Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
At that moment, time seemed to pass extremely slowly, like an overlong slow-motion scene. Z fell towards the sea, his empty sleeve fluttering in the wind.
Duan FeiZhou called out his name, but his voice was soon blown away by the bitter cold wind. The weight in his hand was suddenly reduced. Of course, he now only held a mechanical prosthetic limb.
The Arctic sky was so cold, but Duan FeiZhou felt as if a volcano had erupted in his heart. The hot lava was injected into his limbs along the veins, igniting the blazing flame called anger.
He had lost Z once again.
However, it was different from the last time. Last time, when he exposed the identity of the Master of the Trading House, Z and he cut off relations. Still, he thought that as long as he was alive and Z was alive, there was always a chance to redeem himself.
They still had a long, long time ahead of them, and who knew what the future held. In another ten years, the Queen would be long dead. Twenty more years and the world would be turned upside down. Thirty more years…Everything was changing. The world was changing. People were changing. One day, Z wouldn’t care that he was an occult practitioner and would forgive him for his deception.
He’d never have that chance again.
“Sword in the Stone!” He roared as loudly as he could.
“Leave it to me!” Sword in the Stone responded in kind.
He handed over control of his body to Sword in the Stone, and with a mighty swing of his arm, he tumbled through the hole and into the cabin.
Colonel Freeman wiped the blood from his lips and grimaced at him. The Ether crystal was bitten between his teeth, and still burst out with a dazzling light.
Duan FeiZhou had seen with his own eyes how terrible the energy released by the Ether crystals was. Colonel Freeman didn’ even recite an incantation to open a hole in the shell of the airship, which was so thick that even a cannonball couldn’t penetrate it. If he was hit by that power head-on, he was afraid even the corpse would be destroyed in smoke.
So Duan FeiZhou had to defeat the colonel before he could unleash his power. He didn’t say a word, but Sword in the Stone understood what he meant.
“Leave it to me, boy!” the Sword in the Stone’s voice was high, maybe it was reflecting his emotions, or the sword could produce the same emotions of hatred and righteous anger.
Sword in the Stone took control of his body. He raised the sword and rushed at Colonel Freeman as fast as he had in his life.
The colonel gnawed on the Ether crystal, as he cackled in his throat.
This crystalline piece was a treasure that he’d managed to get. Most of the world’s most Ether crystals mines were under British control. Other countries also had mines, but the production was extremely low, and since they were used to supply their own airships, they were stretched to the limit. You could forget using the valuable crystals for other purposes.
Freeman became a spy, and worked to lie low until now. In addition to the orders of the top, there was another important reason – that was, if he became the captain of the airship, he would have access to the Ether crystals.
How powerful that crystalline energy was! People said it was the crystallization of pure energy. Originally Freeman didn’t believe it, but after really touching the Ether crystals, he had to believe it.
He only secretly took such a small piece from the Wellington’s fuel, yet it could cause so much damage, and the Ether crystal wasn’t consumed much at all. Imagine if all the Ether crystals on the Wellington belonged to him, then…No, that was too greedy. He didn’t want to have so many Ether crystals. Just give him a small piece, the size of a pigeon egg was enough. With just one small piece, he would be confident he would stand at the top of occult society!
As long as the Wellington was brought back to Vienna and presented to His Majesty, the Emperor, what reward did he want?
He would be the first occult practitioner in the history of the Empire to be made a nobleman. Think of how prestigious His Majesty’s Court Occult Practitioner sounded! He would no longer have to live in hiding. No longer have to be used as a tool to perform dirty tasks. If he wanted to, he could even become a big man who could influence the world situation.
He stared at the young man with the sword. What a pity, he thought to himself. He admired the Nightmen from the bottom of his heart, and wished these two talents were in a better place to use their strengths. Unfortunately, his good intentions had been taken for granted.
Since they didn’t appreciate it, then he didn’t need to be polite with them. For the sake of his bright future, the scourge in front of him must be removed! He was only a small step away from realizing his dream. He wouldn’t allow anyone to ruin his plans at this juncture! He raised his hand towards the young man and recited the incantation that was enough to bury him ten times over.
