“At last, Pudawa finally realized his mistake and left the music flowers of the underworld. With the help of the music flowers of heaven, he became kindhearted and honest and was full of friendly virtues.”
“He had deceived the pebble, and he felt guilty toward the pigeon and the flowers of heaven. But, no matter what, Pudawa was able to harvest the most important thing and grow up.”
“But now, when it was time for the family’s clan to migrate, there were only 20 pieces of moss left. Under the flowers of heaven’s great song of blessing, the former poacher–Puduwa’s big whiskered uncle–drove a chariot, carrying Dongdong and Pudawa and they once again hastened to Pudawa’s hometown.”
Victor finally finished his story.
The three people in the cabin who’d been listening didn’t speak for a long time. Dong Linhai was still immersed in the depression caused by this story. In the end, what happened to the pigeon that was profoundly hurt by Pudawa’s deception? Victor didn’t say.
Obviously, the pebble and the pigeon believed in Pudawa from the very beginning and risked their lives to help him escape from danger. But, they were deceived. The pebble was forever imprisoned in the river by the Pine Queen, and the pigeon was tortured in the Kingdom of Giants. In the end, Pudawa grew up, but what about those unfortunate people who had helped him during his period of personal growth?
Then, Dong Linhai realized he was taking it too seriously. This was obviously just a story to please Miss Deer. Who cared about the content? As long as Miss Deer was pleased, she would give them a ticket.
From beginning to end, You Yuetong merely listened to the excitement of the journey. Her view of the world was still at an infant stage so she was wholly ignorant when it came to these kinds of magnificent imaginings. She still couldn’t understand the underlying implications behind the story.
Miss Deer took the teacup and dropped her gaze to look down at the flower tea that had turned cold, and she sighed gently.
“Good story.” She smiled faintly and put down her teacup. Her thoughts seemed to be weighted down by something.
“I also like this story.” Victor waved his tail. “Fairy tales are not just for children.”
Miss Deer stood up. “Unfortunately, the outcome for betrayal will never be as beautiful as it was for that little Tibetan antelope.”
She walked to an embroidered blanket hanging on the wall and lifted it up, revealing a dark hole behind. She took out a milky white jewelry box.
Miss Deer opened the box, picked out an old blue ticket from the pile of shiny jewelry, and handed it to Dong Linhai. “This is yours.”
“Ah, thank you.” Dong Linhai hurried to receive it. The ticket completed the final task of this box, making him feel rest assured.
Miss Deer put the jewelry box back, put the blankets in order, and turned to smile at Victor standing on the table. “You must be a very gentle person.”
Victor’s cat ears quivered gently, and he emitted a low laugh. “You are not the first to say this to me.”
“You give me a very familiar feeling.” Miss Deer took the kerosene lamp from the cabinet, added enough oil, and lit it with a candlestick. She looked back at Victor, and after a moment of hesitation, she asked, “May I ask, are you the plague doctor—Crow?”
Victor was silent.
Dong Linhai was confused. What crow? Was Victor not a cat?
“Yes, miss, I didn’t expect anyone to remember.” After a long time, Victor finally whispered, “But those days are over. The ‘Afternoon Tea Party’ had already fallen apart. All the glory and the legends are gone. Now, I am just an ordinary cat.”
“No, the reason why glory is so exciting is that it never completely disappears.” Miss Deer held the lantern and said, “I have seen Kingfisher in my dreams.”
Victor said, “Yes, she was selected to have the power of the Master of Dreams, but the queen turned us all into prisoners.”
Miss Deer took You Yuetong’s hand and led her to the door. “But, since everyone is still there, it hasn’t completely fallen apart. Let me take you out of here.”
Dong Linhai and Victor followed behind Miss Deer and walked out of the cabin. Dong Linhai finally saw the real scene outside. In the forest, there were countless white, wandering spirits hung upside down on the trees. Many emerged from the soil on the ground but no matter how they struggled, they could not escape.
The weeds grew unchecked, the leaves drooped, and no animals could be seen. The earth-bound spirits were groaning and wailing everywhere. Through the branches and the leaves of the trees, the top of a round moon could be seen, looking as if it’d been torn in half.
You Yuetong shrank back in fear, and Dong Linhai tried not to breathe hard. Only Victor and Miss Deer walked leisurely as if they were going shopping.
After walking for a while, Victor broke the silence and asked first, “Did you also participate in the thing of the year?”
“Yes. I used to be the gatekeeper of the back garden. I learned that you successfully passed the final pilgrimage. Later, with friends, I joined in rebelling against her. Eventually, we were exposed and brought to the trial bench. They sentenced me to life imprisonment. I am trapped in this small world forever and can never die.”
Victor was silent for a moment. “Sorry.”
“There is nothing to be sorry for. Even without you guys, I would eventually find it unbearable.” Miss Deer shook her head with a smile. “This world is not worse than the other.”
Dong Linhai tried to interject, “Is there really no way for you to leave?”
Miss Deer said, “The only way is to kill the queen, then the power of her curse will disappear.”
