The brightly lit inner palace was a dazzling yet imposing sight. Green smoke rose in spirals from the green rock that burned within each oil lamp, and weaved about in the palace.
The green rocks were blue sandalwood. They gave off a rare fragrance when burnt that had a meditative effect and was one of the necessities for cultivation. However, such items were not cheap. Hence, their usage as fuel was enough to show the status of the palace's owner.
A middle-aged man stood within the inner palace with his hands behind his back. Unwavering determination decorated his face, and his eyes contained a dignified aura, evidence that he had occupied a high ranking position for a long time. A faint aura appeared to rise behind him, which seemed to fluctuate between fire and lightning as it emitted m.u.f.fled rumbling sounds.
However, if one looked towards his right arm, one would find that there was nothing there. His right arm had been severed.
At this man's side was a beautiful woman in palace garments. Her lovely body was slim, and her features were natural and pretty. However, her face appeared exceptionally pale and sickly.
At this current time, the man and woman, whom were clearly of substantial status, had a sliver of worry on their faces, as they looked at the thirteen year old youngster seated on a bed in front of them. The youngster's body was rather frail and his eyes were tightly shut. However, a tendril of blood Qi circled on a face that should have been br.i.m.m.i.n.g with youthful energy.
While the strange blood Qi roamed beneath his skin, the bitter and resentful howl of a dragon faintly echoed.
As the dragon howl resounded, the veins on the youngster's forehead squirmed, while his body shook continuously. His face twisted as if he was bearing an indescribable pain.
By the youngster's side was a white haired old man holding a copper mirror in his hand. Soft light s.h.i.+ned from the copper mirror onto the youngster's body. Under this light, the strange blood Qi on the youngster's face gradually began to calm down.
The blood Qi persisted for a single incense stick of time before finally retreating. In the end, it withdrew into the youngster's palm.
The white haired old man immediately breathed a sigh of relief as if he had been relieved of a great burden. Subsequently, he turned around and bowed to the worriedly waiting middle-aged man and beautiful woman in palace garments.
"Congratulations your majesties," he said. "His highness has at long last pa.s.sed this triennial ordeal. There should be no problems in the following three years."
Joy was revealed on the faces of the middle-aged man and woman in palace garments when they heard this, and their tightly clenched fists gradually loosened.
The dignified man in bright yellow robes looked at the white haired elder in an expectant manner and asked, "Master Qin, Yuan'er is already thirteen this year. Youngsters at this age usually have eight meridian channels, and can start their cultivation. What about Yuan'er?"
Upon hearing this question, the white haired elder's expression immediately dimmed somewhat, before he lightly shook his head and replied, "Your majesty, I was still unable to find the eight meridian channels in his highness' body this time…"
The dignified man's expression similarly dimmed when he heard this.
In this world, the Dao of cultivation started within one's body. The body possessed countless meridian channels, and most important amongst them were the eight great channels. With the exception of some unique circ.u.mstances, an ordinary person's eight channels would gradually form when they were about thirteen years of age. It was at this time that these eight channels needed to be found. Only by finding the eight channels would one be able to start cultivating; by taking in the Genesis energy of the land, and opening the eight channels.
This was the Channel Opening stage, and was where all cultivation began.
Through this, cultivators were able to take in the Genesis energy of the land, and completely transform themselves. Hence, they were known as Genesis Masters.
Master Qin gazed at the disappointment on the middle-aged man's face, and could not help but softly sigh, "His highness was originally born with the sacred dragon blessing. He would have stunned the world and looked down upon the heavens. Who could have foreseen that such a calamity would occur…"
The middle-aged man's fists clenched tightly, while the beautiful lady's eyes reddened. She covered her mouth and violently coughed twice.
"My queen, please take care of yourself," Master Qin hastily said upon seeing this. "You have lost a great amount of essence blood from nouris.h.i.+ng his highness. You cannot allow your emotions to run wild."
However, the beautiful lady in palace garments merely waved her hand. Sorrow surfaced in her eyes, as she looked at the youngster seated on the bed, "The poison in Yuan'er's body erupts once every three years. Each outbreak is more serious than the last. He can only rely on himself to eradicate the poison, yet his eight meridian channels have yet to appear. What is to be done three years from now?"
Master Qin was silent for some time, before he slowly replied, "After three years, external suppression will lose its effect, and if this situation persists, I'm afraid that his highness' hopes are bleak."
The moment these words were said, silence blanketed the inner palace. The middle-aged man's fists tightly clenched, as his body faintly shook, while sobbing noises were emitted through the covered mouth of the lady in palace garments.
A rather young yet calm voice suddenly emerged within this silence.
"Does that mean… I only have three years left?"
