Bei District. Huangqiu Road.
It was the very early hours of morning, which was precisely when Dark Mountain was at its liveliest.
Shrouded by dazzling neon lights, the main building of Dark Mountain looked almost like a floating city illuminated by countless stars. Many women dressed in gorgeous outfits exited that 'floating city' with handsome young men on their arms. Some pairs stopped beside luxury cars and chatted for a while before exchanging a deep, passionate kiss. Others climbed into cars together and raced off into the dark, to find a place in the city to satisfy their desires for a night.
Dongye City's nightlife scene was flourishing, but most venues catered to male patrons. This club was the one and only establishment in the city which catered exclusively to women.
The aesthetics of Dark Mountain were heavily inspired by establishments from a neighboring country; many of its waiters dressed in a very Japanese style.
Amidst the crowd of exquisitely dressed 'hosts' and esteemed customers, one figure near the club stood out from the rest.
That figure was very small, dressed in a dark gray sweatshirt and a pair of black sweatpants. His sneakers were covered in mud, like he'd trekked through soggy fields or mountains without cleaning off his shoes.
Compared to the men who worked there, who were all at least 1.8 meters in height, if not 1.9 or taller, this young man was short and slight, and he also wasn't cute enough to sell himself on 'cuteness' alone.
He had a camera hanging around his neck, and he was in the middle of using the lens to search for someone in the crowd.
This young man was Qin Xu, who the police were currently looking for.
A constant stream of excessively drunk women were being led out of the club. Most of them had filthy stains on their exquisite dresses. The men who escorted them held them tightly, afraid of letting them fall. One woman stopped by the side of the road outside and vomited, spraying filth over her shoes. Her escort instantly stooped down and wiped away the mess with a clean white towel.
That woman was already far beyond the point of delirium. She instinctively lashed out and actually kicked the man down. The man, unprepared for the impact, teetered off balance and caught himself with a hand on the ground, right in the puddle of the woman's vomit.
Qin Xu chuckled darkly as he snapped several photos of this scene, capturing the moment on film.
These people were ugly. Disgusting. Despicable.
No one else noticed the quiet sound of a camera shutter going off. Someone soon came running over to help the fallen man back up to his feet. The belligerent woman was cursing unintelligibly. Her hair had fallen into disarray. A few strands fell loose and drooped down, framing her face and making her look somewhat pallid and depressed.
Qin Xu grew even more excited at that sight. He hurriedly snapped several more photos.
He knew this woman, and he knew the man she'd kicked down too.
The woman's name was Chu Linlin. She was Qin Ke's friend, but Qin Ke had stolen the object of her affections away.
The man's real name was unknown to Qin Xu, but at Dark Mountain, he was called Little Ye. In terms of looks and personality, Little Ye was almost identical to Yu Xiaohai. He was the type that sold the 'cute act' to charm women, and his makeup made him look even more exquisite than any woman there.
These men were no different from dogs. Qin Ke was an idiot, whose head was filled with nothing but worms, if she thought it was worth treasuring and supporting one of these dumb creatures.
Qin Xu scoffed derisively before putting down his camera and walking towards Chu Linlin.
He'd come to Dark Mountain much earlier that day to stand guard outside and wait, all in hopes of capturing the sight of Chu Linlin's hideously bitter tears. He was curious to see what sorts of satisfying photos he could take when his lens fell upon a Chu Linlin who'd just learned that her beloved Yu Xiaohai had 'croaked'.
The mere thought of that sight had been enough to make Qin Xu tremble with excitement.
Chu Linlin staggered towards a Porsche Cayenne. As she approached, someone opened the door for her.
Qin Xu suddenly called out, "Hey!"
Chu Linlin turned around in a dazed state. When she saw Qin Xu, her gaze first turned confused, before deep resentment flooded into her eyes.
Qin Xu smirked. "It's me."
"Get out of my sight!" Chu Linlin screeched. "Fuck off! I don't want to see you people from the Qin family!"
"I'm here to tell you some good news," Qin Xu said. "My sister Qin Ke, the dumb bitch who stole Yu Xiaohai from you, is dead."
Chu Linlin leaned heavily against the car door, freezing up for a long moment. "What did you say?"
Although she held a grudge against Qin Ke, Chu Linlin's reaction to this news was far more normal than Qin Xu's.
"Aren't you happy?" Qin Xu asked. "Your rival in love is finally dead. She'll never be able to steal a man away from you again."
Chu Linlin marched over to Qin Xu and slapped him across the face. "Psycho! How can you say that about your own sister?!"
"You're not happy?" Qin Xu asked, confused. "I thought you would be ecstatic."
