The palanquin looked shabby but she realized it was quite comfortable as soon as she sat down. However, the ghosts were not very steady while carrying it, rocking it to the point where Miaomiao started to feel sleepy.
Even so, she still lifted the curtain slightly watching the darkness pass her by. It didn’t matter if she was terrible with directions, it was essential for her to beat this path into memory.
“Princess, please don’t worry…” The old man floated next to the palanquin throughout their journey and considerately lowered her curtain. “We’ll be able to find Young Master Liu very soon.”
From inside, a voice full of contempt sounded, “What Young Master Liu? We’re completing the ceremony. Are we not?”
The old man was surprised and a few seconds passed before he was able to react. He chuckled, saying, “Uh… yes, yes, yes, it is as Your Highness has said.”
Unable to help himself he took a glance at the palanquin. “The Goddess deserves her title. So, she knew this as well…”
Ling Miaomiao yawned and knocked on the armrest. “Hurry up, this princess feels a bit impatient to return to her place!”
Even if Tao Ying had turned into a resentful spirit, he still couldn’t let go of his revenge. He still had not forgotten about the ritual which Duanyang had not completed ten years ago. And at the end of the Chang’an City arc, he used elaborate tricks to lure Duanyang into the illusion, ending his revenge on the royal family with a grand flair.
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He hadn’t confirmed Mu Yao’s safety but he had already gone against the rules he lived by. After killing for two hours straight, he leaned against the altar, letting the Nine Mysterious Demon Restraining Pagoda open the killing array. He looked up at the blackened golden Buddha, the sweat rolling down to his collar.
The Buddha statue also looked at him with a smile that was not a smile at the same time.
“Liu Fuyi…” A nearly indistinct sound traveled to his ears. The shadow gathered itself together with some difficulty to form a human-like figure, standing motionless behind him. Only half of his face was left after being burned by the golden light of the Nine Mysterious Demon Restraining Pagoda, serving to make him look even more resentful and terrifying. “Demon catchers catch and eliminate demons, spirits and ghosts are under the jurisdiction of the underworld. Are you not interfering with matters beyond your reach?
Lui Fuyi turned around, “If others don’t offend me, I won’t offend others.”
“If you have to blame anyone, then blame the Mu Family for being the first to make a move.” The resentful spirit extended an arm, seeming to point straight at the tip of his nose. “In the beginning, it was only a grudge between me and Zhao Qinru. It was the Mu family who was arrogant and overconfident. They chose to interfere in this matter over and over again, leaving me with no choice but to…”
He laughed evilly, his laugh sounding like metal scraping against each other. It was enough to give someone goosebumps.
Liu Fuyi, looked at him calmly with a hint of suspicion in his eyes. “What kind of grudge do you have with Dowager Consort Zhao?”
“Grudge… I hate her to the depths of my bones…” The black cloud quickly went around Liu Fuyi and stood before the Buddha statue. It seemed to be looking up towards the Buddha’s compassionate countenance. “Lady Zhao hails from a prestigious family, her character domineering and arrogant. She was the pearl of her family and became a favored concubine upon entering the palace. Draped in silk and satin, she lived a luxurious life, and with just one command…” He paused, “Several high officials would scramble like ducks, exploiting the poor and leaving them to die on the streets from starvation.”
That pause seemed to carry many unspoken words. Liu Fuyi knit his brows.
“You were once Dowager Consort Zhao’s subordinate?” He was doubtful of these words. “As far as I know, the Tao family lives on the outskirts of Chang’an and are merely craftsmen.
“You aren’t wrong.” The black cloud laughed eerily, “The Tao family has never had noble blood and have always been commoners. We are also well-known craftsmen to the surrounding areas.”
Mocking appeared in Liu Fuyi’s eyes. “If that’s the case, then why did you lie to Dowager Consort Zhao and tell her you came from the Brahmins of Tianzhu?
