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The rain stopped suddenly. Just when everyone in the world thought that the rain would never stop, the incessant heavy rain came to an abrupt end on a bland autumn day.
No one believed it at first. People walked out of the palace, and from farmhouses. They stopped under roofs and walked into their courtyards, looking up at the sky in confusion. It wasn't until they realized that there was no more water falling from the clouds when the situation dawned on them. Cheers filled every corner of the fields and cities.
However, the world had been soaked in this heavy rain for too long. Both clothes and moods seemed to have grown moldy. After the excitement and surprise pa.s.sed, exhaustion took over speedily. Relief efforts continued, and those who watched the world dazedly continued so, and those who slept did so. Everything seemed so numb.
The clouds dissipated after the rain stopped. Everyone gathered around their dining tables to discuss the rain. After they finished their ch.o.r.es, they returned to their rooms and slept, entering their first peaceful dream since the rain ended.
The clouds that had covered the sky for many days gradually dispersed.
A dog howled in the street, seeming extremely frightened and uneasy. Another dog howled in the farmlands. The skinny yellow dog seemed confused and afraid.
That was followed by more and more dogs barking. All the dogs in the world seemed to have received some kind of instruction and all howled at the same time. Their barking echoed throughout the countryside of the city, rousing countless people from their dreams.
They rubbed their sleepy eyes and went outside their doors. Some took out wooden sticks meant for fending off thieves and some complained that their daughters-in-law had forgotten to feed the dog again today, taking a food bowl to find their own dogs.
Then, they discovered that it wasn't just their respective dogs that were barking. Every single dog was.
Every dog was howling crazily at the night sky.
They all followed the gazes of the dogs and looked at the night sky. The wooden sticks in their hands slipped to the ground and the food bowls fell from their hands, smashing their feet. However, they seemed not to feel the pain at all.
Everyone was stunned. Their attention was fully on the object in the night sky. It didn't matter that their feet got smashed. They would find it hard to be distracted even if their homes caught fire.
The clouds had finally dispersed after many days, revealing the night skies. However, they did not see the stars in the sky today, but only saw a white rounded object.
What was that?
Something had changed in the skies. There was a moon in the night sky.
This strange and shocking picture shocked everyone, and they all felt fearful and uneasy. Many were so shocked they fainted, and there were even more who knelt in their courtyards or in front of their windows worshipping.
The royal families of various countries burned incense and prayed to Haotian, asking for forgiveness for the disrespect humans have shown it. Various Taoist and Buddhist temples burned a large amount of incense. Rumors began to spread that this was a foreshadowing of the Underworld Invasion, triggering a catastrophe more serious than the torrential rain and floods. Many foolish people even chose to commit suicide.
The West-Hill Divine Palace quickly announced that the object in the night sky was called the moon. It was the divine light that Haotian had bestowed upon the people because it pitied mankind who had suffered long nights.
With the spread of the Divine Hall's edict and the strong suppression by the royal families of various countries, the commotion caused by the object called the moon calmed down slightly. As time pa.s.sed, the common people on earth began to get used to its existence.
People discovered that the moon was different from the stars in the night sky in the past years. it was not absolutely quiet and solemn, but it moved and changed according to a certain order. It waxed and waned, and changed in shape. The changes occurred in an order and were suitable to calculate time and arrange agricultural works around it.
Some people began to use the moon's wax and wane to calculate time and referred to it as a month.
Of course, that all happened in the future.
There was a Purple Gold Mountain in the southeast of Chang'an city of the Tang Empire. The terrain here was relatively high and instances of rain and cloudy days were limited. It was the perfect place to watch the skies and was where the Imperial Observatory was located.
Even though the year had been Tianqi for the past decades, the Tangs were famous for not believing in the Heavens and in fate. Therefore, the Imperial Observatory became one of the least important sectors in the imperial court and also became the most silent. There were rarely any visitors on weekdays other than the young couples who came to the Purple Gold Mountain to enjoy the scenery.
However, it was very noisy outside the Imperial Observatory today. There were dozens of Yulin Royal Guards who guarded several officials. They stood below the stone steps, forming a barrier. The occasional pa.s.serby was not shocked by this scene and did not think that it was odd either. A moon had appeared in the night skies, so the imperial court naturally had to consult the Imperial Observatory.
The officials from the Ministry of Rites and the Yulin Royal Guards did not enter the Imperial Observatory. A chief eunuch and a few strong servant eunuchs entered. However, it was odd that no one went up to welcome them.
The chief eunuch leader glowered at the closed main hall. He said frostily, "His Majesty awaits your reply, and the imperial court awaits your annotations. You have to provide a reply today."
The atmosphere in the Imperial Observatory seemed particularly depressing and tense.
There were many instruments used for stargazing in the main hall of the Imperial Observatory. Should you walk through the side door and up to the terrace, you would see an enormous telescope that the Academy had sent over last year.