Chu Linlin trembled as she reached into her clutch for her cell phone.
"You want to call Qin Ke?" Qin Xu laughed as he touched his swollen cheek. "It's useless. You won't get through. How could a cell phone call reach a dead person?"
Chu Linlin didn't pay any more attention to him. She seemed to have sobered up a lot with the shock, and she pressed her phone tightly to her ear.
"I originally wanted to tell you some good news before telling you some bad news," Qin Xu said. "I wanted to cheer you up, because people make the most wonderful expressions when they fall from heaven to hell, don't you think? Too bad… it doesn't seem like Qin Ke's death cheered you up."
The call wouldn't connect. Chu Linlin furiously swore, "You shut up!"
"What? You want to call the cops?" Qin Xu waved a hand, as though getting ready to leave. "I'm not the murderer, you know."
Chu Linlin suddenly reached out and grabbed Qin Xu. "Don't you dare go anywhere! Stay put, right here!"
"How could I leave without getting a picture of your face after I tell you Yu Xiaohai is dead?" Qin Xu asked as he flipped through the photos in his camera. "Here, take a look…"
Chu Linlin froze, unable to react. "Who died?"
Qin Xu turned the camera so that the screen faced Chu Linlin. "Here, look at your Yu Xiaohai. This is what he's turned into. Do you still want to fight over him with Qin Ke?"
It took Chu Linlin a good amount of effort to recognize the thing in the photo as a bloodied, disfigured body.
"So? What do you think?" Qin Xu took back his camera and turned the lens to face her.
Chu Linlin covered her mouth with one hand. Her eyes were filled with extreme terror. She reeled back several steps, then ultimately fell to the ground.
When Xu Chun found Qin Xu, he saw that Qin Xu was cackling with satisfaction, repeatedly crowing, "I got it, I got it! The perfect image! I got it!"
Serious Crimes Division. Meeting Room 2.
Xing Mu ran in with the autopsy reports. His forehead was slick with sweat. He looked thoroughly exhausted.
Ming Shu tossed him an unopened bottle of water. "Xing-ge, take a breather."
Xing Mu gulped down the water too quickly. He choked and coughed, then finished his drink. "It's fine, it's fine. Sorry it took so long. Let's start now. I don't need to rest yet."
The time and cause of death of all four victims had already been confirmed.
Victim #1, Huang Hui. Stabbed in the chest more than twenty times with a sharp object, suffering a ruptured aorta. Fourteen pieces of flesh had been cut from her arms, abdomen, and thighs. Her left breast had been severed and placed on the television set.
Victim #2, Qin Xiong. His chest wounds were also his cause of death.
Victim #3, Qin Ke. Her carotid artery and trachea had been severed. The cut seemed clean, and there was no indication of repeated cuts.
Victim #4, Yu Xiaohai. Same fatal injuries as Huang Hui and Qin Xiong.
Besides Qin Xiong, the times of death for all the victims were between 1:00 AM and 3:00 AM. Qin Xiong's time of death was between 4:00 AM and 5:00 AM.
Ming Shu took a copy of the autopsy reports for himself. "If we sort by time of death, Qin Xiong is the one that stands out from the other victims. The killer entered Unit 5-8 long before him and didn't leave immediately after killing Qin Ke, Yu Xiaohai, and Huang Hui. They waited for Qin Xiong to return."
"Then, in that case, Qin Xiong was most likely the killer's primary target?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Ming Shu didn't answer. He simply continued, "But if we judge by the cause of death and mutilation of the bodies, Qin Ke is the one who's different from the others. Then again, Yu Xiaohai was the only one of the four victims who had all his clothes removed.
"Huang Hui's body had been severely mutilated. Most of the body parts strewn around the living room—the floor, the coffee table—belonged to her. And her breast had been placed on the television in what may have been a very ceremonial way.
"Meanwhile, Qin Xiong was placed in the living room along with her. He had over two hundred stab wounds on his body, and his right eyeball had been scooped out. But besides that, no other pieces of his flesh had been cut off. Yu Xiaohai, positioned in the bedroom, was in a similar state to Qin Xiong.
"If we look at it this way, was the killer's hatred for Huang Hui the deepest? Was Huang Hui the main target? If so, why wait for Qin Xiong to return? Xing-ge."
"Yes, boss!" Xing Mu hurriedly raised a hand. "I'm here!"
"Earlier, you said Yu Xiaohai's body showed signs of having been bound. What about the other three?" Ming Shu asked. "What did their tox screens say?"
