Chapter 1 – The Aeternal Imperium
Expanding the canals to let the rivers connect the lands.
Erecting the Great Wall to keep the wilders out.
Exterminating the Hundred Empires to unify the world.
Flattening a thousand mountains to the Diablos Sea.
Annihilating the evil cults to rectify the hearts of men.
Slaying the daemons to pacify the wilderness.
Executing wicked ministers to bring righteousness to the imperial court.
Establishing laws to bring justice to the world.
Completing the grand encyclopedia to spread wisdom for ten thousand generations.
Abolishing idolatry and the worship of gods.
These were the Ten Great Deeds of the Aeternal Imperium’s Skyseal Emperor.
Skyseal was the name he chose for his reign. The word ‘Sky’ represented supremacy, while the word ‘Seal’ represented the runic seals which formed the words of law.
The Emperor chose ‘Skyseal’ for his reign to symbolize that he would take the place of the heavens in making the laws. All creatures had to submit to him. Even the ghosts and the gods had to bow down.
The Aeternal Imperium was located in the Endless Lands. The reason why it was named ‘Endless’ was because it was truly vast beyond end. Even the marvelous figures who had mastered all of the Thirty-Six Transformations were only able to see and comprehend a tiny portion of it.
Skyseal’s reign, year fourteen. Summer. The imperial capital.
Despite the blazing heat, the imperial clansmen were all hard at work studying within the Hall of Learning inside the imperial palace.
“If a place has met with flood or disaster and is suffering from widespread starvation, with no rice to eat, how would you calm the masses? How would you alleviate their suffering? Nineteenth Prince, you answer first.” The instructor had a long beard and long whiskers, and his hair was white. He was dressed in the brocade clothes of a Ruist , and he had a stately, calm demeanor. This was one of the elders of the imperial court, Grand Tutor Liang Tao.
The nineteenth prince rose to his feet. He was fourteen years old, dressed in wrinkled clothes, and looked rather foolish. “Uh, if they don’t have rice to eat, let them eat meat.”
“Number Nineteen really is an idiot! He’s gonna be punished again today.”
“If the people don’t have rice to eat, let them eat meat? If this answer spreads, I fear that everyone in the world would curse his name. It will be recorded in the annals of history and treated as a great joke for a thousand years.”
The entire hall was filled with laughter.
“Is he really that stupid, or is he biding his time and just hiding his cleverness?” a red-robed maiden murmured softly to herself. “No matter what, we have to be wary of him. He has the blood of the Oblation Empire in his veins, after all.”
In the past, women had been forbidden from taking part in public life. However, ever since the Skyseal Emperor had risen to power he had overturned many old customs. He strongly promoted both female literacy and combat training. After so many years of reformation, the imperium’s culture had changed dramatically.
“Gu Chensha, go outside and stand there for two hours! After that, spend three days cleaning up the archives!” Grand Tutor Liang Tao pointed towards the outside.
Gu Chensha was the prince who had just said to ‘let them eat meat’. He was the nineteenth prince.
“Y-y-yes…” Gu Chensha nodded repeatedly, then clumsily began to stumble out. Clack! He nearly fell flat on his face after stumbling over his own chair, looking as pathetic as pathetic could be.
This guy is completely useless. He has no sense of balance and is terrible at martial arts. It seems he really isn’t a threat to anyone at all. Several princes exchanged glances with each other.
His martial arts are simply terrible. The red-robed woman had a faint smirk on her face. The Aeternal Imperium was established through martial force. Whether or not the various princes will earn favor from the Emperor is based on how strong they become. Gu Chensha is nearly fifteen years old. He’s already missed the most important years of physical training. It’ll be very hard for him to accomplish anything in the future. Good. This means the Lou clan now has one less threat to worry about.
The various princes all had their own thoughts and schemes. Gu Chensha, however, simply stood blankly beneath the blazing sun.
