Chapter 67: Before Dawn (6)
T/N: For easier differentiation between the young maid and the middle-aged maid, I’ll start referring to ‘the young maid’ as ‘the young servant’ starting this chapter.
At the end of the call, Tang Cuo asked Qi Hui to tell Zhou Dahai to find a way to explore the attic.
From the fact that this Zhou Dahai was trapped in a mere basement for so long and was scared to death by such a non-aggressive ghost like Yu Wangyue, it could be seen that he wasn’t very reliable.
“Let’s sort out the character relationships and timeline first.” Pulling out the cloth bag, Tang Cuo took out the items he had obtained in the study and Wangyue’s room.
The three sat down in a circle next to the phone. Qi Hui could still understand the first few observations that Tang Cuo made, but the more the analysis went on, the more confused he became and he had to ask questions.
“Wait, you said that the young servant wants to climb into the master’s bed, I can understand, but why is the dismembered corpse related to the servant?”
In any case, he was a teammate and they were all in this together, so Tang Cuo patiently took out the torn piece of paper found behind the mirror in the common bathroom and the old fountain pen found in the servant’s room: “Write down any two characters.”
With much doubt, Qi Hui wrote two random characters. The writing wasn’t very smooth because the tip of the pen was a bit split, which easily hooked onto the paper when he was writing.
But what did this mean?
Qi Hui carefully looked at the words on the torn piece of paper, compared them with his own and finally understood. The words on the paper looked just like those written by him, so the servant was indeed suspicious.
“But what if she writes it in someone else’s place? Shouldn’t the servant be quite close to the lady? The lady is sick so maybe she can’t write.” Qi Hui asked.
“But the characters seem to be unnaturally stressed on, and the writing had some odd pauses.” Tang Cuo said. When a person wrote what he already had on his mind, it would look different from when someone tried to imitate someone else’s writing. If the servant was helping the lady to write, there was no need to deliberately forge the lady’s writing.
The servant secretly hid the old fountain pen and forged the lady’s handwriting to secretly communicate with the man in the attic. Why? Because she wanted to put the blame on the lady. This was consistent with her motive of dressing up to seduce the master, but the master didn’t seem to appreciate it and killed her with one shot.
Blinking his eyes, Qi Hui finally could go along with Tang Cuo’s deduction: “Was it also deliberately arranged for the piece of paper to be found by a guest? Bad things in the house shouldn’t be made known to outsiders. If they were, the lady would definitely die a miserable death.”
Tang Cuo didn’t answer, but whenever he tried to solve a case, he wouldn’t hesitate to assume that any criminal should harbour the most sinister malice when he carried out the crime. The servant must have played a role in this whole matter, but she also underestimated the master’s love for his wife.
Although that love had probably been mixed with endless hatred.
“Yu Wangnian’s diary fell beside the servant’s corpse. A lot of the pages were stained with blood, but a few could still be read clearly.” Tang Cuo picked up the diary, turned to one of the pages and read out softly: “24th June 1924. I hate her, but I still love her. I know that her heart may not be mine, but she’ll be buried with me.”
“Huh?” Hearing this proclaim of love that sounded no different from a death threat, Qi Hui was lost for words.
Jin Cheng smiled knowingly: “Do you think that 24th June 1924 is the time on your side?”
Tang Cuo nodded: “Yes.”
Qi Hui was now even more curious about this very complex ‘love polygon’: “So, in the end, between the lady and Yu Wangyue in the attic, was there a… er… relationship that has crossed the line?”
Jin Cheng shrugged: “If not, did Yu Wangnian make his own home into an iron cage, poison his wife and lock his brother up in the attic just to make himself an An Jiahe of Republican China?”
Qi Hui: “An Jiahe? Who???”
Tang Cuo: “’Do Not Respond to Strangers’1.”
Upon hearing this, Qi Hui finally remembered the nightmare TV drama of his childhood. Even as a grown man now, he shuddered.
Tang Cuo took out the photo of the family and moved on: “On 3rd January 1923, the four people in the mansion were alive and at least superficially happy. On 25th December 1923, Yu Wangyue died. His brother Yu Wangnian set up a worshipping hall for him in the basement, but spread the news that he had gone to study abroad to the newspapers, so it was obvious that he wanted to hide Yu Wangyue’s death. On 24th June 1924, a guest found the servant’s note inside the common bathroom and was killed.”
