Chapter 38: The Haunted Mansion by the Tarn (V)
Feng Bujue continued down the tunnel; the terrifying scene earlier didn’t affect him in the slightest. He still advanced forward as normal, not the least bit pressured.
Not long after, he arrived at the end of the tunnel at which there was a small, narrow, damp vault.
There was only one door to the vault, but this wasn’t strange at all. In a more distant era, mansions of this kind had vaults that were used for more sinister purposes, such as a prison cell. In this mansion, it was now being used as a burial ground. The floors, corridor, and walls were all carefully copper plated and the bulky iron vault door was incomparably heavy. Once pushed open, the hinges would issue an unusually ear-piercing screeching sound. Right in the middle of the prison cell was a coffin. Standing a distance away and using a flashlight would reveal right away that the lid was not secured with nails; the coffin lid wasn’t closed properly.
With a few great shoves, Feng Bujue pushed opened the iron door and walked in. He wasn’t in a rush, however, to open the coffin. Instead, he swept the walls with his flashlight and gave the surrounding walls a once-over. Sure enough, there was a reward for his effort. On one of the walls, he found yet section of “The Haunted Palace”. This time it was written in blood.
【But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.】
“Hn…should be the fifth stanza,” said Feng Bujue softly after he finished reading.
Accordingly, the System Notification beeped:【Side Mission progress updated】
The mission log’s message also changed to:【Find all six sections of “The Haunted Palace”; current progress 3/6】
Feng Bujue walked over to the side of the coffin, one hand raised the flashlight, the other clenched in an empty fist. Then, as if knocking on a door, dong dong dong, he knocked three times on the coffin. “Hey, Miss Madeleine, you still there?” Who knows how he knew this name?
As time went on, Unrivaled’s Terror Value gradually climbed until it stabilized at 15%. He wasn’t frightened because of some an encounter with any physical monster. Rather, it was because he couldn’t find a way to leave the second floor even after searching for some time now…
Every corridor, every room, even the paintings, lights, ornaments on the wall seemed unfamiliar yet gave a sense of déjà vu.
This building displayed a distinct spacial anomaly; its inside seemed much larger than what the outside dimensions of the house would have it appear. The length of the corridor Unrivaled was in seemed to be constantly changing; every time he counted the number of doors on both sides of the corridor, he would get a different number. Not only that, but up until now, Unrivaled could not successfully reach the end of any corridor. Each time he reached the end of some section, he’d just see another new turn in the corner or a T-intersection.
When it came to just general walking, Stamina consumption was fairly minimal. It was only when walking for “long periods” of time that there were signs of a significant decrease in Stamina: relatively similar to real life. If you had someone walk for a little more than twenty minutes, he’d only feel slightly tired; for over forty minutes, he’d feel sore. If Unrivaled, under these circûmstances, walked for over an hour, he would definitely have to stop and rest to recover. But naturally, this example only applies to ordinary people, not athletes and other competitors.
This kind of exhaustion is the type that builds gradually, becoming more pronounced over time. And now, the more Unrivaled was worn down by terror, the more he sped up this process. Instead of calmly choosing to rest, he chose to speed up his pace as soon as he saw his Stamina dip…
He was no longer exploring, but fleeing.
Suddenly, he was hit by the thought that if he didn’t do something quick, he wouldn’t just be trapped here. Once his Stamina dropped low enough, something dreadful would come out from the darkness and look for him…
“Hah… hah…” Unrivaled’s breathing became heavy. He glanced at the game menu; his Stamina was still pretty full around 1000 or so. Plus he hadn’t been running but just power walking. Strange, it shouldn’t have been like this.
He paused and crouched over, resting both his hands on his knees, trying to even out his breath. He forced some saliva down. Over this short period of time, he suddenly found that the insides of his stomach felt peculiar. But it was a feeling he couldn’t quite describe.
“What’s happening…” said Unrivaled softly. Talking to himself helped ease some of the effects of his fear and helped keep his mind focused.
All of a sudden, his eyes caught something. He turned to face it. Unexpectedly, there was a mirror by his side. The two-meter high rectangular mirror was embedded into the corridor wall. It was enclosed in a wooden frame with simple yet delicate carvings.
“That’s weird… was this here before?” He couldn’t help but ask, his face a mask of suspicion.
Up until now, Unrivaled had been heading forward as if in a trance: completely fixated upon heading toward the seemingly distant ends of the corridors. He had no longer been paying attention to how many doors were on either side of the walls. He was even less likely to pay attention to the miscellaneous things like portraits, wall lamps, sculptures, and other such decor. However, this corridor wasn’t particularly wide. There was no excuse for him not to notice something like a mirror, much less such a large mirror.
Unrivaled was bent over at the waist, his hands propped on his knees for support with his side to the mirror. But, when his attention shifted over to the mirror, he instinctively straightened up and turned to face it. He was nearly scared to death when he turned.
