“Ah!” The delicate and petite figure within the precious muslin canopy suddenly sat up. Her lucious black hair fell down onto her magnolia embroidered silk clothes.
A palace maid ran over with small steps from a corner of the hall and asked through the screen: “Princess, are you ok?”
The young girls’ delicate hands moved to her own throat and her fingers started to tremble: “Peiyun, someone wanted to strangle me to death….”
The muslin screen was pushed aside and a clean and gentle face came in. Fortunately, the special quilts used in the summer had been messily crumpled into a big pile. The respectable princess was rigidly hugging her knees as she sat in the middle of the bed. She was constantly grabbing at the area in front of her neck as if her life depended on it; Her eyes were filled with panic.
Peiyun saw that the skin underneath her clothes had some red marks caused by the princess’s actions and hastily moved over to pull her hand away: “Princess, don’t be afraid… it was just a nightmare.”
Princess Duanyang let out an extended sigh and laid down on her back. Her hair fanned out beneath her body and her delicate face was full of exhaustion.
In the three corners of the room there were exquisitely carved cauldrons: There were large pieces of ice placed within them and wisps of white mist slowly drifted up. Even though the sun was shining down fiercely outside, inside the Fengyang Palace was drifty and comfortably cool.
Peiyun held up the muslin: “Princess, do you want to take a bath and get dressed?”
The person on the bed flipped over. She slightly knitted her brows and a look of impatience surfaced on her delicate little face: “Get dressed? What matters are there today?”
“In the afternoon, Dowager Concubine Zhao is going to go to the Xingshan Temple to pray. She wants Princess to get matched up with someone…”
Before her words had dissipated into the air, Princess Duanyan’s eyes shrunk and she flipped over into a sitting position. Her back was closely pressed against the wall and her whole body was shaking: “This princess won’t go to the Xingshan Temple!”
”Princess….” Peiyun was frightened, “Wasn’t this someone you talked about with Consort Dowager when you went to pay your respects to her three days ago?”
Duanyang seemed to hear the echo of that strange and bizarre voice, calling in her ear: “Goddess…”
The ancient tree in the temple grounds reached high up into the sky. The paved stone paths were covered with moss. The wind blew and leaves drifted down, slowly touching upon the ground with very soft rustling noises. Little bronze bells hung from the eaves and shivered in the wind.
“Goddess, please follow this lowly one. We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.”
The surrounding scene rapidly changed: The temple’s rising eaves quickly became a thick forest, then an endless wasteland. Then appeared mountains like great waves rising and falling. A boundless field of green wheat. Finally, the scene returned to the halls of the temple.
“What is all this?” She looked in all directions, it didn’t look much different from what she saw earlier. Only, the sky had turned dark as if someone had used a piece of cloth to cover up the sky. It was completely impenetrable and the surroundings were deathly silent.
“Just now, the place the Goddess was at wasn’t right… now it’s right.”
“Who are you? Why are you calling me Goddess?”
The person laughed, and immediately countless waves of laughter appeared. Some of these voices were pure and simple, some were old and aged, and some were tender and young. It seemed like there were more than a hundred of them.
She took a step back and turned her head around to take a look. Shockingly, there were countless people kneeling on the ground. Their attitude was reverent as they knelt on the floor. Pretending as if she was actually a deity: “The Goddess has arrived, the ceremony shall begin!”
And then afterwards…
Duanyang suddenly shut her eyes. She no longer wished to recall that scene. Her voice was full of resentment: “Ever since this princess went to the Xingshan Temple with my Consort Mother, I’ve been having nightmares upon return. I don’t want to go to such an accursed place again.”
Peiyun put away her smile: “Princess, you must be careful with your words! Buddha wishes for us to all be benevolent. A trip to the temple can help remove the dust of your body; It can only help soothe and calm one’s heart and mind. How could it possibly cause one to have nightmares?”
In the current age, Buddhism was trending in the palace. No matter the background, status or ranking of the imperial concubines, they all abstained from meat and prayed to Buddha. Every year, they’d spend a big fat sum of money in the temple. Nobody could possibly compare to her piousness. As for this trending practice, it was all her mother Consort Zhao’s work.