Before the incantation was finished, however, the young man disappeared from his vision.
Colonel Freeman blinked hard to make sure he wasn’t blinded.
In that instant, the young man reappeared in front of him.
The rusty sword swung toward him.
He tried to summon a secret barrier around his body. It was a waste of energy, but would greatly deflect all the attacks launched at him. When the young man’s blade hit the barrier, it would deflect in the other direction.
Even as the spell was uttered, he was hit hard on the head.
Duan FeiZhou hit Colonel Freeman in the side of the face with the stone from Sword in the Stone. The colonel’s head lolled and he was suddenly bleary-eyed. The Ether crystal he was biting between his teeth was also shaken out. He scrambled to grab the crystal on the ground, but Duan FeiZhou was quicker. He pulled him by the collar and pinned him to the ground, then held the rusty blade against his throat – right above the bloody mark Z had made.
Sword in the Stone only looked dull, but in the right hands and with enough power, it could become sharper than a Damascus steel blade.
Colonel Freeman braced himself against Duan FeiZhou’s hand and pushed the blade away from his neck with force. Both sides gritted their teeth and wrestled silently.
The fight between occult practitioners turned into a physical battle, which was not aesthetically pleasing at all. But Duan FeiZhou doesn’t need any aesthetics. He just wanted Colonel Freeman to pay the price.
“It’s useless even if you kill me!” the colonel laughed, his voice hoarse, his teeth red with blood. “I’ve already made the arrangements! Everything is a foregone conclusion! You will only fail and carry the sin of murder!”
Duan FeiZhou didn’t say a word, just pressed the sword blade downward with deadly force. The blade cut through flesh and blood gushed out like a spring, and stained the carpet red.
Freeman didn’t understand. He was a battle-hardened soldier, a well-trained soldier, and this young man looked like a weak, unarmed grammar school student. So why in a purely physical contest, he had fallen short?
The sword blade pierced his windpipe, and blood poured into his windpipe. The colonel couldn’t breathe. His dream wasn’t going to come true after all. He took out at least one Nightman, the leader of all the Nightmen. Each one of those guys was a blessing in disguise.
Darkness overtook him.
The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a pair of golden-green eyes, like emeralds falling into molten gold. He thought that they were beautiful but fragile, and not worth mentioning. But now, those eyes burst into flame, they burned as if they could devour up everything in sight.
The first one to turn into ashes was him.
Duan FeiZhou kept pressing the blade until Colonel Freeman’s body began to grow cold. The cold wind from high altitude poured into the cabin, and his body was slowly losing temperature.
Alas, before that, his soul had become cold.
A living person died under his hands, and he did not feel guilty at all.
There was even a dark sense of pleasure spreading through him. He looked at Colonel Freeman’s slowly clouding pupils and enjoyed the moment of being filled with the pleasure of revenge.
Suddenly, he remembered the words of Duncan McKellen. — I know you’re a doctor. I won’t let a doctor’s hands get blood on them.
Now his hands were covered in blood. He’s even filled with joy for having killed someone. He tasted the sweetness of revenge like a fine wine made from life. He felt…He seemed to be on the verge of becoming a different person. Was he on the verge of insanity? Just like Jack the Ripper was driven insane after absorbing too much psychic power? But would a mentally deranged person think so rationally?
“Kid, get out of here!” Sword in the Stone’s cry snapped him a mess of thousand thoughts, “They’re coming! More of them are coming!“
The explosion in the map room was so loud that it even blew a gaping hole in the airship, and it was impossible not to alert the others on board.
Duan FeiZhou released the tentacles of his five senses out and sensed that more than twenty people were approaching quickly. Some of them were engineers in charge of maintenance, while others were loaded and ready to fight the enemies who had sabotaged the airship.
When they reached the library, they would only find the remains of the colonel…
Duan FeiZhou looked down at the dead Colonel Freeman, and was surprised to find that Colonel’s face had shed a layer of something that looked a little like a mask. He removed the mask, and underneath was a completely unfamiliar face.
It was a middle-aged man with thin cheeks and high cheekbones that bore no resemblance to Colonel Freeman.
