Chapter 236 – Successor
The Pope was a Saint.
With but a word, the countless believers of the Orthodoxy would die for him.
Chen Changsheng did not know what the first word that the Pope would say to him would be.
He was somewhat nervous.
Then, he heard three words.
“Come… come… come.”
The Pope beckoned him over as he said these words, indicating that he should come in.
Like a farmer calling his chicks, or a grandfather teasing his grandson.
Chen Changsheng stared blankly for a few moments, then he walked up the stone steps and stood before the Pope.
Having the Pope right in front of him really made Chen Changsheng feel incredibly nervous.
Even though he had met so many powerful figures after he had come to the capital, even with some that could be considered legends; he still found it hard to control his emotions.
After all, this tall, thin old man was the Pope.
On one side, the Pope continued to water the Green Leaf with his wooden ladle, while on the other side, he pointed at a chair and said, “Sit.”
His voice was very gentle, and his manner was very casual.
Chen Changsheng sat on the chair like he was sitting on pins and needles. His entire body was uncomfortable and yet, he did not dare to move.
“Relax.” The Pope looked at his appearance and smiled. “I know that there are many questions that you want answered. In order to save time, I will speak first. If there is anything you do not understand, or any question you want answered. If it is convenient for me to answer, then I will naturally give you one.”
Saying this piece, his hand left the ladle, then gave a smile. “It will take around two hundred breaths of time for me to speak and to answer your questions. I presume that you can hold on for that long?”
Chen Changsheng knew that the Pope was speaking about how his sitting posture was very uncomfortable, so he respectfully and cautiously nodded his head.
Without any preamble or any foreshadowing, the Pope began his narrative.
“Your teacher is called Daoist Ji. He has another identity and that is the previous principal of the Orthodox Academy. He is also my senior. There is no need to look at me like that. I am very sure that he only has these two identities, because the most likely third identity was ruled out by me and the Empress some time ago.”
“In other words, you are my martial nephew. Outside the Li Palace, they say that Tianhai Ya’er is my disciple, but this is not correct. I have no real disciple. In other words, you are our school’s only disciple. Then of course, I would look after you.”
“Between your master and me, there is enmity… a great enmity. I once killed him, but I did not think that he survived. Now that I have grown so old, I no longer feel like killing him again. Besides, even if he has committed an offense, it does not mean that you have also committed a crime. Nor does it mean that you must take responsibility for his sins.”
“As he agreed to let you enter the capital to end the engagement and took no measures to conceal his name, it means that he did not intend to conceal it from us. I even feel that he did so because he wanted me to take care of you. But you entering the Orthodox Academy was truly a coincidence. When you were taken to the Tong Palace, it was because I allowed Mo Yu to take you there.”
“How is it that I could cause her to move? That is because I am the Pope.”
“By staying in the Tong Palace for one night, the trials and hardships of the Ivy Festival could be avoided. Under the watch of the Bureau of Ecclesiastic Education, you entering the three banners of the Grand Examination would not be too difficult. But I did not think that you would get to know Her Highness Luoluo, much less become her teacher. I did not think that you would be able to stimulate such great activity from the stagnant pool of water that was the Orthodox Academy. I did not think that you would be able to leave the Tong Palace and confront the trials brought by the Mount Li Sword Sect head on. In the Grand Examination, you unexpectedly managed to break into Ethereal Opening and then, you truly obtained the first place of the First Banner.”
Speaking up to there, the Pope suddenly paused, and then looked at him affectionately. “What I did not imagine the most but which should have been paramount in my mind, was that you are our school’s one and only disciple. How could you require my care? How could you require my plans? Not bad. This child really is not bad.”
The hall was quiet.
From the Pope’s first word, Chen Changsheng’s mouth had fallen open from shock and it had never closed.
The Orthodox Academy had always received considerable support from the Bureau of Ecclesiastic Education. At the beginning, many people, Chen Changsheng included, had thought that this was a noiseless protest of the conservative faction of the Orthodoxy against the Pope and the Divine Empress, as well as a declaration. It was only after those multiple episodes of autumn rain in the tournament portion of the Grand Examination, as well as the Pope personally crowning Chen Changsheng as the champion, did the people finally realize that this had never been an internal matter in the Orthodoxy. It was a declaration from the Orthodoxy to the Divine Empress and the entire Imperial Court of Zhou.
From that one time, Chen Changsheng had many conjectures as to why the Pope valued him so highly. He was very certain that this care had something to do with his matter. However, no matter what he thought, he never could have imagined that the unremarkable middle-aged man in Xining Village’s old temple was actually the Pope’s senior. Nor could he have imagined that his master was the final principal of the Orthodox Academy that caused it to fall into ruin dozens of years ago.
“If there is something you want to ask, you may begin now.”
The Pope said this casually as he picked a small towel up from the table and wiped his hands.
Before this conversation, Chen Changsheng imagined that the Pope would have an extravagant and lofty way of speaking to match his powerful status. His words would be cryptic and profound, filled with countless hidden meanings that would have to be carefully pondered to become aware of the truth. Who could imagine that the Pope would be able to so simply and swiftly explain all these things? The soothing wind on a starry night could not be as refreshing. The questions that he had thought up on the Divine Avenue had actually all been answered.
