Volume 2 Chapter 1: First Arrival at the Imperial Capital
Tantai Xuan, the beautiful, wise, and mysterious girl, had already ascended to immortality and left behind an everlasting legend in Tantai City. Chen Nan stood unmoving in the public square, frustrated and at a loss.
“Why… why do you have to treat me this way?” Immortals and mortals were naturally separated. He gazed at the sky and sighed. Chen Nan followed behind Chu Yue and the princess. Muddleheaded, he entered the lord of Tantai City’s residence.
Seeing Chen Nan looking like he had lost his soul, the princess resentfully called out, “Degenerate, aren’t you a man? I’ve already said that once we return to the imperial capital, I’ll look for someone to help you recover your power. Why do you still have such a lifeless look? Hmph! Smelly thief, you’re a miser!”
“Yu’er, don’t be rude towards Chen-gongzi.” Chu Yue worriedly said, “Chen-gongzi, has the journey been too tiring? If so, we can stop and rest here for two days.”
Chen Nan blankly shook his head. “It will be better for us to be on our way as soon as possible.”
“That’s fine. The earlier we return to the imperial capital, the earlier Chen-gongzi can recover his power.”
Chen Nan, perplexed, departed from the ancient, millennium year old city of Tantai. The next two days, Chen Nan appeared to have lost his soul, lifeless. His two eyes were vacant, without a trace of vitality.
Three days later, a sudden clap of thunder roared into his ears. Like he was baptized with the purest cream and thereby became enlightened with flawless wisdom, he turned his sights towards the sky. Black clouds rolled across the sky like waves of ink. On the count of ten, various golden snakes scattered from the clouds. The rumbling thunder was like the evening drum and morning bell, reverberating through his heart.
In a split second, Chen Nan came to a little understanding: the time remaining flies away. As time goes by, the fading forever fades away, unable to turn back. Existence continues to exist as before. Only existence was real. People cannot always live in the past; they can only seize the present. Only then can they be without regrets…
Suddenly, the vital qi that had long since dried up in his body acted like a withered tree coming upon spring, regaining its vitality. Like silkworms, his weak vital qi began to swim around his body. Slowly, the miniscule amount of vital qi remaining gradually expanded. It grew and circulated around his body endlessly as streams, flowing like a faint, cool breeze.
The power that the princess had siphoned away returned to its former state in an instant. Additionally, after an internal inspection, the vital qi in his body was currently purer than it was previously. That peculiar vital qi with the murky yellow colouring was no longer present. It was thoroughly purged from his body. After some time, Chen Nan’s emotional state of mind slowly calmed. Not only was his power restored to its previous state, a ray of light penetrated through the sweeping haze in his mind.
It was heavily raining. A curtain of water lay in between heaven and earth. Chu Yue and company were temporarily stranded within a small town. The five hundred cavalrymen filled all the inns and taverns of the town.
The princess was as happy as a little angel, hopping and skipping around. She was not one whit like that little demon who had been previously scheming in the shadows.
“Hehe, this is great! It’s raining, so refreshing.”
She half cheered and half greeted Chu Yue, “Jiejie, don’t hide inside. Quick, come out. Look how refreshing it is out here.”
Chu Yue entered the rain, but the dense raindrops didn’t land on her body. The raindrops stopped three cun from her body, sliding off to the side. Her formless vital qi shielded her from the rain.
Inwardly bewildered, Chen Nan’s heart shook. Previously, he had sensed that Chu Yue was a Daoist, but now, she was displaying the profound vital qi of a martial artist.
“Could she be practicing martial arts to help cultivate Dao?”
Under the rain, Chu Yue caught the princess’s arm and pulled her towards the house. “Look at your appearance right now. Do you still have even an ounce of the royal air of a princess? You look like an uncontrollable little feral child. If father and mother were to find out, they’d scold you to death…”
“Heihei…” Chen Nan laughed at her predicament from behind the window.