Duan FeiZhou looked at the flesh in his hand, and then at the man he had killed. He wasn’t the real Colonel Freeman. Was this some kind of occult technique that allowed him to change his face? It was too late to think any more. The team of heavily armed soldiers was about to reach the map room.
Duan FeiZhou stuffed the mask into his coat pocket, picked up Sword in the Stone, the Ether crystal and Z’s severed arm, then fled the map room as fast as he could. He listened to the footsteps of the soldiers. Whichever direction they came from, he hid in the other direction. He also used the Phantom Leaf, which would gradually take effect again as long as he was quiet and did not make extra movements.
Now he was the only one left. Before, whenever he encountered a tricky situation, he would discuss it with Z, seek the other party’s advice, or get his suggestions. But now the person he could talk with had left him forever.
He clutched the prosthetic arm in his arms and pressed the cold metal against his cheek.
He had to find a way to disable the crew’s mind control and get the Wellington back to London, or the ship might actually fly all the way to Vienna. If possible, then he should find out the secret of the mask, but the first thing he needed to do was to find out the secret of the ship.
Maybe he could save one more person.
Fortunately, Z left this arm for him.
Maybe it was because he was so sad that he had no other emotions left, or if it was because he was naturally so cold-blooded and indifferent to the deaths of others…he actually felt a little grateful.
The arm was brass. It was his storage metal.
The Wellington was in a state of unprecedented chaos. Just minutes before, there had been a massive explosion on the airborne ship. The entire ship felt the violent shaking and heard the roar of the explosion.
It took a while for the crew to figure out where the explosion had occurred – it was in the map room at the bow of the ship. At the same time, the crew on the bridge monitoring the balance of the ship noticed that the Wellington’s hull had deflected, suggesting that the explosion may have damaged the hull to the point where the internal and external air pressure was out of balance.
The engineers of the repair crew immediately rushed to repair the breach with their men. Meanwhile, Colonel Freeman’s adjutant also took a group of men to escort them.
Chief Warrant Officer Reeves of the repair team felt that something was wrong. There had been an explosion on the ship, most likely from human interference. The Wellington’s journey north had been a bumpy one. First there was being attacked repeatedly by air pirates, then fighting monsters, and now a blast of unknown origin…The crew was on edge, and there was even a rumor that the Wellington was cursed.
Warrant Officer Reeves, who was carrying his toolbox, whispered to the adjutant, “What is the captain doing?”
The adjutant’s face was expressionless, “None of your business.”
Well, it’s true that Warrant Officer Reeves was in no position to ask the captain about his business. But the problem is, he felt that recently not only the captain, all senior crew members had become strange…
The lieutenant, for example, was originally a friendly and talkative person, the opposite of the majestic Colonel Freeman, and everyone said they complemented each other’s personalities and worked well together. Now that Warrant Officer Reeves met the adjutant, he found him aloof and tough, like a different person.
Warrant Officer Reeves had never been one to meddle in other people’s business. The maintenance team’s duty was to maintain the airship inside and out. Most of the members were also technicians who just worked hard. They weren’t interested in the conflicts between the crew, especially those between the top brass.
A gate fell at the end of the corridor. The adjutant frowned.
Warrant Officer Reeves hurried to the door and checked the valve on it.
The gate was designed to prevent air pressure imbalance, and many such devices were set up on the airships. Once an area of the hull was broken and the air pressure was out of balance, the gate would automatically fall, isolating that area from the rest of the ship and preventing the entire airship from falling into an imbalance.
The hull breakage was far more serious than Warrant Officer Reeves had imagined. “The air pressure in Area B4 may be very low, so everyone should be careful.”
The members of the repair team nodded. The trained ones were already well aware of the situation. On the other hand, the team of armed soldiers brought by the adjutant was a bit hasty. There were handles near the gates, and he gestured for the men to grab them and twist the ring grip to open them.
The pressure outside was low, but nowhere near as bad as Warrant Officer Reeves thought. He deduced that there was a hole in the hull and that a repair to the airship would allow it to continue sailing. If it was just a return trip to London, it probably wouldn’t be a problem.
