Chapter 37: Death of The Poet (2)
Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng, the two foreigners who had yet to familiarise themselves with life in this new place, had to wander around the city for a long time before they found the residence of the first customer ‘Little Jack’ ― No. 27 Shell Street.
It was a very small room, with a tofu-size plate engraved with the room number hung on the door. If it were not for Tang Cuo’s sharp eyes, they might have missed it altogether.
There was no one there, but the moment Tang Cuo carried the bamboo basket into the room, the “Ding” sound came ringing in their ears. After looking into the Mission panel, the progress of the side mission was now displayed as (1/3).
Jin Cheng: “It seems this mission is really that simple.”
Tang Cuo put down the bamboo basket on the only table in the room, totally not believing this wicked set up. Jin Cheng actually didn’t believe it either, and he glanced over a picture frame on the nightstand. The picture showed a pair of mother and son, both clad in the most commonplace linen clothes. The mother was wearing an apron, while the son had red-brown curly hair and many small freckles on both sides of his nose, carrying a small cloth bag across his shoulders. They were both smiling happily.
Perhaps this was Little Jack.
Little Jack seemed to have a dream of becoming a musician.
Tang Cuo found a small harp in the wooden box under the bed. It seemed very old but very well maintained. Even the box containing the harp was spotlessly clean.
Under the harp, there was even a music score whose corners had turned yellow and the handwriting on it had begun to blur. It should be rather old-aged. Tang Cuo couldn’t understand the score, but he recognised the name of the composer ― Lancelot.
Lancelot, the most popular bard in the whole continent.
“So this Little Jack is a fanboy of Lancelot?” Jin Cheng said and handed Tang Cuo a newspaper. “Look at this.”
The front page of the newspaper was about an organisation called Greenvines Alliance, its headline saying ― Madam Catherine accepted the honour from the Greenvines Alliance and became the alliance’s 13th arbitrator.
“Recently, the Luo Island Headquarters of the Greenvines Alliance announced that they had officially awarded Madam Catherine the position of arbitrator, code-named ‘Order of Life’, in recognition of her great contribution to the July Rose Incident.
‘The Watchman’ His Excellency Roger Reeds stated that the Greenvines Alliance would continue to monitor any news surrounding the Rose Sect.
It was reported that Mr. Lancelot had donated all the proceeds from his July performance to the victims of the July Rose Incident. Let’s praise the eternally benevolent and upright Mr. Lancelot.”
The newspaper was called Dodo Daily, dated July 30th, 1228 of the Sicilit continental calendar.
Tang Cuo looked through the other content but beside a few new place names, he found nothing worthy of attention. He asked: “What date is it today?”
Jin Cheng: “September 1st.”
Little Jack had the habit of keeping dates. On the date grid drawn by him, he would draw a cross for each passing day. But on September 1st, there was no cross, rather, a red circle was drawn and there was some writing beside it that said: ‘Flower Festival’.
Apart from that, there was no other useful information in the room, so Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng took their leave and went to the next customer.
Aunt Anna lived two blocks away and her living conditions were slightly better than those of Little Jack. But her room seemed stuffier and lots of laundry was piling up in the corner. There were clothes of both men, women and children, most of them made of hemp and some made of cotton ― this might be her job.
There was also a pile of half-washed clothes at the door.
Although the room was crammed, everything was so neatly arranged that people would know where things were at one glance.
Tang Cuo looked around but found nothing, so he eventually turned his eyes to the pile of clothes. But as he was about to stretch out his hand, Jin Cheng handed him a magic wand that he took from the magic store earlier.
At certain moments, Jin Cheng would suddenly develop this thing called ‘obsession with cleanliness’.
Tang Cuo took the magic wand with an expressionless face and used it as a stick to rummage through the pile of clothes. As he turned and turned them over, a few things indeed dropped out. With a “cling”, a badge fell out from one of the pieces.
Jin Cheng picked it up, looked at it and said: “The silver moon symbol may be a family crest or a token. I think there’s only this one small city in the Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight, so this must be the seal of the royal family or the lord. And don’t you notice, we’ve walked all the way here but except for white roses, there aren’t any other flowers? The roses must be related to all this.”
Bushes of roses were blooming everywhere in the city. There were roses on the bakery’s window, on Little Jack’s eaves, around the tower and even inside the gaps of the city wall. They were encircled in thorny vines and it was difficult to tell where they came from. But one thing was certain ― their roots were not here.
The entire Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight was paved with large blocks of stone and bricks, its soil road hardly even seen. There was no way the roses could grow out of bricks.
“You mean, the roses must have something to do with the strangeness of this city?” Tang Cuo asked.
“Probably.” Jin Cheng said as he picked a rose that poked through the open window, then raised his eyebrows slightly: “I’m just curious about why it is a Chinese rose 1, not a common rose.”
“A common rose?”
“Haven’t you seen it before? Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Nightingale and The Rose’? The ring on your hand is called Nightingale.”
I am illiterate, thank you.