By lucky coincidence, the princess just happened to turn around to see his smiling expression. She angrily said, “Smelly thief, degenerate, you have the impertinence to laugh at me, let’s see how I’ll deal with you…”
The unwilling, crafty princess was pulled into the house by Chu Yue.
After midnight, the rain clouds dispersed. The ten thousand flutes were still; it was completely silent. Like water, the starlight of the night sky was resplendent.
Chen Nan calmly stood at the window, bathing himself in the tranquility of the night.
“There isn’t necessarily a rainbow after wind and rain, but there is definitely the hope of light. Tantai Xuan… you actually stepped into the realm of immortals. Heaven doesn’t treat me too coldly; inevitably, there will be a day I’ll break through the barrier guarding the immortal realm. Wait for me…”
After the conflagration of war spread throughout eastern Tianyuan Continent (originally the area of Xianhuan Continent), outstanding heroes came into existence simultaneously. All kinds of states established their own independent regimes, but the three great powers took up three quarters of the entire eastern territory. The three states were separated like so: the Empire of Chu in the west, the Empire of Baiyue in the north, and the Empire of Anping in the southeast. The three superpowers did not at all have borders with one another; countless small independent states separated them. But the overwhelming majority of the small states served as vassal states to the three superpowers. The Empire of Chu, the Empire of Baiyue, and the Empire of Anping formed a balance of power. The strength of each state was roughly equivalent with one another. For the past while, the three nations have lived together in harmony. A great war had not yet broken out between the empires.
Because the Empire of Chu was situated in the west, bordering western Tianyuan, its capital city served as a major link between the east and the west. The capital of Chu was a major hub. Both eastern and western merchants conducted business here. Visitors flowed in and out like unrelenting streams. The booming trade and commerce made Pingyang City incomparably prosperous. It had a population no less than a million. Every day, there was an endless river of horses and carriages. A steady flow of goods and supplies were transported to and from all over the nation along the Grand Canal.
In ten days, Chu Yue, Chen Nan, and company arrived outside of the imperial city. They gazed at the city walls of Pingyang. They appeared to form a continuous, uninterrupted Great Wall. It was majestic and imposing—a spectacular sight.
Massive city gate towers were sprinkled along the wall magnificently. The closer they got to Pingyang City, the more stunned Chen Nan became. The capital city of the Empire of Chu was much more grand and majestic than all the cities he had seen ten thousand years ago. He wasn’t sure how many times more opulent it was.
The city walls of Pingyang were at least sixteen meters tall and twelve meters wide. The wall was made of greenish bricks, thick and firm. It was grandiose. A guard tower stood at the city gate. One story of the tower was filled with archers, another with gears. It towered in the sky, vigorously imposing, yet majestic. Outside the city walls, there was a forty meter wide, ten meter deep moat. In the moat, the bluish green water rippled. Boats were scattered on its surface.
The grandeur of the capital city of Chu left a profound impression on Chen Nan.
“Hey, earth to degenerate. You’ve never seen Pingyang City, but haven’t you read about it in books? Oh, I forgot. You’re a guy without any skills whatsoever; you’ve simply never read a book before. Ai, you smelly thief, you really are…” The princess purposely put on the appearance of hating iron for not becoming steel1.
Chen Nan had been subject to the princess’s ridicule throughout the entire journey. He considered it a mental victory to survive through it. He had constantly consoled himself, “Little girl, I won’t lower myself to your level anymore. Just wait for the day you fall back into my clutches…”
Chu Yue took a look at her mischievous younger sister and pulled on her small hand. “Yu’er…”
“Okay I got it, jieji~e!” The princess dragged out the last syllable. With a tiny voice, the princess murmured, “Always protecting him. Isn’t this guy capable of drawing back Houyi Bow? How did he still end up being caught by me… Hmph! Sooner or later, I’ll need to show him what’s up.”
Chu Yue gave her a disdainful look. She flicked the princess forehead. “You…”
Within Pingyang City, there was an endless stream of horses and carriages and an endless flow of pedestrians. Countless stores and shops lined both sides of the street. It was a prosperous sight to behold.
