Chapter 534 - Time of Death

Guo He was the most intelligent student Teacher Yu had ever had. He was able to top every exam he sat for. Meanwhile, Shang Zhuo was his most talented and well-behaved student. They were both his favourite students. Now, Guo He was dead. If Shang Zhuo was really the killer, he had to pay for the crime he committed. For both of his favourite students to be taken away in such a manner, it was akin to carving out his own heart.

Unlike Lin Shu, who got furious when he was accused of being the murderer, Shang Zhuo remained calm as usual. He went forward to help support Teacher Yu who was quivering and he explained, "Teacher, I did not kill Guo He. However, I admit that I was the one who wrote the letter Guo He left behind with my left hand."

Teacher Yu bent forward as he yelled with a croaky voice, "Why did you fake the letter if you weren't the killer? Tell me, were you the one who pushed him down the well and forged a counterfeit letter afterwards? Did you lie, telling everyone that Guo He had left the academy, in order to hide his death during for the past year?" 

"I would never do such a thing," Shang Zhuo repeated, this time in a sombre manner. He sounded confident and resolute.

However, Teacher Yu harshly pushed Shang Zhuo's hand away. "Are you still not admitting it? As it is, it is clear that you lied about the letter. You wrote the letter and personally handed it to me, claiming that it was from Guo He. Why did you do that if you were not the killer?" He lost his balance when he finished his words and stumbled back a few steps. Fortunately, Ji Yunshu was standing behind him and caught him.

Ji Yunshu had already formed her opinion but decided to hold back and listen to what Shang Zhuo had to say.

Gently furrowing his brows, Shang Zhuo grimaced, cracking his calm expression. He took a deep breath before he said, "I did not lie to you at all. Although I faked the letter, Guo He certainly did pass me a letter before he left. What I just said is true. I hope that teacher can believe me."

Hey, brother. Do you know how contradictory your words sound right now? You are telling us that you wrote the letter, but Guo He handed the letter to you before he left? Is this some paranormal incident?

Teacher Yu had had a very eventful day and he was not able to take another blow. Moreover, his health had not been well at all. At this moment, he was very close to fainting. 

Ji Yunshu quickly said, "Teacher, please stay calm. This humble one has said that the letter is insufficient evidence to identify the killer. A mere letter doesn't prove that he's the murderer."

"Then... then, what?"

"Please have a seat first, Teacher." She helped him to take a seat.

Ji Yunshu turned to ask Shang Zhuo, "Young Master Shang, according to you, you wrote the letter, but Guo He passed it to you before he left. This humble one is curious about what exactly happened a year ago. I hope you can tell me every single detail as this is very important to determine the time of Guo He's death."

Shang Zhuo was confused. "This letter is really related to Guo He's death?"

"Possibly!" Despite the uncertainty in her statement, she sounded rather confident. 

Shang Zhuo shot a concerned glance at Teacher Yu, watching his expression before he lowered his head and said in a weak and soft tone, "To be honest with Teacher, since I have been sharing a room with Guo He, we were very close and he would often share his personal struggles with me. There was a period of time last year when he often told me about his disinclination to study. He did not want to be constrained by the academy and intended to leave this place. Not only that, he had everything planned out.

“It was June, when all the competitions were being held at the academy. Together with the August autumn examination that was approaching, everyone was occupied by their revisions. During that time, Teacher was less stern to us and did not watch us as closely as usual. Hence, Guo He intended to leave the academy during this period of time and had mentioned it to me multiple times. I tried my utmost to stop him but to no avail.

“I remember the date clearly. The day before he left, which is the 12th of June, he gave me a letter and informed me that he would leave the academy on the 13th. He needed my help to pass the letter to the teacher. I intended to deliver the letter to Teacher on the 13th, right after he left. However, I accidentally spilt some water on the letter [1] and the words were smudged as a result. I had no choice but to forge his handwriting and write a new copy. The original letter is still kept in my room. I can show you if you're not convinced yet. What I said is utterly true. Not a single word of this is false."

He certainly did not look like he was lying. Moreover, the original Guo He's letter was concrete evidence. 

He continued, "I should've stopped him from leaving and informed Teacher immediately. Then, he probably would not have ended up in tragedy." Shang Zhuo appeared to be rather guilty.

Teacher Yu felt at ease after he listened to Shang Zhuo's explanation. "So, you're not the killer?"

"Teacher can punish me as you wish if this humble student has told any lie." Teacher Yu felt reassured looking at Shang Zhuo's confidence and he gradually recomposed himself. 

Pondering over Shang Zhuo's words, Ji Yunshu asked, "Young Master Shang, according to you, he only handed the letter to you the day before he left. Is that right?"

"Yes. I can remember it vividly." 

"How sure are you that he left on the 13th instead of the 12th?"

Shang Zhuo tried to recall the day as he spoke, "He passed me the letter in the early morning of the 12th. When I returned to my room later that night, I saw Guo He. He was drunk and there were wine bottles littered everywhere in the room. After my brief attempt to persuade him to change his mind, he went to bed to take a rest. He quickly fell into a deep sleep. Normally, he would only wake up at noon the next day if he was drunk.

“As I wasn't feeling well as well, I went to bed earlier than usual too. When I woke up at noon the next day, Guo He was no longer in the room. I searched for him in the entire academy and failed to locate him. Thinking that he had left as he planned, I decided to send the letter to Teacher. Unfortunately, I had to rewrite a new letter because the letter was smudged."

"That means you can't tell certainly if he left on the evening of the 12th or the 13th."

"But he was completely drunk that night and it wasn't possible for him to leave in that state."

"Even so, the impossible might be possible too."

Her words confused Shang Zhuo. "Why does Teacher say so?"

Ji Yunshu furrowed her beautiful brows as she tried to put the puzzle together. She took a few steps forward as she analyzed, "On the 12th, Guo He might have woken up after you fell asleep. Since he had already had the intention to leave the academy, that was one of the best chances for him to do so. Although barely sober, he took the opportunity to escape the room. Little did he expect that he would run into Lin Shu at the back of the mountain. Both of them subsequently got into a fight and Guo He was accidentally killed. Then, Lin Shu discarded Guo He's body, together with the wine bottle, into the well. If my theory is right, all of the evidence now makes sense."

The matter of the chestnut bead and the bloodstain on the wine bottle now have a reasonable explanation.

However...

“How is Teacher so sure that he left on the evening of the 12th?” Shang Zhuo asked.

[1] I'm actually pretty annoyed at the author for this detail. Chinese ink/India ink, which is the type they would have used, is waterproof once it dries. Apparently it won't budge even if you soak it in water for weeks. Why couldn't the letter be torn instead of fudging this detail anyone who ever used ink for painting or calligraphy would pick up immediately? Blergh.

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ChouFleur's Thoughts

Other than the dumbass reason the letter was damaged, now we know why Shang Zhuo forged the letter! 

Translator: YY, Editor: Aru