Everyone else could say whatever they wanted, but as a daughter, she couldn’t be as careless.
Duanyang fidgeted as she kneaded the space between her eyebrows: “I understand, I’ll get dressed.”
“Princess Duanyang, real name is Li Songmin. The daughter of the previous emperor’s most favored Imperial Consort Zhao. As a precious daughter, she’s extremely spoiled and pampered…” As Miaomiao was in the midst of racking her brain for information on the original plot’s storyline, Mu Sheng interrupted her. He mocked her saying: “All the things you’re saying are matters any random person would know is it not?”
Miaomiao angrily retorted: “If you’re that great, why don’t you find something new to say?”
”I sent you out to gather information yet all you brought back was this garbage…” He sized up Miaomiao for a moment, “Are you of any use at all?”
“Enough, Ah Sheng.” Mu Yao lightly put down her tea cup as she shot a look of rebuke at her brother, “Miss Ling doesn’t have a hidden agenda, stop pushing her around.”
Even Mu Yao could see that lately there’s been something unusual between these two.
Before, at the very least, they kept up the veneer of appearances but the last few days they have been acting volcanoes on the verge of eruption: Mocking and sneering at each other without any given reason. It was still the more eloquent Ling Miaomiao who took the majority of these small victories. As for Mu Sheng, she had never seen him act like this before… clearly bullying a girl.
He stubbornly brought Miaomiao, who didn’t recognize the streets, to the bustling street market, walked around in circles and then threw her by herself into the crowd of people while escaping out of there. Only after a few hours did he return to the street and bring the headless and hapless little one there back.
He had let Ling Miaomiao, the young lady who’d grown up in her bedroom, out to gather information and make enquiries. She was harshly mocked by the buxom and fat madams all afternoon. When she returned, she was even covered in dirt and grime.
Even though she didn’t like Ling Miaomiao, she also wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her. Mu Sheng was completely unrepentant as if he had regressed to ten years of age in an instant. He seemed like he couldn’t pass through this stumbling block, making her feel a headache.
Truce. Miaomiao shot Mu Sheng a look and then splayed out onto the tavern’s red paint wood table.
Sunlight shone in at an angle from the window. Outside was the outer city of Chang An, the streets were packed and people walked to and fro.
Fuyi walked up the creaking stairs into the second level. Seeing that Mu Sheng and Mu Yao were sitting beside one another, he walked over to Miaomiao’s side and sat down, drinking a cup of tea.
“How was it?” Mu Yao leaned forward.
“Consort Dowager Zhao and Princess Duanyang are going to go to the Xingshan Temple in the afternoon, when the time comes, we’ll follow behind them in the dark….”
Mu Sheng coldly smiled: “Does Consort Dowager Zhao think that as long as she has the Mu Family’s jade tile, she can order us about like we’re soldiers?”
The demon hunter Mu Family lived their lives for the welfare of the common people. They never stopped to garner fame and honor. They also wouldn’t listen to the commands of those in seats of power, unless this person has the Mu Family’s jade tile.
If they have this jade tile, they can call the Mu Family’s people to come and help them remove demons. No matter where they are and how far it is, they won’t refuse. As such, this jade tile was extremely precious. There were only three in total and they were all given to those who had given the people of the Mu Family help and kindness before.
Consort Dowager Zhao had one of these tiles. Mu Yao didn’t clearly explain the origins of this command tile.
Hearing Mu Sheng’s words, Mu Yao’s face became obviously more displeased: “Since they feel as if we’re too unsightly for their eyes to see, why did they ask us to come from such a distant place?”
Mu Sheng smiled as he looked at Liu Fuyi, stirring up the pot with experienced ease: “Well that just depends on how Young Noble Liu negotiated.”
In the current times where demons run amok, the palace definitely didn’t lack exorcists able to expel and drive out demons. These exorcists were like canaries in a cage, spending their whole lives in the palace walls providing service to the imperial family, rarely coming out to show their faces.