He did not know what questions to ask, but then he remembered that there were some details in The Pope’s story that he questions about. He sincerely asked, “Your Holiness said that my master committed an offense. What offense?”
The Pope replied, “That year, he rebelled against the decision made by the Great Congregation of Light and supported the imperial family of Chen in rebelling against the Divine Empress. He brought the entire Orthodox Academy and more into that abyss with him.”
The people of Zhou supported the imperial family of Chen, this is as it should be. What offense was there? Chen Changsheng said without the slightest hesitation. “That was not wrong.”
“At the time, only if the Divine Empress ascended to the seat of the emperor would the government be stabilized. If not, the Great Zhou would inevitably break apart, and the fires of war would blaze once more. The demons would inevitably take advantage of this opportunity to invade the south once again. Whether the starting point or the objective was correct or not, in the eyes of us old people, as long as it affected the ability for humanity to resist the demons, it was wrong.”
The Pope looked at him calmly, yet intolerant of any dissent. “It has been several hundred years since that war. For children your age, there are very few people that have personally seen a demon. They are even less capable of imagining how the desperate the straits on the continent were in that year. If you knew, then you would also believe that our decision was correct.”
Chen Changsheng was young, but he had never been someone easily convinced. “Then what about now? As Your Holiness gets farther and farther from the Divine Empress, aren’t you afraid of affecting our ability to resist the Demons?”
“I have known the Divine Empress for several hundred years. I know what kind of person she is, so I have no objection on her rule of the Zhou Dynasty. The problem lies in the fact that no one can live forever. The entire continent must consider how the world will maintain its peace after her.”
The Pope seemed to think of something and his face seemed to fill with regret. He slowly said, “If the Tianhai clan puts forth a second Divine Empress, what harm is there in pushing the Chen Imperial clan aside a second time? Yet, it is impossible for the Tianhai Clan to raise a second Divine Empress. Then, the imperial family of Chen will, in the end, return to their former position.”
After Chen Changsheng heard this, he was quiet for a long time. Then he asked, “Even if it is this way, I still don’t understand. How could my master have guessed that you changed your mind?”
“When your master agreed to send you to the capital to end the engagement, he was also using you to communicate to us that he was still alive. He was also reminding me that you are our school’s one and only disciple.”
The Pope repeated those words, then continued, “Regardless if I had changed my mind or not, I must take care of you, or else would I not be breaking our lineage? In this world, your master understands me the most, so your master is clearer on this point than anyone else.”
Chen Changsheng was somewhat at a loss. He was still unable to reconcile the image of the middle-aged man in Xining’s old temple with the famous principal of the Orthodox Academy. Then he thought of something. The Pope had said that he had cared for him because he had to continue the lineage of their school, but The Pope came from the Heavenly Dao Academy while his master came from the Orthodox Academy. How could these two be the same school? What school was he speaking of?
He asked this question.
“The Heavenly Dao Academy, the Temple Seminary, the Orthodox Academy, the Thirteen Divisions of Radiant Green and the Li Palace Academy… besides the Star Seizer Academy, the Six Ivies of the capital are places where the Orthodoxy nurtures the next generation. Yet in those days, the only people that cultivated in the traditions of the Orthodoxy were me and your master. This so-called lineage is naturally the lineage of the Orthodoxy.
The Pope looked at him serenely. “That year, your master almost caused a break in the lineage of the Orthodoxy. Now, it is your responsibility to take up and continue this lineage.”
Hearing these words, Chen Changsheng’s face instantly paled. For a long time, he struggled to speak.
This did not mean that his mindset was lacking, it was just that this news was too astonishing.
The Orthodoxy’s sole successor?
No matter who it was, if one was told that one would most likely be the next Pope, one would be stunned speechless. Even the insane Painted Armor Xiao Zhang was no exception.
Not to mention, Chen Changsheng was only a fifteen-year-old teenager.
The hall was silent. The wooden ladle was suspended in the air, slightly slanted. A trickle of water, like a strand of silver, incessantly fell into the pot. The Green Leaf in the pot faintly trembled, several droplets of water sparkling on its surface.
After who knows how long had passed, Chen Changsheng awoke from his daze. He looked at The Pope, and asked, “This isn’t a matter that I should have to consider now, right?”
His voice was very dry and hoarse. It was somewhat unpleasant to the ear. It was clear that it was caused by his nerves.
“In the past, Mei Lisha and I were afraid of giving you too much pressure. If you were not mature enough, you might have collapsed. Right now, it seems that we have worried too much.”
The Pope looked at him quietly. His eyes were peaceful and deep, like they could see through everything. Chen Changsheng felt that all the secrets in his body and spirit were all laid bare. This was a very uncomfortable feeling. Thankfully, in the next moment, the Pope shifted his gaze, lifted his hand, and once again grabbed onto the wooden ladle.
Two hundred breaths of time had passed. The water in the ladle had been exhausted. This round of questions and answers was over.
It was time for Chen Changsheng to leave, but he did not want to leave. Before, he felt that he had no questions to ask. However now, he realized that there were still many things that he wanted to know.
Such as the Mausoleum of Book, such as the Garden of Zhou, such as the stars.
Such as… the Orthodoxy.