The son of King Jing was Tong Yan.
He was a master in chess games, and excellent at scheming and calculating.
It was his plan that helped Zhao Layue and Liu Shisui kill Luo Huainan outside Green Mountain.
He had only lost once in his life; it was at the Plum Meeting years ago, when he lost to Jing Jiu in Go game.
Hence, in his eyes, there was no other world or other twenty three participants, save for Jing Jiu. He had recorded this statement in the book as well. Of course, he had written many more contents in the book, including the reality of this world, and his purpose for coming here, which was to help his Young Sister become the winner of the Tripod and obtain the Fairy Book of Longevity.
As the door of his room was pushed open, someone walked in along with the wind and snow.
No secret code was provided while knocking on the door, and no permission was requested, so he knew it was his father who had come in.
"The little princess of Qin State has been found. She was in Beihai County. She was probably brought to his manor by the governor of Beihai. When will Beihai rebel, in your opinion?"
It was obvious that King Jing trusted his ten-year-old son enormously, and he even asked his son's opinion on such a significant state affair.
Tong Yan thought about it silently for a moment and said, "I'm afraid that the governor of Beihai will give the princess to the Qin Emperor, to gain his favor."
The King Jing was somewhat surprised by his son's assessment.
"The people in Beihai are very aggressive, and they have a strong army. The son of the governor is a capable young general. Now that the little princess is in their hands, don't they have other ambitions?"
Tong Yan knew the identity of that young warrior. In fact, he had communicated with Beihai County by private letters over the last two years.
"The governor of Beihai is a timid person, the weather is cold there right now, and they don't have enough provisions, so it's hard for them to make up their mind."
After some thought, he continued, "We should find a way to get Qi State to help them. In addition, Father should send out some spies to Xianyang City to spread some rumors. It might be helpful."
"What a great idea, my son," the King Jing exclaimed excitedly.
Tong Yan thought this was not a great scheme in the least; but he didn't want to continue with the topic. "What do you, my kingly father, think of the situation in Zhao State?"
King Jing sneered, "It looks like that incapable emperor is not going to die soon, and Zhao State will suffer more. When he dies, I'm afraid Zhao State will be ruined."
In the short span of a few years, two emperors among the five states had died and two new emperors were appointed to the thrones.
The new emperor of Qin State had already become infamous for his cruelty, and the new emperor of Chu State had a new title in addition to the title of "slow": "The Incapable Emperor."
However, when it came to the incapable emperors, the title should go to the Emperor of Zhao State, who had a pair of bulging eyes like that of a fish.
If someone wanted to write down all the brutal, scandalous and ridiculous things this incapable emperor had done, they would need all the paper they could find to do it.
Since ancient times, the power of the eunuchs had always accompanied incapable emperors.
The last name of the top eunuch trusted most by the Zhao Emperor was Hong. Though he didn't have overwhelming power in the state, everybody feared him.
At dusk one day, the old eunuch Hong didn't go outside the palace. He was lying on a chair in the courtyard, recuperating.
A young, ten-year-old eunuch knelt by his side and fanned him carefully with a large round fan; he was trying to drive all the mosquitoes away noiselessly at the same time.
He had done it for a long time, but the old eunuch Hong didn't open his eyes at all . The young eunuch felt his arm getting heavier, but he didn't dare stop fanning, and he couldn't change to a different hand to fan with.
Two days ago, he did the fanning for a whole night. His right arm was swollen and red, and there was no strength left in it.
As the last sliver of the twilight disappeared, the old eunuch Hong finally opened his eyes.
The young eunuch was rather delighted, thinking that he could at last stop fanning for night; but he also felt a bit disappointed, wondering if the old eunuch thought he didn't do a good job this time.
Looking at him, the old eunuch showed a trace of interest in his murky eyes, asking, "How long have you been in the palace?"
"Grandpa, I've been here almost five years," the young eunuch replied with a flattering smile.
The old eunuch Hong remarked, "You were beaten for a year in the beginning; then you spent another year avoiding being beaten. It took two more years for you to see me. What price have you paid for taking up this fan?"
While the old eunuch began making the remark, the young eunuch had started bowing his head to the floor, making thudding sounds.
Hearing the last question, the young eunuch said with his head hung low, "I have given away all the money I accumulated in the last four years, and…I stabbed someone with a knife."
"You know you need to reveal your weakness to me at such a young age; you are very smart. And you would use any means to achieve your goal. I like it."
The old eunuch continued with narrowed eyes, "And you are also quite talented. But, why should I teach you?"
He Zhan turned his head around and took a look at the small courtyard. His pale face didn't show any resentment, but rather appreciation and reverence.
This expression was of course a disguised one. However, he had gotten some gains even though the old eunuch Hong declined his request.
