Time is like an incredibly elastic rubber band. When you are in a certain period, it feels like that rubber band is infinitely stretched, and time flows slowly. But when you look back after passing that time, the rubber band is suddenly snapped back with a loud sound, and you feel that time has passed incredibly fast.
In this strange analogy, ten years have passed.
Chu Xi, now at the age of eighteen, is full of ambition and ready to fulfill his aspirations. Two years ago, Shen Fengyue personally helped him choose a virtuous and well-born empress as his official wife. When they just got married, they were a bit shy with each other, but after two years of getting along, they became much more comfortable.
He has grown into an adult, no longer as clingy to Shen Fengyue as in his childhood. Shen Fengyue is somewhat proud of his growth but also feels the melancholy of seeing his child gradually growing apart from him. Every time this happens, Lord Shen, suddenly jumps out and tries every means to tease him, diverting his attention instantly.
Speaking of Lord Shen, in the past ten years, he had cut off all ties with the Yan Kingdom. He had been diligently assisting and teaching Chu Xi about the ways of an emperor. He had heard that last month, Chu Xi had firmly grasped control of the military power in the kingdom.
Upon hearing this news, Lord Shen came to inform him immediately. At that time, he smiled and said to him that His Majesty had grown up and was no longer the same as his childhood. He was gradually handing over power and personnel to His Majesty. In some time, he would resign from his position, and he would help Empress Dowager feign death, and they would retire together to live as carefree couples in the mountains.
Regarding this suggestion, Shen Fengyue was very tempted. Since he had decided to grow old with Lord Shen and fulfill his mission by accompanying Lord Shen to death, wouldn’t this carefree life be even better? He was already tired of the splendor and luxury of the palace.
So, the two of them agreed, and they began to prepare in secret.
Unexpectedly, fate had other plans, and a great change occurred.
It was a rainy night, with the rain falling heavily. Shen Fengyue went to close the window and heard the rain heavily hitting the window sill with a “pat, pat” sound. After closing the window and preparing to sleep, he heard a commotion outside.
“Who are you people?!”
“This is Shoukang Palace, how dare you intrude!”
“The Empress Dowager is resting, what are you doing?!”
Shoukang Palace was filled with the sound of reprimand from Hong Mei and Luo Xue outside, and it seemed that some uninvited guests had forcibly entered.
“Hong Mei, what’s going on?” Shen Fengyue put on his coat and shouted loudly outside.
The sound of armor rubbing against each other gradually approached, their footsteps were orderly, and the many people seemed to move as one. From the sound of the commotion, there were quite a few of them.
They arrived at the door and violently broke it open. Shen Fengyue saw ten soldiers in black armor with swords rushing in. Following them were Hong Mei and Luo Xue, who had hurriedly arrived from behind. They stood between Shen Fengyue and the black-armored soldiers, protecting Shen Fengyue with an absolute attitude.
Shen Fengyue narrowed his eyes and sternly asked, “This is Shoukang Palace, the resting place of the Empress Dowager of the Great Chu Kingdom. How dare you, men, brandish your weapons and intrude here?” This simple question, with his imposing manner, already showed the majesty of the royal family. After acting as the Empress Dowager for over ten years, Shen Fengyue knew well how to display royal authority.
The people were subdued by his aura, and their attitudes immediately turned respectful. It seemed that the person leading them stepped forward and bowed to Shen Fengyue, saying, “Empress Dowager, please forgive us. We are here by order of His Majesty to invite you to his study for a discussion.”
In the dead of night, for Chu Xi to summon him to the study, it couldn’t be anything good.
Suddenly, his right eyelid twitched, and Shen Fengyue raised his hand to press it down, asking in return, “What if I refuse?”
The leader glanced at him and pulled out half of the sword from his waist, saying, “Please, Empress Dowager, don’t make it difficult for us. If you insist on doing so, we can only offend you.”
