Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“I hired private detectives, but those honorable people ruled that out. The only people who had access to the scene were the butler and a few old servants. Although they had the opportunity to commit the crime, they had no motive to do so. They are all elderly servants who have worked here for decades, and I know every one of them by name! I didn’t dare to sleep in the house for fear of further misfortune, so I simply moved to the lake house, where my mother and Melissa have also moved. My mother insists on demolishing the entire mansion, so that even if there are any ghosts in the house, there would be nothing to hide. But…”
Yeats laughed derisively, and said for him, “You want to sell the land on which the manor is located. If you tear down the manor, the price won’t be as good.”
Lord Perlilla smiled, embarrassed. “I can’t hide this little thought from you. If you gentlemen can successfully expel the spirits, then I am willing to take a loss, and sell my father’s relics to you at a low price.”
Duan FeiZhou’s head hurt when he heard that. He didn’t know anything about expelling ghosts! He couldn’t even drive away the living, let alone ghosts!
“That is not part of our business,” he said. “Do you want to try to find some exorcists?”
Lord Perlilla looked at him at a loss for words. “Uh, I know I’m being a little forceful. What if I pay an extra fee?”
“It’s not a matter of money or not.” Duan FeiZhou said, pretending to be serious.
Yeats smiled at Lord Perlilla, then turned around and tugged at Duan FeiZhou’s sleeve. He pulled him aside, and whispered, “Mr. Chester, don’t forget why we’re here.”
“I wouldn’t have come if it weren’t for helping you hold up your end.” Duan FeiZhou was a little displeased.
“I am grateful for your kindness,” Yeats said. “But if we refuse the Lord’s request, I’m afraid we won’t be able to do business.”
“The Nightmen are watching, and he’s anxious to get his father’s things out of the way.”
“Yes, but the Lord has another option, which is to burn everything down.” Yeats looked pensive. “Then we won’t get anything.”
Duan FeiZhou let out a long sigh. He had accompanied Yeats all the way to this hellish manor so that Yeats could successfully acquire the Lord’s father’s relics. A promise was a promise, and he said he would do anything to keep the business going.
“But the undead…”
“Just leave it to me. You don’t have to waste your energy on such a trivial matter.”
Since Yeats had assured him, Duan FeiZhou had nothing to say. If not for the sake of Yeats, he would have carried the train back to London in the night.
“Then I’ll do as you say. The sooner this mess is solved, the sooner we can go home.”
Yeats turned to Lord Perlilla and smiled. “We’ll try to banish the spirits, but there’s no guarantee of results. After all, séances are not our specialty.”
Lord Perlilla was overjoyed. “I have every confidence in the gentlemen’s abilities! I have moved to the lake house, but I’ve left Hart and a couple of clever servants here to serve you the three gentlemen. The guest house is also ready. Please stay in peace, gentlemen.”
Are you sure you can’t live in this haunted house?, Duan FeiZhou thought sarcastically.
Yeats said, “Then please show us your father’s relics.”
“Yes, yes, yes. This way please.” Lord Perlilla led them out of the mansion, and into the garden.
There was a majestic hedge maze built in the garden, and in the center of the maze stood an elaborate gazebo.
Duan FeiZhou thought that the gazebo was hiding the secret workshop of the previous owner of the manor, but Lord didn’t lead them directly through the maze. They wandered around the labyrinth, walked into dead ends and meandered through forks in the road. Then, when they finally saw the gazebo in the middle of the labyrinth, the Lord turned around and went back the way he came.
“Are you sure you’re not going the wrong way?” Yeats wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
“The only way to reach my father’s secret research room is to follow the correct route.” The Lord was also tired. “Actually it’s right in the middle of the maze, but if you walk straight through, nothing will happen. This is only half way around. My father said that it is called the secret method…secret method…Damn, I forgot.”
“Secret geometry, right?” Duan FeiZhou said. “Our footsteps will form a huge diagram formation, and only when this diagram formation is completed will the door to the secret research room open.”
“That’s what he said!” Lord Perlilla nodded repeatedly, and admired Duan FeiZhou’s erudition to the core. He didn’t know that this was only the basics of secret geometry.
