The three bodies hadn't been buried. They had been arranged side-by-side, facedown. In terms of direction, their heads were all pointed west, and their feet pointed east. It was already nearly impossible to make out the original color of the clothes they wore, but judging by the style, it was still possible to determine these were the robes of the monks at Haijing Temple.
"This is Chu Jiang and the others?" Fang Yuanhang asked. He was wearing a mask, which muffled his voice. "Holy shit, they've gone all waxy. This kind of corpse is the most terrifying to me!"
"Judging by their style of dress and state of decay, it's most likely those three. But we'll still have to wait for Xing-laoshi to finish his examination to confirm the results." Ming Shu gazed down at the three corpses. His eyes deepened with thought.
The soft tissue of the leftmost corpse had already started to become a muddy, gray substance; the body was starting to decay to bone. Meanwhile, the hips, abdomen, and limbs of the other two corpses had already started to take on a wax-like appearance. These bodies were starting to undergo the process of saponification. The victim in the middle must have died earlier; he was farther along in the process.
The temperature on the mountain was low, and the cave was even colder. It was humid as well. When bodies were left in this sort of environment, the chances of corpse wax forming were high. But why were the two bodies on the right turning to wax, while the one on the left wasn't?
Whether or not corpse wax formed depended on a number of external factors. Whether or not the body was exposed to the air was one factor, and the temperature and humidity of the surrounding environment was another. Typically, corpses with a high body fat percentage tended to wax if thrown into mud or a moist pit—but not always.
Ming Shu studied the leftmost body some more. "Xing-ge, were these bodies brought here immediately after death, or were they transported here after some time had passed?"
"My guess is they were tossed in here right after death." It was Xiao Man who answered. "Before you guys got here, I already took a look around. No one's been in here for at least half a year. The soil is relatively undisturbed. It's preserved the footprints of one person, and only one person. It should be obvious that this person is our killer."
Xing Mu chimed in, "Judging by the condition of the bodies, I also believe they were placed here shortly after death. As for why one body is decaying to the bone while the others are waxing under the same circumstances, I believe it has to do with their causes and times of death."
Ming Shu stooped down. "The skeletal one is thinner."
Xing Mu nodded. "I can't yet tell you the exact time they were killed, but I can give an estimate of the general time frame. The victim that's decaying to the bone was killed sometime between July and August of last year."
"Summer. Chu Jiang left to 'wander' in the summer," Ming Shu said. "But it should be more humid in the summer."
"Yes, but there are also more mosquitos on the mountain during the summers. Mosquitos can speed up a body's decay process," Xing Mu said. "Mosquitos and other insects have a greater impact on how a body decays than climate and temperature. Although cave environments, among others, can cause corpses to wax, these victims weren't buried underground, so it's natural for them to decay normally. Also, whether or not a corpse waxes can be dependent on the victim's body fat percentage as well."
Ming Shu thought back to the photos he'd seen of Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu. Chu Jiang had indeed been very thin, while Chang Qingying and Wang Lu were larger.
"The two waxed corpses have a later time of death," Xing Mu continued. "Between November and December of last year for the second corpse, and March of this year for the third. During this time period, the mountain is at its coldest. Mosquitoes and other insects are mostly dormant at that time. Plus, these victims had more fat on their bodies. These factors added up and resulted in waxing. You all hate waxed corpses, but for us forensic scientists, waxed corpses are much 'cuter' than skeletal ones."
Ming Shu stood up. "Because waxed corpses preserve more valuable clues, right?"
"Yes," Xing Mu said. "Look at the chest, abdomen, arms, thighs, and necks of these two corpses. There are traces which indicate they were restrained by ropes."
Fang Yuanhang hastily swallowed back his nausea and rushed over to look.
Once they'd cleared up why the bodies had decayed in dissimilar ways, Ming Shu stopped bothering Xing Mu and stepped outside to check out the surrounding area.
The cave was very well-hidden. If they'd only conducted a cursory search of the mountain, there was no way they would have found it.
The killer probably knew this. So after bringing the bodies here, they didn't bury their victims. Not only that, they hadn't even cleared away their own footprints.
The bodies had all been placed facedown. Was that supposed to signify repentance? Atonement?
One victim had been claimed between July and August of last year. One between November and December of last year. And one in March of this year. There was an interval of approximately four months between each death, but between March and now, more than half a year had already passed.
