The way Ji Yunshu stared back at him was completely foreign to Ji Shuhan. He almost failed to recognize his own daughter. He took a small step back instinctively, slightly intimidated by her.
Ji Yunshu’s inky irises took on an air of determination. “Luan’er is the only family I have left in this world. I will not let this injustice go unanswered. I will investigate this case, and I will do it thoroughly.”
Everyone in the entire hall was silent.
Luan’er was her only family? Then what would that make us?
The first one to speak out in opposition was Ji Yuanzhi. He took a step forward and retorted, “Stop your nonsense! What do you mean Luan’er has been forced to commit suicide? Do you have any evidence? Were it not for the life of that little wretch, would you be standing here talking to us? Will you stop at nothing to blow this scandal out of proportion and bring disgrace upon our family?” He sounded like a valiant defender of the Ji Mansion.
Even Ji Muqing joined in. She raised her eyebrows and added, “Third Brother is right. If you have no evidence, then don’t make nonsensical claims about Luan’er not being the culprit or someone forcing her to commit suicide. Unless you want to go back to prison and shoulder the blame for the double murder again?”
“Stop dishonoring our family,” said Ji Yuanzhi with a scornful snort.
‘Two monkeys, they complement each other well in their little tricks.’
Ji Wanxin coughed and tried to lower the tension between the three siblings. She interposed with a weak voice, “Elder sister, third brother, don’t speak like that, Yunshu doesn’t mean what she said.”
“Shut your mouth,” Ji Muqing stared back at her. “Why are you helping an outsider? Have you forgotten your own name?”
‘An outsider. Finally they’ve revealed their true thoughts.’
A contemptuous smile climbed up Ji Yunshu’s lips as she heard these words. She felt a certain pity for her siblings. Ji Yuanzhi noticed it and asked, “What are you laughing at?”
“At your desolate condition. At the fact that despite being alive, you are nothing but a husk, worth less than a cadaver,” she answered with a cold look directed at her family.
“You dare insult us?” Ji Muqing raised her hand in anger, about to strike at Ji Yunshu, but the latter caught her wrist before she could swing her arm down.
Slap-!Ji Yunshu delivered a heavy blow to Ji Muqing’s overly powdered left cheek. It was an act no one thought her capable of.
Ji Yuanzhi was the first one to go from astonishment to fury: he pulled Ji Muqing back to his side and raised his own hand. He was about to return the blow when his arm was suddenly gripped by another hand, which bent it backwards. He felt a sharp sting near his wrist and thought it had fractured.
“Ahhh-!” Ji Yuanzhi knelt down from the intensifying pain.
Jing Rong towered over him and stared at him with venomous eyes. “You worthless scum, how dare you lay your hands on my Yunshu?”Jing Rong continued to claw at Ji Yuanzhi’s wrist. It seemed like he was not going to stop until his bones were broken.
Ji Shuhan finally recognized Jing Rong and dropped to his knees. “This humble one greets...Prince Rong.”
Everyone within the hall dropped to their knees within the next second.
Ji Yunshu found herself to be the only one standing aside from Jing Rong. The latter surveyed the hall with his long eyes and said nothing about letting them get back up.
‘You shall keep kneeling.’
Ji Yuanzhi knelt down with one knee on the floor, his face contorted by agony. His wrist was becoming visibly bent as a result of Jing Rong’s firm grasp. He had difficulty even begging for mercy through the torture.
Ji Shuhan looked at the whole scene nervously. He promptly pleaded, “Prince, please forgive my son’s foolish transgression, it was not his intention…”
“I’m not the victim of his transgression, Yunshu is.” Jing Rong said “Yunshu”, as though he wanted to declare in an overbearing manner that she belonged to him.
Ji Shuhan’s face grew pale. “Prince, my son… he…”
“Nevermind!” Jing Rong interrupted his speech and released Ji Yuanzhi with a swing of his arm. Ji Yuanzhi was on all fours and had his forehead against the ground. His face was pale white from the excruciating pain. He was barely able to stop himself from crying out loud.
Old Madame Ji was rather worried about her grandson, so she quickly crawled over to have a look at his injuries.
Jing Rong clapped his hands, but still forbade them from getting up. He glanced at the people in the hall and added, “Lord Ji, I see that you have been quite busy with things these last few days.”
Ji Shuhan hurriedly prevaricated, “Prince, these are only trivialities within our family, we wouldn’t dare to let you worry…”
“Trivialities? A human life is but a triviality?” Jing Rong raised his tone slightly and asked in an intimidating voice.
Ji Shuhan stayed silent and dodged his eyes.
Jing Rong had a cold laugh and looked at Ji Yunshu. He said seriously, “You want to figure out who forced Luan’er to commit suicide? Fine. I’ll be with you, and I can guarantee that anyone who tries to stop you will not live to see the sunrise of the next day.”
These words brought shivers down the spines of the Ji family members.
Ji Yunshu kept her composure and walked forth with her resolution unbroken. She looked at her family and said, “If one of you forced Luan’er to her demise, I, Ji Yunshu, swear that I will not let that person go unpunished. Do not expect pity from me because of the bond of blood we share.” Her words were unusually harsh and aggressive.
