Chapter 1: Crimson
My head hurts so badly!
A gaudy and dazzling dreamworld filled with murmurs instantly shattered. The sound asleep Zhou Mingrui felt an abnormal throbbing pain in his head as though someone had ruthlessly lashed at him with a pole again and again. No, it was more like a sharp object pierced right through his temples followed by a twist!
Ouch…In his stupor, Zhou Mingrui attempted to turn around, look up, and sit up; however, he was completely unable to move his limbs as though he had lost control over his body.
From the looks of it, I'm still not awake. I'm still in a dream… Who knows, perhaps the next scene will be of me thinking I'm already awake, but in fact, am actually still sleeping…
Zhou Mingrui, who was not unfamiliar with similar encounters, tried his best to focus in order to escape the shackles placed upon him by the darkness and confusion.
However, while still in his reverie, whatever will he could summon was ethereal like a fleeting fog. He found his thoughts difficult to control and introspect. No matter how much he tried, he still lost his focus as random thoughts surfaced in his mind.
Why would I suddenly have such an excruciating headache in the middle of the night?
And it's really painful!
Could it be something like a cerebral hemorrhage?
F**k, don't tell me I'm going to die young?
I need to wake up! Now!
Eh? Why doesn't it seem to hurt as much as before? But why does it still feel like a blunt knife is slicing through my brains…
From the looks of it, sleep is impossible. How am I to show up for work tomorrow?
Why am I still thinking about work? This is some authentic headache. Of course I have to take time off! I don't have to worry about my manager's grumblings!
Hey, putting it that way, it doesn't seem too bad. Hehe, I can end up getting some spare time for myself!
Throbbing pain inundated Zhou Mingrui, allowing him to slowly accumulate immaterial strength until he was finally able to move his back and open his eyes. He finally broke free from his reverie.
His vision first blurred before it was screened by a faint crimson red. All he could see was a study desk made of burly wood in front of him. Right in the middle was an opened notebook with coarse, yellow pages. The title was eye-catchingly written with strange, deep black lettering.
To the left of the notebook was a stack of neatly arranged books, numbering about eight. The wall on their right was inset with grayish-white pipes with wall lamps connected to them.
The lamp had a classical Western style to it. It was about half the size of an adult's head with an inner layer of transparent glass and an exterior gridded with black metal.
Diagonally beneath the lamp was a black ink bottle shrouded in a pale red glow. Its embossed surface formed a blurry angel pattern.
In front of the ink bottle and to the right of the notebook sat a dark-colored pen with a fully circular body. Its tip shimmered with a faint glint while its cap rested right beside a brass revolver.
A gun? A revolver?Zhou Mingrui was completely taken aback. The things laid before him were alien to him. It looked nothing like his room!
While feeling shocked and confused, he discovered that the desk, notebook, ink bottle, and revolver were covered in a layer of crimson 'veil,' a result of the light shining from the window.
Subconsciously, he looked up and shifted his gaze up bit by bit.
In midair, a crimson moon hung high above the backdrop of a 'black velvet curtain,' glowing in silence.
This…Zhou Mingrui felt inexplicably horrified as he stood up abruptly. However, before his feet fully straightened, his brain protested with throbbing pain. It made him temporarily lose his strength as he fell uncontrollably. His buttocks slammed heavily onto the burly wood chair.
The pain did little. Zhou Mingrui stood up again by propping himself up. He turned around in a fluster as he began to size up the environment he was in.
The room was not very large, with a brown door on each side of the room. Close to an opposite wall was a low wooden bed.
Between the bed and the left door was a cabinet. Its two doors were swung open and beneath it were five drawers.
To the side of the cabinet, there was the same grayish-white pipe on the wall at the height of a person. However, it was connected to a strange mechanical device with exposed gears and bearings in several spots.
Items resembling coal stoves sat in the right corner of the room near the table, along with soup pots, iron pots, and other kitchen utensils.
Across the right door was a dressing mirror with two cracks. Its bottom was made of wood and the patterns were simple and plain.
With a sweep of his gaze, Zhou Mingrui noticed himself in the mirror—the present him.
Black hair, brown eyes, a linen shirt, thinly built, average-looking features and a rather deep outline…
This…Zhou Mingrui immediately drew a gasp as many helpless and confused guesses surfaced in his mind.
The revolver in ancient European style and the crimson moon that looked different from Earth's moon could only mean one thing!
C-could I have transmigrated?Zhou Mingrui widened his mouth slightly.
He had grown up reading web novels and had often fantasized over such scenes. However, he momentarily found it hard to accept the situation when he found himself in one.
This was probably what it meant to love afantasy1? In a minute, Zhou Mingrui had already cursed himself while trying to make the best out of his adverse situation.
If not for the still throbbing headache that made his thoughts high strung but clear, he would have definitely suspected that he was dreaming.
Calm down, calm down, calm down…After taking a few deep breaths, Zhou Mingrui worked hard to stop panicking.
At that moment, as his mind and body calmed down, memories began flooding him as they slowly appeared in his mind!
Klein Moretti, a citizen of the Northern Continent's Loen Kingdom, Awwa County, City of Tingen. He is also a recent graduate from the Department of History at Khoy University…
His father was a sergeant of the Imperial Army who had sacrificed himself during a colonial conflict with the Southern Continent. The bereavement allowance gave Klein the opportunity to study at a private language school and laid the foundation for his admission into university…
His mother was a devotee of the Evernight Goddess. She passed away the year Klein passed the entrance examinations to Khoy University…
He also had an elder brother and a younger sister. They stayed in a two bedroom apartment together…
Their family was not wealthy and its situation could even be described as somewhat wanting. At present, the family was supported solely by the elder brother who worked at an import and export company as a clerk…
As a history graduate, Klein grasped knowledge of the ancient Feysac language—deemed the origin of all languages in the Northern Continent—as well as the Hermes language which often appeared in ancient mausoleums as well as text regarding sacrificial and praying rituals…
Hermes language?Zhou Mingrui's mind stirred as he reached out to rub his throbbing temples. He cast his gaze toward the table at the opened notebook. He noticed that the text on the yellowed paper turned from strange to alien, before turning from alien to something familiar. It then turned into something readable.
It was text written in Hermes language!
The dark ink wrote the following:
"Everyone will die, including me."
Hiss!Zhou Mingrui felt inexplicably horrified. He instinctively leaned back in an attempt to widen the distance between him and the notebook, as well as the text on it.
Being very weak, he nearly fell down but managed to extend his hands in a fluster to hold onto the edge of the table. He felt that the surrounding air was turbulent as though there were faint murmurings resounding in it. The feeling was akin to hearing horror stories being recounted by elders when he was young.
He shook his head, believing that everything was an illusion. Zhou Mingrui found his balance and shifted his gaze from the notebook as he heaved for breath.
This time, his gaze landed on the shimmering brass revolver. He suddenly had a question arise in him.
With Klein's family situation, how can they have the money or means to buy a revolver?
Zhou Mingrui could not help but frown.
While in deep thought, he suddenly discovered a red handprint to the side of the table. Its color was deeper than the moonlight and much thicker than the 'veil.'
It was a bloody handprint!
"A bloody handprint?" Zhou Mingrui subconsciously flipped his right hand that had been holding the edge of the table. Looking down, he saw that his palm and fingers were covered in blood.
At the same time, the throbbing pain in his head continued. Although it had weakened a little, it continued incessantly.
Did I smash my head open?
Zhou Mingrui guessed as he turned around and walked towards a cracked dressing mirror.
A few steps later, a black-haired figure of medium build and brown eyes appeared clearly in front of him. The person had a distinct scholarly air to him.
Is this the present me? Klein Moretti?
Zhou Mingrui was stunned momentarily. Since there was insufficient lighting at night, he failed to see something clearly. He continued forward until he was just a step short from colliding with the mirror.
Using the crimson veil-like moonlight as illumination, he turned his head and examined the corner of his forehead.
A clear reflection appeared in the mirror. His temple had a grotesque wound with burn marks along its periphery. Blood stained the wound's surroundings and there were grayish-white brain juices squirming slowly within.
Chapter 2: Situation
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Zhou Mingrui reeled back in fear at the sight that greeted him. It was as though the person in the dressing mirror was not himself, but a dessicated corpse.
How could a person with such grievous wounds be still alive!?
He turned his head in disbelief again and checked the other side. Even though he was a distance away and the lighting was poor, he could still see the penetrating wound and dark red blood stains.
Zhou Mingrui drew a deep breath as he tried hard to calm himself.
He reached out to press his left chest and sensed his racing heart that exuded immense vitality.
He then touched his exposed skin. Beneath the slight coldness was flowing warmth.
When he squatted down and after verifying that his knees could bend, Zhou Mingrui stood up again and calmed down.
"What's happening?" he muttered with a frown. He planned to inspect his head injury seriously once more.
He took two steps forward and suddenly paused. The moonlight of the sanguine moon was relatively dark, so it was insufficient for his 'serious inspection.'
A memory fragment triggered as Zhou Mingrui turned his head to look at the grayish-white pipes and the metallic-gridded lamp on the wall right beside the study desk.
This was the most common gas lamp of the times. Its flame was stable and its illumination capabilities were excellent.
