Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“What are you doing?!” Lady Edith screamed breathlessly.
The flames blazed up, and quickly engulfed the book. The paper curled and turned black as the flames rushed through it and turned it into flakes. “I renounce this occult art,” the old Lord said aloud. “I won’t kill you. I don’t want to go down the same road my ancestors went down. I don’t want to hurt the people I love so much. I don’t want to be a butcher with blood on my hands.”
“But…Without a sacrifice…Albert…the Midlov family…the people of this land…”
The old Lord smiled sadly. “I’m not going to let Albert study occult philosophy. I’m going to make him an ordinary man. Thousands of ordinary people around the world don’t know the occult, but they still live their lives. I think he can manage the family estate properly even without relying on the occult. If he doesn’t have this ability, then we can only say that the Midlov family deserves this.”
He stepped forward and embraced Lady Edith, who was in tears. “You go and wake up all the servants, and tell them to take Albert out to shelter.”
Lady Edith looked at her husband in horror and disbelief. “Why?”
“I’m going to burn this house with the spirits of the dead in it. We won’t need it anymore. From now on, there will be no more occult practitioners in this house. No more sacrifices, no more wandering spirits – just us.”
The two embracing figures faded, and finally disappeared.
The mirror regained its calm, and reflected only Duan FeiZhou’s ghastly white and stunned face. “Sword in the Stone, did you hear it?”
“Huh? What did you say? Haven’t you been dazed?“
It turned out that he was the only one who witnessed what happened in the mirror. That was the memory of the owner left on the dresser.
Duan FeiZhou rubbed the corners of his eyes, still a little dazed.
The truth couldn’t be clearer. The Midlov family had passed down an evil secret from generation to generation. A dark secret of successive generations where the Lord sacrificed their wives and bound the souls of the women to the mansion, which forced them to guard the entire family. Therefore, each generation died young, and a year after the women died, the manor would be renovated in the name of replacing the wood in which the souls of the women were bound.
About thirty years ago, the former Lord broke this bloody tradition. He burned his father’s secret notes and destroyed the house that held the souls of successive Lord’s wives, leaving the Midlov family’s secret legacy broken.
In the opinion of the occult practitioners, the old Lord was a big fool. How could anyone be willing to give up such an ancient and powerful occult art for a mere woman? Once a woman was gone, they could find another one, but once the legacy of the occult was severed, it could never be recovered.
Duan FeiZhou, however, felt that if he was actually a fool, then he was the bravest fool in the world. He lifted Sword in the Stone and walked out of the room, as he carried the wind lamp. Outside was a corridor he had never seen before.
“Where are you going?” Sword in the Stone shouted.
“To save someone.” Duan FeiZhou didn’t hesitate as he strode forward.
“What’s going on? You just…Did you see something?“
Duan FeiZhou gazed down at the flashing sword blade. “Isn’t it obvious?”
It was late at night, but the lake house was still brightly lit.
Lord Perlilla had brought his mother and the lady of his choice to the villa for a short stay. He had invited half the nobility and gentry of Shropshire to a ball for his lover, who liked to have a good time. It was the first time since his father’s death that such an event had been held in his house, so the guests were very generous.
People were more curious about his lover than about Lord’s presence.
Rumor had it that Miss Melissa was the daughter of the Duke of Merrihorn. Since her father wanted to marry her off to an old, ugly nobleman with a crippled arm, the young girl, who was influenced by the culture of the Modern Age, ran away from home and met Lord Perlilla.
His chivalry immediately captured the heart of the lady, and she made up her mind to go against her father’s will and stay with Lord Perlilla. For this reason, father and daughter were at loggerheads. However the lady’s mother and siblings supported her, and they were working on the Duke in London. Once his attitude had relaxed, Miss Melissa could bring her husband-to-be home to her father, and introduce him to a man whose family was a long-established Shropshire family, and was also able-bodied and young.
However, the news of Miss Melissa’s stay here couldn’t yet be made public, lest her recalcitrant father send someone to take her back. The ball would be held all night long, and wine and food would be served without limit. The young people danced to the music, as they exchanged eager glances on the dance floor. The Dowager Lady couldn’t stand the noise, and under the pretext of not feeling well, went to her room to rest early.
Everyone knew in their hearts that she actually disliked her daughter-in-law-to-be and they all agreed that she mustn’t be allowed to meet with Miss Melissa’s father. If the two formed an alliance, the love affair between Miss Melissa and Lord Perlilla would end in tragedy.
A servant hurriedly passed through the smiling men and women in the dress-filled ballroom and came to the drunken Lord Perlilla, Albert.