Tang Cuo didn’t like to read fairy tales. It was like a utopia for this miserable world, which was all too pretentious. But he also didn’t like to read about this miserable world, because it was all too miserable. In short, he just didn’t like reading.
Meanwhile, Jin Cheng’s literary and artistic cells just emerged randomly like his obsession with cleanliness.
Ten minutes later, the two arrived at the residence of the last customer, Mr. Gilbert.
Mr. Gilbert was wealthy and lived in a two-storey estate, where there was even a carriage parked downstairs. The carriage had no horses and its door was open. All kinds of items were seen stacked up inside, including food, necessities, playthings and even a pile of letters.
There was also a photo frame outside the carriage with a stool beside it. It seemed like someone was moving things out of the carriage, but at this moment, those things were not yet moved and the people were nowhere to be seen.
Tang Cuo decided to first read the letters.
These were mostly letters addressed to close acquaintances. Some were letters from students who were studying abroad to their parents, while some were letters from adventurers who were travelling in a faraway land to their beloved back home. They talked about trivial things and adventurous tales, their emotions engulfed in sadness, longing and even admiration.
Flipping through the pile, Tang Cuo found Aunt Anna’s letter, which was written by her son.
“Mother, it’s spring again. I wonder if you are in good health.
Although Flange is just a small principality, it’s beautiful here. Mother, last time you were worried that I couldn’t get used to the cold climate and the arrogant nature of people in Flange, but spring here is full of flowers. As long as it’s a place with flowers, I won’t feel too sorrowful.
I took up an hourly-paid job to help repair old clocks in a clock shop. The boss is a very amicable gentleman. He often gives me extra bread from his home, so you really don’t have to worry about me, and you don’t have to overwork yourself for my tuition fees.
I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Lancelot at the end of last year. He was so gentle and kind as always, and his music had become more and more beautiful. He asked me about my hometown and encouraged me to work hard. Mother, I’m so happy that he still remembers me.
Praise the silver moon.
I miss you, my mother.
When I return from my studies next year, I will bring you the most beautiful flower.
— Your beloved son Louis”
Closing the letter, Tang Cuo suppressed the faint emotion that was surging in his heart and opened the next one. The recipient of this letter was a familiar name – Cecilia, the owner of the bakery.
I’m sorry that it took so long to reply to you. As you already know, there are high mountains and long roads between the Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight and the Kingdom of Hundred Flowers. It’s difficult for me to deliver news directly to you.
Regarding the favour that you asked of me, I can only inform you with my greatest regret: Mr. Lancelot has no intention of coming back for the time being. He’s just accepted the invitation of the Greenvines Alliance and is now planning to go to Luo Island for Madam Catherine’s award ceremony, where he’ll perform his new serenade.
Dear Cecilia, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but you should look at other men with your beautiful starry eye. They are so in love with you and willing to give everything to you.
— Your uncle Thain”
Jin Cheng also read the letter and joked: “It seems that this beautiful Cecilia has a crush on Mr. Lancelot.”
Tang Cuo now started to care about Luo Island and the Greenvines Alliance, which had appeared twice. The newspaper dated July 30th, and today’s date was September 1st. In just one month, what had happened to Lancelot on his way between the Kingdom of Hundred Flowers and Luo Island?
‘Death of The Poet’ — Is he really dead?
What did all these strange things in Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight have to do with him?
Now it seemed that Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight was undoubtedly Lancelot’s hometown, and there were traces of his existence everywhere. Meanwhile, Mr. Gilbert seemed to be an affluent businessman who travelled between the Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight and other places, bringing goods and letters to the people here.
The things in the carriage carried different labels and Tang Cuo could distinguish some of them based on the content of the letter. For example, dried flower bookmarks should come from the Kingdom of Hundred Flower, jades should come from the Elf Forest, and so on.
As he put the bamboo basket of bread into Mr. Gilbert’s room, with a “Ding”, the side mission was successfully completed. At the same time, the system announcement came:
“Congratulations to the players for completing the side mission [Cecilia’s Bakery] and getting the reward ‘Brass Key’.”
Tang Cuo opened the system panel and indeed saw the reward already inside. He immediately looked at Jin Cheng, who simply shrugged back at him. It seemed that the reward was only given to the ring holder Tang Cuo.
By this point, the two of them had moved from the west of the city to the south of the city, then circled back to the city center. Back when Tang Cuo looked over the city from the west tower, he spotted a small palace covered in roses in the center of the city. Lancelot was most likely there.
But when they got there, the two found themselves dumbfounded.
The palace wasn’t big and had no surrounding wall, but thick layers of vines were entwining the entire building and vibrantly blooming flowers were blocking all the doors and windows. As the vines were full of thorns, Tang Cuo and Jin Cheng couldn’t simply grab them to climb up.
Jin Cheng wanted to try breaking through and took out his mechanical bow, then he shot an arrow towards the main gate.
“Whoosh!” The metal arrow pierced the vines and scratched a rose. Just when the petals were broken, all the vines seemed to come to life, frantically charging towards the metal arrow and firmly stopping it from moving further.
