Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xenophon laughed and shook. “You see, Boss? Didn’t I tell you a long time ago? The more you cover up, the more he’s going to ask questions to the end! Come, come. Concede the bet!”
He spread his hands towards Z and hooked his fingers, as if he was asking for something. Xenophon deftly caught the gold coin thrown at him, and quickly stuffed it into his pocket as if he feared that Z might back out.
“You guys…Bet on me?” Duan FeiZhou couldn’t believe it.
The weight on Duan FeiZhou’s back disappeared, and Z stood up. He glared at him viciously, as if silently he were condemning him for making him lose a pound.
“Let’s go. Let’s not disturb the Ploughs’ rest.” Xenophon tipped his hat with his civilized cane, picked up his lantern, and led them in the direction of the village.
Duan FeiZhou wiped his face. It was covered in blood.
“Xenophon, can you heal me?” He followed the dark-haired detective. He stared longingly at the civilized cane. It emitted a shimmering light that suggested special properties were attached.
“I can, but I don’t want to.” Xenophon said.
“Because you’re misbehaving, and I’m going to make you learn a lesson.” Xenophon said with a smirk.
Duan FeiZhou was in pain everywhere. He couldn’t wait to punch the playful Xenophon, but he knew his arm would be blown off, so he had to hold back.
Z tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. Duan FeiZhou turned around, and a handkerchief was handed to him.
“Wipe it off, or you’ll scare passersby. This village doesn’t need any more weird talk.”
Duan FeiZhou snatched up the handkerchief, and covered his bleeding nose and mouth.
Xenophon said briskly and quickly, “Since you’ve overheard quite a bit, and it’s impossible to keep it from you, why don’t we just work together? You must have gotten a lot of information in Oak Manor, why not share it with us?”
Duan FeiZhou’s heart felt like electricity was running through it. This was a good opportunity to become a spy!
“The servants of the manor are murmuring that the house is haunted,” he said in a muffled voice. “Lord Perlilla has had several accidents, and he thinks it is haunted by the spirits, so he plans to tear the whole house down.”
“There is indeed something odd about that house.” Xenophon narrowed his eyes, then looked away from the deeper shadows of Oak Manor in the darkness.
“Why would the manor be haunted all of a sudden? Where did all those ghosts come from?”
“There are many possibilities.” Z tilted his head in thought. “Lord Perlilla’s family is a long-established hereditary nobility with a lot of enemies. If someone wanted to manipulate ghosts to kill his Lordship, it would be normal.”
“It’s even possible that the Lord himself has done something wrong, and that’s caused the undead to come to his door to claim his life.” Xenophon’s tone was full of gloating. “Rumor has it that the Midlov family is well-versed in occult philosophy, although the current Lord doesn’t look like an occult practitioner.”
Duan FeiZhou was very glad to have the handkerchief to cover his face, so he didn’t reveal his surprised expression. He asked, “Are occult practitioners something that can be seen with the naked eye?”
“Some can.” Xenophon replied absentmindedly. The question was off-topic and irrelevant to him.
Duan FeiZhou was about to ask what distinctive features of occult practitioners were visible to the naked eye (so that he could hide himself better later) when Xenophon stopped in his tracks. They were standing at the fork in the country road. One path led to the village, another to Oak Manor, and a third stretched into Lord’s private woodland.
“You keep Mr. Chester company.” Xenophon handed the lantern to Z. “I have some things I want to confirm.”
Z cocked his head suspiciously, but didn’t say anything to stop him. He just said, “I’ll meet you at the inn.”
Xenophon turned toward the woods. He raised a hand in a perfunctory wave as a goodbye.
Now it was just Duan FeiZhou and Z alone. He found himself inexplicably awkward every time he was alone with Z. It was no wonder. The first time they met, Z stabbed him through the heart. After that, he accidentally witnessed Z getting out of the bath. This time, Z almost disfigured him. How could they possibly get along happily and harmoniously?
“Why did you move out of the inn?” Z asked indifferently.
Duan FeiZhou stammered, “Lord Perlilla invited us to stay at Oak Manor. Because…Uh…He admired Mr. Yeats’ literary skills. He felt that the Clover Inn wasn’t befitting of a great poet.”
He sincerely hoped his tone didn’t reveal how faint-hearted he was.
“So he let the poet stay in a haunted house?” A smile teased the corners of Z’s lips.
“In case you didn’t know, Mr. Yeats has a lot of nerve. He’s written a book specifically about Irish folklore. He probably wouldn’t be happy living in a house that wasn’t haunted.”
