"Gu can’t help but want to grow close to you."
Editor(s): Namio, Jelly
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The next day, Zhaoge’s imperial palace. In front of the Meridian Gates, imperial guards stood in single file to pile wooden trunks into a stack, and Haoran and Jiang Shang stood distantly on the plaza beneath the hall. The sun was high up in the sky, and two silhouettes with unclear faces occupied the seats outside the hall doors. They must be King Zhou and Su Daji, without a doubt.
Haoran murmured, "How come you remembered at such a time.”
Jiang Shang answered with embarrassment, “Yesterday, I was too hasty, too hasty.”
As the duo whispered into each other’s ears, a voice came from the hall atop the steps, “What is the matter.”
“Answering Dawang,” Huang Feihu stepped forward, speaking loud and clear, “Yesterday, a homicide took place in Zhaoge.”King Wucheng Huang Feihu reported Wang-guiren’s fortune-telling incident, which concluded with her being beaten to death with a stone ink slab, to King Zhou. In the end, he said, “Haoran and Jiang Shang stated that this woman is an evil yao who has gained the human form, and they requested to demonstrate to Dawang……”
“Nonsense!” A sharp female voice scolded from above, the anger in her words unconcealed. “Catching a random woman and calling her an evil yao, these two clearly are lecherous men, using fortune telling as an easy excuse to evade justice! They couldn’t stop at laying their hands on a woman from an honourable family, so they beat her to death! Bring these two outside and behead them, then bury the female corpse!”
Because Su Daji was basking in the King’s favor, she rudely cut into King Wucheng’s recount without any warning. The latter was the Marshal Pacifier of the Country; how dare a mere consort of the imperial harem speak to him like this? Immediately, he felt enraged, but still maintained a calm expression and said indifferently, “Dawang must see this matter clearly; Jiang Shang has a way to force yaojing to reveal their true forms. If the truth is no different from what Daji-niangniang has guessed, it wouldn’t be too late to behead them.”
At the front of the hall, the Son of Heaven stood up straight. With a mighty stature, his hands regally clasped behind his back, the man exuded a kingly aura. After a while, King Zhou commented, “En, this female yao has an alluring face, and her body is fair……”
Daji huffed coldly. King Zhou hurriedly changed topics. “Gu also feels that she doesn’t seem like a woman from an honorable family. Hurry up and get started.”
Wang-guiren’s jade-like body laid there, messily covered with Jiang Shang’s plague-exorcising yellow and red talismans. Her chest was pressed down by a ruler, her clothes in disarray, half revealing and half covering the body. The guards secretly swallowed their saliva at this sight. Jiang Shang signalled with his hand, and immediately someone came up with a torch to set the wooden platform alight. Black smoke rose shortly after, and though the flames raged like a storm, the female corpse didn’t char even a bit. Even the body parts covered in talismans didn’t burn at all, causing the onlookers to debate non-stop amongst themselves.
Any human with eyes could already tell that was an evil yao. King Zhou moved down a little, stared at the blazing fire and said, “What Feihu said was true. How do you force it to reveal its true form?”
Daji watched on coldly, remaining silent and unbothered on the outside, but internally, she was thinking of a plan. Unexpectedly, Jiang Shang said in a clear and loud voice, “It must burn in the True Fire of Samadhi summoned by a Daoist to reveal its true form.”
A faint smile was hidden in King Zhou’s words, he mocked, “All that fire just now was for Gu to see?”
Ziya smiled without answering. On his left hand, his little finger curled over the back of his ring finger to hook onto over his middle finger, his middle finger pinched up with his thumb to form a fire seal. With a loud ‘Ha’, he summoned the True Fire from underground; the raging flame shot up to the sky. It was a hundred times more intense than the flame from the dry firewood earlier. Immediately, the wooden stake turned into ash. Exploding thunderclaps ensued in the middle of a bright, sunny day, rendering the onlookers so terrified they couldn’t stand on their own, their hearts beating like crazy.
Only King Zhou, Haoran and Jiang Shang remained as firm as a rock. Looking more closely, the female corpse amidst the flames had turned into a jade pipa.
Su Daji was both mourning and resentful, but there was nothing she could do except force herself to remain composed. She said in a sweet voice, “It was an evil yao after all. Daozhang’s efforts cannot be discounted.”
King Zhou returned to his seat. Huang Feihu picked up the pipa from the ashes and placed it in Ziya’s hands, gesturing at the duo to step forward. Daji softly continued, “Dawang, why not string up this pipa, and allow Chenqie to play it for you……”
“En,” King Zhou nodded and smiled. “Proceed as Aifei says.” He turned to Haoran and Jiang Shang, then motioned for them to come forward to the foot of the hall.
Jiang Shang put the pipa on the steps. Both of them were a distance away from King Zhou and Daji; naturally, a chamberlain took the pipa and handed it over. However, as Su Daji saw the duo, she couldn’t help sucking in a cold breath.
