Chapter 40: The Haunted Mansion by the Tarn (VII)
Rewind time back ten minutes earlier when Unrivaled had yet to die and Feng Bujue was still inside that vault.
Feng Bujue knocked on the coffin lid and mockingly said, “Hey, Miss Madeleine, you still there?”
Of course, he didn’t expect anyone inside the coffin to unhappily reply “Get lost!”
Because he knew that it must be empty inside.
Feng Bujue had already begun to suspect that the setup of this mansion was definitely based on a house from a certain short story (Usher) after seeing the first stanza of ‘The Haunted Palace.’ He became even more certain of his suspicions after coming to this vault, seeing the coffin, and finding the fifth stanza.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Feng Bujue had encyclopedic knowledge, but he had yet to reach the realm of photographic memory. Besides the informational equivalent to spam that was swept out of his brain, among the other memories… he was able to recall things like short stories that he had read before with about sixty to seventy percent clarity.
It was impossible for him to stand there and recite all six stanzas from memory after seeing just the first one. It was only when Lil’ Tan and Long Aomin mentioned a few words and sentences from each of the two stanzas they found that Feng Bujue was able to slowly and clearly recite them.
Of course, Feng Bujue remembered the plot better than the poem.
Many people know the name Edgar Allen Poe. He was the father of detective fiction, and his work《The Murders in the Rue Morgue》is believed to be the the first genuine modern detective story; he published it referring to it as a “tale of ratiocination”.
But that happened in 1841. On the other hand, 《The Fall of the House of Usher》, which was written before that story, is a gothic horror novel
brimming with gloomy and oppressive atmosphere throughout the text.
The story basically goes like this:
The family of Roderick Usher, a friend of the story’s narrator, for many generations has always been afflicted by a mysterious hereditary illness. The family manor, much like their family line, seems bound by some strange curse. The Usher family line and consequently the name has always been passed to the son when the father dies, causing people to gradually forget the original name of the building. Soon, the building’s name became synonymous with the family’s, and when anyone mentioned “The House of Usher” they referred to both the residence and the household.
One day, Roderick Usher wrote a letter to the narrator saying that he himself did not have much longer to live. The illness had so tormented him that he became haggard, living as if in a trance. There was some terrible unknown force in the House of Usher that was destroying his rationality and seizing his life.
The narrator came to visit and accompany his old friend in hopes that Usher’s health would improve. But on that very same day that the lead character arrived, Roderick’s younger sister, Miss Madeline, “died of illness”.
She was the only close relative Roderick had left on Earth, his only companion over the past years. Madeline had been gravely ill for most of her life; it had been said that her illness would claim her life. But she always fought against her serious illness and never allowed herself to become bedridden. The key thing was she was the one who eased Roderick’s severe depression and deteriorating mental condition.
Roderick requested for her body to be placed in a coffin for temporary entombment in the vault for fourteen days. The narrator personally helped his close friend place Miss Madeline in the coffin and moved it to the vault. But no one knew that she hadn’t died at all….
Seven to eight days after the event, grief-stricken and heartbroken Roderick had sunken into madness. That terrible night, the narrator witnessed Miss Madeline’s terrifying appearance in the mansion. She scared her brother to death and then finally stopped breathing as well. As the narrator escaped from the House of Usher, he personally saw the building collapse into the tarn.
The story had many “unscientific” points. For example, how did Madeline get buried alive without anybody noticed? How could an invalid person, who struggled for seven to eight days in a coffin, still have the strength to fight their way back to the mansion? How did the mansion collapse? Local earthquake or building implosion?
But readers from the 19th century wouldn’t raise these kinds of questions during a horror and suspenseful type of narrative. On the contrary, in following years at the end of the 20th century, the presence of “professionals” who depend on “excessive interpretation” and “fault nitpicking” as their main profession had been gradually increasing in every field, especially the cultural field. If Poe lived during the 21st century, even a random academic phony who’d call themselves a reputable “professor” would dare to devalue him to worthlessness. Or, using and interpreting the “depth” (or lack thereof) of his work to convey some of the baseless points of view in the original work.
Let’s not go anymore in depth on this topic; let’s just go back to the story then.
According to the plot of the short story, this coffin was definitely already empty. Regardless, if the apparition in the tunnel was Madeline or not, her body was already no longer in the vault; it was in the house.
Feng Bujue opened the coffin and, sure enough, it was empty: there was no corpse. He waved a hand to disperse the fluttering dust that rose up. After the dust cleared, he used his flashlight to illuminate the inside of the coffin. Soon he discovered that scratched into the head piece were words that appeared to have been dug into the wood by fingernails.
There was just a short “He knows” in crooked letters, with no punctuation. Take a moment in her shoes… there’s no light in the coffin, Madeline couldn’t see whether her words were neat or not. It was already admirable for her to still be able to maintain some kind of posture to carve these words above her head and for others to be able to recognize them.
【Hidden Mission has been triggered.】
Feng Bujue immediately opened the menu when he heard the System notification. He saw another notification window cover the mission details:
【Hidden Missions in Scenarios may grant highly substantial rewards; however, the difficulty of finding and completing Hidden Missions is greater than that of the Main Mission.】
【All relevant Hidden Mission System Notifications, including audio, writing, and mission details in the menu, are only visible to the player who discovered the mission. In the event that multiple people discover the Hidden Mission, the players present will all obtain the aforementioned mission. But the Hidden Mission cannot be shared when it’s already in progress. In the instance that one or more people who are progressing in the mission describe the mission details to other players (who are uninitiated), said other players can then obtain the mission details and progress status in their menu. However, these players will not be awarded anything upon mission completion as they are not true recipients of the mission.】
【The previous notification will only show up during a player’s first encounter with a Hidden Mission. If you need to read it again, it can be found in the Game descriptions.】
“In other words… whoever discovers the mission has to deal with it themselves, but after completion only they are rewarded.” After Feng Bujue read up to this point, he closed the two notification windows and looked at the mission:【Save Miss Madeleine’s Soul】
Feng Bujue spoke, “Oh… so that’s the situation…” He could already predict where the Scenario’s plot was going, but the problem at hand was how was he going to escape from this vault?
