Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“What are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story.” Al shivered. He was dressed only for sleep. “I slept until midnight, when I suddenly felt out of breath. I opened my eyes to see a pair of hands that appeared out of nowhere to strangle me. I rushed to wake up Mr. Yeats, and ran away with him but there was no escape. The space of this house–”
“–is distorted.” Duan FeiZhou finished for him.
“So you also encountered it?” Yeats asked.
“More than encountered! I just encountered the undead! The undead wandering here are all the generations of the Lord’s wives!”
Xenophon, bathed in the non-existent moonlight, with a shovel on his shoulder and a civilized cane at his waist, bounded into the oak forest. He hummed a song, and his footsteps were brisk. An owl above his head cooed, leaves rustled in the wind, and everything seemed to echo his out-of-tune song.
After he entered the oak forest, he soon lost his way, but that didn’t matter. He had his own way to get out. Even if he couldn’t leave, it didn’t matter since then he wouldn’t have to work morning and night. However, Z and the newcomer were a bit pitiful, and if his guess was correct, then they were in extreme danger.
However, Xenophon was sure they would be fine. He hadn’t seen death in them, and he was always right.
“Let me see, where is it this time?” Xenophon looked around, and picked out an old tree stump. It had completely decayed. Perhaps decades had passed since it was felled.
Without further ado, he went straight to digging. He started from the roots of the tree, as he dug the soil away one shovel full after another. After he had dug for a while he got tired, so he leaned on the shovel and looked up at the sky. He lamented, “No wonder gravediggers are a specialized trade. I really shouldn’t underestimate this job.”
Tonight there was no moonlight. It was the most suitable night for a ghost to appear.
“It’s not right,” he muttered. “I’m an occult practitioner. Why should I dig by hand?”
He dropped the shovel, pulled out his cane, and pointed it towards the shallow pit he had dug. The earth in the pit automatically plowed out, and piled up a small mountain next to it. When it was dug to a depth of almost six feet, something appeared in the pit.
Xenophon put down his cane, jumped to the edge of the pit, and bent down to look inside.
“Poor man.” He shook his head and sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll set you free tonight.”
“So, the ghosts of successive generations of Lady Perlillas, they are the very culprits of all the strange happenings in the manor?” After he listened to Duan FeiZhou’s account, Yeats rubbed his chin. “It’s not impossible. But Lord Perlilla is the direct descendant of those women. Why would they plot to kill their own descendants?”
Yeats seemed to remember something without thinking, and grabbed Duan FeiZhou’s shoulder. “Trading House! Please go to the trading house, and get two books out!”
Duan FeiZhou had been carrying the spell runes of the trading house close to him. Luckily, Z and Xenophon hadn’t searched him earlier, otherwise he wouldn’t even be able to jump in the Thames. He entered the trading house, and got the two books Yeats needed. One was a genealogy of the Midlov family, and the other was notes on the successive restorations of Oak Manor. Both were found by Yeats in the former Lord’s secret research room, and stored in the Secret Trading House for the time being.
Yeats, despite the fact that they were still in danger, picked up a book and read it quickly. Al came closer with a lamp to illuminate it.
Duan FeiZhou looked around uneasily, and urged, “Mr. Yeats, can’t you wait until we get out of here before you read?”
“All the truth is hidden in books.” Yeats said loftily. He turned the two books to the last page, and held up his glasses. He looked grave.
“What have you found?” Duan FeiZhou asked eagerly.
“A few very interesting facts,” Yeats said. “The genealogy records the birth and death dates of sixteen generations of Midlov family masters and wives. The curious thing is that each generation of wives died young, and a comparison of the birth dates of her children shows that each died within a year to three years of giving birth to her eldest son. The cause of death was always illness. Except for the mother of the current Lord Perlilla. She is still alive today.”
“You know what I just remembered?” Duan FeiZhou lowered his voice, since he feared that his words would be heard by the invisible ghosts. “Bluebeard, the nobleman who killed his wife.” 1
“But the Midlov family is different from Bluebeard. Successive heads of the family never remarried after the death of their original wives. Of course, several of the family heads had illegitimate children, which indicates that they at least found mistresses after the loss of their wives, but those mistresses were never kept for life.”