Without answering, the black cloud asked him in turn with an even heavier mocking tone, “Taoist Liu, guess what the Tao family depended on to have food on our plates?
“Making pottery, making candles, woodworking.” The trades of small households which only wish for enough to wear and eat. There was probably a bit of everything and anything.
“You’re wrong.” The resentful spirit replied quietly. “It was making incense.”
He walked past the uncanny bright red candle flame on the altar. “Tao Yushi, the matriarch of the Tao Family, was an expert in making incense. This was a skill she brought from her maiden family. But ever since her husband passed away, this became the sole way for Tao Yushi to support her family.”
Liu Fuyi’s eyebrow jumped. In his mind a spark flickered to life and a guess began to take shape. “Who was Tao Yushi to you?”
The resentful spirit did not answer and sank into strange silence. After a while, it finally replied, “Tao Yushi made incense. It was only to support the family. She lived her own days and did not provoke anyone.”
Liu Fuyi looked at him and nodded, “She did not provoke anyone.”
“But solely because Zhao Qinru was a noble lady and favored concubine of the Son of Heaven, the whole nation had to think piously, simply because she wanted to become a believer of Buddhism. What kind of logic is this?” The resentful spirit’s voice grew louder, “Each year, she paid a grand homage to the temple. To make her donation resplendent, she exploited the people without regard for the fevered complaints of the people… Just because Tao Yushi knew how to make incense, just because she made the best incense, she had to make special celebratory incense seals 1  Incense seals were called seals due to having shapes reminiscent of Chinese characters. They are trails of incense created with a seal mold. for three days without a second’s rest. In addition, she was expected to receive this task and view it as a favor given by one of great status. I’ll ask you again, what kind of logic is this?”
Liu Fuyi froze for a moment before replying, “Perhaps Concubine Zhao abused her power and exploited others a little but in return, gave more than enough money to make up for it. The plight of the people…”
“So what if she gave money.” Tao Ying suddenly cut him off. He turned around halfway and glared at Liu Fuyi. “Our Tao Family is a small household. We never dared to claim favors from any high-ranking figures and only wished to live our lives simply. However, we weren’t even given the right to say no.”
“Tao Yushi was a widow. Her son and daughter had died in the prime of their life. The rest of her descendants completely depended on her two hands to support them. And because she had made incense year-round for many years, she developed eye problems and frequently had bouts of dizziness. She endured all these hardships for so many years and they were finally able to live better lives. Finally, she finally did not need to work so hard…”
He took a few steps towards Liu Fuyi, closing the distance between them. The dark qi on his body was slowly being absorbed by the Nine Mysterious Demon Restraining Pagoda. But as if he didn’t notice this, he continued, “Do you know how old she was when she was forced to make incense? Sixty-five years old, she was a whole sixty-five years old. Were she born in a wealthy family, she’d already be enjoying her golden years. However, she was taken against her will by Zhao Qinru’s people to make incense seals… Her body’s condition only worsened and the day before the big event, she finally fainted in the incense-making room. accidentally knocking the candlestick over…”
“Liu Fuyi closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. “Did Tao Yushi die in an accident?”
The resentful spirit let out a piercing laugh, “The fire burned for an entire day. It burned her to death as well as burned all of her painstaking work…
His voice changed, as if having been dampened by the humidity in the air. “The next day, I pulled Little Liu with me to Xingshan Temple to ask for a coffin. However, we found that the people there were celebrating. The guards beat us up then threw us out of the temple telling us that the fact that Concubine Zhao did not hold us accountable for not finishing the incense seal task despite having lost face, was already showing mercy. For us to still dare to come and ask for the money…”
Liu Fuyi’s eyes cleared up and he fixed his gaze on the other party. “So, you spent many years changing your identity and appearance, then looked for ways to enter the palace. All so you could have Zhao Qinru’s daughter suffer the pain of being burned alive and give Zhao Qinru a taste of what it was like to lose someone you loved?”