Why hadn't the killer claimed another victim?
If the killer was Mou Haiyuan, acting as Kui Chen, what was he waiting for?
The three corpses were taken back to the Criminal Investigation Bureau to be autopsied. Before beginning the autopsies, Xing Mu found three pieces of glossy paper—one in the inner pocket of each corpse's clothes. One word was written on each piece of paper.
They were assigned, respectively, to the first corpse, the second corpse, and the third corpse. Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu—presumably in that order.
Chu Jiang's unvirtuous act was harassing a widow, ultimately leading that widow to commit suicide. Chang Qinying's unvirtuous act was willfully misleading a younger coworker at work on an important project, causing that coworker to jump out a window. And Wang Lu's deficit in virtue was the most obvious one—he had been unfilial.
These three points, besides Wang Lu's lack of filial piety, had all been linked to Mou Haiyuan's own unvirtuous acts.
Ming Shu set the plastic bags containing each scrap of paper on the desk, laying them out side by side. "My theory was correct. Mou Haiyuan is punishing 'fellow sinners' to atone for his own sins. The monks now residing at Haijing Temple, besides Liu Sui and Tang Yuan, are all 'sacrifices' Mou Haiyuan somehow gathered.
"And he gathered them there so that they could die on his behalf. His next target would have been either Yin Xiaofeng or Fang Pingxu, both of whom had violent tendencies."
"The tracks left outside the cave were left by these rain boots," Xiao Man said, holding up a large evidence bag which contained a pair of black rain boots. They looked very old, with lots of mud and grime clinging to the surface. "We found these in the storage room at Haijing Temple. The fingerprints we pulled from them are consistent with the fingerprints Mou Haiyuan registered with his agency in the past."
Before long, the autopsy reports and DNA comparison results came out.
Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu had all registered their personal information with the police before ascending the mountain to become monks. After comparison tests were run, the three victims in the cave were determined to be precisely these three men.
Xing Mu stood next to Wang Lu's body and placed his hands near the sides of Wang Lu's head, making a wringing motion. "All three victims died from extreme damage to their cervical vertebra. Based on the autopsy results as well as the marks left on Wang Lu and Chang Qingying, the killer snapped their necks with his bare hands."
"Mou Haiyuan has practiced martial arts for decades. He certainly had the ability. And if he sees himself as the 'punisher' and 'redeemer', it would make sense for him to wish suffering upon his victims," Ming Shu said. "But the risk that comes with such a straightforward attack is considerable. Xing-ge, you said at the scene of the crime that there were binding marks on the waxed corpses. Were those made pre- or post-mortem?"
"Post-mortem," Xing Mu answered. "Taking into consideration all the injuries on the victims, I would theorize that the killer put ropes on them after killing them, to better transport them."
"Did anything show up on their tox screens?" Ming Shu asked.
Xing Mu shook his head.
Ming Shu walked up to Xing Mu, lifted his hands, and caged Xing Mu's throat like Xing Mu had just done to one of the victims as a demonstration.
Xing Mu instantly tensed. His pulse shot up. "B-b-boss! Wh-wh-what are you doing, there are s-s-surveillance cameras here!"
"While you're conscious and undrugged," Ming Shu said, "would you resist and fight back if I stood in front of you and grabbed you like this?"
Xing Mu thought, What a pointless question! Who wouldn't resist?!
"B-b-but I wouldn't be able to beat you!" Xing Mu said. He grabbed onto Ming Shu's arms—a move made purely out of instinct.
"Whether or not you could win against me, you would still struggle. This is a human being's survival instinct. You would fight, just like you're doing now. And I haven't exerted any force yet. If I add some pressure…" Ming Shu trailed off and increased the strength of his grip.
Xing Mu jumped and nearly kicked Ming Shu.
Ming Shu quickly released him and laughed. "You've attacked me, Xing-laoshi."
"You were the one who attacked me first!" Xing Mu argued. His face had already turned pale with aggrievement. "You're trained. With your abilities, you could easily rip my head off!"
"Right, I attacked first," Ming Shu said. "In this position, face-to-face, the victim would definitely struggle and fight back as long as they were conscious. But there were no signs of a struggle found on their bodies, and no signs of them having been drugged. So were their necks snapped in their sleep?"