“Weirdo,” Z grunted.
“All literary people are eccentrics.”
The two men arrived at the entrance to the manor house with a starry night sky. Every window in the manor was dark, without a single ray of light. As Z rang the doorbell, the sound was almost deafening in the silence of the night. The dogs nearby barked. Duan FeiZhou took the handkerchief away from his nose which was no longer bleeding. It was covered with a dark stain, partly dried blood, and partly dirt and dust from his face.
Even after a long time, no one came to open the door. Z got impatient and tried to knock again, but Duan FeiZhou stopped him. He tried pulling the door ring, and the door opened with a sound. “The door isn’t even locked.”
“This county must be pretty well policed,” Z sneered.
“Let’s part ways here. Good night, Z.” Duan FeiZhou couldn’t wait to get rid of him.
Z didn’t think so. He pushed Duan FeiZhou inside, through the foyer and to the stairs.
“I want to see you go to bed with my own eyes.”
“You don’t trust me! It’s insulting!”
“Who asked you to betray my trust?”
Duan FeiZhou bristled with discontent, and his cracked lips ached again. He couldn’t help it, and hissed. His mouth hurt even more.
Z lowered his head. He held Duan FeiZhou’s chin, forced him to tilt his head, and with the other hand, raised the lamp to his eyes. Duan FeiZhou couldn’t open his eyes in the sudden glare of light. He felt it as Z wrenched his head from side to side, then mechanical and righteous fingers slid across his cheeks, and finally came to rest on his broken lips.
“I’m sorry. I hit you a little too hard earlier.” Z’s tone was apologetic. “I thought someone was eavesdropping out there…” He was about to say something, but finally shook his head. “If you’re honest, I’ll call Xenophon to treat you tomorrow.”
“He said no treatment.” Duan FeiZhou said.
“Not with my word.”
Duan FeiZhou felt the heat of the lamp recede, and opened his eyes warily.
“Good night.” Z turned around. The light stretched his shadow, and reflected on the wall of the foyer. The portraits on the wall became shadowed as well.
Duan FeiZhou suddenly remembered a report he had read about Ms. Nightingale caring for the wounded in the barracks. She would make nightly light patrols, and the wounded would reverently kiss her shadow as it reflected on the wall.
He watched Z walk toward the door. At the same time, his eyes inevitably touched the portraits on the wall. They were portraits of the Lords and Ladies through the ages. One of them depicted a slender and beautiful woman, who wore a floral dress from Jane Austen’s time. A faint sadness seemed frozen between her brows.
Duan FeiZhou drew a cold breath.
Z stopped and turned around. “What’s wrong?”
Duan FeiZhou pointed to the portrait and stammered, “I’ve seen her!”
“What did you say?” Z’s eyebrows knitted together, and his handsome face radiated a strong angry aura.
“I saw an undead last night, and it was her! It was that woman who lured me into the oak forest!”
The woman’s laughter rang out abruptly from the gloomy mansion.
“Come here!” Z shouted.
Duan FeiZhou ran towards him without a second thought.
Z grabbed Duan FeiZhou, and darted toward the door. However, the door at the end of the foyer disappeared. Only a wallpapered wall was left in its place.
“What the hell?” Duan FeiZhou muttered.
Z’s face darkened. His handsome face looked like it was covered in a layer of severe frost, which complemented his distinctive white hair and red eyes.
“I am the Commander of the Abnormal Case Investigation Unit of the London Police Department, Zeno Xenia!” he announced himself loudly to the shadows. “What kind of occult practitioners are you, and do you know what happens when you act against the Nightmen?”
His voice cascaded into the foyer with an echo.
The portraits of successive Lords on the walls stared unblinkingly at the detective, each Lord solemn and serious with snowy temples, each Lady young and beautiful, elegant and dignified. The quirky echoes seemed to be their collective mockery.
Goosebumps crawled up Duan FeiZhou’s back. He immediately jumped to Z’s side, and tried to get as close to him as possible. He was just a newbie occult practitioner (possibly not even an occult practitioner), and the only one he could rely on was Z.
“Looks like someone is trying to trap us.” Z clasped Duan FeiZhou’s wrist. With direct physical contact, Duan FeiZhou couldn’t help but feel much more at ease. “Others may also be in danger. Where were your friends staying?”
“I think it’s upstairs, right?”
