends on the man, really. If he can live with the 'green hat', then she was; if not, she wasn't."
Xiaojin was not interested in such topic. She stopped walking, looked around, and grabbed a waiter passing by. "Buddy, do me a favor!"
The waiter jumped at her move, then asked politely, "How may I help you?"
"We don't really know what's going on—it's our first time here. Tell us about this place." She deliberately made their ignorance plain.
"I see. One moment, please." He beckoned another waiter over and handed the latter his tray, then said to Xiaojin, "The innermost room on the first floor is where the auction will take place—it'll start in half an hour. Please take your seats according to the numbers on your invitation cards. The resting area is over there. They're all compartments very well concealed, so you don't have to worry about privacy.
There are guest rooms on the second floor, as well as a small casino—you're welcome to kill your time there. If you end up winning a bid and need our escort, you will also get registered there. We are equipped with the most elite security service. I promise they will fulfill all your requirements."
"Any rules regarding the bidding?"
"Nothing special other than the rules you'd find in common auctions. There is just one thing: if you decide not to hire our security team, we're not responsible for anything out of this facility."
"Why, trying to scare me? You were still in your dad's pants when your big sis here chewed garlic for her snacks!"
Xiaojin gave him the bossy attitude, then unzipped her handbag and took out a wad of bills. "I'll still thank you for your service, though. There you go!"
The waiter was a little at loss. Why was his heart skipping a beat at this idiotic but somewhat adorable rich bumpkin?
His heart thumping or not, during the brief conversation, Gu Yu had pretty much figured out the settings of this place.
The level of acceptance and adaptability of the ordinary people had far exceeded his expectation. Although he recognized none of the faces behind those masks, he could clearly sense their excitement and jubilation.
No, there was not the tiniest fluster, confusion, or reluctance.
"Ladies and gentlemen, our auction will start in a moment. Please take you seat in hall No.1. Please take you seat in hall No.1…"
At the softly spoken reminder, dozens of people filed into the hall, which was even bigger than the room outside. A slightly elevated stage was set in the front, overlooking the booth-style seats below. The booths were set distant from one another and there were also partitions in between. Each one was big enough for two to eight people.
Gu Yu's cards were numbers 30 and 31 and their seats were a little to the left from the middle.
Before long, the light of the hall dimmed, while the stage remained well-lit. The host then walked up with a smile. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! To tell you the truth, I am gratified by the number of guests showing up tonight. Thinking back to the first auction we held, we had 23 guests only. That number has manifolded tonight and we have a total of 90 people here.
What does that mean? It means what is happening is becoming more influential, more friends are sticking together in this, and the so-called secret is moving forever closer to the surface...
Like I said last time—and I shall repeat today—no one is able to stop the world from changing and since we cannot stop it, we have to do our best to be prepared for the coming of the new world.
Whether we succeed or not in the future, do not forget that we were once the forerunners and torch bearers; we started from here…"
"This dude used to work in some pyramid selling scam or something? He's a smooth talker, I'll give him that."
Xiaojin slouched onto the sofa like a giant maggot, with her head on the armrest and her long legs stretching out towards her brother-in-law—exactly the posture her sister would take on such occasions.
Had Xiaozhai herself been here, Gu Yu would naturally hold those legs between his arms. However, this one was his sister-in-law and all he could do was to stay as far away as the booth allowed. He chuckled. "With what they're doing here, they need the provocative talk. Just keep watching. I'm actually quite interested in what's following this."
The host shot some more breeze and suddenly turned up his volume. "Now, I'll stop beating around the bush. Rules forbid me from revealing the treasures tonight beforehand, but I can guarantee it to you, they will exceed what you saw last time both in quantity and quality. You will not be disappointed… here is lot number one!"
With that, four men pushed a giant iron cage covered by black cloth onto the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, behold!"
The host ripped the black cloth down, raising a hubbub of surprised cries from the audience below. In the cage was a two-meter long green peafowl!
It was obviously a male with dazzling bright feather. A cluster of crest stood up high from the top of its head and its back feathers the color of green jadestone; in the middle of them was a bronze-colored spot the shape of a half circle.
It was frightened by the sudden light and spread it tail feathers—which were twice the length of its body—in a whoosh. The tail opened up to as wide as four meters and was splendid beyond description. It reminded one of an enormous emerald feather fan made from velvet.
Xiaojin bolted up to a sitting position. That was not what she had expected! She had planned to come like a dungeon boss strolling across the novice village in disguise, but as it turned out, the first item they displayed was a blue-level outfit.
Women loved beautiful things, and so did men.
The splendor of the green peafowl seemed to have frozen all minds present, so much so that the air seemed to have stopped flowing.
"This is a genuine green peafowl! As you may all know, there are only over a hundred wild ones in the country now and their last habitat is in Gasa River. We happened to stumble upon this one."
The host was very pleased with the audience's reaction. "I don't think I need to emphasize how beautiful it is. However, as the first auction piece today, appearance is not its only merit. Allow me to show you!"
With that, someone came up stage carrying a spiky porcupine. He then opened the cage a little and tossed it in.
The peafowl was extremely tense to begin with; now that something else had joined in, it screamed angrily and turned its body.
The emerald feather fan swerved in green flashes and swung down with a shrill sound.
Blood splashed everywhere, leaving a scarlet pool in the cage. The poor porcupine did not even know what hit it.
"Aaaah!" some woman screamed and covered her eyes in fear. The men, on the other hand, opened their eyes widely in excitement. Having such a piece at home would be such a show-off!
"Probably some has guessed what it is. Yes, this green peafowl is a mutated creature (as known to the common folk)."
The host made the hay while the sun shone. "It took us a painstaking effort to finally capture it alive. We will give two female peafowls for free to the final bidder so that they could breed at home. Now, the bid starts now. The price starts at eight million and the minimum bid is a million!"
"Nine million!" yelled someone right away.
They had completely ignored the fact of breaking the law and the room was filled with an air of carnival. The price rocketed forever higher, which might sound a lot, but you had to realize that fifteen million was not even enough to by a villa within the Third Ring Road of the capital city.
Tuhao was the least endangered species of this country.
"Damn! I hate these insanely rich people!"
Xiaojin was also intrigued, but she couldn't afford it. As she babbled on with her mockery, Gu Yu couldn't help but pity her a little. "Do you want me to exchange it with a pill of Dan?"
"Forget it. It's pretty, but not really useful." She waved him off.
"Thirty million going once, anyone else… thirty million going twice… sold!"
Smack! The mallet announced the end of bidding, and so was the poor peafowl's fate sealed: what else could a mortal man do with it apart from shutting it up in a cage like a talking bird? It would stay there until it died and meet no one apart from the occasional visitors that its owner would show off to.