TRA V2C4

Curious to hear if anyone has any theories after this chapter! How do you think everything so far might be connected? Also this chapter title is kind of ironic because the word for Death (死) in Chinese sounds similar to the word for Four (四).

CW: Suicide. And a general reminder to please take note of the WARNING for reading this novel on the Index page before you continue the series. I do not plan on repeating the warnings individually for every chapter (there would be way too many).

Translated by: TaffyGirl13

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Chapter 4: Song of Death

It felt exceptionally chilly tonight. The temperature had dropped significantly compared to the previous few days. Calculating the time, it was close to twenty-seven days after the Winter Solstice – the coldest period per the old almanacs. While S-City was in the south, it was located near the ocean. Thus, whenever winter hit, the wet coldness would seep straight to the bones; it was truly unbearable.

“Tch, so damn cold. When exactly will this freak weather finally warm back up…”

The patrol officer Ah Xing very slowly rode a bike as he muttered to himself in a hunched position. The hot breath that blew out from his mouth formed a white fog that quickly dispersed in the freezing winds of the winter evening.

Tonight just had to be his turn to take the night shift, and the weather just had to be abnormally cold. Despite this, he still needed to repeatedly circle around the streets and alleys in the middle of the night to patrol. The reason was because the cleaning group had reported that there had recently been garbage bins being damaged by people in the nearby areas. The trash would be tossed out from their receptacles, scattering domestic garbage and kitchen waste all over the ground. This would fill the alleys with filth, making it impossible to clean completely no matter how much they tried.

Moreover, there had even been bloody rat corpses in the piles of trash.  Some were missing their heads, some were missing half their bodies, and some even had their innards torn out in sickening way. The blood splattered there had frightened quite a few children heading to school in the morning.

“Sigh, these people are such a pain. How is this human destruction? It’s definitely just some stray cat or dog.”

Ah Xing pedalled his bike over to the alley where the garbage bins were stored. There was a wire net and extended gripper hanging from the bike handles, things he planned to use to capture the destroyer. Then he would send it away to a stray animal shelter. That should completely resolve these matters.

As he biked, he silently thought this to himself, making rounds back and forth around the area.

The frigid northern winds rushed past. The pitch-black curtain of the night was like a bottomless abyss with neither starlight nor moonlight. At some point, a thin layer of frost had built up on the ground as well. When the bike tires rolled over, there would be faint crackling noises from the shattered [ice].

At that moment, a shadow suddenly flashed past his eyes.

Its speed was extremely quick. He did not know where it had leapt out from, but it instantly vanished without a trace. However, he had had clearly seen that the shadow had escaped into the alley across him.

“Is it a stray cat? Seems quite large.” Ah Xiang stopped his bike and peered into the dark depths of the alley. He let out a smug scoff as he murmured, “Hmph, you little thing, I’ve finally found you.”

As he spoke, he got down from the bike and grabbed the net plus the extended gripper. Step by step, he cautiously entered the alley. In order to not alarm the stray cat that might be foraging for food, he walked very quietly.

Stretched before him was darkness that was so black and deep that he could not even see his own outstretched fingers. There was an indistinct rustling movement, like the sound of a plastic bag. It also seemed like…something greedily chewing…

Rustle, rustle.

Ah Xing held his breath in concentration. With his back bent over slightly, he creeped over bit by bit.

Suddenly, a loud, hollow clang rang out without warning from the darkness, startling him. When he looked down, he saw that it was an empty Cola can.

Disgusting. It must’ve been tossed out from the garbage bin by the stray cat.

He slowly inhaled to focus his mind and stepped over the empty can to continue advancing inwards.

Then, seemingly sensing someone approaching, the chewing came to a sharp halt.

Ah Xing squinted as he craned his head forwards to gaze outwards.

All he saw in the darkness was a vague shadow crouched next to the garbage bin to the left of him.

That’s right! You’re the one! You won’t get away!

Ah Xing took another deep breath and shot forwards like an arrow with the net raised upwards. Right as he was about to throw it over the stray cat’s head in the darkness, he immediately froze in the action with his arms still in the air. He could only stare in shock at the “black cat” in front of him.

