Xie Lian paused for a moment, and memories from the distant past, like dusty images, were gently brushed off, yet remained somewhat unclear. He let go of the flower and picked it up, focusing in silence. Huacheng also set down his brush, grinding the ink slowly beside him, and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“… " Xie Lian smiled and said, “Nothing. I’ve always liked the fragrance of this kind of flower; it’s refreshing.”

It was not uncommon to have flowers placed in the palace. However, usually, large bouquets of bright red or purple flowers were offered, or immortal-like artificial flowers that never withered. Pausing for a moment, Xie Lian continued, “Could it be that the ‘Blood Rain Blossom’ refers to this type of flower?”

Huacheng chuckled, “Brother Xie has an extraordinary insight.”

In their laughter, the two of them finally completed a piece of writing together, still the four lines of poetry. Huacheng picked it up and admired it for a moment, seemingly satisfied. He said, “Hmm, not bad. It should be framed.”

Upon hearing him say “not bad,” Xie Lian had already choked. And when he heard “frame it,” Xie Lian choked again and said, “Are you planning to hang it on the wall?” If Xie Lian’s deceased teachers saw a piece of calligraphy with his participation turn out like this, they would probably be so angry that they would rise from their graves. However, Huacheng just smiled and said, “No. I’ll keep it myself and not show it to anyone.”

Just then, the two of them suddenly heard faint shouts from outside:

“Fire!”

“Fire!”

“Jile Palace is on fire!”

The atmosphere inside the Qian Deng Palace was extremely quiet, but their senses exceeded those of ordinary people. Hearing the sound, they quickly exchanged glances. Xie Lian blurted out, “Jile Palace again?”

Once the words were spoken, he realized that the word “again” sounded a bit absurd. Huacheng remained calm and collected, put away the calligraphy, and said, “Don’t worry, Brother Xie, sit here. I’ll be right back.”

How could Xie Lian sit still? He said, “I’ll go with you!” and hurriedly followed. In his mind, he wondered why every time he came, Jile Palace would catch fire. It seemed that the name of the plague god had been confirmed once again. Although it had nothing to do with him this time, he had almost become accustomed to feeling guilty. They quickly returned to Jile Palace. The entire street was filled with thick smoke as little ghosts and monsters ran back and forth with buckets of water, extinguishing the fire. When they saw Huacheng and Xie Lian, they exclaimed, “City Lord! Don’t worry, the fire isn’t big, it’s already extinguished!”

Huacheng didn’t say much, but Xie Lian let out a sigh of relief and kindly said, “That’s great! You’ve all worked hard.”

The little ghosts had never expected to receive thanks, especially being called “you’ve all worked hard” by the City Lord’s friend. They happily responded, “No trouble at all!” “It’s our duty!”

Xie Lian suddenly realized that it might have been slightly inappropriate for him to say “you’ve all worked hard” since he was not the owner of this place. However, since Huacheng himself didn’t say anything, he didn’t think it would be harmful to say it himself. He felt a little embarrassed and no longer paid attention. The two of them went into Jile Palace and looked at the place where the fire had started. It turned out that only a small area had burned, and it was a small and inconspicuous corner of a house, so it was quickly extinguished.

However, after confirming this, Xie Lian became alert and said to Huacheng, “The arsonist doesn’t seem to be someone who is daring and ignorant enough to play a prank or actually wants to burn something. It seems more like they want to divert attention and attract everyone’s gaze.”

But at this crucial moment, what could they be trying to divert attention from?

Suddenly, Xie Lian realized, “The Fetus Spirit!”

When they left Jile Palace earlier, they had walked for a long time, and the Fetus Spirit had been crying all the way, its cries piercing and occasionally calling for its mother. And now, the sound had disappeared!

They went to a side hall outside Jile Palace to investigate. Huacheng casually placed the pottery jar containing the Fetus Spirit on a table. Xie Lian picked it up and immediately felt that something was off—it was too light. Opening it, he found that it was indeed empty!

The seal on the jar couldn’t have been opened by whatever was trapped inside. Xie Lian immediately said, “The Fetus Spirit has been taken.”

However, Huacheng remained unfazed and said, “It has been stolen. It passed through the Butterfly Formation and is now severely weakened, unable to run far on its own.”