With Klein Moretti's family situation, even a kerosene lamp was a dream, much less a gas lamp. Using candles was most apt for their standing and stature. However, back when he burned the midnight oil four years ago to be admitted into Khoy University, his elder brother, Benson, felt that it was an important matter which their family's future depended upon. Therefore, he insisted on creating conducive studying conditions for Klein even if it meant taking on debt.
Of course, Benson, who was literate and had worked for several years, was not a rash person who did not think of the consequences. He had quite some tricks up his sleeve. He reasoned with the landlord to 'raise the apartment's standards by installing gas pipes to improve the likelihood of rentals in the future.' The landlord was convinced and provided the money to complete the basic modifications. Then, using the convenience of working at an import and export company, he purchased a brand new gas lamp which was nearly at cost price. In the end, all he needed was to use his savings and did not need to borrow money.
After the memory fragment flashed past his mind, Zhou Mingrui came to the desk where he turned the pipe's valve and began twisting the gas lamp's switch.
With a sputtering sound, a spark sounded from friction. Light did not descend upon Zhou Mingrui as he had expected.
He twisted the switch a few more times, but all the gas lamp did was sputter and remain dark.
"Hmm…" Retracting his hand and pressing on his left temple, Zhou Mingrui sought for the reason by rummaging through his memory fragments.
A few seconds later, he turned around and walked toward the door. He arrived at the machine installation which was similarly inset into the wall and had grayish-white pipes connected to it.
This was a gas meter!
After seeing the exposed gears and bearings, Zhou Mingrui took out a coin from his trousers' pocket.
It was dark yellow in color and had a bronze shimmer to it. The front of the coin was engraved with a portrait of a crown-wearing man, and there was a '1' on a clump of wheat on the back.
Zhou Mingrui knew that this was the most basic currency of the Loen Kingdom. It was called a copper penny. One penny's purchasing power was roughly three to four yuan before his transmigration. Such coins had other denominations such as the five pence, a halfpence and a quarterpence. Despite the three types, the denominations were not in small-enough units. In everyday life, one had to buy several different things just to spend a single coin from time to time.
After flipping the coin—which was only minted and circulated after King George III ascended to the throne—a few times, Zhou Mingrui inserted it into the gas meter's thin vertical 'mouth.'
After the penny fell to the bottom of the meter, the sound of grinding gears sounded immediately, producing a short but melodious mechanical rhythm.
Zhou Mingrui stared at the meter for a few seconds before returning to the burly wood desk. He then reached out to twist the gas lamp's switch.
After some sputtering, there was a sharp sound!
A fire plume ignited and rapidly grew. Bright light first occupied the internals of the wall lamp before penetrating the transparent glass, blanketing the room with a warm glow.
The darkness quickly receded as the crimson retreated out the window. Zhou Mingrui felt at ease for a baffling reason as he quickly came in front of the dressing mirror.
This time, he seriously inspected his temple and did not miss a single detail.
After a few rounds of inspection, he realized that apart from the original blood stain, liquid was no longer flowing out of the grotesque wound. It appeared like it had received the best hemostasis and bandaging. As for the slowly squirming grayish-white brain and the discernible growth of flesh and blood around the wound, it meant that the wound might take thirty to forty minutes, or maybe even two to three hours before it would only leave a light scar.
"The restorative effects that transmigration brings?" Zhou Mingrui curled up the right corner of his mouth as he muttered silently.
Following that, he let out a long sigh. Regardless, he was still alive!
After settling his mind, he pulled open a drawer and took out a tiny piece of soap. He took one of the old and tattered towels hanging by the side of the cupboard and opened the door. He then walked to the public bathroom which was shared by the tenants on the second floor.
Yes, I should clean up the blood stains on my head, or I'll keep looking like a crime scene. It's fine scaring myself, but if I were to scare my sister, Melissa, when she gets up early in the morning tomorrow, it would be quite problematic!
The corridor outside was pitch black. Silhouettes were barely accentuated by the crimson moonlight from the window at the end of the corridor. They looked like a pair of monster eyes that silently observed the living late into the night.
Zhou Mingrui lightened his footsteps as he walked towards the communal bathroom with a shuddering fear.
When he entered, there was even more moonlight, allowing him to see everything clearly. Zhou Mingrui stood in front of a wash basin and turned the tap's knob.
Upon hearing the gushing sound of water, he suddenly recalled his landlord, Mr. Franky.
As water was included in the rent, this short and thin gentleman who wore a top hat, a vest, and a black suit, always inspected the bathroom actively to take note of any sounds of flowing water.
If the water gushed too loudly, Mr. Franky would ignore all of his gentlemanly traits by flailing his walking stick and striking the bathroom's door, shouting things like 'Darn thief,' 'Wastage is a shameless matter,' 'I'll remember you,' 'If I see this happen another time, scram along with your filthy luggage,' 'Mark my words, this is the most value-for-money apartment in Tingen City. You will not find a more kindly landlord anywhere else!'
Putting away those thoughts, Zhou Mingrui used a moist towel to clean the blood stains from his face again and again.
After checking himself using the rundown mirror in the bathroom and verifying that all that was left were a hideous wound and a pale face did Zhou Mingrui relax. Then, he took off his linen shirt and used a bar of soap to wash away the bloodstains.
At that moment, he knitted his brows and recalled of a possible problem.
The wound was too exaggerated and there was too much blood. Apart from his body, his room likely still had signs of his injury!
After Zhou Mingrui was done with his linen shirt a few minutes later, he briskly returned to his apartment with a moist towel. He first wiped the blood handprint on the desk and then, using the gas lamp's illumination, sought out spots which he missed out.
He immediately discovered that quite a substantial amount of blood had splattered onto the floor beneath the desk. And there was a yellow bullet to the left side of the wall.
"Releasing a round with a revolver pointed at the temple?" After mixing and matching the clues from before, Zhou Mingrui had a rough idea how Klein had died.
He was in no hurry to verify his guess. Instead, he seriously wiped away the blood stains and cleaned up the 'scene.' Following that, he took the bullet and returned to the side of his desk. He opened the revolver's cylinder and poured out the rounds inside.
A total of five rounds and a cartridge shell all had a brass luster to them.
"Indeed…" Zhou Mingrui looked at the empty cartridge shell in front of him and stuffed the rounds back into the cylinder while nodding.
He shifted his gaze to the left and it landed on the notebook's words: 'Everyone will die, including me.' Following that, even more questions arose in him.
Where did the gun come from?
Was it suicide or a faked suicide?
What kind of trouble could a history graduate of humble origins get himself into?
Why would such a suicide method only leave behind so little blood? Was it because I transmigrated in a timely manner and it came with healing benefits?
After pondering for a moment, Zhou Mingrui changed into another linen shirt. He sat on the chair and began pondering over more important matters.
Klein's experience was still not something he needed to concern himself with. The true problem was to figure out the reason for his transmigration and if he could return!
His parents, relatives, best buddies, and friends. The fascinating world of the Internet and all sorts of delicious delicacies… These were reasons that prompted his desire to return!
Click. Click. Click… Zhou Mingrui's right hand was subconsciously pulling out the revolver's cylinder and slamming it back into place, again and again.
Yea, there has not been much difference for me between this period of time and the past. I was just a little unlucky, but why would I transmigrate for no baffling reason?
Bad luck… Yes, I tried a luck enhancement ritual before dinner today!
A thought flashed in Zhou Mingrui's mind, illuminating the memories which were concealed by a fog of confusion.
As a qualified keyboard politician, keyboard historian, keyboard economist, keyboard biologist, and keyboard folklorist, he had always deemed himself as 'knowing something of everything.' Of course, his best buddy would often mock him as 'only knowing a little of everything.'
And one of them was Chinese Divination.
When he visited his hometown last year, he had discovered a thread-bound book titled 'Quintessential Divination and Arcane Arts of the Qin and Han Dynasty' at an old bookstore. It looked pretty interesting and could aid him in posturing on the Internet, so he bought it. Unfortunately, his interest was short-lived. The vertical script it used made the reading experience horrible. All he did was flip through the beginning pages before he threw it into a corner.
He had experienced a spate of bad luck in the past month—losing his cell phone, customers running away after cheating him, and mistakes at work. Only then did he suddenly recall the luck enhancement ritual written at the beginning of 'Quintessential Divination and Arcane Arts.' Furthermore, the requirements were extremely simple, without any basic foundation requirements.
All he needed was to get four portions of the staple food in his area and place them in the four corners of his room. They could be placed on furniture such as tables and cupboards. Then, standing in the middle of the room, he had to take four steps in a counter-clockwise fashion to make a square. The first step required him to sincerely chant 'Blessings Stem From The Immortal Lord of Heaven and Earth.' The second step was to silently chant, 'Blessings Stem From The Sky Lord of Heaven and Earth.' The third step was 'Blessings Stem From The Exalted Thearch of Heaven and Earth,' and the fourth step was 'Blessings Stem From The Celestial Worthy of Heaven and Earth.' After the four steps were taken, he needed to close his eyes and wait five minutes in his original spot. Only then would the ritual be considered complete.
Since it did not cost him any money, he found the book, followed what was stipulated, and did it before dinner. However… nothing happened back then.
Who would have guessed that he would actually transmigrate in the middle of the night!
"There is a distinct possibility that it's due to that luck enhancement ritual… Yes, I should give it a try here tomorrow. If it's really because of that, I stand a chance of transmigrating back!" Zhou Mingrui stopped flicking the revolver's cylinder and suddenly sat straight up.
