Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
On board the steamship Hugo, Duan FeiZhou stood on the observation deck at the rear of the ship, looking down at the undulating sea of clouds below.
The observation deck, which was circular in shape and covered with a glass dome, had the best view of the ship. When they first boarded the ship, many passengers scrambled up to the observation deck to see the view, and there were many admiring voices. However, after two days of looking at it, most people were tired of it. It was dusk, when the restaurant began to serve dinner, and the entertainment room was also open, so most of the passengers flocked to those two places. Only Duan FeiZhou was on the observation deck.
He hadn’t spoken to Z. Z seemed to be avoiding him on purpose. He was staying behind closed doors and eating at the restaurant at the wrong time, so he couldn’t talk to Z if he wanted to. He repeatedly remembered the memories that belonged to Z he had glimpsed. Although Z had told him the story of his transformation, he was far from expecting the truth behind the story to be so bloody.
Maybe he should pretend that nothing had happened, that he had never glimpsed Z’s memories.
Footsteps came from behind him.
“I need to talk to you.” Xenophon tapped the floor with his cane.
Duan FeiZhou subconsciously began to extract the energy inside the brass ring, ready to guard against Xenophon’s sneak attack.
“Don’t be nervous,” Xenophon laughed awkwardly. “I just want to have a chat with you.”
Duan FeiZhou glared at him warily. “Well, I want to talk to you too.”
Xenophon walked beside him, holding the railing of the observation deck, and gazed at the sea of clouds with him, “That’s good. You go first.”
“Why are you covering up for me?” Duan FeiZhou asked. “You know my secret, why didn’t you tell Z?”
Xenophon flicked his own hair, as if he were thinking, “I said I don’t want to break the boss’s heart. In the Abnormal Case Investigation Unit section everyone has a bad past. It’s not easy to be happy now, so why should I have to destroy the good life of others?”
“Is it really just like that?”
“Even if it’s not, what can you do with me?” Xenophon smirked. “Kill me to silence me?”
Duan FeiZhou seriously thought about the feasibility of extermination.
“Hey, do you want to do it for real?” Xenophon shouted strangely.
“Then what do you want to say to me?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“It’s not a big deal,” Xenophon glanced at him playfully. “I just want to remind you not to reveal yourself in front of the boss.”
“Are you being so kind as to remind me?”
“I at least have a fellow soldier’s love for you. Although you concealed the identity of the occult practitioners, that’s okay. Everyone, more or less, has a secret. The occult practitioners in the Nightmen have always been very united, since we walk on the edge of light and darkness. We’re dancing on a tightrope at all times, so if we isolate each other, it is impossible to survive.”
“It seems that the Nightmen aren’t of one mind.”
Xenophon laughed, “Of course we’re of one mind, we just have different styles of action. The Nightmen who aren’t occult practitioners are more highly regarded by the top, and they are always the leaders of the Nightmen, as is the case with Boss Z. But relatively speaking, they are also subject to more restrictions. Take Secretary Carter for example. He is the agent of Her Majesty, the boss of our Nightmen, and Boss Z is obliged to tell him everything. But do you think that Carter knows all the secrets of the Nightmen?”
Duan FeiZhou wondered, “Doesn’t he?”
“Of course not. Even Boss Z doesn’t know all the secrets of the Nightmen.” Xenophon winked playfully.
It was funny. There were two distinct camps within the Nightmen. The people who were the occult practitioners had this kind of small inside group, but it wasn’t as if they were trying to fight against the non-occult practitioners. Instead it was more like they were keeping their own little secrets with the tacit approval of the latter. The non-occult practitioners voluntarily relinquished their right to know these secrets in order to keep them from the people above.
Xenophon patted Duan FeiZhou’s shoulder. “I just want to say, you continue to play well in front of the boss. Don’t let him find out about your crap.”
Duan FeiZhou was speechless, “It sounds like you value Z’s happiness more than my life.”
Xenophon’s smile became a little bitter. “You’ve seen my memories. You know who saved me the day my family was tragically destroyed. I’ve always remembered this kindness. I hope that everyone who saved me that day is safe and happy – many of them have no chance of happiness forever.”
Of the Nightmen who saved Xenophon that day, all but Z, Thales and Mrs. Q had died.
Another footstep approached them. Each step was accompanied by the sound of machinery running – it was Z. He stopped about five paces away from the two men, as if deliberately keeping his distance from them.
Xenophon turned around. “I heard the restaurant is serving tender lamb chops tonight, so I’ll leave you two alone.”
He waved his hand, swaggered away, and left behind a dashing back.
Only Z and Duan FeiZhou were now on the observation deck. The atmosphere was awkward.
Duan FeiZhou cleared his throat. “I should go to dinner, too.”
He caught up with Xenophon, but as he brushed past Z, Z grabbed his arm. “What did Xenophon just tell you?”
“The fellowship of the Nightmen.”
That wasn’t a lie. That was the central point of Xenophon’s long-winded speech.
Z raised the corners of his lips slightly. “I have something to tell you.”
What kind of day is it that everyone has something to say? Duan FeiZhou stood there patiently.