The Aeternal Imperium had been established over five hundred years ago. Its founding emperor, Gu Yongxiao, had brought peace to the world, and after him had come a succession of emperors who were skilled in both warfare and literature. This was especially true of the Skyseal Emperor, Gu Taxian. He was an incredibly skilled combatant who had expanded the influence of the imperial court to incredible heights. Even the daemons and the cultivators who lived beyond the passes and beyond the seas didn’t dare to cause any trouble. They were all terrified of being exterminated by the imperial court.
An imperial court was never a place for familial sentimentality. Fathers suspected sons and were plotted against in turn, while brothers turned on each other in the most brutal of ways. Even the concubines would scheme against each other. Everyone’s goal was to increase their own power, and so everyone had to tread carefully with each step. Even the slightest of mistakes could result in a snowball effect which culminated in downfall and disgrace.
Gu Chensha had more than forty brothers and thirteen sisters, and he had the weakest background of them all.
The strength of a prince was primarily determined by the strength of his maternal clan. Some princes had elder brothers or uncles who were generals and thus controlled military might. Some had relatives who were peerless experts. Some came from clans which held sway over enormous swathes of land. And some came from the legendary ‘thousand-year clans’.
As for Gu Chensha? His mother had been a princess of the Oblation Empire, one of the Aeternal Imperium’s enemies. She had been sent over as a peace offering. In the end, the Aeternal Imperium had vanquished and exterminated the Oblation Empire, and its nobles both great and small had all been wiped out. Even the Oblation Emperor himself had ended up committing self-immolation within his treasury. Supposedly, the princess had committed suicide when she heard that her nation was now dust.
As a result, Gu Chensha had no one to rely upon in the imperial court. Not only could the other princes bully him, even the higher-ranked palace attendants and eunuchs also dared to take advantage of him.
Bullying him, however, was a small matter. There were also many who wanted him dead. The Oblation Empire had been an enemy of the Aeternal Imperium, and the two had warred for over a hundred years. The hatred which existed between the two nations was as deep as a sea of blood, and it wasn’t until the Skyseal Emperor’s rise that the Oblation Empire had been exterminated.
In that war, the Aeternal Imperium had lost a high prince and several field marshals, as well as dozens of important generals. Both nations had poured everything they had into the battle. After the Aeternal Imperium finally broke into the Oblation Empire’s capital, a slaughter commenced. It took three days before the Aeternal soldiers sheathed their blades, having finally massacred all of the people living within the city.
Even now there were Oblation Empire refugees who hid themselves amongst the citizenry of the Aeternal Imperium, plotting revenge. They had never forgotten what had happened to their nation.
For all these reasons, many of the elders of the imperial court who had taken part in the extermination of the Oblation Empire felt enmity towards Gu Chensha.
He would never have a chance at becoming the next emperor. He might not even be able to keep himself alive. He had suffered endless misfortunes since he was young, and he had long ago learned to shun the spotlight. The only reason he managed to survive for this long was because he put on a show of being an idiot and a fool.
The discussion was continuing within the great hall.
“Lou Baiyue, speak. How would you handle such an uprest?” Grand Tutor Liang Tao pointed at the red-robed maiden.
Lou Baiyue rose to her feet. “I’d first execute the local magistrate and accuse of him of corruption and hoarding food for himself. That way, the masses would be appeased.”
“But what if the local magistrate was clean and uninvolved in corruption? What if the public disorder was solely a result of natural disasters?” Liang Tao asked.
Lou Baiyue’s eyes flashed coldly. “I recall that our history books included a story of an emperor who went out to war with insufficient supplies for his army. When the soldiers began to complain, the commanding general seized and executed the quartermaster, accusing him of stealing rations. Only then did the soldiers calm down.”
“That seems a bit inhumane.” Liang Tao frowned. “When administering a country, we must first act in a righteous manner.”