Only once he had gotten closer did he finally realise that the stray cat crouched next to the garbage bin had a head that was…abnormally huge? It seems like…like it’s not a stray cat at all…

Ah Xing slowly lowered the net and extended grabber in his hand to fish out a flashlight from his pocket and suspiciously shine it in front instead.

He was shocked to see it was a male’s back lit up by the flashlight beam.

The person was curled up while hunched on the ground doing who knew what. In front of him was the already turned over garbage bin with all the trash bags dragged out, scattering the random waste everywhere.

“Who are you? What are you doing?”

Ah Xing bellowed out as he gripped the flashlight with one hand while using his other hand to touch the police baton at his waist.

According to his experience, those that hid in such deep corners this late at night were always thieves and robbers.

The movements of the man in front of him were extremely suspicious.

After coming to this conclusion, Ah Xing grabbed his baton and commanded, “Who are you? Turn around!”

Hearing his shout, the man crouched on the ground twitched. Then he slowly stood up, his back still facing Ah Xing.

He was not very tall, and he had a slightly chubbier physique. When he stood up, Ah Xing seemed to hear some liquid dripping.

Drip drop…drip drop…

He did not know where the noise was coming from…

The man’s shoulders shook slightly, as though he was both frightened yet excessively excited.

Don’t tell me he’s a druggie? Ah Xing thought this suspiciously. Right as he was about to ask, he watched the man slowly turn around.

The faint glow from the flashlight gradually exposed the lifeless face. The man expressionlessly stared at him with a blank look. However, that bloodred mouth shocked Ah Xing to the point where his legs nearly gave out underneath him.

Blood? That’s blood! There’s blood all over his mouth!

The dripping liquid he had heard earlier was actually the blood falling from the man’s mouth!

Ah Xing took a step back in horror as he stared at the man with wide eyes. Only after standing stunned for a while did he finally think of something. He asked in astonishment, “What-what are you—”

But unexpectedly, before he could even finish speaking, there was a sudden spitting sound.

The man bent forwards and spat out a mouthful of blood onto Ah Xing’s face.

The foul-smelling blood was still warm as it sprayed all over his face. It dripped down from his hair, along his cheeks and down from his chin.

“Ah-ahhhhhh!”

After freezing for a split second, Ah Xing let out a huge shout as he fell onto his butt. And as he was screaming in terror, he watched the man’s heavy body slowly collapse forwards like a small mountain. With a thud, the man fell directly into the mounds of garbage, his limbs twitching at random intervals.

Gradually, the glinting crimson blood spread out bit by bit from underneath his body…

Song of Death.

Only death can bring about freedom to the soul;

Only death can break the fetters of life;

Only death can explain the true meaning of one’s existence.

Death is not the end, death is the origin of all matters and things;

Death does not need tears, death is paradise for the flesh and the soul;

Death is not a retreat, death is the other side of pain and suffering.

“What do these verses mean? Is my IQ too high? Why can’t I understand no matter how I much I read them?”

Ye Xiao was leaning back against his chair in the office, his long legs unrestrainedly propped up on the desk. He was currently complaining about the female poet Derringer’s final work as he read it.

“It’s that your IQ is too low.”

Su Mu sat across him, shooting him a look from behind his laptop screen.

“What, don’t tell me that you understand it? Try explaining it then.”

“Some things cannot be conveyed in words and just have to be grasped intuitively. Those without a seed of intelligence wouldn’t understand.”

“You…” Ye Xiao glared at him. “Then according to your words, this man called Wu Chang must be someone that’s extremely intelligent. People with intelligence must go through psychological changes quite easily, to become a homicidal maniac with a single moment of carelessness.”

He couldn’t help but sigh as he closed the poem collection in his hands and said, “But after all this time, I still haven’t found any points of intersection between Wu Chang and Yue Shan or Miao Ruo Xue. He shouldn’t have known them at all. In other words, this man randomly committed murder. Anyone could’ve become his victim if their skin was beautiful and their teeth were straight. But then the question is, if he hasn’t studied medicine before, how could he possess such skilled cutting techniques?”