Xing Mu was still wired with tension from that exchange just then. He remained frozen for a while before he suddenly blurted out, "Ah! No, they weren't sleeping. They were killed in a kneeling position!"
Ming Shu frowned. "How did you reach that conclusion?"
"Didn't I say waxed bodies preserve more clues?" Xing Mu excitedly continued. "Wang Lu and Chang Qingying have pressure marks on their knees. Boss, they weren't tied up before they died. Which means… they voluntarily knelt before their killer and allowed the killer to snap their necks?"
Ming Shu closed his eyes. The clues gradually came together in his mind, weaving together an image of the circumstances of the crime.
Only the sounds of breathing filled the room. Xing Mu waited for a while, then whispered, "Boss?"
Ming Shu turned to him. "Xing-ge, if I asked you to kneel down and put your head in my hands, would you be willing?"
Xing Mu's eyes widened, and he fiercely thought, Willing my ass! But I can't beat you either!
"You wouldn't be willing," Ming Shu said. "No one would be. But if someone else, like a respected monk, asked you to kneel so that he could wash away your sins by touching your head with both hands, would you then be willing?"
"Huh?" Xing Mu still hadn't caught up to Ming Shu's thoughts. "I haven't sinned!"
"I'm just drawing an example," Ming Shu said. "It's not necessarily 'sin', but all human beings are bound to have some dark secrets hidden in their hearts that aren't known to outsiders. There are good and bad secrets, and the bad is a shadow that will follow you for life. Would you want to get rid of these shadows?"
Xing Mu nodded along, still confused. But after a moment, he said, "I still wouldn't kneel. It's not a very heavy shadow, anyway."
"For us ordinary people, who haven't committed any crimes, who haven't done anything particularly unvirtuous, it's true that we wouldn't need to be 'purified' by a monk," Ming Shu said. "But for Chu Jiang and these others, they once committed gravely unvirtuous sins."
"So Kui Chen—no, Mou Haiyuan convinced them to kneel of their own volition. They thought their master would cleanse them, but in the end they had their necks broken?" Xing Mu slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Makes sense. All the clues offered up by the bodies are clearly connected now!"
Ming Shu patted Xing Mu on the shoulder and praised, "All thanks to Xing-ge's analysis of his autopsy results."
Xing Mu wanted to smile, but he held it in as his face turned red.
Ming Shu had another theory that he didn't share with Xing Mu.
Chu Jiang and the others had come to Haijing Temple five or six years ago, but Mou Haiyuan hadn't acted right away. He'd waited until last year to claim his first victim.
That was such a long stretch of time that Ming Shu couldn't neglect it.
But seeing as the victims had willingly knelt, Mou Haiyuan must have spent a long time 'taming' them before asking them to kneel and repent.
The victims were the ones who'd already been 'tamed'. The monks still living at the temple were the ones who had yet to become docile and obedient.
Besides Liu Sui and Tang Yuan, Chu Xin, Yin Xiaofeng, and Fang Pingxu were all young. If Mou Haiyuan planned on killing them like he killed the others, it wouldn't have been an easy task if they fought back.
Was that why Mou Haiyuan had pretended to be meditating in isolation?
Or was it possible that someone at the temple had discovered Mou Haiyuan's secret and taken 'preventative measures' by killing him first?
Mou Haiyuan's whereabouts were still unknown. There was still no way to tie all the clues together.
While the Serious Crimes Division searched the mountain, a thorough investigation into Mou Haiyuan was also underway.
Before retiring, Mou Haiyuan had purchased properties in several cities around the country. After retiring, he'd sold most of these properties and donated the earnings to youth charities.
Mou Haiyuan did all this without seeking media coverage. If the police hadn't zeroed in on him at this time, no one would have known about these old stories.
"This guy is really contradictory," Fang Yuanhang said. "He really did good deeds, but he did plenty of bad stuff too."
"It's not that 'this guy' is really contradictory. It's that the vast majority of people are contradictory, just to varying degrees," Ming Shu said. He'd noticed more contradictions than Fang Yuanhang. "Mou Haiyuan donated to charities, but he only donated to charities for youths—children and teenagers. Judging by the fact that he hired people to act as his parents and treated them well, it's likely that he did something to wrong his biological parents and wanted to make up for it.
