Chapter 240 – Different Souls
(TL: This refers to the Chinese conception of soul as being made up of two parts: Hun (魂), the spiritual soul which goes to heaven on death; and Po (魄), the animal soul which remains with the body.)
The cold winds suddenly calmed, the night pearls suddenly began to glow. The Divine Empress appeared before her. As she glanced at the two iron chains around the dragon’s feet, she said. “The tea is good, but the man?”
The girl stared warily at her and said nothing.
The Divine Empress looked at her and continued. “You gave up a drop of your true dragon blood to help Chen Changsheng. Just who did you think you could hide your plans from?”
The girl put down the tea and apathetically said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The Divine Empress calmly said. “Regardless of if you plan to have him help you get something, or send some message back to the dragon tribe, or concoct some method to break Wang Zhice’s imprisoning spell, none of it is possible. He is too young, and to have all the qualities you require would take him at least another two hundred years.”
The girl realized that all her plans had been grasped by this terrifying women, and her expression grew even colder. “So what?”
“Chen Changsheng has told you much. Since you’ve been listening, then you should know that it will be very difficult for him to live past the age of twenty. Because of this, the chances of you succeeding in carrying out your plans are basically zero.”
The Divine Empress continued, “If you help me with a certain task, after ten years I will release you.”
The girl’s slit-shaped eyes narrowed, becoming even more enchanting. “What task?”
The Divine Empress placed her hands behind her back and gazed at that gloomy and barely visible ray of light. After a moment of silence, she said, “Help me understand just who Chen Changsheng is.”
The girl stared blankly, not quite understanding the sentence.
Chen Changsheng was Chen Changsheng, how could he be anyone else?
“I want to know just how old he is and what is wrong with his body. I want to know why Daoist Ji would raise him, and I want to know how much the of the conversation between the Pope and him in the Li Palace was true and how much of it was false.”
The Divine Empress withdrew her gaze and calmly looked at the girl. An indescribably powerful pressure suddenly descended upon the vast underground space, grinding the ice on the floor into a fine dust.
The girl’s voice slightly trembled as she asked, “How would I know these things?”
“Because he trusts you. That is very important.” The Divine Empress replied.
As if attempting to explain something, she hurriedly said, “I don’t even know why he trusts me!”
The Divine Empress calmly replied, “Perhaps it is because of the first time he met you, he already said too much, so he no longer cares and now tells you everything.”
After a moment of thought, the girl replied, “This isn’t very logical.”
The Divine Empress calmly looked at her said, “There is still the most important reason.”
Confused, the girl asked, “What would that reason be?”
The Divine Empress indifferently replied, “You’re not a human.”
The girl’s brows tightly knit together in irritation.
“If…the Demon Lord and the Pope were in front of me, who do you think I would trust more?”
The Divine Empress looked at her and gave her a smile that was not a smile.
The girl was deeply confused.
Between the greatest enemy and the most reliable comrade, was there any need to think about it at all?
The Divine Empress gave her no time to think. “So?”
The girl looked at the oil paper-wrapped chicken bone and the remnants of the tea left in her cup, then blinked and said, “Fine, I agree. If you let me go, I will go with him and report back to you on all his whereabouts.”
She reached behind her back and pulled out the chains, then she looked at the Divine Empress and seriously said, “Madame must first help me break these chains. Thank you.”
The Divine Empress calmly looked at her and said, “To go so far is too troublesome.”
Saying these words, she walked in front of the girl and stretched out her right hand to space between the girl’s eyebrows, as if she wanted to caress that wound.
The girl’s vertical pupils suddenly contracted as she felt an incredible sense of danger.
The flash of cunning that had appeared in her eyes had long since disappeared, leaving only fear and unease.
Her black hair floated around her, as they rustled.
Her lips slightly opened as she prepared to furiously roar.
Yet she was powerless to do anything, even unable to avoid the Divine Empress’s palm.
Although the Divine Empress’s right hand seemed to fall very casually, in truth it was like heaven and earth were conforming to its will. There was no way to escape from it.
There was a light slap.
The Divine Empress’s right hand landed between her brows, covering that line of blood.
The girl’s body furiously trembled, her face turning deathly pale. Her pupils contracted until they gradually disappeared. It all seemed extremely painful.
After a while, the Divine Empress slowly withdrew her hand.
Along with her hand, the image of a black dragon slowly emerged from the wound.
That black dragon image was about half a foot long and as wide as a fingernail. Struggle as it might, it was incapable of escaping from the Divine Empress’s palm. Inch by inch, it was extracted from the girl’s brow.
This black dragon image seemed to be both real and illusionary. It seemed to live, and yet it was clearly not any sort of living being.
It was a microcosm of the Black Dragon, as well as its soul.
While the Black Dragon was still alive, the Divine Empress had managed to extract its soul.
At the end, this black dragon soul had been completely taken out.
The line of blood on the girl’s brow grew increasingly red. On its surface gradually formed a plump bead of blood. Now it seemed like it had truly turned into a cinnabar birthmark.
With the extraction of the dragon image, the girl became abnormally exhausted, and her body fell limply to the floor.
The Divine Empress took a jade ruyi from her waist.
Everyone knew that the Divine Empress had two pieces of jewelry that never left her body.
In her hair was an ebony hairpin, its tip painted with a dot of captivating red, as if it had drunk blood. Its rear was damaged in places and it was extremely old. Yet it had never been switched out, because it was the third-ranked weapon on the Tier of Legendary Weapons, known as the Another Hairpin.
The other piece of jewelry was this ruyi bracelet that was always tied to her waist. No one knew what sort of use this ruyi had that it was treated on par with that ebony hairpin.