Ye Xiao murmured as he stared up at the ceiling.

Su Mu did not respond, concentrating entirely on the computer screen.

“Oi, did you hear what I said? What do you think?”

However, Su Mu continued to turn a deaf ear and did not reply. Ye Xiao could only keep his cool as he frowned.

After a while, Su Mu suddenly declared, “Found it.”

“Ah? Found what?”

“Death Poetry Society.” Su Mu tapped his keyboard as he stated, “A privately established online forum. This forum has only existed for a few months, yet its hit rate is extremely high.”

“Oh? Death Poetry Society? The name is quite strange. What is the forum about?”

“About suicide.” Su Mu’s eyes remained fixed on the screen.

“Suicide?” Ye Xiao stared at him in astonishment.

“Yes, I skimmed through it. This forum’s main appeal is telling people not to fear death, declaring that death is what they should entrust their souls to, what will free their minds. Moreover, these people all worship Derringer as a goddess. I’ve even seen people leave messages about gathering people for joint suicides.”

“Tsk, what a bunch of crazy people that are tired of living.” Ye Xiao shook his head in disgust.

Su Mu paused for a moment before adding, “The forum creator’s ID is Impermanence.”

“Impermanence?” Ye Xiao blinked and quietly repeated to himself, “Impermanence, Wu Chang1…Wu Chang?”

“As expected, you think so too?” The corners of Su Mu’s lips tilted upwards.

Ye Xiao immediately pounced over like a hound that had caught whiff of a criminal. He grabbed the laptop and pulled it towards his own desk as he excitedly said, “Quick, let me see! Let me see!”

But contrary to expectation, Su Mu swiftly grabbed hold of the laptop and calmly dragged it back while coolly stating, “If you want to look, walk over here yourself.”

“Tch! It’s just a laptop, what’s so amazing about it?!”

Ye Xiao rolled his eyes, but he still reluctantly circled around two desks to arrive at Su Mu’s. He then pushed a chair over and obediently sat down.

Su Mu was flipping through the forum threads one by one.

The forum was quite small in size, though there were many people that left messages. There were several thousands of threads posted within the short few months. At a quick glance, it seemed to have all kinds of earth-shattering statements, such as:

  • I personally compiled the best Chinese-foreign celebrity suicides, providing here for everyone to share.
  • Does anyone know if the world after death is coloured or black-and-white?
  • One of my classmates committed suicide yesterday! The entire scene was covered in blood; it was so stimulating!
  • A simple introduction of several painless suicide methods.
  • Everyone, quick, look at this: this is the most accurate way of writing a suicide note.
  • Differences between cutting the artery and cutting the vein, with images attached.
  • If I was going to die, I’d definitely first kill the person I hate the most before I died. Would you?

Similar postings were all over the place. If words could turn into a type of force, then the entire screen would reek of blood. The forum’s background colour was pure black, while the red text was a blinding bright red. In addition to a few designs that looked like indiscernible scribbles, the entire interface was an extremely impactful sight that was also quite oppressive. It even imperceptibly gave rise to a suffocating feeling as though the heart was being twisted together.

Su Mu studied it for ten minutes, then closed his eyes and massaged his temples.

Ye Xiao did not sense a thing, still completely concentrated on the computer screen. He even stole the mouse from Su Mu’s hand and read through all the recent posts in sequential order. As he read, he muttered words to himself, as though ridiculing each post.

“Heh, thick-skinned people really are different.”

Su Mu glanced at Ye Xiao from the corner of his eye, unsure whether to laugh or to cry. Seeing how absorbed the other was, he did not interrupt either. Su Mu picked up the already cold coffee on his desk and slowly took a sip. Right as he was about to take a second sip, Ye Xiao grabbed his arm, nearly spilling half his coffee on himself.

“Oi, look at this. Don’t you think this person’s name looks very familiar?” Ye Xiao excitedly pointed at the computer screen.

Su Mu let out a sigh and put down his coffee cup. Taking a closer look, he discovered that it was a thread from December 3rd last year that had already fallen after page 200. The subject was simple, only a few words: Sincerely Inviting Fellow Mates to Journey Together to Yellow Springs.