“So the early deaths of successive Ladies were all coincidental?”
Yeats smiled darkly. “Let’s put that aside. The second interesting fact is that the Midlov family has never had a child die. You know, in the old days, when medicine wasn’t as popular, the child mortality rate was so high that the gods of death treated both the poor and the nobility equally. Yet even in times of epidemics, the Midlov family never had a child die. All of their children grew up safe and healthy.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a coincidence…”
“Point three.” Yeats lit up the book of repairs. “According to these records, on the first anniversary of the death of a Lord’s wife, Oak Manor will be renovated, with the vast majority of materials coming from the Lord’s private woodland. The most recent restoration records are now thirty years old. At that time, the mansion caught fire, and was almost burned to an empty frame. That repair was almost like a rebuild, but the materials were all brought in from out of town, and it cost a lot of money.”
Duan FeiZhou shivered. “You know what I remembered again? Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” where the protagonist kills his wife and then bricks the body into the wall. Those renovations shouldn’t be to hide the body…” 2
“It’s a little late to be hiding a dead body after a year, isn’t it?” Al said.
Duan FeiZhou replied, “But the cause of death of the successive ladies is indeed suspicious, and they have become ghosts wandering around the manor. The undead spirit attached to the chair was also probably a Lord’s wife. Ghosts can attach themselves to objects used in life, right?”
Yeats nodded. “They can indeed wander around where they walked before they died, or they can attach themselves to something and move around.”
“Then the truth is obvious. Successive generations of Lords’ wives have died with a grudge, and are now ghosts seeking revenge on the current owners of the Midlov family. All the apparitions appeared after the old Lord passed away. That’s because he was the last one in the family who knew the occult arts. Once he died, the manor’s protective boundary also failed, so…”
“The Lord is the direct descendant of those women,” Yeats reminded him. “Do you think Lord’s grandmother would want to murder her own grandson?”
“How could I possibly know what a ghost thinks?” Duan FeiZhou said sarcastically. “Is there any logic to be found when she has become a ghost?”
Yeats closed the two books. “Mr. Chester’s words are odd. Everything in the world is logical, but the naked eye can not perceive it.”
“Books are about logic. Real life is fucking bullshit,” Duan FeiZhou said. “Let’s not stand here talking,” he said. “We need to find a way to get out of here, and get Z out of here.”
“You mean the Nightman?” said Al. He hunched his shoulders. “Wouldn’t it be better for him to be trapped here for the rest of his life?”
“Get him out, and you’ll be able to have him owe you a favor.” Duan FeiZhou said.
In fact, he didn’t care about any favors, he simply wanted to get Z out. Even though Z surviving would bring him all kinds of trouble.
“I need to go into the trading house to get something.” He entered the trading house again, and took Sword in the Stone out of the metal box under the counter.
“Gee, you remembered me!” Sword in the Stone shouted at the top of its voice.
“For some reason, the psychic vibe goes away when you show up.”
“Psychic? Did you meet a ghost? Then I’m no good.” Sword in the Stone was very self-aware of its own scope of expertise.
“You’re the King’s Sword, but you can’t even split a ghost? No, she’s already dead. It’s impossible to die a second time…”
“That’s the problem young man! How do you kill something that doesn’t die? If you want to deal with ghosts, I suggest you use that lamp over there.”
Duan FeiZhou looked up and saw the wind lamp presented to him by Mrs. Vilyuy. Mrs. Vilyuy said it could dispel evil, but it needed to be lit with a hidden fire.
Hidden fire…When he first heard those words, he was completely confused by their meaning. However, after having read the book he bought from Yeats, he had learned what it was.
The fire in alchemy was divided into four levels: the natural fire, the hidden fire, the central fire and the heavenly fire. Among them, the hidden fire referred to the flame that was contained within each person, and only true occult practitioners knew how to control it. That lamp, if it was to be lit with the hidden fire, meant that it had to be lit by the occult fire, and no ordinary flame could ignite it.
“Does it work?” he asked Sword in the Stone.
“You don’t have anything else to use anyway, so it’s a good idea to beat a dead horse.”
