The doctor who'd looked after Yin Xiaofeng back in the day, Dr. Man, looked remorseful when he heard that Yin Xiaofeng had ultimately decided to become a monk.
"So he did reach that point in the end," Dr. Man murmured.
"What kind of mental illnesses did Yin Xiaofeng have?" Xu Chun asked. "Who sent him here?"
"Yin Xiaofeng is a poor soul," Dr. Man said, not directly answering Xu Chun's question. "Did something happen to him?"
Xu Chun smiled. "Not exactly, but he's connected to two murder cases. We're investigating right now."
Hearing the word 'murder', Dr. Man instantly grew more tense and nervous. "Xiaofeng killed someone?"
Xu Chun shook his head. "Please don't be nervous. If he didn't kill anyone, we just need to find evidence to prove that. Investigating him is part of the process. So, Dr. Man, if you know anything, please don't hesitate to tell us. Plainly tell us everything you know."
Dr. Man was in his fifties. After hearing Xu Chun's words, he hesitated for a while longer before heaving a sigh. "I can't make any guarantees on Xiaofeng's behalf, but… ah, forget it. I'll cooperate with you."
After saying that, Dr. Man stood up and fetched a thick folder off a bookshelf.
"This is…?" Xu Chun asked.
"Xiaofeng's medical records from his time here. I compiled this information myself," Dr. Man said while flipping through the folder. "You'd like to know about Yin Xiaofeng's illnesses, correct? He, ah… he suffers from delusions and cognitive dissonance, and he's shown violent tendencies rooted in schizophrenia.
"When Xiaofeng was first sent here, he was only twenty-two years old. He didn't even know who he was. All he believed was that everyone was out to hurt him. If we didn't keep him restrained, he would have hurt others."
Xu Chun echoed, "Violent tendencies…"
"But after treatment, he wouldn't fly into a crazed fit at the drop of a hat," Dr. Man said. "Those were only his symptoms when he was twenty-two. He should be thirty now, yes?"
"He's thirty-one this year," Xu Chun said.
"So many years have passed in the blink of an eye," Dr. Man murmured.
"What was the cause of Yin Xiaofeng's illness?" Xu Chun asked. "What about his family?"
"Little cities like ours aren't like your Dongye City. We have all sorts of people living in the small villages under our jurisdiction," Dr. Man said, suddenly seeming to change the subject. "Cultists, gangsters, drug dealers, human traffickers, charlatans… there are too many to count. If you don't believe me, go take a walk through the mountains and see for yourself."
Xu Chun wanted to say that he knew all about that, and that he'd even personally gone out to combat those gangs and wicked organizations. But he resisted in the end, keeping himself from interrupting Dr. Man.
"Xiaofeng was born in some little village south of here. I'm afraid I've forgotten the exact name of the place," Dr. Man continued. "That was a poor village, and the poorer the place, the more old-fashioned and superstitious they tend to be. Xiaofeng grew up in the water when he was a child. Can you imagine that?"
"What?" Xu Chun was baffled. "How can someone live in the water?"
"That was the 'tradition' of the village," Dr. Man said. "The people there believed in a water deity. Every year, they offered a 'maiden' who has just started to menstruate to this water god. They locked her up in a water prison until she became pregnant."
"Wait!" Xu Chun interrupted. "How is that possible?"
"Yes, that's what we would ask, as normal people. How is that possible? But the people of that village fully believed in their traditions." Dr. Man took off his glasses and wiped them with a cloth. "The 'water prison' was actually just a small, sealed cage in the river. People won't drown when they were caged there, but it was such a small space. It was very easy for them to suffer psychological harm."
Xu Chun harshly corrected, "The problem isn't with how the victim doesn't drown, but how could a young girl locked in a prison alone get pregnant? Is this some sort of myth?"
"Naturally, a man would go in," Dr. Man said.