When Z saw that he had no intention of leaving, he let go of his hand. He held onto the railing of the observation deck. The light of the setting sun spilled over his silver hair, and gilded the tips to gold.
“That night…You saw my memory,” He whispered.
“Hmm.” Duan FeiZhou nodded his head.
“…What kind of a person do you think I am?”
“In what way do you mean?”
Z touched the gauze over his eyes, “Duncan McKellen once questioned me about which of us was innocent. I don’t know how he could tell. Maybe he was born to smell who was his kind. My sins run deeper than his. I’m not some flawless, decent person. I’ve killed people, uncountable people. I killed my own father, I killed innocent wounded people…If Duncan McKellen was going to jail for killing someone, my crime was enough to go to the gallows.”
Duan FeiZhou didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t very good at comforting people. He said, “You were delirious at the time.”
“That’s no excuse.” Z smiled mockingly. “I often think…why did I actually become a Nightman? Part of law enforcement…It’s ironic how things work sometimes, isn’t it?”
Duan FeiZhou looked at the golden sea of clouds. Everything in the sky was so simple and beautiful, while the multitude of people below the clouds was so complex and contradictory.
“Duncan is right. Not one of us is completely innocent.” He squeezed the railing. “Our past sucks, but we can work to make ourselves better people.”
Z twitched slightly. “And what famous detective’s quote is that?”
“Huh?” Duan FeiZhou was bewildered.
“You always have something particularly philosophical to say. I’d like to ask which classic was quoted this time.”
Duan FeiZhou was a little embarrassed. “This is something I came up with on my own.”
“…Oh.” Z lightly touched the gauze again. “I want to take it off so badly.”
“Miss Margaret said not until tomorrow…”
“I can’t wait.” After that, he ripped off the gauze, despite Duan FeiZhou’s resistance.
The afterglow of the sunset was like a sharp sword that pierced the pupils of his eyes. He subconsciously raised his hand to block out the light.
Duan FeiZhou was so nervous that his heart nearly jumped out of his throat and left home. “How are you?”
Z kept his posture, but after a while, he slowly dropped his hands, opened his eyes wide and stared at the sunset without moving. Those scarlet eyes turned a shimmering, bright orange-red against the setting sun, like the finest Padma corundum.
After a long time, he guffawed. “It’s exactly as you described.”
“… What?” Duan FeiZhou was stunned.
Z turned to him. The two men looked at each other face to face. More centuries seemed to pass. Z lifted his hand and gave Duan FeiZhou’s eyebrow arch a quick brush, like a monsoon breeze blowing through the treetops.
“So they’re golden green,” he said.
The airship arrived in London just as the lights were coming on.
Duan FeiZhou thought no one would come to greet them, but as soon as they stepped off the ship, they saw Mrs. Q and Mr. R waving at them from the pier. Even Miss Acheson, who had always stayed at the office, came. She held a sign that read, “Welcome Mr. Z.”
Z gave Xenophon a reproachful look. Now his gaze was not only stern, but also had an added, inexplicable lethality. “You sent them a telegram?”
“It didn’t cost me anything anyway.” Xenophon grinned as he pushed Z in front of the Nightmen.
“Boss! How about it! How about it!” Mr. R waved his arms excitedly.
Z said coldly, “You look like an ape.”
“Have you ever seen an ape?” Mr. R said skeptically.
Z, “I wasn’t blind at birth.”
“Boss, can you see what my sign says?” Miss Acheson asked seriously.
Z, “Welcome Mr. Z.”
Miss Acheson flipped the sign over. It read, “I want to get paid more.” She said, “And now what?”
Z pretended to look at the view.
Mrs. Q looked a little more melancholy, and she kept wiping the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief. “I thought you would never be able to see again. All these years I regretted using that technique at the time.”
Z stared at her. Mrs. Q had a momentary look of awe, just as she had when she first met Z in that lifeless field hospital.
Half a minute later, Z said, “You’re old.”
Mrs. Q was stunned.
Z leaned over and put his arm around the old woman’s shoulders. “I never blamed you.”
Mrs. Q sobbed and buried her face in her handkerchief.
The Nightmen had hired a nearby bar to host a reception for Z. They were so curious about the events leading up to Z’s return to the light that they pestered him with questions. Z seemed uncomfortable with being the center of attention. He left most of the answering to Xenophon, and sat at the bar drinking one glass after another.
The Nightmen seemed to have forgotten that the original purpose of the trip was to escort Duan FeiZhou to Greece to learn occult arts, and Duan FeiZhou was happy to relax. He sat next to Z and watched Xenophon dance around describing the Countess’s beauty to the others. The man’s words were half-truths, but even the true parts contained deliberate exaggerations.
At the end of the reception, Xenophon and the others were so drunk that Z called for a large hired carriage, put them in it one by one, then sent the driver to their residences in turn to take the drunken ministers to their homes. If London’s occult practitioners were to make a scene that night, none of them would be able to do anything about it.
The only one left was Duan FeiZhou, who had also drunk a lot, but had stayed strong and sober.
