After the excitement, people dispersed in small groups. The Third Lady Ming stayed behind to speak with Old Lady Ming alone. “Great Aunt, about the matter with Priestess Liu, I haven’t yet explained in detail…” “I already know about what happened afterward,” Old Lady Ming cut her off, speaking indifferently, “You’ve taken great care of Little Qi over these years, your hard work is commendable. Now that Little Qi is well, your efforts will be remembered by the Ming family.”
The Third Lady Ming lowered her head: “I am Little Qi’s mother, taking care of her is my duty, it’s not worth mentioning as merit. However, during the last ritual by Priestess Liu, a malevolent spirit was discovered, and now…” “Be cautious with your words!” Old Lady Ming interrupted her sharply, “Having married into our family for so many years, are you not aware of our family rules? Last time, for Little Qi’s sake, I allowed you to invite that shaman into our home, not for you to delve into superstitions! Do you believe everything those shamans say? For the sake of making money, they exaggerate trivial matters. Moreover, hasn’t the haunted place been sealed off by Old Four? Just make sure no one goes there in the future.”
“Great Aunt…” Old Lady Ming waved her off: “It’s getting late, take Little Qi back. She has just recovered and is still somewhat confused; taking care of her is the priority.” The Third Lady Ming moved her lips as if wanting to say more but ultimately remained silent: “Yes…” “Call Little Qi in.” “Yes.”
Ming Wei was brought before Old Lady Ming again. Old Lady Ming’s face was filled with affection, a stark contrast to her previously stern demeanor, as she continuously admonished: “Sitting for so long, are you tired? You’ve just recovered, you need to rest more, eat well. If those few monkeys bother you, ignore them. I have many medicinal herbs here, tell your mother to nourish you well…”
Ming Wei earnestly answered each question: “Not tired. I know, I will eat well, thank you, Great Aunt…” Seeing her well-behaved manner, Old Lady Ming became even more fond of her. She ordered her private storeroom to be opened, and anything good was to be given to Ming Wei. She mentioned that Ming Wei was of age and should dress up; previously, it was not appropriate due to her illness, but now everything would be compensated…
Thus, Ming Wei, having “recovered from her illness,” became a little rich lady. Returning to Yu Fang Garden, the Third Lady Ming did not take her back to the main house but first to Liu Jing Hall. “Little Qi, come.” The maids were left outside, and the Third Lady Ming personally lit candles and incense. “Nine Heavens Mysterious Lady…” Ming Wei murmured as she looked at the deity’s statue on the table.
“Do you recognize her?” The Third Lady Ming handed her the incense sticks, saying, “Since your father passed away, and we returned to Dongning, I have been worshipping this Mysterious Lady. Offering incense daily, copying scriptures nightly, hoping the Mysterious Lady would bless you with a peaceful life.” She opened a cabinet, taking out a thick stack of copied scriptures. These were all copied by her, burnt at intervals, and now there were so many accumulated.
“I never thought your illness could be cured. It’s said the Mysterious Lady punishes the wicked, blesses all beings, and it seems to be true.” The Third Lady Ming’s face showed a faint smile, yet there was an indescribable meaning behind it. After respectfully bowing three times, she looked at the dazed Ming Wei: “You should also bow and thank the Mysterious Lady.”
What she didn’t know was that Ming Wei was dazed because, in folk practice, it was more common to worship Guanyin, Bi Xia Yuan Jun, Mazu, and others, with fewer worshipping the Mysterious Lady. This female deity was associated with war and killing. Ming Wei had a sudden idea. She suddenly grasped the Third Lady Ming’s hand: “Mother, I remember now.” “What?” Ming Wei looked at the statue of the Mysterious Lady on the altar: “I remember floating for a long time, then one day, I saw a female immortal. She said someone had accumulated blessings for me, allowing me to serve by her side. After some time, I heard mother calling me, and the immortal pushed me gently, saying my blessings were complete, and it was time to return and repay them.”
The Third Lady Ming’s eyes widened, her lips trembling: “Was it really the Mysterious Lady?” Ming Wei nodded affirmatively: “That’s why I recognized her.” The Third Lady Ming burst into tears, bowing repeatedly while crying: “Thank you, Mysterious Lady, thank you…” The Third Lady Ming’s crying was uncontrollable. Until Nanny Tong came, she cried into her embrace. “Nanny, the Mysterious Lady has shown her grace, she has brought Little Qi back.” The Third Lady Ming, embracing Nanny Tong with tears streaming down her face, “All the hardships were worth it, all these years, they were all worth it…” “Yes, yes! All worth it.” Nanny Tong was also in tears, “Now that the young miss is well, my lady, you must take good care of yourself. The Mysterious Lady watches over us, good people will receive good karma, and the wicked will meet their fate!” The last sentence carried a tone of gritted teeth.
Ming Wei silently watched their embrace, raising her eyes to the solemn face of the Mysterious Lady’s statue. Who is the wicked one?
That night, the Third Lady Ming and Ming Wei shared a room. “Mother, what kind of person was my father?” The Third Lady Ming, shoulder to shoulder with her daughter, her gaze softened by memories: “Your father, he must have been the best person in the world? Talented, gentle by nature, kind-hearted. When I first saw him, I thought, how could there be such a good person in this world?” “The first time?” “Yes. At that time, your uncle was still studying hard in Dongning. The Ji family had been in decline for many years, and during tough times, we could hardly make ends meet. So, I embroidered scriptures for Bao Ling Temple to help support the family. Once, when I went to deliver the scriptures, I accidentally fell into a hunter’s trap. Calling for help was in vain, and who would have thought your father just happened to pass by…” The Third Lady Ming was lost in the memories, slowly recounting the past.
“…It was getting dark, and he, a frail scholar, carried me on his back to the mountain for help. I was saved, but he didn’t even leave his name. It was others who told me he was a young master of the Ming family.” “Then, how did the marriage between father and mother come about?” The Third Lady Ming seemed to return to that time, her tone filled with bittersweet happiness: “The Ji family had declined, and I knew I was not worthy of the Ming family’s young master, so I thought it was just a chance
encounter. A few days later, while buying ink and paper for my uncle, I met him again… Not long after, the Ming family sent a matchmaker.” “Your great aunt initially disapproved of this match. But your father was always obedient, pleading earnestly. Although the Ji family had fallen, our family’s integrity remained, and she finally agreed.” “Little Qi,” the Third Lady Ming embraced her daughter, “Eight years of marriage left us with only you. Never did we imagine your father would leave us so soon. You must live well to give your father peace in the spirit world. That way, I would have fulfilled my duty to your father…”
Ming Wei looked at Miss Ming Qi inside the barrier she had created for her. Though only left with one soul and three spirits, and now even further detached, her mind more confused than ever, upon hearing the Third Lady Ming’s words, the pale face seemed to shed tears.