Duan FeiZhou volunteered to take Z upstairs. He, Yeats, and Al were in the guest rooms for distinguished guests. Duan FeiZhou had a separate room. However, since Al was still a child, the Lord had arranged a suite for him and Duan FeiZhou. Duan FeiZhou pushed on the door of the suite, but it didn’t move. He knocked hard, but no one responded.
“Stand back.” Z threw the lantern to Duan FeiZhou.
Duan FeiZhou knew what he was going to do, and hurriedly shifted backward. Z didn’t let go of his hand as he lifted his foot directly to the door. The door made a loud noise, and opened inward.
The two men rushed into the suite, one after the other. Both were dumbfounded.
What they entered wasn’t the guest room at all, but the kitchen.
An array of knives was neatly arranged on the counter, clean dishes were in the cupboard, and strings of garlic and peppers hung on the wall. A small fire was lit in the stove where a large rumbling pot simmered. It emitted a tantalizing aroma, and presumably was for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Without the self-consciousness of a guest, Z opened the lid of the pot in a grand manner, scooped up a spoonful of soup and sniffed it.
“This house even has distorted space. I’m afraid it’s not just haunted. It’s a shame Xenophon isn’t here, he’s pretty good at cracking this kind of stuff.” Z dropped the spoon back into the pot.
Duan FeiZhou glanced back at the door they’d entered, as a panel fell helplessly to the floor. A corridor was clearly visible through the door. Not the one outside the guest room, but the one that connected the kitchen to the dining room.
“Why don’t we just go back–”
A clattering scrape. The sound of metal clanks came from behind. The knives on the kitchen table floated up and hung in midair, all their tips aimed straight at him.
“–to the hotel.” Duan FeiZhou gulped.
Ten thousand arrows were fired.
A mechanical prosthetic limb popped out a shiny blade, which blocked the flying knives. Z’s movements were too fast to be captured with the naked eye. Rhe blade danced in a dazzling mess of shadows, and all that could be seen for a while were sparks. The sound of clanging metal was incessant.
When the sound of collision stopped, the knives fell to the ground. Unfortunately the attack didn’t stop there. The knives on the ground emitted a buzzing sound like bees on the wing, and pulled by an invisible force, they floated up again.
“Z, they won’t stop! Let’s go!” Duan FeiZhou dragged Z by the arm, and strained to drag him out the door. The floating knives were once again aimed at the two of them, as they shot over like a rain of arrows. One of the knives was about to stab Duan FeiZhou in the eye, so he quickly shut the door. The dull sound of knives as they pierced the wood came from the other side of the door, like uncountable raindrops striking the eaves.
“That was close…” Duan FeiZhou sat down, paralyzed, with his back against the wall.
Then he immediately jumped up.
He took it for granted that after leaving the kitchen, he would return to the hallway outside the guest room. However, he found that this wasn’t a corridor, but the parlor where Lord Perlilla had received them before.
The parlor was furnished exactly the same way as the last time Duan FeiZhou was there, with comfortable sofas, a fine coffee table, and a magnificent crystal chandelier that hung overhead. The place was empty except for Duan FeiZhou and Z. There were only two pairs of shiny armor that served as decoration, one on the left and one on the right side of the fireplace, as if they were loyal guards.
“Let’s go on, and see where it leads next.”
Z couldn’t see, and had to rely on hearing the wind. Unfortunately, there was no wind inside the mansion, so he was deafened and blind. He could only hold on to the wall and move slowly.
Duan FeiZhou took his other hand. He held the lantern aloft, as he looked around vigilantly.
A pair of white arms stretched out from the wall.
They look like a woman’s hands, with soft curves and slender fingers. Very suitable for playing the piano…and strangling people’s necks.
The white arms snapped around Z’s neck.
The white-haired Nightman was taken aback as he hastily brought his own hands up, and tried to wrestle them away. That’s when another pair of white hands grew out of the wall, and grabbed Z’s arm. A third pair of white hands followed, and grabbed his ankle. The six white hands worked together to restrain Z. The more he struggled, the tighter they became, as if they were six writhing white snakes, or a giant flower bud growing out of the wall.
Of course, this didn’t mean that a place that wasn’t against the wall was safe. The armor standing on either side of the fireplace suddenly moved, and surrounded Duan FeiZhou; one on either side
Duan FeiZhou regretted not bringing Sword in the Stone, but now it was too late to go back to the trading house to get it. A suit of armor swung its fist, and hit out hard at Duan FeiZhou. He ducked, and the armor hit the coffee table with a loud bang. The marble top broke into pieces.
