Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Uh…I…I can pretend I didn’t see it…” Duan FeiZhou said.
Z walked into the room, sat down in the only chair, fished his golden cigarette case out of his bathrobe pocket, and shook out a cigarette. He was about to light it when Duan FeiZhou said, “Smoking is bad for your health. I’ve studied medicine, believe me.”
Z said carelessly. “You’re not saying the same thing as the doctors I know. They all say that smoking keeps the body alive.”
“The truth is often in the hands of the few.”
In that day and age, the dangers of nicotine hadn’t yet been discovered. Cigarettes were seen as just a fashionable pastime, a status symbol, much like coffee or tea. Merchants even advocated the health benefits of cigarettes for the sake of profit.
Z dusted off the ashes, and the corners of his lips hooked up. “I told you, I can’t taste anything. All food tastes like wax to me. Cigarettes are one of the few things that give me a little kick.”
As he spoke, he looked a little bitter.
Duan FeiZhou’s chest tightened. How the hell did Z become like this? Both eyes blind, all four limbs replaced with mechanical prostheses…even his sense of taste had been lost.
“Since you have seen it all, I have nothing to hide.” His voice was a bit hoarse. “My body became like this because I was injured on the battlefield.”
If that was a wound sustained on the battlefield, how serious was that wound? If you are injured like that, was there any chance of survival?
When Duan FeiZhou saw that Z’s hair was still dripping water, he hurriedly found a hand towel in his luggage and put it over Z’s head. “Dry it. Don’t catch a cold.”
Z was stunned. He hadn’t expected him to say such a thing.
Duan FeiZhou saw that he was indifferent, so he took matters into his own hands. He wrung out Z’s hair, and repeatedly rubbed it with the towel several times.
Z sat without saying a word, and let him work on his head.
Finally, Z raised his hand to stop Duan FeiZhou. “That’s enough.”
He got up and walked out the door. As he closed the door, Duan FeiZhou heard a soft whisper from outside, “Thank you.”
That night, Duan FeiZhou couldn’t sleep until very late.
He repeatedly recalled the feel of Z’s long hair sweeping across his palm. Z’s words, “Thank you,” echoed in his ears over and over again. He was so happy that he covered his head with the blanket and laughed lowly. “No, no, no. I have to go to sleep. I have to go visit the lord tomorrow.”
Duan FeiZhou pulled down the blanket, and prepared to fall asleep. That was when he noticed that there was an extra person in the room. The person was sitting in the only chair, and staring out the window. The small hotel facilities were all old, from the bed to the table, and had a strong atmosphere of time, but the only chair in the room was brand new, and emitted a faint wood fragrance.
The chair was occupied by a young woman with long hair pulled back into a pretty bun, wearing a floral dress from Jane Austen’s time. 1She just sat there quietly, as if she didn’t even realize she was intruding into someone else’s room.
Duan FeiZhou felt a little uncomfortable. Why was there a woman in his room? Did she go to the wrong door like he did? Then why didn’t she make a sound when she entered?
“Madam, did you go to the wrong room?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
The young woman turned her head. She had a delicate and melancholy face. “I don’t know…” She spoke quietly, “I seem to have come to a place far from home…”
“Then you should go back!”
The young woman lowered her eyes. Her eyelashes fluttered slightly. “I can’t help it…Sir, might you do me a favor?”
Duan FeiZhou didn’t know whether to answer or not. He felt that if he said, ‘Yes,’ something bad would happen. He hurriedly put on his clothes and felt his pockets. Fortunately, the Phantom Leaf and the spell formation talisman paper were still there. In case of danger, he could hide in the trading house to save his life.
This woman…was she really human?
Duan FeiZhou walked towards the young woman and extended his hand. His hand passed through the young woman’s body. Her body was translucent. Duan FeiZhou recoiled like he’d had an electric shock and stumbled backwards until he hit the wall, unable to retreat further.