The three people in the palace were stunned upon hearing this. They quickly looked up, only to find that the youngster on the bed had opened his eyes at some unknown time, and was now staring at them.
The three exchanged a look. It was evident that none of them had expected the youngster to awaken so quickly. In the past, he had remained unconscious for two or three days before slowly awakening.
The name of this youngster, who had been called Yuan'er, was Zhou Yuan, and the middle-aged man and lady before his eyes were the king and queen of the Great Zhou Empire, Zhou Qing and Qin Yu.
Zhou Yuan's young face was rather pale, as he pursed his lips. Perhaps because his body had been frail since young, he could only read books, and thus looked rather scholarly. After being silent for a moment, he slowly extended his hand.
A dark blood-red lump could be seen at the center of his palm, which seemed to be embedded in the deepest part of his flesh. It slowly wiggled and squirmed, looking just like a threatening blood dragon. A faint yet extremely bitter and resentful aura seemed to rise from within it, causing one to s.h.i.+ver although it was not cold.
"Father, Mother… I believe it is time to tell me exactly what is happening to me, right?"
Zhou Yuan involuntarily gritted his teeth, as he stared at the tiny blood-dragon-like-thing on his palm. It was this very thing that made him feel what could be called pain beyond death.
Every three years, this thing would begin to act up. It brought with it an endless pain, that felt as if it was devouring the flesh on his body inch by inch.
When they heard Zhou Yuan's words, Zhou Qing and Qin Yu's faces lost a substantial amount of color. Zhou Qing in particular, tightly clenched his fists, as extreme remorse and self-blame surfaced on his face.
This silence lasted for a long time. Even the atmosphere seemed to grow rather heavy, before Zhou Qing finally inhaled deeply, and said in a hoa.r.s.e voice, "That is the Dragon's Resentment Poison."
"Dragon's Resentment Poison?" Zhou Yuan's eyebrows were tightly knitted together, failing to comprehend.
Zhou Qing's hands trembled somewhat as he tousled Zhou Yuan's hair and continued, "It is time for you to know of these matters. Yuan'er, you should know that you are the sacred dragon of our Zhou Clan!"
Zhou Yuan could not help but let out a bitter laugh. Was there really such a miserable sacred dragon? Even the eight channels in his body could not be found.
Zhou Qing sat down at Zhou Yuan's side. His voice was low as he spoke, "Yuan'er, the current Great Zhou Empire can perhaps only be considered a small and unimportant country, but what you do not know, is that fifteen years ago, Great Zhou was a powerful nation. Every country came to pay homage to us, and our might was overwhelming to all."
Shock surfaced on Zhou Yuan's small face. Amongst the numerous empires that dotted this boundless continent, Great Zhou Empire was really not very noteworthy at all. How could he ever imagine that it possessed such status in the past?
"Do you know of the Great Wu Empire?" Zhou Qing slowly spoke each word of this name, as if he intended to carve it into his heart.
"The Great Wu Empire?" Zhou Yuan nodded. The Great Wu Empire was one of the top level empires of this vast continent. It was a flouris.h.i.+ng nation that contained countless Genesis Masters. In comparison, Great Zhou was akin to a dwarf before a giant.
Zhou Qing's eyes were dyed red bit by bit at this moment. Deep hatred was revealed within them, "Then do you know that fifteen years ago, the current royal family of Great Wu was merely one of the subjects of the Great Zhou Empire?"
A sliver of astonishment finally appeared in Zhou Yuan's eyes. The Great Wu royal family was once a subject of Great Zhou? Was Great Zhou actually so powerful fifteen years ago?
"Then… then how did things turn out like this?" Zhou Yuan could not help but inquire.
"When Great Zhou was established several hundred years ago, the Wu clan followed at our side, as we waged war all over. They were loyal and devoted va.s.sals. Later on, Great Zhou established a country, and in recognition of their service, we conferred upon the Wu clan the hereditary t.i.tle of king Wu, allowing them to enjoy an endless amount of privilege and power. And so in the next hundred years, the Wu clan guarded the Great Zhou's borders, intimidating anyone who saw them."
Zhou Qing's body faintly shook, as veins of blood climbed out in his eyes, "However, who could have expected that the Wu clan would suddenly rebel fifteen years ago? Only then did our Zhou royal clan realise that after hiding their strength and biding their time over the years, the Wu clan already possessed extremely great power, and even the numerous conferred kings had been enticed to their side.
"In the short period of less than a year, our Zhou clan was utterly defeated, and could only escape towards the south. We fled towards our Zhou clan's ancestral land, which is also now the current Great Zhou's territory.
