Chapter 581: No Middle Path

Zu An immediately waved his hands and said, “I’m not sharp at all, nor do I know how to read people! I’m also terribly clumsy, and I definitely can’t tend to your majesty properly!”

The corners of the emperor’s lips curved upwards as he took in Zu An’s nervous expression. “You can learn if you do not know how. There are many experienced old eunuchs in the palace who can teach you slowly.” 

Zu An gritted his teeth and said, “I’m sure Your Majesty needs me to take care of something. If you dare to turn me into a eunuch, then there will be no further discussion. I’d rather die than let that happen!”

The emperor’s eyes narrowed, and the room chilled a few degrees. “Are you threatening me?”

Zu An braced himself and said, “I am merely speaking the truth.”

The emperor snorted. “You really are quite brazen. Forget it, I’ll let you keep your two taels of flesh for now. But I’ll send you to the castration room if you handle things poorly.”

Zu An was not amused.

My jewels definitely weigh more than two taels. You might be mentally scarred if I show them to you.

The emperor removed the green hat from his head. After caressing it gently, he picked up a book from his desk and tossed it to Zu An. “Memorize the contents, and then find a way to get it into King Qi’s hands.”

Zu An instinctively caught it. The cover of this book seemed made of gold, but at the same time, it wasn’t. It was surely something extraordinary. The book felt simple yet ancient, as if it had existed for over ten thousand years.

This wasn’t what shocked him the most. What threw him off the most were the words written on the cover, in bold and flamboyant calligraphy—Phoenix Nirvana Sutra!

Had the emperor already managed to obtain the real Phoenix Nirvana Sutra?

Zu An immediately broke out in cold sweat. However, he quickly realized that, if the emperor really knew the Phoenix Nirvana Sutra, he would already be a dead man.

The emperor frowned. “You seem nervous. Why?”

Given his cultivation, even the slightest acceleration of the heart rate or the subtle opening of the pores could not escape his notice.

Zu An knew that the emperor was already suspicious, and did not dare act carelessly. He carefully considered his reply, then said, “I’m still a nobody. Now that I’ve been drawn into the struggle between Your Majesty and King Qi, I realize that either one of you could kill me with just a thought. That was an alarming insight.”

This was actually something that worried him. After all, he’d faced all manner of assassination attempts on the way to the capital. Even though he wasn’t certain if King Qi was related to all of them, he was definitely involved somehow.

King Qi was definitely powerful in his own right, if he dared to go against the emperor. He could sense that the clash between the two factions had reached a climax even while he was still back in Brightmoon City. If he got involved in this on his own, he might not make it out alive, even if he had nine lives.

The emperor seemed relieved by his explanation. “You’re already involved. It is too late to try to stay out of it.”

Zu An fell silent. He’d been forced into this struggle from the moment he leaked out news regarding the Phoenix Nirvana Sutra.

However, he didn’t regret making this technique public. Without the emperor to keep the various powers in check, he might not have been able to survive long enough to become one of his pawns. Without this lifeline, being kidnapped and tortured for the secrets of the Phoenix Nirvana Sutra would have been a likely fate.

Now, he had just barely managed to forge a path to his own survival. Even though it was still dangerous, it was already more than he could have asked for. 

Zu An opened the book. He could tell that the technique recorded within was also profound and mysterious. Since the emperor was giving it to King Qi, though, it was surely nothing good.

If he recalled correctly, King Qi was the emperor’s brother.

He thought that he was already quite crafty, but he paled in comparison to the emperor.

“By the way, even though you are quite sharp, I have to mention that the Chu clan and Qin clan are in-laws. I’m doing this to warn you not to do anything foolish at a crucial moment. The Qin clan is one of the core forces within King Qi’s faction. If you subconsciously side with King Qi and betray meh, heh… The castration room always welcomes more eunuchs, and the entertainment department always needs more women. The Chu clan seems to have several outstanding candidates, such as their Madam and the young misses… I’ve given you fair warning.”