He wanted to scream, to call out for Yeats, Al, even Z and Xenophon to save him, but for some reason, he couldn’t say a word. As if a mysterious force had sealed his lips and tongue, and eliminated his voice.
The young woman got up and her translucent body went straight through the oak chair. “Sir, can you help me carry this chair?”
Could Duan FeiZhou still say no? The female ghost may open her bloody mouth, and gnaw his head off. He could only nod, and carefully lift the chair.
The young woman went through the door and disappeared. Duan FeiZhou hesitated, but decided to carry the chair, and follow her out. He pushed open the door and looked around, only to see the ghost of the young woman standing at the entrance of the stairs. A pair of dark eyes gazed at him motionlessly, unblinking.
To his left was Z’s room, across from Yeats and Al’s, and if only he could bolt to the door and knock on it, they would rush out to help.
But did he have the life to last until the moment they showed up?
The young woman’s ghost might only need a second to rip out his throat and drain him of his blood. However, if she was aiming to kill him, she could have done it already. There was no need to make him carry the chair, was there?
Duan FeiZhou obeyed her orders and to see what she wanted. He picked up the chair, and slowly walked out the door to the stairway. As soon as he approached the young woman, she turned into a ghostly shadow and drifted further away.
Duan FeiZhou was hoping his footsteps would wake someone up, but he was disappointed. It was late at night, and no one was awake in the inn. The village had also fallen into a deep sleep. The whole land was silent. Even the night wind no longer whistled.
The ghost of the young woman drifted out of the inn and into the village.
Duan FeiZhou carried the chair, full of confusion. Where exactly did she intend to go?
The ghost drifted all the way to the oak forest near the village and looked like she was going into the forest. Duan FeiZhou hesitated. He remembered that the woods were Lord Perlilla’s private domain. If he trespassed, was it considered a crime?
“Hurry up, Sir,” the young woman’s ghost urged. “We’re almost there.”
Duan FeiZhou gulped nervously and stepped into the deep woods. The moonlight was dim tonight, and the woods should have been darker, yet Duan FeiZhou could see everything clearly in the darkness. Was this because he inherited Joseph Chester’s powers, or had the ghost lady given him unique powers?
Tall oak trees with thick branches and leaves that had perhaps been growing in that place for tens or hundreds of years. They were like silent sentinels, as they guarded that forbidden territory where no one had ever set foot.
Silence in the forest, couldn’t hear the sound of animals moving between the grass and trees, couldn’t hear the night birds chirp, or even wind rustling through the treetops.
The silence was eerie.
The ghostly young woman stopped in front of an extraordinarily tall and strong oak tree. She glanced up at the canopy, and a pained look appeared on her mournful face.
“It’s right here…” With a sigh, her form turned into a night wind and drifted away in all directions.
Duan FeiZhou put down the chair and rolled his aching shoulders. This was the home of the ghostly young lady?
He looked up at the tallest oak tree, which was like the king of the tree grove and stood silently in the middle of the forest floor. There was something moving on the trunk of the tree.
Duan FeiZhou took a step forward.
The bark of the tree flowed like water. It wove into a woman’s face. Her eyes were rounded, and her features were distorted as if she was in extreme pain. Her body emerged from the oak tree. The bark was her skin. She grabbed her face and screamed incoherently.
Duan FeiZhou covered his ears.
The woman’s scream hit his eardrums, and nearly deafened him.
He turned around and ran, but it wasn’t two steps before he ran head-on into another oak tree. Her upper body twisted in the air in pain, as she tried to break free from the trunk. However the lower half of her body remained embedded in the tree, no matter how she struggled to get out.
Duan FeiZhou turned to the left. There was another wooden woman nailed to an oak tree. She was postured like the crucifixion of Jesus. She was suffering from the fires of hell, her mouth was wide open, as she spat out the most vicious curses in the world.
On all sides are all oak trees. Each tree was carved with a woman. She was screaming, she was hissing, she was wailing, she was shouting. They were trapped in the trees like prisoners, or rather, they were the trees themselves…?