"Besides Qin Xiong, all three of the other victims showed similar marks of having been bound. Their legs were bound together, and their hands were tied behind their backs," Xing Mu reported. "As for the strangulation marks around the neck, there were none on Qin Ke."
Ming Shu nodded. "Because Qin Ke had her throat slit right away."
"Qin Xiong had been drinking before he died. Huang Hui had taken medicine for bronchitis," Xing Mu continued. "But they both seemed to be sober and conscious when they were killed. Boss, I still have the same question I asked last night. Based on the footprints found at the scene of the crime, the killer was just one individual. At most two individuals, if Qin Xu was involved. But before Qin Xiong's return, there were already three victims in 5-8. How did the killer subdue them all?"
"The fact is the killer did manage to subdue them all, and the killer didn't cause a huge commotion while doing it either," Fang Yuanhang said. "Only one other family in that building heard people arguing in Unit 5-8 that night, and I'm starting to suspect that the argument wasn't between the killer and the victims. It could have been the victims fighting amongst themselves."
"This killer murdered three people so easily. It was like they were listening to the killer's orders," Xing Mu said. He turned to Ming Shu and added, "I can't think of any explanation for that, besides the killer being someone extremely close to them. Someone the victims would let their guard down around."
Ming Shu was just about to speak when his cell phone, which he'd tossed onto the conference table earlier, started to ring. He took the call. A few short moments later, he hung up and said, "Xu Chun has brought Qin Xu back."
The seventeen-year-old boy had an exuberant look on his face. He didn't seem to be the slightest bit saddened by the tragic deaths of his family members. Nor did he seem at all afraid of being considered a suspect. He sat with his back straight and faced Ming Shu with a fearless expression.
Zhou Yuan had already exported all the photos from Qin Xu's camera and computer, including the ones that had been deleted. Nearly every photo showed people in 'ugly' or 'embarrassing' states. There were even photos that had been taken at 10:00 AM on the morning of the Qin family's murder—photos of the four victims in Unit 5-8, taken more than ten hours before the police arrived on the scene to take photos of their own.
In addition, there were several photos of Qin Ke and Yu Xiaohai, naked and intertwined.
In those photos, Qin Ke and Yu Xiaohai were in the bedroom of the apartment that had been purchased for Qin Ke by her parents. Judging by the angles of the photos, Qin Xu could only have been hidden in a corner of the room when he took them.
"I took them from the closet," Qin Xu stated with a smile when he was shown those photos. "Qin Ke is only temporarily living there. The house is still registered to my mother. She has a key, and so do I. Qin Ke and Yu Xiaohai came back pretty soon after I hid in the closet, so of course I couldn't miss my chance."
"Why did you take these pictures," Ming Shu asked flatly.
"I remember I already told you last time," Qin Xu declared joyfully. "I like to capture everyone's ugliest sides. Just look at them. Whether it's Qin Ke or Yu Xiaohai, these two, in this moment, are ugly to their cores."
Ming Shu looked through the photos again and pulled one out. "You mean this one?"
Qin Xu's pupils constricted with excitement. "Don't you agree?"
In that photo, Qin Ke had her legs spread open. She looked thoroughly engrossed in pleasure while Yu Xiaohai knelt below her, pleasuring her.
"One is more lowly than a dog, and the other has a head that's filled only with lust," Qin Xu said. "If I'd known they would die so soon, I would have shown these pictures to my old man earlier."
''They'?" Ming Shu prompted.
"Those dead people in 5-8." Qin Xu flashed an innocent smile. "You guys brought me here because you think I killed them, right?"
"It seems you already know exactly what happened in 5-8," Ming Shu said, leaning forward slightly. With some added pressure to his tone, he continued, "Where were you the night before last?"
"I was at school that night, attending an evening self-study class. I'm not like Qin Ke. She was stupid and lazy," Qin Xu said. "My homeroom teacher can attest to my whereabouts."
"What about after self-study?" Ming Shu asked. "You went back to your dorm? Or did you go home?"
Qin Xu folded his hands at the edge of the table like a good, attentive student. "I don't live in the dorms anymore. What, you guys didn't already know that?"
"Your mother, Huang Hui, called you at 8:32 PM that night," Ming Shu said. "She told you to come home?"
"You think I have to go back whenever she calls me, huh?" Qin Xu's expression grew impatient. "The women in my family are idiots. Each one is dumber than the last."
Ming Shu rarely allowed his personal feelings to slip out during an investigation, but Qin Xu's behavior was truly hard to swallow.
Regardless of whether or not Qin Xu was the killer of the four victims, his actions and words were cruel enough.
If Qin Xu wasn't the killer, that meant he found out someone had killed all his relatives—and yet he didn't call the police. Instead, after discovering the murder scene, he only took pictures and shamelessly showed those photos to others.