Lou Baiyue’s voice was as hard as steel. “If we don’t use the head of the local magistrate to appease the angry masses, they’ll be easily seduced by would-be rebel leaders. If a rebellion is launched and they start attacking our towns and cities, how many more would end up perishing? When my elder brother was sent to pacify the Yin Province, every town was blazing with the fires of rebellion. Even the woods were hot with unrest! The flames were being fanned by evil cults and mighty outlaws. There were no rations to distribute, and everything was in a state of chaos and disorder.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that my brother first killed the local magistrate to appease the masses, then executed a few hundred rabble-rousers, multiple provinces would’ve been thrown into chaos. The imperial court itself might’ve been weakened! Once a place is in a state of open revolt then the local officials, even if ‘clean’, are at fault for being unable to calm the populace. They can only pay for their sins via death.”
The red-robed woman’s named was Lou Baiyue. She wasn’t a member of the imperial clan. Rather, she was the daughter of an important minister of the court known as Duke Lou Chongxiao.
While the majority of the students here belonged to the imperial clan, some were the children of righteous ministers. The Lou clan had followed the founding emperor in establishing the imperium. They had always been in the highest favor of the various emperors who followed, and in the Skyseal reign they had only become even more dazzling.
Lou Chongxiao’s title was the Duke of Founding. He had two little brothers. The first, Lou Chongtian, was the Marquis of Greatsoul. His second, Lou Chongyun, was the Marquis of Martial Peace. The Lou clan also had many other members who were generals or emissaries, and as a result the Lou clan was often referred to by a special nickname – the ‘Quasi-Imperial Clan’.
Given their power, even many of the lower-ranked princes had to watch their step around the Lou clan.
“Your elder brother did very well in pacifying the Yin Province. The Emperor personally rewarded him for it.” Grant Tutor Liang Tao nodded. “However, the Dao of administering a country is rooted in kindness and virtue. If you commit too much slaughter, not only shall you lose karmic virtue, you will also fall into the habit of being brutal and violent, which is bad for both body and mind. I hope you will deliver my words to your elder brother.”
“I shall definitely do so.” Lou Baiyue didn’t argue, she simply nodded calmly and sat down.
Chiiiirp. Chiiiirp. The crickets were chirping loudly in the woods. One of the eunuchs responsible for accompanying the students was busy at work brushing cobwebs from some of the bamboo scrolls. It was noon, and the combination of the sweltering sun and the chirping crickets was simply mind-numbing. After a while, even Gu Chensha was reaching the point of being unable to take it any longer.
While he stood there, the class within the hall finally came to an end. The imperial scions were all ushered into the Hall of War to train in martial arts.
One of the princes moved closer to Lou Baiyue. He was dressed in silver robes and seemed quite free and unrestrained. He was completely different from Gu Chensha’s foolish appearance. “Baiyue, Liang Tao is the leader of the Ascetic faction in the imperial court who has accused your father of misconduct in the past. When he spoke to us today about justice, kindness, and quelling uprisings, I think he was sending a hidden message. One of the magistrates your brother killed when he quelled that unrest was one of his students.”
“Anyone can be an armchair philosopher.” Lou Baiyue smiled coldly. “The imperial court has far too many Ascetics. All they every do is praise each other and spout nonsense which doesn’t help the common man at all.”
The silver-robed prince wasn’t startled by her opinion at all. He glanced at Gu Chensha, who was still standing in punishment outside. “Do you think this kid is really an idiot or is he just pretending to be dumb? He’s been like this ever since you bashed his brains in when he was ten. You were actually imprisoned for ten months because of it.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Number Fourteen. Number Ten was the one who beat him up. You were present as well.” Lou Baiyue’s face turned cold.
The silver-robed youth was ranked fourteen amongst the princes. His name was Gu Yunsha, and he was smiling. “But you were the instigator of it. You said that the kid had insulted Number Ten, and Number Ten’s always had a terrible temper. As soon as he heard this, he immediately charged over and brutalized the kid. Your father knew exactly what happened, which was why he locked you up. As I recall, Number Ten ended up being beaten with a rod for his actions in the Hall of Ancestors.”
“And what of it?” Lou Baiyue said disdainfully, “My eldest brother perished while assaulting the Oblation capital, as did two of my uncles. My cousin was poisoned and killed by those Oblation survivors. The Oblation survivors are like ghosts that just won’t go away. Just last year, they attempted to assassinate my father. Why should I be nice to that brat?”
