Princess Duanyang used a gaze that was both full of detest and fussiness as she stared at herself in the mirror. She softly caressed the two greenish black bruises beneath her large eyes. The pearl laden cumulus cloud hairpin knocked against the table with a clink, the sound carrying in it some frustration: “Where is the box of honey powder Qiuci City State sent in as tribute?”
The palace maid helping her dress up was somewhat in a daze, she hastily came back to her wits and replied: “Your highness, it was used up over the last few days… I’ll go grab the Pearl Powder we produce ourselves and use that instead.”
Duanyang’s stare slowly moved from the mirror to the face of the palace maid. She stared at her for a long time without any expression on her face before finally speaking up in a somewhat strange voice: “Peiyun, after attending to this princess for so long, have you even forgotten the words ‘this slave’?”
Peiyun blankly stared into her gloomy expression. Although Duanyang had always been willful and arrogant, she had never treated them harshly before, not to speak of this strange and eccentric manner of speech. She frantically kneeled down onto the ground: “This slave knows her wrongs.”
Peiyun’s head was lowered and she was on tenterhooks as she stared at the floorboards. She didn’t notice that Duanyang’s chest started to rise and fall furiously, an indignant and grievance filled expression filling her previously blank expression. She seemed as if she was enduring something with all of her strength and it wasn’t until a while later that she coldly intoned: “Go out, let Peiyu come in.”
Peiyun and Peiyu brushed their shoulders as they passed by one another. Peiyun had her head down the entire time, her mind seemed to have flown somewhere else.
Peiyu had only entered the palace a year ago, four years younger than her. She was only 15 years of age and only reached her chest. Although her appearance was not as outstanding as Peiyun, she won at her natural innocence. When she smiled, it was infectious. She was very petite with high facial bones. Her hair was somewhat sparse and was tightly coiled into a bun, making her head remarkably large.
Duanyang was already sprawled atop the table dozing off, “Are you here?”
”Your highness, why do you still let her stay by your side… we all clearly saw her…” Peiyu’s angry voice was very clear and Duanyang immediately sat up straight with a ‘shh’, in a cold voice: “It’s not the right time yet. Wait until I catch her in the act, I want to see how she’ll deny and shirk away from this.”
While she said these words, her eyes turned stark red, just like an infuriated little beast who was just attacked, “The last five years I’ve treated her so well, how have I treated her badly? That ungrateful thing.”
Peiyu lowered her head and quietly muttered: “She was originally His Highness’s maid, she definitely can’t see eye to eye with us and people from our palace. She must have high ambitions, so naturally she would want to look for ways to build bridges out.”
“Heh. Emperor Brother…” Duanyang’s face did not have a single hint of a smile anymore. She allowed Peiyu to dress and groom her as she had an oaken comb in a deathly grasp. “My Emperor Brother was raised by the late Empress Dowager, he’s of a different mind from us. Mother concubine birthed him so bitterly yet couldn’t even become the Empress Dowager. What could I possibly count as?”
Those false reputations and pampering were nothing but lies.
She could finally speak what was on her mind today and let out a breath of turbid air. If it was Peiyun at her side, she would definitely remind her in a serious manner: ‘Be careful of what you say.’ Sure enough, she was helping others bully her!
Peiyu was different. She was wholeheartedly loyal and protective. When she was with her, she would feel very much at ease and comfortable.
Even though Peiyu was still rather young, her hand strength was still enough to massage Duanyang’s shoulders. The amount of strength she put into it was just perfect, causing her to close her eyes, also causing her voice to mellow and ease down: “Did you see me and Young Noble Liu talking together?”
Peiyu smiled sweetly, “This slave saw a perfect pair of jade annulus.”
“He knows many things I don’t know. He’s the most refined and warm man I’ve ever seen.” Princess Duanyang’s mouth had only curled up when it fell, “Unfortunately, there’s always someone by his side, floating around him at any and all times. When this princess invited him to go stroll through the garden, he didn’t agree.”
Peiyu’s massage caused her whole body to loosen and exhaustion suddenly struck, causing her to be unable to hold in a yawn.
“Princess, did you not sleep well last night?” Peiyu shot her a long glance before hurriedly turning around and standing on her tippy toes to search for a box of incense from the cupboard. “Fortunately, the incense Peiyun burned before is still quite plentiful. Princess, please go and rest on the bed.”