Regardless, he had to give it a try!
He had to attempt a Hail Mary!
Chapter 3: Melissa
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
After confirming his plan, Zhou Mingrui immediately felt he had a mental crutch. His fear and unease were all swept away into a corner of his mind.
Only then did he had the mood to carefully study Klein's memory fragments.
Zhou Mingrui habitually stood up before turning off the pipe's valve. He watched the wall lamp gradually dim until its flame extinguished before sitting back down. As he subconsciously fiddled with the revolver's brass cylinder, he pressed the side of his head. He slowly recalled his memories in the crimson-dyed darkness as though he was the most attentive viewer in a movie theater.
Perhaps as a result of having a bullet pass through his head, Klein's memories were like shattered glass. Not only were the memories not contiguous, there were many spots which were clearly missing. For example, memories pertaining to how the exquisite revolver appeared in his possession, whether he had committed suicide, or was killed, as well as the meaning of the words 'Everyone will die, including me' on the notebook, or whether he had participated in anything odd two days before the incident.
Not only had these particular memories become fragmented, there were also missing pieces. It was the same even for knowledge he ought to know. In light of the present situation, Zhou Mingrui believed that if Klein were to return to university, it was unlikely he could graduate. This was despite him having left campus just days ago without relaxing one bit.
He needs to participate in the Tingen University's History department interview two days later…
The university graduates of Loen Kingdom do not have the tradition of staying at their alma mater… His mentor had given him a recommendation letter for Tingen University and Backlund University…
Through the window, Zhou Mingrui silently observed the red moon setting in the west. The gradual sinking of the moon continued until faint light glowed from the east, dyeing the horizon golden.
At that moment, there was a commotion inside the apartment. Soon, the sound of footsteps approached his door.
"Melissa is awake… She's really as punctual as always." Zhou Mingrui smiled. Due to Klein's memories, seeing Melissa made him feel as though she was really his younger sister.
However, I do not have a younger sister… He immediately contradicted himself.
Melissa was different from Benson and Klein. Her rudimentary education was not completed at the Sunday school classes offered by the Church of the Evernight Goddess. When she reached schooling age, the Loen Kingdom had enacted the 'Basic Education Law.' A Primary and Secondary Education Committee was established and was specially provided with funding, increasing the kingdom's investment into education.
In less than three years, under the premise that numerous church schools would be incorporated, many public primary schools were established to strictly maintain the principle of religious neutrality. This was to prevent education from involving itself in the conflicts between the Lord of Storms, Evernight Goddess, and the God of Steam and Machinery.
Compared to Sunday school that only cost a copper penny a week, a public primary school's cost of three pence a week appeared rather expensive. However, the former only provided education every Sunday, whereas the latter provided six days of classes a week. In conclusion, the price was so low that it was almost free.
Melissa was different from most girls. From a young age, she enjoyed things like gears, springs, and bearings. Her ambition was to be a steam mechanic.
Having suffered from a lack of culture, Benson, who knew the importance of education, supported his sister's dreams just like how he supported Klein's university education. After all, Tingen Technical School was only considered secondary education. There was no need for her to attend language school or a public school for more knowledge.
In July last year, fifteen-year-old Melissa passed her entrance examinations and fulfilled her dreams of becoming a student at the Tingen Technical School's Steam and Machinery department. As such, her weekly school fees raised to nine pence.
Meanwhile, Benson's company was affected by the situation in the Southern Continent. There was a drastic drop both in profit and business transactions. More than a third of the employees were retrenched. In order to keep his job and maintain their livelihood, Benson could only accept more arduous tasks. He had to work overtime more frequently or head to places with harsh environments. That was what he was occupied with the past few days.
It was not that Klein did not think of helping share his elder brother's burden but being born a commoner and having been admitted into an average language school, he felt a strong sense of inadequacy when he enrolled into university. For example, as the origin of all languages in the Northern Continent, the ancient language of Feysac was something all the children of nobles and of the wealthy class would learn from a young age. In contrast, he only made first contact with it in university.
He faced many similar aspects during his schooling career. Klein nearly gave his all and often stayed up late into the night and woke up early before barely managing to catch up to the others, eventually allowing him to graduate with average results.
Memories regarding his elder brother and younger sister remained active in Zhou Mingrui's mind until he turned the doorknob open. Only then did he jolt awake and remember that he held a revolver in his hand.
This was a semi-regulated item!
It will scare children!
Also, there's still the wound on my head!
With Melissa arriving at any moment, Zhou Mingrui pressed onto his temple and hurriedly pulled open a desk drawer and threw the revolver in before slamming it close.
"What happened?" Melissa looked over curiously when she heard the commotion.
She was still in the prime of her youth. Even though she did not have much nutritious food to eat, making her face thin and slightly pale, her skin remained lustrous as it exuded the vibes of a young girl.
When Zhou Mingrui saw his sister's brown eyes look over, he forcibly composed himself and picked up an item beside his hand before calmly closing the drawer to conceal the existence of the revolver. He placed his other hand on his temple, the texture confirming that his wound had already healed!
He took out a silver vine-leaf pocket watch and pressed the top gently, causing its cover to flip open.
It was a picture of the siblings' father. It was the most valuable item the Royal Army sergeant left behind, but being a second-hand item, it would often malfunction from time to time in recent years even though he had gotten a watchsmith to fix it. It had embarrassed Benson who enjoyed bringing it with him to elevate his status many a time, so it was thrown away back at home in the end.
It had to be said that perhaps Melissa did have talent in machinery. After grasping the principles behind the watch, she borrowed the tools from her Technical School to fiddle with the pocket watch. Recently, she even claimed to have fixed it!
Zhou Mingrui looked at the watch's open cover and saw that the second hand was not moving. Subconsciously, he twisted the top dial to wind the pocket watch.
However, despite winding it a few times, he did not hear the sound of taut springs. The second hand remained motionless.
"It looks like it's broken again." He looked at his sister while trying to find a topic of conversation.
Melissa shot him an expressionless glance and briskly walked over to take the pocket watch away.
She stood in her spot and pulled up the button sitting atop the pocket watch. With a few simple turns, the tick-tocking of the second hand sounded.
Isn't pulling the button up usually meant to adjust the time… Zhou Mingrui's expression immediately turned blank.
At that moment, a bell chimed from a faraway cathedral. It chimed six times, sounding distant and ethereal.
Melissa tilted her head to listen to it and pulled the button up once again. Following that, she turned it to synchronize the time.
"It's okay now," she said simply without emotion. She then pressed the top button back and handed the pocket watch back to Zhou Mingrui.
Zhou Mingrui returned a smile politely in embarrassment.
Melissa gave her elder brother a piercing stare before turning to walk to the cupboard. She took her toiletries and towel before opening the door to leave. She headed for the public bathroom.
Why did her expression have a look of disparagement and resignation?
Is it a look of love and concern for a retarded brother?
Zhou Mingrui lowered his head and chuckled. He closed the pocket watch's cover with a click before opening it again.
He repeated this action as his idle thoughts focused on a question.
Klein committed suicide without a silencer. Well, I'll consider it as suicide for now. His suicide should have caused quite a commotion; yet, Melissa, who was just a wall away, did not notice it at all.
Was she sleeping too soundly? Or is Klein's suicide shrouded in mystery to begin with?
Click! The pocket watch opened. Clack! The pocket watch closed… Melissa returned from washing up and saw her brother's subconscious act of constantly opening and closing the pocket watch.
Her gaze was once again glazed with exasperation as she said with a sweet voice, "Klein, take out all the remaining bread. Remember to buy fresh ones today. There's meat and peas too. Your interview is soon. I'll make you mutton stewed with peas."
As she spoke, she moved a stove out from a corner. With some charcoal, she boiled a pot of hot water.
Before the water boiled, she opened the cupboard's lowest drawer and took out what seemed like a treasure—a can of inferior tea leaves. She threw about ten leaves into the pot and pretended that it was real tea.
Melissa poured two big cups of tea as she shared two pieces of rye bread with Zhou Mingrui over tea.
There is no sawdust or excessive gluten mixed in, but it is unappetizing… Zhou Mingrui still felt weak and was starving. He forced himself to swallow the bread with the tea while complaining inwardly.
Melissa finished eating a few minutes later. After she adjusted her black hair that reached down to her vest, she looked at Zhou Mingrui and said, "Remember to buy fresh bread. All we need is eight pounds. The weather is hot, so the bread will easily spoil. Also, buy the mutton and peas. Remember to buy them!"
Indeed, she was showing concern for her dull brother. She even had to repeat to emphasize it another time… Zhou Mingrui nodded with a smile.
Regarding the Loen Kingdom's pound, Zhou Mingrui matched Klein's muscle memory with his. He believed it was close to half a kilogram of what he was accustomed to.
Melissa did not say anything further. She stood up and tidied the area. After packing away the last bit of bread for lunch, she put on a tattered veil cap that their mother left behind, picked up a self-sewn bag used to carry her books and stationery, and prepared to leave.
It was not Sunday, so she had an entire day of classes to attend.
Walking from their apartment to Tingen Technical School took about fifty minutes. There were public horse carriages that cost a penny a kilometer with a limit of four pence in the city and six pence in the city outskirts. In order to save money, Melissa would leave ahead of time and walk to school.