Duan FeiZhou had nowhere to go. He covered his head and knelt in pain on dirt covered with fallen leaves. It was as if a hacksaw was pulling and tugging at his head. His eyes hurt, as if all the blood had rushed into them. A fire was burning behind his eyes, burning his brains to until they boiled…
He didn’t know how long it took, but eventually he heard someone calling his name. Had he passed out?
“Mr. Chester. Can you hear me, Mr. Chester?”
Still in a daze, Duan FeiZhou struggled to open his eyes. He was greeted by the faces of Yeats and Al.
“The Clover Inn,” Al said, with a concerned expression on his face.
Duan FeiZhou sat up. He was lying on the bed, in the room that belonged to him at the Clover Inn. The room was untouched, but the oak chair had disappeared.
“What happened to me?” he asked as he held his aching head.
Yeats and Al looked at each other.
“We found you were out of the room early this morning,” Yeats said. “All that was left was a dirt-like trail on the floor that stretched all the way outside the hotel. Everyone was terrified, and the townspeople searched everywhere for you, but they couldn’t find you anywhere in the village.”
“I was in that forest,” Duan FeiZhou said weakly.
“Yes. However, that forest is Lord Perlilla’s private territory, so the townspeople didn’t dare trespass. Everyone said they had to ask the Lord’s permission before they could go into the forest to search it. But the Nightmen…” When he said Nightmen, Yeats pursed his lips. “The white-haired one, rushed into the woods without saying anything, and single-handedly carried you back.”
Duan FeiZhou looked towards the door of the room. The door was half open, and a white shadow flashed from behind the door. Slow footsteps sounded in the hallway, each step accompanied by the sound of mechanical gears turning.
Yeats asked, “What is going on? Why did you run into the woods in the middle of the night?”
Duan FeiZhou covered his head. “Last night I saw a female ghost…”
Yeats’ expression was grave, while Al looked around in fear and clutched his shoulders in terror.
“So, it was an undead, right?” Duan FeiZhou asked. “She lured me into the woods to harm me? But why did she ask me to move that chair? Speaking of which, where is the chair?”
Yeats said, “Didn’t you see something wrong with that chair?”
“It looks new compared to the rest of the furniture.”
Yeats got up silently and left the room, while Duan FeiZhou watched him in bewilderment. After a short time, the poet returned followed by the innkeeper’s wife, who, like a child who had done something wrong, folded her hands uneasily around her apron, hung her head and didn’t dare to look at Duan FeiZhou.
“Can you explain, Mrs. Boss?” Yeats asked.
It was the first time Duan FeiZhou had seen such a serious expression on his face. When the poet was stern, his tone remained calm, but his eyes seemed to have a thunderstorm roaring in them.
The owner’s wife was terrified. “Actually…Some of the guests who stayed in this room before said…they heard a woman talking in the middle of the night. But we didn’t take it seriously. We just thought the guests heard wrong…”
“Where did that chair come from?”
“My husband made it with his own hands, Sir.”
Yeats raised his eyebrows. “That wood looks very expensive, can a small business like yours, and I mean no offense, afford it?”
The proprietress’ round face turned red. “That wood was found, sir! It was never stolen by us! Not long ago Oak Manor, Lord Perlilla’s estate, was refurbished and a lot of wood was used, so my husband picked up some of the scraps. In the Lord’s eyes, it was all scrap, but for us, it was precious wood.”
“You’d better burn that chair, and dump the ashes in the river.”
The lady shivered. “Is that wood…Is there a problem?”
“Just do as I say.” Yeats said coldly. “Unless you want a more serious incident to happen in the future.”
“Yes! I understand. I’m going to burn it!”
Duan FeiZhou watched the boss’s wife flee in a panic and asked, “I don’t quite understand, Mr. Yeats. That wood came from Oak Manor, does it have anything to do with ghosts?”
Yeats gave a wink to Al, who immediately went to the door and closed it. Duan FeiZhou didn’t hear the teenager’s footsteps leave, which suggested that he had stayed outside the door to prevent anyone from eavesdropping on the conversation between the two men inside.