“He’s still my father’s son. Now that he’s turned into an idiot, you should hold back a bit,” Number Fourteen Gu Yunsha said.
“Enough with the crocodile tears, Number Fourteen. You’ve taught him plenty of lessons in recent years.” Lou Baiyue flicked her nails at him. “Not only did you order the eunuchs to steal his monthly stipend, you even made it so that he didn’t get the pills which all princes need for martial training. That’s why he’s now useless in both learning and in combat.”
“Isn’t that exactly what you want? Besides, when his mother was alive she played quite a few nasty tricks on my mother in order to win my imperial father’s favor. Now that he is down, this is the perfect time to kick him.” Gu Yunsha glanced sideways. “Baiyue, I hear that your martial arts have improved quite a bit lately. Why don’t you show off a bit?”
Lou Baiyue didn’t say anything. She just lightly pressed her palm against a wooden training pillar. Crunch! Crunch! The wooden pillar instantly exploded, sending splinters flying everywhere.
Her movements were delicate and simple, but they contained utterly ruinous destructive force.
“The Su-Yin Palms? You’ve reached the grandmaster level in martial arts?” The Fourteenth Prince’s eyelids twitched repeatedly.
“The four mortal levels of martial training are known as fighters, martial warriors, masters, and grandmasters. Even grandmasters are nothing more than mortals. Only the Thirty-Six Changes of Daoshapers represent real truth.” Lou Baiyue had always been one to show off her brilliance.
“Becoming a Daoshaper is an extremely difficult task. Even though imperial clansmen like us have been given the finest resources and techniques, only four of us have become Daoshapers thus far.” Fourteenth Prince Gu Yunsha frowned. “In the end, breaking through to become a Daoshaper requires both talent and luck. Even if you have the talent, if you don’t have the luck you won’t be able to achieve anything.”
Lou Baiyue raised her head to stare into the skies. “The first transformation, ‘ingest qi, avoid grains’, allows Daoshapers to survive on qi alone, ignoring all mortal foods. They use their powerful psychic energies to draw upon the spiritual qi of the world. When that happens, their bodies become free of mortal filth. I truly do look forward to that day.”
“Baiyue, you are training in the [Su-Yin Sutra], which was created by Lady Su in the olden days. My imperial father gained this sutra after he tamed the Lady Su Sect. I didn’t expect him to give it to you to train. It seems my imperial father dotes on you even more than he does his sons.” Gu Yunsha’s voice was filled with quite a bit of jealousy. “Lady Su’s Sutra is an Emperor-class technique, as Lady Su was the empress to an ancient Son of Heaven. Even my own [Cloudscraping Might] is merely a King-class technique.”
“I hear that the Seventh Prince has already reached the eighth transformation, ‘true samadhi fire’. If he can survive the tribulation of true samadhi fire setting his body alight, he’ll be able reach the ninth transformation, ‘jade body’. I imagine his cultivation level is the highest amongst the princes.” Lou Baiyue’s words were filled with hidden meaning. “The first nine transformations of Daoshapers are described as ‘ingest qi, avoid grains’, ‘nine oxen, two tigers’, ‘copper skin, iron bones’, ‘swallow metal, dissolve stones’, ‘hundred apertures awakening’, ‘aether qi’, ‘soaring airbound’, ‘true samadhi fire’, and ‘jade body’. Once you reach the ninth transformation and gain a ‘jade body’, your body shall become completely pure and free from all sickness, with your lifespan extending to five hundred years.”
“Hmph! Number Seven is the son of the Empress. It can be said he’s in the direct line of descent. The only reason he’s reached his current level is because countless resources and tutors have been poured into his tutelage. It’s only fair that he vastly surpasses the rest of us. However, the descent of the true samadhi flames is truly dangerous. Many dazzling figures have ended up being reduced to ash as they attempted to overcome this tribulation.” Gu Yunsha had an ugly look on his face. “I don’t believe he will succeed."