Ming Shu couldn't help but ask, "Why do you have such a deep-seated hatred for your family?"
At that, Qin Xu tilted his head with obvious confusion, as though he didn't understand the question.
But with Qin Xu's intelligence, there was no way he wouldn't understand.
Ming Shu stared at him coldly.
"Hatred? I don't hate anyone," Qin Xu said with a disdainful laugh. "I think your word choice is inaccurate. The word 'hatred' is just too cute. They're not worthy of my hate."
"Don't play games with me," Ming Shu snapped.
Qin Xu shrank back a little. "Alright, then I'll defend myself. I just happened to go home to get some stuff this morning, and I happened to see them all dead. I didn't kill them, but I admire the person who did."
"For fuck's sake!" Fang Yuanhang blurted out. It was the very first time he had ever heard anyone say they 'admired' the person who'd killed their parents.
Qin Xu glanced at Fang Yuanhang. "Did I say something wrong? Four people, dead in such ugly states… it's the first time I've seen something like that. Of course, I've seen similar scenes in movies, but to see it with my own eyes was something else entirely! It was wonderful! Luckily, I'm in the habit of carrying a camera with me everywhere I go. Otherwise, I would have missed my chance to record it."
"You still haven't answered my question," Ming Shu said. "Why did Huang Hui call you two nights ago? And where did you go that night, after evening self-study?"
"I was at Liangquan," Qin Xu answered casually. "Our family has three houses. The old one where my parents live, which is where they make me live too. The one they gave to Qin Ke. And a third that nominally belongs to me, though my parents said I had to live with them until I turn eighteen. My mom called me that night to ask me to come home, because they'd called Qin Ke over to talk about something. I didn't want to go, so I went back to Liangquan."
The field work team had already checked out the Liangquan neighborhood. None of the surveillance cameras inside or outside that residential community had captured Qin Xu that night, and no one could attest to the fact that Qin Xu had been there at the time of the crime.
"They were going to talk about something?" Ming Shu echoed. "Did Huang Hui not say what it was about?"
"Didn't say," Qin Xu confirmed. "And I didn't ask."
"Then, yesterday morning, you left Liangquan and went to your old home?"
"Yeah. I had to turn in my homework from last week that afternoon, and I remembered I'd left my papers at home."
"Liar!" Fang Yuanhang accused. "If you really went home because you had homework to turn in, why didn't you go to school all day yesterday?"
"What's so strange about that?" Qin Xu asked. "Before I saw what had happened at home, of course I planned on going to school. But why would I go to school when I'd already taken such interesting pictures that morning? I obviously had to go see Chu Linlin!"
Xu Chun had already spoken to Chu Linlin to get a clear idea of the relationship between her, Qin Ke, and Yu Xiaohai. Through an earpiece, Xu Chun relayed that information to Ming Shu.
Starting from as early as her high school years, Qin Ke had used her family's money to visit clubs like Dark Mountain. She'd dated no fewer than ten different men, and every single one of them had been in the 'service' industry like Yu Xiaohai.
"I met Qin Ke at Dark Mountain. She was complete scum!" Chu Linlin declared, upon being questioned by Xu Chun. "Every single time I set my sights on someone, she just had to fight with me and steal him away. I really liked Xiaohai. If Xiaohai was willing, I would have stayed with him for the rest of my life. But Qin Ke was younger than me, so she snatched Xiaohai away…"
"I looked into Qin Ke's expenses," Xu Chun said as he reported his findings to Ming Shu through his headset. "The reason Yu Xiaohai chose her definitely wasn't that she was younger than Chu Linlin. Qin Ke was very willing to spend huge sums of money on Yu Xiaohai, because she had Huang Hui to pay for everything. Chu Linlin, on the other hand, earned all her money through a business she'd started. She couldn't be as generous."
Ming Shu couldn't help but feel all this was absurd.
Qin Xiong and Huang Hui had started a business when they were very young. They built a famous restaurant up from nothing and worked hard to save money, living in an old home on Road 2 of Longcheng Street. They saved enough to support their descendants, only to have a daughter who was interested in nothing except carrying on with male prostitutes and stealing men from others. And a son who despised his whole family, to the extent that he would take pictures of their corpses after they were brutally killed. A son who could still be the killer, in fact.
What kind of twisted family was this?
What secrets were hidden beneath the surface of such a twisted family?
The interrogation continued into the early hours of morning. Qin Xu continued to insist that he was only the first person who'd discovered the crime scene, and that he only took pictures. He insisted someone else had killed the people in Unit 5-8.