"That's a crime!" Xu Chun exclaimed, slapping a hand against the table. "How old could these 'maidens' possibly be when they get their first cycle? Thirteen or fourteen? Some even younger!"
"But what do the villagers know? This is what they believed in. They believed these young girls were pure, clean, and divine. Thus, more likely to attract the water god's favor than older women," Dr. Man said. "Xiaofeng's mother was one of these victims. She was violated by some unknown brute while locked in that prison. Then, after she gave birth to Xiaofeng, she was sacrificed to the water god."
Xu Chun was shocked. "She was killed?"
Dr. Man nodded. "The villagers put her back in the cage and filled it with water, drowning her alive. Her parents were thrilled, actually. They believed it was an honor to sacrifice their daughter to the water god."
Xu Chun balled his hands into fists.
Even though he had dealt with many backwards villages before, he was still enraged beyond belief.
One could never know the true extent of evil that could be born of ignorance and malice.
"The villagers worshipped Xiaofeng as the son of the water god," Dr. Man said. "What we think of when we think of 'worship' is offering food and drink to a deity, isn't that right? But Xiaofeng… he was forced to live in the water prison where his mother had been drowned. Day and night, loneliness was his only companion.
"When people are kept in a place where they have no sense of time, psychological problems easily arise. Xiaofeng hasn't known 'time' for as long as he could remember. He could never see the sunrise or sunset. He only had that tiny space in his prison. The only time he was brought up was when the villagers made their 'pilgrimages' out to see him…"
Dr. Man shook his head helplessly. "When he grew up some more, he was finally released and trained to kill."
Xu Chun was stunned once more.
"The people of that village valued strength above all else. The water god was their god of war, so naturally the son of their god had to be well-trained," Dr. Man continued. "So when Xiaofeng was first brought to us, there was very little we could do to help him. He hated everyone, and he had the ability to kill us all."
"Has Yin Xiaofeng ever killed anyone?" Xu Chun asked, striking at the heart of the matter.
"I don't know," Dr. Man said.
Xu Chun frowned. "How can you not know?"
"Even the police don't know. How could I be sure of such a thing?" Dr. Man asked. "That village was a place no one cared about. When someone died there, they would just be buried carelessly. Whether or not Xiaofeng killed anyone during his training is something even the police have no way of checking."
"What's the situation in that village now?" Xu Chun asked. "The police only discovered the problems of that village when Yin Xiaofeng was twenty-two?"
"It's a peaceful place now," Dr. Man said. "Around that time, the police cracked down on a lot of villages that engaged in these vile practices. Our hospital received an influx of survivors from these places. Xiaofeng was by far the most dangerous one."
In Xu Chun's opinion, someone with Yin Xiaofeng's condition should have been closely monitored by the police even if his condition improved dramatically with treatment. He never should have been released from Liangxi City to become a monk in the distant Dongye City.
But it was already too late to change what had happened. There was no point in pursuing that line of questioning.
"When was Yin Xiaofeng discharged from your hospital?" Xu Chun asked. "What was his condition at that time?"
"Xiaofeng spent three years here. He was discharged when he was twenty-five," Dr. Man said, showing a slight smile. "When he was released, he was already an ordinary person. He could communicate with others, and he no longer resorted to violence at every turn. He could demonstrate reason and logic. But the shadows of his childhood remained. He didn't like to talk much, and he preferred to be alone."
Xu Chun immediately thought of something. "So he has an aversion to commotions?"
"Aversion?" Dr. Man mulled it over for a moment, then nodded. "I suppose it could be called an aversion. Something actually happened shortly after Xiaofeng was released from our hospital. You probably noticed when you arrived that this place is very quiet."
Xu Chun nodded.