King Zhou said, “Jiang Shang has been of service in exorcising the yao, and he shall be given the title of the Lower Grand Official.”
Jiang Shang hurried to thank King Zhou. Suddenly, the air surrounding him went still. A single, faint scent wafted through the air, wave after wave, causing his mind to become relaxed. Despite having a cultivation base of more than 70 years, it was still too much for Jiang Shang to handle, and for a moment, he felt light-headed. Haoran quickly extended his hand to steady Jiang Ziya. Looking up to the top of the steps, his eyes met King Zhou’s gaze.
Their eyes locked for a brief moment. Haoran knew that now was the best opportunity to mingle with the crowd and enter the palace in search of the Sword of Xuanyuan. He then looked at Daji and contemplated whether he should say something to convince King Zhou to grant him a court position, which would allow him to move around more easily. At last, his eyes landed on the brightly colored silk draped over the fox yao’s jade-like arms.
“What is your name?” King Zhou suddenly asked.
Haoran took a few steps forward as King Zhou ordered, stopping three zhang away. Su Daji’s expression changed. She hurriedly grabbed King Zhou’s arm and refused to let go.
Jiang Shang whispered, extremely quietly, “One of the Seven Great Magical Items, the Shawl of Qingshiyuan. Haoran-xiong must be careful.”
Legend had it that, at the beginning of time, when Nuwa created mankind, she dipped a silk cloth into the muddy water and casually flicked it outwards with her hands. The mud landed on the ground and transformed into humans, and ever since, the mortal realm bore witness to the union of males and females, while Nuwa also became worshipped as the goddess of love. That silk cloth naturally became a treasured artifact, which contained positive qi, negative qi and zhuo qi, all mixed together. First, it elevated one’s seduction power enough to turn the world upside-down. Later, it was given to the fox yao and brought to Zhaoge for the purpose of enchanting the Son of Heaven. Named the “Shawl of Qingshiyuan”, it was a magical artifact on par with the yao clan’s Whip of Leigong.
However, as this zhuo qi clashed with Haoran’s innate positive qi, it was actually nullified and vanished into nothing. In her heart, Daji was confused ―― no matter how powerful of a cultivation base this man possessed, it shouldn’t be able to nullify Nuwa’s magical artifact! What exactly was going on?
The scent slowly dissipated. King Zhou had been bewitched for a long time since he hardly left Daji’s side. But at this moment, as Haoran’s positive qi and the zhuo qi clashed with each other, King Zhou’s mind became clear for a short moment, his hazy eyes finally regaining their spark. He asked, “Has Gu seen you before?”
Haoran scrutinized King Zhou and thought, if not for Daji’s bewitchment ―― no, if not for this damn Hunjun insulting the gods with that poem up on Mount Li, he would still have been a gentleman who possessed both looks and talent.
King Zhou was slightly over thirty, in the prime of his life. His eyes were like bright, shining stars, and they were accompanied by thick, sword-like eyebrows, a tall, straight nose, plump yet refreshing lips; overall, he was a handsome man full of vitality. His stature was even taller than Haoran by half a head. This handsomeness was accompanied by an aura of authority that made others unconsciously yield to him.
Looking back at a certain fox yao, her eyes were frantic, and it was as if her soul had escaped her body. Haoran couldn’t help but find it hilarious ―― if not for the Shawl of Qingshiyuan, or the big backer that was Nuwa, it would be hard to tell who was bewitching who.
King Zhou repeated the question. Haoran returned to his senses and answered, “No.”
Daji rolled her eyes several times, then reprimanded, “Lowly peasant, how dare you not kneel?”
Haoran glanced at the fox yao a few times, and though his heart knew the answer only too well, he couldn’t be bothered to waste his words on Daji. He turned to King Zhou and spoke with a stern look, “I kneel before the heavens and the earth, but not before rulers.”
As he finished, the whole court broke into a noisy mess. There were people ready to charge forward and drag Haoran outside, but King Zhou waved his hand, signalling that he didn’t mind it. He then rebutted, “The ruler is the Son of Heaven, the reincarnation of the True Dragon appointed by heavens and earth to unify the four seas. Everything under the sky is but the king’s land; from the inner land to the coastal shore, all men are the king’s subjects. You kneel before the heavens and earth, why not kneel before your king?”
Haoran briefly thought, legend had it that King Zhou possessed a sharp mind, and he was skilled in both literature and martial arts. History books seemed to have gotten this right, at least. He continued, “The Son of Heaven is the servant to his people. Why not kneel before those you serve?”
As Haoran’s words were heard, not even Huang Feihu could hold back. He angrily scolded, “Impudent! Go back to your place!”