Jin Cheng continued: “In 1926, the young servant failed to seduce the master and was killed. It’s reasonable to suspect that Yu Wangnian already knew that the note was forged. Even if he was irate and wasn’t in his right mind when the killing happened, that was still his wife’s handwriting, the person he knew best. He’d rather kill than let the story slip out, yet at the same time he wouldn’t accept the servant trying to climb into his bed. It shouldn’t take long for him to discover the authenticity of the handwriting.”
These two reasons led to the death of the young servant. She saw Yu Wangnian’s diary before she died and learnt that no matter how hard she tried, she wouldn’t be able to achieve her goal of being the next lady. She might have died being very angry.
Tang Cuo: “The butler is Yu Wangnian’s confidant. There’s no doubt that he was involved in everything. The lady might also have engaged someone to help her in this Yu mansion. This person is most likely the middle-aged maid. She seems greedy for money and even steals things; since she’s greedy for money, it means she can be bought easily.”
Qi Hui: “What does she do for the lady?”
Tang Cuo: “Pass the note to Yu Wangyue.”
Qi Hui: “But didn’t you say that it was forged by the servant?”
Tang Cuo raised his eyes to look at Jin Cheng and Jin Cheng understood what he meant at once. Standing between the two bosses gazing at each other, Qi Hui was completely lost.
Jin Cheng was in a good mood, so he took the initiative to explain: “Didn’t I mention previously? In this dimension of the year 1926, there’s another piece of paper in the attic, which Lin Wan wrote to Yu Wangnian, saying that she would release him.”
Tang Cuo nodded. This note was actually something that proved that the servant indeed forged the note back in 1924, because the two signatures were different. One was signed off with ‘Your Wanwan’ in a deliberate attempt to be intimate, while the other was signed off with only ‘Lin Wan’.
Looking at the attitude of Lin Wan’s ghost towards Yu Wangyue, even if there might be feelings between them, they were mostly one-sided from Lin Wan. If they weren’t any romantic feelings, then it must be Lin Wan’s guilt.
“This proves something.” Tang Cuo said: “Yu Wangnian covered up Yu Wangyue’s death, because even Lin Wan thought that the real Yu Wangyue was kept in the attic.”
Qi Hui: “What about the one in the attic?”
Jin Cheng tilted his head and thought: “A doppelganger?”
Then this doppelganger must live a very sad life, Qi Hui sincerely mourned him from the bottom of his heart.
Thereafter, Jin Cheng asked Qi Hui to try making calls again. After two calls, he finally got through, at which point Zhou Dahai rushed over and gasped hard, but he finally brought them a relatively useful clue.
“There’s no 正 character under the bed, but there’s blood in the gaps on the floor of the attic. I found a used needle under the bed and medicine in the drawer, but I could only recoginise one type: aspirin.”
Aspirin was a western medicine. During the Republican China period, it was completely imported and always sold at exorbitant prices, and there were few channels to obtain it. Tang Cuo didn’t think that Yu Wangnian would treat Yu Wangyue’s doppelganger so nicely. Combined with the fact that there wasn’s any 正 character under the bed, it was indeed Yu Wangyue who was locked in the attic in the year 1923.
Then another person started staying in the attic starting 1924. The times all seemed to align.
But which person would be so unlucky? What did he have to do with this story?
Without saying much else, Zhou Dahai continued to look for clues.
Tang Cuo picked up the notebook he found from the butler’s body. The notebook was very small, so it only recorded events within the past month, and the writing was very concise.
Looking carefully, Tang Cuo finally saw something interesting.
Replace the lady’s medicine.
Reinforce the doors and windows.
Recruit a new maid.]
There were records for two consecutive days on the last page of the notebook. 7th January might be the butler’s time of death.
Of course, it might also be 8th January.
Replacing the lady’s medicine, reinforcing the doors and windows and recruiting a new maid all pointed to one thing: The fact that Lin Wan wanted to release the person in the attic had been leaked.
