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Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
The crown prince was the natural successor to the position of emperor. If the Great Zhou had a crown prince, there would simply have been no need for the conflict between the Orthodoxy and the Divine Empress to evolve to its current degree and the state of the continent would be much more stable—in fact, the Great Zhou really did have a crown prince once. He was the son of Emperor Xian and the Divine Empress, and he was precisely Crown Prince Zhaoming.
Lamentably, the successive crown princes of the Great Zhou never met a good end. After Emperor Taizu founded the country, his crown prince died a tragic death in the rebellion in the Hundred Herb Garden. The crown prince that had been meticulously raised and educated by Emperor Taizong was also ultimately involved in some indescribable conspiracy and killed. This Crown Prince Zhaoming also met a rather unfortunate end, but one could also say that it was relatively fortunate, because he died when he was very small, rather than being cut down in a similar tragedy.
Not long after Emperor Xian died, Crown Prince Zhaoming died of illness in his infancy.
But no one believed it. Of course no one believed it. How could the union of the blood of the Imperial clan and the Divine Empress produce a son that died so young?
With regards to the reason for the death of Crown Prince Zhaoming, there were countless theories.
There was one theory that was the most broadly spread—back then when the Chen Imperial clan joined hands with the conservative faction of the Orthodoxy to drive the Divine Empress from the emperor's seat, in that soul-shaking battle where the Divine Empress and the Pope obtained the final victory, several hundred princes and nobles of the Chen Imperial clan were either killed or banished. In addition, the teachers and students of the Orthodox Academy were killed or wounded until there was almost no one left, leaving only the frosted grass and the broken wells and collapsed walls. However, the Divine Empress had also paid an enormous price—in that rebellion, Crown Prince Zhaoming was poisoned to death by the Divine Empress's enemies.
There was also another theory that spread far and wide, but it was impossible to hear it in the teahouses and the inns. Only in the dark night was it uneasily circulated. That theory was even more cruel, even more callous.
There were some people who surreptitiously insisted that several hundred years ago when the Divine Empress was expelled from the Imperial Palace by Emperor Taizong and lived out her miserable days in the Hundred Herb Garden, she had gotten to know the Pope and the then-Principal of the Orthodox Academy. From them, she learned the secret to defying the heavens and changing fate. She swore an oath to the starry sky that it would be better in this life if her bloodline was to be ended, and from this defied the heavens and changed fate. Crown Prince Zhaoming's death was the curse from her defiance of the heavens and the changing of her fate, or perhaps it could be said to be the wrath of heaven…it was also possible that it was an action she had done herself to complete the process of changing her fate!
In those dark rumors, those people narrating seemed to have personally witnessed that dreadful and bloody scene in the Imperial Palace, describing everything in vivid detail—how the Divine Empress's hand had passed through the swaddling clothes, reaching for that wailing infant. Her beautiful and dignified face showed no expression, but a single tear flowed down from the corner of her eye, and then the crying sounds gradually grew quiet. In the darkness, the palace was so peaceful it could cause the heart to beat in fear.
If this was the wrath of heaven invited by the Divine Empress going against the heavens and changing her fate, leading her to be without descendants and to live alone on this world until her death, then the Heavenly Dao and the sea of stars were truly too unfeeling and terrifying. If the Divine Empress had personally killed off her only son so that she could complete the process of changing her fate just so that she could live on this continent isolated and without anyone else, then she was truly too unfeeling and frightening.
No matter the theory, Crown Prince Zhaoming was already dead, dead for a callous and terrifying reason, dead in a very unfortunate and pitiable manner. Afterwards, there was no one who dared to bring up this topic, including the Chen Imperial clan and the Orthodoxy. Only that crazy Lord Hu of the Imperial Board of Astronomy, even after Zhou Tong had plucked out all of his fingernails, continued to declare to the world with his blood-filled mouth that Crown Prince Zhaoming…was not dead. And then, right as Zhou Tong was prepared to rip out Lord Hu's tongue as well, the Divine Empress bestowed her mercy and allowed Lord Hu to return to his home to recuperate.
