Zhang Sun was well aware that the Zhang Sun Estate was not safe. If the assassins were able to find out about her trip out of the palace; then they were definitely aware of all her possible moves. As such, she couldn’t return to the estate as they were likely lying in wait for her.
The fact that the faction responsible for the assassination had its tendrils extended all the way to the Imperial Palace was unthinkable. However, these consecutive assassinations and surprises clearly said otherwise. This particular attempt had nearly cost the Empress her life if not for Qing Ning’s resolute stand.
Ning Chen and Qing Ning were both unconscious at the the moment. Zhang Sun had long since noticed the uniqueness in this child. From the moment they first met, she has had this feeling. It was said that the no matter how high one rose, they could never win against the cold. Ever since she became the Empress, she was constantly surrounded with this cold solitude. As time passed, even her family members began to treat her with a certain reverent distance.
Qing Ning was brought up by her and was thus very close to her. However, the closeness she showed was one of respect instead of kinship. If there was any other emotion, it would’ve been gratitude.
However, Ning Chen was different.
The first time she met him was when she saw him clumsily chasing something. Out of curiosity, she watched this child silently. Who knew that he would actually ram into her by accident. Even after that accident, the last thing he said to her was about the penny he was chasing.
From his eyes, she didn’t feel the usual reverence, hypocrisy, or fear; though there was a hint of guilt. However, it was mostly awkwardness that she saw in his eyes, and also that penny. The little eunuch even tried to get it back.
After that fateful encounter, she brought him to Weiyang Palace. She knew that a child like this would definitely get into trouble if he was posted elsewhere. Unexpectedly, instead of thanking her, he seemed to be slightly reluctant. This was made abundantly clear when she met him again.
The matter regarding Mars staying at Antares was truly unexpected. She specially summoned him in order to ascertain the facts. She was a veteran in the political scene and as such only those old antiques were able to deceive her. Ning Chen, on the other hand was merely a teenager of 15 to 16 years of age. She could easily see through his lies.
Mars staying at Antares was usually not a serious issue. However, the timing of it was impeccable. The Xia Emperor had just decided to dispatch the troops and yet the Head Astrologer decided to hide this fact from him. The intent behind this deception sent shivers down one’s spine.
Today as she was preparing to leave for Zhang Sun Estate, Qing Ning suddenly decided to pull Ning Chen along, stunning her, but she decided not to inquire why.
However, this wasn’t the last or biggest surprise she received. What truly surprised her was Ning Chen’s performance today. The calmness he showed as he brought her to the pharmacy and the way he immediately asked for sulfur and saltpeter from the manager to concoct some strange contraption was shocking.
Later on, she got the manager to check on the scene of the assassination, and the report she got depicted a half-destroyed street that seemed to have been blown up by something. By the time the palace troops arrived, all they found were shreds of flesh and bone.
Ning Chen’s series of stunning performances left her speechless. She had even asked the manager if he had ever heard of blood transfusion; however the answer she got was a negative. It didn’t even exist in the medical books. Whether she believed in blood transfusion or not, the results spoke for themselves. Qing Ning’s pulse had stabilized substantially and had clearly made it past the critical stage.
However, just like the matter with Mars staying at Antares, she made sure to keep his accomplishments a secret. This wasn’t her suppressing his accomplishments, but instead her attempt at protecting him. His roots were still too shallow in the palace. If he suddenly rose to the top, it would invite the envy and plotting of others.
By now, the fact that someone attempted to assassinate her had probably spread to the Imperial Palace already. The fact that Ning Chen was able to successfully bring her to safety and then bring Qing Ning back; showed that no one knew about her whereabouts.
She had thought about asking the manager to send a letter to Zhang Sun Estate but immediately banished that thought. If someone with ill intent found out about his trip, it was likely that they would have already sent more assassins to the pharmacy by the time he got to the estate.
The best candidate to send was probably Ning Chen because he was still a fresh face in the palace. Furthermore, he did not have an identity tied to him like the manager. Even if they spotted him, they would not link him to the pharmacy.
As she pondered about the matter of dispatching a letter, Ning Chen coughed and opened his eyes.
Hearing his voice brought her back to reality. She immediately poured a cup of water and carefully brought it to his lips.
In the midst of his grogginess, he was unable to discern the identity of the person bringing water. As such, he drank a few sips of water before abruptly pushing away the cup, heading straight to sleep, without a word of thanks.
Zhang Sun laughed helplessly at this sight. This was the first time she served someone else in such a manner. Even the Xia Emperor wasn’t able to enjoy this kind of service.
On the other bed, Qing Ning was still unconscious; she was severely injured after all. Waking up was not possible in the short term. Thankfully, this was a pharmacy; whatever she needed for recovering was available here. As long as she wasn’t in danger of dying, recovering was only a matter of time.
Time passed by in a flash and soon it was night time. As the darkness drowned out the evening sky, the stars showed their faces once more. Zhang Sun stood silently at the window, her brows knit tightly together. The matter of Mars staying at Antares weighed heavily on her.
At the same time in the palace, the Xia Emperor stood and looked up at the night sky as well. As his dragon robes fluttered in the cold night wind, no one dared to interrupt him.
In the southern skies, the Emperor’s star shone brightly as ever. At its side, Mars remained as dark as it was last night. There didn’t seem to be any change. However, if one looked closely, they would notice that the two were closer to each other.
In the western reaches of the Xia empire, in an unknown barren shrine, an average looking youth stepped out. It was a simple step but the distance it crossed was immeasurable. At the moment that youth stepped out of the shrine, the barren region vanished into thin air as if it had never existed.