Duan FeiZhou rushed towards Z, and tried to free him from the entangling white hands. The wall had turned into a swampy, soft substance, and Z was dragged hard by the white hands. Only half of his body was still exposed now.
There was the sound of metal armor clashing overhead. Duan FeiZhou subconsciously rolled to the ground, and the iron fist of the armor sliced over the top of his head. If he hadn’t dodged in time, his head would have shattered like the marble tabletop.
The white-haired Nightman completely disappeared into the wall. Duan FeiZhou lunged at him, but hit the wall so hard that he almost flattened his nose. Duan FeiZhou hurriedly dodged to the right. The steel fist hit the wall, and left a huge spider web-shaped crater.
Duan FeiZhou’s scalp tingled. With the strength of the armor, just a little bit of a hit and he would be smashed on the spot. The first of these was the one that was the most important part of the fight. He was so tired that he couldn’t catch his breath, but the armor’s actions were unaffected. How could a body of flesh and blood compete with steel?
There was no escape. He tried desperately to think. He was doomed to die in this place. He didn’t even know whether his opponent was a living person or a ghost. Even Z, who was such a powerful police Nightman wasn’t sure of life and death, let alone someone like him who was such a newcomer that he had only just touched the edge of occult philosophy.
But he didn’t want to die here! He had a lot to do. He had to go back to 49 Frances Place in London. He wanted to spend Christmas with the Lynn family, and he had to go back to Aberdeen to open a clinic. He promised Joseph to continue to run the Secret Trading House, and although he had been moving heaven and earth, he hoped that the transactions would soon cease…
He remembered the occult philosophy book he had read not long ago. Occult practitioners could draw energy from one place and release it to another.
The armor’s iron fist impact was also a kind of energy, so if he took a blow then released the energy to another place, couldn’t he get away unharmed? However, could he do it? He couldn’t manage the simplest method of drawing the heat from fire. Was it possible to defuse the attack of the armor?
It was useless to think so much about it now, he could only give it a try. Anyway, he couldn’t escape. It was success or death.
The armor swung its fist again. This time Duan FeiZhou didn’t run away, but stood still and met the armor.
–Transfer that impact elsewhere!
The iron fist hit Duan FeiZhou in the face without missing a beat. Duan FeiZhou closed his eyes tightly, tensed up, and waited for death to come.
There was no pain, no bleeding, not even the feeling of steel touching his skin.
He opened his eyes shakily and saw the armor’s fist had stopped in front of him.
A drop of cold sweat slid down his neck and into his collar.
A strange sound came from above his head.
Ting, ting, ting.
Duan FeiZhou glanced upward. The crystal chandelier that hung in the middle of the parlor swayed. Hundreds of crystal beads tinkled, like ringing wind chimes.
Did he just transfer the impact of the armor iron fist to the chandelier?
The chain snapped with a final groan of pain. The huge crystal chandelier smashed down.
There was a deafening roar. Duan FeiZhou couldn’t dodge it in time, he could only cover his face and stand in place.
After a long time, the parlor returned to dead silence. Duan FeiZhou dropped his hands in fright, only to see the two suits of armor buried under the golden chandelier. The crystal shards were everywhere but there was a clean, spotless circle centered on Duan FeiZhou, as if an invisible barrier had blocked the spreading debris.
“I did it!” Duan FeiZhou couldn’t help but raise his arms and shout. Of course, now wasn’t a good time to celebrate. He had to find Z and the others, then get them out of this haunted house.
With confidence exuding from his body, he walked with his head held high as he stepped over the debris and the two paralyzed suits of armor toward the parlor door. He had learned how to transfer energy, who else could hurt him? Who cared if it was a flying chopper or walking armor. What did he have to fear?
He pushed open the door to the parlor, and walked to the next room.
This room was about the size of a guest room. It was also a bedroom, but obviously a woman’s bedroom. There was a dressing table beside the ornate four-poster bed, with a wide array of cosmetics and jewelry practically piled up on the table top. Ordinary maids couldn’t afford such baubles. This must be the mistress’ bedroom.
Lord Perlilla had no sisters and hadn’t yet married, so the mistress of the bedroom must have been his mother. It was just that the lady was too old at her age to be using these fancy and gaudy cosmetics, wasn’t she?
He ran to the bedroom window. Since the space in the manor was distorted, could he escape through the window? He tried to unscrew the window handle, but it was rusty. No matter how hard he pulled, it wouldn’t budge. Duan FeiZhou was so angry that he simply threw his fist and tried to smash the glass…
Then he held his hand and rolled all over the ground.