"I do not know why the Wu clan rebelled, the status they enjoyed in Great Zhou was not the least bit less than the royal clan…
"It was only later, that a spy obtained some information from the Wu clan. A certain prophecy that had been pa.s.sed down in the inner circle of the Wu clan for several hundred years…"
"A prophecy?" Zhou Yuan was slightly stunned.
Zhou Qing gritted his teeth, as he spat out each word, "Python and sparrow swallow the dragon, and the Great Wu will rise and flouris.h.!.+"
"Python and sparrow swallow the dragon, and the Great Wu will rise and flourish?" Zhou Yuan softly repeated these words, but he failed to understand the meaning behind them. "What does it mean?"
Zhou Qing's eyes turned scarlet red at this moment. Incomparable grief flooded his eyes as he stared at Zhou Yuan, "Back then, I too did not understand the exact meaning behind these words, until a certain day…"
"After Great Zhou was completely defeated, I led what was left of our people, and continuously retreated. The Wu clan tightly pursued us till we came to this Great Zhou City beneath our feet. However, the Wu clan merely surrounded us and did not attack, as if they were waiting for something."
"What were they waiting for?" Zhou Yuan felt a sense of unease.
Zhou Qing stared at Zhou Yuan. From the expression on the former's face, it was as if he was crying inside. The mixture of such despair and anger made Zhou Yuan's heart tremble.
"They were waiting for you to be born."
Zhou Qing's words caused Zhou Yuan's heart to shudder violently. He had been caught completely off guard.
By the side, Zhou Yuan's mother, Qin Yu, was already covering her mouth. Sobs that had been suppressed to the limit were emitted.
"Do you know what it was like when you were born?" Zhou Qing gazed at Zhou Yuan with red eyes. "Yuan'er, the moment you were born, a mystical sign appeared in the heavens. Dragon Qi swirled around you, and a dragon roar shook the land. It was the sign of the sacred dragon."
"Your eight meridian channels naturally opened at birth, allowing you to skip the Channel Opening stage, and reach the Qi nouris.h.i.+ng level."
"This is known as the legendary one-in-a-billion sacred dragon blessing, which bestows upon one the potential to reach the greater cultivation stages. As our Zhou clan's unprecedented sacred dragon, you would have s.h.i.+ned as brightly as the sun and moon, and have the longevity of the land!"
Zhou Qing's voice was overflowing with emotion, while his entire body violently shook. One could imagine just how emotionally moved he had been when Zhou Yuan was born. The heavens had not forsaken the Zhou clan, and allowed them to welcome the birth of a sacred dragon during such a calamity.
Zhou Yuan's eyes widened. It was clear that he was unable to believe that such a phenomenon had appeared when he was born.
"Then… then why…?" His hands trembled slightly, as he touched his body. Since his eight meridian channels were naturally open, why were they now unable to be found in his body?
Zhou Qing's emotional voice came to an abrupt halt. The brilliance in his eyes seemed to vanish completely at this moment. There was only deep sadness within them, as he explained in a dejected manner, "Because the moment you were born, king Wu's wife also gave birth to a son and daughter outside the city. Python Qi coiled around the baby boy, while spirit sparrow Qi was present around the baby girl's head. Both were also blessed by destiny!"
"Moreover, according to the information we obtained, king Wu's wife had been pregnant for a whole three years without giving birth, yet she suddenly gave birth that day…"
"I never understood why before, but it finally became clear at that moment. It is said that those born on the same year, month, and day may devour each other's destiny. It turns out that the many years of plotting by the Wu clan was not simply targeted at Great Zhou, but at the dragon of our Zhou clan!"
Zhou Yuan's mouth opened and closed. A chill swiftly spread from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. "It was a scheme!"
How could there be such a coincidence. It was obvious that this plot had been brewing for a hundred years, and was aimed at their Zhou clan… a grand scheme that was specifically aimed at him.
For this, they had even used all means to stop king Wu's wife from giving birth for three years. It was all done in wait for him!
Zhou Qing nodded his head, and continued in a hoa.r.s.e voice, "It was indeed a scheme. The Wu clan had patiently waited in Great Zhou for several hundred years. They had fought our battles for us, and gained our full trust. However, who could have expected that their centuary long wait was all for your arrival!?"
"That day, king Wu entered the city and threatened us with the lives of hundreds and millions of Great Zhou citizens. He wanted to seize your sacred dragon blessing in front of your mother and I…" At this point, tears of blood flowed out from Zhou Qing's eyes.
By the side, Master Qin also wore an expression of sorrow, as he continued in a low voice, "That day, to protect your highness, his majesty fought king Wu on the Great Zhou mountain, but was no match for the latter, and one of his arms was severed. If that king Wu was not afraid that the others would destroy his highness' sacred dragon blessing, it is likely that even his majesty would have died at the king Wu's hands."
