Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
In an instant, many images came to Duan FeiZhou’s mind.
The May Day wreath, the coat draped over his shoulders on the train, the umbrella held up in the streets of Aberdeen, the cigarette extinguished in the ashtray, the small jealousies over other girls, the concern for those he cared about…A little bit of good feeling gradually accumulated, and he didn’t know when the qualitative change occurred.
How could it be wishful thinking?
But…He and Z…Was it possible?
Duan FeiZhou looked at Z. For a moment, he hoped that he had been mistaken. Maybe Z was just a fellow soldier, and he meant nothing more to him than that. In that case…If he didn’t have any hope, he wouldn’t be disappointed.
When he saw how he wasn’t speaking, Z asked, “Don’t you want to?”
“You don’t like me? Is it because of my physical disability?”
Z was so concerned about his physical defects. Duan FeiZhou was really surprised. Z was always so strong and cold, as if he was born one with the machinery. Then he remembered that he wasn’t like that before. He was a normal person. He hadn’t become that way by choice. Duan FeiZhou suddenly remembered what Mr. Thales once said. Don’t sympathize with Z. Sometimes sympathy hurts the self-esteem of others.
“I don’t care about that,” Duan FeiZhou muttered. “I just…It’s just…”
One of them was the leader of the Nightmen, and the other was the owner of the world’s largest occult arts auction house. They were supposed to be natural enemies. It was only because Duan FeiZhou was concealing his identity that he could be together with Z.
How long could such concealment last? Like the sword of Damocles hanging overhead, it could fall at any time. 1
“So do you care about my past?” Z asked. “Because of the crimes I committed?”
“I don’t care about your past,” Duan FeiZhou’s voice was hoarse. “What matters is what you are now, isn’t it?”
The corners of Z’s mouth twitched. “I don’t think I’m a good person now either.”
“What about me?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
Z looked up, his scarlet eyes shining. “You’re good. You’ve always been good. I knew it the first time I met you. Not every doctor can get people to pay a ransom willingly. You must be very popular. Everything you’ve done since then has validated my thoughts over and over again.”
With such high praise from Z, Duan FeiZhou began to feel weak. He knew that he was not the flawless moral role model Z had imagined.
“Z…I…” His eyes dodged, “You know, I gained the power of Duncan McKellen and Jack the Ripper. I’m an occult practitioner, and you…You’re the leader of the Nightmen…”
Z stared at the wreath in his hand, and whispered, “Occult practitioners…There’s nothing wrong with that.”
If it wasn’t for occult practitioners, he would never have seen the wreath. Duan FeiZhou carefully watched his expression. “You really don’t mind that I’ve become an occult practitioner?”
“You aren’t the same as before. But to me, you will always be you.”
When he said that, Duan FeiZhou only felt more guilty. He felt that he had deceived Z, and relied on dishonorable means to trick a piece of his heart. If Z knew his true identity, how could he say “you will always be you?”
When he thought of this, his heart was flooded with bitterness. Shouldn’t he end this grand deception? He had long wanted to close the Secret Trading House, but he couldn’t put it into practice for various reasons. Maybe now was the time to act?
The game of a double undercover agent couldn’t be played for a long time. Occult practitioners and Nightmen. He could only choose one of them in the end. Unfortunately, even if he chose to close his trading house, stay away from the occult society forever, and join the Nightmen, his former deceitful behavior wouldn’t disappear.
What would he do if the day came when he was caught? Would Z be able to forgive him for having cheated for so long?
Duan FeiZhou finally came up with the words, “No matter what I become in the future, can you accept me?”
“That’s for sure.” Z thought it was a bit strange. “I am so faithless in your heart?”
“Even if I’m not the kind of person you think I am?”
Z raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing.” Duan FeiZhou said. If he kept talking like that, he would have to expose himself.
“Then can I understand that…” Z paused, “You accept it?”
Another long time passed.
“…Hmm.” Duan FeiZhou made a faint sound.
Duan FeiZhou had never seen Z look so radiant. It was like a vibrant teenager smiled at him through that pale, handsome face. Z took his hand, lowered his head and gently branded it with a kiss. His lips were so cold, but the place he had kissed seemed to burn up, and stung Duan FeiZhou skin.
Z suddenly laughed.
“What’s wrong?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“Generally speaking, this kind of confession occasion should be more romantic. There should be flowers and music or something.” Z picked up the wilted wreath, and hung it back over the bed. “But we only have this. It feels so shabby.”
“It’s much better than flowers and music.” Duan FeiZhou said hoarsely.
Z leaned forward and gently wrapped his arms around him, as he ran his fingers through his hair in a lopsided manner.
When Z killed someone, he was so quick and clean, but his movements were so gentle as if he was afraid of hurting the person in his arms. It was only after a long time that he let go.
“I have to go back. This trip has was delayed for a few days, and I have to write a report to Carter.”