Although they were all demon hunters, the exorcists looked down upon the demon hunters outside of the palace.
They thought that the highest level of spells were all at the Qintian Prison and all the demon hunter families were unorthodox.
Naturally, the brother and sister born in a demon hunter family also couldn’t see eye to eye with those exorcists that lived like princes yet had no abilities.
”Ah Sheng, don’t misunderstand.” Liu Fuyi unhurriedly explained, “Is the Qintian Prison something the Consort Dowager can command so easily? I believe that she met some difficult matter and just wants to deal with it from the dark. She doesn’t want to disturb his highness.”
Mu Yao nodded and joined into the main point: “I’ve heard that ever since Princess Duanyang took a trip to the Xingshan Temple to pray, about a year ago, she’s been having nightmares every single night. Truly, very strange.”
Liu Fuyi silently looked out the window. His gaze seemed to penetrate through the many buildings in the way and reach all the way to the unending cloisters of Buddhist temples.
Because the Consort Dowager believed in Buddhism, there was an extremely strong driving force. This tide seemed to sweep through the class of the rich and powerful, even the entire capital.
“When things have reached an extreme, things can only go backwards. What dirty creatures loved the most was to take advantage of the chaos to take action.”
There was a deep worry in his eyes.
Ling Miaomiao was stuck onto the cool and cold foot of the wall. Taking her chopsticks out of her mouth, she used them to grab towards the Hulu Chicken on the plate. 1  Hulu/Calabash Chicken: A crispy, delectable whole chicken usually served on a ‘calabash’ shaped plate.
Chang An’s Hulu Chicken recipe had been perfected over the years. The skin was fried to perfection: Crispy and crunchy without too much crunch. It wasn’t overly oily and the thin golden brown layer on top was easily ripped off from the chicken meat below. It was a mouth-watering sight to behold.
Unexpectedly when her chopsticks were about to touch the chicken, a pair of chopsticks appeared from out of nowhere and locked down her own. Looking up, she saw Mu Sheng’s smiling face: “Miss Ling, you already ate half of the chicken.”
Suddenly getting called out like this, Ling Miaomiao’s face turned red: All along this journey, other than continuously being a nuisance of an existence for Liu Fuyi, she would just eat. When they discussed cases in a tense atmosphere, she was still eating at the side.
Even though this was required for the plot, it really was just too…
Feeling both Mu Yao and Liu Fuyi’s gazes falling onto her body, she embarrassedly withdrew her hand. However, Mu Sheng’s chopsticks didn’t stop as it grabbed a crisp and golden brown chicken wing and put it into her bowl softly: “Why aren’t you eating anymore? I remember that Miss Ling likes to eat the wings.”
The laughter in his eyes was as big as a pool of water and Ling Miaomiao felt herself being unable to utter a single word.
Ever since she rejected him on just packing up and leaving, his skills at making her stumble and fall turned more and more practiced.
That day he forcefully brought her to the early morning market to inquire for information, when they coincidentally attracted a loud crowd of fish and fruit selling aunties, he gave her a little push, turned around and disappeared.
The group of jiggly chest aunty aggressively surrounded her, all of them asking: “How old is that charming young noble with them pearly whites? Is he married? Where is he going? Who are you to him?”
She played dumb in order to struggle out of that sticky situation but by that time, her hair was turned into a mess. Walking along the street, she looked exactly as if she had just been robbed. Mu Sheng had been standing by the side of the street. He walked over and passed over a mirror at arms length and then smilingly invited her to take a look at her own appearance.
Yet, Liu Fuyi’s expression was abnormally pleased. He encouragingly patted her shoulder: “Miaomiao, Ah Sheng helped place it in your bowl, eat up.”
He even pulled Mu Yao, whose head was full of fog, up and pulled her along: “Yao’er, let’s go. Let’s go settle the bill.”
Mu Yao with her blank head full of fog let him pull her away.
Mu Sheng sat down beside her with nary a noise made. He looked at her face out of the corner of his eye: “Is it tasty?”