“Lord, there is a man outside who claims to be a detective of the London Police Department. He wants to see you.”
The Lord shook and instantly sobered up.
“They just won’t let me live in peace, will they?! Get rid of him!”
“But he said he had to see you, or else…Otherwise your family will be in danger!”
“How dare he threaten me!” His Lordship was furious. He put down his glass with a bang, then smiled pleasantly at the guests around him. “I have something to do, but I’ll be right back.”
He was led by a servant through the hall and into the chilly outdoors. A dark figure stood in the doorway of the lake house. He almost blended in with the darkness of the moonless night, so that when he spoke, Lord almost thought the darkness itself was talking to him.
“Lord Perlilla, please come back to Oak Manor as soon as you can.”
The Lord recognized him as one of the two Nightmen who had come to see him during the day, the dark-haired, yellow-eyed one. His eyes always made Lord Perlilla feel uncomfortable, like the man was some kind of bird.
The Nightman was carrying a white package, covered with dirt. He had no idea what it contained.
“Can’t you see I’m entertaining guests!” the Lord said angrily. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow!”
“Something is going to happen tonight.” The Nightman grinned and showed his white teeth, “Or rather, it has already happened.”
“Don’t you threaten me!”
The upstairs window opened. The Dowager Lady Edith, with her hair still in curls, poked her head out. “Albert? What’s happened?”
“Nothing, Mother!” Lord shooed her. “You go on with your rest!”
“Good evening, Madam!” The Nightman waved happily at Lady Edith. “There’s been an accident at your house, and I’m begging your son to come over quickly!”
“Don’t talk nonsense!” HIs Lordship thundered.
The old Lady gazed earnestly at Xenophon. She already suffered from presbyopia, but at that moment her eyes were so sharp that they were like a scalpel thin as a willow leaf. They dissected Xenophon from the outside to the inside, until the inner core of his unknowable being was revealed.
“Are you…one of them?” she asked slowly.
Xenophon smiled, and took off his hat in salute to her.
The old Lady’s figure disappeared from the window. They heard her shouting from inside the house. “Anna! Dress me now! You clumsy girl, I don’t want that dress! By the time I put it on, it will be light! Bring me my traveling cloak!”
“Wait, Mother?! Mother!” Lord Perlilla panicked.
“What’s the matter, Albert? Why don’t we go to the dance?” Miss Melissa had come rushing out, and took Lord Perlilla’s arm, her cheeks flushed from exercise and alcohol.
“Something came up at my house…” the Lord squeezed out a reluctant smile.
“That’s not good!” Miss Melissa changed her expression. “We have to get there quickly! I’ll go with you!”
“But Melissa, it might be dangerous!”
“Oh, dear Albert. I’m not afraid of any danger with you!”
These words ignited the spirit of chivalry in the Lord’s chest. He held his head high, and vowed never to be cowed in front of his beloved.
“One, two, three,” Xenophon counted the number of people. “And I make four. Great, a carriage can fit all of us!”
The Lord was furious. “Why should I take you with me?!”
“Those women are so sad. They were used while they were alive, and they can’t rest in peace after they die.” Duan FeiZhou succinctly told the sword what he had seen and heard. Sword in the Stone kept stammering.
“If you insist on saving your companions, then you will have to make enemies with those women.“
Duan FeiZhou gripped the sword tightly. “Those women are indeed pitiful, but they were also innocent, so I must release them.”
Sword in the Stone sighed, “In this respect, you aren’t much like your uncle. If it were him, he would probably be happy to help the undead.”
There was the sound of rushed footsteps in the darkness of the corridor ahead.
“Who’s there?!” Duan FeiZhou raised the wind lamp.
An old man with snow-white hair stumbled into the range of the light.
“Mr. Hart?” Duan FeiZhou recognized the butler of Oak Manor.
“Thank heavens, I finally found a living person!” The old butler burst into tears.
Hart grabbed Duan FeiZhou’s lapel, and hung onto him to steady himself. “The manor is haunted! When I was on night patrol tonight, the servant I was with was taken away! I was so scared that I ran around, thinking I was dead for sure. Fortunately, I met you!”
Duan FeiZhou laughed inwardly. This old man, who was so attached to power, now knows how to hug a big thigh? He said, “My friends have been taken away too, so I’m going to rescue them.”
“It’s too dangerous, sir!” Hart panicked. His white hair, which had been meticulously kept, was now disheveled, like a mass of straw, and his neat clothes were in disarray. He no longer had the air of a great estate butler, just a frightened old man. “I think we’d better escape! The sooner the better, otherwise we also…”
“We can’t escape without releasing those undead.”
“But how can humans fight against invisible undead?”