Moments after she opened the main door, she paused in her footsteps and turned her body halfway, saying, "Klein, don't buy too much mutton or peas. Benson might come back on Sunday. Oh, and remember we only need eight pounds of bread."
"Alright. Sure thing," answered Zhou Mingrui exasperatedly.
Simultaneously, he repeated the word 'Sunday' a few times in his head.
In the Northern Continent, a year was similarly split into twelve months. Every year, there was 365 or 366 days. A week was similarly split into seven days.
The splitting of months was a result of astronomical observations. It made Zhou Mingrui suspect whether he was in a parallel world. As for the splitting of days, it was a result of religion. This was because Northern Continent had seven orthodox gods—the Eternal Blazing Sun, the Lord of Storms, the God of Knowledge and Wisdom, the Evernight Goddess, Mother Earth, the God of War, and the God of Steam and Machinery.
Watching his sister close the door and leave, Zhou Mingrui suddenly sighed. Soon, his thoughts focused onto the luck enhancement ritual.
Sorry, I really wish to return home…
Chapter 4: Divination
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
Returning to his chair again, he heard the faraway cathedral's bells chime again. It continued seven times before Zhou Mingrui slowly stood up. He went up front to the cupboard and took out his clothes.
A black vest with a matching suit, trousers that clung tightly to his legs, a halved top hat and his faint scholarly air made Zhou Mingrui feel like he was watching an English drama set in the Victorian era.
He suddenly muttered softly as he shook his head with a wry smile, "I'm not going for an interview. All I'm doing is buying some ingredients to prepare for my luck enhancement ritual…"
Klein was so concerned about his impending interview that it became instinct. When he was not focused enough, he habitually wore his only decent set of clothing.
After taking a breath, Zhou Mingrui took off his suit and vest, switching to a brownish-yellow coat. He also changed to a felt hat with a rounded edge of the same color.
With his outfit done, he walked to the side of the bed and lifted a square cushion. He reached his hand into an inconspicuous hole beneath and rummaged around before finding an intermediate layer.
When he retracted his right hand, there was a roll of notes in his palm. There were about eight notes with faded dark green colors.
These were all the savings Benson had at the moment. It even included the living expenses for the next three days. Two of them were five-soli notes and the remaining were one-soli notes.
In the Loen Kingdom's currency system, soli was ranked second. It originated from ancient silver coins. One soli was equivalent to twelve copper pence. They had denominations of one and five soli.
At the top of the currency system was the gold pound. They were also paper based but were guaranteed by gold and pegged directly. A gold pound was equivalent to twenty soli. They had denominations of one, five, and ten gold pounds.
Zhou Mingrui spread a note and caught a whiff of the faint unique ink.
This was the smell of money.
Perhaps a result of Klein's memory fragments or his constant desire for money, Zhou Mingrui felt like he had instantly fallen in love with these notes.
Look, their designs are so beautiful. It makes the stern and old-fashioned George III and his two mustaches appear especially adorable…
Look, the watermark that can be seen when the note is placed against sunlight is so alluring. The exquisite design for the anti-counterfeit label makes it completely different from those fake fancy schlocks!
Zhou Mingrui admired it for nearly a minute before pulling out two one-soli notes. He then rolled up the remaining notes and stuffed them back into the cushion's concealed layer.
After arranging and flattening the cloth around the hole, Zhou Mingrui folded the two notes he had taken out neatly and placed them into the left pocket of his brownish-yellow jacket. He separated the notes from the few pence he had in his trouser pocket.
With all of this done, he placed a key into his right pocket and brought a dark brownish paper bag along with him and quickly walked toward the door.
His shuffling footsteps slowed down from a brisk pace until it eventually stopped.
Zhou Mingrui stood by the door and was unsure when he had already begun to frown.
Klein's suicide was fraught with peculiarities. Would he encounter any 'accidents' if he were to leave just like that?
After some deep thought, Zhou Mingrui returned to his desk and pulled open the drawer. He then took out the shimmering brass revolver.
This was the only defensive weapon he could think of, and it was the only weapon with sufficient power!
Although he had never practicing shooting, just pulling such a revolver out would definitely daunt anyone!
He caressed the revolver's cold metal before stuffing his revolver into the pocket where his notes were. He clasped the money in his palm as his fingers pressed onto the gun's handle. It was perfectly concealed.
Feeling secure, he who knew a little of everything suddenly had a worry.
Would I end up misfiring?
Being deluged with such a thought, Zhou Mingrui quickly thought of a solution. He drew the revolver and released the cylinder. He then aligned the empty chamber which was a result of the 'suicide' along the gun's hammer before closing it.
This way, even if there was a misfire, he would discharge an 'empty round!'
After stuffing his revolver back into his pocket, Zhou Mingrui kept his left hand in there.
He pressed down on his hat with his right hand and pulled open the door before leaving.
The corridor during the day remained dim as limited sunlight shone in from the window situated at the end of the corridor. Zhou Mingrui quickly went down the stairs and left the apartment before taking in the brilliance and warmth of the sun.
Although it was almost July, it was still considered the middle of summer. However, Tingen was situated north of the Loen Kingdom, so it had unique climate characteristics. The highest annual temperature was not even 30°C on Earth, with even cooler mornings. However, the streets were awash with filthy water and strewn junk. From Klein's memories, this was not a rare sight in low-income communities, even if there were sewers. After all, there were just too many people and people needed to survive.
"Come and try our delicious roasted fish!"
"Hot and fresh oyster soup. Drink a bowl in the morning and feel invigorated all day!"
"Fresh fish from the port for just five pence apiece!"
"Muffins and eel soup make the perfect combination!"
"Conch! Conch! Conch!"
"Vegetables freshly plucked from the farms outside the city. Cheap and fresh!"
The mobile hawkers who sold vegetables, fruits, and hot food shouted along the streets as they beckoned the rushing pedestrians. Some of them would stop and carefully compare before purchasing. Others would impatiently wave their hands as they had yet to find work for the day.
Zhou Mingrui took in a whiff of the air that mixed both noxious and fragrant aromas. As he clenched the revolver tightly in his left hand, he held the notes tight. He pressed down on his hat with his right hand while passing through the busy street, slouching a little.
There was bound to be thieves in populated areas. Furthermore, this street had no lack of poor citizens who were working part time after losing their previous jobs. There were also starving children that were exploited by adults to do their bidding.
He proceeded forward until he reached a point where the crowdedness around him restored to normal. He straightened his back and raised his head to look down the street.
There was a vagrant accordionist busking. The melody was sometimes pleasant, sometimes fervent.
Beside him were several children in ragged clothes with sallow complexions due to malnutrition.
They listened to the music and moved to the beat, dancing self-made choreographies. Their faces were filled with joy as though they were a prince or an angel.
A deadpan woman passed by; her skirt was dirty and her skin was dull.
Her gaze appeared dull and sluggish. Only when she looked at the bunch of children did a faint glow flash. It was as though she had seen herself from three decades ago.
Zhou Mingrui overtook her and turned into another street before stopping at Smyrin Bakery.
The owner of the bakery was a seventy-plus year old granny named Wendy Smyrin. Her hair was completely grayish-white and she always wore a genial smile. From the beginning of Klein's memories, she had been here selling bread and pastries.
Oh, the Tingen biscuits and lemon cakes she bakes are very delicious…
Zhou Mingrui gulped a mouthful of saliva and smiled.
"Mrs. Smyrin, eight pounds of rye bread."
"Oh. Dear Klein, where's Benson? Is he not back?" Wendy asked smilingly.
"In a few more days," answered Zhou Mingrui vaguely.
As Wendy took the rye bread, she sighed. "He sure is a hardworking lad. He will have a good wife."
Upon saying this, the corners of her lips curled up as she said playfully, "All is good now. You have already graduated. You are a history graduate of our Khoy University~ Oh, you will soon be able to earn money. You should not be staying in the apartment you are currently living in. At the very least, you should have a bathroom you can call your own."
"Mrs. Smyrin, you seem to be a young and energetic woman today." All Zhou Mingrui could do was respond with a dry smile.
If Klein were to successfully pass his interview and become a lecturer at Tingen University, it was true that his family would immediately be pushed up to a higher socioeconomic status!
In his memory fragments, he had once fantasized about renting a bungalow in the suburbs. There would be five or six rooms, two bathrooms, a huge balcony upstairs, two rooms, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and an underground storage room on the first floor.
This was not a wishful dream. Even a lecturer on probation at Tingen University would have a weekly salary of two gold pounds. After the probationary period, the salary would be raised to three gold pounds and ten soli. One had to know that despite working for so many years, Klein's brother, Benson, only had a weekly salary of one pound and ten soli. Ordinary workers at a factory did not even get a pound or, at best, a little more. And rent for a bungalow was about nineteen soli to one pound and eighteen soli.
"This is the difference between earning three to four thousand yuan and earning fourteen to fifteen thousand yuan a month…" Zhou Mingrui mumbled to himself.
However, all of this was under the premise that he passed either the Tingen University or Backlund University interviews.
There were not many other opportunities. People without any connections were unable to get recommendations to become a public servant. And those who studied history were more limited in job opportunities. There was not much demand for private consultants from the aristocrats, banks, or industrial magnates.
Taking into account that the knowledge Klein grasped were fragmented and incomplete, Zhou Mingrui felt awkward and guilty towards Mrs. Smyrin's expectations of him.