They circled around for half a day and walked again to the central pavilion. This time when they reached the pavilion, a staircase that led underground appeared underneath it. The Lord went down first.
“My father used to pretend to go for a walk in the labyrinth, but in fact he would go into the research room to do his occult research. That way no one would suspect him even if he stayed for a long time.”
At the end of the stairs was a basement. A sort of cross between a dungeon and a museum. There was a row of tall bookshelves filled with heavy hardcover books, and across the room was a display that held a bunch of odd exhibits which ranged from crystal skulls to candles carved into human forms. There was also a set of lab benches in the center of the basement, but not as many alchemical instruments. The few flasks that were left were covered in dust.
“Everything’s here.” Lord Perlilla looked around, a little timid, as if he were afraid of a ghost emerging from the walls. “After I inherited the title, I wanted to set these things on fire, but…She and my father were very much in love, and she refused to throw away his belongings. If it weren’t for our family’s recent financial difficulties and the Nightmen’s attention, she wouldn’t have relented.”
Yeats asked, “By giving up these things, you are giving up the mysteries of your family for thousands of years. Are you really willing to do that?”
Lord Perlilla shrugged. “For me, occult philosophy is of little use. I should rather learn how to do business.” He sounded a bit sad. “Gentlemen, take your own inventory. I’ll leave you to it. I have to rush to the lake house to be with my mother and Melissa. If you want to leave, just go out, no need to walk through that….secret method diagram formation.”
“Aren’t you afraid that we will hide something?” Duan FeiZhou felt amused.
“Where can you hide it?” The Lord surveyed the three of them with their empty hands.
Duan FeiZhou unconsciously felt his pockets. The Secret Trading House’s spell runes were there. The Lord clutched his shoulders and fled. He was truly afraid of this place.
The three men looked at each other, and unanimously showed a bitter smile.
“Let’s get to work.” Yeats took a small notebook and a pen out of his briefcase, and stood in front of the bookshelf as he jotted down the name of each book.
Duan FeiZhou, on the other hand, turned around to look at the display shelves. Some of the items on the display shelves emitted a vague glow, while others were plain. He picked out the ordinary items and handed them to Al to stack on the lab bench.
“We can’t take all this stuff on the train, can we?” he said.
“That’s natural. After the inventory is finished, send it directly to the Secret Trading House. May these books also be temporarily placed in the trading house, Mr. Chester?”
“No problem. It’s really convenient to have the trading house. It’s like carrying a home with you. Why don’t we just sit in the Lord’s house and set up the store?”
Yeats laughed. “That would be very convenient.”
The afternoon was spent inventorying books and occult items. Yeats found a jumble of stuff. A cookbook written by the estate’s chef, a notebook documenting the estate’s renovations, a genealogy of the Midlov family, and a stack of notebooks filled with cryptic codes, probably from generations of the Lords’ researches.
Duan FeiZhou picked out all the ordinary items. As for the items that contained special powers, he asked the Lord about their functions before he filed them away. They transferred the inventoried items into the trading house first. The rest could be sorted the next day. When they left the underground room, night already covered most of the sky. It was only on the western horizon that a trace of crimson remained. Duan FeiZhou couldn’t help but think of Z’s eyes.
When he fainted in the oak forest, it was Z who saved him despite all odds. His chest seemed to be filled with something warm.
Yeats said, “Speaking of which, since those two Nightmen came all the way to Perlilla Manor, I’m afraid they didn’t just want to scare his Lordship, right? If their purpose is to search Perlilla Manor, and find evidence that Lord is an occult practitioner, then they would have brought a search warrant. But they didn’t. This means that they came for something else. The visit to Lord Perlilla was just a side trip.”
Al grinned. “Lord Perlilla was scared out of his wits, and can’t wait to clear out these occult items, so it’s a bargain for us.”
Yeats turned to Duan FeiZhou. “Did the Nightmen reveal anything to you?”
Duan FeiZhou shook his head. “They were very tight-lipped, and didn’t tell me anything. I didn’t even know they were coming to Shropshire.”
Yeats said, “I have a favor to ask. Could you please go to the Nightmen and find out?”