The poster was a registered forum member with a very poetic name: Curtain of Dreams.

Curtain of Dreams, Curtain of Dreams…Yes, that’s right. This seems to be a love story written from a famous female author. But aside from this, they had also seen this name on the calendar in Wu Chang’s office!

“So it really was an internet ID! I thought it seemed like one back then…”

Ye Xiao spoke to himself as he impatiently clicked the thread open. However, the official contents of the thread only contained the few words from the subject with no other words.

He scrolled down with the mouse and discovered that there were not many replies to the thread. In total, there were only seven or eight people. And among those people, he spotted Catwoman, Straight Flush, Hikikomori A, and the forum creator, Impermanence.

Skipping the meaningless parts and compiling those five people’s replies, the following dialogue was obtained:

Curtain of Dreams: Sincerely Inviting Fellow Mates to Journey Together to Yellow Springs.

Catwoman: Are you serious?

Straight Flush: Sounds like a female beauty. I can consider going to Yellow Springs with you.

Curtain of Dreams: Don’t want to say much more. As the subject says, anyone willing to journey with me, please respond.

Hikikomori A: Didn’t expect there to be someone with the same thoughts as me. I…will go with you.

Catwoman: Honestly speaking, staying any longer in this world wouldn’t really have any meaning.

Hikikomori A: Right? Rather than living so painfully, why not simply die and end all troubles?

Straight Flush: Haha, I actually don’t want to die, but I don’t have any fucking choice.

Impermanence: Go ahead and count me in as well.

Catwoman: Oh? Isn’t this the great forum moderator?

Impermanence: I have a car and can bring everyone there.

Curtain of Dreams: I want to find a more peaceful and quiet location.

Hikikomori A: I want to die straightforwardly.

Straight Flush: Find a house, cover it in gasoline, light it up, and everyone will ascend together.

Catwoman: Self-immolation? I refuse! It’s super painful, plus it’s an ugly death!

Straight Flush: You’re already dead, who fucking cares if it’s ugly or not.

Curtain of Dreams: I also disagree to self-immolation.

Straight Flush: Then what do you guys want?

Curtain of Dreams: I want to find a place with lush hills and clear waters, best if it’s remote so that no one disturbs me after death.

Hikikomori A: Actually, I don’t care where I die. Why not just take some poison together?

Catwoman: I don’t want to take poison; I heard that people that consume poison have very fierce faces after dying.

Straight Flush: Fucking hell, you don’t want this, you don’t want that. What in the world do you want? I should just stab you!

Catwoman: Tsk, there was already no ability to choose being born. Are you telling me that I can’t even make my own decision on how to die?

Impermanence: Ok, ok, everyone stop arguing. Why not do this? We can go find a scenic mountain where there usually aren’t people, then everyone can hold hands and jump from the peak. That way, we can also be companions after death, and our bones will be buried forever in the depths of the mountain ridge without anyone disturbing. It’s both peaceful and natural. What do you all think?

Curtain of Dreams: Alright, I agree.

Catwoman: Oh, this idea isn’t bad.

Straight Flush: No opinion.

Hikikomori A: I’m fine with whatever.

Impermanence: Alright, then it’s decided. How about setting the time to next Friday? Everyone can spend a week preparing. When the time comes, I’ll drive to the entrance of Red Maple St. Ditchers are cowards.

Curtain of Dreams:  It’s a deal.

Hikikomori A: Regardless of rain or shine.

Catwoman: See you there.

Straight Flush: Even as a ghost, I won’t let go of anyone that doesn’t have the fucking guts to come.

After reading through this exchange from beginning to end once, Ye Xiao glanced at Su Mu and blinked as he said, “If I didn’t misread, these people arranged for a joint suicide, right? Why did they make it sound like they were going on an outing? Tsk tsk, I seriously have no idea what they were thinking. How can they treat life like child’s play? To think they’d act so wilfully.”

Su Mu replied, “The critical problem is that, in in the end, they never said where exactly they were going to commit suicide.”