In the view of many, this was not mercy, it was a guilty conscience, or perhaps a sort of self-consolation. Just what went on in the Imperial Palace in that year? Just how did Crown Prince Zhaoming die? Why would the Empress have a guilty conscience? Thus, that cruel and horrifying theory spread more and more. Of course, it still only did so in the dark night.
At night, the Imperial Palace was very peaceful, but this night at the beginning of summer was actually endlessly cold.
The chief eunuch lowered his head, not even daring to glance at the Divine Empress.
The quiet courtyard, in a flash, transformed into a frigid snowy plain. There was no sign of any snowflakes, but the surface of the pool was gradually forming a layer of ice.
With a single thought, a Saint could move heaven and earth. If they were in a rage, the waves would rage and the sea would be in turmoil. If their mood was dark, the curtain of the night would fall over the sky. If their emotions were both downcast and extremely melancholy, there would naturally be wind and snow for days on end.
Just as the chief eunuch felt like his sea of consciousness would freeze and snap, the Divine Empress's voice finally rang out once more. Her voice was very calm and very indifferent, just like the water of the pool under the sheet of ice. "All the world's people are my sons. The Prince of Xiang (相) and the Prince of Xiang (象) are also my sons. Zhaoming's death has never been important." (TN: The two Princes of Xiang have different Chinese characters for their names. The first one uses '相' while the second uses '象')
It had never been important, so it had also not been important in the past.
The chief eunuch lowered his head even more, as if it was almost about to touch the cold surface of the ground. He slowly began to retreat backwards into the darkness.
From outside the garden slowly ambled a black goat, its fur as glossy black as jade. It had walked out of the darkness as if it carried a piece of the darkness with it.
Was everything obscured by the darkness true? Then what about darkness itself?
The Divine Empress gazed expressionlessly at the goat and asked, "And what about you? Why are you willing to be so close to him? Just who is he?"
Tonight was Chen Changsheng's first night in the Orthodox Academy after his return. Just like all those previous nights, after eating dinner and strolling around the lake, he very naturally walked into the library. Luoluo had returned to the Li Palace and Tang Thirty-Six was still in the Mausoleum of Books. Xuanyuan Po was hitting trees and Zhexiu was still in Zhou Prison. He didn't know what else to do, so he decided to just continue cultivating.
The starlight passed through the colored glass and the snowflakes passed through the sparse leaves, not stopping at his clothes or skin but directly entering the depths of his body. The mantle of snow on the plains was growing ever thicker. Although the lake surrounding his spirit mountain was still far from transforming into a vast ocean, the force of the water was much greater now. The stone door of the Ethereal Palace at the end of the slanted stone steps in the spirit mountain was already fully open. A gentle light shot out of the dwelling and scattered all over the water, giving a very tranquil sensation.
In his current state, he would naturally not be as perplexed as before, believing that the starlight he had absorbed had all gone to some other place. He calmly perceived that star of his in the distant starry sky and perceived the changes in his body. Time slowly passed, and after some time, he opened his eyes, awakening from his trance and beginning to sort out his gains from this time.
When he had left the Mausoleum of Books, he was already at the upper level of Ethereal Opening. After encountering so many powerful enemies in the Garden of Zhou and on the journey back south, his sword heart had gradually completely harmonized and his cultivation had grown much more stable, even almost faintly about to climb to the peak of Ethereal Opening. Adding on how long he had followed Su Li for, his swordplay had advanced even more. With both of these, he could said to be unrivaled amongst all cultivators below the Star Condensation Realm. Even if he were to encounter cultivators at the initial level of Star Condensation, he would still have a chance of winning. This fact was rather comforting for him, but it did not allow him to relax at all, because he had never once forgotten that piece of darkness.
His time was truly not abundant. Even if he could be considered the fastest person to cultivate to the peak of Ethereal Opening, there was a still a boundless distance to the Concealed Divinity Realm. Just how long would that take? So he absolutely had to value his time—after concluding his meditation, purification, and self-introspection, he immediately began to practice his swordplay.