"Xiaofeng had grown accustomed to the peace and quiet here. When he went to live in society, he felt very uncomfortable. He came back to me and said he wanted to stay here," Dr. Man said. "I struggled tremendously with that decision. On the one hand, I understood Xiaofeng's pain and struggles. I also wanted to keep him close, where I could watch over him and take care of him at all times. On the other hand, he was so young. He deserved to set out and lead a life of his own. If he stayed here, he would have been a 'patient' for the rest of his life. He'd already suffered for more than twenty years. He deserved a normal life."
"Then what happened?" Xu Chun asked. "You rejected Yin Xiaofeng. Did you observe him after that?"
At that, a heavy look of shame came over Dr. Man's face. "Soon after convincing Xiaofeng to leave, I received an invitation for a special training program in the capital. I went there for six months. When I returned, I learned that Xiaofeng had left Liangxi City. I lost contact with him."
Ming Shu listened to Xu Chun's whole report over the phone. The more he listened, the graver his expression became.
Over the phone, Xu Chun continued, "Captain Ming, there's a good chance that Yin Xiaofeng's condition wasn't cured at all. He may have become a monk because he couldn't get used to the hustle and bustle of life in the 'real' world. When he couldn't return to the mental institution, he found a temple where he could retreat from society and live a peaceful life. But all these tourists disturbed his peace, and they were all brought in by influencers like Qiu Min—Yin Xiaofeng has ample motive to commit the crime!"
"As for his ability to commit this crime…" Ming Shu trailed off, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. "Yin Xiaofeng has been trained to kill since he was a child, so he's obviously capable. And if he suffers from schizophrenia, he could experience a variety of cognitive and behavioral issues. That could explain why Qiu Min was strangled to death, then dismembered several days later.
"But for the time being, these are only our theories. Before we find evidence, we can't conclusively decide anything."
Of the five monks, Yin Xiaofeng was the one who spoke the least. No matter who interrogated him, he didn't change his demeanor in the slightest, only repeating the same prayer. He seemed almost mute at times. Sometimes he seemed to not understand what was being said to him, and sometimes he seemed to not realize there was anyone speaking to him at all.
Ming Shu studied the motionless Yin Xiaofeng through the surveillance cameras in the interrogation room, racking his brain for ways to crack this case.
If Yin Xiaofeng truly was the killer, then using psychological warfare would be an effective way of getting him to confess. But this person had a serious mental illness. Ming Shu didn't want to resort to such tactics until it was their last resort.
And the evidence? What about the evidence?
If they continued to assume, for now, that Yin Xiaofeng was the killer—
Hong Chuanfei was the one who'd brought Qiu Min to Yatou Mountain. If Yin Xiaofeng was the one who took Qiu Min away from Yatou Mountain, he must have been very familiar with Hong Chuanfei's movements.
It was also possible that Yin Xiaofeng didn't know Hong Chuanfei at all. Perhaps Yin Xiaofeng had surveilled Qiu Min for a long time, only to find that some interloper had set their sights on his 'prey' as well.
Following someone and discreetly watching them wouldn't have been too difficult for Yin Xiaofeng.
When Hong Chuanfei took Qiu Min away, Yin Xiaofeng could have followed him all the way to Yatou Mountain, only entering the abandoned arsenal after Hong Chuanfei finished beating Qiu Min and left.
But how did Yin Xiaofeng, a monk, discover that Qiu Min was Qiushan Wangmian?
Plus, Yin Xiaofeng didn't have a car. To get from Shouquan to Dongye City, he must have hired a car or taken the bus. How did he bring Qiu Min to Mount Qiyue without anyone finding out?
The most convenient way to kill Qiu Min would have been to 'finish' him on the spot, at the abandoned arsenal. That way, even if the police found the arsenal in their investigation, they only would have been able to trace it back to Hong Chuanfei.
Had Yin Xiaofeng brought Qiu Min to Mount Qiyue to complete some sort of ritual?
Ming Shu shook his head. He had to remember that Yin Xiaofeng suffered from schizophrenia.
It was mostly futile to try to forcibly discern the thought process of a schizophrenic person. A better use of Ming Shu's time would be to look into how Qiu Min had been transported to Mount Qiyue.
