Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Duan FeiZhou stared nervously at the door. How long had it been since the Secret Trading House went out of business? He guessed it hadn’t been open since Uncle Joseph got sick. The customers had probably been waiting anxiously during this time, right?
What if a customer came in? He didn’t know how to do business! The first time he’d visited this place was today! How was he going to explain? “I’m sorry, dear ladies and gentlemen, I’m the new owner of the trading house, but I’m just here to visit and learn, you’ve made a trip for nothing?” Those guests were all spell-casters! Would they turn him into a groundhog out of sheer disappointment?
He wanted to turn the clock hands back to 12:00 and close the customer aisle, but it was too late. Directly across from the wood counter, at the end of the trading house hall, stood a silver door. The faint sound of human voices came from outside the closed doorway.
“Oh my God, so this is the Secret Trading House! If it isn’t open, I’m going to think the owner has run off with the money!”
“He won’t, dear. He’s an honest businessman. Remember the last time it opened, he said he was sick. He’s probably been healing during this time.”
“Can a remarkable occult practitioner like him get sick?”
“My dear, occult practitioners are mortals too. It is in the pursuit of immortality that we embark on this difficult path. Unless we truly penetrate this philosophy, we will not be able to get rid of old age, sickness, and death.”
What would happen if the customer channel were closed now? Would those customers who had already come to the trading house be trapped here?
Duan FeiZhou frantically checked the space under the counter, as if Joseph could be hiding there. However there was nothing under the counter but an iron box.
Oh yes, the mysterious philosophy books!
Duan FeiZhou tried to pull open the leftmost drawer of the counter, only to see that it was filled with coins of all sizes, £5 and £2 gold coins, brand new 1 shilling silver coins issued that year, 1 kroner and half kroner silver coins, interspersed with a few old pennies. Tucked in the corner were bundles of banknotes, all in £10 denominations.
Normally, he would have admired them with fascination, but now he just wanted to curse at the useless things!
He pulled open the middle drawer again, which contained a stack of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen.
In despair, he pulled open the rightmost drawer, which contained several large, heavy, leather-covered books that looked very old, with a large number of labels stuck inside. Duan FeiZhou pulled out the top book in ecstasy and turned a page to see it full of dense writings, the top of which read, “Muscat hand-woven blanket. Made of subspecies golden red-crowned flying falcon feathers. One corner is chipped, caused by the original owner’s misuse. Useful for fire resistance and high-temperature resistance. Purchase price £65. Sale price £185. Features light blue glow under ordinary light conditions, luminosity class 2.”
Duan FeiZhou flipped back. It was an account book that recorded all the goods handled by his uncle. Some also had photos. The owner of the trading house was indeed quite instructive, but unfortunately for the current emergency, it was worthless…
More chatter came from outside the door. As one could imagine, keen customers who had found the teleportation spell was back in operation were eagerly pouring into the trading house to see what new and exotic goods the long-lost owner of the trading house had brought.
“Joseph Chester, I’ve been screwed by you!” Duan FeiZhou slammed his fist into the gold clock, then cupped his hand and wailed in pain, as tears spurted out of his eyes. He didn’t even want to get involved in the affairs of occult practitioners!
“Let me continue to run the trading house, right?” He gritted his teeth and then gave a vengeful smile. “Okay. I’ll show you how it’s done! Since you taught me that honesty comes first, dear ‘Uncle’, I’ll tell them honestly that I know nothing about occult philosophy. You can’t blame me if the trading house closes down because it’s not run properly, can you?”
As long as the trading house closed down, he could justifiably be a salted fish. No more worrying about how to run this place, no more worrying about what to do when the Nightmen found out who he was. It would be a clean slate, once and for all!
He grabbed the gold mask on the counter and put it over his face. He didn’t know if it was just an illusion, but the mask fit like a custom-made one.
It had been more than a month since Miss Madeleine Clearwater had arrived in London from Dublin. Ostensibly, she had come to visit her godmother, Mrs. Boyle. She was old enough to enter the social world, so her parents had sent her to London, asking Mrs. Boyle to guide her mannerisms and to be her introduction. For a young lady from a country family, this arrangement was both traditional and appropriate.
In reality, Madame Boyle was not Madeline’s godmother at all. The old woman, widowed and living at 17 Connaught Garden Street, was actually Madeleine’s tutor. Madeleine studied occult philosophy. Some called it magic, but it was generally considered in modern times to be an esoteric discipline that explored the hidden laws of the world, just as physics and chemistry were once called natural philosophy.