"But, if that's true, then he should have wished to donate to charities which aided the elderly as well—those who would have been similar in age to his parents. He donated huge sums of money, but all to youth charities. Which is a bit… strange."
"That's a very important clue," Xiao Yu'an said, joining in on the conversation. "His actions and his presumed psychology don't match up. Although we've encountered many instances of people acting in ways that are meant to mislead the police lately, Mou Haiyuan made all these generous donations secretly. In other words, he didn't need to disguise his true thoughts while making these donations. These kind acts reflect his true wishes."
Fang Yuanhang scratched at his hair and fell deep into thought.
This could be Mou Haiyuan's true nature. But where did that leave them?
"Donating all his money to youth charities tells us this was an urgent psychological demand for Mou Haiyuan. It was a necessity which outweighed the guilt he felt towards his biological parents," Xiao Yu'an said. "This behavior could indicate that Mou Haiyuan had an extremely difficult childhood and youth, and the shadows from that time have always stayed with him."
"Before Mou Haiyuan became famous, he really did have a hard life," Ming Shu said.
Xiao Yu'an flipped through some printed-out notes. "Mou Haiyuan was very focused on Long Province, and then our neighboring Han Province. It's understandable that he would have an interest in Han Province, since this is where we believe his hometown was located. But what about Long Province?"
"Long Province is on the border, and Yin Xiaofeng's hometown, Liangxi, is in Long Province!" Ming Shu's gaze sharpened. "Director Xiao, you suspect Mou Haiyuan's real hometown is in Long Province?"
"I wouldn't rule out that possibility," Xiao Yu'an said. "A person wouldn't show concern for a place that had nothing to do with him, for no reason. Yin Xiaofeng was brought out to Haijing Temple by Mou Haiyuan. How did Mou Haiyuan meet him? Where did they meet? In Long Province?"
When asked about how he met Kui Chen, Yin Xiaofeng remained silent for a long time. Just as Fang Yuanhang started thinking he wouldn't answer, Yin Xiaofeng suddenly looked up with his empty gaze and said, "Kui Chen said he would take me to a place that was even quieter than a hospital."
The 'hospital' referred to the mental hospital where Yin Xiaofeng had spent several years after being rescued by the police. His doctor had told Xu Chun that Yin Xiaofeng couldn't handle the noise and chaos after leaving the hospital, and thus Yin Xiaofeng had returned, asking if he could stay there.
"Where?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "Where did you meet Kui Chen?"
"In Liangxi," Yin Xiaofeng said.
Chu Xin and Fang Pingxu were also questioned, one by one.
Chu Xin insisted he'd come to Haijing Temple of his own volition, for no reason but to practice Buddhism. His decision had nothing to do with Kui Chen. Fang Pingxu also asserted that he hadn't met Kui Chen prior to coming to Mount Qiyue.
"Chu Jiang and the other two are already dead, but at least Yin Xiaofeng confirmed our suspicions," Fang Yuanhang said. "I also thought it was quite strange, before, that Fang Pingxu and Yin Xiaofeng both had violent tendencies. If Mou Haiyuan wanted to redeem himself, he would only need one of them. There would have been no need for him to kill them both."
Ming Shu listened to Fang Yuanhang's analysis of their new findings while watching a video Xu Chun had sent back.
Mou Haiyuan's charitable donations mostly went to running orphanages, kindergartens, and elementary schools. After a thorough investigation, it was discovered that there was an orphanage in Liangxi that was run almost entirely on donations from Mou Haiyuan.
This orphanage even had Mou Haiyuan's photo hanging up on its walls.
"His other donations were all practically anonymously made. Why would Mou Haiyuan's photo be hanging up at this orphanage?" Ming Shu mused. "Has he been there? Is it a starting point? Xu Chun, did you see Mou Haiyuan's photo hanging up at any of the other orphanages or schools you visited in Long Province?"
"No," Xu Chun said. "And besides here, those other places aren't even sure who their donor is."
"Question all the staff members at this orphanage, especially the older ones. If anyone has retired, pay them a visit at home," Ming Shu said. "This place is so special that I suspect Mou Haiyuan once came out of this orphanage himself!"
"This is our sponsor," said a child, pointing at Mou Haiyuan's picture on the wall. "We're all his children."
Xu Chun noticed that neither the adults nor the children at that orphanage hid their admiration for Mou Haiyuan. In their eyes, he was their great benefactor.