Jin Cheng said: “Looking at it this way, the middle-aged maid might be the first one to be killed in the 1926 family massacre. The lady’s behaviour angered Yu Wangnian, but he was reluctant to kill his wife, so he turned to kill the maid.”
Tang Cuo agreed with this inference and also seemed to think of something.
The death of the maid might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Lin Wan, who was entirely bed-ridden, should have realised that her plan had been exposed after the middle-aged maid failed to return to her side. The new medicine must also be more poisonous than before, so Lin Wan died in despair and turned into an angry ghost.
However, the cause of Lin Wan’s death was still suspicious, because her ghost’s appearance showed external wounds. She definitely didn’t die just because of the new medicine.
The young servant wouldn’t kill the lady before she managed to climb into the master’s bed. The middle-aged maid and the butler were even more unlikely. Meanwhile, the person in the attic was still locked up. So who killed Lin Wan?
Who killed her and caused her to harbour such a bad grudge?
Tang Cuo gradually felt that the story was going in an extremely dark direction. He flipped through the notebook again and noticed another message.
The young miss said she wanted to play the piano. I secretly found a new piano teacher for her, but lied that the young miss was going to take German lessons.]
This record was very special, because the butler was a rigid and stiff person. All his records had been concise, yet only this record clearly stated the cause and effect and even a bit of his emotions.
It was clearly something he wanted to keep secret, but he still recorded it down in full detail. For what reason? Was it because he felt guilty and wanted to expose his own lie in a place where Yu Wangnian could find out, then wait for whatever consequence might come his way?
But it didn’t matter what was going on in his mind. What was more important was that ― the young miss was learning piano.
There was obviously a piano room at home, but she wanted to secretly go outside to learn it, which showed that learning piano in the mansion was a taboo. On one hand, it was because of piano sound at midnight, then on the other hand, was it because of her previous piano teacher?
The term used by the butler was very interesting: ‘a new piano teacher’. This meant there must be another one before that.
“The person locked in the attic?” Jin Cheng raised his eyebrows.
“If your theory is true, Yu Wangyue can play the piano, and the piano teacher of course can also play the piano. Assuming there was a piano teacher before, for such a wealthy family, the teacher must come over here to give lessons.” Tang Cuo said.
Another corner of the story had been added.
However, these were only speculations with no firm evidence. Tang Cuo put away the big pile of items and decided to go back to Yu Wangyue’s room to take another look.
He was in a hurry to go downstairs just now and hadn’t searched the place carefully. Furthermore, there was Yu Wangyue in the room, so it could be considered a temporary safe zone.
Qi Hui was still left to guard the phone.
The job of guarding the phone was boring and horrifying. Although there was no ghost like Lin Wan on the first floor, the other ghosts wandering back and forth in their respective areas would sometimes walk through the door and drop by his spot.
Jin Cheng gave Qi Hui a little bit of incense ash to defend himself, but this couldn’t lighten up Qi Hui’s fear, because he saw Yu Wangnian’s ghost also poking his head out from the cabinet.
As soon as he saw Yu Wangnian, he would immediately think of An Jiahe. The chandelier above his head flashed feebly, and the increasingly dimmer and gloomier surroundings accompanied by the occasional ghostly sobs from the second floor sent chills straight down his feet.
Qi Hui could only frantically try to make more calls, even when no one answered. After a while, he felt something was wrong.
Where was Zhou Dahai?
If Yu Wangyue’s ghost wasn’t aggressive, then the dimension where Zhou Dahai was located should be relatively safe. Even if he missed the first and second calls because he was busy searching for clues, what about the third call?
And what about the fourth call?
“Something has happened to Zhou Dahai!” Qi Hui quickly screamed towards the second floor.
At the same time, at Zhou Dahai’s dimension.
A dagger gleaming with a cold light was pressed against Zhou Dahai’s neck from behind. Zhou Dahai’s whole body went stiff and he didn’t dare to look back: “Who are you? A player or an NPC? What do you want?”
The person behind spoke with a voice that sounded like it could evaporate into thin air any moment now, and it wasn’t easy to tell his age: “You don’t need to know. So long as you cooperate nicely and don’t act rashly, I won’t kill you.”
Zhou Dahai quickly raised his hands: “I won’t move, I promise I won’t move!”