"You want me to check the net cafes in Shouquan?" Yi Fei echoed over the phone. "You think Yin Xiaofeng learned of Qiu Min's identity at a net cafe?"
Ming Shu switched the call over to speakerphone. "How else could he have found out? You don't get good service up on Mount Qiyue, and Yin Xiaofeng's phone was 'clean'. He could only have gone to an internet cafe."
"Okay, I'll check all those places in Shouquan now," Yi Fei said. "Anything else? Tell me everything now, if there's something else you need."
Ming Shu huffed a laugh. "You don't mind being busy, huh?"
"I just want to solve this case as quickly as possible," Yi Fei said, with some worry in his voice. "I'm afraid the killer isn't one of these five monks. If this really is a serial killer, that'll be a bigger problem. And if Yin Xiaofeng isn't the killer, I'd like us to rule him out as soon as possible."
Ming Shu nodded his agreement. "We'll also have to check traffic surveillance footage. Haijing Temple doesn't have any cars, and it would have been impossible for Yin Xiaofeng to lug Qiu Min around on public transportation. That means he must have hired a private car. But don't worry about that for now, leave it to me."
"But even if Qiu Min was unconscious, he was still an adult man," Yi Fei mused. "While carrying such a heavy burden, could Yin Xiaofeng really have just caught a ride back to Shouquan?"
"It wouldn't be an easy thing for ordinary people, but don't forget that Yin Xiaofeng is a monk," Ming Shu said.
"You mean, a car stopped for him because he was wearing a monk's robes?" Yi Fei was a bit stunned. "The nerve of him!"
"If that does prove to be true," Ming Shu said, "it'll make our investigation a little easier."
After confessing to the crime he committed twenty-seven years ago, Liu Sui was no longer as recalcitrant as he was before. Upon being asked about Yin Xiaofeng, Liu Sui said that he often saw Yin Xiaofeng sweeping the ground in front of the temple. But besides that, Liu Sui rarely saw Yin Xiaofeng at all.
During the time when on one could see him, no one could possibly know whether or not Yin Xiaofeng was actually at Haijing Temple.
"I'm providing you with all the information I have. I'm cooperating with your investigation. Taking that into consideration, can I ask you not to hold Tang Yuan accountable for the past?" Liu Sui asked with pleading eyes. "Tang Yuan really is innocent. I never discussed my plans with him. It was all my doing."
Ming Shu stared at Liu Sui for a long while. There were some things he just couldn't be bothered to say.
A murder case that had remained unresolved for twenty-seven years, and the plea for mercy in exchange for 'cooperating' with the police.
It was true that Liu Sui and Tang Yuan had been tormented by this for the past twenty-seven years. But if they were truly repentant, how could they have waited until now to confess everything?
Liu Sui confessed only because Tang Yuan had already given him up.
Tang Yuan confessed only because he knew he wasn't the killer.
Qian Da confessed because his ex-wife had already turned evidence over to the police.
Among cheaters, murderers, and officers who accepted bribes, none could be forgiven so easily.
Yin Xiaofeng was still refusing to talk. He sat in the interrogation room, as silent as a mountain.
Later that day, news came from Shouquan—Yin Xiaofeng had indeed been frequenting an internet cafe called 'Peerless Heroes' for a long time.
The manager at the net cafe pulled up the surveillance footage from Yin Xiaofeng's last visit to the cafe. That had been on October 2nd. Yin Xiaofeng entered the cafe wearing ordinary clothes and proceeded to use a computer for two hours.
"I really have no way of checking what he did online. Even this security footage was almost due to be erased," the manager said. "But he was a regular. He always came during the day when there weren't many people here, and he always sat in the corner alone. If someone sat next to him, he would request to move somewhere else."
While investigating internet cafes one by one, Yi Fei happened to stumble upon another lead as well—a fruit vendor named Zhang Zhuang had lent his own van to Yin Xiaofeng.
