Ren Baqian had only been studying for a short while when the imperial guard named Xin Zhe came in. She delivered some medicine to the second floor before coming down to address Ren Baqian, "Follow me to meet Her Majesty."
Pushing his pen and paper aside, Ren Baqian abandoned his work and followed her.
Lin Qiaole was seething as she glared at Ren Baqian's silhouette. She packed the stationery after giving only two angry snorts on account of Ren Baqian's daily gift of White Rabbit Creamy Candy.
The familiar path they walked led back to the usual palace. After entering, Ren Baqian noticed a large man wearing an official's robe standing inside.
The large man's robe was slightly different from his own. They both had the same black color, but the large man's had a wild beast motif and a yellow collar.
"Greetings, Your Majesty," Ren Baqian stopped one step behind the large man and greeted the empress.
The large man turned around and sized Ren Baqian up, asking, "Your Majesty, this is the guy?"
"This is the Storyteller of Qingxin Palace Hall. He will accompany you in receiving those people." The empress's cold, unfeeling voice drifted down.
"Alright, I've long been annoyed with those people. They have no ability yet have piles of nonsensical matters. I'd have chopped their heads off to play soccer with if they weren't here to present gifts." The large man guffawed.
"Ren Baqian, this is Honglu Judicial Officer. You'll report to him starting tomorrow, so you don't have to go to Qingxin Palace Hall for the time being. As for your position, you'll be placed under the Honglu Bureau for now. Gu Daxiong, are there any empty positions?" Her Majesty asked.
Gu Daxiong's appearance was true to his name. With his huge physique and blooming beard, the man looked not much different from a bear.
Ren Baqian continued to lower his head. He knew a little about the Honglu Bureau, like how they were mainly in charge of receiving foreign visitors and managing external affairs. They were this world's equivalent of a foreign affairs department. It made sense for him to have a position in this bureau since he was going to be in charge of handling some visitors' matters.
Honglu Judicial Officer Gu Daxiong thought for a while before suggesting, "What about Honglu Deputy?"
"Last I remember that position isn't empty," the empress questioned.
"I'll put him on leave effective immediately. He has long lost interest in the job already anyway." Gu Daxiong said with a slight scowl.
Ren Baqian was dazed by what he had just heard.
Did he really just propose that idea?
What an eye-opener.
"He's Qi Zhi right? I remember he broke the legs of four Yun Nation visitors last year. People even came to complain about it to me. We'll follow your plan then." The empress' voice sounded out, and the two of them bowed in agreement.
"That's all, if there's nothing else the both of you may leave," the empress uttered lazily. As her words trailed off, Qing Yuan served up a plate of grapes. The empress picked one up and put it into her mouth.
"I take my leave," Gu Daxiong said. As he left, Gu Daxiong flashed a row of brilliant white teeth that glistened under the palace lights at Ren Baqian.
"Step forward and continue with your story," the empress said while reclining on the couch. She wore a smudge of red eye shadow and her lips were blood-red. The sight of her plucking a grape and putting it into her mouth was extremely captivating, stirring Ren Baqian's very soul.
Ren Baqian frantically looked down after taking in the scene in front of him. Looking down any lower would have place his head underground.
"Oh? Storyteller Ren, raise your head and look at me. Why are you bowing your head?" The empress laughed languidly.
Ren Baqian looked up and almost immediately lowered his head again. The empress was usually easier to look at. Even though she was beautiful and captivating, her chilly attitude acted as a strong buffer.
Today however, her posture, redness, and languid yet charming expression, coupled with her action of putting grapes into her mouth was too much of a tease for Ren Baqian to bear. He awkwardly coughed. "Your Majesty's appearance shines over everyone like a sun at the peak of noon. Your humble subject feels ashamed of his inferiority and finds it difficult to look straight at you."
"Shines over everyone?" The empress asked.
"Indeed, no one else is even fit to be used as comparison." Ren Baqian replied with his head bowed. Even though he often saw celebrities on television who had comparable appearances, their statuses were nowhere near the empress'. The person before him was the ruler of a country. Her status only exacerbated the power of the scene. Ren Baqian was so perturbed that his heart was about to leap out of his chest.
"You have a glib tongue." The empress smiled.
"Continue with the Investiture of the Gods. The stories from your country are indeed rather interesting."
"Understood." Ren Baqian hurriedly tried to calm himself down, only managing to do so after investing a good amount of time and effort. He quickly began to tell the story.
He only stopped after narrating the part where Bi Gan [God of Wealth from the Investiture of the Gods] digs out his heart. In line with previous sessions, it was a good time to stop. The lamps' oil had already been topped off several times.
"One more part. Stopping here leaves me a little uncomfortable," the empress said.
Ren Baqian was shocked to hear her speak at this point. The empress felt a whole lot less cold and a lot more human today.
He swiftly nodded his head in recognition of her words.
Lucky for him, the Investiture of the Gods was a completed classic. If he had been narrating one of those webnovels that always ended chapters with cliffhangers, he'd be in deep shit.
Continuing to the part where Imperial Tutor Wen heads to the East Sea to restore peace, Ren Baqian ended the session by saying, "Stay tuned to the next session if you would like to know the battle's outcome."
Finally done with his narration for the day, Ren Baqian felt light as a feather. He promptly felt like slapping himself when he realized what he had done.
Am I really this immersed in my role as a storyteller?
I've become one of those annoying webnovel authors that end on cliffhangers!
It seemed like this method of storytelling had been present since ancient times. Cliffhangers and suspense had been key component of stories since the time of the ancient classics. Modern webnovels were merely paying homage to these techniques learned from our forefathers.
Looking up at the empress, Ren Baqian found her squinting right back at him without uttering a single word.
Ren Baqian immediately continued with the story, up till the part Ji Chang heads to the imperial city.
It was then that the empress stood up and said, "It's getting late, you may take your leave. Focus on your duties at the Honglu Bureau for the next few days. Also, do drop by the Imperial Kitchen when you have the time to teach them some dishes for the banquet."
Ren Baqian bowed and asked, "Your Majesty, how would you like the meal to be like? What are you aiming for?"
"What do you mean?" The empress replied, a bit uncertain.
"In China, there are delicacies that look and taste amazing, dishes that look hard to swallow yet taste good, and also food, like extremely spicy chili dishes, that suit only some people," Ren Baqian explained softly.
He had suddenly thought of this after hearing the empress' orders.
The empress was not fond of those people, going so far as to send him up front to deal with them.
Ren Baqian felt like he was getting better at his role as an evil henchman.
"This is rather intriguing." The empress chuckled. "We'll discuss this again when we see who they are. Have you prepared the creamy candies?"
"I have. Shall I send them over tomorrow?" Ren Baqian hurriedly asked.
"It's fine, focus on your other matters. I'll send someone to get it tomorrow morning."
"Understood." Ren Baqian withdrew with a bow.
As he left the palace, Ren Baqian thought of how blatant he had just been. How presumptuous of him to have guessed the empress' intentions and even voice them out.
Although, things appeared to have turned out fine.
His suggestion seemed to have resonated well with the empress.