Note: Some parts in this chapter might make people uncomfortable. You have been warned.
Ji Yunshu was still wondering about the inconsistencies between what she had expected and what Yu Sao had told her, when she heard a loud thud of something falling onto the ground; it came from the interior chamber whose entrance was hidden by the cloth curtain. Yu Sao’s body trembled, and she was seized by panic. She looked at the entrance of the room as if there was something terrible hidden within.
“Is there something inside?” asked Jing Rong.
“Ah, it’s nothing. Maybe… maybe something fell on the ground,” explained Yu Sao in a hurry. She had barely finished her sentence when…
“AHH!” A scream, or more specifically, a female scream could be heard coming from the room.
Yu Sao leapt to her feet and rushed toward the room. Ji Yunshu followed her closely.
Upon entering the room, she found herself unable to see her own fingers in the pitch-black chamber. A nauseous smell produced by the humidity entered her nostrils. Among the mixture of odours, there was something more subtle, a putrid stench.
“AHH!” Another cry pierced through the darkness.
Suddenly, the room was lit up by an oil lamp Jing Rong had brought. What Jing Rong and Ji Yunshu witnessed under the dim light surprised them greatly.
What struck them first was the general squalor of the room; the floor was covered with clothes, broken pots and jars. The ground was bedaubed with muddy stains, which were quite repulsive.
As Jing Rong moved further into the room, the two finally saw Yu Sao, who sat on the bed, tightly holding a small child. The child was curled up in Yu Sao’s chest. Disordered hair hid her delicate face. Her body shook uncontrollably, and she kept muttering incomprehensible gibberish. What was most shocking were the chains and shackles on the child’s feet and wrists.
“Ah Yu, don’t be scared. Mom is here; mom is here…” said Yu Sao as she tried to comfort her child. As she said these words, it was as if she felt extremely guilty about something, to the point that she was sobbing by the end of the sentence.
So she’s Yu Sao’s daughter.
Ji Yunshu looked at Jing Rong, “Give me the lamp.” She took the lamp from Jing Rong, and carefully approached the bed. As she neared Yu Sao, the light finally illuminated Yu Sao’s visage first, and then shone upon Ah Yu’s head.
“Yu Sao, can I help you with anything?” she proposed.
“Go away!” said Yu Sao, and she stabbed at Ji Yunshu with a sharp bamboo stick between her fingers that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
Fortunately, Jing Rong was close enough to pull Ji Yunshu back and threw his arm between Ji Yunshu and Yu Sao. Had it not been for his quick reaction, the stick would have drawn blood from the flesh on Ji Yunshu’s delicate face.
“Why do you always feel like it’s necessary to put yourself into harm’s way?” said Jing Rong in an accusing voice. However, that was but a clever disguise for his worry and concern.
“I…” Ji Yunshu stuttered, still a little frightened by the sudden assault.
Yu Sao stood up from the bed, her mood in an extremely unstable state, “Who are you? Why are you here? Get out. GET OUT!”
“Yu Sao, please don’t misunderstand our intentions. I am simply worried about your daughter. She’s very sick right now,” said Ji Yunshu worriedly.
“You are the one who is sick. My daughter is just fine. She’s fine I’m telling you,” insisted Yu Sao.
Self-hypnosis. “If you keep her chained, she will die.”
“Shut up!” yelled Yu Sao. She turned around, wrapped her arms around her daughter more tightly than ever and caressed her head, “Ah Yu, be a kind girl. Mom will be here for you. Yes, mom will be here for you. Nothing bad will happen to you, nothing...“
Ah Yu’s tremors did not cease; she seemed to be scared of something. The inarticulate mumbling continued.
Ji Yunshu pulled on Jing Rong’s hand and whispered to him, “Will Your Highness please leave us alone for a moment?”
“What do you want to do?” asked Jing Rong.
“Get to the bottom of this case.”
Get to the bottom? Jing Rong was surprised, but he still opposed her proposition with a frown, “If she tries to stab you again, who’s going to protect you?”