"He… he's a monk, you know? I'm… my… my business isn't all that… all that good. I thought… I thought I could get some luck by lend… lending my van to him. Isn't… isn't that fine?" Zhang Zhuang had a stutter, and he stammered through his statement. Just speaking a few words left him red in the face. "He… it wasn't… it wasn't like he didn't return it…"
"Where's the van now?" Yi Fei instantly asked.
Zhang Zhuang jumped in shock at the fierceness of his tone, then led the police over to his own home's yard. "Right… right here."
A gray van was parked in the yard. It was filthy with mud and grime, and it clearly hadn't been cleaned in at least ten days.
But before that… no, specifically, after bringing Qiu Min to Shouquan, Yin Xiaofeng must have thoroughly cleaned this van!
"Can you still find any traces?" Yi Fei asked Xiao Man.
Xiao Man had already leapt into the van with his toolbox. "I'll do my best!"
Before the trace evidence team got any results, Ming Shu had already learned from traffic surveillance cameras that Yin Xiaofeng had driven that borrowed van to Qiu Min's residential neighborhood several times. On October 4th, Yin Xiaofeng drove out of Shouquan and appeared near Qiu Min's home in Dongye City again. That evening, the van was seen on a public surveillance camera near Yatou Mountain.
"The van was cleaned very well," Xiao Man said, eyes fierce with vigor. "But I was still able to extract a trace of blood from the crevices. After running a DNA comparison test, I've confirmed that the blood belonged to Qiu Min. Furthermore, I've confirmed that the residual soil on the wheels is a match for the soil on Yatou Mountain!"
"Why did I kill Qiu Min…?"
When faced with a mountain of evidence, Yin Xiaofeng finally started to react to the police's questions. But these reactions came slowly, sluggishly. It was like everything happened to him in slow motion.
"Why did I kill Qiu Min?" he repeated. Then, he suddenly smiled. "Because he made my quiet place noisy."
The 'quiet place' clearly referred to Mount Qiyue.
"You're finally willing to confess your guilt," Ming Shu said.
Yin Xiaofeng looked confused. "Confess?"
"Did you kill Qiu Min?" Ming Shu's eyes were exceptionally sharp and focused. "You have an intense aversion to noisy places because of what you experienced when you were young, and Mount Qiyue was the ideal place for you to live. But starting from the year before last, the place would fill up with tourists every autumn. More and more were coming every year. You hated that those tourists were disturbing your peace, and you hated the ones who drew those tourists to Mount Qiyue even more!"
After a long while, Yin Xiaofeng said, "In truth, what I really wanted to do was burn down every last ginkgo tree on the mountain. But if I did that, Haijing Temple would be gone as well. Every day, so many people barged into our temple. Not only did they make a mess of our abode, they forced me to take pictures with them. I hate them with every fiber of my being!"
Ming Shu furrowed his brow.
Judging by Yin Xiaofeng's abilities, he may have been able to do anything he pleased.
"I was told by someone that a person named Qiushan Wangmian recommended this place to them," Yin Xiaofeng said. He spoke only intermittently, like he had no breath left in his lungs. After uttering a few words, he often had to pause for several minutes before speaking again.
"Who?" Ming Shu asked.
Yin Xiaofeng lifted his head. "The people who barged into the temple."
"So you went to find out who was actually behind that username?" Ming Shu asked.
"I've seen him before," Yin Xiaofeng said out of the blue, not following along with Ming Shu's words. "When I went to his home and saw him there, I knew I had the right person."
"You were the one who took Qiu Min away from Yatou Mountain?"
"It was me. He was dying, and he begged me to save him." Yin Xiaofeng started to laugh as he spoke. "Why should I save him? I was going to have him die on Mount Qiyue."
That was what Ming Shu hadn't been able to figure out before.