Duan FeiZhou reluctantly held Z’s hand, and Z’s eyes smiled as he squeezed his fingers. “I’ll leave you my home address. If you need it…I mean, if you feel unwell, you can always come and see me.”
With that he pushed the door open and left.
Duan FeiZhou heard him instruct Al to get a pen and paper and write down his home address, and Al made a point of reading it over to make sure it was correct. Then there was the sound of the door opening and closing.
Duan FeiZhou looked at the ceiling, feeling that everything was so unreal. The bedroom door creaked, and opened a small crack. Al’s small eyes appeared in the doorway. The teenager asked timidly, “Master, can I come in?”
“What is it?”
“That policeman, the Nightman, did he…Did he do something really bad to you?” Al looked like he was on the verge of tears. “Damn it! He is obviously a police officer, but he knows the law and breaks it!”
Duan FeiZhou was dumbfounded. What was this kid thinking all day long? “He didn’t do anything. You can rest assured.”
Al finally breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s great!”
Duan FeiZhou gave a few dry laughs. “Al, what would you think if I said I was going to close the Secret Trading House?”
“What?!” Al jumped up like there were springs on his feet. “Why, Master? Did the Nightmen find out who you are?”
“No. Not yet, I should say. I just…I don’t want to open it anymore.”
“But the Secret Trading House is the largest occult store in the world. If you close down, what about the customers?” Al’s face was full of sorrow.
“There are other stores anyway.”
“But the Secret Trading House is unique!” the teenager insisted. “Where stores can’t provide, only you, only the Secret Trading House can! You sold my mother’s blind boxes, sold Lord Perlilla’s father’s estate…What would we do without you?”
He was right, he had helped some people. But…
“Al,” Duan FeiZhou said slowly. “What would you think if I said I wanted to join the Nightmen in the future?”
The teenager had a horrified look on his face. “Aren’t you working undercover for the Nightmen? Why do you want to join them? Do you want to betray the occult practitioners?”
“I can’t say it’s a betrayal. I just…I just…I can’t live this double life anymore.” Duan FeiZhou raised his eyes, and looked at the teenager. “If you think I’ve betrayed the occult practitioners, betrayed you, then you can always leave. I won’t blame you. Of course I won’t betray you to the Nightmen. Even if the trading house is closed, the secret contract of all customers is still valid. I can not reveal the identity of customers, and customers can not reveal my identity.”
Al stared at his feet with a conflicted expression. He hesitated for a moment, then clenched his fists. “Master, I will follow you! Whether you are on the side of the Nightmen, or on the side of the occult practitioners, I, Alfred Vilyuy, will always be on your side!”
Duan FeiZhou could not help but be greatly moved, and at the same time much more relieved.
“Thank you, Al,” he said softly. “You go home. I want to get some sleep. Tomorrow…Tomorrow I’m going to visit Mr. Yeats.”
“Then I’ll iron the clothes you’ll wear tomorrow!” Al had always been concerned about his master’s image. After all, if Duan FeiZhou was unkempt, people would think that his manservant had failed to do his duty. He took a shirt and jacket out of the closet, tiptoed out of the bedroom, and gently closed the door.
Duan FeiZhou took the wreath off the bed. It was now so dry and faded that it was more like a straw wreath. He placed the wreath on his chest, imagined it was Z’s arm on his body, and fell into a deep sleep.
Yeats spent most of his time in the bookshop he owned in Charing Cross. Duan FeiZhou crossed the street, walked into the dark space, and finally arrived at Yeats’ bookshop. William Butler Yeats, the future Nobel Prize winner in literature, was sitting in the bookshop reading. When he saw Duan FeiZhou, he looked up and smiled.
“A rare guest. I heard from Al that you’ve been away recently. You should tell me about what you saw in that distant country.”
Duan FeiZhou flashed a helpless smile at him. “I have an important matter to discuss with you.”
Yeats agreed and asked Duan FeiZhou to sit down while he closed the shop door.
Duan FeiZhou didn’t know where to start. He had intended to close the Secret Trading House, but now he couldn’t make up his mind, so he could only ask Yeats for advice.
Yeats was a much more senior occult practitioner than he was, and one of the few reliable occult practitioners he knew. Apart from him, Duan FeiZhou couldn’t think of a second person to consult. He touched the spell paper of the Secret Trading House that was in his pocket.
The Secret Trading House wasn’t just a shop, but also a platform for exchanges by occult practitioners from all over the world. Two people who were on opposite ends of the earth and who may never meet in their lifetime in reality, could arrive at the same place in an instant and talk to each other without any obstacles.
Duan FeiZhou had never realized more than now what an important and great place Joseph Chester had built – and he wanted to close that place. Cut the ties between occult practitioners.
Was that really the right thing to do? He didn’t want to deceive Z anymore, but he couldn’t afford to close the trading house. Should he be a Nightman, or should he be an occult practitioner? Who was he? Which side should he be on?
After a long moment of silence, Duan FeiZhou opened his mouth, “Mr. Yeats, I want to close the Secret Trading House.”