In the next moment, the Divine Empress poured the Black Dragon’s soul into the ruyi. It seemed very simple, almost like the sleight of hand of some swindler, but in reality it was one of the world’s most supreme divine abilities.
The jade ruyi suddenly came to life, transforming into a small black dragon.
That small black dragon lay still in the Divine Empress’s hands. It seemed very weak, but its eyes burned with fierce resentment as it stared into the Divine Empress’s eyes.
“You are a dragon, so your blood is innately condensed. As long as it is not for too long, ripping your spiritual soul from your animal soul should do you no harm. In addition, if you had not willingly given up your true dragon blood, even I would have no means of taking a wisp of your three wisps of dragon soul, so if you must resent someone, you should first resent yourself.”
The Divine Empress looked at the small dragon in her palm and calmly said, “You should know how cruel the consequences are if the spiritual soul does not return, so when you go to the Garden of Zhou, you should behave yourself.”
On this spring night, the night was as bright and beautiful as it was during the day. Under the starlight, the trees seemed to be filled with vitality. The Divine Empress took her leave from the well. She strolled in a leisurely manner through the lively spring atmosphere.
Not far from her was a carriage. As she approached, the black rhinoceros hitched up to the carriage went down on its knees in humility, or more accurately, reverence. At the same time, a pale-faced middle-aged man also knelt down.
The long river of history still flowed on, and there were still some people that had not died. Their names had not yet disappeared, but they were certain to become some of the most unforgettable sights on that long river. One of these names was Zhou Tong. It was an absolute surety that in these tens of thousands of years that passed, he would still be remembered as one of history’s most ruthless officials and treacherous ministers. Whether it was the extraordinary cruelty of his torture, or the number of ministers he had executed on fraudulent charges, he would place first without a doubt.
To both government officials and the common people, Zhou Tong was an enigmatic individual. Outside of important events like the Grand Examination, he mostly stayed in the secluded and sinister office of the Ministry of Personnel in the southern parts of the capital. On his occasional excursion, he would always be guarded by countless experts. He rarely saw others, and even when he met with fellow colleagues in the halls of the Imperial Court, or interrogated prisoners, face would always be obscured by a black veil.
Generally speaking, only women, especially beautiful women, would wear a black veil. This peculiarity of Zhou Tong’s was the subject of much ridicule. Many people thought that because Zhou Tong’s methods were too cruel, his actions too shameless; he had no face to see his ancestors, no face to see the heavens and the earth with. Thus he would obscure his face year-round. Of course, these jeers, or perhaps curses, were only whispered in the dark. They would definitely not land in Zhou Tong’s ears.
The people probably could not imagine that Zhou Tong was actually an average looking middle-aged man. Only because he spent too much of his time in the prison and always had his face obscured by a veil, his face was rather pale.
“Your Majesty, I do not know how to handle Chen Changsheng.”
Zhou Tong continued to speak with a low voice, “Considering his connections to the Li Palace, I am unable to use torture.”
The Divine Empress smiled, but said nothing.
The entire continent knew that Zhou Tong was the Divine Empress’s most loyal and most insane dog. In the eyes of many, he was certainly her most obedient dog.
However, in reality, this was not the case, because Zhou Tong understood dogs very well.
If the master told the dog to stop barking, and the dog stopped barking, it did not necessarily mean obedience. On the contrary, if the master told the dog to stop barking, but the dog continued to bark because there was something outside the door, then even if the master had to scold it in front of guests, or strike at it, the master would inwardly feel happy, thinking that it was truly a good dog.
This sort of disobedience was true obedience.
Zhou Tong knew very well when he should bark and when he should stay silent. He knew when he should leap into a scuffle, and when he should directly tear through the throats of Her Majesty’s enemies.
The Divine Empress had always been satisfied with his performance. Even though he had committed so much evil and had become an enduring stain on the flourishing world of the Zhou Dynasty, she would never once think about taking this dog and cooking it in a pot, then feeding it to its victims. That was because she was very pleased that this dog would not be a dog like Xu Shiji who would never mature. Moreover, she cared not for the assessment of the history books, so why should she care for the talk of common people?
“What do you think We should know from Chen Changsheng?”
The Divine Empress indifferently asked.
It was very strange. Even when she ascended to become Empress, she very rarely referred to herself using the royal ‘We’. Only before Zhou Tong would she refer to herself as such. The ministers of the court had also grown accustomed to referring to her as the Divine Empress. Zhou Tong was the only one who insisted on addressing her as ‘Your Majesty’.
Zhou Tong replied, “Since Your Majesty has allowed him to live up to this point, then it must be because Your Majesty wants him to say something.”
In this world, only the dead did not speak.
The Divine Empress pondered this in silence, then said, “I want to confirm some things.”
Zhou Tong softly said, “If I cannot use torture, then…should I use death?”
The Divine Empress laughed at these words, then brightly said, “I once asked Mo Yu a question, and now I can ask you the same thing.”
Zhou Tong replied, “I will be pleased to answer the Empress.”
The Divine Empress asked, “Do you believe that there is anyone in the world that is unafraid of death?”
Zhou Tong seriously pondered this question for a long time, then finally said, “I do not believe it.”
The Divine Empress smiled. “Before I did not believe, but afterwards, I realized that there really were people that did not fear death.”
Not waiting for Zhou Tong to reply, she continued, “A man who does not fear death, how can he not fear it?”
Zhou Tong thought hard but found no answer. He asked, “How can Chen Changsheng not fear death?”
“Because he is a real person, true to his heart and true to his own nature.”
The Divine Empress placed her hands behind her back and looked in the direction of the Orthodox Academy. There had been another reason that she had left unsaid——that youth had death as a constant companion——she silently thought, if he was true to his feelings and true to his nature, if Chen Changsheng was able to live past twenty, then would he perhaps really become the second Zhou Dufu?