Morning of the 31st December, at the Harvest Church south of the Bridge.
Emlyn White stood in a kitchen wearing his priest robes, occasionally tossing different herbs into a large iron pot and stirring them to a certain extent.
After all the pre-prepared ingredients were tossed in, he waited patiently for another ten minutes. Then, he scooped up the ink-black liquid with a metal ladle and poured it into a glass cup and glass bottle beside him.
48, 49, 50… Emlyn glanced at the empty pot and counted the medicine he had brewed.
After confirming the quantity, he picked up a large tray and brought the bottles of dark green liquid to the hall.
In the hall, more than half of the pews had been removed, and the floor was covered with tattered blankets. Lying within them were victims of the plague who were either in deep sleep or groaning in pain.
Emlyn and Father Utravsky worked together, each carrying some of the medicine, distributing it from two ends.
The first person in the queue was a middle-aged man with a sallow complexion. He hurriedly propped himself up halfway, received the medicine, and drank it.
He handed back the bottle and said to Emlyn in gratitude, “Father White, thank you very much. I feel much better and have some strength again!”
Emlyn lifted his chin and replied disdainfully, “This is only an extremely trivial matter that isn’t worth being grateful for. All of you are truly ignorant.”
With that, he sped up the distribution of the potions.
After ten minutes or so, he returned to the altar of Earth Mother and complained to Father Utravsky, “You should get two more volunteers!”
Father Utravsky didn’t respond. He looked at the patients and said with a gentle smile, “They should be completely healed in two or three days.”
“How do you know?” Emlyn turned his head in surprise.
Father Utravsky looked down at him benevolently and said, “Herbal medicine is one of the domains of the Earth Mother. As ‘Her’ believer, I do know some of the basics even if I’m not part of the Earth pathway.”
“I’m not interested in religion and know little about it.”
Although I’ve been copying Earth Mother’s bible in the recent months… he inwardly added in a slightly resentful tone before saying, “Father, I didn’t expect you to accept nonbelievers in the faith. Among them, only two or three of them are believers of the Earth Mother.”
Father Utravsky smiled without minding what he said.
“They are also lives, innocent lives.”
Emlyn paused for a few seconds, exhaled, and said, “Father, I’ve already found a way to resolve the psychological cue. Perhaps I will leave this place soon.”
Wait, why did I mention this? I was actually moved by him. What if he locks me up in the basement again? Emlyn suddenly turned nervous.
Father Utravsky’s expression remained unchanged as he looked down and said to Emlyn, “Actually, you didn’t need to seek out solutions. In a little while, the psychological cue will be automatically removed, and you will be free to choose whether to come to the cathedral.”
“Any longer and I would’ve become the Mother’s, no—Earth Mother’s devout believer!” Emlyn blurted out.
Father Utravsky raised an eyebrow and said, feeling somewhat surprised, “I didn’t compel you to change your faith.
“The psychological cue I left in you was for you to return to the cathedral every day, hoping that you would be able to fully appreciate the value of life and the joy of a harvest.”
“The only effect of the psychological cue was to make me return to the cathedral?” Emlyn’s expression instantly froze.
Father Utravsky nodded frankly.
Emlyn’s mouth gaped as he slowly and mechanically turned his head to look back at the altar, looking at the Earth Mother’s Sacred Emblem of Life, as if he had become a puppet that very instant.
In the evening of the 31st December. 2 Daffodil Street, Tingen City.
Benson entered the house, took off his hat and coat, and chuckled.
“I’ve booked second class tickets for the steam locomotive to Backlund on 3rd January.”
Melissa, who was sitting in the dining room with several newspapers in front of her, worriedly said, “Benson, the air in Backlund is terrible. Tens of thousands of people have died from the poison and diseases caused by the smog a few days ago…”
“It’s a sad and regretful matter.” Benson walked to the dining room, sighed, and said, “But the two Houses have already passed the report submitted by the National Atmospheric Pollution Council. There will be legislation to regulate the emission of smoke and wastewater, so a new Backlund will welcome us. You don’t have to worry too much.”
Having said that, he smiled mockingly.
“When I came back from Iron Cross Street, I found a lot of factory owners or their employees from Backlund recruiting people. They said that due to the smog and plague, the factories there are suffering a shortage in manpower, so they’re willing to promise that the working hours and minimum wage will be much better than the current standard, heh heh.”
“You think it’s impossible?” Melissa asked.
“When more and more people flock to Backlund, it will be impossible unless both Houses pass the corresponding laws directly.” Benson spread his hands and pointed to the table. “Well, it’s time to receive the new year.”
There were three sets of forks and knives, three empty porcelain plates and three cups on the table.
Three cups. One for beer, two for ginger beer.
In the evening of 31st December.
Dressed to the nines, Audrey stood inside a lounge, waiting for the start of the New Year’s Party. However, one couldn’t see the excitement, exuberance, and joy on her face despite the fact that she was about to become an adult.
