Chapter 34 – Third Prince

The Flameshark continued to advance.  Two days later it had travelled over four thousand kilometers, exiting the Stone Province and arriving at the Oblation Province.

The Oblation Province was once an independent empire, and as a result it covered an enormous amount of space.  It was tens of times larger than the Stone Province in size, and its land was flat and fertile.  The climate was moderate, and streams criss-crossed the land.  It was a prosperous place, and its citizens were valiant and hardy.

By all rights such a large province should’ve been split up into many different provinces, but they had killed too many people during the conquest and pacification process.  The Imperium had feared forcibly dividing it into different provinces would result in more civil strife, and so it had been left behind as a single administrative entity.

The waters of the canals were calm and gentle within the Oblation Province, with the canals themselves being wider.  It was like sailing on a vast lake or the sea, with the only thing off in the horizon being more water.  The rivers were congested with hundreds of barges, resulting in the Flameshark having to slow down its sailing speed significantly.

Those other ships consisted of official vessels, merchant vessels, military vessels, and civilian vessels that were used for shipping.  A war was about to begin, which meant that there was a great opportunity for merchants to make money.  There were many trading organizations who had come here to make their fortunes.

There were also many military vessels who were in charge of maintaining order on the canals.  These were all ironclad turbines outfitted with iron cannons which were aimed threateningly at any who dared to violate the law.

However, all the military vessels quickly parted when they saw the Flameshark.  In fact, they actually escorted it to ensure that a smooth corridor of passage was available.

The Flameshark had a dragon banner flying atop it, and there were two words written atop the dragon banner – ‘Imperial Envoy’.  This meant that an envoy was out on an official expedition, and that anyone and everyone had to give way.

Suddenly, another large warship appeared off in the distance.  It was headed straight for them, and it had a flag with the word ‘Prince’ atop it.

The large warship came to a halt.  A smaller ship next to it flew over towards the Flameshark, and the person aboard that ship called out, “On orders from High Prince Fan, milord Envoys are hereby invited take part in a banquet which High Prince Fan has prepared.  He’d like to invite milord Envoys over to take part in the banquest and discuss your mission.”

Lou Baiyue was seated at the prow of the ship and was able to hear these words clearly.  “Let us follow High Prince Fan’s ship.  We’ll go visit those local officials.  We’ll be relying on them to take care of this mission.”

“I wonder if Number Three is planning to try and embarrass me.”  Gu Chensha didn’t have a smile on his face.  He was considering how he should handle this meeting with Gu Fansha.  “I don’t know what level of cultivation Number Three’s reached.  I’m sure you do.”  The third prince definitely wasn’t an easy person to handle.  Gu Chensha had already offended him in the process of cleaning up his estate; without question, the third prince would be looking for payback.

“Number Three is at least a Daoshaper of the fourth transformation, ‘swallow stone, dissolve stones’.  His internal organs are as powerful and fiery as a furnace.  But of course, that’s only what my spies have been able to discover.  Given his shrewdness, he has certainly been hiding his full power from everyone.  I personally think that there is a chance that he has reached the fifth transformation, ‘hundred apertures awakening’ and is currently attempting to break through to the sixth transformation of ‘aether qi’.  If he can reach that level, it’ll be a fundamental breakthrough for him.”  Lou Baiyue’s voice was thoughtful and reasoned.  “But if given four or five years, I’ll be able to surpass him.”

The first five transformations all involved training the body.  Only after reaching the sixth transformation would the body begin to store aether qi.  This would completely transform things, allowing you to strike and kill opponents from a hundred paces away with your aether qi.  Gu Chensha wasn’t even close to being a match for such a person.  He himself knew that he was no match for Number Three in combat; he’d have to rely on his brains for dealing with this man.

The Flameshark moved closer to High Prince Fan’s warship.  By now, the docks had been completely cleared of all others.  Red carpets had been rolled out, lined by local officials both great and small.

How could the officials of the Oblation Province dare to be disrespectful to the imperial envoys who had arrived?

“Respectful greetings, Lord Envoys!”  All the officials knelt down when they saw Gu Chensha and Lou Baiyue emerge from the vessel.

“You may rise,” Lou Baiyue said.  She then ignored the officials and instead watched a different group of people walk towards them.  This group was led by someone who wore battle-armor, a large yellow cloak, and a golden crown.  He looked to be merely twenty years of age, but he had a stately presence and emanated an aura of faint light that seemed impervious to all evil.  This was Third Prince Gu Fansha.

“Ahaha!  Number Nineteen, Baiyue, I didn’t expect Imperial Father to send the two of you here!  I’ve been thinking about you ever since I received the edict from the Grand Study.  I hear that you were ambushed midway through your journey by the Blackfiend Bat?  How are you doing?  Unharmed, I trust?”  Gu Fansha walked at the very front, and his voice was quite loud and friendly.  Someone who didn’t understand the situation would believe that he genuinely felt brotherly comraderie towards the two.