He didn’t dare to take the risk again, so he grabbed a comb from the dresser, and threw it at the window.
As he expected, the comb bounced harmlessly off it, then nearly hit him in the head.
“Lord Perlilla, you could have made a fortune if you had switched to making bulletproof glass,” Duan FeiZhou grunted in a low voice, and shook his sore hand. Since he couldn’t get out of this room, he had to head for the next one. He stepped over the comb on the floor, and walked toward the door.
At that moment, the comb suddenly twitched and floated up lazily.
It drifted toward the dresser, stopped in mid-air, then slowly descended, rose again, and descended again. Like an invisible hand was holding it, and combing the hair of an invisible person.
Duan FeiZhou’s gaze turned to the mirror on the dresser. He was standing in front of the mirror, which reflected his image carrying the lantern. However, he wasn’t the only one in the mirror.
In front of him, directly in front of the dresser, there was also a woman sitting there.
She was very young, no more than thirty years old. She was wearing a silk robe, and held a comb, as she carefully tended to her long thick black hair. Everytime she moved her comb, the comb in front of the mirror floated and followed the movement; up, down, and back again.
The woman only cared about combing her hair, and didn’t notice the young man with a lantern who stood behind her. She seemed to be insensible to him. That gave Duan FeiZhou a perfect opportunity. He slowly retreated toward the door, as he held back goosebumps, and carefully twisted the door handle.
The door of the room opened with a toothsome sound.
Duan FeiZhou was scared out of his wits, and thought he had been discovered, so he hurriedly threw the door open.
When he turned around, he found himself in yet another bedroom.
This time it wasn’t an adult’s room, but a nursery.
There was a cradle in front of the window, and the carpet was strewn with a multitude of toys in various types of military uniforms, their clockwork covered with patches of rust. There were small wooden horses and dogs. Since they had been played with too many times, their paint had worn off. There was a cloth sewn bear with its arm joints cracked, and cotton emerging from the wounds. Also a doll in a beautiful little dress that was missing an eye, which left a deep, dark hole in the face.
There was also a plain single bed in one corner of the room, which Duan FeiZhou knew was for a nanny or governess. The nobility never raised their children themselves, and always left those things to servants and teachers.
Duan FeiZhou carried the lantern as he walked over to the cradle. To his relief, it was empty. He was worried that there would be a dead baby lying in the cradle or something…
Since there was no one here, he decided to move on to the next room.
As soon as this thought came to him, Duan FeiZhou noticed a shadow flicker on the window glass.
It was so dark outside that the only light came from Duan FeiZhou’s lantern, which turned the glass into a mirror. It faintly reflected the figure of a young woman in a long, luxurious dress, with her long blonde hair pulled back in a small round bun at the back of her head. The woman looked down lovingly at the cradle. She lifted a hand, nudged the cradle, and then smiled.
At the same time, the cradle in the room really swayed.
Duan FeiZhou remembered. These two women were members of the Oak Manor foyer portrait army. They were the Ladies of the Lord Perlillas through the generations.
Duan FeiZhou slowly retreated towards the door of the room.
Now he understood why his Lordship couldn’t wait to demolish this dilapidated house. If it were him, he wouldn’t want to live in this kind of haunted house. He was about to retreat to the door, but he stepped on something and it made a crisp sound. He lowered his head. It turned out to be a small wooden horse. He had stepped on its head.
The woman in the glass was startled, and turned around in surprise.
The toys scattered all over the floor rustled and trembled. Clockwork inside the clockwork figures began to rotate automatically. The little wooden horse and the little wooden dog moved their thin limbs towards Duan FeiZhou. The doll climbed up, and turned its back to Duan FeiZhou. However, its head rotated 180 degrees, so the hole in its face stared straight at the intruder.
“Sorry to interrupt!” Duan FeiZhou screamed as he opened the door, and jumped out backwards.
Outside was a long corridor that led to nowhere. He ran wildly and recklessly, just hoping to shake off the crazy ghosts. As he ran around a corner, Duan FeiZhou smacked head-on into someone. The reaction force sent him flying, while the lantern fell out of his hand and shattered. The flame inside pulsed twice and went out.
The corridor was plunged into darkness.
“Mr. Chester?” the man he had bumped into said in surprise.
“Mr. Yeats?” Duan FeiZhou’s eyes watered.
Someone in the darkness snapped his fingers. Duan FeiZhou saw he was holding up his gold-rimmed glasses with one hand, and flanked by a breathless Al.