“Go to 49 Frances Square.” Z instructed.
As soon as he entered the house, Duan FeiZhou heard a small sparrow-like cry.
“Master, you’re back! Will you bathe first or will you…” Al’s voice stuck. He looked at Duan FeiZhou, and then looked at Z next to him, and his whole body looked like it had been struck by lightning.
Z’s state was similar to Al’s. He recalled the fear when he had been dominated by the bear child on the train. There were only a few things in the world that could make Z fearful, and bear children were one of them.
Duan FeiZhou broke the awkward atmosphere. “Al, Mr. Detective is just sending me back. You entertain him a little. Ordinary hospitality.”
If he hadn’t added the phrase “ordinary hospitality”, Al might have interpreted his words as ‘treat this guy to a last supper and send him to heaven.’
“No need.” Z said indifferently, “I’ll leave now.”
After that he turned around and went downstairs.
Duan FeiZhou reluctantly looked at his back, then dragged his heavy feet towards the sofa and threw his luggage on the floor. The sound of rushing water came from the washroom, and then Al poked his head out. “Master, the hot water is ready. Would you like to take a bath?”
After a long trip, there was nothing better than a hot bath to relieve fatigue. Although there were bathing facilities on board the airship, the ordinary cabins only had showers, while the bathtubs were for the first class passengers.
Duan FeiZhou walked into the bathroom, stepped into the bathtub, and sank himself in deep so only half his head was left above the water. The warm water and the dense steam soon made him drowsy.
Suddenly, a hand yanked him out of the tub. He woke up with a jolt.
The one who pulled him out was Z.
The white-haired Nightman was half-kneeling at the edge of the tub, his face blue, while Al clung to the washroom door frame, and looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“What’s wrong?” Duan FeiZhou scratched his head.
“You fell asleep in the bathtub.” Z’s tone was stern. “And almost drowned in it.”
“Why are you here?” Duan FeiZhou was shocked.
Z’s lips twisted a little, and he said reluctantly “…I changed my mind halfway, and came back. I didn’t have time to sit down for long before I heard your little servant wailing that you were unconscious in the bathtub.”
Duan FeiZhou looked at Al, whose tearful look confirmed Z’s words. “I’m probably too tired…”
Z shook his head helplessly, “You’d better get some rest.”
“Didn’t you come back here to tell me something?”
“Rest.” Z said in a commanding tone.
When he said that, Duan FeiZhou had no choice. At that moment, he suddenly realized that he was sitting in the bathtub, and Z…Z…Z was right in front of him…His whole body instantly turned red like a crab that had been steamed.
Z made a gesture toward Al. The teenager warily handed him a wide bath towel.
Z pulled Duan FeiZhou out of the bathtub, wrapped him in the towel, and after the water was absorbed by the towel, he picked him up in a horizontal position.
“Put me down!” Duan FeiZhou shouted.
Z pretended not to hear his protest, and asked Al, “Where’s the bedroom?”
The teenager shivered. “There, over there…”
He led Z to the door of the bedroom, where Z walked in with a big stride and threw Duan FeiZhou onto the bed in the same manner as a sack of potatoes. Then he flung the door closed and shut Al out.
“I know, don’t you…I got it! I’ll just rest!” Duan FeiZhou shouted incoherently. He dried his hair and pulled up the blanket to cover himself, keeping it halfway over his face to hide the scarlet color. This action made him accidentally hit the head of the bed, and a solid object fell down and hit his nose by chance.
“Ouch…” Duan FeiZhou swore.
Z picked up the thing that smashed tears from his eyes.
It was a dried and withered wreath, extremely poorly woven. The flowers that were once inserted in it had withered and turned into a black mass, making it look less like a wreath and more like a crown of thorns.
This was the wreath that Z made up on May Day. Z recognized it at once. He stroked the wreath and looked a little strange. “You…Have you been keeping this?”
Of course he kept it. He had brought it all the way back to London from the Perlilla Estate, hung it above his bed as a talisman, and slept under it every day.
Al asked him every time he cleaned his room if he wanted to get rid of the dried up, broken wreath, but each time he refused. It was something that Z had given him. Although it was just a tattered wreath, it was more precious than a crown of gold and diamonds. How could he be willing to throw it away?
Duan FeiZhou turned his face away, and did not say anything. Z lowered his eyes, and didn’t say a word, but kept playing with the garland.
It might have been Duan FeiZhou’s illusion, but he felt that Z’s face, which was always pale, seemed to be a bit redder than usual.
“This thing is no good.” Z said. “It must be very ugly to hang at home. Just throw it away.”
“It’s mine!” Duan FeiZhou grabbed the garland, and held it in his arms like a baby. “You gave it to me, and it’s mine! What to do with it is up to me!”
Z said indifferently, “It’s okay. I’ll make a new one for you.”
“Then…That won’t work either!” Duan FeiZhou stammered. “I want them all!”
Z lowered his head. Although his long white hair hid most of his face, Duan FeiZhou could clearly see he was smiling. Z asked softly, “So, it’s not just my wishful thinking, right?”