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Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
A deathly stillness hung over the small courtyard.
Chen Changsheng had met Zhou Tong before, and not only once.
However, this was his first real meeting with Zhou Tong.
His first meeting with the real Zhou Tong.
He gazed at Zhou Tong's pale cheeks, his lips that were as thin as knives, his official's gown that was crimson as blood, and he sensed an unimaginably frightening Qi. He felt like the scent of blood was growingly increasingly thick, as if it was real.
Finally, his gaze fell upon Zhou Tong's hands.
Those two hands were very slender, the fingernails trimmed flawlessly. They weren’t dirty in the slightest, much less stained with blood.
But he knew that these two hands had slaughtered countless members of the Chen Imperial clan as well as many of their loyal officials. And just who knew how many eyes he had plucked and hearts he had dug out from still-living bodies?
Chen Changsheng felt like his heart was beating ever faster, and then an idea suddenly occurred to him: Zhou Tong's hands were very suitable for holding a sword.
Consequently, he replied, "Senior Su Li taught me the sword on the road."
Swords were used to kill people. Words that were like swords were meant to break the influence of one's opponent.
Chen Changsheng did not understand this concept, but he had very naturally been able to form a response.
Those things Su Li had taught him on their journey south had always remained with him and were endlessly showing their use.
Tang Thirty-Six and Xuanyuan Po awoke from their trances and revealed wary expressions.
Zhou Tong smiled in silence.
The remaining blossoms on the crabapple tree drifted to the ground. Some of the petals fell onto Chen Changsheng's shoulder.
The sinister pressure pervading the small courtyard instantly vanished, and that intense stench of blood also disappeared. Only the faint scent of flowers was left behind.
No one said anything.
After a moment, Zhou Tong looked at Chen Changsheng and said, "To not greet this official is to be rude."
There was a period of silence as Chen Changsheng thought of how to respond to this. Suddenly, the silent Tang Thirty-Six opened his mouth and asked, "What is your identity, what is your status?"
As he asked this question, he stared into Zhou Tong's eyes, stared into them like he was staring at a dangerously venomous snake.
Zhou Tong narrowed his eyes. He had not imagined that this young master of the Tang clan would have the courage to question, nor that he would be…so rude.
Without waiting for an answer, Tang Thirty-Six continued, "Chen Changsheng is the Principal of the Orthodox Academy. In terms of identity, in the Orthodoxy, he is only below His Holiness. And Your Excellency is only the supervisor of the office of the Department for Purging Officials. Even if the Divine Empress was even more gracious and kind and bestowed upon Your Excellency the title of Duke of the Third Rank, just how could Your Excellency be discussed on equal terms with my principal? In terms of greetings, it should naturally be Your Excellency that comes first."
Zhou Tong gazed at Tang Thirty-Six and revealed a false smile. "Even your father would not dare speak like this to me."
Tang Thirty-Six answered, "So my grandfather said, my father is inferior to me."
Zhou Tong replied, "If this is the case, then should it really be me that offers greetings first?"
Tang Thirty-Six's expression did not change. There was no contempt, no pride, no gloating, only extreme calm and focus as he replied, "Of course."
Zhou Tong's eyebrows perked up as he replied, "If this is the case, it should be you first."
Tang Thirty-Six answered, "I and Xuanyuan are students, just accompanying."
Zhou Tong asked, "Who are you accompanying?"
Tang Thirty-Six replied, "We are accompanying the Principal."
"I am the Principal." Chen Changsheng finally caught up to the tempo between these two. He very formally introduced himself: "I am the Principal of the Orthodox Academy, Chen Changsheng."
Zhou Tong said nothing for a very long time, and then he gently tidied his official robe.
His red official's gown, amongst the remnants of the crabapple blossoms, was particularly striking.
And then he clasped his hands, bowed, and asked for his purpose.
"I did not know that Principal Chen would come today. What does Sir require?"
"Wofu Zhexiu is a student of the Orthodox Academy."
Chen Changsheng looked intently at him and said, "I have come to pick him up."
The small courtyard was peaceful and serene, and while the office of the Department for Purging Officials was still heavily-guarded, countless people had already arrived outside the alley of the Northern Military Department.
All of the capital was in a tense mood.
Everyone knew why Chen Changsheng had come today to visit Zhou Tong.
But it was probably beyond their expectations that Chen Changsheng would so calmly and naturally bring up his demand.
This was because he had already affirmed his identity. He was the Principal of the Orthodox Academy. Zhexiu was a student of the Orthodox Academy. A principal must be concerned about his students—this was an unalterable truth.
It was so unalterable that even Zhou Tong sighed as he thought to himself, just how much did that freak Su Li teach this kid?
Then he smiled and replied, "In accordance with the demands of the Imperial Court, I imprisoned Zhexiu. If his release is desired, Principal Chen requires the decree of the Divine Empress, or else a verdict from the Grand Court of Revision and the Ministry of Justice."
With the advent of the Department for Purging Officials, the Grand Court of Revision and the Ministry of Justice had become decorations, or perhaps subordinates, of the Department for Purging Officials.
Until Zhou Tong gave the nod, the Grand Court of Revision and the Ministry of Justice could not even take a case.
"I've studied the Daoist Canon since I was little," Chen Changsheng abruptly mentioned.
Tang Thirty-Six and Xuanyuan Po shot him a glance, wondering, just why did you mention this now?
Zhou Tong knew that he still had more to say and waited in silence.
Chen Changsheng continued, "I've confirmed that Your Excellency directly took the case of the Garden of Zhou from the Li Palace. The Ministry of Justice and the Grand Court of Revision don't even have this case on record."
Zhou Tong replied, "And what of it?"
Chen Changsheng answered, "Being well-versed in the Daoist Canon, I've also memorized all the laws of the Great Zhou. I'm very sure that there does not exist a single law supporting Your Excellency's continued imprisonment of Wofu Zhexiu."
Zhou Tong smiled at him, not saying a word.
Chen Changsheng said, "I ask that Your Excellency release him."
Zhou Tong removed a snow-white handkerchief from his sleeve and gently wiped the corner of his lips. His actions were very graceful, but his words were filled with scorn.
"Our future Pope is actually so lacking in patience. This can't help but cause people to be concerned about the Orthodoxy's future."
Perhaps because of Zhou Tong's actions, or perhaps because of those words, Tang Thirty-Six creased his brow.
"I promised His Eminence that I would wait two more days, but…" After a moment of silence, Chen Changsheng continued, "He died, so I no longer need to wait."
Zhou Tong gazed at him and calmly replied, "I believe you have forgotten one thing. Zhou Tong is accused of colluding with the demons. As long as I have this accusation, I can keep him imprisoned however long I desire."
"Your Excellency also seems to have forgotten one thing. The three people accused of colluding with the demons in the Garden of Zhou were Zhexiu, Qi Jian…and me."
Chen Changsheng solemnly gazed back at him and declared, "If Your Excellency truly believes that Zhexiu could collude with the demons, then the first thing Your Excellency needs to do is to imprison me as well. If not, then you should release him."
The small courtyard became incomparably silent, and could even be described as a deathly silence.
Only the sounds of falling petals and breathing could be heard.
This was the choice he had left for Zhou Tong: release Zhexiu or imprison them together.
Zhou Tong slowly narrowed his eyes until they became as slender as willow leaves, and also very similar to the willow leaf blade that he was most skilled at.
His voice that fluttered out of his thin lips was similar too, though much colder.
"You…are you threatening this official?"