“Next let’s talk about what we have inquired about in the village,” Yeats said. “You remember that Lord Perlilla wants to demolish his mansion, right?”
Duan FeiZhou nodded.
Yeats smiled slyly. “I heard from the townspeople that the reason why the Lord wants to demolish the grand mansion, rather than to sell the land for less money, is really because he thinks the mansion is haunted.”
Duan FeiZhou’s jaw dropped.
Yeats went on to say, “I heard that the Lord had recently been involved in many accidents and had several brushes with death. Since then, he has become suspicious, thinking that the house is haunted by ghosts, and even decided to demolish his haunted house, once and for all to put an end to the problem.”
Duan FeiZhou pondered that. “If there was indeed an undead attempt on the Lord’s life, then it all makes sense. The spirit was lodged in the wood, and the wood’s trimmings were picked up by the innkeeper and made into chairs. That’s why I saw that undead. But what does she have against Lord Perlilla?”
“The undead can be manipulated, Mr. Chester,” Yeats said, as he held up his glasses. “The discipline of séance in occult philosophy is the study of communication with spirits. Lord Perlilla’s family had been practicing it for generations, and it wasn’t until his generation that it was discontinued. It’s entirely possible that his ancestors had a grudge against other occult practitioners, and might have been subject to retaliation. I’m more concerned that all the weirdness came about after the Lord’s father’s death.”
“What does the Lord’s old man have to do with these events?”
Yeats crossed his arms and rested his chin on his chest. “It’s just a theory I have, and not necessarily correct. The old Lord was an occult practitioner, and occult practitioners generally impose some protection on their homes. However, his son Albert Midlov knows nothing about occult philosophy, so if someone has plotted against him with the occult, he would have no way to defend himself.”
“I see.” Duan FeiZhou was enlightened. “After the old Lord’s death, his protection measures followed and failed.”
“Mn, probably so, but we’re not without other possibilities.”
Al, who was guarding the door, suddenly shouted, “Oh, isn’t it Mr. Butler? What, are you looking for my master? You can’t just go in, that’s not proper! You’re the butler of a large estate, you don’t know the rules, do you? Please wait at the door while I inform the master.”
The two men inside stopped talking, and pricked up their ears to listen to what was going on outside.
The door opened and Al poked his head in, “Master, Mr. Hart, the butler of Perlilla Manor, is here to visit.”
His expression was indignant. Apparently he was still angry with Hart, the butler, for neglecting them earlier.
Duan FeiZhou also wanted to take revenge on that dog-eyed butler. He said in a lazy tone, “Can’t you see I’m still in bed? Al, you come dress me, and let the guest wait outside!”
Yeats lowered his head and laughed silently, as his shoulders trembled.
Duan FeiZhou had gone out last night in his pajamas, and Al picked up his jacket and put it on for him at a very slow pace.
Once he was dressed, Al shouted, “Master, your hair is messed up. Let me fix it for you!”
So they tossed his hair for another ten minutes.
Duan FeiZhou sent Al to open the door when he thought Hart was getting tired of waiting. Al pushed the door open with a flourish and stepped to the side, “The Master is ready to receive you. Please come in, Mr. Hart.”
Mr. Hart, the butler, walked in with a flattering smile on his face. He made a fly-rubbing gesture as he bowed towards them, “Dear gentlemen, my master would like to see you.”
“Lord Perlilla?” Duan FeiZhou frowned. “What does he want from us?”
“The Master says he has changed his mind and he wants to talk business with you gentlemen. Please, bring your luggage, the Master invites the gentlemen to stay at Perlilla Manor.”
If it were yesterday, Duan FeiZhou would have picked up his luggage and run to Oak Manor, gleefully talking and laughing with Lord Perlilla. However, today, now that he had learned that the manor was haunted, he suddenly wasn’t so happy. He turned to Yeats, “Mr. Yeats, we think we’d better…”
“We’re going.” Yeats didn’t think twice about it.