A few eyebrows were raised at the assumption that someone amongst them had to do with Luan’er death, but Ji Yunshu was well aware of what her family would do for the sake of honor. She lingered no longer and left the main hall for her own quarters.
Jing Rong looked at her figure from the back and felt a sharp pain sting his heart. He scuttled to catch up to her and left without saying a single word.
Everyone scrambled to their feet soon after Jing Rong left.
Ji Yuanzhi was still lamenting the pain in his wrist, which caused Old Madame Ji to worry quite a lot. Ji Muqing held her own cheek with one hand and was sobbing silently; it was the first time someone had struck her. Ji Shuhan sighed with mixed feelings of anger and exasperation as he crawled up with difficulty.
But amongst all of them, there was one pair of eyes which remained fixated on Jing Rong’s departing silhouette.
It was Ji Wanxin. Her sickly face hid something amidst the usual pallor, it was something else. ‘Why, why won’t he look at me?’
Ji Yunshu walked silently on the path to the western part of the mansion. Jing Rong walked right beside her.
Jing Rong finally broke the silence and said, “About Luan’er, don’t grieve so much.”
Ji Yunshu did not answer him.
Jing Rong suddenly quickened his pace and blocked her way. He said to her with visible concern between his brows, “If you are feeling unwell, don’t hide it. I’ve said that I wouldn’t become the cage that traps you, but I won’t shy away from becoming the roof and the walls that will protect you from the raging tempests of this world. As long as there is anything I can do, I will make sure that you remain unharmed.”
Even Jing Rong’s soft words had their own touch of masculinity.
Ji Yunshu hid her red eyes and didn’t look back at him. She whispered to him, “Your Highness, I thank you for your help, and I will remember your favor. However, I just want to find the culprit now.”
“Where do we start?”
“From where Luan’er died.”
Ji Yunshu lowered her head and skirted around Jing Rong as she strode towards her destination.
The latter quickly caught up with her.
Ji Yunshu pushed open the door which led to her quarters and saw a piece of white cloth hanging from the wooden beam which ran horizontally through the room. The small bench below it was on its side: it seemed like no one had entered since the death of Luan’er.
‘Fortunate enough, hopefully, the evidence that I’m looking for is still there.’
Jing Rong stood silently by the side and let Ji Yunshu carry out her investigation. The latter walked towards a hanger and examined the basin of water which sat on top of it. Ji Yunshu dipped the tip of her finger inside the liquid and sniffed it.
It had the distinct smell of tangerine.
She then took out the piece of paper Luan’er had left and looked at the fingerprint.
After pondering about it for a while, she opened her sandalwood box and took out a brush. She dipped the tip of the brush into ink and carefully traced on the piece of paper. It was not long before the fingerprint appeared, ever so clearly on the paper.
Jing Rong walked over and asked with curiosity, “Is this a fingerprint?”
Ji Yunshu scrutinized the mark and answered with conviction, “Whoever it was that killed Luan’er left this.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“This mark is covered over by the message. This means that when Luan’er wrote this, someone brought the piece of paper in front of her. This is how the fingerprint, whose size suggests that it belongs to a man, made its way onto this piece of paper.” Ji Yunshu analyzed the clue.
Jing Rong thought about it and asked, “Could it be that someone left the mark on the paper a long time ago?”
“That’s impossible,” answered Ji Yunshu with certainty. “The paper around it has the smell of tangerine. I often think that I am the only person in the world who would perfume the air of my room with tangerine because it can get rid of the stench of cadavers. I usually ask Luan’er to add some tangerines every single time she changes the water in the basin. The person must have washed his hands in the basin before giving this piece of paper to Luan’er. The smell usually only remains for twelve hours, after which it will evaporate. There is no mistake about this.”
Jing Rong nodded upon hearing the explanation, “Then, can we tell to whom it belongs to?”
Ji Yunshu showed the piece of paper to him and said, “Perhaps this is a sign sent from the heavens, do you notice anything out of the ordinary about this fingerprint?”
Jing Rong examined it carefully and said, “Usually the middle portion of the fingering should be more pronounced. But with this one, it looks like a part of it from the middle is missing. Only the slimmer patterns around the edges remain.”
‘Yes, the middle part of the fingerprint is completely gone. Gone without leaving a single trace. Did the culprit not have flesh in the middle of his finger?”
Ji Yunshu nodded and said, “This seems to come from the thumb. Whoever it was that forced Luan’er to kill herself has either a deformed thumb with a cavity in its center, or the flesh has been injured and the scar which resulted from it has made it impossible to produce a pattern.”
“Wait a second…” Jing Rong seemed to have suddenly caught onto something. His eyes suddenly lit up. “If I did not see wrong earlier.”
“Does your highness know who it is?” asked Ji Yunshu with some excitement.
A name slowly came out of Jing Rong’s lips, “Ji Yuanzhi!”
Grenn's Rants Corner
Luan'er: Now, as a ghost, I can be with Miss all day.
-24 hours later-
Luan'er: *complexion more pale than a ghost* Miss! Stop doing my autopsy! T^T I can't barf even if I want to.
-48 hours later-
Luan'er: *peeking through her hands* Miss, Prince Rong is so... aggressive. *blush*