It was just that the Wellington, which had just left the factory, had been blown up internally, which was not a good thing to say…
He followed the adjutant deeper into Area B4, until they came to the map room.
Warrant Officer Reeves was amazed by the level of disarray inside. The hole was right there, and many valuable maps had disappeared. Those were all military secrets! If the Ministry knew about it, they would all be in trouble!
What was even more frightening was that there was a corpse in the map room. A man dressed as an officer was lying on the floor, his head tilted to the side, as blood dripped from his throat. This was the third dead man since the Wellington set sail! Was this ship really cursed?
As soon as the adjutant saw the corpse, he looked a bit dazed, as if he had remembered something. For a moment, Warrant Officer Reeves saw the face of the jovial lieutenant of old on his face. But he quickly returned to his cold, hard demeanor.
“Fix the holes. Carry the body to the morgue. Order a ship-wide search for suspicious characters. I have a meeting with all senior crew members in half an hour. Just do your jobs, and don’t worry about the rest.”
The soldiers under the adjutant’s command looked doubtful, but their years of training made them obey their officer’s orders immediately. Warrant Officer Reeves also instructed his men to start repairing the broken hole. As the soldiers carried the body away, Warrant Officer Reeves caught sight of the uniform on the body – according to the shoulder patch, the body was a colonel.
But there was only one colonel on the entire Wellington, and that was their captain. This man was clearly not the captain, so how could he be wearing the captain’s clothes?
And why did he die here? Who killed him? And where did the killer go? They couldn’t have jumped out of the hole? That was a death wish!
Warrant Officer Reeve’s mind was full of questions, but he didn’t dare to ask them.
The sappers in the repair team were all handy and well-trained, and soon finished their work. All they had to do was to cut the uneven pieces of iron in the hole and weld a steel plate on it. All the surrounding gaps were welded shut and then coated with lacquer.
This method of repair was the only one manageable, and could barely hold them to get back to London, when they would have to go into the shipyard to continue the repair.
Warrant Officer Reeves led his men back to the repair team’s warehouse. As soon as he entered, he found a number of people gathered inside.
The repair team’s warehouse was filled with large and small boxes that contained various parts and tools needed to maintain the airship.
A dozen crew members sat on the crates. There was a gunner crew, a logistics crew, a patrol crew, a wheel crew, a survey crew… All were officers with ranks below lieutenant, and several ordinary enlisted men.
“Do you guys treat my place like a mess hall?” Warrant Officer Reeves asked.
“You have a lot of space here, so I’m borrowing it for a meeting.” It was the crew of the ship that spoke. The crew was also responsible for maintaining the Ether crystal-engine, the equivalent of a steam engine on ordinary ships and trains, so they were jokingly referred to as coal diggers.
“It’s against military regulations to meet privately.” Warrant Officer Reeves frowned.
“Come on. Do you think anyone cares if we break the rules now?” The cook from the logistics team said. “Haven’t you noticed that there’s something wrong with the people upstairs these days?”
Warrant Officer Reeves didn’t know whether to nod or shake his head. Of course he noticed something unusual about the ship, but he was only the head of the maintenance crew. He had officers above him, so how could he worry about those things?
The gunner’s expression was the most serious, “I always thought we came to the Arctic only to test the adaptability of the Wellington in the cold zone, and incidentally escort a few scholars to investigate. But today I learned that we’re here to fucking kill monsters. You may not have seen it, but we gunners saw it with our own eyes. This is outrageous! Monsters that big actually exist in the world!”
“I don’t understand why the brass is hiding something so big. Are they afraid we’ll leak military information?” The cook said.
The survey team carefully lowered their voices, “I can only tell a few of you this news, you do not leak out, or I may face a court martial. Our surveyor has been informed that instead of going back to London, we are going to Vienna.”
“What?!” Everyone was stunned.
“But…but that’s the capital of another country, isn’t it? If we go there directly, isn’t it equivalent to declaring war?”
“No, I’ve read in the newspaper that sometimes warships are sent there for diplomatic occasions, like escorting diplomats or something.”