Zu An forced himself to remain silent.

This dogshit emperor is going too far! He’s blackmailing me so openly!

The emperor snorted when he saw his expression. “Don’t think I’m a vicious person. Consider everything carefully. Who was trying to kill you along the way, and how many losses did they suffer because of you? There is already an inconsolable hatred between you and them. Your only choice is to follow me. Only then do you have any prospects.

“I’m sure it stings to be known as the drafted son-in-law of the Chu clan, and the Qin clan has no love for the Chu clan. Many clans are more formidable than the Chu clan. Even if you seek out King Qi’s faction, hoping that they are willing to look past all their losses and take you in, you will only be a drafted son-in-law attached to the Chu clan. You won’t have any status to speak of. As long as you do your job well, I can grant you the Madam and the young misses of the Chu clan. You can even have your pick of the ladies in the capital. I believe you know which choice you should make.”

As an emperor, he rarely spoke this much, but this matter was just too important. He had to explain it all personally, to avoid a third party getting wind of this.

Zu An secretly berated the emperor. Do I need your help to get the women of the Chu clan? I can get them just fine on my own.

“Huh? What was that about Madam?” He subconsciously blurted out.

My dear emperor, do you have some weird fetish? She was almost one of your concubines before!

Furthermore, such a thing was absolutely taboo, given his relationship with Chu Chuyan.

The emperor was stunned. He had made that as an offhand comment. However, when he realized the meaning behind his words, a strange smile appeared on his face. “So, you’ve harbored such thoughts towards Qin Wanru.”

As the emperor, he wasn’t scared of his subordinates having desires. What he feared was a lack of desire. Their desires made them easier to control.

Zu An’s face darkened. You were the one who said it. What does it have to do with me?

The emperor continued casually, “Of course, such things are easy enough to deal with. Once King Qi falls, the Chu clan, if it is tied to King Qi’s faction, will have to pay a price. Their women will be taken in by the entertainment department. When that time comes, you can ransom them to your own manor and do whatever you wish with them. No one else will know what happens there. They themselves will only have tears of gratitude for you.”

The entertainment department was where the wives and daughters of traitorous officials were sent. Even though they were considered court prostitutes, they were treated even worse than private prostitutes. The girls in normal brothels still had a chance to ransom themselves, but those in the entertainment department had no hope of getting out. The only way to freedom was if the emperor himself agreed to it.

But the emperor sent those women to the entertainment department precisely to punish officials who broke the law, as a warning for others. Why would he ever let them out?

Of course, if Zu An served the country well and asked for such a favor, it was entirely possible for the emperor to grant him a few of them. However, such a boon was rarely given, so the emperor wasn’t lying when he said that the women of the Chu clan would be extremely grateful to him.

Zu An was slightly disbelieving.

Such a ploy was just too evil! He had considered himself a battle-hardened veteran in this field, given the training he’d received from all his online teachers. Only now did he discover that he was an innocent little flower, pure and white, when compared to the nobility of this world.

The emperor spoke calmly, as though speaking about a completely ordinary matter. Apparently, such things were common among the princes and dukes.

Zu An had to admit anyone else might have been thoroughly convinced. Unfortunately, though, he was a young man who had experienced a modern education. How could he do something like harm the Chu clan for his own selfish interests?

Of course, he wasn’t stupid enough to correct the emperor then and there, since this was the only way for him to survive the battle between him and King Qi. On the contrary, it was better for the emperor to harbor such a misunderstanding.

Zu An did not pursue this matter further. “I wonder how Your Majesty plans to make King Qi trust me,” he asked instead. “Are you going to pretend to imprison me, and have King Qi’s people save me?”

Was he supposed to be a double agent? Unfortunately, no spy in modern history ever met a good ending…

The emperor nodded in satisfaction when he saw how quickly Zu An had accepted his new role. “That won’t work. It’s too obvious. King Qi has always been careful. He wouldn’t fall for something like that.”

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