Xie Lian said, “That makes it easier. San Lang, do you have guards monitoring the comings and goings of Jile Palace? See if you can find any suspicious individuals.”

However, Huacheng said, “No.”

“… " Xie Lian blinked and asked, “None?”

Huacheng replied, “Hmm, there has never been any.”

No wonder he had secretly made his move in Jile Palace last time, and not a single guard was seen. Xie Lian had even wondered if it was because they were well-hidden and he didn’t notice, but it turned out that there really were none. Xie Lian was slightly surprised and said, “Are you so confident in Jile Palace?”

Huacheng said, “Brother Xie, have you ever paid attention to the doors in Jile Palace?”

After thinking for a moment, Xie Lian said, “I haven’t paid attention. Is there something special about them?”

Huacheng replied, “Yes, there is.”

2 / 2

He pointed to the door of this side hall and said, “If someone who is not the owner of this place takes away someone or something that doesn’t belong to them, even if it’s just one thing, the door cannot be opened, and they will be trapped inside that room.”

Xie Lian recalled his previous visit to Jile Palace. It seemed that he had been using dice to open the way, and in the end, Feng Shi had created a strong wind, lifting the roof and allowing them to escape through the “door.” These were all somewhat violent scenes, and the more Xie Lian thought about it, the more he felt he shouldn’t dwell on them. Pausing for a moment, he asked, “So, if you were to take a treasure from me without my permission and bring it to Jile Palace, as the original owner of the treasure, I wouldn’t be able to take it back?”

Huacheng raised an eyebrow and said, “Of course not. Once it’s in my possession, it’s mine. But don’t accuse me falsely, Brother Xie. I wouldn’t steal your treasure.”

Xie Lian coughed lightly and said, “Naturally, I know that. That’s why I said ‘if.’ Besides… I don’t have any treasures that someone would want to steal…”

Huacheng joked playfully, smiled, and continued, “So, it’s impossible to steal from me without being discovered. Therefore, there is no need for guards.”

Xie Lian’s first reaction was that the person who stole the Fetus Spirit did not leave through the door but used another method. However, when he looked around, the roof, floor, and walls of this side hall were intact, with no signs of being broken into. He couldn’t help but come up with an even more eerie speculation:

Could it be that the person who stole the Fetus Spirit hadn’t left and was still inside this side hall?

Although there were no hiding places in this side hall, there were many ways to conceal oneself, even blending into the surroundings. Perhaps that person was quietly observing their every move nearby. Xie Lian looked around, paying attention to any abnormal distortions in the air. However, both his eyes and intuition told him that there was no third person or ghost here. He feared that his train of thought was wrong and needed to approach it from a different angle. At that moment, Huacheng smiled and said, “Brother Xie, no need to worry. I have a way to find the person who stole the Fetus Spirit.”

He seemed confident. Xie Lian turned to him, pondered for a moment, and suddenly everything became clear.

The two of them waited in silence. After a while, the sound of commotion gradually approached, and a large group of monsters and demons gathered outside the side hall, exclaiming, “City Lord, what instructions do you have for us?”

There were at least a thousand of them, and if Jile Palace didn’t have large enough houses and courtyards, they wouldn’t be able to fit. The masked person who had brought them here said to Huacheng, “City Lord, everyone who has appeared on this street today should be here. The Ghost Market has also been sealed off, and no one can leave.”

It was the voice of the young man from last time. Xie Lian couldn’t help but glance at him. The crowd of spirits said, “City Lord, did you catch the person who started the fire?”

“I heard they also stole something! They must either be tired of living or want to die again!”

“So audacious, setting fires and stealing. They dared to stir up trouble under the city lord’s nose. The city lord won’t let them get away with it!”

“…”

Although the spirits weren’t talking about him, as someone who had burned houses, secretly robbed people, and was spared by Huacheng in Jile Palace last time, every word felt like a direct hit. Xie Lian coughed lightly, feeling increasingly guilty, and stole another glance at Huacheng, coincidentally catching him looking back at him with an inexplicable expression before quickly shifting his gaze away. Next, he heard Huacheng say in a calm voice, “The person who stole the Fetus Spirit, come forward. Don’t waste my time.”

The spirits were shocked and said one after another, “Among us?”

“I thought it was an outsider…”

“Who is it? Show yourself!”

After a while, the turbulent waves gradually subsided, but no one stepped forward. Huacheng said, “Very well, as expected of the brave ones. Men on the left, women on the right.”