The Emperor of Chu had received the report long ago. Not only had his oldest daughter finished touring and inspecting the west, but the princess who had stealthily slipped away from home was also found and brought back. He immediately became exceptionally jubilant and dispatched men to welcome them outside of the city.
As the welcome party hurried to meet them outside the city, Chu Yue and company already entered, but the princess was nowhere to be seen. Chu Yue jumped back in fright thinking that her mischievous little sister had slipped away again. Just when she began feeling anxious, she noticed the princess emerge from the side of street not too far away.
She saw the princess hold three lamb kebabs in her left hand and two sticks of bingtanghulu2 in her right. In her mouth, she was biting half way into a chicken silk-roll. Chasing after her were two proprietors of food stands.
“Young lady, you haven’t given me money for the lamb kebabs yet…”
“Young lady, you can’t steal my bingtanghulu…”
“Jiejie… pay…” The princess was busily chewing so her words were jumbled.
Chu Yue was both happy and amused. Indeed, it was impossible to grab a hold of her little sister. The officials sent from the Imperial City to welcome them also couldn’t help but laugh, but because they were afraid of the princess’s usual ‘demonic might’, they turned their heads to the side.
The two snack stand proprietors were dumbfounded at the emergence of such a large amount of royal guards in front of them. No longer able to demand payment, they whipped around and fled into the crowd. Chu Yue instructed a subordinate to take some money and follow them.
Five hundred cavalrymen and the welcome party sent from the Imperial City consisting of royal guards protected the two princesses as they leisurely walked towards the Imperial City. Chen Nan was treated as a guest by Chu Yue, who had him follow closely behind herself and the princess.
The Imperial City of the capital city of Chu was majestic, dignified, and grand. It was brimming with the air of royalty.
After entering the Imperial City, Chu Yue said to Chen Nan, “Chen-gongzi, in a short while, my father the emperor will probably want to receive you. Be patient and wait for us here. No matter what, you mustn’t run around and create mischief, understand?”
“Okay, subordinate understands.” Chen Nan wasn’t too familiar with the proper etiquette required for meeting with royalty or court officials. Until now, his manner of speaking towards Chu Yue was the same as if she were an ordinary person. Now that they were in the Imperial City, he was somewhat nervous.
Chu Yue smiled. “Don’t be nervous. Haven’t I already told you? My Empire of Chu treats people with outstanding ability as state officials. Even when meeting with the emperor, one doesn’t have to stand too much on ceremony. You can act just like how you were acting before. It’s not necessary for you to be reserved.”
Chen Nan let out a breath of air. If he were required to kowtow in greeting like how those court officials were required to, he would have been troubled to death.
Like a wisp of smoke, the princess had already disappeared into the imperial palace. Chu Yue flashed a smile, turned, and went in as well.
When Chu Yue arrived at the empress’s chamber, she found the princess lying in the empress’s bosom, chatting and giggling about something. The imperial emperor had a faint smile on his face as he sat across from them.
Chu Yue gave them a polite greeting and took a seat to the side. Of all the daughters of the Emperor of Chu, Chu Han, the one he was most fond of was Princess Chu Yu. The one he relied the most heavily on was the Eldest Princess Princess Chu Yue, as well as the Second Prince Chu Wenfeng. He was exceptionally delighted to see that his eldest daughter had not only successfully completed her assignment to patrol the west, but she had also located his youngest daughter and returned her home.
The princess’s mouth was like an uninterruptible torrent. She vividly and colourfully described all her thrilling encounters that she had met with on her journey. The Empress of Chu listened intently, nervous.
The Emperor of Chu waited for her to finish describing her adventure before saying with a deep voice, “I didn’t expect that Ren Jian to be so audacious. He actually dares to act maliciously at the borders of my Chu. If it weren’t for that fact that I’m unwilling to break the peace that has blessed the continent for so many years and sink our people into deep water and blazing fire, I’d definitely send a punitive expedition to Baiyue.”
