There was a line of words that was formed by the spiderweb, but weirdly enough, when the old man turned to look, the words dissolved into blood and washed away.
"You've been searching for Jiang Ling's sister's body; is it because you've done some wrong by her?" Chen Ge heard the guilt and self-reprimand in the old man's words.
"Come in first." The old man hung the lamp by the door. He was flustered because his secret of many years had been discovered. Chen Ge joined him in the second wooden hut. The old man released a long sigh. "Actually, I know who the killer is that poisoned the couple."
"You do?" Chen Ge stood at the door holding the hammer; he did not walk in.
"I can make a guess." The old man peeled back the wooden bed, and there was a coffin hiding under it. It was smaller than a normal coffin, and it was pure black.
"Placing a coffin under the bed?" Chen Ge was confused.
"The coffin was prepared for the Zhu family's eldest daughter." The old man pushed the coffin lid open and took out an incomplete plaque. It was carved with the name-Zhu Xinrou.
"Why did you prepare this coffin for her? Are you related to her disappearance?"
"The story starts a long time ago." The old man looked at the plaque in his hand dumbly. "When I was a child, I heard from the adults that there was a Coffin Village deep in the Jiujiang mountains. The villagers there never interact with outsiders, and the villagers all have weird growths. They observe weird traditions like preparing a living coffin inside every home, but no one knows what they are for."
Chen Ge could still follow the earlier half of what the old man said. Since the villagers did not mingle with outsiders, this led to consanguineous marriages, and it was common for that to lead to abnormal growths. However, what the old man said next confused Chen Ge.
What is the meaning behind every family owning a living coffin? Placing a coffin inside the house is much too unlucky.
Chen Ge closed the door and softly asked, "Master Bai, is the village still there today?"
"Initially, I thought the village was just a rumor. After all, no one had seen it before, but one day, we were proven wrong." The old man placed the plaque down and reached into the coffin to look for something. "About a decade ago, there was a tragedy that happened at Coffin Village, and several families managed to escape.
"The families who managed to escape looked just like normal, and they did not follow these weird rumored traditions, so Bai Family Village, which sits at the foot of the mountain, accepted them. However, no one expected that, within that same year, Bai Family Village would be struck with an epidemic as well." The old man's voice was steeped in regret. It felt like some of the villagers were against keeping these people, but the majority accepted them.
"The few families brought the epidemic out from inside the mountains?"
"Who can really tell? Those with the power to move migrated long after, and the village was practically deserted. However, the families from Coffin Village stayed and extended their roots there. In fact, later, they even changed the village name, and that is the Lin Guan Village you see today." Master Bai finally found the thing he was looking for. It was a black outfit.
"This jacket was made for the Zhu family's eldest daughter. Those who died outside was requested to wear black when they were moved into the coffin-that way, the blood wouldn't be so obvious."
There was something curious about the clothes that the old man was holding. The place where the back was located had four sleeves that were about a quarter the length of normal sleeves.
"You too realize how weird this outfit looks, right? But that's what the Zhu family's eldest daughter looked like." The old man's voice became smaller and smaller. Chen Ge could hear the pain in his voice. "The child's parents were one of the families who escaped from Coffin Village. Her mother already carried her at the time of their escape, so in other words, the child was Coffin Village's last 'seed'."
"This level of abnormality can no longer be explained by consanguineous marriage; something is very wrong with that Coffin Village!"
Chen Ge did not expect that would be the answer. Looking at the black jacket, Chen Ge could imagine what Zhu Xinrou looked like.
"I don't know much about the problem Coffin Village was facing; I only know that the child had a harsh life. Her parents were afraid to let other villagers see her, so when she was small, she would be wrapped in many layers even when the weather was scorching hot.
"However, the secret would inevitably be exposed when she got older. Therefore, the parents came up with the idea to lock the child inside their home, to prevent her from leaving."
The old man folded the outfit and placed it on the coffin lid. It would serve its purpose soon.
"Then, what happened?"
"Eventually, the villagers still found out about the Zhu family's eldest daughter, and to my surprise, the other families who escaped from Coffin Village did not come out to help the couple but even prepared to kill the poor child.
"They were close to holding a riot. In the end, it was Bai Family Village's people who stepped out to calm the crowd. They decided to chase the family out of the village. The Zhu family's father was a coffin maker, so he was good at carpentry. After leaving the village, he moved the family to this peach plantation and lived a fairly isolated life.
"Life went on as usual, and there was a rumor in the village that the family had given birth to a second daughter.
"Just as everyone thought that was the last that we would hear about them, the couple ran back to the village to warn everyone because their eldest daughter had gone missing. Yes, you heard right. They didn't come to ask for help to search for their daughter but came to warn us to be extra careful.
"A few days later, the eldest daughter was found in the mountain, and her parents dragged her home to be given heavy punishment. They strung her up and beat her.
"Every few months, the eldest daughter would escape, and she would be dragged back every time to be delivered corporal punishment whenever she was found.
"The wooden hut that was built at the deepest part of the plantation was used to lock up the eldest daughter. To punish her, her father even built a special device.
"The eldest daughter was treated as monster by the villagers, and her parents seemed like they wished she hadn't been born. Only her younger sister was good to her and treated her as family.
"There was an abnormality about the youngest daughter too, but it was not as obvious as her sister, plus she was kind and cute. She was a well-loved child." The old man sighed. "My land is just adjacent to the peach plantation, so I had many interactions with the little girl. She was never shy around strangers, and we became fast friend.
"One day, while I was working the field, the girl came crying to me, asking me to save her sister. I knew about her family's condition, so I ignored her..."
At this point, the old man choked on his words like he could not continue anymore. His muddy eyes stared at the black jacket on the coffin, and his hands gripped his knees. "I should have helped her even though she was treated as a monster. The girl left crying. In the end, I couldn't stop myself from worrying, so I came to the plantation to take a look.
"I saw the eldest daughter inside the fourth hut, and that was the last time I saw her. Her body was shackled to the wooden device, and her several arms were tied by ropes. There were plenty of wounds on her body, and she appeared to be dying.
"I couldn't imagine what she had been through. She begged for me to save her, but I was too afraid and ran in a hurry.
"Several days later, I finally gathered enough courage to return, but the couple told me that their eldest daughter had escaped again."A consanguineous marriage is a marriage between close blood relatives.