223 Finding out the Contents in the Artist’s Stolen Box

The next day arrived quickly. 

Since she had arranged for the locksmith to finish by today in the afternoon, she decided to pass her morning in anticipation. When the time came, she rushed out of the school.

As she made her way to the shop, she recalled that today was the day that Zixu would take the imperial examinations. She hoped that it would go well for him, and she wondered if he was still feeling sick. If he seriously considered pushing himself like what he was doing, after being so ill that he fainted, that wouldn't be good at all. He was just hurting himself.

At this thought, Yujia paused, then shook her head.

Oh whatever.

Yunhe was right, she was being too considerate and worrying far too much. It was Yu Zixu's examinations, not concerning her the slightest. She did what she could already. She needed to stop worrying herself over things involving him. 

Just like that, Yujia dismissed all her thoughts about Zixu in a second. 

Arriving at the locksmith's shop, Yujia found the locksmith who worked on her box. He was behaving rather normally, making Yujia believe that the contents in the box weren't too shocking. He must've opened the box already with the key he made, and if there was anything frightening or dangerous in the box, he wouldn't be as calm as he was right now.

Yujia paid him the rest of the money she owed, grabbed the box and key, then left. The entire process could not be easier, and Yujia didn't stay for long. She wanted to open the box when she went back to Lingxin, in the privacy of her own room.

A few moments later, back in her courtyard, Yujia took a closer look at the key she bought.

The key was rustic looking— in no way was it refined— but the details on the end of the key were stunning. It was complex, with so many nooks carved into the metal. It seemed like the lock in the box was just as Zixu said when he attempted to pick the lock. It was far too complex for someone with basic lock picking skills to open it. Only having the original key— or having an experienced locksmith to create the original key— would make it actually open.

Gently, Yujia pushed the key into the lock, then turned it. A clicking noise sounded, and in the next moment, she lifted the lid of the box.

She didn't expect to be surprised by what was in the box. Yet when she opened it and saw what was inside, Yujia blinked a few times, just to make sure that the things she saw were actually the true contents

There wasn't any deadly poison. There wasn't any suspicious letter. There wasn't any incriminating evidence, any breaking discovery, any decent clues or hints.

All that was in the box, the item that Yujia had been pondering about and filled with curiosity for, was nothing but a simple, commonplace item:

A set of two matching hairpins.

Yujia stared at it. She stared at it for a long time, her lips pressed into a thin line and her gaze blank.

Was this a joke?

Truthfully, Yujia couldn't believe what she saw exactly because of how innocent these items seemed. She picked up one of the hairpins, turning it in her hand.

The hairpin in her hand was simplistic, with nothing too intricate about it. It was made of mostly silver, with one single blue bead at the end of it. Around the blue bead were the petals of a flower, framing the bead as if the bead was the center of the flower. The flower part was the most detailed area of the pin. 

The two hairpins were exactly the same. Based on what Yujia had seen of this world, these two pins wouldn't sell for more than a few taels in the marketplace.

Once she finished observing the pins, she took them both out and placed them closer to her on the table. The inside of the box was cushioned with some stuffed fabric.

Yujia stared at the hairpins again.

It couldn't be just this. The strange box, the intricate lock, the secretive place where this box was hidden… 

Did Madam Zhang seriously do all of that work to hide a set of hairpins?

Yujia exhaled deeply, rubbing her temples. 

She squeezed her eyes shut, opened them, and decided to think of this from another perspective.

If Madam Zhang put that much work into concealing these hairpins, there had to be some additional meaning to it. The hairpins couldn't be just simple hairpins.

Could there be some secret message concealed in it? Yujia lifted one pin again, tapping at it and pressing on various areas as if she expected some secret message to just fall out of it. 

Nothing really happened, and Yujia felt like an idiot for tapping on these hairpins.

At this point, Yujia admitted that she was becoming somewhat frustrated. She wanted answers, or at least some clues. The only hint she had at anything related to her poisoning was this box, yet all she discovered were some hairpins.

Was she really this bad at playing a detective?

But surely, these hairpins couldn't be this simple. There had to be a secret about it, like a secretive compartment hidden in the hairpins that she hadn't discovered yet…

Suddenly, Yujia froze. 

Right— how did she not think about it? 

A secret compartment.

She dropped the hairpins on the table, grabbing the box and pulling it towards her again. She was so focused on what she discovered immediately in the box that she didn't even imagine the possibility of a secret compartment being inside this box.

Yujia stared at the fabric cushion which she imagined to just be something to cushion the hairpins.

Carefully, she placed her fingers at the edge of this cushion. The fabric was soft, and it fit perfectly inside the box, as if it was built in it. That was why Yujia skipped over this in the beginning.

She pried her fingers into the edge, then pulled up.

Sure enough, the fabric cushion lifted, revealing what Yujia assumed were the true contents of the box. Her eyes lit up at this sight, a small smile appearing across her lips as she realized that she actually made a discovery. 

Hidden underneath the cushion, in the secret compartment of the box, were two pieces of paper.

Yujia immediately took these papers out, her movements becoming gentle when she realized how delicate these papers were. They were old and yellowing, clearly from years ago. When Yujia opened it, she recognized it to be a letter.

The ink on the paper was fading just the slightest, but Yujia could read it. The first letter read:

'After all these years, you still haunt my dreams… I wonder why? 

I miss you. I miss you so much that it hurts, that when I wake up after these dreams, I find tears on my cheeks.

Back then, why did you make that choice? Why did you choose to save her? 

I know that you will call me selfish. You were always the more selfless one. But if I were the one making the decision, I would've saved you. And this many years later, I still wish that I could've been there to make the choice. 

You would hate me. I know you would. Only, if you were still alive, why would it matter if you hated me or not? I think it would've been worth it. I would make that sacrifice for you.

It's spring again. Yet another year has passed, but I still think of you.'

The letter was unsigned. It wasn't addressed to anyone in specific either. Yujia didn't recognize the handwriting, though it did look familiar.

The letter left her with all sorts of new ideas, making Yujia unfold the next one, hoping for answers. 

However, the next letter was brief— much, much briefer than the previous one.

Only one line was written on it, in the exact same handwriting as the previous one:

'Liu Yuxi, I hate you.'

Yujia froze. Liu Yuxi— that was the name of her birthmother.

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