Chu Yue said, “Father has considered it carefully. You mustn’t respond in a fit of rage and go to war. Besides, Ren Jian also isn’t being let off lightly; his subordinates were devastated and he himself was seriously injured and escaped in a sorry state.”
Chu Han nodded. “We’ll consider this an unsettled score with the Empire of Baiyue for now.” Then, he said, “Right, throughout the course of events, it seems like there’s someone named Chen Nan. How did he become involved? Yu’er, you only vaguely spoke of him and keep dismissing him. What’s the matter?”
Chu Yu changed the subject. “Father, you’re the best. For the sake of me, you wanted to send a punitive expedition to the Empire of Baiyue.”
Chu Han had a stiff face. “Hmph, this time, you ran away from the palace without a word. You don’t know how worried we were. Tell me, how should I punish you?”
“Ah? When I just got back, I already begged you not to punish me. Didn’t you promise? No way, father is the ruler of a nation. Rulers can’t go back on their words. You can’t back out of your promise.” With that, the princess wrapped her arms around the empress’s neck and delicately whined, “Mother…”
“Alright, you’re already how old now? How can you still whine? Your father is just joking with you, but you must guarantee that something like this will never happen again. Otherwise, forget about your father’s promise, I simply won’t excuse you.”
“Hehe, I know mother is the best.” The princess planted a small kiss on the empress’s cheek.
The princess turned around to face Chu Han and said, “Father, look. This is the Blazing Inferno Immortal Lotus that I braved countless dangers to pluck just for you.” She opened the jade case containing the Blazing Inferno Immortal Lotus. Immediately, its sweet scent assailed their nostrils.
The Emperor of Chu originally never planned to punish her. After seeing that she returned safe and sound, he was happy enough. Just now, he had only meant to scare her a bit. Seeing her eccentric fairy-like manner made him happy. He laughed with the empress, a broad smile forming on his face. He applied his doting feelings to his speech.
“You little mischievous girl…” Chu Han pinched her smooth, pink cheeks. He turned to face Chu Yue. “Yue’er, are there any abnormalities in the west?”
“There are not. All the practitioners who came from abroad have all entered the Luofeng Mountain Range. No one has stayed behind within the borders of our Chu. It seems that they all arrived for the sake of that legendary qilin. No one has harboured any intentions to act against our Empire of Chu.”
“Oh, then that’s good. But for a mythical qilin to appear in the Luofeng Mountain Range, that’s truly an unusual matter. Could there really be saints in this world?”
Chu Yue smiled. “Isn’t the wisest saint you, father? You don’t have to worry.”
Chu Han smiled in return. “Girl, why are you and your meimei just as glib-tongued as one another? Actually, I’m not too worried. For the past few years, our Chu has prospered and the people are at peace. I expect nothing much will change.”
“Right. Father, this time on my expedition to the western borders, I came across a genius. En, strictly speaking, it was meimei’s contribution. It was meimei who found him and captured him.”
“Oh? What kind of person is he?”
The princess scrambled to say, “He’s a degenerate, a smelly thief without any skills to speak of. He can’t even write.”
The princess’s anxious expression made Chu Yue laugh out loud. The princess, ashamed and angered, said, “Jiejie, don’t say it…”
“Haha~!” The emperor and the empress both broke out into laughter simultaneously. They seldom see the spirited princess appear so resentful.
“Yue’er, what on earth has happened?” asked the empress.
Chu Yue said, “Yu’er, can I tell them?”
Upon seeing the hopeful and curious expressions on the emperor’s and the empress’s faces, the princess released a sigh. “Tell them.”
Chu Yue explained the matter involving Chen Nan in its entirety. As they listened, anger began to appear on the faces of the emperor and the empress. Then, they couldn’t help but show utterly shocked expressions.
After hearing the whole story, Chu Han said to Chu Yu, “No wonder this mischievous little girl was so vague. It turns out that this happened as well. In light of his conduct and deeds, he truly deserves to die ten thousand times. It’s a pity that he’s a talent…”
The empress also chimed in, “This guy can truly be considered a genius. As long as he has Houyi Bow in his hands, he’s equivalent to an exceptional expert. But his words and actions are deserving of ten thousand deaths.”