Gu Chensha, however, knew that his third brother was the type of person to ‘conceal daggers in his laughter’.  He was quite a diabolical figure, diametrically different from Tenth Prince Gu Zhensha and far more fearsome.

“Thank you for asking, Third Brother.  I’m fine,” Gu Chensha replied as he carefully scanned the area.

“Your mission is an urgent one, so I won’t waste words.  Since Imperial Father has sent you here as envoys to pacify the masses, that means something big is about to happen.  I’ve already arranged a banquet.  Let’s eat and chat at the same time.”  Gu Fansha’s face suddenly turned grim and filled with a murderous aura.  He truly was a person who could change attitudes at the drop of a hat.

“I was thinking the same thing.”  Lou Baiyue didn’t mind at all, and she immediately strode forwards.

Gu Chensha remained silent, following by her side.  Although he was also an imperial envoy on this mission, his foundation was weak.  It was best for him to first find his footing rather than go out of his way to find trouble.  He would let Lou Baiyue take the lead for now.

Near the shore was a government hall that was wide and spacious.  It was surrounded by many armored guards, and music could be heard emanating from within it.  It was quite lively.

If I didn’t come here as an imperial envoy, I’d probably be completely ignored and neglected.  Third Brother wouldn’t even come to meet me.  Now that I’m on an important assignment, however, Third Brother has to take things seriously.  Otherwise, the imperial historians and the newspapers will all criticize him as being disrespectful of his Majesty’s envoys, which would be a serious blow to his reputation.  Gu Chensha sat down in one of the main seats, located above all of the others.  He stared down at the many local officials, feeling slightly dizzy.  This was his first time seated at the head of a banquet, and he was about to engage in a discussion of great national importance.

He scanned the audience.  Each had their own plans and schemes, while he himself was like an orphan with no one to trust and depend on.  Could this be what it feels like to be emperor?  Gu Chensha pondered for a moment before coming back to his senses.  He was going to follow Lou Baiyue’s lead for now.  She seemed quite calm and at-ease.  Clearly, she had done this many times and was more than ready to handle such affairs.

The Oblation Province held a total of twenty-four prefectures, and each of the prefectural inspector-generals had been gathered here.  The various prefectural generals had been gathered here as well.

Now that the entire nation was linked together by the canal system, a ship could travel a distance of two or three thousand kilometers in a single night, making it quite convenient for the various officials in each province to hold meetings.

“Gentlemen, I come on orders from his Majesty to pacify and inspect the Oblation Province.  My mission is to ensure that by next spring, our army will have a stable base to operate from.  The imperial court is throwing the might of the entire Imperium into wiping out the wilders.  This is a national strategy of the highest order.”  Lou Baiyue didn’t mince words at all, speaking with great sharpness and precision.  The atmosphere instantly grew increasingly solemn.  The officials all looked at Third Prince Gu Fansha, hoping that he would help dissolve the tension.

“Baiyue, you don’t have to be that impatient to get started.  Number Nineteenth is also one of Imperial Father’s envoys and has the responsibility of pacifying some of the important locals here in the Oblation Province.  I hear he’s awakened the Titan Spirit Bloodline, which means that the local worshippers of the Titan Spirit would view him almost as a god.”  The third prince let out a soft laugh, interrupting Lou Baiyue.  “Number Nineteen, what do you think?”

“My learning is shallow and limited, and I’ve never been an envoy before.  Imperial Father has primarily sent me on this mission as a learning experience.  I really don’t have any insights to share.”  Gu Chensha hastily waved his hands.  “I’ll listen to Princess Moonseal in all things.  She’s our main commander this time.”

In speaking this way, he was showing completely disregard for his own prestige as a prince.  Anyone who heard this would undoubtedly think the speaker to be quite useless, something which none of the other princes were willing to accept.  He, however, really didn’t care.  He would let Lou Baiyue take the brunt of the problems while he first found his footing.

The third prince frowned.  He had believed that Gu Chensha would be impatient to accomplish something on his very first mission, and so was going to make use of that impatience to drive a wedge between Gu Chensha and Lou Baiyue.  Once the two envoys were of differing opinions, it would be difficult for them to disrupt the third prince’s own base of power here in the Oblation Province.  He didn’t expect that Gu Chensha would speak in such a self-abasing manner, acknowledging before all these officials that Lou Baiyue was in charge.  This was a technique designed to feign a retreat in order to make an advance.

“Fine, then.  Let’s chat while eating.”  The third prince clapped his hands, causing willowy, graceful, and beautiful maidservants to come in bearing platters of fruit.  There was no meat on the platters, but the fruit was quite extraordinary.  A fresh, fragrant smell assaulted the nostrils, causing an invigorating feeling.

The seated officials were each given platters with three thumb-sized, crimson dates that looked as though they were on fire.  Gu Chensha, Lou Baiyue, and Gu Fansha, however, had something else alongside the dates; a green peach.  This peach looked almost jade in color but was translucent.  One could see the energies circulating inside of it.  Without question, it was an extraordinary item.

