Chapter 37: The Haunted Mansion by the Tarn (IV)
Several paintings hung in the first-floor parlor, and most of them resembled the works of a mental patient. The paintings were cryptic and unclear, the art of a mad man’s delusions. Only one painting seemed not as abstract.
That painting was of the inside of a long, narrow, rectangular tunnel with low, seamless walls that were smooth and pure white. The tunnel lead forward in a seemingly downward slope. It resembled… no, it certainly must have been a tomb. The tunnel was mostly likely buried deep underground as evidenced by the few minor details tucked inside the painting. There was no visible exit, nor any artificial lighting of any kind within the frame. The lighting of the art was unsuited for the ambience as the painter had used some mysterious technique that caused the paint to exude a kind of ghostly dense air.
Feng Bujue had been staring intently at that painting for about five seconds, as if his gaze had been fixed; some unknown force made him unable to speak or move. In the next second, his vision was covered by darkness and he was unable to see. Not too long after, when he recovered his mobility, he took out and turned on a flashlight. He discovered he had ended up in the tunnel from the painting.
He didn’t understand what forces were behind the warp and also didn’t know whether his departure had been seen by Lil’ Tan and Long Bro. Unfortunately, whether or not they saw, he still needed to rely on his own strength to leave this place.
Behind him was a stone wall and pushing it did not move it even an inch. The ceiling was low, and there was clearly no escape going up. Feng Bujue sighed, took out and donned the【Eyes of Hatred】from his inventory. He started walking forward, his flashlight in one hand and his pipe wrench in the other, following the tunnel downhill.
Feng Bujue wasn’t worried about running out of Stamina while going along this path because was wearing【Knight’s Dance】. It wouldn’t matter anyway; no matter how far he’d have to go, he’d still be indifferent. With 1100 Stamina, in addition to the special effect from his equipment that decreased consumption–he would be fine even if he moonwalked all the way. He was confident that he could explore the whole map even if it were as big as Castlevania.
About ten minutes after following the downward slope of the tunnel, Feng Bujue’s flashlight suddenly flickered a few times. He shook it, smacked the cylindrical body and thought to himself, “Insufficient battery? Impossible… it wasn’t even used for long in the previous Scenario. Defective? Even less possible. It says ‘MADEINCHINA’ on this thing. The quality should be decent…”
Suddenly, a strange murmur came from ahead: “Let me out…”
The sound came from about ten meters in front of Feng Bujue. He stopped looking at his flashlight and looked ahead. It was precisely at this moment that the flashlight completely cut out; everything went pitch-black.
After that, the flashlight flickered on briefly for a few seconds. In that short time, it just happened to shine on a lone white shadow standing in front. It was a woman judging from its figure. She was covered in cuts and bruises, thin as a twig, and her white clothes were bloodstained. Feng Bujue simply couldn’t see her face, because he only caught a brief glimpse of her since the flashlight’s range was limited.
The fleeting light faded. Feng Bujue was once again thrown into complete darkness, left with only that frightful afterimage burned into his retinas. Soon after, his ears once again picked up the sound of a wail.
“Let me out!” The sound of someone hitting wood, of scratching and punching it, echoed in the darkness. With it, the sound of hinges creaking and groaning also came through. One could also hear a faint, distant voice through the dark… It was as if someone were screaming in grief from the depths of a vault.
About thirty seconds passed before the flashlight returned to normal, no longer flickering. It let out a continuous beam of light.
Feng Bujue’s expression did not even change after encountering that scene moments earlier, but he heaved a sigh of relief, “So it turns out the flashlight wasn’t broken after all. It was just the plot making it flicker…”
At this time, a system notification echoed:【Side Mission progress updated】
Feng Bujue glanced over the side mission【Find all six sections of “The Haunted Palace”】for a second. The progress was already at 2/6. Some other person probably found a section, but the details couldn’t be seen in the mission log.
Meanwhile, Wang Tanzhi and Long Aomin, who were on the first floor, crouched next to the fireplace in the kitchen. Written on the bricks in a black soot-like substance was the second stanza:
【Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.】
“Ah… I don’t understand any of this!” Wang Tanzhi forgot almost all of it as soon as he finished reading it. He went in front of the fireplace, stretched his head inside and then looked up, wanting to examine the chimney.
Only after fooling around until his face was black did he pull back out and say, “Ah… too narrow. Definitely no way to climb out.”
Initially, it seemed like Long Aomin hadn’t been paying attention to what Wang Tanzhi was saying, and Wang Tanzhi didn’t mind too much. But a few seconds later, Wang Tanzhi turned his head around and discovered Long Aomin had an extremely bizarre expression. His eyes were wide open and his mouth was opening and closing as if he were trying to say something, but Lil’ Tan couldn’t hear even half of a word.
This eerie scene made Wang Tanzhi’s hair stand on end. Immediately, he also realized something… Now his own voice wasn’t coming out of his throat.
Anyone involved in the current situation would feel very frightened, but anybody watching from the side would certainly find it hilarious.
It looked like two people who didn’t understand sign language at all were waving their hands and dancing around, trying really hard to explain what was going on with just their facial expressions and lip movements. In the end neither understood what the other was trying to say…
I think what you’d say in this spectacle would be, “Are you crazy? Do you have meds? How much do you have? How much do you eat? You eat as many as you have! You have as many as you eat! You’re crazy!”…
But in reality, what the two were saying respectively were:
Wang Tanzhi: “What happened? What are you saying? What are you trying to say with all your hand waving?
Long Aomin: “It’s the black stuff on your face that’s messing with us!”
To get a clear picture you’d need to see things from Long Aomin’s point of view. The black soot on Wang Tanzhi’s face was like a “living” mask. It was giving a creepy smile now. The expression on this “black mask” had nothing to do with any expression Lil’ Tan was making. It was like a painting was floating on his face.
Finally, Long Aomin thought of a solution. He found a cleaning rag in the messy kitchen, placed it a little away from his face, and mimed a circular wiping motion. He then pointed at the cleaning rag then pointed again at Wang Tanzhi’s face.
The latter seemed to understand and took the offered rag. In a moment, a fit of optimistic recklessness, he covered his face and wiped without considering the consequences. When he removed the cloth, the two regained their ability to speak at the same time.
“Wah! What monster is this?” Wang Tanzhi looked at the rag in his hand. That “black mask” looked just like it was printed on the rag; its human-like features were transferred perfectly from Lil’ Tan’s face to the rag. Lil’ Tan’s face was completely clean now, free of any black grime.
“I don’t know what significance the System had in mind for this thing, but…” Long Aomin had now noticed that this black mask wasn’t dangerous, nor particularly frightening. It seemed to have no other reason to be here other than to carry out the System’s mischievous desire of pranking players.
“I think burning it would still be safer.” Long Aomin took the mask and found some flint next to a stove…