Although the spirits were puzzled, they didn’t dare to defy Huacheng’s words in the slightest and immediately followed his instructions, dividing into two groups with a rustling sound. The male spirits crowded on the left, speaking loudly and coarsely; the female spirits stood on the right, almost all of them graceful and charming. Huacheng and Xie Lian exchanged glances, then walked directly to the right and took a cursory look at the female spirits, scanning over ten of them in a single glance. After a few steps, as they passed in front of one of the female spirits, Huacheng’s footsteps faltered. This female spirit was wearing a long skirt and had a thick layer of makeup on her face, making her frighteningly pale. It was hard to see her true appearance, but the exaggerated and overly glamorous makeup seemed somewhat familiar to Xie Lian. He said, “Miss Lan Chang?”

The female spirit was stunned, as if she had seen a ghost. Indeed, it was Lan Chang, the female spirit who had tangled with Xie Lian on the streets of the Ghost Market, publicly insulted him alongside the butcher, and mocked his impotence for all to hear.

Surprised, she stood with her hands on her hips and raised her head. “What? It was you who said you couldn’t perform! I didn’t accuse you falsely! Do you want the City Lord to teach me a lesson?”

Although the female spirits and female demons around were somewhat nervous, they chuckled when they heard her words. Huacheng also walked over, and although his expression couldn’t be discerned, Lan Chang, the female spirit, still felt a bit afraid of him and didn’t dare to act too recklessly. Xie Lian spoke gently, “It was just a joke. Miss, you can say whatever you want. However, the Fetus Spirit has caused harm to many people. It’s bloody and cannot be left unattended. Please return it first.”

Even though Lan Chang had applied thick layers of makeup, it was evident that her face had turned even paler. She kept retreating, but she was surrounded by a group of female spirits, and before she could retreat far, the other female spirits grabbed her, preventing her from escaping. She could only say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! What Fetus Spirit?”

Xie Lian said, “Please return it.”

Lan Chang said, “Return what? I didn’t take anything! You said I stole something from the City Lord’s house, but everyone knows that you can’t take anything from the City Lord’s house. If you take something, you can’t get out!”

All the spirits agreed, shouting in agreement, and even the butcher joined in. Lan Chang continued, “The fire in Jile Palace just happened a moment ago. I haven’t left this street at all. If I stole something, I wouldn’t have had time to hide it, right?” She gestured with empty hands and even lifted her skirt to show that she had nothing hidden. Xie Lian, however, said, “Miss, when I saw you last time, it was bitterly cold, and you were dressed quite scantily. But today, with such pleasant weather, why are you wearing a long skirt? Did you suddenly feel like changing your clothes, or are you trying to conceal something?”

Hearing his words, the spirits realized that Lan Chang usually dressed quite revealingly. Xie Lian saying she was “scantily dressed” was already being quite polite; she would often walk around the streets nearly topless. Yet today, she was wearing a long skirt, concealing her waist and legs completely, which was indeed strange. Moreover, when Huacheng took Xie Lian to the Ghost Market and the spirits cheered and presented small gifts, they didn’t see Lan Chang, who used to love cursing and actively spreading the words “It’s him who can’t perform, not me” in the streets. There was a slight commotion. Xie Lian slowly said, “You didn’t take something that didn’t belong to you. You only took a part of yourself. The Fetus Spirit is still inside you!”

Since the person who stole the Fetus Spirit didn’t leave by any other means and didn’t stay in the side hall, there was only one possibility left: this person left through the main entrance in broad daylight.

If the Fetus Spirit had already been born, then it would be a child, an independent individual. However, this Fetus Spirit was forcefully removed from its mother’s womb before its due date. So if its mother were to put it back inside her own belly, it would still be considered “hers.” No, it should be said that the Fetus Spirit was simply a piece of flesh on her body, a part of her. After all, the bond between mother and child was strong, and in this case, they were connected as one. Therefore, the female spirit who stole the Fetus Spirit must be its birth mother. They needed to quickly seal off the Ghost Market and gather all the female spirits who had appeared on this street before and after the fire to investigate. Surely they would catch the culprit. This thought had occurred to Huacheng and the others the moment they entered the side hall.

Suddenly, Lan Chang screamed and clutched her stomach tightly.