In front of her was a newspaper. On it was written:
“… According to preliminary estimates, a total of over 21,000 people died in the fog, and the subsequent plague took the lives of close to 40,000 people. Among the deceased were young children, healthy young men, and women…”
Phew. Audrey couldn’t help but close her eyes.
Just then, her father, Earl Hall, and her mother, Lady Caitlyn, knocked on the door and said in unison, “Your beauty surpasses everyone tonight. Darling, it’s time. The queen is waiting for you.”
Audrey slowly breathed out and wore an elegant and beautiful smile. She then walked out of the lounge and entered the party’s hall, under the company of her parents.
She walked all the way up to the front of the dais and, under the gaze of many, handed her white, muslin-gloved hand to the queen.
The queen led her to the edge of the dais as they faced all the guests.
After a short pause, the queen smiled and said, “Although this is a dark period in Backlund’s history, we still have a gem that can illuminate the entire city. Her wisdom, her beauty, her character, her etiquette, are all impeccable.
“Today, I will formally introduce her to you.
“Lady Audrey Hall.”
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Outside the window, the fireworks exploded into a dreamy light.
On the last night of 1349, Audrey officially came of age and was presented to society.
In the afternoon of 3rd January 1350.
On the outskirts of East Borough, in a newly opened cemetery.
Using divination, Klein found the graves of Old Kohler and Liv.
This wasn’t a grave in the truest sense of the word, but rather a niche where an urn was stored. They went on, row after row, stacked one above another.
Standing there, Klein saw that not only was there no photograph or epitaph on Old Kohler’s niche, but even his name was missing.
Similar situations weren’t uncommon. There were too many ownerless ashes whose relatives and friends couldn’t be located. Their names, looks, and whatever experiences they had were unknown, nor did they garner the interest of anyone. They were only distinguished by the numbers on the niches.
Klein closed his eyes, pulled out a slip of paper, shook it into a piece of metal, and carved a word on the niche’s door: “Kohler.”
Then, he added an epitaph: “He was a good worker. He had a wife, a son, and a daughter. He worked hard to live.”
He withdrew his wrist, and with a shake of his wrist, the black-haired, brown-eyed, and emaciated Klein let the paper burn in his hands, as if it was a memorial service to all the souls residing in the area.
Instead of appearing to help Daisy, who had lost her mother and sister, he anonymously wrote to Reporter Mike Joseph, describing the girl’s predicament in detail, so as not to implicate her in his own affairs.
Mike had met Daisy, knew about her, and had enthusiastically promoted the establishment of a corresponding charity fund. Therefore, Klein believed that he could help her receive more help so that she could complete her basic studies and find a stable job that could support her.
Taking two steps back, Klein looked around, taking in the names, photos, and even the victims who had those missing.
He raised his head, let out a long breath, turned around, and left the cemetery.
On the steam locomotive to Backlund, Melissa was engrossed in her textbooks, and Benson was soon chatting with the passengers around him.
“It’s too expensive, just too expensive. A whole ten soli, half a pound!” A burly man who wasn’t even thirty sighed from the bottom of his heart. “If it weren’t for the fact that I couldn’t buy a third-class seat or a boat ticket recently, I wouldn’t have spent this money at all. This is equivalent to half a week’s worth of my salary!”
“Indeed, there are too many people heading to Backlund after the new year,” Benson agreed.
The burly man wiped off his heartbroken expression and said expectantly, “Because they promised me 21 soli a week and that I wouldn’t need to work more than 12 hours a day, we signed a contract!
“When I receive my first payment and rent a house, my wife will come to Backlund, and she’ll be able to get a good job, a job that pays about 12 or 13 soli a week. It’s said that Backlund is in dire need of people! When the time comes, ah, we’ll earn a total of over a pound and a half a week, and we’ll be able to eat meat frequently!”
“Your wish will definitely be achieved. The king has already signed the bill, passing the law for a minimum wage and maximum working hours,” Benson sincerely wished him well before smiling. “This is the Land of Hope.”
The steam locomotive brought countless hopeful people to Backlund. The sky was still bright, and the fog in the air had thinned a lot. The gas lamps on the platform were no longer lit that early.
Experienced, Benson protected his sister and wallet before leaving the station with their suitcases while following the crowd.
Suddenly, they simultaneously felt a gaze sweep past them.
Tracing the gaze, Benson and Melissa saw a young gentleman with neat black hair and dark brown eyes.
The gentleman with the gold-rimmed glasses pressed his hat and looked past them into the distance.
Benson and Melissa also looked away and cast their gaze to the smoky pillars in the garden in the middle of the street as they looked forward to seeing the underground transportation system in Backlund.
Carrying his suitcase with an expressionless look, Klein walked past them with his body kept straight. He entered the departure station, facing the mass of people pouring into the Land of Hope, people filled with wonderful hopes in their hearts.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
(End of the Second Volume—Faceless)