Tang Cuo’s sharp eyes saw red blood dripping from the broken petals.
“Crack.” The vines snapped the metal arrow into two pieces as though it was just a fragile stick.
“Run!” Jin Cheng made a decisive call, then he pulled Tang Cuo and hurriedly ran in the other direction. Tang Cuo was half a second slower than him, but he also ran without even looking back.
The roses around the entire palace had come alive, hundreds of thorns and vines flying over them like a whip. If that whip caught them, they would be dead on the spot or at least their skin would be peeled off.
The only good thing was that the roses in other places hadn’t moved, otherwise this game wouldn’t be easy to clear.
“Swish!” Several vines came together and slashed the corner of Tang Cuo’s shirt as he was jumping over a roof. With a lean “whif”, his shirt was instantly ripped.
Jin Cheng shielded him in time and the two quickly fled. They finally escaped upon reaching about a kilometer away from the palace.
The vines retracted, and the pure white flowers went back to quietly embrace the palace as though protecting a sleeping lover.
Tang Cuo took a deep breath and looked around first, paying no mind to his torn clothes. They were originally in the west of the city, but now they had run to the south. The layout of the city in the south was almost the same as the west, and as they looked at the front, a small square was in sight.
At this moment, the sun was about to be swallowed by the golden sea of sands, twilight was looming in and the exquisite moon was ascending in the distance.
“We can’t go to the palace for now, I can’t even take those vines down with my arrows. I think we still need to find some other hidden items in order to clear this game.” Jin Cheng, the one who had trained in the arts of clearing dungeons, declared. He glanced over the bronze ring on Tang Cuo’s finger and said:” Why do I feel that something is missing from your ring?”
Tang Cuo raised his hand: “What is missing?”
Jin Cheng: “A gem perhaps.”
Tang Cuo took a closer look and the spot where the pattern was engraved indeed looked a bit empty. But even if a gem was meant to be here, it must be a very small gem. Where could they even find it?
He couldn’t help looking at the moon again. The skill attached to this ring was called ‘Moonlight Tide’, and he wouldn’t know if it had anything to do with the real moonlight. There was no moon in Yong Ye City, so if they wanted to verify, it could only be done in the dungeons.
Perhaps they could use Moonlight Tide to blast open the palace gate?
No, the risk was far too big.
Tang Cuo temporarily gave up this idea, and the two continued walking along the street until they reached the square.
The square was really small, no more than 10 meters in diameter, with a bronze statue in the middle ― a young man sitting cross-legged on the ground with a small harp in his arms, singing with his eyes closed.
Tang Cuo rarely saw a statue that sat on the ground. The man was wearing a shirt, a waistcoat and boots, a dagger hanging from his waist and a fedora hat with its brim rolled up on his head. A beautiful feather was pinned on the hat while his hair was neatly tucked behind his ears, revealing a gorgeous face.
He was smiling broadly, with a white dove squatting at his feet and flowers stacking up in front of him ― of course, these were also made of bronze.
Jin Cheng knelt down in front of the bronze statue and saw [Nightingale] on his right hand. The statue replicated the ring very well, and on this ring, there was a very small gem at the spot where the pattern was.
Apart from that, there was a keyhole in the heart of the statue. Tang Cuo tried putting in Cecilia’s key, but it didn’t match.
Jin Cheng somehow wasn’t focused on these, because he suddenly remembered an old incident from many years back: “I remember that I used to play a small Irish harp at the bonfire party when you first entered the camp. Everyone cheered for the instructors, but you weren’t there. Where were you back then?”
Tang Cuo didn’t want to admit that he actually listened to Jin Cheng playing, but he was sitting in a corner that Jin Cheng couldn’t see. The other instructors could play, at most, a harmonica, but Jin Cheng held a harp and got all the attention, giving the others no chance to show off.
“I was in the toilet.”
If Jin Cheng had something to be unhappy about this disciple, it was that he had zero artistic cells. His bluntness truly destroyed the atmosphere.
Tang Cuo didn’t want to talk more about this, so he changed the topic: “The Well of Time.”
Jin Cheng understood: “Time magic?”
Tang Cuo: “In the side mission, today is the Flower Festival, so Cecilia wants to go to the Well of Time to fetch water. The time in the Kingdom Hidden In The Moonlight seems to no longer flow and will always stop on the day of the Flower Festival. All that’s left behind is dead.”
Jin Cheng: “Except for those weird roses.”
In the entire city, or perhaps the entire kingdom, there wasn’t a single living thing except these roses. There weren’t even any other trees.
Flowers must be rooted in the soil and nourished by water. If the roses grew from the water in the Well of Time and the Well of Time held the magic of time, everything could be explained.
The question was ― Where was this Well of Time?
Translator and reviewer at Strictly Bromance blog. In essence, she lives to indulge in plot-driven stories sprinkled with camaraderie and slow-burn drama-free romance, especially more so if they belong to adventure, mystery or supernatural genre. A trope that she always thirsts after: “Comrades who go through life and death together”.