“Please help me.”
“Why should I help Your Highness?”
“Because I’m one of the Tangs.”
“The Sixth Prince is also a citizen of Tang.”
“But his mother isn’t.”
“The Tang Empire is always open and inclusive. It never cared about things like this.”
“Please trust me.”
“Why should I trust Your Highness?”
“Because you don’t trust the Empress.”
Li Yu looked at the familiar handwriting on the edict and felt sad all of a sudden.
It was her father’s handwriting. Just like how the rumors went, no matter how enamored he was with calligraphy and no matter how hard he practiced, he could not improve his handwriting.
However, in the meticulous handwriting, one could see that her father was very calm and composed when writing it. There was no hesitation nor struggle.
Li Yu held the edict with trembling hands. Her fingers pressed down, looking as if they were about to sink into the yellow cloth. The tremor passed from her arm to her shoulders, and she trembled all over.
She felt extremely disappointed and sad, and then, she grew angry. It was not just because of the contents in the edict, but more so because of the composure in her father’s handwriting.
“How could this be?”
She said softly.
Then, she repeated the question, her voice filled with frustration and discontent.
“How could this be?!”
Her voice was louder than before, but it did not ring outside the Taoist temple or through the rainy night outside. No one else heard it, and it was no louder than the sound of her teeth clacking.
Li Qingshan said, “This was written right before His Majesty passed. Since he left an edict, it proves that he had felt the will of Heaven. But you should be able to see that he had decided on this since a long time ago.”
Li Yu was silent for a long time. Then, she suddenly lifted her head and wiped away the tears on her face with her sleeve. She looked at Li Qingshan, who laid on the couch and asked in a trembling voice, “Can the edict be edited?”
Li Qingshan massaged his eyelids and said, “Not usually.”
A glimmer of light appeared in Li Yu’s eyes and she asked, “Why not usually?”
Li Qingshan glanced at her and said, “It can be edited when the country is in turmoil.”
Li Yu asked, “Who can edit it?”
Li Qingshan answered, “I can.”
Naturally, the Tang Emperor’s edict could not be easily forged. There were the imperial seal and complicated emblems on it. The crux of the matter was that the edict bore a unique stamp that was the aura of Heaven and Earth.
Part of that stamp came from the royal blood and part from the witnesses of the edict.
Before His Majesty had left Chang’an, he had written the edict in the Southern Gate Temple in the presence of his most trusted Nation Master Li Qingshan and his younger brother, Master Huang Yang.
The imperial seal was in the imperial palace, on the couch of Li Yu, who helmed the country according to orders given to her.
Li Yu looked at Li Qingshan’s old and haggard face and asked with a trembling voice, “What do you want?”
Li Qingshan looked at the beautiful woman in front of him who was wearing a damp dress. She looked like the little girl who fussed beside her mother many years ago. A nostalgic smile appeared on his face.
Then he said calmly, “I want the Tang Empire to continue for many more generations. I want the South School of Haotian Taoism to flourish. I want the Tangs to live a carefree life. Your Highness, can you promise me this?”
Li Yu left the Southern Gate Temple.
Before long, the shocking news would spread through the torrential rain and enter the mansions of officials in Chang’an. A grand assembly was not supposed to be held tomorrow, but there was bound to be one.
The South Gate Temple was still silent in the rain as if nothing had happened. The oil lamps could only illuminate the corners of the Taoist Temple.
He Mingchi knelt before an oil lamp, most of his body hidden in the shadows.
Li Qingshan knelt on his sickbed and looked above him silently as if he could see the rain falling on the temple. He frowned slightly and lamented, “I edited the edict today and went against the laws of the Tang Empire and His Majesty’s wishes. I wonder how the history books would be written when I die and how His Majesty would view me.”
He Mingchi did not speak. It was inappropriate no matter what he said at this time.
“But I do not regret it because Her Highness was right. Rather than saying that I trust in her and Prince Huiyuan, I would say that I can’t trust the Empress. How can I allow the Saintess of Diabolism to rule the Tang Empire?”
Li Qingshan said indifferently, “If it wasn’t for her, would His Majesty die young?”
He Mingchi looked up at him and thought of the officials and citizens in the imperial court and the streets. They all thought that Her Majesty and the Nation Master were close. Who would have expected that the truth differed so greatly?
“Chang’an City has had too many funerals in the past years. The senior statesmen and old generals have all left us one by one. Now, the Emperor is dead, and so is the Headmaster. What else could this be other than Heaven’s will?”
Li Qingshan turned to say to He Mingchi, “If I recall correctly, you are from Qinghe County?”
He Mingchi answered with his head hung low, “I am from a branch family of the He Clan in Qinghe County.”
Li Qingshan said, his eyes slightly closed, “Is it the He Clan that had once produced a Great Divine Priest of West-Hill?”
He Mingchi answered after a brief moment of silence, “That’s right.”
Li Qingshan looked at his most beloved disciple and sighed. He said, “It seems like I was right. You belong to the Hierarch Lord. No wonder you were so interested in the God-stunning Array.”