Duan FeiZhou sighed, took the wind lamp out of the display case and hung it on his belt. He didn’t know how to light it yet, so he had to go back and ask Yeats for advice. He left the trading house carrying Sword in the Stone, and returned to the corridor. The spell rune lay at his feet, but Yeats and Al had disappeared except for the broken lantern, which sat alone in the corner, wavering with a dull glow.
“Yeats? Al?” Duan FeiZhou stuffed the talisman into his pocket, and called out their names.
A cool sensation came from behind. He subconsciously dodged it.
A pair of white arms, like twisted white snakes, stretched out from the wall, then came closer with teeth and claws.
“Don’t come over!” Duan FeiZhou drew Sword in the Stone, and chopped at the white hands. The sword blade passed through the white hands, but didn’t hurt them. It was as if they were just a pair of illusory shadows.
They weren’t unreal when they grabbed people!
“Lamp! Light!” Sword in the Stone yelled.
Duan FeiZhou removed the wind lamp from his belt, which was supposed to dispel evil, and held it high against the white hands.
“Come on, ugly!” He shouted in fear. “Look what a great treasure it is! Are you afraid?”
The white hands hesitated for a moment, and then leapt at Duan FeiZhou with the speed of lightning.
“It’s not working!” Duan FeiZhou screamed miserably, and dodged the white hands’ attack.
“How are you going to make it work if you don’t even light it!” Sword in the Stone growled.
“You’re really an idiot!“
Duan FeiZhou had to dodge the white hands even as he endured Sword in the Stone’s mutterings (“Goodness me, how did I end up with a master like you! Where the hell is my destined king! Where is my destined king?“). He made a desperate dash to the end of the hallway, kicked open a random door and burst in.
He entered the ballroom. The dance floor was big enough for twenty couples to dance together with room to spare. He ran to the door on the other side of the ballroom. This time he entered the study. Not the research room hidden in the hedge maze, but the ordinary study used to conceal someone from the public. The collection of books accumulated by generations of Lord Perlilla was so spectacular that any book lover would consider the place a paradise.
Duan FeiZhou, however, had no time to admire the stunning view. He turned, pushed open the door and entered the dining room. He thought that he could avoid the white hands by using the misshapen nature of the rooms to keep escaping, but he didn’t expect that a pair of white hands would immediately reach out from the walls of the dining room and block his way. He could only turn back, and push open the door to see which place he would be transported to this time.
He returned to the mistress’ bedroom.
“Don’t…” Duan FeiZhou moaned.
All of a sudden, countless pairs of soft white hands erupted from the floor, and wrapped around Duan FeiZhou’s legs in a deadly manner.
The vine-like white hands covered almost all of him below the knee, then continued to climb upward. The ground gradually became soft, as the carpeted floor turned into a swamp, and in the blink of an eye, the part of Duan FeiZhou below his ankles sank into the floor.
“Sword in the Stone!” shouted Duan FeiZhou.
“Your body…Simply…You can’t move!” Sword in the Stone yelled.
One pair of white hands after another crawled up Duan FeiZhou’s body, then they wrapped around his arms like layers of spider silk. He couldn’t even lift his arms. That was how Z was taken. The missing Yeats and Al more than likely ended up the same way. Now Duan FeiZhou was the only one left, and soon he would have to go with them.
White hands crawled up Duan FeiZhou’s cheeks. The skin touched by them was stained with something cold and sticky. The slender fingers even poked into his ears. It felt like ice water had been poured into his ear canal. A strange sound tickled his eardrums. It sounded like a scream or the noise made by fingernails gouging a wooden board.
Duan FeiZhou couldn’t speak, he could only make an “oooh” sound.
Why was it that since he crossed over into this world, misfortune and disaster had followed one another? Was he really born with no luck? If this is his destiny, then he…
…He mustn’t give in to this!
“Give me…let go!” The fear and anger that had been building up exploded at that moment.
The wind lantern in his hand blossomed with a dazzling glow, like a thousand suns rising in the night, which dispelled the boundless darkness and cold.
The white hands seemed to be burned by the light, and quickly shrank back to the floor. The floor also regained its level and hardness.