What people didn’t know was that this shrine was the first shrine of the Eternal Night Cult. What they didn’t know as well, was that this youth was the Cult’s Son of God.
Mars stays at Antares and the mortal world darkens for a hundred years.
This was the prophecy of the Eternal Night. This same prophecy appeared as well in the Northern Mongol’s court, in the Western Doya Temple and in Grand Xia’s Ashen Heaven’s Academy.
At this moment, on the horizon, a shocking change occurred. The previously dim Mars quickly lit up. The duel of the stars. The crimson skies.
“It’s truly Heaven’s will.”
The Imperial Teacher sighed as he stared at the horizon. The appearance of this evil star signaled the arrival of calamity. Looks like Grand Xia was in for a tumultuous period.
“Taishi, you’ve become obstinate!”
A light hearted tone was mixed in with this voice as it called out to the man. A resplendent silhouette walked out at this moment. It was a beautiful man who looked to be about 30 years of age. This was one of the three grand dukes, Duke Xiyu.
“My dear friend, you didn’t visit me in the dead of night just to make fun of Taishi right?” The Imperial Teacher said in a mild tone as he turned towards his visitor.
“I knew that my dear friend would be upset tonight so I decided to accompany him.” He replied with a light smile.
“Oh? Well then, Taishi expresses his gratitude!”
“Ahem, you’re welcome.”
“Despite being nearly a century old, you are still as shameless as ever.” Taishi joked in a sarcastic tone.
“Hah, you don’t say.” Xiyu replied lightly with his usual smile.
This night marked the start of a tumultuous period for the mainland. As everyone looked at the two stars, the Xia Emperor felt a sudden bout of weakness. To those concerned, this was a good night. The True Dragon’s destiny of the Xia Dynasty stood unshaken for a thousand years. However, all this changed tonight. The dragon destiny began weakening and this meant that the Grand Xia was no longer invincible. The state of the Divine Continent was about to change.
Destiny was an intangible manifestation of the momentum in the world. In the past, the Divine Continent was much more fragmented and was embroiled in constant warfare. The Xia dynasty rode this momentum to conquer a large portion of the continent and established a 1,000 year dynasty. Their domineering destiny had even toppled the time immemorial Eternal Night Cult, forcing them into hiding. These past 1,000 years were undoubtedly the era of Grand Xia.
But now, the Grand Xia’s destiny was weakening. What did this mean?
The wise men of the world knew that this meant the Grand Xia’s invincibility was no longer untouchable.
Fortunately, there weren’t many wise men in this world. The number of people who truly deserved the title of ‘wise-man’ could be counted on one hand.
“Such a beautiful pair of stars!”
At this moment in Du An Pharmacy, while Zhang Sun was brooding over this phenomenon, Ning Chen was standing by the window sill gazing at the stars. He had gotten up a while ago and after checking on Qing Ning, he wrapped a blanket around himself and walked to the window.
Zhang Sun was thoroughly dismayed by that remark. Only Ning Chen would be able to say such a thing during this sensitive period.
However, Zhang Sun had to admit, if the meaning behind this phenomenon was set aside, the sight of these two stars dueling was truly beautiful.
Suddenly, she recalled the story that Qing Ning had recounted to her; about how he climbed onto her roof to stare at the stars. This kid really seems to love stargazing.
“Ning Cheng, do you enjoy stargazing?” She asked, partly out of boredom and partly out of curiosity.
“Yup.” He replied in a distracted tone as he counted the stars.
“Your 16th birthday hasn’t passed right?”
“Your home isn’t in the Imperial Capital?”
“The expert you mentioned last night was made up wasn’t it?”
As the words left his mouth, he finally reacted to the question. He turned to face Zhang Sun, slightly vexed. As expected, the older they are, the more cunning they are! She barely broke a sweat dealing with a youngster like him.
Zhang Sun looked at the guilty looking Ning Chen and gently said “In lieu of you saving me today, I will overlook this matter. You’ve already accumulated two meritorious deeds of no small magnitude. You may make a few requests of this Empress, she will consider them.”
“As many as I want?” Ning Chen eyes lit up as he heard this, the excitement apparent in his eyes.
“How many do you want?” She asked, quietly chuckling in her heart.
After an intense mental debate, he carefully stuck out his palm. Seeing the dangerous glint in Zhang Sun’s eyes, he immediately lowered three of his fingers.
“Is two okay?”
“Go ahead.” Zhang Sun nodded.
“I don’t want to be a eunuch; I want to leave the palace.” Ning Chen immediately continued, his eyes shining once more. He had kept this in his heart for too long. With a chance to escape before him, he finally let it out.
Zhang Sun was momentarily stunned by his request. She did not expect him to say this. After considering for a moment, she shook her head and said, “No.”
Ning Chen was completely wound up by now and immediately rebutted, “A man’s word is his bond. Your Majesty is the Empress, you can’t just renege on your promises.”
She wasn’t angered by impropriety but instead replied calmly, “This empress is a woman, not a man. Besides, this one only said she would consider your requests, she never promised to fulfill them.”
Ning Chen was hopping mad as he sat on his bed like a child throwing a tantrum.
“This chance has been used up, you have one more opportunity to make a request.” Zhang Sun reminded him.
“There’s no more.”
Ning Chen replied curtly as he turned around and covered himself with his blanket and gave her the silent treatment.
“There’s no rush, once you’ve decided on something, you can tell me,” she happily said. Seeing him defeated lifted up her spirits.
The “mmm” signified his assent but more likely it represented his silent protest…