Duan FeiZhou didn’t answer him, just carried the lamp and continued to walk forward. “Follow me closely. Don’t leave the range of the light.”
Hart craned his neck and kept up with Duan FeiZhou, until he was almost sticking directly to his back. Several times he stepped on Duan FeiZhou’s heel.
“Where does this corridor lead?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“The Lord and Lady’s room, plus a few spare rooms.”
“That’s funny, I just got out of there.”
The light was bright, but it couldn’t illuminate the entire corridor. A bone-rattling sound rang out in the thick, ink-like darkness ahead. Duan FeiZhou stopped in his tracks and Hart bumped into his back with an “ouch.”
“What’s wrong, Sir?” The old butler trembled.
“There’s something over there…” Duan FeiZhou narrowed his eyes.
An iron hoop rolled out of the darkness until it reached Duan FeiZhou’s feet, lurched to the side, and fell down. Duan FeiZhou recognized this kind of iron hoop. Victorian children often played this game, using a U-shaped iron bar or wire to push the iron hoop around, and often competed to see whose hoop rolled further. 1
Once Hart saw the iron hoop, he let out a choking sound, as if someone was gripping his neck. A short figure stepped out of the darkness. It stopped at the junction of light and darkness and looked at Duan FeiZhou with its eyes narrowed.
It was a ragged boy, a small child as common as any in the countryside, his face covered in dirt as if he had rolled on the ground. He was holding a thin wire, so the iron hoop must be his toy.
Why was there a child in the mansion? How did he get in? Could it be the child of one of the servants?
Although Duan FeiZhou was full of questions, he was relieved to see that the visitor was not the fierce former Lady Edith.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Why are you here? Where are your parents?”
The boy took a step back. Most of his body was hidden in the darkness, except for his pair of bright eyes that looked like glittering gems in the darkness.
“Come with me,” he said softly.
Duan FeiZhou’s lapel was tightly clutched by the old butler. He pulled Duan FeiZhou backward like a disobedient horse.
“Don’t go, Sir!” Hart’s voice was hoarse. “I know him! He’s little Barney, the Plough boy. The one who died a year and a half ago!”
Duan FeiZhou met the boy’s gaze in the shadows with wide eyes. He didn’t dare to come into the light, which indicated that he was also an undead.
Duan FeiZhou fought the chill that crept up the back of his neck from his feet and asked, “Where are we going with you?”
Barney whispered, “You’ll know when you get here.”
“Where are my friends?”
“At the place I’m going to take you.”
Well, even if it was a trap, Duan FeiZhou was willing to jump into it. He walked towards Bareny with his lamp and sword. The boy always kept a distance from him, and when he took a step forward, the boy took a step back toward the shadows.
“Just you.” Barney said, “Not him.”
“Sir! Don’t leave me!” The old butler screamed and fell to his knees, as he clutched Duan FeiZhou’s legs.
Duan FeiZhou had no sympathy for the old man. He was just curious as to why Barney was targeting Hart. “Why can’t he?”
Barney glared coldly at the old, wailing butler. Duan FeiZhou was really surprised that a child could show such cold eyes.
“Madam has orders,” The boy said.
“Madam? Which madam? You mean the Lady Perlillas from previous generations?”
Duan FeiZhou broke away from Hart and rushed forward to grab Barney in a single bound. Unfortunately, he grabbed an empty hand and plunged forward, then hit his chin hard on the floor. The wind lamp “whoosh,” went out.
His face seemed to have a special affinity with the floor today, didn’t it?
Duan FeiZhou got up and realized that the butler hadn’t disappeared, he had been transferred to another place. This was the underground wine cellar, where rows of wine racks and barrels divided the low, gloomy cellar into a maze.
“Barney?” Duan FeiZhou shouted, and the echo quickly faded into the darkness.
“Master?” A familiar voice rang out from the end of the room.
Duan FeiZhou walked briskly through the rows of cobwebbed and dusty barrels and into the deepest part of the cellar. There was a starburst of fire.
Z was sitting on the floor. Opposite him sat Yeats and Al. Yeats sat with his legs crossed like a meditating Oriental monk, and Al had his knees in his arms. Next to them sat three servants, a man and two women. Each was holding a few cards in their hand. There were some empty bottles scattered around their feet and a faint scent of wine in the air.
This was some kind of country club night poker table scene!!!
If it weren’t for the fact that both his hands were holding something, Duan FeiZhou would have simply pulled their heads bald.
“Ah, you’re here, too.” Yeats said lightly, as he threw his hand of cards on the floor. “I win.”
The servants he was playing with cursed in unison.
“What are you doing?”