A rosy blush climbed up Ji Yunshu’s auricles upon hearing the answer. However, she insisted on being alone and forcefully pushed Jing Rong to the door. “I’ll be careful. It’s just that if you are inside the room, it’ll be kind of… inconvenient,” said Ji Yunshu.
Inconvenient? What do you mean? Why? Explain it to me? thought Jing Rong, but he was out of the room before he could open his mouth to protest.
Ji Yunshu approached Yu Sao again, this time with a little more reserve and, in a voice soft enough to make Yu Sao feel reassured, she said, “Yu Sao, I don’t want to lie to you, but I’m a doctor. If you really want your daughter to feel well again, you should let me have a look. Maybe I can think of something that could help her.”
Yu Sao’s reaction was less aggressive this time: she looked at Ji Yunshu and said, “I’ve told you already, my daughter is not sick. Leave my home now.”
“Do you really not care at all about your daughter’s life?”
‘I…” Yu Sao hesitated. She looked at Ah Yu, who was still in her arms, and cried with more sorrow, “It’s my fault. I didn’t take good enough care of my daughter; it’s my fault!”
Yu Sao’s sadness was contagious: Ji Yunshu also felt her heart being strangled by the anguish. She took two steps forward and said, “Yu Sao, don’t you worry. I won’t hurt you. I see that your daughter has signs of ecchymosis in the feet and palms, along with retracted finger joints and prominent veins under her dermis. These are signs of mental exhaustion. If you do nothing about it, you will lose your daughter. Then, it’ll really be your fault.”
Yu Sao could not fully understand what Ji Yunshu said, but she nevertheless answered, “You’re a doctor?”
“Can… can you really help my daughter get better?” asked Yu Sao, whose eyes were filling up with hope.
“I’ll try my best.” This was actually a blatant lie from Ji Yunshu. However, her words were enough to disarm Yu Sao’s distrust.
She hesitated for a bit more but finally let go of Ah Yu, stood up and retreated to the side. Ji Yunshu passed the oil lamp to Yu Sao and sat down right beside Ah Yu. The latter, upon realising that there was a stranger, retreated further backwards, causing a clangour from the links of the metal chains.
“Your name is Ah Yu? What a nice name!” said Ji Yunshu with a soft tone.
Ah Yu did not answer. Instead, she pressed her back against the wall and appeared to be trying as hard as she could to get away from Ji Yunshu.
“Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you,” said Ji Yunshu as she extended her arm and caressed Ah Yu’s soft tresses with her thin fingers.
Ah Yu curled up even more.
Ji Yunshu slowly brushed Ah Yu’s hair away with her fingers. Soon, she was finally able to fully contemplate Ah Yu’s face under the dim light. The skin on her jaw was a little rough, but her facial features were delicate. A well-rounded nose, the lips shaped like a butterfly, and the pretty eyes hidden under long eyelashes completed the picture; she was a good-looking young girl. Ji Yunshu finally met her regard the moment she brushed away the last lock of hair.
Yu Sao jumped from the side to lock Ah Yu in a tight embrace and whispered, “Mom is here. Don’t be scared, Ah Yu. Don’t be scared now.” However, these words were of little comfort to Ah Yu, and the intense terror that seeped through her eyes was as obvious as daylight to Ji Yunshu. Ah Yu grasped her own clothes with her hands and refused to let go.
The moment Ji Yunshu saw the fear within Ah Yu’s eyes, she understood what had happened to her. Although Ah Yu did not remove her clothes to allow Ji Yunshu to examine her body, Ji Yunshu already found the answer she sought.
There’s no need to go further.
Ji Yunshu stood up without saying a word and retreated from the malodorous room. Jing Rong approached her as soon as he saw her. Ji Yunshu cut his questions short by saying, “Milord, it’s time to leave,” and walked out of the house.
As she readied her umbrella for the return trip, something caught her attention: a small knife, dull and coated with rust hanging on the exterior wall of the house!