Duan FeiZhou knelt on the floor, as he panted heavily. For some reason his heart was beating fast, and his blood was oversupplied to all his limbs. It wasn’t the result of shock, but more like exhaustion after sprinting a mile.
The light from the wind lamp was so bright and pure that the entire bedroom was lit up like it was daylight. Also, when Duan FeiZhou looked over at the dresser, he was the only one reflected in the mirror.
“Wow, nice job.” Sword in the Stone seemed to forget that it had just berated Duan FeiZhou for being an idiot. “Have you ever been in this room before?“
Duan FeiZhou covered his heaving chest. Through his clothes he could feel his heart beating furiously. “Yes, that mirror also shows the ghostly image of a woman.”
“It means the ghost loved that dresser when she was alive. Ghosts generally like to be where they feel comfortable, unless they are forced to be banished, or bound somewhere. Take a closer look at the dresser. Do you see anything?“
“No, I don’t! If I see anything undead again, I’ll be scared to death!”
“Your uncle could not only see the special power of items, but also see their owner’s aura on the items, and even know exactly what the owner was and what they did before. Of course, that was the result of his long study and practice. I don’t expect you to see that well right off the bat, but seeing something will help you fight the ghosts, won’t it?“
Duan FeiZhou looked at Sword in the Stone, which was illuminated in the light.
“You do speak human once in a while.”
He swept away the cosmetic boxes on the dresser to make room for the wind lamp. He placed Sword in the Stone on his lap, sat at the dresser, and gazed intently into the mirror. He couldn’t see anything but his own face. Even his face looked incredibly strange. With the light shining from the bottom up, it cast odd shadows on his face, as if he was wearing an eerie mask, and he felt creeped out by the sight of himself.
Let me see your master, Duan FeiZhou thought.
I want to know what happened to your master. Those women who have used you, the Ladies of the Lords through the ages. Let me see what SHE looks like.
The surface of the mirror rippled, and Duan FeiZhou’s eyes widened as he hurriedly leaned towards the mirror for a closer look.
Suddenly, his face in the mirror disappeared then turned into the face of a pale woman.
The woman was combing her shoulder-length hair. She also looked familiar, but she wasn’t a member of the foyer portrait army, because she was still alive. Duan FeiZhou recognized that she was the current Lord Perlilla’s mother, Lady Edith.
The mirror was showing her at least twenty years younger than she was now, but her aura of indifference and arrogance hadn’t changed with time. She was wearing a heavy, fur-trimmed dress, and a brazier was placed beside her for warmth. She looked into the mirror with cold eyes, however they also held a touch of sadness; as if she were going to attend someone’s funeral.
The door of the room opened and a well-dressed man walked in. He carrirf a small, tattered, silvery gray book. He resembled the Lord, so Duan FeiZhou presumed that he was Lord’s father.
“Why don’t you let the maid come and brush your hair?” The old Lord asked.
His wife said coldly, “I don’t want to see anyone else today. I can take care of myself. I didn’t live with my hair down every day when I didn’t have a maid.”
“So…Are you ready?”
“I’ve made all the arrangements for the mansion. The new governess is very nice, and I think she is good enough for the job. The cook is getting old, and she will be retiring in a couple of years, but that’s all right. The girl who is helping her is very nice, I think. Remember to send her to learn cooking. In addition, I have also decided on the next butler. Let Hart come. Although he hasn’t been in our family for very long, he has a lot of experience. After my absence, you’ll need a competent helper…”
The old Lord looked at his wife sadly.
“Why didn’t you refuse?”
“It’s for the family, for the territory and for my children, isn’t it?” Lady Edith closed her eyes. “Will it be…painful?”
“It won’t. I’ll take you into the woods and give you a sleeping aid first. You won’t feel a thing.” The old Lord turned to the window. From his position, he could clearly look out at the lush oak forest. “This is the occult technique of our family handed down from generation to generation. We have been using this occult art since the first Lord Perlilla.” The old Lord patted the cover of the silver-gray book.
“It’s been very effective, hasn’t it?” Lady Edith gave a sarcastic smile.
“Yes.” The old Lord sighed. “The Midlov family has never been prosperous, but every child has lived to adulthood in good health. It was just a small estate in a remote village, but we accumulated so much wealth. It’s all thanks to this occult technique.”