“It seems like the matter is getting more and more complicated. If we assume that the perpetrator behind these serial killings is Wu Chang, then currently, the entire situation should be like this—”

Ye Xiao closed his eyes and organised his thoughts before slowly saying, “Firstly, Wu Chang was fired from a company he had worked at for many years. He was in extremely low spirits and perhaps had considered attempting suicide before. However, he did not have the courage to alone, so he began to worship this Dering-whatever poet woman, consequently opening a private forum on the internet. Afterwards, he gathered four companions from the forums that were similarly seeking death and arranged a joint suicide.

“But due to some reason, they did not die in the end. At the very least, from what we know at the moment, Wu Chang should still be alive. And because of unknown causes, his nature abruptly went through a drastic change, turning from a cowardly and incompetent middle-aged uncle into a perverted serial killer that murdered two random, completely unrelated women in a single breath. Moreover, there’s a possibility that he will commit another crime. If I’m not mistaken, that should be the entire situation, right?”

Ye Xiao opened his eyes to look at Su Mu.

Su Mu was silent for a moment. Then he stated, “You forgot the common points that connect Wu Chang and Shen Guo Zhong.”

“Eh, Shen Guo Zhong?” Ye Xiao was taken aback for a moment. Then he sweatdropped and shot back, “Please, you’re still thinking of that case from forty-nine years ago? Oi, don’t keep going down this wild goose chase, alright? That case is just a coincidence! Shen Guo Zhong is already dead. Stop persistently refusing to let go of it!”

Su Mu stared at him without replying.

Ye Xiao heavily clapped a hand on Su Zheng’s shoulder and urged, “Alright, we have some official work to do now. Let’s go and investigate those people’s IP addresses.”

Tracking down the people’s actual addresses by following the internet IPs was not a difficult task. Through their colleague from the Internet Crime Investigations department, they quickly found the address of the Death Poetry Society’s creator, Impermanence. As expected, Impermanence’s address matched Wu Chang’s address when they compared the two. Afterwards, they continued tracking down the other four people’s locations as well.

Ye Xiao glanced at the addresses in his hand. The closest one was Hikikomori A. However, when they rushed over there with the car, they were coincidentally welcomed by a funeral.

The face on the enlarged black-and-white photo of the deceased belonged to a male named Zheng Ze, age twenty-six. His cause of death had been food poisoning; emergency first-aid had failed. His death had been confirmed at 2 AM yesterday.

Seeing one’s child die before oneself was the most painful experience one could go through. The Zheng household’s living room had been arranged as a temporary funeral hall with garlands and flower baskets everywhere, as well as large amounts of white silk. The entire hall was filled with a sorrowful atmosphere. Zheng Ze’s parents were standing next to the altar, shaking hands with every friend that came forth to pay respects. Quite a few people were silently shedding tears.

This atmosphere was truly not suited for suddenly stepping forward for an interrogation. However, there were many situations where criminal investigators simply did have to play the role of someone that would receive criticising looks.

Ye Xiao steeled himself and strode up to light a candle for the deceased. Then he turned to face the deceased’s family members and flashed his work ID as he quietly stated, “Excuse me, I’m the police.”

“Police?” Zheng Ze’s mother was stunned, her red eyes staring at Ye Xiao in confusion.

Zheng Ze’s father glanced around at the friends surrounding them and hurriedly dragged Ye Xiao off to one side as he quietly asked, “Is something the matter?”

“Oh, it’s like this. We tracked an IP address to your residence. May I ask who typically uses the computer in your home to access the Internet?”

“Internet?” The father thought about this for a moment before replying, “We only have one computer in the house. It’s in the study. It’s usually my son that uses it. Is there an issue?”

“Your son?” Ye Xiao was inwardly shocked as he glanced at the young man in the photo of the deceased placed right in front of him. Don’t tell me that Zheng Ze is Hikikomori A? And Hikikomori A is already dead?

At this point, Su Mu walked over and asked, “How did your son die?”

The father started and looked away as he replied, “Food poisoning.”

“Food poisoning? What did he eat to get poisoned?” Su Mu pushed further.

The father’s head shot up to look at Su Mu in loathing as he hissed out, “Enough. What exactly do you want to know? My son is already dead. What are you still investigating?”