”Put it on then.” Duanyang absentmindedly replied from behind her.
She opened the paper bag and took out a lump with a twirl. She put it into the censer to burn and a strand of light fragrance started to permeate the air, “Does Princess think this soothing incense is nice?”
Turning around, she discovered that Duanyang had already fallen asleep on the makeup table. The little palace maid very gingerly pulled near her and carefully pushed at her: “Princess? Princess?”
There was no reply. She stood in the gloomy darkness for a long time staring at Duanyang’s face.
“Since you two have already found that Xingshan Temple in the southern outskirts, it proves that what Lu Jiu said is not completely false, at least it’s not all baseless rumors. There’s something strange about this matter though.” Mu Yao’s forehead wrinkled up.
”If they wanted to hide or seal something up, they absolutely would’ve done some sort of clean-up with such a large place like that Xingshan Temple in the south outskirts.” Liu Fuyi pulled up the hem of his robes and sat down, hitting the crux of the matter with one sentence.
Mu Sheng answered: “That place is very remote. It’s surrounded by dense vegetation on all sides and if you don’t look carefully, it’s very hard to notice.”
Ling Miaomiao observed his facial expression and discovered that Mu Sheng purposely hid the matter of discovering the Mu Family’s seal.
She thought for a moment before also nodding: “That road has few travelers. Even if people were to see that great hall, I’m sure the vast majority of them would think it was just a mirage; They wouldn’t go out and explore.”
She had just finished speaking when she felt Mu Sheng’s gaze once again fall upon her. He seemed to be deliberating over something.
However, their excuses clearly could not convince Mu Yao as she made a decision on the spot: “A’ Sheng, lead us there tomorrow, I want to take a look at it myself.”
“You can’t.” Mu Sheng’s face immediately changed, “It’s too dangerous, Sis, you can’t go.”
Mu Sheng curled up her mouth as a mocking look entered her eyes: “Didn’t you just say that it was merely a bit remote?”
Mu Sheng’s moist eyes slightly turned, seemingly both hesitant and innocent: “… what Brother Liu said makes a lot of sense. What if there are seals here? When we went, we were in a hurry. What if we find one?”
“Alright alright.” Liu Fuyi found it rather funny as he rubbed his temples, “Doing an on-site exploration is not an urgent matter. Before that, I have a few doubts, let me bring them out for everyone to hear.”
”Before, we guessed that the princess’s nightmares were caused by hallucinogens being added into the incense. But, Empress Dowager Zhao accompanied the princess in and out of the temple every time, why would nothing happen to her?”
Mu Yao made a gesture to answer but Liu Fuyi lifted his sleeve to stop her as he followed with: “Yao’er discovered that there was the bone ash of a dead person in the sandalwood incense. Where did all of this bone ash come from? Bone ash can’t be burnt. Burning it would only cause it to float down and be carried away by the wind. Accordingly, if it was done because of greed and a desire to save on materials, there’d be no way this was possible.”
”If Guo Xiu was honest, this batch of sandalwood incense was sourced from a Jiangnan merchant at the Jingyang Slope called Li Zhun. Within this entire incident, what role does his character play? What relation does he have with the old matter a decade ago?”
Everyone around the table stared unwaveringly at Liu Fuyi as they all fell into deep thought.
”There’s also one more thing. According to what Lu Jiu said, the Xingshan Temple a decade ago was newly built when the head monks suddenly died and red light filled the skies for days without a hint of dispersion. This kind of bizarre, supernatural thing is clearly beyond the capabilities of man. Thus, there must be some metaphysical demon or spirit involved in this matter. Yet, why was it that all throughout our time at the temple, we never felt the slightest wisp of demonic qi?”
There was a spiel of silence throughout the room. Mu Sheng was expressionless and Mu Yao seemed to have thought of something as her face suddenly turned hard to look at.
Ling Miaomiao softly opened her mouth: “Brother Liu’s ‘…demon or spirit involved in this matter’ has already answered this question.”
Liu Fuyi’s gaze was full of praise as he continued: “That’s right. Hallucinatory herbs might not necessarily cause nightmares. Even if it did have such an effect, it would treat everyone equally. Only if there was the involvement of demons or spirits would there be a way for the effects to be controlled and choose its target.”