This person must be a player.
Zhou Dahai thought so, but he couldn’t figure out whether the person was originally from this dimension or had shifted to here from another. The information he got from Qi Hui was limited, and he still felt as though he had been trapped in a fog until now.
Behind him, where his eyes couldn’t reach, the person took out a pocket watch and dropped it down from his palm. The watch’s face naturally oscillated back and forth in midair, its “tick, tock” sound rushing into Zhou Dahai’s ears in a blink. He couldn’t see it, but a watch suddenly appeared in his mind, its hands moving at incredible speed.
The hour hand, minute hand and second hand were turning faster and faster, so much so that he felt as though they were pulling an afterimage with each turn.
Completely dumbfounded, Zhou Dahai almost felt himself lost inside a dream, until ―
The wall clock in the living room chimed loudly. It was midnight.
At this moment, he heard the eerie yet cheerful [Song of God, Lambs and Crow] coming from the piano room on the second floor. The familiar melody caused goosebumps to grow all over his body, and his brain instantly regained its senses.
He didn’t understand what was going on, but all of a sudden, the dagger on his neck was no longer there.
Looking back, the person was gone.
“Holy sh*t.” Zhou Dahai wiped off his cold sweat.
On the other side, Qi Hui wasn’t feeling great. He had no idea how many of his teammates had entered this dungeon, while Zhou Dahai, the only one whom he could contact, was likely in danger, which gave him all the heebie-jeebies.
Tang Cuo frowned as he was caught in some deep thoughts, while Jin Cheng narrowed his eyes, as if thinking of something, and his cold gaze swept through the surroundings. Seeing this, Tang Cuo cast him a questioning look.
Jin Cheng winked his eyes twice in response.
Tang Cuo understood, but Qi Hui didn’t understand, so he couldn’t help but feel a headache ― Look at where we are, how can you two still leisurely wink at each other?!
At this time, it was 56 minutes before midnight in 1926.
Qi Hui’s anxiety didn’t last long, because Jin Cheng suddenly moved and faced the empty second floor, saying loudly: “Rong Yi, don’t hide, come out.”
No one answered.
Jin Cheng folded his arms and asked with a smile: “Are you learning from the 5-year-old bedwetting Meng Yufei to give me a sneak attack?”
Qi Hui felt familiar when he heard Meng Yufei’s name, and at this moment, a figure appeared at the corner of the stairs, slowly walking into the three’s field of vision.
Qi Hui’s eyes widened, for he really didn’t expect someone to actually hide there!
He remembered who it was: No. 2 on the Red List!
Qi Hui almost blurted out another “f**k”, but he managed to hold back.
Jin Cheng looked at Rong Yi with a smile that carried no smiling intent, glanced at the pocket watch in his hand and said: “I’ve been wondering who that stealthy cat is, so it’s you. No. 2 on the Red List and The Time Master. Isn’t it unnecessary for you to act like this?”
Rong Yi carried a cold expression but his coldness was different from Leng Miao’s. Leng Miao was cold in both his name and his appearance2, his coldness truly coming from within; meanwhile, Rong Yi’s coldness seemed to be drenched with melancholy.
He carried a downhearted look, as though all the sadness of this world rested on his shoulders. One couldn’t find any hint of happiness on him.
“If the other party is you, it’s necessary.” Rong Yi opened his mouth, the lightness of his voice giving out an air of sorrow. He stopped on the stairs and didn’t come down, using actions to fully express his hesitation against Jin Cheng: “Let’s make a deal. Among the three dimensions that have been discovered so far, except for this one, the others have all hit 12 o’clock. The playing of the piano is over and the only thing we could await next is dawn itself.”
Jin Cheng smiled: “So?”
Rong Yi: “You don’t know the exact timing of the remaining two dimensions, do you? If I also make the time here to hit 12 o’clock, you’ll completely lose the chance to shift to those dimensions.”
Jin Cheng asked back: “Do you actually think that you’ll have any chance to make a move if I’m here?”
“But right here, you can’t kill me. As long as you can’t kill me, I have a chance to make a move.” Rong Yi said as his eyes fell on Tang Cuo: “Do you think that this partner of yours can find out the timing of the other dimensions before I make my move?”
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”.