Chu Han said, “Yu’er, you’ve really grown up. Under those circumstances, you still realized that he was a talent and spared his life. You’ve matured. I really don’t need to worry so much about you from now on.”
Chu Yu pouted her small mouth. “Haven’t I always been mature? But right now, I really regret not having killed him at that time.”
Chu Han mumbled something under his breath, and then said, “Spare him.”
Chu Yue also said, “I also think we should spare him. After all, a talent is hard to come across.”
The empress said, “Then we must seal his mouth. We can’t let him talk whatever drivel.”
Chu Yue replied, “After observing him for the past few days, I found that he isn’t that sort of person to shoot his mouth off. He should be aware of the situation he’s in.”
The empress said, “Then that’s good.”
Chen Nan had waited outside for a long while without seeing so much as a message. In his heart, he felt quite nervous. He imagined that he was currently confined within the gates of hell. Just when his anxiousness reached an extreme point, a palace maid came over to him. When she arrived at his side, she quietly asked, “Are you Chen-gongzi?”
The palace maid said, “The Eldest Princess has ordered me to lead you into the palace and to tell you that you need not be nervous. In a moment when you see His Majesty the emperor, your speech only needs to be a little respectful, that is all.”
“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”
The reason why Chen Nan was nervous was because he had insulted the princess previously. He was deeply afraid that the emperor would blame him. After hearing the palace maid’s words, he let out a breath of air.
The interior of the imperial pace was richly ornamented. The walls were vermillion and the roof was a bright ivory. It was all splendidly gold and jade. Every palace hall was lofty and high. Their heights were irregular, spectacularly grand.
The Emperor of Chu summoned him to his study. With a look at the tall, stalwart, old man in front of him, Chen Nan kneeled down. Kowtowing in greeting, he said, “Commoner greets Your Majesty the emperor.”
“You may rise.”
“Thank you Your Majesty.” Chen Nan hung his head and stood up to the side.
Chu Han’s face was heavy as he coldly said, “Your words and actions towards my little daughter were incredibly rude. What do you have to say about this?”
Sweat appeared on Chen Nan’s forehead. “Yes, commoner had been momentarily muddled.”
Chu Han thickly said, “You may or may not know, but your conduct is deserving of ten thousand deaths.”
This time, the cold sweat on Chen Nan’s body even soaked through his underwear.
“However, the Eldest Princess was persistent in begging me for leniency against you. She said you live in the mountains and fail to comprehend proper etiquette and asked me to pardon you. I did not wish to spare you, but Yu’er also begged for leniency, saying you are a talent and can make up for your previous conduct. Because of them, I will not kill you.”
“Thank you Your Majesty for your forgiveness.”
Chu Han’s voice was no longer ice cold. Slowing down the pace of his intonation, he said, “You don’t have to be scared. I’ve pardoned you, so I definitely won’t kill you. Additionally, I’ve heard that you really are a man of ability. As long as you diligently serve my Great Chu from now on, I absolutely will not treat you unfairly.”
“Thank you Your Majesty.”
“En! From now on, you need not be as reserved as this. Even when you see me, you don’t have to be too courteous. From now on, you’ll be one of my Empire of Chu’s state officials. That is, a secret state official. Others must never find out about the matter regarding your capabilities with Houyi Bow.” A smile appeared on Chu Han’s face. “Hehe, because Chu has gained you as a talent, I feel very grateful. You need not be concerned about those previous matters. As long as you’re diligent and put in the effort, I’ll definitely promote you to nobility in the future.”
Chen Nan left the imperial palace. As he wiped the cold sweat off his forehead, he emotionally sighed. “That was dangerous. I almost said goodbye to this world. Hu~” He let out a long breath of air. However, the more he walked away from the palace, the more he mulled, and the more he felt that something was a bit wrong.