Madame Boyle was best at séances, and Madeleine had every intention of learning to perform occult rituals, summon ghosts or demons, and to talk to otherworldly intelligences once she moved into 17 Connaught Garden Street. However, for a month her tutor had told her to do only two things over and over again – read, and gaze at a piece of paper with a spell drawn on it.
Of course, this was no ordinary piece of paper. This piece of paper was the “key” to the Secret Trading House, a place that sold various rare treasures, and where occult practitioners from all over the world gathered to discuss the philosophy of the occult. As long as the spell was open, no matter where one was, one could simply and easily enter the trading house.
Madeleine was originally unable to use the key. Madame Boyle said that each guest had one key, which couldn’t be lent to other people who didn’t have a key, and she couldn’t reveal to others what the key did, whether through speech, writing, or gestures. Once you revealed that secret, you would die a violent death on the spot.
However, Mrs. Boyle had long known that Madeleine would become her apprentice, so the last time she patronized the trading house, she asked the owner of the trading house to draw a key specifically for Madeleine. When the next time the trading house opened, Madeleine could go to the trading house to open her eyes.
Madeleine had been looking forward to that day, so she waited – ah, wait, ah! – but the magic circle hadn’t changed in the slightest. Mrs. Boyle said the trading house would open at least once a week, and she shouldn’t be mistaken, right?
She took the key with her every day, and checked it every hour. Finally, on April 15, the spell on the paper changed color from black to a deep blue with a shimmering glow, as if silver foil had been added to blue ink.
She gleefully took the paper to Madame Boyle. The tutor instantly announced that the time had come. Madeleine rushed into her bedroom and hurriedly changed into her best dress. When she returned to Madame Boyle’s study, she found the old woman also draped in a magnificent fur shawl that she had never seen before and wearing a mask as if she were going to a masquerade ball.
“Come, dear, you put one on too.” The old woman handed her a mask decorated with feathers. “Everyone who enters the trading house has to hide their identity to prevent the Nightmen from infiltrating.”
Madeline put on the mask, and jumped into the spell. There was a spinning of the sky. When she came back to her senses, she found herself standing on a stairway platform with a finely carved silver doorway in front of her, but it was tightly closed.
On the wall behind her hung a fine tapestry with an intricate spell formation woven into it, exactly like the one on the paper. There were already some people who had arrived one step ahead of them, all waiting outside the door.
Everyone was wearing a mask. Closest to Madeleine were two masked men that reminded her of executioners. A man or woman of unknown origin wore an ornate Venetian carnival mask. A group of brightly dressed Turks who clamored in an exotic language wore wooden masks. There was also an Oriental woman who had her hair pulled back into a high bun with rich hair ornaments; almost like an exotic princess. She had a solid black mask with a flower pattern painted on her forehead.
The surrounding area was filled with the sound of buzzing and whispers as if the wings of moths beat against glass.
Mrs. Boyle, accustomed to such scenes, stood by demurely and quietly. Madeleine, however, couldn’t help herself, and kept straining her neck to look around. “Madame, why don’t we go in yet?”
“It’s not polite to barge in before they open the door.”
“Ma’am, what is downstairs?”
“You can go and see, dear,” Mrs. Boyle said with a smile. “But come back quickly.”
With Madame’s permission, Madeleine, free and happy as a bird, lifted her skirt and ran to the bottom of the stairs. To her great shock, there was a large crowd gathered downstairs. They were piled up on the staircase landing in groups as they whispered, and Madame Boyle was among them!
Madeleine glanced upward and then downward. How was this possible? She had clearly gone down a flight of stairs, so how could she be back outside the trading house door?
“It’s a circular staircase,” Mrs. Boyle explained.
Just as Madeleine was about to walk down this wonderful staircase again, the door of the trading house creaked open.
The customers who had been hovering outside the door for a long time let out a cheer. Madeleine rushed to Mrs. Boyle, held her arm and put on a good and obedient face.
A young man wearing a gold mask pushed open the door. He was slender but sturdy, and stood in the middle of the trading house with a master-like posture, while he glared at the many customers. Contrary to the golden mask, he wore a simple and outdated jacket like a country bumpkin. A contrast to the crowd of customers.
But he couldn’t be a bumpkin, could he? Madeleine thought to herself. He must be the owner of the Secret Trading House. Look how calm and unhurried his posture was. A man could only be so confident on his own turf.
He could have been teasing them by dressing up like this, because they were all dressed up like they were going to the Queen’s investiture ceremony. 1
Madeline didn’t know that Duan FeiZhou, who was standing at the door, was thinking, Damn. You have to dress up like that?