His reflection didn’t seem that different from normal, except that entire abdominal cavity of his mirror self was exposed. The area at the stomach had no clothing or flesh; the intestines were visible with just one look.
Unrivaled immediately let out a gasp of shock, and his face went deathly white. He backed up several steps, pressing himself against the wall on the other side of the corridor. For almost ten seconds, he stared, eyes wide open, breath caught in his throat.
“Illus… it’s an illusion…” After he somewhat regained and calmed his senses, he walked over with a fierce expression to the mirror. “Who’s scared… it’s just looking at your own innards.” He may have sounded confident, but his Terror Value didn’t lie. He was still scared, it’s just that when people get scared, they react in all sorts of ways; pretending to be angry and violent is just one of many ways.
Unrivaled’s eyes involuntarily fell back on his mirror self’s abdominal area. Its intestines were still visible and pulsing. And unexpectedly, it was possible to see some strange details with another, careful look…
The more he looked at the cross-section view of the intestines, the stranger it got… it looked just like… like a corridor!
He felt a chill run down his spine and his neck stiffened. Two seconds later he roared in anger and slammed his foot through the mirror, and after he broke it to pieces, he turned to leave.
Without warning, right when he turned away from the mirror, he discovered that all the doors previously lining both sides of the corridor disappeared. Instead, there were mirrors almost everywhere.
“Ahh!!!” Unrivaled Bro bellowed and blundered forward. He didn’t know if his situation was caused by an illusion, or if the mansion was really changing. Now that he felt frightened and in danger, he didn’t want to spend even a second longer in this corridor.
A crash bang bang sound rang out, and a human silhouette rammed and broke through a glass window on the second floor of the mansion and fell.
That moment Unrivaled fell from the sky he was wholly unprepared. Just one second earlier, he was still in the corridor, running down the corridor. There clearly was more path in front. The next second, glass was cutting into his skin and he felt pain from the impact. He didn’t know what he hit before his body lost balance and began to tumble into a fall.
In the short moment leading to his death, he caught a glimpse of the landscape.
He saw the mold covered walls of the mansion, the long dead dried up forest remnants that surrounded everything, and that stagnant tarn. An eerie and dreadful aura unceasingly flowed from the deepest parts of the tarn, from the gable
, and from the mansion. Darkness simultaneously poured out from the spiritual world into the physical.
Unrivaled fell into the tarn in the middle of the shapeless solitary hill outside the building. The sinister pool swallowed him up, not letting out even the slightest sound from his throat. The mansion before his eyes looked like a cold specter watching yet another life wither away.
The last thing reflected in the eyes of this profession player was… the first phase of the waning blood moon hanging in the sky.
【Team member: Unrivaled Brave One, has died; a plot item has been changed】
The System Notification sounded, startling Wang Tanzhi and Long Aomin.
“It can’t be! A Level 15 professional player died just like that!” Wang Tanzhi cried in fright. He opened the game menu to verify with the team tab. Sure enough, the player’s name had turned gray, the word next to it, “Alive,” was now “Dead”.
Long Aomin and Wang Tanzhi both had already searched most of the room by now, but they didn’t find anything substantial. The found nothing, no clues, no rewards. The only thing they found, several times actually, was the kind of pitfall trap where the floor caves in revealing with spikes underneath
“If the two of us had split up and acted on our own, then the dangers we ran into earlier could’ve been fatal.” responded Long Aomin. He immediately continued, “I don’t know if Feng Xiong is in danger since he’s moving on his own.”
“If it’s Jue Bro… then there’s no need for you to worry. Since he was the one who suggested to act separately, he definitely would’ve considered the risks already,” said Wang Tanzhi. “Oh right, when I idling in the login space earlier, I looked over some of the game descriptions. If some player died while holding a plot item, his stuff would randomly be placed in some teammate’s vicinity.”
Long Aomin had gone through more Team Scenarios and was more experienced than Wang Tanzhi, so he replied, “Yeah, I know. Let’s look for it now.”
The two immediately started searching through everything, but this was exactly that “unintentional poke in the mud grows a tree”
, they did not find the letter. But under a pile of junk on the floor, they found yet another stanza of “The Haunted Palace”:
【Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.】
【Side mission progress updated】
【Find all six sections of “The Haunted Palace”; current progress 4/6】
Full Chinese idiom is有意栽花花不发，无心插柳柳成阴. This literally translated is “Planting flowers in a garden and no flowers bloom, but poking a stick brings shade” a more liberal translation is “Planting flowers in a garden yet none bloom, while poking a stick in mud unintentionally will grow a tree [for shade]. TL;DR: Idiom means that things won’t always happen as you plan; good plans may go awry and success may come when you least expect it.