“Huh?” Duan FeiZhou was struck by lightning. “No way!”
He just said it casually, but Yeats really took him for an undercover agent?
“I know it’s dangerous, but I won’t feel at ease until I know what they’re doing here.” Yeats frowned. “I say, could they be tracking me or you and come here? Once we do something out of the ordinary, we’ll be arrested immediately.”
Duan FeiZhou also thought about that for a while. Z had already made up his mind to recruit him as a Nightman, yet he kept his mouth shut about the purpose of his visit to Shropshire, and that was very suspicious. He couldn’t afford to take the matter lightly because of his own safety. However, how was he to get the truth out of those two shrewd Nightmen?
Wait. He couldn’t ask them directly, but no one said he couldn’t eavesdrop!
“I’ve got an idea.” He smiled at Yeats. “I brought a Phantom Leaf with me. I can sneak up on them and eavesdrop!”
Yeats’s eyes grew round. “If I remember correctly, Phantom Leaves are very expensive.”
Duan FeiZhou shrugged. It was his Uncle Joseph’s legacy anyway, so he didn’t feel bad about using it. Good steel should be used on the edge of the sword. If not now, when should it be used? He fished the Phantom Leaf out of his pocket, and put it in his mouth.
Yeats and Al focused on the hedge maze at the same time. Whenever he used the Phantom Leaf, the people around him couldn’t help but get distracted by something small and insignificant, and then ignore the fact that a big man was walking past them.
“Strange, why has the master suddenly disappeared?” Al scratched his head in confusion.
“That’s how effective Phantom Leaves can be to keep one from being noticed by others,” Yeats said. “The market price of a Phantom Leaf is around fifty pounds, and the owner of the trading house said he used it before. That’s really bold…”
Duan FeiZhou left the estate, and walked along the country road towards the village.
In London, the time should be early night lighting, when the colorful night life of the people of the metropolis was just beginning. However in the countryside at that moment, all was silent. People in the countryside still maintained the routine of sunrise and sunset.
He stood in front of the Clover Inn, looked up at the second floor, and searched for the window of Z’s room. He had broken in once yesterday by mistake, so which room was it? Damn. He only remembered Z’s bruised and battered body, not the location of the room. What kind of information did his pathetic little brain store in itself every day?
Just as he was trying to remember, the door of the inn opened silently. A silvery white shadow fluttered out. In the darkness, he could only see a silver head floating in the air.
Duan FeiZhou thought he had run into a ghost, and was so scared that he almost swallowed the Phantom Leaf. However, when he focused his eyes he saw that it was actually a large living person who was wearing a black suit that blended with the night. That plus the too conspicuous silver hair was enough to create the illusion of a floating human head.
Z pushed the door open and came out. Immediately behind him was Xenophon with an amused look on his face. He was carrying a civilized cane in one hand, and a lamp in the other as he muttered and complained, “Why can’t we go back tomorrow? It’s already so late!”
“What’s the difference between morning and night in our work? Aren’t we working 24 hours a day?” Z said coldly.
“But you’ll disturb other people’s rest!”
“I’m not the one being disturbed to begin with.”
They passed in front of Duan FeiZhou without a glance, as he stood straight, hands pressed against the seams of his pants. He didn’t dare to move as he tried to pretend he was a pillar of stone. Once he moved too much or made an untimely noise, the effect of the Phantom Leaf would be broken.
Xenophon held up his hat. “It’s a beautiful moon tonight!”
Z said skeptically, “According to the moon phase table, there should be no moon tonight.”
Xenophon nodded. “That’s why it’s beautiful!”
It was only then that Duan FeiZhou realized that he should follow the two detectives to see who they were going to disturb at night. He crept after the two men, fairly close behind them. This wasn’t stalking, he told himself, it was following in the open.
Z and Xenophon’s destination was a small farmhouse. It wasn’t far from the village, and Shropshire was full of such family farms. The windows of the farmhouse were dark, but Xenophon didn’t care if he disturbed anyone. He went up to the door, and knocked twice with his civilized cane.
“Who is it?” A male voice came from the house.
“Is Mr. Plough in?”