There were so many eunuchs in the palace, how many of them had the chance to fan and drive away mosquitoes for the old eunuch Hong?! He thought that he should have some easy days ahead, and he might even be awarded some valuable things by the Royal Concubine Ping for the sake of the eunuch Hong. When he thought of the last words the old eunuch Hong said earlier, he felt a bit depressed again.
It's true. Why would he teach me?
He wanted to yell at the sun in the sky: Why?
Why would he have to suffer so much and live a submissive life of flattery?
The old eunuch Hong was the strongest fighter in the palace of Zhao State, but he was merely in the middle state of the Golden Pill in Chaotian. Yet, he had to flatter him in a humble manner to win his favor. It was because he couldn't resume cultivating his own magic method after being castrated; so he had to find another method suitable for him in this world.
What the old eunuch Hong said was right; why would he teach me?
There was a fork up ahead. One path led to the palace of the Royal Concubine Ping; and the other led to the royal garden.
The royal garden was kind of desolate in recent years. It was said that the Emperor had drowned too many maidservants there, so the ghosts wrecked havoc at night.
Even those girls who were waiting to be selected to the palace didn't dare venture there, to say nothing of the eunuchs who usually believed in the ghosts and reincarnation.
He Zhan walked toward the royal garden in an attempt to relax his mind there.
It was the early evening. The lights in the distant palace halls were fairly bright. The weeds in the royal garden were quite tall, resembling the figures of gloomy ghosts.
He Zhan was not scared of it. He was familiar with the environment here. He walked to the deep part of the royal garden, ready to climb up the man-made rocky mountain and lie down for a while atop.
Suddenly, he saw another person in the royal garden that night.
There was a small chestnut tree by the lake.
A feeble young man stood under the chestnut tree.
The young man wore a light yellow cloth, his expression a bit depressed.
He Zhan knew he was the Crown Prince of Zhao State, a few years older than he, and not a participant in the Dao Competition.
In the next few days, He Zhan saw the Crown Prince of Zhao State in the royal garden every night.
What he didn't understand was that while Crown Prince of Zhao State was apparently not a participant in the Dao Competition, he was somehow always deep in thought while looking at the distance, one hand holding a tree branch, just like a participant in the competition would.
Your father is an incapable emperor. This is indeed a disgrace; but do you suffer even more than I do?
Seeing the figure under the chestnut tree one night and the environment around the lake, He Zhan made a decision.
He arrived at the royal garden earlier that night. When he was sure that nobody was by the lake, he came to the spot under the tree, took out a small knife which had never left his pocket, and began cutting the tree branch.
He cut the branch very carefully so that he wouldn't cut through the branch. He then used the soil to cover up the crack and cleaned the wood chips and other traces.
Afterwards, he waited for the Crown Prince to fall into the lake when the tree branch broke off.
But, the event He Zhan thought would change history had never happened. He was not sure whether he hadn't cut the crack deep enough, or the Crown Prince's hand was too feeble to break it.
Summer passed and autumn arrived. He Zhan basically gave up, even completely forgetting about the scheme.
One afternoon, as he squatted by the lake in an attempt to reward himself by barbecuing fish, he suddenly heard a cracking sound from above.
The Crown Prince fell from the hill above and rolled down to the lakeside.
Then, the prince saw a young eunuch with an oily mouth look at him in surprise.
The Crown Prince was rather upset, thinking that he wouldn't break the tree branch and fall down in such an embarrassing condition if he didn't smell the smoke and wasn't scared by the fire. As he was about to reprimand the young eunuch, the young eunuch suddenly jumped toward him and covered his mouth with a hand; and the young eunuch tried to hush him with a pleading expression in his eyes.
Seeing the pitiful countenance of the young eunuch, the Crown Prince felt sympathetic.
The young eunuch released his hand slowly, and tried to please the Crown Prince by saying, "Don't scream…don't scream. I'll share my fish with you."
Seeing the barbecued fish skewered onto a tree branch, the Crown Prince asked blankly, "Where did you get the fish?"
"The fish is of course from the lake, not from the trees," the young eunuch said matter-of-factly.
The Crown Prince grew angrier, wondering which palace this young eunuch belonged to and how sharp-tongued he was.
The young eunuch pulled off a barbecued fish from the stick and handed it over to the Crown Prince, saying, "I'm giving you this fish, but not to silence. Look at yourself; you are so thin and pale. My goodness, you are really miserable…which palace are you from? Look at your cheeks; they have sunk in already, and your chin is so pointy."
The Crown Prince was startled a little and then took the fish reflexively and brought it to his mouth. He was stunned a bit and then said, "It's delicious."
The next day, He Zhan entered the old eunuch Hong's courtyard.
Summer was over, so he didn't have to do the fanning anymore. More effort was needed to obtain such a job.
A swollen face from slapping was a small price to pay. The jade ornament given by the Crown Prince last night was the most effective weapon for him.