"No, I have always been this young," answered Wendy humorously.
As she spoke, she packed the sixteen rye bread she had weighed into the brown paper bag that Zhou Mingrui had brought. She stretched out her right hand and said, "Nine pence."
Every rye bread weighted about half a pound as differences were inevitable.
"Nine pence? Wasn't it eleven pence two days ago?" Zhou Mingrui asked subconsciously.
It cost 15 pence the month before the previous month.
"You have to thank the people who protested on the streets for the repeal of the Grain Act," said Wendy as she shrugged.
Zhou Mingrui nodded in vague acknowledgment. Klein's memories regarding this was incomplete. All he remembered was that the core tenet of the Grain Act was to protect the prices of domestic agriculture products. Once the prices rose to a certain level, grain imports from Southern nations like Feynapotter, Masin, Lenburg were stopped.
Why would people protest the act?
Without saying much, Zhou Mingrui, afraid he would end up pulling out the revolver, carefully took out his notes and handed one of them over to Mrs. Smyrin.
He was given three copper pence in change. Stuffing them into his trouser pocket, he took the paper bag containing the bread and headed for the 'Lettuce and Meat' market across the street. He was working hard for the mutton stewed with peas his sister had exhorted.
There was a municipal square at the intersection of Iron Cross Street and Daffodil Street. Many tents were erected there, and clowns dressed in odd and funny attires were distributing fliers.
"There's a circus performance tomorrow night?" Zhou Mingrui glanced at the fliers in the hands of others as he read their contents under his breath.
Melissa would definitely like it. However, how much is the entrance fee?
With that thought, Zhou Mingrui went closer.
Just as he was about to ask a clown with a red and yellow painted face, a hoarse woman's voice sounded from beside him.
"Would you like to try a divination?"
Zhou Mingrui subconsciously turned his head and saw a woman wearing a pointed hat and a long black dress standing in front of a short tent.
Her face was smeared with red and yellow paint and her eyes were a profound grayish-blue.
"No," Zhou Mingrui shook his head in response. He did not have the spare cash for divination.
The woman laughed and said, "My tarot divination is very accurate."
"Tarot…" Zhou Mingrui was instantly dumbfounded.
This pronunciation was almost identical to the tarot cards on Earth!
And tarot cards from Earth were a set of cards used for divination. They just had graphics that represented different omens.
Wait… He suddenly recalled the origins of tarot divination in this world.
It did not originate from the seven orthodox gods nor was it an ancient legacy. Instead, it was created by the Intis Republic's Consul of that era, Roselle Gusta, more than 170 years ago.
This Mr. Roselle invented the steam engine, improved the sailing boat, overthrew the Intis Kingdom's imperial rule, and was recognized by the God of Craftsmanship. He also became the first Consul of the Intis Republic.
Later, he invaded other nations and placed Lenburg and other nations under his protection. He made the Loen Kingdom, Feynapotter, Feysac Empire and other powerful Northern Continent nations bow down to the Intis Republic. Following that, the Republic was then changed to an Empire and he became the self-proclaimed 'Emperor Caesar.'
It was during Roselle's rule that the Church of Craftsmanship received its first public holy revelation since the Fifth Epoch. Ever since, the God of Craftsmanship was changed to the God of Steam and Machinery.
Roselle also invented tarot divination. He also established the contemporary system of paper-based cards and their playstyles. There were many familiar styles that Zhou Mingrui was familiar with, such as Upgrade, Fighting the Landlord, Texas Poker, and Quint…
In addition, the marine fleets he sent out discovered a sea route that led to the Southern Continent through the stormy and turbulent seas. This also began the era of colonialism.
Unfortunately, he was betrayed in his old age. In the year 1198 of the Fifth Epoch, he was assassinated by the combined forces of the Church of the Eternal Blazing Sun, the former Intis royal family—the Sauron family, and other aristocrats. He eventually died in the White Maple Palace.
This… To recall such general knowledge suddenly made him facepalm.
Could this be a transmigration senior?
With this in mind, Zhou Mingrui was intrigued to see what tarot cards looked like. Therefore, he nodded at the pointy hat woman with the painted face and said, "If the… well… price is reasonable, I'll give it a try."
The woman immediately said with a laugh, "Sir, you are the first one here today, so it's on the house."
Chapter 5: Ritual
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
Free? Free things cost the most!
Zhou Mingrui silently mumbled and decided that he would not purchase any additional services whatever they were. He would firmly refuse them all.
If you are really that capable, try divining that I transmigrated here!
With this in mind, Zhou Mingrui followed behind the woman whose face was painted red and yellow, stooping low to enter the low tent.
The tent's interior was extremely dark, illuminated only by several beams of light that managed to seep inside. A table covered with paper cards could be made out faintly in the low illumination.
The woman with the sharp pointy hat was not affected by this at all. Her long black dress glided as though it was moving over water while she went around to the table. She sat on the opposite side and lighted a candle.
The dim yellow light flickered, causing the inside of the tent to appear bright and dark at the same time. It instantly added a much more mysterious feel to the atmosphere.
Zhou Mingrui sat down quietly, his gaze sweeping over the tarot cards on the table where he discovered familiar cards like "The Magician," "The Emperor," "The Hanged Man," and "Temperance," etc.
Could Roselle have been a 'senior'… I wonder if he was also a fellow countryman of mine… Zhou Mingrui mumbled to himself subconsciously.
Before he could finish looking at the opened cards on the table, the woman who claimed to have accurate divinations had already reached out her hands to gather all of the cards together. She stacked them into a deck and pushed it in front of him.
"Shuffle the cards first and cut the deck," the circus fortune-teller said in a muted voice.
"Me? Shuffle?" Zhou Mingrui asked reflexively.
The yellow and red paint on the fortune-teller's face squirmed together as she revealed a slight smile, saying, "Of course, everyone's destiny can only be unraveled by themselves. I only serve as a reader of it."
Zhou Mingrui immediately questioned her warily, "This reading does not require additional fees, right?"
As a keyboard folklorist, I've already seen too many of such tricks!
The fortune-teller was visibly taken aback before finally saying muffledly, "It's free."
Zhou Mingrui, relieved, stuffed the revolver further back into his pocket. Thereafter, he calmly reached out his two hands to shuffle and cut the deck skillfully.
"It's done." He placed the already shuffled tarot cards in the middle of the table.
The fortune-teller clasped the cards with both her hands and carefully looked at cards for a while. Then, she suddenly opened her mouth and said, "I'm sorry, I forgot to ask, but what would you like to ask about?"
Back when he was wooing his first love, Zhou Mingrui had also done research on tarot cards. He asked unhesitatingly, "Past, present, and future."
This was a type of divination as part of tarot card interpretation—three cards when opened sequentially symbolized one's past, present, and future.
The fortune-teller nodded first, then curled her lips to reveal a smile and said, "Then please reshuffle the deck. You can only truly get the cards you want if you know what you would like to ask about."
Were you fooling me just now? Do you have to be this petty? Didn't I only ask a few times if this would be a free service? Zhou Mingrui's cheeks twitched a little. He took a deep breath and took the tarot deck back to reshuffle and cut it.
"There won't be any problems this time, right?" He placed the already cut deck back onto the table.
"No problem." The fortune-teller reached out her fingers and picked a card from the top of the deck. Then she placed it on the left side of Zhou Mingrui. Her voice was going lower and lower as she spoke, "This card symbolizes your past."
"This card symbolize your present." The fortune-teller placed the second card right in front of Zhou Mingrui.
Then, she picked the third card and put it on the right side of Zhou Mingrui.
"This card symbolizes the future."
"Alright, which card would you like to see first?" The fortune-teller raised her head up after completing her placement of the cards and gazed deeply at Zhou Mingrui with her grayish-blue eyes.
"I'll have a look at the 'present' first," Zhou Mingrui said after giving it some thought.
The fortune-teller nodded slowly and flipped over the tarot card that was directly in front of Zhou Mingrui.
A colorfully dressed character was depicted on this card, wearing ragged headgear with a stick over his shoulder. There was a bindle hanging on the end of the stick and a puppy was following behind him. It was numbered "0."
"The Fool," the fortune-teller lightly read out the name of the card with her grayish-blue eyes affixed on Zhou Mingrui.
The Fool? The "0" card of tarot? A start? A fresh beginning with all kinds of possibilities? Zhou Mingrui was not even considered an amateur enthusiast of tarot, so he could only make a rough interpretation based on his own impressions of tarot.
Just as the fortune-teller was about to say something, the cloth curtains of the tent was suddenly lifted open. The ray of sunlight that shone in was so blinding that it caused the back-facing Zhou Mingrui to instinctively narrow his eyes.
"Why are you impersonating me again! It's my job to handle the divination for people!" a woman's voice growled angrily. "Return to your post quickly! You must remember that you're just an animal trainer!"
An animal trainer? Zhou Mingrui's eyes had already adapted to the light by now. He saw a similar-looking woman who was also wearing a sharp pointy hat in a black dress, with her face painted in red and yellow as well. The only difference was that she was taller and had a slimmer physique.
The woman who was seating in front of him immediately stood up and said disgruntledly, "Don't mind this, it's just that I like doing this. But I have to say, my divination and interpretation can be really accurate sometimes. I'm serious…"
She spoke and lifted up her dress to go around from the side of the table before quickly trotting away from the tent.