The door opened a small crack, and revealed a shining eye that surveyed the two well-dressed detectives suspiciously. They looked like outsiders from the big city, all exuded in the incompatible countryside aura.
“We’re detectives from the London Police Department,” Z said, detached and polite. “Here to ask you questions for investigating the disappearance of your son.”
Mr. Plough tried to close the door, but Xenophon was quick to thrust his civilized cane into the crack. After several futile attempts, Mr. Plough could only glare at Xenophon. “Can’t you come tomorrow during the day? My wife is already asleep!”
“How rare is it that she can still sleep?” Xenophon raised his eyebrows.
Mr. Plough faltered. He opened the door, and quickly pulled the two men inside for fear that his neighbors might witness two strange people were visiting his house at night. That would surely add to all the rumors about his family.
Duan FeiZhou quietly slipped under the window of the farmhouse, and poked half his head up to observe the house. The house was simply furnished with a crudely made table, a crib and two chairs. A woman in rags sat on the bed.
The only source of light in the room was the lamp Xenophon held. Even though the light was very dim, Duan FeiZhou could see the woman’s face. Wasn’t she the woman who had stopped them in the village square yesterday, and called Al her son?
Z said politely and plainly, “Hello, Mr. Plough, Mrs. Plough. We’ve come to inquire about your son.”
Mrs. Plough had lost herself. Her hair was disheveled, and her cheeks were sunken. Only her dark eyes shone.
“My son, my Barney. Have you found him?” She excitedly grabbed at Z and Xenophon. “You’re the police, aren’t you? Have you found my son?”
Z didn’t push her away, just let her grab him like that and said, “Can you tell us about your son’s disappearance?”
Mrs. Plough nodded vigorously, as if she had grabbed a lifeline. “He was wearing a blue blouse and gray pants. The blouse was large and had been altered from his father’s old clothes. The boy’s hair was brown, his eyes were blue, he was so tall…”
She began to gush about her son’s physical features. Duan FeiZhou was heartbroken for a while. Since the disappearance of her son, she had probably stopped strangers on the road, perhaps countless times, and repeated the same words, just to inquire for a few clues about her son.
Mr. Plough pulled his wife away, sat her on the bed, turned back and said, “It was Sunday, and we were all working in the fields while the boy went to Sunday school. He was supposed to come home after school, but he hadn’t come back by evening. The children who went to Sunday school with him said that they were together at the end of the school day, but in a flash he was gone. So we mobilized the whole village to look for him. We searched several times between the Sunday school and the village, but found nothing.”
“Did you search anywhere else?” Z asked.
Mr. Plough nodded, “We searched all around. The townspeople from nearby villages joined the search party when they heard that a child was missing. The county police also came. When his Lordship heard about it, he sent manor servants to help, and even lent a few horses. But…”
He looked gloomy, and couldn’t continue.
Z then asked, “Did you search the oak woods?”
Mr. Plough blinked in surprise. “You mean the Lord’s private woodland? Of course we searched it, but found nothing. You think the boy was lost in the woods?”
“Who was in charge of searching the oak woods?”
Mr. Plough didn’t understand why he asked that. The honest farmer frowned, tried to recall for half a day and then said, “Oak Grove is the Lord’s private woodland. Others can’t trespass, and it’s easy to get lost in it, so it was the butler, Mr. Hart, who led a group of people to search it.”
Z touched his hat in salute to the Ploughs. “We’ve finished our inquiry. Farewell.”
“Wait!” Mr. Plough called out to him. “What do you mean? Are you suggesting that Mr. Hart didn’t do his due diligence in his search and missed some clue?”
“I’m not suggesting anything,” Z said coldly.
Mrs. Plough grabbed his hand hopelessly. Her voice trembled, “Can you find my little Barney, Mr. Policeman?”
Xenophon gripped her wrist, and made her let go of his hand. He knelt down, looked Mrs. Plough straight in the eye, and said, “We will do everything we can, Madam. Now sleep, and forget all your sorrows and troubles.”
He touched Mrs. Plough’s forehead with his civilized cane. The bony woman yawned, leaned back on the bed and closed her eyes. Her husband touched her cheek in shock to confirm that she was only asleep. He turned to Xenophon. His hands squeezed his shirt uneasily, as if ashamed of his earlier coldness and rudeness.