“But it’s not like we have diplomats on board! Besides, if it was a diplomatic mission, wouldn’t we know about it? Now we don’t even know what we’re going to do, what we’re supposed to do, and the top brass are being secretive and seem to be hiding something…”
The coal digger said, “Don’t you think it’s strange? How many times have we been attacked by air pirates during our journey? You are all old crew members, have you ever encountered such frequent air pirate attacks before?”
Everyone looked at each other, and shook their heads.
“I suspect someone has leaked the coordinates of the Wellington! There are spies on the ship! Those people up there might have been turned by spies!”
Warrant Officer Reeves opened his mouth wide. The group couldn’t speak. Was the coal digger suffering from delusions of grandeur? But then he thought of the body in the map room with the colonel’s uniform for no reason. Since the ship could mix in an unknown colonel, wasn’t it entirely possible to mix in a spy?
“No matter what, we must get a statement from our superiors.” The gunner was furious. “We’re dealing with a monster! We should at least be informed in advance! Why should the gunners be kept in the dark about such an important matter? We are facing the beast, not the senior officers!”
Many people nodded in agreement, while some were noncommittal and refrained from commenting for the time being.
At that moment, the warehouse door opened again. Everyone was aghast, fearing that it was an officer coming to make his rounds. In the military camp, a large number of people meeting in private was against military discipline, and serious cases would even be treated as inciting a riot and dealt with by military law.
However, the one who came in was an ordinary soldier.
“Just got the news, four people were knocked out and locked up in the bottom cabin. They were originally guarding the two Royal Academy scholars, but the scholars escaped and the four of them were locked up instead. I don’t know what those two scholars used…”
Buzzing whispers filled the warehouse.
“Wasn’t there a child with the scholars? I saw with my own eyes the three of them get off the ship together, but only two came back.”
“I heard that the child died.”
“Why? Wasn’t one of our missions to escort them? Why were they locked up?”
“Do you guys remember old Bourne? He was Colonel Freeman’s personal attendant. The colonel took him and another young follow with him when he went to the island today. But they were taken away by the adjutant as soon as they returned. I was on patrol and saw them with shackles on their hands, going to the bilge with the adjutant…”
“Lieutenant Horn is dead, so is Staff Sergeant Bulwer, and Bourne and the others are nowhere to be found. The two scholars were obviously locked up and disappeared as well. Then there was another man who disappeared before the ship started. This is all so odd! Can’t we ask the captain to come out and explain? We’re not inciting mutiny, we’re just trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“Someone disappeared before the ship sailed? Who?”
“The captain forbade us to say anything, and told us it was an order from the top. I wasn’t going to say anything, but today…”
“If we come forward and ask the captain to give a statement, how many people support it?”
“All of the gunner groups support it, and I am the representative. The gunner group couldn’t stand it long ago. Damn it, we’re facing a monster!”
“Okay, okay. Stop chanting about monsters all day long as if you guys are the only ones in danger. Our survey group’s opinion is similar. But how do we pass our opinions up? It doesn’t seem to work, communicating directly with the chief. To be honest, the navigators don’t pay much attention to us these days. Everyone on the bridge is ignoring people.”
“I’ll go convince the logistics team. Although we shouldn’t be asking questions. I just need the captain to step up and say something.”
As he listened to the chatter, Warrant Officer Reeves’ mood grew heavier. The engineers who went with him to the maintenance map room also had a complicated look on their faces. Warrant Officer Reeves thought they must have seen the body’s shoulder patch as well.
The group finally came to an agreement that during dinner, a representative of the gunner’s group would ask Lieutenant Freeman’s adjutant to inform the captain that there were many soldiers present at dinner, that they would unite to pressure the adjutant, and weren’t afraid of his refusal.
Then…It was up to the captain to give an answer that satisfied them.
Everyone was a soldier. To be able to board the flagship Wellington meant they were more than a thousand selected outstanding soldiers. They weren’t afraid to die, and they were willing to go into battle and fight. They could die in battle, die of disease, die of unlucky wound infection. But they did not want to die inexplicably from conspiracy and murder.
They wanted the truth.