"Sir, would you like me to interpret your cards for you?" the real fortune-teller looked at Zhou Mingrui and asked with a smile.
Zhou Mingrui's lips twitched and asked her sincerely, "Is it free?"
"…No," the real fortune-teller answered.
"Then forget it." Zhou Mingrui pulled his hands back and put them into his pockets. He clutched his revolver and money before stooping again to exit the tent.
Damn! He actually got an animal trainer to be his fortune-teller?
Was an animal trainer who didn't want to be a fortune-teller not a good clown?
Zhou Mingrui very quickly put this matter behind him. He spent seven pence at the 'Lettuce and Meat' market for a pound of not-so-great mutton. Then, he also bought some tender broad beans, cabbage, onions, potatoes, and other items. Together with the bread that he bought earlier, he spent a total of 25 copper pennies, which converted to two soli and one pence.
"There is really not enough to go around for spending. Poor Benson…" Not only had Zhou Mingrui spent the two notes that he had brought with him, but it was also necessary for him top it up with the one penny he had in his pocket.
He just sighed and did not think further about it as he hurried back home.
With the staple food, he could now carry out the luck enhancement ritual!
After the second-floor tenants gradually left, Zhou Mingrui was still in no hurry to carry out the ritual. Instead, he translated the "Blessings Stem From The Immortal Lord of Heaven and Earth" and related phrases into the ancient Feysac language, as well as the Loen language. He was intending to try the ritual again the next day in those local languages if the original incantation did not take effect!
After all, he had to take into consideration the differences between the two worlds. In Rome, do as the Romans do!
As for translating it into an ancient ritual prayer that used the dedicated Hermes language, Zhou Mingrui had a difficult time completing it due to his lack of vocabulary.
After readying everything, he finally took out the four loaves of rye bread. He placed one in the corner where the coal stove was originally, one at the bottom inner side of the dress mirror, one at the top of the cupboard where two walls met, and one at the right side of the study table where miscellaneous items were kept.
With a deep breath, Zhou Mingrui came to the center of the room and spent a few minutes to calm himself. Then, he took a solemn step forward and went in a counter-clockwise direction in the shape of a square.
When he took the first step, he chanted in a low whisper, "Blessings Stem From The Immortal Lord of Heaven and Earth."
The second step, he sincerely chanted, "Blessings Stem From The Sky Lord of Heaven and Earth."
The third step, Zhou Mingrui breathed out a whisper. "Blessings Stem From The Exalted Thearch of Heaven and Earth."
At the fourth step, he spat out a foul breath and meditated in concentration. "Blessings Stem From The Celestial Worthy of Heaven and Earth."
When he returned back to the original spot, Zhou Mingrui closed his eyes and waited in his place for an outcome. He had some anticipation in him, some unease, some hope, and some fear.
Could he make it back?
Was there going to be any effect?
Could there be some unexpected situation?
The unknown in front of him was tainted with the crimson light of hope. Zhou Mingrui's thoughts were swirling in his head and was finding it difficult to quell it.
It was at this time that he suddenly felt the surrounding air seem to stop, becoming thick and mysterious.
Immediately after, a low whisper could be heard beside his ears that sounded at times real, at times sharp, at times imaginary, at times alluring, at times maniacal, and at times crazy.
He clearly did not understand the murmuring that went on, but Zhou Mingrui still couldn't help himself from wanting to listen to it and distinguish what it was saying.
His head was in pain again. It was so painful that it felt like someone had stuck a steel drill rod into it.
Zhou Mingrui only felt like his head was going to explode. His thoughts were filled with a psychedelic of colors.
He knew that something was wrong and tried to open his eyes. However, he wasn't even able to complete such a simple action.
His entire body was getting tighter and tighter and it felt like he could just break apart at any time. At this time, a self-mocking thought came up in Zhou Mingrui's mind:
"If you didn't seek death, you wouldn't die…"
He could no longer bear with it. Just as his mind was going to break, the murmuring of voices faded away and his surroundings became very quiet. The mood was an erratic one.
It was not only the mood; Zhou Mingrui felt his own body going through the same sensations as well.
He tried once more to open his eyes, an extremely easy task this time.
A gray fog appeared over his eyes—haziness, vague, and endless.
"What's with this situation?" Zhou Mingrui suddenly looked around him and then lowered his head down to discover that he was floating at the edge of an endless fog.
The fog was flowing like water and was dotted with a lot of crimson 'stars.' Some of them were enormous while others were tiny. There was a sense of them being hidden in the deep depths, while others floated over the surface of this water-like fog.
Looking at the seemingly holographic sight, Zhou Mingrui reached out his right hand in a half-confused, half-exploring manner to try to touch the crimson 'star' that was seemingly floating on the surface. He was trying to find a way to leave this place.
When his hand touched the surface of that star, a water mark suddenly appeared from within his body and agitated the stars into a "crimson" burst. It looked like a dreamlike burning of flames.
Zhou Mingrui got a fright from it. He retracted his right hand in a panic, but accidentally touched yet another crimson star.
As a result, this star burst with splendid light as well.
In turn, Zhou Mingrui felt his mind empty and his spirit dissipated.
In the Loen Kingdom's capital, Backlund. Inside a luxurious looking villa at the royal district.
Audrey Hall sat in front of a dresser. The markings on it were antiquated and there was a cracked bronze mirror on the surface.
"Mirror, mirror, awaken…
"In the name of the Hall family, I command you to awaken!"
She switched between many different sayings, but there was no reaction from the mirror at all.
After more than 10 minutes, she finally chose to give up and pouted her lips in grievance. She said in a soft murmur, "Father was indeed lying to me. He always tells me that this mirror was the treasure of the Roman Empire's Dark Emperor, and that it is an extraordinary item…"
Her voice trailed off. The bronze mirror which rested on the dresser suddenly glowed with a crimson light that shrouded her completely.
In the Sonia Sea, a three-masted sailboat that looked like an obvious relic was navigating through a storm.
Alger Wilson stood on deck, his body undulating with the currents at sea, maintaining his balance easily.
He wore a robe embroidered with lightning patterns, and in his hand was a quirky-shaped glass bottle. Bubbles billowed inside the bottle at times, frost turned into snow at times, and signs of gusting wind could be seen at times.
"We're still short on the Ghost Shark's blood…" Alger murmured.
Then at this moment, a crimson burst appeared in the space between the glass bottle and the surface of his palm. In an instant, it enveloped the surroundings as well.
In the fog of gray mist, Audrey Hall regained her sight. She started reckoning the situation in a state of horror and confusion when she noticed the blurry image of a man on the opposite side of her doing the same as well.
Immediately after, the both of them discovered another mystery person standing not far from them who was shrouded in a gray mist.
The 'mysterious person' was none other than Zhou Mingrui. He was similarly dumbfounded.
"Sir, where is this?"
Audrey and Alger were startled at first, falling silent in the process. Then, they immediately started speaking in unison.
"What are you planning on doing?"
Chapter 6: Beyonder
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
Not only did they speak the same Loen language, they also shared the same grim and tense vibes.
Where am I? What do I plan to do here? I would like to know too… Calming himself down, Zhou Mingrui silently repeated the questions posed by the two.
What left the deepest impression on him were neither the sentences formed by words nor the meanings behind them, but the display of bewilderment, vigilance, panic, and reverence by the couple!
For some baffling reason, two people had been mysteriously dragged into this world surrounded by gray fog. As the perpetrator, Zhou Mingrui was already feeling abnormally dumbfounded and startled, let alone the couple who was pulled into this mess completely passively!
For them, such events and encounters might already be beyond their imaginations, right?
Momentarily, Zhou Mingrui thought of two options: The first option was feigning victimhood to hide his true identity, and in turn gain a considerable amount of trust. He could then take a wait-and-see approach and take advantage of his circumstances where necessary. The other option was to maintain his mysterious identity in the eyes of the couple. He could then affect the subsequent development while gleaning valuable information from them.
Without the luxury of time to deliberate over the situation, he grasped hold of the thought that flashed across his mind. He made an immediate decision to try out the second idea.
Exploit the psychological state of the others to gain the greatest advantage for himself!
After a few seconds of silence in the fog, Zhou Mingrui chuckled. With a low but not heavy tone, he calmly spoke as though he was replying to the polite greetings from the visitors, "An attempt."
An attempt… an attempt? Audrey Hall looked at the mysterious guy veiled in the grayish-white fog, and the only thought was that whatever was happening was absurd, funny, horrifying, and weird.
She was at the dressing table inside her bedroom only moments ago. But just by turning around, she had "come" into this place that was filled with gray fog!
Audrey took a breath, revealing an impeccable, courteous smile. She asked in a somewhat perturbed way, "Sir, is the attempt over? Might you permit our return?"
Alger Wilson also had the intentions to probe Zhou Mingrui in a similar fashion, but his rich experience made him statelier. He held back his impulse and only took on the role of a silent onlooker.
Zhou Mingrui looked at the questioner. Looking through the hazy mist, he could roughly see the silhouette of the person in question. It was a tall girl with smooth blond hair, but her exact countenance could not be seen clearly.
He did not rush to reply the girl's question but turned around to look at the man. He had messy dark-blue hair, as well as a medium stature that was not considered stout.