“But it also requires a great sacrifice.” Lady Edith looked gloomy.
“When my father passed this occult art to me, he said that all sacrifices are worth it. Isn’t it worth it to give one man’s life to protect an entire family, an entire land and the people of that land?”
“Do you agree with him?” Lady Edith asked.
The old Lord was noncommittal. He went to the window, pressed a hand to the glass and said softly, “All I know is that my mother’s sacrifice gave me what I have now. This occult art is a unique kind of séance. You know the origin of the Maypole Festival, right? It’s a festival dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the forest. Diana is in charge of plants, harvests and fertility. Entering into a marriage contract with her would mean good harvests and good weather. Therefore, every year at the Maypole Festival, people choose a man and a woman to play the roles of the king of the forest and the goddess of the forest.
“The principle of this occult technique is the reversed version of the Maypole Festival’s origins. Instead of marrying the forest goddess, one has one’s wife transformed into the forest goddess. This occult art entails burying a person alive under a tree, then allowing her body and soul to decay in the dirt as they turn into nutrients for the tree, and eventually becoming one with the tree. When the tree grows, she is the tree, the tree is she. There is no difference. Her roots go in all directions, her branches and leaves cover the sky. If she is cut down and its wood is used to build a house, she will become part of the house…No, I should say the house is her.
“She knows everything that happens in the land. She can protect her people and resist her enemies. It was with this sacrifice that the Midlov family gained glory and prosperity. The children of the family no longer died early from disease, and the people of this land lived a life with free food and clothing. All that we have today is due to this occult art.”
The Lord’s wife, Edith, dropped the hand that held the comb. She was shaking, but she pressed her wrist with the other hand. She hadn’t wanted her weakness to be noticed by her husband.
“No wonder all the wives of Lord Perlilla have died young,” Lady Edith said bitterly. “No wonder you wanted to marry me. My father was a poor squire, but I married a titled nobleman. Everyone praised my luck, but in fact my luck couldn’t have been worse. You chose me only because I had no choice at the time. You offered to pay my father’s debts and prepare a generous dowry for my sisters, so whatever you asked for, I had to give in.”
Lady Edith pulled her long hair into a bun, put on a hair net, and crowned it with a tiara of gems and pearls. In the mirror, she was gorgeous and radiant, with a cold look that made her look less like a noblewoman, and more like a marble statue of an ancient Greek goddess.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Let’s go.”
She lifted the hem of her skirt, and walked toward the door of the room. The old Lord, however, was still standing at the window, as he gazed out at the view, or perhaps at his own face.
“What’s wrong with you?” Madame asked, as she turned back.
“You’re wrong, Edith,” the old Lord whispered.
“About which part, do you mean?”
The old Lord hung his head, and squeezed the silver-gray book tightly. “I didn’t marry you because you would easily submit. I fell in love with you the moment I met you at the Earl of Lincoln’s ball. That was your first mistake.”
The lady’s eyes became crystal clear. she turned her head away from her husband’s expression. “What about the second?”
“You don’t hate me.”
“Of course I hate you! You’re going to kill me, turn me into a tree, and then take the tree and build a house. I’ll be damned if I don’t hate you!”
“That was once upon a time.” The old Lord turned around and met his wife’s gaze, his eyes full of determination. “From now on, you won’t hate me anymore.”
After he said that, he resolutely threw the silver-gray book into the fire.
- If you’re interested in the grisly fairy tale of Bluebeard, here’s a page that has the original and several variations. https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/type0312.html
- Here’s Poe’s story. https://poestories.com/read/blackcat
Very scary goings on 😱
Those poor women, but it seems the current Lord’s father didn’t adhere to the rules ~ or he replaced Lady Edith’s life with his own.
Xenophon fascinates me.
Where on earth is Z trapped though?
I’d love to see artwork of our main characters!
Thanks for translating and editing, and for the links to the stories of Bluebeard and Poe (I’m a fan).
Oh, that was gruesome. But what a sweet, strong man. He made a decision to break generations of tradition to keep the one he loved.
I love how well the novel is written, can clearly imagine this as a tv series
Thanks for the chapter ♡♡♡♡♡