If Yin Xiaofeng had simply strangled Qiu Min at the arsenal, the case would have been nearly impossible to investigate.
It was because Yin Xiaofeng brought Qiu Min back to Mount Qiyue that they were able to find key evidence in the end.
Could someone have been manipulating Yin Xiaofeng's actions from behind the scenes?
"Why did you want Qiu Min to die on Mount Qiyue?" Ming Shu asked.
Yin Xiaofeng showed that look of confusion again. "Why?"
"You didn't have a reason?"
"What was it?"
"He was the one who cursed this mountain, and so he should die on this mountain to give thanks."
Fang Yuanhang, who was watching the interrogation through a monitor, nearly choked on his own saliva. "He's sick in the head, isn't he?"
"Yin Xiaofeng has always been sick," Xing Mu said.
Fang Yuanhang solemnly declared, "No, this isn't right. I suddenly feel like there's a contradiction here!"
"Where is there a contradiction?" Xing Mu asked.
"Qiu Min was murdered by Yin Xiaofeng. We have physical evidence and witness statements. But our previous deduction was that the person who killed Qiu Min also killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan," Fang Yuanhang said.
Xing Mu nodded.
"That killer is extremely meticulous. In order to mislead the police, they posed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan in that way. They did an exceptional job of covering their tracks," Fang Yuanhang said. "Yu Xiaofeng is schizophrenic. I don't deny that he has some sense for covering his tracks, but judging by his confession of guilt, and his admission that he felt a need to bring Qiu Min back to Mount Qiyue, I don't think he can pull off something like staging a murder scene to deliberately mislead the police."
The problems that Fang Yuanhang identified had, naturally, been identified by Ming Shu as well. Ming Shu tapped his index finger against the table in the interrogation room and asked, "After you brought Qiu Min back to Mount Qiyue, you used both hands to strangle him to death?"
Yin Xiaofeng nodded and lifted his hands. "It was easy."
"You buried him on the spot?"
Yin Xiaofeng nodded again.
"Then, on the night of October 13th, you went up the mountain again and dismembered Qiu Min's corpse?"
Yin Xiaofeng's lips parted. His mouth hung open, in silence, for a moment. "Dismembered?"
Fang Yuanhang and Xing Mu both stared at the surveillance monitor.
"Were you the one who killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan?" Ming Shu asked.
"Why would I kill them?" Yin Xiaofeng asked. "They were women."
Xu Chun was watching the monitor as well. He softly explained, "Dr. Man told me something else about Yin Xiaocheng, from the time when he was being treated. When he was lucid, Yin Xiaocheng was always very good to women. In that backwards village of his, they believed that women were 'accessories' belonging to men, and thus needed to be protected by men."
Ming Shu drew a slow breath. If Yin Xiaofeng wasn't the one who killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan, then was it really as Xiao Yu'an had said? The person who dismembered Qiu Min was someone else? But how did that person know that Yin Xiaofeng had killed Qiu Min? How did that person know where Qiu Min was buried? And, more importantly, what reason did that person have to dig up Qiu Min and dismember his corpse?
If it was proven, at this stage of the investigation, that the person who killed Qiu Min and the person who made a 'masterpiece' out of the corpses of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were two different people, then this case inevitably would be split.
The cogs in Ming Shu's mind started turning. It was true that Yin Xiaofeng was schizophrenic, but that didn't necessarily mean he had split personalities. If he did have a split personality, though, it could explain why these crimes seemed to have been committed by two separate people.
But genuine split personalities were exceedingly rare in reality.
However, Xiao Yu'an's theory that two separate people killed and dismembered Qiu Min was also illogical.
Because if someone had been investigated for dismembering a corpse, the worst crime they could have been charged with was just that—dismembering a corpse. Was there a need for them to murder Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan to cover up what they had done?
Ming Shu gazed back at Yin Xiaofeng, and Yin Xiaofeng calmly said, "I only killed one person, and that was Qiu Min."