"To smoothly seize his highness' destiny, king Wu made an oath. Great Wu would not take even half a step into Great Zhou for the next hundred years."
As that frightening scene once again surged out from the depths of her mind, Qin Yu could no longer restrain her emotions. She fell to her knees before Zhou Yuan, tightly hugging him, as she started to sob in a heart wrenching manner.
"Yuan'er! My pitiful son! Mother has let you down!"
The cruel memories from that day were once again bloodily torn open. She clearly recalled how the recently born Zhou Yuan was used as an array eye, and placed on the altar that king Wu had set up.
Joining him on the altar were king Wu's recently born son and daughter.
However, one was being stolen from, while the other two were taking.
The stripping of fate was akin to peeling off one's flesh. Such pain was unimaginable.
The Qin Yu at that time had been glowing with joy mere moments before. She could only helplessly watch her child bear an endless amount of pain, so much so, that even his young cries became hoa.r.s.e.
Such despair and powerlessness had caused her to faint.
Due to this sudden surge of emotions, Qin Yu's face instantly paled. A mouthful of fresh blood was involuntarily vomited, dyeing Zhou Yuan's hair red.
"What's wrong, mother?" Zhou Yuan was greatly alarmed. He hastily helped Qin Yu wipe the blood at the corner of her mouth.
Master Qin also rushed over from the side. Gentle energy spread from his palm, and poured into Qin Yu through the top of her head, helping her steady the Qi and blood in her body. He looked at the pale Qin Yu, before he sighed towards Zhou Yuan, "Your highness, please do not blame his majesty and her majesty for being unable to protect you. Back then, his majesty had given his all, and almost died in battle."
"As for her majesty, after your destiny was stolen, she infused her own essence blood into your body. Subsequently, she gave you blood every year, allowing your highness to live till this day. However, her majesty had to pay an extremely huge price. Every time she gave her blood, her lifespan would be cut by three years. Over the past twelve years, her lifespan has already been shortened by thirty six years. This is an enormous blow to her health, and she now has less than ten years to live."
"What?! What did you say?!"
It was as if a lightning bolt had struck Zhou Yuan when he heard this. Veins of blood crazily climbed out in his eyes. He had never reacted so strongly even previously when he heard that his destiny had been stolen. After all, these events had occurred when he was still too young. Hence, he did not have overly strong feelings towards the sacred dragon blessing. Even if it was seized, he would only feel somewhat shocked.
Although the fact that he had been the target of the Wu clan's century long plot had caused huge waves of shock to rise in his heart, he was able to suppress them. However, when he found out that they had forced his beloved mother to deplete her life force, an uncontrollable killing intent rose within Zhou Yuan's heart for the very first time.
Thus, when Zhou Yuan heard Master Qin's words, he could no longer control his emotions. The blood in his body frantically rushed towards his head, causing his face to turn blood red. That delicate and immature face now appeared rather sinister.
"Wu clan, you dare to cause harm to my mother! You truly deserve to die!"
Zhou Yuan's eyes were blood red. Overflowing rage and killing intent surged in his heart, while his entire body shook.
Zhou Qing carried Qin Yu, and leaned her against a jade couch. His hair seemed to be a little whiter, and his dignified aura had practically vanished as he numbly said, "It has been said that since the Wu clan's foundations were weak, sufficient destiny is needed for them to establish a country, allow their line to continue, and awe everyone with their power. With regards to all this, your sacred dragon blessing was the ideal."
"King Wu seized your destiny, and granted it to his son and daughter. Henceforth, Great Wu was protected by the dragon and phoenix, allowing their country to prosper. The flouris.h.i.+ng Great Wu Empire owes everything to your stolen destiny."
"Meanwhile, forcibly taking away your sacred dragon blessing naturally gave rise to intense resentment. That king Wu purposely sealed this resentment in your body, thus creating the Dragon's Resentment Poison. It continuously strengthens itself by devouring your essence blood until a certain day where it will finally mature. Then, it will erupt and completely devour your life force."
"Meanwhile, your sacred dragon root was damaged, causing your naturally formed eight meridian channels to disappear. Till now, your eight meridian channels have yet to show themselves, making your journey of cultivation extremely difficult…"
Zhou Qing's tone was rather bleak, and contained an endless feeling of powerlessness. It was difficult to imagine how much despair that day had been to their Zhou clan.
On that day, the python and sparrow cried outside the city. Multi-colored lights had exploded, while they seized the opportunity to transform.
On that day, the sacred dragon wailed inside the city, turning into green smoke that rose in spirals, before fading away.
This was the python and sparrow swallowing the dragon.