Ming Shu left the interrogation room to take a short breather, planning to be gone for no more than five minutes.
Since the discovery of the two female victims on October 13th, Ming Shu's brain had constantly been operating at high speeds. He slept very little, and as soon as he woke, his mind was dominated by all the intricate clues and details of the case before him.
At first glance, the 1013 Case seemed like a very easy case to solve. Although the killer hadn't left behind any critical pieces of evidence like footprints, fingerprints, or DNA, the expression of the killer's psychological state was abundantly clear from the nature of the crime scene.
These sorts of cases were typically quite easy to investigate.
However, the deeper they dove into this case, the more intricate it became. Analyzing the twists and deceits of a killer's logic was something that consumed a great deal of mental energy.
Then, following the 1013 Case, a disappearance case that was strange in every way, and seemingly connected to Mount Qiyue, had been brought to Ming Shu.
And now, there was this grisly 'family extermination' case as well.
There seemed to be some subtle connections between all three of these cases, but it still felt rash and premature to investigate them as though they were one case.
People were incredibly complex creatures. Any person, when scrutinized deeply enough, would be discovered to have deep secrets and dark sides.
And through various twists and turns and interactions, people would always come to be connected to one another.
Ming Shu leaned against the wall of the corridor. His eyes were somewhat blank and vacant as he fixed his gaze on a light on the opposite side of the hall. Half a minute later, just as he was about to turn and move again, he heard Xiao Yu'an call out to him.
"Director Xiao." Ming Shu came back to his senses. When he responded, he realized his own voice was a little hoarse, perhaps from overuse.
Xiao Yu'an frowned. "Why are you standing out here?"
"I just finished interrogating Qin Xu," Ming Shu said. He lifted a hand and scrubbed it over his face. "You've been here all night?"
"Mm." Xiao Yu'an handed a packet of wet wipes to Ming Shu. "Use this."
Ming Shu smiled and took it. "How thoughtful."
"It's still early. Go take a nap, or a shower if you prefer. Come back at 8:30 to eat breakfast."
"I should go now," Ming Shu said. "The cafeteria gets crowded after eight."
"You won't be going to the cafeteria," Xiao Yu'an said. "We'll go out for food."
"Trying to corrupt me?"
"If you have time to snark at me, why not go find a bed and sleep?"
There were quite a few lounges and rest areas in the Serious Crimes Division. Ming Shu checked a few of those rooms and found Yi Fei sleeping in one. He put a blanket over Yi Fei, then headed back to Xiao Yu'an's office in the end.
Ming Shu had gotten accustomed to dozing off in those lounges in the past. When he was extremely tired, he could fall asleep as soon as he closed his eyes. But these days, he preferred to crash on the sofa in Xiao Yu'an's office.
Once he fell asleep, Ming Shu slept until nearly nine in the morning. When he woke, he found a serving of piping hot chicken soup wontons, with lots of fresh greens, near him. There was also a serving of steamed crab roe dumplings.
Both were dishes from Xuanwei Ting, a restaurant famous for its delicious food and high prices.
Ming Shu was in the middle of eating when he felt his cell phone vibrate with a new message. He unlocked the screen and saw that it was Fang Yuanhang, sending pictures of the same wontons and crab roe dumplings to their group chat. Apparently, everyone in the Serious Crimes Division had received a serving.
"Tsk, so I'm not special?" Ming Shu muttered to himself, smiling. "How generous."
The ginkgo leaves on Mount Qiyue were more golden than ever. When the first rays of dawn broke through the sky, morning light fell upon those leaves and scattered all across the mountain, casting a resplendent glow upon the hills and painting a magical scene.
At this time last year, Mount Qiyue had been packed with tourists. Many of them would have even put up tents on the mountain, eager to rise early to capture the sight of this sunrise. This year, with a murder having taken place on the mountain, the number of tourists had diminished significantly. There were hardly any people to be found on Mount Qiyue so early in the morning, and the scenery had returned to the state of tranquility that had made the place so unfathomably famous.
The morning bell at Haijing Temple rang out. The sound of it echoed through the mountains with a grave, intense sort of solemnity.
After ringing the bell, Wu Nian returned to his cleaning duties.
Behind him, a pair of eyes watched on.
It was Wu Zeng, silently peering at him from one corner of the temple courtyard.
A door opened with a creak. Wu Yu emerged from inside. With a light laugh, he said, "Even devils imagine they can attain enlightenment one day."
Wu Nian's hands suddenly tensed around the handle of his broom.
When he looked towards Wu Yu, Wu Yu was already humming a strange tune and making his way towards the inner courtyard.