Zhou Mingrui suddenly realized something. Once he became stronger or had a deeper understanding of the foggy world, perhaps it was possible for him to see through the fog and discern the girl and the man.
In this situation, they are the visitors, and I'm the master!
After changing his mindset, Zhou Mingrui instantly noticed details that he had neglected earlier on.
The girl with a melodious voice and the mature, withdrawn man both looked considerably incorporeal. Tainted by a faint crimson red, they resembled a projected image of the two crimson red "stars" beyond the gray fog.
This projection was based on the connection between the crimson red and himself, an intangible connection that only he himself could realistically grasp hold of.
The projection would disappear once the connection was cut, and the couple would then return… Zhou Mingrui nodded mildly and looked at the blond, chuckling. "Of course, if you make a formal request, you can return this very moment."
When she did not identify any ill intention from his tone, Audrey heaved a sigh of relief. She believed that since a gentleman who was capable of such miraculous things had given his word, he would definitely abide by it stringently.
With her mind somewhat mollified, she surprisingly was in no hurry to request her leave. She rolled her virid eyes left and right, which sparkled with an abnormal radiance.
She said in an anxious, anticipative and tempted manner, "This is such a wonderful experience… Yes, I have always been hoping that something like this would happen. I mean—I like mysteries and supernatural miracles. No, my point is—what I mean is that, Sir, what can I do to become a Beyonder?"
She got more excited as she spoke, so much so she was fumbling over her words. The dream that sprouted in her as a result of listening to thrilling fantasies as told by her elders finally saw the possibility of being materialized.
However, with just a few words, she had already forgotten all her previous fears and horrors.
Good question! I would also like to know the answer… Zhou Mingrui complained inwardly.
He started to ponder on an answer to the question to maintain his unfathomable image.
At the same time, he felt that it was quite unbecoming of him to talk while standing. Shouldn't he be in a palace, sitting at the head of a long table, and on a mysterious high-back chair engraved with ancient patterns, while silently observing his visitors?
As soon as this thought surfaced, the gray fog started to churn, giving both Audrey and Alger a shock.
In an instant, they saw a number of towering stone pillars around them. Above them was a vast dome that encapsulated them.
This entire edifice looked magnificent, grand and lofty, just like a legendary palace for giants.
Directly under the dome where the gray fog gathered, a long, bronze table appeared with ten high-back chairs on either side in a symmetrical arrangement. The back of each chair dazzled and shone faintly with crimson red, drawing the outlines of weird constellations that differed from reality.
Audrey and Alger sat face-to-face, sitting next to the Seat of Honor.
The girl looked to her sides, and could not help but mumble, "How fascinating…"
It is certainly fascinating… Zhou Mingrui extended his right hand and caressed the edge of the bronze table a little while maintaining an unperturbed expression.
Alger inspected the surroundings, and after a few seconds of silence, he suddenly opened his mouth, and answered Audrey's question in place of Zhou Mingrui.
"Are you a Loen?
"If you want to become a Beyonder, join the Churches of either the Evernight Goddess, the Lord of Storms, or the God of Steam and Machinery.
"The majority of us will not meet a Beyonder our entire lives. This has caused churches, and even some clergies within some of the biggest churches, to suspect the same. While this is the case, I am certain to tell you that Beyonders still exist in courts, tribunals, and execution agencies. They are still fighting against the dangers that grow in the dark, only that their numbers are much fewer as compared to before and during the early days of the Iron Age."
Zhou Mingrui listened attentively, but he tried his best to present himself as paying little attention to Alger's words, much like how young kids listened to stories.
Relying on Klein's fragmented general knowledge of history, Zhou Mingrui knew clearly that the "Iron Age" referred to the current epoch, which was the Fifth Epoch that began 1349 years ago.
Audrey silently listened to Alger finish his sentence before sighing.
"Mister, I know all about what you just said; I even know more than that, including the Nighthawks, the Mandated Punisher, and the Machinery Hivemind, but I don't want to lose my freedom."
Alger gave a low-sounding laugh, and said vaguely, "You can't become a Beyonder without sacrifices. If you don't consider joining churches and accepting their given challenges, you can only seek the royal families and the few nobles with family histories of more than a thousand years. If not, you can rely on your luck to search for clandestine evil organizations."
Audrey puffed her cheeks subconsciously and looked around in a fluster. After confirming that both the "mysterious man" and Audrey did not notice her tic, she pressed, "Are there no other solutions?"
Alger sank into silence. About half a minute later, he turned around to look at the "mysterious man" who was watching the two of them in silence.
Realizing that Zhou Mingrui had no plans to make any comment, he looked back at Audrey and said with deliberation, "I have two sets of Sequence 9 Potion formulas."
Sequence 9? Zhou Mingrui muttered to himself.
"Really? Which two sets?" Audrey clearly knew what the Sequence 9 Potion formulas meant.
Alger leaned back slightly, and replied unhurriedly, "As you know, humanity can only depend on potions to become real Beyonders, while the names of potions come from the 'Blasphemy Slate.' After constant translations intoJotun 1 , Elvish, ancient and modern Hermes, and ancient Feysac, they have undergone changes to match the day and age of that era. The essence is not in their names, but whether they portray the 'core characteristics' of the potions.
"I have a Sequence 9 Potion named 'Sailor.' It enables you to have excellent balancing capabilities. Even if you were on a boat in a rainstorm, you will be able to walk about freely as though you were on land. You will also gain immense strength and illusory scales under your skin. They will enable you to swim like a fish and be difficult to catch. You will move agilely underwater just like marine animals. Even without any equipment, you will be able to easily submerge underwater for at least ten minutes."
"Sounds great… the 'Keepers of the Seas' from the Lord of Storms?"
"It was called by that name in the past." Alger did not pause and continued. "The second set of Sequence 9 Potions is called 'Spectator,' although I am not sure what it was called in the past. This set of potions enables you to have an exceptionally sharp mind with acute observational abilities. I believe you can understand by what 'spectator' means from watching operas and plays. Just like an audience, spectators judge the 'actors' in the secular world, catching a glimpse of the real thoughts of them through their emotions, conduct, and mantras."
At this point, Alger emphasized, "You must remember, regardless of whether you are at an extravagant banquet or a crowded street, spectators can only be spectators forever."
Audrey's eyes shone as she listened, and spoke after a long while, "Why? Alright, this is a follow-up question. I-I think I have fallen in love with this feeling—of being a 'spectator.' How can I get this potion's formula? What can I use to trade with you for it?"
Alger looked like he was already prepared as he said in a deep voice, "The blood of Ghost Sharks, at least 100 milliliters of it."
Audrey nodded her head excitedly, but subsequently asked worriedly, "If I can get it—and I'm saying if—how do I hand it to you? How can you promise me that you can give the potion's formula to me in return for the Ghost Shark's blood, as well as the authenticity of the formula?"
Alger said calmly, "I'll give you an address. I'll mail the formula to you, or tell you directly here, once I receive the blood of the Ghost Shark."
"As for promises, I think that both you and I can feel rest assured under the witness of the mysterious sir."
As he said this, he swept his eyes towards Zhou Mingrui who was sitting up straight at the Seat of Honor.
"Sir, the fact that you brought us here shows that you have tremendous strength unimaginable to us. Neither one of us would dare violate a promise with you as witness."
"That's right!" Audrey's eyes sparkled and agreed with excitement.
From her perspective, the mysterious gentleman who had unimaginable abilities was definitely an "authoritative" witness.
How could I or the guy opposite me dare trick him!
Audrey half-turned her body and looked at Zhou Mingrui earnestly.
"Sir, please be the witness of our trade."
At that moment, she then realized that she was all too impolite, having forgotten all along to ask a particular question. She asked hurriedly, "Sir, how should we address you?"
Alger nodded slightly, and echoed the same question in a serious manner, "Sir, how should we address you?"
Zhou Mingrui was taken aback. He gently rapped his fingers on the bronze table. The contents of the earlier divination flashed across his mind suddenly.
He leaned back, withdrew his right hand, and crossed his ten fingers, placing them below his chin. He gave the duo a faint smile.
"You can address me as…"
Upon saying this, he paused for a moment. He said amiably and calmly, "The Fool."
Chapter 7: Call Sign
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
"You can address me as The Fool."
The simple answer soon emanated through the grand hall and dissipated into the fog. However, the voice kept resonating in Audrey's and Alger's hearts, stirring up one ripple after another.
They never expected such a designation, but they felt that he was deserving of it. The designation perfectly embodied his image as someone mysterious, powerful, and bizarre!
After a few seconds of silence, Audrey stood up, held up her skirt slightly and bent her knees, curtseying to Zhou Mingrui.
"Honorable Mr. Fool, would you please permit me to take the liberty of requesting you to be the witness of our trade?"
"It's nothing." Zhou Mingrui's mind whirred as he answered in a way that matched his status.
"It's our honor, Mr. Fool." Alger stood up as well. He bent his back slightly with his right palm over his chest.
Zhou Mingrui lowered his right palm and smiled.
"Continue, the both of you."
Alger nodded and sat back down before looking at Audrey.
"If you can obtain the Ghost Shark's blood, get someone to send it to the Warrior & Sea Bar at Pelican Street, in the White Rose Borough of Pritz Harbor. Tell the boss, Williams, that it's what the 'Captain' wants.