“Playing cards.” Yeats put the cards together and reshuffled them. “Do you want to join in?”
“Where is this place?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“Apparently it’s the wine cellar at Oak Manor.” Yeats sounded modest. “Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if hell was this view.”
He gave Z a condemning glare.
The white-haired detective ignored him, and said, “We were all captured by those white hands. There’s lighting and a deck of cards to pass the time. Other than not being able to get out, the treatment is pretty good.”
Duan FeiZhou glanced at the empty bottles all over the floor. They were quite good at making fun by themselves.
“Have you seen the ghosts?” Duan FeiZhou asked again.
Duan FeiZhou thought, Should I tell them everything I’ve seen and heard? If he said too much, Z might find out his secret, but if he kept his mouth shut, he wouldn’t be able to solve the mystery with only the information he knew.
“I just got into the Lady’s bedroom,” Duan FeiZhou said carefully, and tried to avoid mentioning his special powers. “There I saw the ghosts of previous generations of Ladies, as well as some fantastic visions that seemed to be the memories of the ghosts. It seems that each generation of Lord Perlillas will kill their wives, bury the women’s bodies in the oak forest, wait for their souls and bodies to merge with the trees, and then cut down the trees to make building materials for this house. Those Ladies’ dead spirits will then guard the manor and the estate forever.”
Duan FeiZhou noticed how the servants exchanged knowing glances as he spoke.
“Do you guys know something?” Z asked sternly.
The servants hunched their necks, and didn’t dare to speak. The older maid of the group gave the others a disgruntled glare, then said, “Sir, in fact, the older servants have heard rumors that the spirits of successive ladies have wandered through the estate, and some have even seen them!”
“Martha! How can you chew on the master’s family?!” The manservant was shocked.
“We’re all on our own now. If we don’t talk now, should we take our secrets to the grave?” Martha choked. She turned to Duan FeiZhou. “Sir, in fact, the older servants know one thing. Thirty years ago there was a fire at Perlilla Manor, and it was no accident, but the work of the old Lord…His Lordship’s father. He told the servants to take their valuables outside for shelter, and then lit the fire himself. I still remember that fire, it burned like hell!” Martha lamented. “I swear, I saw many women’s dead faces in the flames, and those women screamed as they rose into the sky. Since then, there have been no more ghost rumors on the estate. Until–”
“–now.” Duan FeiZhou murmured.
“That’s right, it did happen.” Yeats took a booklet out of his pocket and handed it to Z. He knew Z couldn’t see, but he moved it around in front of his eyes. “Look, Mr. Detective, here are the records I found of all the repairs to the Perlilla estate. Thirty years ago the mansion caught fire, and was almost burned to the ground. That repair basically amounted to a rebuild, with materials all brought in from out of town at great expense.”
“Not bad for a literary scholar. So good at finding treasures,” Z said with a sneer.
Duan FeiZhou said as he was thinking, “If the whole mansion had been razed to the ground, then why are the ghosts of the Lord’s wives still lingering here now? Could it be that it wasn’t all burned thirty years ago?”
“… Judging from the design in this note, it should have been completely rebuilt.” Yeats noted.
“Even if it didn’t burn clean, why is Barney here?”
“Which Barney?” Z looked up.
“The same boy who disappeared a year and a half ago. The Ploughs’ son.”
Z raised his eyebrows. “He’s at the Perlilla Estate?”
“He’s actually dead. I just met his ghost.”
The servants shrieked in unison.
“You know him?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
Once again, it was Martha who answered, “We know his parents very well. When Barney disappeared, the Lord sent all the servants to look for him! We all thought the boy had been abducted by human traffickers to become a child laborer or something…”
Martha suddenly stopped, eyes rounded in horror, as she pointed behind Duan FeiZhou. Her trembling lips seemed to want to say something, but not a word came out.
Duan FeiZhou turned around, and saw himself reflected in Barney’s eyes, set in his bloodless white face. He shouted in fear, took two steps backward, and kicked over the candle.
Barney didn’t move as he didn’t dare step into range of the wind lamp.
Duan FeiZhou said, “Barney, can you tell me how you died?”
Barney cocked his head as he fell into a distant memory. “I was rolling my iron hoop that day. It fell under a cliff, and I climbed down to pick it up. Then I saw something I shouldn’t have seen.”
“What was it?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“He…was digging.” Barney frowned. “He’s the one who killed me.”
“Who is he?”
Barney covered his face and shook his head uncontrollably, as if the mere memory of the moment of his death brought endless pain.
Duan FeiZhou looked steadily at the boy’s undead body, and suddenly remembered something. “Could it be…the butler, Mr. Hart?”