Outnumbered and outmatched, facing ten opponents would not end well, especially since these ten men seemed to be skilled in martial arts. It would be difficult for the System to deal with them all at once.
Considering this, Shen Fengyue nodded in agreement. Before leaving, he requested that let him be dressed properly. He was the Empress Dowager, and they wouldn’t dare defy such a request. So, Shen Fengyue tidied himself up and then followed the black-armored soldiers. Hong Mei and Luo Xue wanted to follow, but two black-armored soldiers stopped them, saying that His Majesty only wanted the Empress Dowager, and the rest couldn’t go.
Outside, the heavy rain was still pouring down, and someone held an umbrella to protect him from getting wet. However, the rain was too heavy, and the long hem of his gown was already soaked by the splashing rainwater.
Shen Fengyue glanced at the sky; it was pitch-black, with no light in sight except for the occasional flash of purple lightning. In a powerful and dominating manner, the lightning cut through the darkness of the night, like a fleeting moment of a short-lived flower. After the light passed, the darkness returned.
Next came the deafening sound of thunder, with one clap followed by another, the thunderous sounds merging into a continuous symphony that exploded in his ears.
An ominous premonition…
Shen Fengyue followed them toward the study.
The distance between Shoukang Palace and the study wasn’t really long, but Shen Fengyue was inexplicably tense, his heart seemed to be clenched by someone, and he unconsciously quickened his pace, allowing the mud and water to soak his shoes and dirty his dress.
Finally, they arrived at the study.
Enough candles were lit inside the study, making it look bright from the outside. Shen Fengyue brushed aside the others and ran out from under the umbrella, running into the room in the rain.
There were people already waiting for him in the room, and the first thing that caught his eye was Lord Shen, who was being held down by two people pressuring him to kneel on the ground.
As soon as Lord Shen saw him, his eyes brightened. “Empress Dowager.”
Seeing this scene, Shen Fengyue was shocked, and before he could respond, he looked up at the seat.
Chu Xi was dressed in dignified and steady court attire, black with golden patterns, and he wore a twelve-ringed crown on his head. From which, long jade beads hung down, making it difficult to see his expression. Throughout, he sat steadily on the dragon throne, motionless.
“What are you doing? Release him at once,” Shen Fengyue commanded the two people holding Lord Shen.
The room was not crowded, and the atmosphere was quiet, making his voice sound particularly loud, without any possibility of being unheard. However, those two people remained motionless.
It seemed that these two were only following the orders of the Emperor. Shen Fengyue turned his gaze to Chu Xi. “Your Majesty?”
“Release him,” the Emperor ordered, and the two men obeyed, releasing Lord Shen.
But Lord Shen didn’t dare to stand up; he remained kneeling on the ground.
Shen Fengyue stood next to him and asked, “What is the meaning of this, Your Majesty?”
The person on the dragon throne finally moved upon hearing his question. His head lightly moved, and the beads on his crown gently jingled, emitting a clear sound when they collided.
He chuckled lightly as if he had been amused.
“I have carefully observed, and ever since you entered the room, Empress Dowager, the first person you looked at was Lord Shen,” he placed his hands on his thighs and absentmindedly tapped his right hand in a slow and rhythmic manner. Then he continued, “And the person you’ve seen the most is also Lord Shen.”
“I want to know, what exactly is the relationship between you and Lord Shen…” He paused for a moment and leaned forward.
“Are you two related in any way?”
Shen Fengyue instinctively retorted, “This palace and Lord Shen are naturally unrelated. One is the Empress Dowager, and the other is a Lord. How did the Emperor link us together? Moreover…” Before he could finish, Chu Xi interrupted him.
“It seems that the Empress Dowager has forgotten that I am the Emperor, the ruler of the world. What matters can be hidden from me? You treat me as a three-year-old child, thinking you can deceive me, but I don’t agree with that.”
When Shen Fengyue wanted to say something, Lord Shen discreetly tugged at the hem of his clothes, silencing him.