As long as the Crown Prince was around, the jade ornament would be useful. He didn't feel so much pain on his face now.
He Zhan cleaned the courtyard dust free. Then he entered the room and knelt in front of the old eunuch Hong.
Seeing this child before him, the old eunuch felt surprised, asking, "Do you have the answer now?"
The question was: why?
He Zhan said, "Last night, the Crown Prince and I ate barbecued fish together."
The old eunuch Hong's murky eyes lit up a little, as he exclaimed with a hearty laugh, "Not bad! Not bad at all!"
With the green bird conveying the information, the people outside Huiying Valley wouldn't miss those exciting stories unfolding in the illusionary realm.
When the people saw the old eunuch Hong finally started teaching He Zhan the magic method, they couldn't help but be sentimental about his miserable life of more than ten years, remaining reticent.
A crisp clapping suddenly broke out under a fruit tree.
It was Sese who was clapping her hands, with a dried fish still in her mouth, looking like those lovely sea animals by the West Ocean.
"It's tiring to sit here. I'd like to go to other places to have a look. Do you want to come with me?"
She said this to the young woman of the Waster-Moon Nunnery.
The young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery was a bit startled, asking, "You are not going to watch the later parts?"
"The middle parts are not going to be interesting," said Sese. "It will be more interesting when those guys grow up."
It was merely a figure of speech when someone said "To grow up over night" in the real world; but it could actually happen in the Dao Competition.
Five days later, Sese and the young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery came back from the Hanshi Valley with the fragrant scent of flowers all over their bodies. The participants in the Illusionary Realm had turned fifteen years old.
Regardless of which world it was, the real or illusionary, the fifteen-year-olds could be considered young adults.
The grownups would encounter many agonies…and the tests of life and death.
Through his efforts over the years, Tong Yan had already found out the whereabouts of more than ten participants. He didn't take any action right away. All he did was watch them grow up. It was only at the critical moment that he would either offer his help, or attack them, or even kill them if necessary.
Yet, some strange things happened this spring. A few participants had died for a variety of mysterious reasons before he could strike.
Judging from the investigation of his subordinates, he found that the killer didn't belong to any force; the killer acted alone.
All of twenty six participants were the strong swordsmen of the young generation. They entered the Illusionary Realm and started cultivating at the same time. Normally, their Cultivation state should be similar. Yet, that person could kill others so easily; it meant that the killer had a much higher Cultivation state than the killed.
Who could have progressed so fast? Tong Yan took out the book from the hidden drawer and ran his finger over the names in the book slowly. Speaking of the talent and the Cultivation state before entering the Illusionary Realm, Jing Jiu was definitely the best among them. Yet, it was hard for him to leave the Royal Palace; and even if he could, he would be too lazy to do these killings. Who was the killer then?
Tong Yan rubbed the spot between his eyebrows. He found that his impression of the names in the book grew weaker, like the inky words on paper.
Over the years, he would often take out the book to review the contents; but the memories seemed to fade away, as if the events had happened a long time ago, or even in a previous life.
Time is indeed an irresistible magic treasure, which is also the most formidable and relentless.
He wasn't sure how the other participants managed to keep their memories; or had they already lost themselves totally in this illusionary mortal world?
Jiang Rui left the small courtyard of his family and wanted to buy a horse-drawn carriage.
Though he didn't live a comfortable life in the last few years, he, as a Cultivation practitioner, had enough money to buy a carriage.
He didn't forget that he had plotted a scheme to get He Zhan's family killed; but he had forgotten most of the events before entering the Illusionary Realm.
Fortunately, he didn't forget about the Dao Competition, or those participants.
He was fully aware that he had to improve his prowess and to reach the peak; then he could see the Godly Commissioner to ask for the Tripod. One had to start with trivial deeds no matter how grand their final goal was.
He had done a trivial thing a few years ago.
He pushed his father, who was alcoholic and compulsive gambler, into the river, and then threw a great many rocks into the river.
Afterwards, he used the money he stole and robbed from others to buy a few acres of farm land for his mother. And he also hired a few honest farmhands, and married his younger sister to a wealthy family. Later, he went to the town to study, learning to read and write poems. He earned some repute in the town and established a friendly relationship with the town governor. It seemed that he had progressed one step at a time.
Yet, he thought his progression was too slow; and he found that a force seemingly hindered his progression.
There was no way he could figure out the force was from the distant Cangzhou. He thought it was because the town was too small.
The son of King Jing was definitely suspicious; the slow little emperor was definitely suspicious; and the young general of Beihai County was suspicious as well.
However, those people were in powerful positions. Yet, he still had to please the town governor. How could this situation go on?
As he thought of all this while walking on the street, Jiang Rui suddenly felt that his body was heating up, as if he was overwhelmed by a strong emotion.
Then he found something was not quite right.
A man in black stood on the street.
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