“Weren’t you always avoiding annoyances all along?” Miaomiao dully pulled at the wing a few times.
Mu Sheng’s smile had an unknown meaning behind it: “Miss Ling is extremely interesting, how could I possibly feel annoyed?”
Miaomiao harrumphed: “Isn’t it all because I know one of your secrets? —- To be fair, I’ll tell you another one of mine.”
The youth’s expression froze for a moment: “… don’t bring up your lady friend to me again.”
“This isn’t about my lady friend this time.” Miaomiao pulled close to him and her soft voice flowed into his ears: “When I was fifteen, my bust size was only 2.5 feet… and in a year, it’s grown a lot.” 2  2.5 feet: Approximately 76 cm…
Mu Sheng’s gaze went down from her neck and subconsciously wanted to see how much ‘a lot’ was exactly. Yet he didn’t think that she would put both her hands over her chest and immediately dodge far away from him. Giving him a sidelong glance, she spoke in a very clear voice: “Where are you looking at? Shameless!”
The noise and din in the surroundings suddenly came to a stop. The uncles and aunties all stopped eating and drinking. Countless condemning gazes fell onto his face like a knife hanging over his head. In no time at all, fingers started pointing and voices started gossiping:
“He’s such a handsome lad, I wouldn’t have expected that he’s actually a lecher.”
“Appearances are deceiving, the more he acts like that, the more…”
”Clack.” A burly fellow charged over like a black cloud and heavily slapped the sword on his waist onto the table. He blocked in front of Ling Miaomiao and coldly scowled at Mu Sheng, “Our Chang An’s morals and principles are upstanding, I can’t believe you’d act so atrociously.”
Mu Sheng looked at his fingers before him and fire seemed like it was about to burst out of his glossy black pupils.
The man flew into a rage: “You dare glare at me?”
Mu Sheng coldly shot him a glance but didn’t reply. He stood up and directly looked behind the burly man, suppressing his fury: “Ling Miaomiao, come out.”
”Bang!” The big fellow suddenly slapped down on the sword on the table. He slapped so hard the table trembled several times, “Kid, you better stop acting so rampantly.” Then, he turned around to comfort Ling Miaomiao, “Miss, don’t be scared. You’re a new face here and you’re not used to life here. The people of Chang An are all just like your family and friends from your village. Brother here will help act as your guide.”
Ling Miaomiao nearly burst out into laughter as she stuck out her head from behind the burly man’s shadow. She sincerely smiled and said: “Big Brother, thank you very much… but you’ve misunderstood. We’re traveling together, he… he was playing with me.”
“Really?” The burly man was doubtful.
”Really.” Miaomiao nodded.
The complete stranger of a knight in shining armor picked up his heavy sword and consolingly patted her. Every step he’d turn around thrice, and each time he turned around, he would point at Mu Sheng’s nose and warn him: “You better watch your step.”
“At just a glance, I can tell you’re a sly and conniving one.”
“Don’t act so atrociously again!”
”If I see you do this again, I’ll break your legs!”
Mu Sheng expressionlessly followed the fierce deluge with his eyes till the burly man was far away before turning his gaze onto Ling Miaomiao, who was shuddering from trying to suppress her laughter. Her face was completely serious and her apricot pupils were full of innocence: “I didn’t think that the commoners of Chang An would be this cordial.”
”…” Mu Sheng’s face changed and changed again. He clenched his teeth and turned around, “It’s late, let’s go.”
This person wasn’t a pushover, as long as she found a chance, she would make a counterattack. Her goal wasn’t clear and he couldn’t make any sense of her. Unfortunately, she was veritably impenetrable.
He still had to follow her closely to get a closer observation.
The young girl behind him in a wisteria purple skirt twirled around like a hibiscus flower blooming. She continued to blabber on: “Oh yea, if I were to leak your secret, you can also spread my secret for all people to learn… Why are you walking so fast?”
Footnotes: Hulu/Calabash Chicken: A crispy, delectable whole chicken usually served on a ‘calabash’ shaped plate.  2.5 feet: Approximately 76 cm…