The Emperor had been observing them all along, and he naturally saw this scene in its entirety.
“Your Majesty, allow me to speak. Between the Empress Dowager and me, there is nothing but a pure and innocent friendship that developed during the late Emperor’s reign,” Lord Shen answered, looking down with neither arrogance nor subservience.
Chu Xi let out a light laugh, filled with sarcasm. He took out an object from his sleeve, a white stone with red threads running through it.
“This object has been with me for ten years; it’s time to return it to its original owner.”
He threw the stone from the throne, and it landed right in front of Lord Shen, rolling a few times on the ground until it stopped, with the side with engraved characters facing up.
This object looked familiar; it was the same moonstone that Shen Fengyue had lost ten years ago.
Lord Shen didn’t dare to pick it up; he remained in his original position.
“Why don’t you pick it up, Lord? This stone is a pair with yours,” Chu Xi looked at him first and then turned his gaze to Shen Fengyue. “Yours is engraved with ‘Yan,’ and the Empress Dowager’s is engraved with ‘Shen.’ You’ve put a lot of thought into this, haven’t you?”
“Shen-Yan, were you just trying to forge a good relationship between the two families?” He questioned, suddenly picking up the inkstone on the table and throwing it towards Lord Shen.
Lord Shen noticed it, but he didn’t dodge, just remained there motionless. Shen Fengyue’s reaction was quick; when the inkstone was thrown over, he instinctively moved his arm to shield Lord Shen from the inkstone.
The inkstone hit his arm solidly, leaving a distinct ink mark on his clothes before bouncing to the ground.
Blocking an inkstone with bare hands was quite powerful, and after blocking it, his forearm was slightly sore.
His actions truly angered Chu Xi. He stood up abruptly from the throne, slamming his hands on the table, “Mother Empress, do you think this is how you can honor the late Emperor’s memory?!”
When Chu Xi mentioned Emperor Chu, Shen Fengyue found himself at a loss for words.
His silence was taken as acceptance by Chu Xi, who continued, “You are the Empress Dowager of the Great Chu, with noble status, yet you have committed such a shameful act, betraying the honor of our ancestors. As your son, I am deeply saddened by this. The dignity of the royal family cannot be tarnished, and without rules, there can be no order. At this moment, there is only one way to handle this.”
Shen Fengyue suddenly lifted his head, watching Chu Xi’s mouth move and memories from the past flooded into his mind.
Back when he was still the Imperial Noble Consort, Chu Xi once showed him a piece of his writing.
In his memory, the voices of the past conversation echoed in his ears.
He asked Chu Xi, “If there are hidden circumstances, can mercy be given beyond the law? Does the law allow for compassion?”
“In my opinion, without rules, there can be no order. If everyone follows their own emotions, how can the law be implemented? Where is the authority of the law?” The young child responded with an innocent voice.
So, everything had been predetermined from the beginning… From that moment, the clues were already evident.
The young voice was now replaced by the voice of a young adult. Chu Xi said, “Between the Empress Dowager and Lord Shen, only one can be spared to preserve the dignity of the royal family. And this choice, I leave to Lord Shen.”
Chu Xi was confident in the decision he gave them, believing that if the choice was left to Lord Shen, he would choose to save the Empress Dowager.
Sure enough, the next moment, Lord Shen lifted his head and said to him, “Thank you for your grace, Your Majesty. I wish to protect the Empress Dowager.”
The fact that the Emperor could make such a move meant that Lord Shen’s forces had probably been exterminated long before.
“What are you trying to do, Lord Shen?!” Upon hearing this, Shen Fengyue immediately rushed to his side.
“What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate; help the Empress Dowager move away quickly!”
Chu Xi gave the order, and immediately, some people came forward to separate Shen Fengyue and Lord Shen. Shen Fengyue resisted fiercely but was firmly held down by several people and dragged to the side. In the chaos, Lord Shen picked up the moonstone from the ground and the one hanging at his waist and stuffed both into Shen Fengyue’s arms.
