Chapter 3 - Nameless Corpses
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The rain continued to fall all day long, finally petering out when nightfall arrived.
At this time, in the front courtyard, the Ji family was receiving the noble guests from the capital. Meanwhile, Ji Yunshu was tidying the paints in her sandalwood box. Every color in the box had been personally mixed by her. As she carefully cleaned and organized them, the glossy paints caught the eye, getting brighter with each passing day. Without a doubt, these colors would last for more than a thousand years without fading.
After around the time it takes to brew a cup of tea, Luan’er hurriedly ran into the room and exclaimed, “Miss! The county magistrate wanted you to make a quick trip to the east suburbs. He mentioned that an abandoned house in the east suburbs had caught fire, and many have perished from the resulting conflagration. Right now, their deceased families are waiting for the corpses to be identified, so they can retrieve and bury them. Unfortunately, since their corpses were charred beyond recognition, they want you to go and have a look.”
“When did it happen?”
“Two hours ago.”
Ji Yunshu let out a groan. Nevertheless, she unhurriedly closed the lid of the sandalwood box, changed into men’s clothing, lit a small lantern, and went out again.
Whenever she went out for work, she never brought Luan’er with her. Her maidservant stayed behind, since Ji Yunshu needed someone to protect the courtyard in her absence.
Traveling at night wasn’t easy. Fortunately, the east suburbs weren’t very far. When she arrived at her destination, the sight of a collapsed residence still billowing out smoke greeted her. The air was suffused with the smell of burning wood. Most of the villagers were carrying lanterns outside. Some of them wailed, while others repeatedly sighed.
Once she approached, she could see that more than 10 corpses were neatly lined up on the ground. All of the skin and flesh on the corpses had been utterly burnt to a crisp; not even one corpse could be recognized.
When the county magistrate saw Ji Yunshu arrive, he hurriedly went to her. His voice was low, but very articulate, “Yunshu, come see. If the situation wasn’t too grave, I wouldn’t want to alarm you. This much work in the first month of the lunar year, don’t mention you feeling unlucky, everyone is crying out in grievances right now!”
“It’s getting late. The earlier we wrap everything up, the earlier we can go back.”
“Good, good, good.”
The county magistrate ordered people to carry a table over and to prepare a dozen sheets of paper. He also ordered the yamen runners to form a security perimeter around the area.
While she observed the corpses lying on the ground, Ji Yunshu’s almond eyes widened with shock, but she quickly lowered them to conceal her emotions from prying eyes. Although she had become accustomed to witnessing such scenes, to go as far as to say that she was now completely apathetic would be a complete lie.
She walked to the first corpse without hurrying. She crouched for a closer examination. The corpse before her had signs of heat ruptures[1. What are heat ruptures? They are split of the soft parts (soft tissues, muscles...) of the body under great heat. It looks like a laceration or incised wounds. For more information, I put the link to a forensic reference, that contains laymen terms (WARNING: don't scroll up or down if you don't want visual of other things) click here]; the face had already swollen up. She continued to examine it for a moment before opening her mouth and whispering, “Deeply sunken eyes with no shape; low and flat zygomatic bones; the frontal bone is wide, and the lower jaw is narrow.”
Immediately after, she took out a pair of white gloves. Deftly pulling them on, she lightly pressed on the corpse’s face and skull so she could have a rough idea of the cranial dimensions.
Then, she turned around and returned to the table. She opened her sandalwood box and took out a brush and her paint. Finally, she started to paint a human shape on the paper.
Once the portrait was completed, a person immediately rushed out from the crowd in tears, yelling out to heaven and earth as she ran toward the first corpse. “This is my husband. Aaah! Husband! How could you just leave me like this? How can I live in this world now that you left me…”
Ji Yunshu methodically proceeded with her work, examining the second corpse. ‘The occipital bone is fractured. That person must have been smashed by a wooden beam. The sphenoid bone is protruding, and the mandible is a little slanted.’
The portrait of the second person was soon complete.
A man and a woman rushed out before hesitantly crying out “Mother.”
The scene was indeed tear-jerking!
Ji Yunshu spent an hour and 30 minutes to create the portraits of all 17 burnt corpses. Among the 17 corpses, only 12 were claimed, leaving behind five unknown and nameless corpses.
The county magistrate allowed his subordinates to take the portraits and inquire about the identities of those five corpses. Unfortunately, no one in the village recognized the people in the portraits.
Jinjiang city’s East suburbs wasn’t that big to begin with, so why would there be five nameless corpses? Could those people be... outsiders?
If they were outsiders, why would they appear in an east suburbs’ residence?
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