"Once I acknowledge receipt, will you be giving me an address to mail the potion formula to or do you want me to tell it to you here directly?"
Audrey thought for a moment before saying with a smile, "I will choose the more secure method. Let's do it here, although it's a test of my memory."
Since Mr. Fool had agreed to bear witness for the trade, it also represented that there would be a similar 'Gathering' the next time.
With this in mind, she suddenly turned her head as she looked at Zhou Mingrui with sparkling eyes. With a tone of interest, she suggested, "Mr. Fool, would you mind making a few more 'attempts' like this?"
Alger listened to her suggestion calmly; he was tempted by the suggestion as well. He hurriedly echoed, "Mr. Fool, don't you find such 'Gatherings' interesting? Although your powers exceed our imaginations, there has to be certain domains that you don't understand or excel in. The person across me is obviously a young lady of lofty stature. I also have my unique set of experiences, insights, mediums, and resources. Perhaps there will come a day when both of us can help you complete something trivial that might be inconvenient for you."
From his point of view, the fact that he had been pulled into this space without any warning or any means to resist meant that the mysterious Mr. Fool was in control. Participating in the 'Gatherings' was not necessarily something he could refuse. Therefore, it was better to reap the benefits of this encounter as much as he could to make up for his passive and disadvantaged state.
The trio at the long table had different backgrounds, resources, information channels, and comprehension of the mystical domain. If they interacted and enjoyed some limited cooperation, they could produce unpredictable and immeasurable effects!
The resource trade that had just been negotiated was one example. Another example would be if he wished to kill someone. He could easily request the Gathering's members who did not appear to be related to him both on the surface and in reality for help. He could perfectly misdirect any investigators.
A young lady of lofty stature… Was my behavior and accent that obvious? Audrey stared blankly, mouth slightly agape, but she soon jolted back to her senses and nodded her head without any hesitation.
"Mr. Fool, I think it's a very good suggestion. As long as this Gathering becomes regular, you can totally leave certain things that are inconvenient for you to us. Of course, it has to be something within our capacities."
From the moment he heard the suggestion, Zhou Mingrui was already weighing the pros and cons. More gatherings definitely allowed him to gain more knowledge of the secrets of the Beyonders or other mysteries, a boon for his transmigration back. For example, it was likely that the potion formula would appear at the next gathering because of the 'spectators.' Similarly, the information he gained was bound to be helpful for his present life.
However, more gatherings meant it was easier to expose himself!
Indeed, regardless of the world, there is no such thing as a free lunch… Zhou Mingrui extended his right hand again as he rapped the side of the long table with his finger gently.
Considering the fact that he was in control of the gathering's summoning and dismissal, any threat of exposure was within the confines of his control. The pros clearly exceeded the cons, so Zhou Mingrui rapidly made a decision.
He stopped his rapping as he smiled at the anticipative and perturbed gazes of the duo.
"I'm a person who likes a fair and equal exchange.
"Your help will not go unrewarded.
"Every Monday at three in the afternoon, try your best to be alone. After I make a few more attempts and figure out certain things, perhaps you can apply for a leave of absence ahead of time. You will no longer need to worry about being in inappropriate situations."
This was a form of agreement to Alger's and Audrey's suggestions.
Audrey had just turned seventeen. Having been taken care of her entire life, she had the character of a young girl. Therefore, she could not help but clench her fist and gradually pump it in front of her chest when she heard The Fool's reply.
Without waiting for Alger to say a word, Audrey said in excitement, her eyes glowing, "Then, shall we give ourselves call signs? After all, we can't use our real names for conversation."
Although I might not be able to deceive Mr. Fool regarding my true identity, the person opposite me poses some danger. I must not let him know who I am!
"Good idea," answered Zhou Mingrui in a simple and relaxed manner.
Audrey's mind immediately began whirring as she aired her thoughts as they came to her.
"You are Mr. Fool which is derived from tarot cards. Then, as a fixed, long-term, and secretive 'Gathering,' we should be uniform in our designations. Yes, I'll also choose one from the tarot cards."
Her tone slowly turned joyous.
"I've decided. My designation shall be 'Justice!'"
It was one of the twenty-two Major Arcana tarot cards.
"What about you, Mister?" Audrey cheekily smiled at her 'partner' sitting across her.
Alger frowned slightly before relaxing it immediately.
"The Hanged Man."
It was another Major Arcana card.
"Alright, then we can be considered as the founding members of the Tarot Club!" Audrey was the first to blurt it out happily, only to look fearfully at the fog-concealed Zhou Mingrui. "Will that be alright, Mr. Fool?"
Zhou Mingrui shook his head in amusement.
"You can decide on such trivial matters by yourselves."
"Thank you!" Audrey was clearly thrilled.
Following that, she looked at Alger.
"Mr. Hanged Man, can you repeat the address again once more? I'm afraid that my memories will fail me."
"No problem." Alger was very pleased with Audrey's seriousness as he repeated the address once more.
After repeating it to herself silently thrice, Audrey said again in excitement, "I heard that tarot cards were invented by Emperor Roselle as a game. In fact, doesn't it come equipped with the power to divine the future?"
"No. Most of the time, divination stems from one's self. Everyone has something spiritual about themselves, allowing them to attune to the spiritual world and connect to information about themselves at an even higher level. However, ordinary folks are unable to notice this, much less be able to interpret the 'signs' they receive. This information will present itself with the help of divination tools. Let me raise a simple example, dreams and dream interpreters." Alger took a glance at Zhou Mingrui and seeing no response from him, he refuted Audrey's claim. "Tarot cards are, in fact, such a tool. It uses more symbolism and more logical elements to help us in conveniently and accurately interpreting the signs."
Although Zhou Mingrui appeared indifferent, he was actually listening very carefully. It was only at this point that his empty mind slowly became heavy as his head began to feel a throbbing pain.
"Got it." Audrey nodded in agreement. Following that, she emphasized, "That's not what I meant. I'm not doubting the tarot cards, but I heard that Emperor Roselle had actually created another set of cards, secret and mysterious ones. They were paper cards which symbolized a particular unknown power. There was a total of twenty-two cards that he completed. Later on in life, he referenced them to create the twenty-two Major Arcana tarot cards which are used as a gaming tool. Was what I said correct?"
She looked at Zhou Mingrui as though she was attempting to get an answer from the mysterious Mr. Fool.
All Zhou Mingrui did was smile without saying a word. He cast his gaze at The Hanged Man as though he was putting him to the test.
Alger subconsciously straightened his back and said in a deep voice, "That's right. It is said that Emperor Roselle had seen the Blasphemy Slate and that set of paper cards contain the profound mysteries of the twenty-two paths of the divine."
"Twenty-two paths of the divine…" repeated Audrey with a longing tone.
At that moment, Zhou Mingrui's headache intensified. He felt that his invisible connection with the crimson stars and grayish-white fog was beginning to falter.
"Alright, that will be all for today's gathering," he said in a deep voice after making the decision immediately.
"By your will." Alger bowed his head respectfully.
"By your will." Audrey mimicked The Hanged Man.
She still had many questions and thoughts; thus, she was unwilling to have it end so soon.
As Zhou Mingrui severed the connection, he said with a smile, "Let us look forward to the next gathering."
The 'stars' brightened once more as the crimson light receded like water. Just as Audrey and Alger heard Mr. Fool's words, their figures turned into a blur as they phased away.
In a second, the 'projection' shattered as the gray fog restored its silence.
As for Zhou Mingrui, he felt himself turning heavy rapidly. His surroundings turned fleeting as his eyes met darkness before changing into dazzling sunlight.
He was still standing in the middle of his apartment.
"It was like a dream… What the heck was that foggy world… Who or what sort of power created the changes that just happened…" Zhou Mingrui sighed softly. He was completely puzzled as he walked towards the study desk as though his legs were filled with lead.
He picked up the pocket watch he placed outside to determine how much time had passed.
"Time flowed at the same pace." Zhou Mingrui made a rough judgment.
After putting down his pocket watch, he found himself unable to endure the splitting headache any further. He sat on the chair and lowered his head, using his left thumb and middle finger to massage his temples.
After a long while, he suddenly let out a sigh and said in Mandarin, "From the looks of it, I won't be able to return any time soon…"
Only the clueless could be fearless. After witnessing such a fascinating event and learning the situation regarding Beyonders and the mysterious world, Zhou Mingrui no longer dared to rashly try the luck enhancement ritual using ancient Feysac or Loen language.
Who knew what other kinds of situation would happen. Perhaps, it would be more bizarre, horrifying, or even a living hell!
"At the very least, I should attempt only when I have a deep mastery of mysticism," thought Zhou Mingrui helplessly.
Thankfully, the so-called Gathering could provide him with help.
After another bout of silence, he muttered to himself with a tone of dismay, disappointment, agony, and grief, "From this moment forth, I'm Klein."
Klein tried his best to refocus his solutions and plans so as to purge the negative emotions in him.
Perhaps, he could learn the potion formula for 'Spectator' from the side…
The 'Gathering' that just happened sure is fascinating. People who reside in different places across the world can reduce hundreds of kilometers to just mere inches and discuss face-to-face while supplying each other's needs. Uh, speaking of which, this does sound a little familiar…
Klein was stunned for a few seconds before he burst out in laughter. Pressing against his temple, he jested under his breath, "Wasn't that a social networking platform?"