Shen Fengyue was pushed against the wall.
“Let go of me! I am the Empress Dowager; do you dare not listen to me?!”
Chu Xi descended from the throne, and a palace servant entered the hall, holding a horizontal plank with white cloth and a bowl of poisoned wine displayed on it. Chu Xi made a gesture of invitation, indicating for Lord Shen to choose.
He chose the poisoned wine, thinking it would be a more dignified way to die and wouldn’t frighten the Empress Dowager.
After taking the poisoned wine, he suddenly turned around, facing Shen Fengyue who was still struggling not far away.
Shen Fengyue was struggling fiercely, his hair already disheveled, and tiny beads of sweat formed on his forehead, looking extremely disheveled.
“Empress Dowager, don’t struggle any longer; it’s not only exhausting but also futile. I can’t bear to see you like this.”
Shen Fengyue stopped struggling as he spoke, tears flowing down his cheeks and soaking his clothes, but he seemed unaware of it.
“May the Empress Dowager be blessed and safe, and may you have eternal happiness and joy. For this, even if I die, it’s worth it,” Lord Shen said.
He repeated the same words he had said at the offering ceremony years ago. At that time, he had said them with a smile, wishing him well with full of blessings. Now, he also said them with a smile, his lips arched, and his eyes curved, looking incredibly handsome. However, Shen Fengyue felt a deep chill and immense sorrow, which lingered for a long time.
Chu Xi had no interest in watching them bid farewell, so he ordered them to be taken away. He followed to witness it with his own eyes.
The Emperor and the Empress Dowager had attendants holding umbrellas, but Lord Shen stood in the rain, and amidst the rain, he left Shen Fengyue with only a departing figure.
Chu Xi ordered that he be taken to an abandoned palace, and guards followed him inside. Just as they were about to close the door, Lord Shen suddenly rushed toward Chu Xi and said, “Your Majesty, I have one more request. Please lock the door; I’m afraid it would break the Empress Dowager’s heart if she saw this.”
Chu Xi agreed.
So, he turned to close the door, but at that moment, Shen Fengyue, somehow gathering strength, broke free from the grip of the people restraining him and rushed toward the room.
“Lord Shen!—” he called out, running straight toward the door. The rain poured down like a torrent, and he ran too fast. He tripped and watched the door close right in front of him.
The door closed, leaving him with only the last glimpse of his beloved, and then it was firmly shut.
The palace attendants moved to lock the door, but he immediately got up from the ground and stood in their way.
“Don’t do it, don’t lock it, please, I beg you, I beg you, he’s still inside, how can you lock it?! He’s still in there, please, I’m begging you…” He kept pleading and begging, asking others not to lock the door.
“Let me take his place, let me die instead of him, just let him live, please! He hasn’t done anything wrong; it’s all because of me, my seduction. All the mistakes are mine, please let me die instead of him, okay?”
“Empress Dowager, please don’t make it difficult for us.”
With a click, the door was locked.
Shen Fengyue wailed in agony, tears streaming down his face. He continued to sob uncontrollably while frantically pounding on the door. The door trembled, and the lock hanging on it made a rattling sound with each impact.
“Lord Shen, don’t drink, please don’t drink! You can’t die; I have a way, the system can help us! As long as you don’t drink, as long as you don’t die, it can save us, I have many ways,” he cried out while beating on the door, tears falling like they had no end, “I’ll call the system to help us. As long as you don’t drink, as long as you don’t die, it will surely protect us.”
“Lord Shen, Lord Shen, Lord Shen, Lord Shen…” He kept calling his name as if holding onto the last straw of hope. “System, you will help me, right? You will, won’t you?”
Before the system could speak, a prompt sounded,
[Ding dong, the bug has been cleared.]
“Please…” His unfinished words got stuck, his pounding on the door stopped, and Shen Fengyue couldn’t believe what he heard. Tears streamed down his face.