He raised his flashlight once more and searched his surroundings even more carefully, but his search came up empty-handed. He cast a look back at the coffin. Besides those words and a few scratches left behind on the wood, there were no other valuable clues.
Feng Bujue stood his flashlight up and steadied it inside the coffin. Then he stooped down and picked up the heavy coffin lid and leaned it against the wall. He looked at the front and the back, but there was nothing at all on this big hunk of wood.
“Wait a second…” Feng Bujue suddenly stopped his movements and thought, “A person lying in a coffin should be lying flat. If she wanted to carve words, she should’ve carved into the coffin lid. Now even if she did carve words above her head–probably because she was worried that when someone opened the coffin, they would overlook words carved into the lid–why are there no signs of struggle on the coffin lid…? There are scratch and kick marks everywhere else, but this coffin lid looks brand new.”
Feng Bujue picked up his flashlight and shined it on the coffin lid which was leaning on the wall. He crouched down and stared at this plank of wood, “Hm…” He reached out and knocked again. The coffin lid gave a short thump: it was plain-old solid wood. It didn’t sound like it was concealing an inner layer.
At this moment, Feng Bujue did something completely audacious–at least from anyone else’s point of view. He lifted up the coffin lid and pulled it over the side and covered two-thirds of the opening. Then he wormed his way into the coffin. After lying down in a comfortable position, he used both hands to support the coffin lid as he used all his strength to push it upward and properly cover the coffin.
He felt somewhat uncomfortable lying inside the coffin, not because of anything psychological, no, but because there wasn’t any soft cushioning lining the coffin. It was completely wooden; it was just like lying on a stiff wooden bed with no mattress.
Feng Bujue put himself in the same circûmstances that Miss Madeline was in. He shined his flashlight on the coffin lid and said one thing, “How did you get out in the end…?” As he said this, he used one hand to push against the lid.
Who would’ve guessed it, unexpectedly, it couldn’t be pushed now!
“Oh?” Feng Bujue blanked. He immediately left the flashlight by his neck and pushed against the coffin lid with both arms and legs with all his might a few times; he even kicked it a few times. But the lid wouldn’t budge.
Right as he thought about taking a breather after multiple failures, the wood directly above his face caught his eye. It slightly bulged out, and gradually changing into something that looked like a human face.
It was hard to make out whether the face belongs to a man or a woman, but its voice was that of a crone’s. It said to Feng Bujue, “Dying man, do you wish to get out of here?”
“Yes,” answered Feng Bujue. After all, he wanted to see what kind of trick this coffin devil had.
“What can you offer me?” asked the coffin lid.
The System notification sounded at this moment:【You may offer one Ordinary or higher Grade equipment to have the coffin devil return you to the space outside of the vault】
“Oh… ‘may’ offer is it…?” Feng Bujue thought to himself, “In other words, I can choose to reject,” He pondered deeply. “And… if a player didn’t have any equipment that fit the requirements, it’s not like they’d be trapped here, right? Hn… there must be another way.”
“Coffin, I don’t want to give you anything.” Feng Bujue answered out loud.
The face suddenly underwent a drastic change. Its eyes and mouth opened up monstrously, giving it a more sinister appearance. Certainly, it would scare an ordinary person out of their wits. However, it was nothing more than a moving human-like face that slightly protruded out of a coffin lid. It couldn’t attack the person inside the coffin, at most, it could only at most frighten them.
“Then remain trapped here forever to die in fear and hunger. Even if you beat your fists against me till they become mere nubs and clumps of flesh, even if you kick until your feet and knees are shattered, you will never break…”
Click-click. Feng Bujue took out his M1911A1 pistol from his inventory and unlocked the safety.
“The amount of damage your weapon can inflict is not significant enough for you to escape; one or two small scars do not amount to much,” countered the Coffin Lid.
“I know you can change and self-heal, but what about the parts of the coffin beside, above and underneath me?” challenged Feng Bujue.
“Ha ha ha…” The face on the coffin lid unexpectedly laughed. Simultaneously, Madeleine’s handwriting above Feng Bujue’s head, as well as the scratches on the surrounding wood, all faded out of sight. “So long as I’m inclined (to heal them).”
“Hn… so that’s how it is. In any case the mission has been received, and even the coffin’s secret has been uncovered, so the details of the carved hints can also be discarded, right…” Feng Bujue retrieved his gun as he spoke.
“Now, do you want to change your mind?” the coffin lid continued, “Perhaps if you offer the weapon from just a moment ago to me, I will send you back.”
Without missing a beat, Feng Bujue reached into his inventory again and pulled out【Chef’s Knife】and 【Mario’s Pipe Wrench】. “You have two options. One, send me back to the mansion and end this delightful conversation.” He raised the hand with the knife and cut the Coffin Lid, leaving behind a gash. “Two, I turn you into firewood.”
Several moments later, Feng Bujue smoothly reappeared at the mansion, only he was no longer in the living room on the first floor, but rather in a stretch of a corridor. Next to him on the wall hung a painting. The depiction on the painting wasn’t the vault, but an ugly and abstract human face.
He didn’t take a break. He only confirmed that his Health was full and still had plenty of Stamina left, then continued exploring…
Technically, the genres it falls under are tragedy, gothic, and short story