There was a small table in the hall and on it were a few plates of very common dishes and several cans of weak wine. There were two despondent people sitting at the table who were drinking in low spirits. One of the men was supervisor Miao Kechi and the other was his deputy, Xu Liangshou. They were the two most important officials in the Imperial Observatory.
The eunuch's cold voice sounded from outside, "The Imperial Observatory has always thought that you could understand the Heavens. Back then, you disregarded the previous Emperor's wrath and insisted on making the judgment. Now that a vision has appeared, why do you all have nothing to say?"
Miao Kechi looked at the tightly shut doors with a faint smile. He gulped down the wine in his cup and looked at Xu Liangshou and said, "Did you hear that? In the end, it's all because of what happened back then."
Xu Liangshou did not speak. He filled the other official's cup with wine.
"That night, I watched the astronomical phenomena and received an epiphany, so I wrote these words in the almanac. 'Should night shroud the stars, the country falls.' His Majesty ordered me to erase these words to keep the peace, but I refused."
Miao Kechi sighed and said, "Who would have thought that these eight words would cause such a great turbulence? So many in the palace and court have died. The Princess was forced to marry into the Wilderness and the Empress did not interfere in government affairs anymore. I wonder how many wanted me dead. It is only because of His Majesty's care that I could live until today."
He lifted his wine cup and fell into a daze. Then, he lifted the cup to his lips and drank slowly. He said dazedly, "Now that His Majesty has pa.s.sed away, who can protect me?"
Xu Liangshou knew that the official was ready to die when he saw his expression. He felt slightly nervous and urged sincerely, "Now that the new Emperor has taken his place on the throne, the Princess will still govern the country. But the Empress and the Sixth Prince have not yet returned. Both His Majesty or Her Highness would not wish for gossip to arise. It might lead to opposition or even shake the nation if it gets serious. They will not force your honor. If Her Highness is looking for revenge, why would she send the imperial court to question you?"
Miao Kechi looked at him calmly and said, "The Princess is honorable and will not force me to die because of matters of the past. But you should know what she wants to hear regarding the matter involving this moon."
Xu Liangshou was silent. He was the adjutant to the Imperial Astronomer and knew of the Princess' intentions. Since the Imperial Astronomer had decided that the Princess was the recipient of those eight words for that starry night, then why can't the Imperial Astronomer decide that the Empress, who had yet to return to the capital, was the one involved in the prophecy related to the moon in the sky?
"I have been watching the stars for so many years. Other than that night when the stars darkened, I have not seen any other changes in the stars. That is why the stargazing position in the Imperial Observatory is meaningless."
For some reason, Miao Kechi's mood suddenly improved. He raised his cup and toasted, saying tipsily, "But this moon is different. Look at the moon in the night sky. It waxes and wanes and the changes are orderly and subtle. No matter whether we write the calendar or watch the skies, they are both important. Unfortunately, I won't have the chance to do this anymore."
Xu Liangshou heard this and could not help but feel anxious. He chided, "The Princess is benevolent and kind, why don't you take that into consideration and take advantage of it?"
Miao Kechi glared at him when he heard that. He stared into the man's eyes and said gravely, "I was appointed Imperial Astronomer by the Imperial Commissioner of History precisely because we cannot cheat Heaven's will and history! Why should I go against my will and make that annotation?"
"According to the old regulations handed over by the Tang dynasty law and the official department, you will become the supervisor of the Imperial Observatory once I leave. I have been forced to leave and have nowhere to go because of that useless son whom the two siblings in the palace have dirt on. But you are different. You are righteous and have nothing to do with it. After I leave, you must not bring shame upon the Imperial Observatory!"
Xu Liangshou stayed silent for a long time and nodded gently.
Seeing his response, Miao Kechi heaved a sigh of relief and said slowly, "Not many know the true reason for why the previous Emperor's reign was called Tianqi. I do not know either. Now, it seems like the death of the Headmaster, His Majesty and all the older ministers was the original intention of it."
"It's impossible to go against Heaven's will..."
Miao Kechi's tone suddenly sharpened as he said, "But it is even more important not to go against one's will. Even if we cannot defeat the Heavens, we can choose not to obey it. What can it do to me?"
The door to the main hall of the Imperial Observatory was finally opened.
Looking at the body of the Imperial Astronomer, Miao Kechi, who had committed suicide by drinking poisonous wine, the chief eunuch's face took on a ghastly expression. His voice grew shrill and trembling, sounding horrible.
"How dare he...how dare he! How dare he kill himself to escape punishment!"
Xu Liangshou stood to one side to watch the scene with an unreadable expression. He thought of what the man had said before he killed himself and looked at the incensed eunuch and could not help sneering.
A man who could give up his life was of course brave. If he was unafraid of death, then why would he be afraid of punishment? If he could give up his life, then not even Haotian could do anything to him. What could the pair of siblings in the palace do!