The bug was cleared?
The mission was completed?
What about Lord Shen? How is he? Shen Fengyue began to frantically beat the brown door. “Lord Shen, come out, say something, let me know you’re alive! Speak, you’re not dead, right?!”
Unable to bear it, the system said, “Old Shen, it’s all over now…”
“Lord Shen… he’s already dead.” The system struggled to say the last part.
Shen Fengyue couldn’t believe it. He continued futilely beating on the door, calling Lord Shen’s name.
Separated by this brown door, everything seemed to be blocked.
“Husband, husband, my husband…” Shen Fengyue had only used the term “husband” twice. Once when they became husband and wife and the last when Lord Shen died.
His mind was flooded with fragmented memories of Lord Shen calling him Empress Dowager with affection, Lord Shen entering through the window, and Lord Shen blinking his eyes repeatedly. All he could think of was Lord Shen’s face.
Lord Shen, Lord Shen, it was all about Lord Shen…
There were his simple and direct expressions of love, said over and over,
“Empress Dowager, my heart is pleased with you.”
He said that they would never part, only part in the face of death. He never thought that it would become a reality.
Shen Fengyue cried, deeply grieved. But at that moment, an arrow shot from behind, piercing through his heart.
He glanced down at the arrow through his heart, its tip soaked in fresh red blood. He didn’t have time to turn around and see who it was. He only put all his remaining strength in front of him, desperately reaching out, clinging to the door, and trying to be as close as possible to his beloved.
This door was really solid, no matter how hard he pounded, it wouldn’t open…
His consciousness blurred, his eyes closed, and he died.
Even in death, we won’t separate.
[Ding dong, the mission is complete. Auxiliary program successfully implemented. Exiting this world.]
Chu Xi put down the bow, his tears flowing like rain. The bow was a brilliant vermilion, adorned with gold-threaded patterns, named “Tri-Surge Fury Bow.”
“Mother Empress, I’m sorry,” he murmured, throwing the bow on the ground, “Move the Empress Dowager away and open the door.”
The palace attendants followed his order, carrying the Empress Dowager’s body away. Two white stones fell from Shen Fengyue’s arms, but no one paid any attention.
The lock clicked open. As the door opened, a body fell forward. It seemed the person had been sitting against the door the whole time.
“Do what you should do.” After confirming Lord Shen’s death, Chu Xi instructed, “You all know what you all have to do”
Anyone who knew the truth couldn’t be allowed to live, as it involved a secret of the royal family. So, after Chu Xi gave the command, they all bit open poison packs, and within three seconds, they all passed away.
Chu Xi turned and left, and as he departed, the palace attendants fell one by one.
The dignity of the royal family could not be trampled, and the law couldn’t make exceptions. This was the way of an emperor, the mind of an emperor, and this is what you, Lord Shen, taught me.
I apologize, Mother Empress and Lord Shen, but your disgraceful secrets were destined not to exist in this world.
The two pieces of moonstones lay facing up, side by side. The bright red cinnabar was washed away by the rain, leaving only a blurry outline. Upon closer inspection, one could still discern the carvings on them:
–“Shen” and “Yan.”
Chu Xi walked towards the study, recalling the message written on the sky lantern that he intercepted from Lord Shen that year- “May the Empress Dowager always be safe.”
Lord Shen’s lifelong wish was simply for Empress Dowager’s well-being in the capital.
Chu Xi shook his head and chuckled. That man’s affection was as deep as the sea, but it was all something that couldn’t see the light of day.
He killed his mother and his… teacher.
Returning to the study and sitting on the dragon throne, a single tear suddenly fell from his right eye, but his left eye remained unchanged. He gently wiped it away with his hand.
The left eye was of the emperor, the right eye was of the son and also the disciple.
The ruler sat high on the dragon throne, his face obscured in darkness, which concealed his emotions to come into view.
T/N: This arc ends here, but there are still two extra stories left for this arc 🙂