“Shennong experimented with hundreds of plants, while Houyi shot down the suns, killed the Ba Serpent, and beheaded the Dafeng Bird. Are those not acts of serving others at the cost of oneself?” Haoran paused to think, then continued, “The sagely emperors Yao, Yu, Shun, and Tang of ancient times, every single thing they did was in the interest of the common people. To first concern oneself with the worries of others, then rejoice at the joy of others, what would that be if not the nature of a servant?”
After a brief pause, Haoran continued, “Water may keep a boat afloat, but it may also sink it. Xia Jie treated the common people like flocks of sheep to be driven away, yet he led a lavish life, until the sheep bit back at him. The common people rose up, and Cheng Tang took this nation into his own hands. Has Dawang forgotten this?”
Down amongst the officials, the Head Minister Shang Rong, the Deputy Head Minister Bi Gan, King Wucheng Huang Feihu, and everyone else were staring at one another. King Zhou had indulged in beautiful women for a long time, and his engagement in this debate with a mere peasant shocked them, not to mention that Haoran’s words, “concern oneself with the worries about the concern of others” evoked strong emotions within them.
“Wrong,” came King Zhou’s reply. “The Son of Heaven is the father to his people, not the servant. You are unable to distinguish parents from servants. Nature dictates that, to be a father, one must wholeheartedly devote himself to his children. Ignorant children often treat parents as servants, for they know not the reason behind their actions. Are your parents still alive?”
Haoran didn’t expect King Zhou’s line of thinking to be so rational and unclouded that he couldn’t think of anything in rebuttal. Unable to pick out any flaws in King Zhou’s words, he could only force his point. “If you are not serving others at your own cost, why call yourself the king?”
His words were extremely unreasonable; the discussion had already veered off from the debating rulers in general and their subjects, to focusing on King Zhou himself. The latter wasn’t angered; instead he laughed and declined to nitpick with Haoran. He asked again, “Are your parents still well? Cultivators usually abandon their wives and children, and distance themselves from their parents. I can tell that you do not understand.”
Haoran grew dejected, “Since I was young, I’ve been without parents.”
“Because of wars?” King Zhou continued to ask.
Haoran shook his head, then nodded.
King Zhou continued, “If not for the ruler protecting his thousands of people and unifying the land, this Divine Land would have befallen tragedy; its people would be forced to leave their hometowns and suffer under the pain of losing their families. In the beginning of time, Gonggong smashed his head against Mount Buzhou, the pillar of the mortal realm, collapsing the sky and shattering the earth. Goddess Nuwa, one of the Three Sovereigns, created a stone to patch up the heavens, thus saving thousands of people. Do you not kneel before her as well?”
Haoran was completely won over, and he could only slowly lower himself into a kneel. King Zhou once again stood up. He strolled down the flight of stairs bridging the court and the hall, each step firm with resolve. The sun inched towards the west; flocks of white egrets flew by the horizon, squawking out their calls as they passed. Cries of “Long live the king” and “All hail the enlightened king” echoed across the whole plaza.
King Zhou’s palms were broad and warm, his fingers long and slender, yet powerful, and with those hands he reached out and took Haoran’s own, pulling him to his feet. Haoran couldn’t help feeling emotional. He was reminded of where he came from, the mess of that era, the heavy responsibility that he was bearing, and the uncertainty of how long it would take to succeed. Those emotions stabbed at his heart, so painfully he couldn’t utter a single word. King Zhou returned to his seat and offered his arm to Daji, then said, “Gu doesn’t know why, but seeing you makes my heart very happy, as if we were brothers in a previous life. Gu can’t help but want to grow close to you.”
As he spoke those words, everyone standing in the court was shocked. Even Jiang Ziya looked up in confusion, his eyes full of confusion. To have the Son of Heaven declaring such words in front of his civil and military ministers meant that Haoran’s days of glory were within his grasp.
But the fox yao by King Zhou’s side grit her teeth in fury. First, her good sister Wang-guiren’s human form had been destroyed, now this damn Haoran’s positive qi kept pouring in with no end in sight, so powerful that she couldn’t even breathe properly. She just wanted to remove King Zhou from this man’s side as soon as possible, because only without the interference of the positive qi of the Heavens and Earth could the Shawl of Qingshiyuan continue to bewitch him. Daji’s jade-like hand unconsciously tightened its grip around King Zhou’s arm, her long and slender fingers almost clawing into his flesh. King Zhou said, “You too should stay in the palace and take up a ministerial position, so that Gu may talk more with you when we’re free. Gu will grant you……”
Seeing the final nail was about to be knocked into the coffin, the anxious and angry Daji finally thought of a solution. After a ‘hic’, both of her eyes turned white, and she passed out. King Zhou turned his head back in surprise, cradling Daji with one arm, not yet understanding what had happened. The royal doctors and chamberlains were immediately summoned, and the front of the hall turned into a chaotic mess. King Zhou was no longer in the mindset to care about Haoran anymore.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Keishi.