“But Oak Manor…”
“I’d like to see what the hell is hiding there.”
Since Yeats said so, Duan FeiZhou had to comply with the order. They hastily packed their bags and checked out of the room with the owner. The owner thought they had checked out because of the ghost incident during the night, and apologized repeatedly.
Hart, the butler, had come in the estate’s carriage. He offered to help Duan FeiZhou to put the luggage on the carriage. His attitude of attentiveness would make people feel a little sick. As the carriage drove to Oak Manor, the small inn’s backyard was filled with smoke, as the oak chair was thrown into the burning fire. The smoke, shaped like a fair woman, was gently blown away by the wind.
“Welcome, gentlemen! Please come in! I am truly sorry for what happened yesterday, and I hope the gentlemen will be magnanimous and not take it to heart.” At Oak Manor, Lord Perlilla warmly welcomed Duan FeiZhou, Yeats and Al. His tough mother wasn’t present today, and the beautiful Miss Melissa was nowhere to be seen. “After careful consideration, I have decided to sell my father’s estate. It would be most appropriate for you professionals to handle it.”
His attitude had taken a 180 degree turn, which made it impossible not to be suspicious.
“Your mother doesn’t object?” Yeats asked.
Lord Perlilla said, “It was my mother’s idea. Yesterday, two detectives suddenly came to visit me. That kind of detective, as you know very well, I’m sure?”
He must have been talking about Z and Xenophon. Yeats nodded.
“They didn’t have a warrant to search our property at will, but since they’re here, it means they’re already suspicious. Alas, at this juncture, I don’t want any more trouble.” The Lord’s square face flushed with shyness. “To tell the truth, I have recently decided to get married. You’ve met the person I’m marrying, Miss Melissa. Our relationship isn’t yet public, so the people don’t yet know who she is. However, I can tell you gentlemen privately, that she is actually the daughter of a certain duke. This marriage is of vital importance to both me and Melissa. If at this critical juncture, any rumors spread that would be detrimental to my reputation…”
Duan FeiZhou nodded knowingly. “Then your marriage to Miss Melissa will be jeopardized.”
“Therefore, I hope that you gentlemen will inventory and remove my father’s belongings as soon as possible. That way, even if the Nightmen come and raid the place, they won’t be able to find anything.”
Yeats, who had been listening closely, interjected, “My Lord, I’m afraid that you were in a great hurry to invite us to the manor for more than just business, right?”
The Lord’s face turned purple, and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. “As expected of a poet, your observation is sharp. I do have something else to ask of the gentlemen.”
“What is it?”
The Lord settled down, and lowered his voice, “I think there are spirits wandering around this estate. Can the gentlemen, who are experienced and knowledgeable occult practitioners, banish the spirits for me?”
Lord Perlilla was being very honest about the haunting of his house, and that was a big surprise to Duan FeiZhou. He thought that these noblemen would strictly adhere to the ancestral tradition of keeping family secrets secret.
Yeats asked, “Are you sure there are spirits here?”
Lord Perlilla sighed. “Ever since my father passed away, strange events have been occurring. I have had many life-threatening encounters in this mansion. The first time was in the sitting room. I was reading a book and fell asleep when a spark burst out of the fireplace, landed on my clothes and started a fire. I was burned to death. I was able to take off my burning clothes in time, but I was still burned.”
“It sounds like a coincidence.” Duan FeiZhou said.
The lord shook his head vigorously, “If it only happened once, it would be a coincidence. But if it happens again one after another, I’m afraid it can’t be explained by coincidence, right? The second time was when I was taking a bath. I was lying in the bathtub, drowsy, when suddenly I felt someone tug on my ankle. I slipped into the bathtub, and nearly drowned. The third time the whole roof collapsed, and if Hart hadn’t been so quick to pull me away, you’d probably be at my funeral right now!”
Duan FeiZhou asked, “Are you sure none of these accidents were man-made?”