He Mingchi suddenly felt cold. He leaned forward and placed his hand on the black wooden floors and trembled, not knowing what to say.
“The Hierarch Lord’s greatest wish is to lead the Papal Cavalrymen into Chang’an, bringing the Tang Empire back into the light of the West-Hill Divine Palace. That is why he wants to get rid of the God-stunning Array more than anyone else.”
Li Qingshan said, “You have cultivated and served in the Southern Gate Temple for so many years, just to find the Array Eye Pestle. However, it is a pity that you are not talented in Talisman Taoism, so Senior Brother Yan Se would not accept you as his disciple and the pestle was given to Ning Que. Now that the pestle is in the Academy, you have no way to get it. That’s why you visit the building in the palace often lately to see if there is any other way to break through the array.”
He Mingchi only knew then that he had not managed to hide what he had been doing all these years from his teacher. It was true that the Tang Nation Master was not one who was easily hoodwinked.
He asked in a trembling voice, “Teacher, since you know this, why did you not expose me?”
Li Qingshan answered, “Because you are my most beloved disciple. Because I am struggling as well.”
“Xia Hou was from the Devil’s Doctrine, but he became a visiting professor of Haotian Taoism. He was also a chief general of the Tang Empire. He spent his entire life stuck between two places and suffered greatly. I serve Haotian and am loyal to the Tang Empire. How can I not feel the pain?”
“I was not in pain and did not struggle in the past because I did not have to choose. I know that the Tang Empire will be stable if it continues down the same path. But there have been many changes to the situation and I want to make a decision for the Tang Empire that would lead it to greater stability. That is why I chose the Princess and did not expose you…”
Li Qingshan said, “The people of the world say that Chang’an City cannot be infiltrated. The cultivation world is in awe of the power behind the God-stunning Array, but few know that it is the Headmaster who cannot be defeated.”
“You would be dead if the Headmaster weren’t dead.”
He looked at He Mingchi and said, “But the Headmaster is dead, and he proved once more that Haotian cannot be defeated. Haotian Taoism will not let the Academy or the Tang Empire off. And this time, without the Headmaster’s Academy, we cannot fight against the world through our own efforts like how we have in the past millennia. That is why the Tang Empire is bound to fail.”
“To ensure the survival of the Tang Empire, we have to return to Haotian’s embrace.”
“I know of the agreement between you and Prince Huiyuan. But don’t forget the Tangs are also believers of Haotian and you are also a Tang. That is why I hope that you will limit the bloodshed in this process.”
He Mingchi remained silent for a long while. Then, he kowtowed once and said, “I will fight for this with my life.”
It’s still raining, but it seemed as if it snowed in Chang’an.
The millennia-old city turned white overnight. Streamers fluttered in the streets, and the people who stood under eaves for shelter wore somber faces and many wore hemp in respect.
Only a small portion of this white colored sentiment of grief was for the Headmaster. It was because the Headmaster’s presence was not obvious and not many ordinary people knew that the protector of the world had died.
The citizens of Chang’an were grieving for the protector of the Tang Empire, their benevolent and wise Emperor. The beloved Emperor had passed away, leaving behind cries ringing from countless homes. It was worth it.
The officials knelt before the palace in the rain, their robes long soaked. The armor the generals wore shone as they were washed clean by the rain.
An eunuch stood on the steps, reading the edict.
Several Grand Secretaries and Governors, Ministers and Generals stood behind the eunuch. Their expressions were varied, some were shocked and some were surprised, but they were all sorrowful.
A new ruler was welcomed, before the Tang Empire managed to wake up from the somberness.
Li Huiyuan walked to the seat in the middle of the palace. Then, he turned to sit.
From that moment on, he was no longer the prince, but the Emperor.
His face was still tinged with an unhealthy pallor, but it was no longer innocent and tender nor was it unnaturally noble anymore. The coldness in his eyes had become one of sternness, but his expression was naturally gentle.
It was only then when the officials of the Tang Empire realized that the Prince had grown up.
They looked at the new Emperor who gradually exuded a heroic aura. Some of the older officials looked at the face that bore a strong resemblance to his father and sad tears streamed down their faces.
The officials and generals who belonged to the Empress’ party knelt and paid their respects like their colleagues. They were silent and respectful, but their hearts were heavy, and some even doubted the edict.
However, there was no way to fake the edict and they did not have proof.
They could only wait for the Empress to bring another prince back to Chang’ an with the coffin of the previous Emperor.
Before that, they could only pin their hopes on two places that everything could be changed.
Some went to the Academy, but the Academy had shut its doors, refusing visitors.
The official recalled that the Headmaster had passed away.
Another official visited the Southern Gate Temple. Those at the imperial court only realized later that the Emperor’s edict was kept there, so they wanted to consult the Nation Master, Li Qingshan.
The doors of the Southern Gate Temple opened. He Mingchi exited with a white belt tied around his waist.
The Nation Master, Li Qingshan had passed away from illness.
From now on, he was the new abbey dean of the Southern Gate Temple. He was also the leader of the South School of Haotian Taoism.