After he said that, he paused, and waited for Yeats to panic or become angry. However, the scene he expected didn’t occur at all.
The future great man of letters just gave him a strange look, and asked hesitantly, “…Can you say that again?”
Duan FeiZhou had to repeat himself, “I want to close the trading house. Permanently.”
“Are you also terminally ill?”
“…What?” Duan FeiZhou didn’t understand.
“That’s what the previous owner of the trading house said one day. He was terminally ill, so the trading house was closing down. Could it be that you are also…Is this job cursed?”
No wonder Yeats reacted so strangely. Joseph Chester hadn’t been dead long before his nephew said the exact same thing, so it was hard not to think in a pessimistic direction.
Duan FeiZhou had no choice but to say, “Thank you for your concern, but I am not terminally ill. The reason why I want to close the trading house is for my own personal reasons. I have no intention of running that place anymore.”
“But what should customers do if they want to buy occult items in the future?”
“However they did business before the appearance of the Secret Trading House. That’s how they will do business in the future.”
Yeats pondered for a moment, leaned forward slightly and asked in a low voice, “Is this another one of your marketing techniques?”
Duan FeiZhou “…Huh?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve seen similar tactics. There is a shoe shop near my home that hangs a sign at the entrance saying ‘The store will close soon, all goods are sold discounted’, which attracts a lot of customers. However, a year has passed and it hasn’t closed. Are you trying to use a similar tactic of promotion?”
Duan FeiZhou was dumbfounded. Yeats was worthy of being a literary scholar, so rich in imagination. “You’ve misunderstood. I’m really planning to close the trading house.”
Yeats stared at him to make sure he wasn’t joking. “Why? Is it because of the Nightmen?”
His thoughts weren’t far from Al’s.
Duan FeiZhou sighed. “Sort of. I just think it’s too painful to be caught between the Nightmen and the occult practitioners. As long as I remain the Master of the Secret Trading House, I face the risk of having my identity exposed.”
Yeats got up and walked to the door of the bookshop, and gazed out at the street. The sunlight on his young face made him look as if he had stepped out of a painting.
“I understand the dilemma you are facing, Master of the Trading House,” he said calmly. “Running the world’s largest shop for occult items is a great risk for any person. I don’t think anyone would blame you if you chose to close the trading house for your own safety and security.”
He seemed to think that Duan FeiZhou was making this move because he was afraid of being arrested by the Nightmen. Duan FeiZhou thought, How can I put it? Some parts were horribly accurate and some parts were horribly wrong.
“But.” Yeats turned around. “The fact that you didn’t just announce the closure of the business, and instead came to me first, means that you are still hesitant, right?”
Duan FeiZhou nodded in silence. Yeats’ sharp eyes saw right through him.
“In fact, initially, I didn’t want to inherit the Secret Trading House at all. That was purely by accident.” Duan FeiZhou hadn’t mentioned this to anyone. “From the beginning I wanted to close it. But for various reasons it is still in operation. To help the Al family, to get rid of the old Lord Perlilla’s belongings…I know that the Secret Trade House is essential to occult practitioners, and I know that its existence helps many people. Closing it would certainly cause all sorts of inconveniences, but I…”
He couldn’t say anything else. He liked Z, and he wanted to be with Z. Therefore he would have to get rid of the identity of the Master of the Secret Trading House. He didn’t dare imagine what it would be like when Z found out the truth. He couldn’t bear that kind of blow. He looked at Yeats for help, hoping the poet could advise him. If Yeats also agreed that he should close down his business, he would tear up the spell paper without saying a word. If Yeats wanted him to continue his business, he would have to consider it.
Yeats divined his thoughts, and gave him a faint smile.” The Secret Trading House is your private property, and whatever you do with it is your choice. I respect your decision.”
“It is because I am in a dilemma that I need your advice.”
“You don’t need my advice. You only need to follow your own heart.”
Seeing Duan FeiZhou’s bewildered and confused face, Yeats smiled and shook his head. “The Secret Trading House wasn’t established overnight, so even if you want to close it, you don’t need to rush it. Why not spend a few more days thinking it over?”
That’s true. It was indeed too hasty to make a decision immediately. Maybe after a few days, he could come up with a way to do both?
“Then I’ll think about it.” Duan FeiZhou said helplessly.
Yeats bowed slightly toward him.
The bell on the door of the bookshop jingled. A customer had come to the door. Both of them shut their mouths in unison and stared at the door warily.
- The (probably apocryphal) tale of Damocles. According to the story, Damocles was pandering to his king, Dionysius, exclaiming that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority without peer, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand.Damocles sat on the king’s throne, surrounded by countless luxuries. But Dionysius, who had made many enemies during his reign, arranged that a sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse’s tail to evoke the sense of what it is like to be king: though having much fortune, always having to watch in fear and anxiety against dangers that might try to overtake him. Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart, realizing that with great power comes great responsibility. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damocles