“Queen? Wasn’t the queen the master of the entire Pure White Realm? I remember that the novice handbook said that as long as we reach the end of the pilgrimage, she would grant us a wish.”
As a new-age boy who was baptized in countless two-dimensional cultures, Dong Linhai was experienced enough to fill in the gaps between Victor and Miss Deer’s conversation. “Is it that the queen is a bad person? She has been enslaving everyone in the Pure White Realm? Oh, this setting seems a bit cliché.”
Victor didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. “When you actually experience it, you won’t feel that way anymore.”
“Don’t worry. One day, our hope will be realized. But before that, we need to be patient.” Miss Lu stood in front of an open space. She put You Yuetong’s hand into Dong Linhai’s palm, squatted down, and gently touched the middle of Victor’s forehead.
A symbol the shape of deer antlers appeared on the white cat’s forehead, flickered slightly, and then disappeared underneath the white hair.
“I can’t help you with anything. I can only send my blessings. I hope you will always be as brave and fearless as before.”
Miss Deer put the kerosene lamp on the ground and stood up. Through the warm light casted by the glow of the flame, a simple, wooden door slowly appeared in front of everyone.
“Go through this door, and you will return to the outside.”
Dong Linhai pushed the door open, revealing the sight of the labyrinth outside. He looked back at Miss Deer, and her hands covered in black gloves demurely folded in front of her lower abdomen. Those dark eyes that could belong to a deer showed sadness and tenderness.
After sending them away, who knew how long it would take for her to see other people again?
Perhaps she would never see anyone again. Hadn’t Cui Zuojing said that the Labyrinth of Time was a forbidden place and that people were usually not allowed to enter at all?
Accompanying her were only the pain and struggle of the ghosts, her memories of the past, her unfailing beliefs, and her hope for the future.
Dong Linhai’s hand on the door tightened. He bit his lower lip, smiled, and said, “We’re leaving. Thank you for your hospitality and for your good tea…”
Under Miss Deer’s smiling gaze, he took You Yuetong’s hand, turned, and walked out the door.
Once again breathing the fresh air in the Labyrinth of Time, Dong Linhai couldn’t help taking a deep breath. The bright sky instantly made him think that the forest, the hut, and the flickering lights were all just illusions.
The ticket was already in hand. He looked down at Victor sitting on the floor and asked, “What was the last blessing? Did she give Uncle a buff?”
“You could say that.” Victor raised his paw to his forehead. When pressed, the deer antlers symbol was displayed once again, and at the same time the explanation appeared before Victor’s eyes.
[Name] Miss Deer’s blessings
[Function] Ignore the influence of spirits to a certain extent
[Remarks] Use with caution, otherwise you will be treated as them and have to pay a price
“It seems pretty good.” But Victor was concerned about another matter and became a little worried. “I thought she would give you something. I didn’t expect it to fall on me instead. Right now, I don’t really need anything. Right now, it’s more important to upgrade your combat strength.”
“It’s okay. You’ll be with me all the time anyway.” Dong Linhai didn’t really mind, because there was something more interesting that occupied his thoughts. “Yes, Uncle, what does she mean by the plague doctor and the crow?”
“It was my previous title.” Victor didn’t conceal it; he already had the most basic trust in Dong Linhai.
“Before I became a cat, I used to be a pilgrim, and A’Zua and I were teammates. We experienced many things together.”
“At that time, the background of District IX was set in medieval Europe, and everything was in the steampunk style. Everyone had to wear a mask that corresponded with the style when they went out. I was a surgeon in the real world, and I made a bird’s beak mask based on the costumes of the plague doctors in history.”
“And each member of the team, including me and A’Zuo, used animal names as our codename. Since the shape of the beak mask resembled a crow, I called myself Crow.”
Victor was surprised. “Yes, the inspiration came from this. You know about 049?”
Dong Linhai smiled and said, “The plague doctor was such an excellent project. How could I, as an SCP enthusiast, not know? These must be good stories. My intuition tells me that Uncle must be a very powerful person. Can you tell me more?”
Victor smiled. “There are many more stories, but this is not a good place to tell stories.”
“I think so too. After we go back, you can tell me more.” Dong Linhai glanced at the time in the upper right corner. The time stipulated would end in two minutes.
He led You Yuetong and waited patiently for a while. The time passed by one minute and one second, and the number became smaller and smaller, and finally returned to 0:00:00.
How would Karls recall them to the library? As Dong Linhai was thinking this, he suddenly felt the land under his feet become empty.
Cracks had appeared without warning and an irresistible suction came from within the depths. Before they could even struggle, two humans and a cat were directly sucked into the void.
The sensation was similar to when they were falling into the Labyrinth of Time.
Points of light glimmered at his sides and slipped through his fingers when he reached for them.
After an unknown amount of time, the dark passageway gradually lit up, slowly revealing the library assembly hall. Their fall slowed. Dong Linhai was originally holding You Yuetong’s hand, but he lost the strength to hold on and they fell in different directions.
A few seconds later, Dong Linhai fell into a seat, right on his butt.