As Miaomiao regained consciousness, she found herself up in the air, tied to a stake. Just a short distance away, were a familiar altar and Buddha statue. Now, she was appearing face to face with the Buddha without raising her head.
A large blooming ten-petaled lotus was painted on top of the head. The petals layered one over the other were red as blood and the background was painted a dark, bottomless blue.
Below her were bundles of firewood stacked one on top of the other. The old man and the rest of the ghosts were gathered together discussing something.
Right now, she was like a cooked duck on the spit, watching the chefs gather to discuss whether to cook her over a wood fire or with a charcoal fire.
She struggled a few times, her hands tied securely behind her. On her waist, a rope the thickness of her wrist was wrapped around a few times. The ropes were strong and didn’t budge an inch. It could be seen from these alone that they weren’t playing around.
A fine layer of sweat appeared on Ling Miaomiao’s forehead.
“Master Tao Ying still has not arrived…?” A few ghosts snuck looks at her and were on edge after seeing she had awoken. “Didn’t master say that if he still hadn’t appeared by this time, we should…”
Another ghost couldn’t stand it any longer and stealthily turned to the old man. “Let’s just start the ceremony first.”
The old man stooped his back and stroked his beard. After still being unable to come to a conclusion after pacing a few rounds, he finally made up his mind. He gestured with his hand and spoke, “The ceremony shall begin!”
Without warning or preparation, the mysterious ceremony that Princess Duanyang had described countless times was being continued once again. The resentful spirits present at this scene all kneeled down one by one.
For a moment, there was a feeling of grandeur. Then, the clamour of voices filled the main hall.
“Oh——” A few ghosts who seemed to be around seven to eight years old raced out while yelling, “Goddess! Goddess!” One of them even stumbled out of excitement, the flint and steel in their hands sliding across the floor, three meters away.
Ling Miaomiao, “…”
What was this? Hearing that the fire is to be lit, you’re excited?
“Clack——” The flints collided against each other for a moment. A small spark fell on the wood following which, flames blazed to life and a wave of heat fell on Miaomiao’s face.
She closed her eyes tightly and gritted her teeth.
The instant a tongue of fire began licking at the soles of her shoes, a blue light flared up from her body and an intense blue blaze rose from within the flames, swallowing the flames and her with it. In the next second, the roaring flames were instantly extinguished.
The cheering ghosts, “…”
Miaomiao smiled. “Ah, I’m sorry to inconvenience you. It seems that this princess is followed by a wet firewood stick today. There’s no way to light this fire so why don’t we take a break and try again tomorrow?
The reason she had the guts to face the danger head on was because she had the Protective Blue Flame. Anything which attempted to harm her would be killed instantly. Of course, this trial by fire could not do anything to her either.
The old man and the ghosts looked at each other. After discussing for a while, they turned back around to her. The old man smiled with a mouthful of missing teeth. “Goddess, since this is the case, we’ll skip this trial by fire for now. We’ll go onto the second trial first.
Wait a moment…the second trial? How come this wasn’t in the book?
Ling Miaomiao was puzzled.
Then, the old man clapped his hands and a few ghosts carried over a large black box which seemed to be around the height of a person. With a bang, it was set on the ground.
Miaomiao stared at it. This box… seems to be…to be a coffin.
The old man and ghosts worked together to open the coffin and from inside, they brought out a person and placed them on the ground. Following that, a few ghosts chaotically climbed onto the stake and untied the rope binding her.
They supported her by all fours and quickly brought her down.
The old man below her pointed to the “person” which had been taken out of the coffin. He smiled and said, “The second trial, the goddess and holy child are to cultivate together.
T/N: Ahh? What? Am I reading this wrong??? Or am I taking this the wrong way?
 Incense seals were called seals due to having shapes reminiscent of Chinese characters. They are trails of incense created with a seal mold. For more details, you can check it out here.
Left bottom corner: seal mold Middle: completed incense seal.