“We’re currently investigating a serial killing case.” Su Mu did not even blink as he coldly replied, “Please answer me. What did your son Zheng Ze eat last night that caused him to die from food poisoning?”

The father glared resentfully at Su Mu and gritted his teeth as he extremely unwillingly squeezed out two words: “A rat.”

“A rat?”

“He ate a poisoned rat.”

“What? You mean to say that your son ate a dead rat?”

Ye Xiao was shocked and stared at the man in doubt. Before he could inquire further, the father growled out, “Don’t ask me why, I don’t know why either! I actually want to ask you guys why!”

Ye Xiao’s words were instantly stuck in his throat and he couldn’t help but swallow his question back down as he awkwardly scratched his head.

The deceased’s friends around them began to whisper quietly amongst each other. Amidst the whirring discussions, one could vaguely catch words like, “psychological abnormality”, “mental case”, etc.

The father’s face flushed bright red, his body trembling as his hands curled into fists. His humiliation seemed to turn into fury. Unable to endure it any longer, he roared out at the crowd in the funeral hall, “Shut up! Every one of you should shut your mouths! Beat it! All of you, get lost!”

As he shouted this, he threw a nearby fruits basket that someone had gifted. Various fruits tumbled out onto the floor. The people all stood in shock and left quietly out of fear.

Soon afterwards, the friends that had previously come forth to pay respects said some polite words of farewell and left, leaving only Ye Xiao, Su Mu, and the Zheng parents in the funeral hall.

Zheng Ze’s mother knelt before her deceased son’s portrait, covering her mouth as she cried non-stop.

“Cry, cry, cry! All you know how to do is cry! This is the good-for-nothing son that you raised!” The father lashed out.

The mother lowered her head, her silent sobs intensifying under her husband’s scolding.

“Are you done crying? So damn noisy!”

The father furiously picked up an incense burner from the altar to smash down at his wife. However, the moment he raised his hand, a firm grip restrained his wrist.

“What are you doing?” Ye Xiao glared at him with furrowed brows.

“Let go!”

The father angrily jerked his hand free. With a clang, the incense burner crashed hard into the ground, the grey ashes scattering all over the floor. The smile on the black-and-white portrait of the altar seemed particularly desolate.

The mother bent over to hug her son’s portrait, crying soundlessly in anguish. The sounds of her sorrow and despair echoed back and forth around the vacant living room. It was an unbearable noise.

Faced with such a scene, Ye Xiao let out a guilty sigh. He found this hard to endure as well. If they hadn’t arrived, the funeral would not have turned into its current state.

“Let’s go. We can come again another day.” He patted Su Mu’s shoulder.

Su Mu refused to pay him any mind. He walked straight over to the sobbing mother of Zheng Ze and stopped right in front of her. Without any type of emotion in his tone, he stated, “If you want to know what really happened with your son, then tell me everything that you know. Perhaps I can tell you the truth in return.”

Zheng Ze’s mother froze, and she gradually stopped crying. She looked up with her swollen, red, tear-filled eyes to gaze at the young officer with a chilling air. After spacing out for a long time, she chokingly replied, “I only want to know…why Xiao Ze would die…He’s always been a very good kid…why did he suddenly change like that? Can you really help me find the reason?”

“I will try my best,” Su Mu replied.

“Alright, I’ll talk. I’ll say everything I know.”

The mother wiped her tears and looked at Ye Xiao and Su Mu with a sorrowful expression.

The father was sitting off to the side, broodingly smoking. He shot them a sideways glance but did not speak.

Afterwards, the mother led the two officers into her son’s study.

Although this room was called a study, it actually counted as Zheng Ze’s bedroom.

The bedroom was very clean. The bedsheets had been folded neatly, and there wasn’t even a speck of dust on the bookshelf. However, the owner of this room would never return again.

The mother pointed at the computer on the desk and said, “I don’t know what you’re investigating, but my son usually used that computer to go on the Internet.”

Ye Xiao glanced at it as he asked, “May I ask when you first noticed that you son was…er…acting abnormally?” He originally wanted to say “lost his mind” but changed his choice of words after some thought.