“I was almost stunned by that old man. A slap in the face and three rubs3; after that old fox gave me a random beating, he gave me a ‘candied jujube’ to eat afterwards. Using benevolence and might to make me obediently give up my life for him. That old fox is truly proficient in managing others. That old guy is worthy to have sat on the throne as the emperor for the past few decades.”
“Chen-gongzi, what are you mumbling to yourself about?” Chu Yue was dressed in fluttering white. She was beautiful beyond compare, refined and magnanimous.
“Oh, nothing. I was just lamenting how large this imperial palace is. I’ve quickly lost my way.”
“Hehe, follow me. I’ll lead you out and arrange for your residence without much extra effort.”
Chen Nan held a favourable opinion of the peerlessly magnificent Eldest Princess. Throughout the journey, she had showed consideration for him and helped him escape the princess’s ‘evil clutches’. Looking at Chu Yue’s matchless complexion—her amiable smile—he respectfully said, “Thank you Your Highness the princess.”
Chu Yue smiled. She led him away from the imperial palace. Outside of the Imperial City were the residences of the court ministers. The two of them arrived in front of an exceedingly expansive mansion. The decorated archway above the gate was extraordinarily imposing. Two formidable guardian lions carved out of white marble stood at either sides of the gate. On top of the vermillion gate, a board with a red background and golden lettering was suspended: Residence of Eccentrics.
Chu Yue said, “To be able to live here, one must be somewhat eccentric and have an extraordinary talent. Everyone here has a rather peculiar ability. From now on, you shall be staying here. In the beginning, you won’t be too familiar with this place and will be a little unaccustomed to it all, but you’ll grow used to it in time.”
The interior of the Residence of Eccentrics was divided into innumerable independent small courtyards. It was not at all imposing or luxurious like the other officials’ lodgings in front. On the contrary, it held a sense of home, a natural state. Every small courtyard had its own unique landscaping. Upon seeing Chu Yue, the so-called eccentrics and distinguished talents inside smiled and nodded to her, but didn’t advance towards her in greeting. It was thus clear that the status of these eccentrics with positions of state officials was quite respected.
Chen Nan’s own small courtyard was awfully isolated. Bluish-green bamboo was planted on the western side of his yard. Among the bamboo, a stone table and two stone chairs were hidden from view. The eastern side had a flowerbed. Among them were a few strange-looking stones.
Chen Nan asked, “Will I be living here from now on? I don’t have to do anything?”
Chu Yue smiled. “You’ll be living here for the time being. After a few days, I’ll seek someone out to help you recover your power. After that, I’ll seek someone out to teach you some profound martial skills so that you can better understand and utilize Houyi Bow.”
“But you mustn’t run around wildly all over the place. You aren’t too familiar with others yet, so you must by all means not barge into their courtyards as you wish.”
Chen Nan thought this was peculiar. “Huh?”
Chu Yue said, “Among these people, some of them research poison techniques to the extent that snakes, bugs, and poisonous grass are all over their courtyards. If you mistakenly enter one of those courtyards, your body might become extremely poisoned. Some others also study magic. Sometimes, their formidable magical energy will destroy their entire courtyard. Also, some others…”
The more Chen Nan heard of them, the more apprehensive he became. Everyone living here was strange and disorderly. It was basically the headquarters of a terrorist organization.
Finally, Chu Yue said, “There are very few guards here, but every day, several unmatched eccentrics will take turns on patrol, so it’s completely safe here.”
Chen Nan grumbled over and over, “It’s over. My big plan to escape has completely fizzled.”
After seeing Chu Yue off, Chen Nan’s heart grew restless. “Those guys that play around with poison, won’t their snakes and bugs end up coming into my courtyard? And those wild magi blowing things up and destroying everything, won’t they be living beside me?”
1 恨鐵不成鋼/hating iron for not becoming steel; meaning ‘resent someone for not meeting expectations’.
2 冰糖葫蘆/bingtanghulu: Candied fruits on bamboo skewers.
3 打一巴掌揉三揉/a slap in the face and three rubs; meaning ‘a fake friendship’.