But when asked about the origins of this great man and their orphanage, no one could provide any answers. The current director of the orphanage, Xiu Chunhua, was around fifty years old. She'd worked at the orphanage for over twenty years, but only knew that Mou Haiyuan seemed to have been friends with the previous director.
"That photo was only hung up in recent years," Xiu Chunhua said. "Mou-xiansheng didn't allow it in the past."
"Why not?" Xu Chun asked.
"Maybe it's because he didn't want people to know about his good deeds," Xiu Chunhua said. "Mou-xiansheng was a celebrity, after all."
"So why have you hung up his picture now?"
"He hasn't been here for many years. The children wanted to thank him, in their own way."
Xu Chun continued, "The previous director…"
Xiu Chunhua sighed. "She passed away."
The old director may have been one of the last people on earth who truly understood Mou Haiyuan. Once she passed away, it was like all those secrets had been taken to the grave.
Xu Chun refused to give up. He still rushed over to the old director's home.
The old director's other half was surnamed Chen, around seventy—but still lucid.
Several framed photographs decorated the cabinets in the house. This had clearly been a happy family. Surprisingly, among those family photos, there was one with Mou Haiyuan and the elderly couple.
"Haiyuan is our friend," the old man said. He picked up the photo frame with his wrinkled hands and carefully stroked the edges. "He never forgot us."
As soon as Xu Chun heard those words, he knew that this man must know something.
The man wasn't at all wary of the police. He freely spoke of what had happened between him, his late wife Li Liulan, Mou Haiyuan, and many other children several decades ago.
Even now, the town of Liangxi wasn't wealthy. They were much worse off tens of years ago.
One winter, a pair of twins was born to the poor Mu family. They named them Mu Haiyuan and Mu Haifeng. There was no such thing as a household registration system back then, so the two children and many other children of the same age grew up together in that town.
The whole town was poor. Parents would save their food rations for their children, but even so—it was hard to make ends meet. When the Mu brothers were five or six, the younger brother Mu Haifeng was 'given' to an outsider.
By relying on the money and supplies given to them by that outsider, the three people left in the Mu family were able to survive that cold winter.
When spring came, Mu Haiyuan announced to his friends that he wanted to go out and make money in order to get his little brother back. And in the future, he wanted to make enough to save his parents from this life of poverty as well.
His friends had all sorts of ideas for their own futures. Some wanted to become soldiers, some wanted to become scientists. Only Mu Haiyuan said that he just wanted to make money, to get rich.
"You can't forget about us, then," Li Liulan had said. "We all suffered together as children, but I don't want the children born here in the future to suffer. I want to make a loving home! If anyone's child doesn't have enough to eat, they can come to my loving home for a warm meal. Haiyuan, when you have a lot of money, can you donate some to my loving home?"
Mu Haiyuan had nodded solemnly and sworn in his youthful voice, "I want all the children to be able to eat!"
Li Liulan later became the director of the orphanage.
And Mu Haiyuan went on to become Mou Haiyuan.
"Haiyuan changed his name. When he first came back, Liulan and I didn't recognize him," the old man said. "When the orphanage was first built, we needed money for everything. Haiyuan told us he had come back to fulfill his childhood promise."
The old man couldn't say exactly how Mu Haiyuan became Mou Haiyuan, but Xu Chun already had a rough idea of what had happened in his mind. Before the old man grew too tired to keep talking, Xu Chun hastily asked, "When did Mou Haiyuan's parents pass away?"
"A long time ago." The old man shook his head. "Haiyuan left the town when he was around ten or so. The town suffered a famine after that. The adults gave food to the children, and that year… many people died of starvation. Haiyuan's mother died then, and his father also passed before Haiyuan returned as a successful man."
Dongye City. Intermediate People's Court One.
Chu Can had been accused of murder, unlawful detainment, and destruction of a corpse. His case was currently being tried in court. The judge didn't pronounce a sentence in the main court. Luo Yi, sitting in the gallery, stood up and met Chu Can's gaze.
A dark glint flashed through Chu Can's eyes, but Luo Yi's eyes were filled with nothing but undisguised contempt.
Upon leaving the court, Luo Yi made a phone call. After the other party said something, Luo Yi grit his teeth and seethed, "Just how long do they plan on keeping Chu Xin locked up?"