The mother let out a heavy sigh as she replied, “Ever since he…came back.”

“Came back?”

“Yes, it was a bit over a month ago. That morning, I woke up at 6:30 as usual to make him breakfast. Then after I finished, I went to his room to call him, but I found that Xiao Ze was actually nowhere to be seen. At first, I thought he had gone to the bathroom, but then I later found a letter he had left on the desk—”

“It was a suicide note, wasn’t it?” Xu Mu corrected.

The mother bit her lip and nodded, her voice tearful as she continued, “If-If I hadn’t seen the contents of that letter, I would’ve never imagined that Xiao Ze was…was actually living in suffering the entire time…”

“What did the letter say?” Ye Xiao peered at her inquisitively.

She shook her head, her tears already flowing down from the wrinkled corners of her eyes. As she cried, she answered, “I didn’t know. I really didn’t know that he had actually been bullied by his classmates at school since he was little…He was beaten by them, rebuked by them, had his textbooks torn up by them, had his lunches knocked over by them, and they even pushed him down the stairs before…He said he had always been living in fear, but had been silently enduring it the entire time…

“From elementary to junior high, from junior high to senior high, he was always dealing with others bullying him until he finally managed to graduate…When he thought that the nightmare had ended, that starting a job would bring him a brand-new start, that there would finally be hope in his life…in the end, he unexpectedly faced more despair amidst that hope.

“He said: ‘Mom, it turns out that everywhere is the same. As long as you’re not strong enough, no matter where you go, you’ll eventually only be pushed around like a pitiful creature. I’ve already had enough. I’m fed up with this kind of world. Please don’t feel sad about my death. You must know that only death can bring me eternal happiness and good fortune. Only in the world after death will I not have to constantly be in fear…’”

At this point, the mother could no longer continue. She covered her face and choked with sobs.

Ye Xiao offered a few words of comfort.

Su Mu asked, “What about after Zheng Ze left home?”

“After…after…I wanted to report to the police, but…my husband wouldn’t let me report it. He said that he’d rather not have such a useless son…” The mother sniffled as she added, “Then after that, probably around two weeks ago, I received a phone call from the police station in a remote mountain area. They said that my son was currently receiving medical treatment at the hospital and told me to go pick him up…I had no idea what had happened, but when I heard that my son was still alive, I immediately rushed madly to the local hospital. Indeed, the one lying there on the sickbed really was my son. But…but it seemed like he no longer recognised me. The doctor said that because he had been sitting in a van that had crashed and flipped over at the foot of a mountain, he might have hit his head, leading to temporary amnesia. They said he would slowly recover…then I brought Xiao Ze back…but after bringing him home, I found that he seemed to be suffering more than just simple amnesia…he seemed like…like he had lost his mind…”

The mother finally still forced out those three words between clenched teeth.

“Oh? Lost his mind?” Su Mu inquired further, “Could you describe in more detail?”

She lowered her head and thought back for a moment before answering, “He just suddenly became beyond irritable. He would constantly pace back and forth inside the room, unable to calm down at all. He would even scream and shout hysterically like a lunatic. He wouldn’t listen to anything I tried saying to placate him. Actually, it seemed like he could not understand my words at all. He would even…even hit me for no reason…he had never done anything like that before…he had always been a very good child…”

“Then what was with eating that dead rat?” Ye Xiao asked.

“I-I don’t know why either…” The mother’s expression dimmed as she quietly murmured, “He would always secretly run out in the middle of the night and rummage through garbage bins on the streets and alleys so that he’d be covered in a foul odour and also…also ate food from the piles of trash….I found out multiple times, but my attempts at stopping him failed…and I hadn’t thought that this time he would actually…”

Right at this point, Su Mu’s cellphone suddenly vibrated. He pulled it out to glance at it, then turned to answer the call. After he hung up, Ye Xiao looked at him with a questioning gaze.

Su Mu shook his cellphone and said in a low voice, “The third murder case.”


1. Impermanence (無常 wú cháng), which sounds similar to Wu Chang’s name (吳暢 wú chàng)


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