“Thank you, Sir, I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.” He bowed his head gratefully. “Since Barney’s disappearance, she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep. Every night she wakes up with nightmares, and cries until dawn.”
Xenophon smiled, nodded to him, picked up his lantern and walked out of the house. Duan FeiZhou knew they were leaving, and he should leave soon too. He turned his head and met a pair of dark eyes.
It was a black and white sheepdog, probably owned by the Plough family. It stuck its tongue out and panted at Duan FeiZhou, its mouth open in a happy grin.
At first glance, Duan FeiZhou wanted to pet this strange cutie but he suddenly perceived a problem.
…Why was the dog of the Plough family looking right at him?
The Phantom Leaf trick…Did it not work on animals?
Sword in the Stone only said that the Phantom Leaf could make “others” ignore him, but what about animals…? The sheepdog wagged its tail, then barked loudly. He looked so cute, but his bark was deafening. When he barked, his saliva almost sprayed Duan FeiZhou in the face.
…Sword in the Stone, I really thank you! If I die, someday my epitaph will be, “Don’t trust scam emails and the Sword in the Stone!”
It was too late. Z rushed to the window, and flicked out of it.
Duan FeiZhou subconsciously turned around and fled. Unfortunately, Z was faster than him. He grabbed him by the back of the head, and threw him to the ground.
Duan FeiZhou fell face down into the mud, and felt the bridge of his nose fall flat. Blood gushed out of his nose then into his mouth, and mixed with the bitter taste of dirt and the soapy taste of the Phantom Leaf. It was too sorrowful for words.
Z straddled his back. One hand bent his arms backwards, the other grabbed him by the hair and pressed his head into the dirt without mercy.
“It’s you!” When he realized that the eavesdropper was actually Duan FeiZhou, he made an incredulous expression, then his handsome face immediately developed a cold and bitter killing aura.
Duan FeiZhou’s mouth was filled with the sour taste of blood, and the force applied to the back of his head was so great that he couldn’t lift his head at all. A pair of shiny leather shoes appeared in his restricted view. He realized they were Xenophon’s feet.
“Gently, Boss,” Xenophon said, as he tapped Duan FeiZhou’s cheek with his civilized cane. “You’re making it impossible for him to talk.”
Z sniffed, and let go of his head.
Xenophon crouched down in front of Duan FeiZhou, grabbed him by the hair and forced his head up to face him. The dark-haired detective had a smile on his lips, but his eyes were cold and unsmiling. “Who sent you here?”
All was lost, Duan FeiZhou thought desperately. The only thing he could do was immediately swallow the Phantom Leaf. He also gulped some dirt along with it.
“Nobody…I came by myself,” he said vaguely.
“Coming to tea at Ploughs’ this late at night?” Xenophon smiled.
Mr. Plough cowered behind the door. Just one eye showed. When he heard his name come from the detective’s mouth, he hurriedly closed the door, for fear that he would become involved.
Duan FeiZhou shivered. His face hurt like hell, and his arm was even more painful. Z seemed to prefer to skewer his arm.
Honesty comes first, and more important than honesty is telling the truth only half the time.
Joseph Chester’s advice echoed in the back of his mind.
“I heard that a child had gone missing from the village…I was curious and planned to check it out…I didn’t expect you guys to be here…”
“Didn’t I tell you that what happened here was none of your business?” Z whispered softly, but the force in his hand was increasing. He clutched Duan FeiZhou’s wrist, as if to crush his wrist bones. With the strength of the mechanical prosthesis, he could do it if he wanted to.
Duan FeiZhou screamed in pain. Z was even more furious, but unexpectedly reduced the force.
“What has nothing to do with me?!” Duan FeiZhou shouted aggressively. “You recruited me to join the Nightmen, and then you didn’t tell me anything! I came to inquire on my own, and I’m being scolded by you again!”
Duan FeiZhou couldn’t see Z’s face, but he was sure that Z’s expression must be extremely twisted now.
Xenophon looked away from his face, and suddenly laughed up at the sky.