“These are flame dates and ‘Violet-Azure Immortal Peaches’,” the third prince explained.  “I acquired them after I breached one of the wilder outposts and destroyed their shrine.  There were a number of trees within the temple which the elders of the wilder shrine had poured tremendous effort into maintaining.

“The fruit was meant for two things – sacrifices to their gods, and to strengthen their experts.  Flame dates contain fire-attribute spiritual qi.  Ordinary people who consume them can use them to temper their bones, flesh, and organs.  A single date is equivalent to ten years of hard training… and these Violet-Azure Immortal Peaches are even more incredible.  They contain two streams of azure qi and violet qi which are indescribably marvelous.  Even Daoshapers would fight over the chance to use them.”

Gu Chensha didn’t stand on ceremony.  He immediately picked up the peach and began to eat.  “Thank you, Third Brother.  I’ll be the first to enjoy this delicacy.”

He had read of these peaches in the books.  They were a specialty produce of the wilders which were extremely rare.  The wilders viewed the trees which produced them as ‘godtrees’.  The trees naturally were bi-colored, and just like Daoshapers they were able to draw in spiritual energy from the natural world.  A person who trained seated below such a tree would be nourished by its spiritual energy and could train many times faster than normally.  As a result, wilder experts often meditated below these Violet-Azure Godtrees.

As for the Violet-Azure Immortal Peaches, they were fruits which were born from the godtrees themselves.  The flowers took thirty years to bloom, another thirty years to bear fruit, and yet another thirty years for the fruit to ripen.  In other words, each peach generally took nearly a hundred years to fully form.

The wilders would erect their shrines around places they discovered these Violet-Azure Godtrees then tend to them, preventing any others from coming near.

The peach went straight down into Gu Chensha’s belly.  Its energies quickly began to circulate through his meridians like a dragon.  Gu Chensha mentally inspected his internals, only to find that the azure qi and the violet qi were as harmonious as yin and yang.  They were tempering his blood and flesh.

This really is a fine item.  Number Three would only ever bring them out at a time like this.  Lucky me.  He began to eat the flame dates as well.  Once again, they seemed to melt as soon as he bit into them, transforming into a warm surge of energy which continuously circulated through his seven main apertures.

None of the local officials would give up a chance like this either.  All of them ate the flame dates they had been given, with some just eating one and saving the other two in order to bring it back home.

Flame dates were quite rare as well.  Although someone as wealthy as Third Prince Gu Fansha was able to bring them out as gifts, ordinary officials rarely had a chance to eat them.  These things simply couldn’t be pur chased with money alone, as those who acquired them would rarely choose to sell them.  They would consume them or give them to their disciples to eat.

“Alright!  Now that we’re all fully fed, it’s time to turn to the real business at hand.”  Lou Baiyue saw that everyone was more or less done eating and so she began to issue commands.  Instantly, the entire room fell dead silent.  The officials felt their hearts clench once more.

“Inspector-General of Banan Prefecture, step forward immediately!”  Lou Baiyue pointed at one of the officials.  “On the third day of the previous month, the Blackfiend Sect caused chaos and seduced the hearts of the commoners in three counties within Banan Prefecture – Peach County, Peace County, and Tea County.  The wilders fanned the flames, causing all three counties to rot away.  By now, those three counties are hotbeds for vile cults.  Thousands of commoners have been massacred over the course of a single month, sacrificed to the Vile Gods.  As inspector-general, why did you not send the army to exterminate them?”

“This junior official has made preparations quite some time ago.  The army has already been sent to block off the roads to those three counties, preventing those evil cults from spreading any further.”  The Banan Prefecture inspector-general didn’t seem the slightest bit nervous, immediately rising to his feet.  “However, the evil cults have too many experts.  I wasn’t able to exterminate them right away.”

“Then why didn’t you report them right away as soon as they caused trouble?  Were you afraid that the imperial court would strip you of your position?”  Lou Baiyue’s voice grew even sharper.

“This junior official had no such intentions.”  The Banan Prefecture inspector-general’s voice was unyielding as well.  “I was taking the big picture into consideration.  I was afraid that if word of these evil cults spread, it would cause restlessness in the imperial capital and result in the Imperium’s prestige being tainted.  I wanted to ensure stability.”

“Absolute nonsense!”  Lou Baiyue was enraged.  “Inspector-General of Banan Prefecture, you’ve neglected your station and have allowed the hundreds of thousands of citizens with those three counties to be abused and murdered by evil cults.  Every single day you delay, more of our people are being butchered and sacrificed by those cultists!  How dare you gloss over such atrocities with such pathetic excuses?  Guards, seize that man!”

“Wait a minute!”  Third Prince Gu Fansha suddenly interrupted in a dark, gloomy voice.

Instantly, the atmosphere within the hall grew tense.  The divisions were now stark and apparent.

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