Mu Yao wrinkled her brows: “But we’ve truly never encountered any demonic qi… don’t tell me that the culprit has an unfathomable cultivation….”
“Sis, you don’t need to imagine the enemy with such great strength.” Mu Sheng’s voice was tender and full of tenderness, “Since we Demon Hunters can’t find even the slightest bit of demonic qi, this opponent of ours should truly be something other than a demon. Even if it has the same capabilities in deliberately mystifying and causing confusing scenes.”
Mu Yao and Liu Fuyi raised their heads simultaneously: “Specter?”
Ling Miaomiao quietly listened as she blinked her shiny, large pair of eyes.
Liu Fuyi thoughtfully explained to her: “Demons are unhuman existences that have cultivated themselves. They normally hold a dense and heavy baleful aura around them, the stronger the demon, the deeper the demonic qi. However, specters were originally human. They’re basically a different sort of existence from humans. To demon hunters, the resentful qi of specters is very difficult to sense.”
Miaomiao sincerely nodded: “Therefore, it is very likely that the red skies of the Xingshan Temple a decade ago and the princess’s nightmares were all due to the involvement of a specter.”
Liu Fuyi pondered for a moment before explaining: “Specters and demons are different. They are limited in their ability to move about, they’re basically locked in the place that they died at. If they want to forcefully move outside of this area, they need to rely on a ‘medium’.”
Hearing this, Miaomiao felt her forehead turn numb: “According to what Brother Liu is saying, is it possible that this ‘medium’ is the bone ash within the sandalwood? When the bone ash floats through the air and stains the Duanyang’s lapel, it would then follow her back home…”
If that gutless little maid of hers was beside her and heard these words of hers, she was afraid that she would shriek and run away hugging her head.
Unfortunately, all the people on the scene were experienced demon hunters. Their expression didn’t have any great changes as they all nodded in tacit agreement to Ling Miaomiao’s guess.
Mu Sheng was playing around with his own belt when he skewed his head to the side and smiled: “Since there’s a specter, someone must’ve died. You guys guess if this person died at Dowager Consort Zhao’s Xingshan Temple or over by Li Zhun at the Jingyang Slope?”
Mu Yao’s cold expression was somewhat knotted: “For a dead person to turn into a specter, whether it be during their lifetime or after their death, the reasons are countless. This is hell sticking its hand into this matter, what position do we demon hunters have to come in and mind this matter?”
As matters had already reached this point and the truth was still impossible to unravel, there was a tempest fermenting beneath this calm surface. She wanted to urgently hurry and investigate all the way, however….
Mu Sheng smiled: “If sis wants to investigate, I’ll accompany sis and go investigate. Hunting specters must be as interesting as hunting demons.”
Mu Yao turned around coincidentally to meet her younger brother’s gaze filled to the brim with infinite indulgence. After so many years, he wouldn’t listen to any but would listen to every word she said. He would always unconditionally stand by her side. Her heart shook a little: “A’ Sheng, thank you.”
“Our family has been taught well.”
The great door creaked open and a wave of the song of cicadas rushed into the room. A palace eunuch in a brand new sea-blue official’s robe stood by the door with a horsetail whisker in hand. Behind him were two maids with twin buns.
The eunuch crossed over the doorstep and directly rushed over to Mu Sheng with face so beaming folds appeared over his face: “Young Noble Mu, her highness the Dowager Consort invites you to go to the front hall to have a meal.”
Mu Sheng slightly narrowed his eyes and turned around to look at the blank expressions of the other three behind him. He pointed at himself and asked: “Her highness only invited me?”
“Uhh…” The old eunuch was somewhat embarrassed but hastily managed to find a way out with his words: “Sirs and madams, you’ve all made great meritorious achievements, there’s no harm in going together. It’s just that her highness the Dowager Consort said that Young Noble Mu and this young lady had hurriedly gone out to investigate and she hasn’t had the chance to meet them…”
“A’ Sheng, you should go.” Mu Sheng still hadn’t said anything when Liu Fuyi made a decision for him. He also reached out and pushed Ling Miaomiao lightly without any warning and shot an unrefusable smile at her: “Miaomiao will also go.”
TLN: Wow, another week has just flown by… sigh. So much work to do… hahahaha guess I oughta stop procrastinating huh?