The lake and snowy plain within his body indicated that he had already accumulated an enormous amount of true essence, far surpassing that of cultivators of the same age. The problem was that his meridians were still broken and it was impossible for him to completely utilize this true essence. The Blazing Sword taught to him by Su Li could only address one part of this. In addition, the price required by the Blazing Sword was too great. With his current level of cultivation, he could at most perform three strikes.
Moreover, the Blazing Sword was impossible to practice; it injured the body. The Intellectual Sword was also impossible to practice; it injured the mind. He could only practice the Stupid Sword. Standing on the floor, he pulled out his dagger and bared it horizontally in front of him, incessantly repeating this simple and dry routine. It truly did look rather stupid.
After doing it one thousand times, he once more sat cross-legged on the floor and sent his spiritual sense into his sheath.
The world within the sheath contained ten thousand damaged and broken swords. They peacefully floated in that space, not disturbing each other.
These swords no longer possessed the might they had when they first appeared in the Garden of Zhou. However, these were divine swords whose names once shook the world after all, and their sword intents were still powerful. The seemingly expansive space had long since been occupied by those sword intents.
His spiritual sense passing through the ten thousand sword intents was truthfully a very dangerous thing, especially because this time, he was not attempting to use his spiritual sense to control those ten thousand swords. Instead, he was having his spiritual sense come in direct contact with those ten thousand sword intents.
He was using the sword intents of the ten thousand swords to hone his sword heart.
He was currently already harmonized with his sword heart. If this was made known to others, it would inevitably incur stunned cries of admiration, because this was an incredibly difficult task to accomplish. The next step was to truly make the sword heart brightly lit. And yet to make the sword heart brightly lit required too high of a talent in the path of the sword. Surveying the entire continent, only a scant few possessed sword hearts that were truly brightly lit.
The problem was this: in the past few weeks, Chen Changsheng had met two people with brightly lit sword hearts—Su Li and the girl called Chujian—so it was naturally impossible for him to be content with this.
Those sword intents were a grindstone and his spiritual sense was the edge of a sword. Sometimes sharp and sometimes tyrannical sword intent constantly touched, grinded, and cut away at his spiritual sense.
This was a very painful course of events. He closed his eyes and didn't exude a bead of sweat, but his face gradually grew paler.
The edges of a sword are only produced through incessant honing, and only by enduring the bitter winter can the plum blossoms give off a beautiful scent. Without experiencing a storm, one cannot see a rainbow.
He thought of these famous sayings of the people of the past while enduring an almost unimaginable suffering, until that spiritual sense that had entered the sheath grew increasingly thin and weak, like it could scatter at any moment…
Suddenly, he felt that hidden behind those ten thousand sword intents, something was attracting his spiritual sense.
As soon as he sensed that attractive force, the spiritual sense that was thin and weak and about to scatter abruptly stabilized and regained its former strength.
His spiritual sense moved past the ten thousand sword intents and slowly made its way over to the distant other side.
Eventually, the light boat finally passed the ten thousand heavy mountains and his spiritual sense finally arrived at the shore beyond the ocean of sword intents.
The other shore of the ocean of sword intents turned out to be a real shore. On the shore was a black stone monolith. Not a real stone monolith, but an illusion.
That black monolith was somewhat familiar. It seemed just like a piece of darkness.
The instant he saw that black monolith, Chen Changsheng very naturally had a certain feeling. This illusion of a monolith should be a door to another place.
What world was on the other side of the black monolith? What lay behind the darkness? Suddenly, he remembered that the reason this black monolith seemed so familiar was not because it was the darkness that he saw every night, but because that black monolith looked exactly like Wang Zhice's black stone, which he had taken from the Lingyan Pavilion and was transformed back into a Heavenly Tome Monolith. It also looked exactly like the Heavenly Tome Monoliths that had been placed all around the Mausoleum of Zhou.
Could it be that this black monolith led to the Garden of Zhou? Could it be that the Garden of Zhou was not yet destroyed?