Dashang Dynasty, Imperial Capital.
The falling snow—whipped into a storm by the north wind—raged across the city's streets.
However, the blizzard dampened as it approached the Imperial Palace, obstructed by many layers of palace walls and glazed tile roofs.
With her head down, Ninth Imperial Princess Xia Xiaosu clutched a mahogany lunch box as she hurried over to the archive chamber on the east side of the outer hall.
From within the chamber came the sound of a young man's chanting.
when practicing the profound Prajna Paramita—
perceived that all five Skandhas were non-existent,
and was saved from all suffering and distress.
form does not differ from emptiness;
emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness;
emptiness itself is form.
The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness…"
Xia Xiaosu stood at the entrance, listening to the chanting quietly. Her small face, often furrowed with caution and fear, relaxed slightly, if only because the chanter was her elder brother—Seventh Imperial Prince Xia Ji—borne of the same mother.
Five years ago, their concubine mother was assassinated while traveling with their father, the emperor.
Two years ago, her brother had fornicated with a temptress, resulting in him being placed under house arrest here. Day and night, he chanted as a form of repentance.
Although the Imperial Palace was vast and massive, Xia Xiaosu felt that this man was the only person she was close to.
She looked down, carefully prising open the lid of the box to peek inside. The mutton soup was still steaming, which gladdened her.
The chanting from the archive chamber slowly faded.
At this point, Xia Xiaosu knocked on the chamber's door and pushed it open.
Inside the chamber, a young man dressed in a cassock sat cross-legged by a bookshelf. Beside him was the Heart Sutra, which he had just closed.
The young man's eyes were unfazed as if his time under house arrest had not disheartened him in the slightest. It was only when the young lady walked in that he smiled faintly.
Xia Xiaosu quickly walked over to her brother and sat beside him, retrieving the mutton soup from the lunch box. "Brother, I made this myself. Eat it while it's warm."
That meant it was not laced with poison.
Xia Ji looked at her.
The Ninth Imperial Princess then pulled out a bottle of alcohol. "Here."
Xia Ji smiled and began having his meal.
The Ninth Imperial Princess looked around, whispering, "They're such snobs. In the past, the archive chamber housed many skill books. It was a lively place where the wealthy, respected, and powerful visited to see the royal family's treasured dharma.
"Now, Father has had all the skill books removed, leaving only the sutras for you. This is truly… just shutting down any future you or I might have had.
"You never wanted to succeed him as Imperial Emperor in the first place. Are you not even allowed to refine your skills so you can at least become a carefree prince capable of protecting yourself?
"Mother… mother was killed by the assassin because she protected him.
"How can he treat us like this? How could he?"
As the Ninth Imperial Princess mulled over her resentful thoughts, she rubbed her eyes as tears began to flow uncontrollably. She did not want her brother seeing her like this, so she laid down and sobbed softly without facing him.
Xia Ji took a swig of the spirit, easing his digestion. He then reached out and tousled the Imperial Princess' hair before pointing out the window.
The Ninth Imperial Princess stared outside.
Beyond the window, the falling snow was swept by the wind to the north and the south; in the sky, its appearance alternated between resembling a soaring eagle and a surfacing leviathan.
Xia Xiaosu's eyes sparkled. "Brother, are you trying to say that your aspirations are beyond my understanding? That being locked here for two years won't stop you from achieving great things?
Xia Ji laughed. "No, I'm simply saying that the snowfall is wonderful, and the weather is cold. Would you like some alcohol too?"
Xia Xiaosu was instantly deflated, pouting and harrumphing as she lay her head on her elbow. "It's fine. You're always so resigned to the state of things."
However, the momentary distraction ceased her tears from flowing.
Xia Ji drank the warm mutton soup, which was very much to his tastes; his sister knew him well. With one deep gulp, the milky broth warmed his insides. With one sip of the ginger-infused spirit, his limbs came to life.
He did all this while Xia Xiaosu prattled away at his ear side.
She told him that the Heir Apparent had led a border campaign with a hundred thousand troops three months ago, going to war with the nation of Guifang. During the campaign, he was dressed in golden armor and fought with unrivaled prowess. The court ministers were unanimously optimistic and believed this to be his crowning moment.
Xia Xiaosu spoke of how the Third Imperial Prince was leveraging on his wealth, elegance, and good nature to visit scholars and sages throughout the lands.
Finally, she recounted that the Fifth Imperial Prince was humble and chivalrous. He worked with the Black Dam organization to investigate cases and even personally beheaded the great bandit Zhang Xiehe, thus earning his fame among the young heroes of the entire Dashang Dynasty.
In response, Xia Ji put down the mutton bowl and began to speak freely.
"The Second Imperial Princess is valiant and formidable. She joined the Haoran Dao sect, practicing the Cloud Nine Way. Although I wasn't able to attend the royal banquet last New Year's Eve, I still saw her dressed in white. She looked extraordinary, like a celestial."
Xia Xiaosu, "?"
Xia Ji took another draught of wine, lamenting, "I also once saw the Fourth Imperial Princess. She was charming and gentle, admiring herself by Lake Huaqing. Her appearance could be described as a beauty of the north, with a smile that could win over the hearts of thousands. If she lived in the ancient times, she would be a woman over which many wars were fought."
Xia Xiaosu, "?"
Xia Ji thought carefully, then spoke nonchalantly, "Oh, and although the Eighth Imperial Princess is only seventeen, she is swell-learned and knowledgeable. Even the Director of Astronomy praised her incessantly, saying that she's a once-in-a-century prodigy."
Xia Xiaosu sulked. "Hey…"
Xia Ji laughed heartily, ruffling his sister's head. "I've almost finished reading all the sutras here. Next time, could you help me find a few new ones and bring them over?"
The light in Xia Xiaosu's eyes dimmed, but she could tell that her brother seemed to truly enjoy reciting and chanting the sutras. He seemed fine with his current situation. But this too was fine; perhaps this was their fate as brother and sister.
She replied softly, "Alright. When the snow stops, I'll ask the monk about borrowing some books when I head to the Leiyin Temple to perform my rites."
Xia Ji said, "It would be ideal if you can borrow the Present Shakyamuni Sutra. It's not like it's a book for refining a divine skill anyway."
Xia Xiaosu nodded. "Okay, I'll help you get it."
She packed the lunch box, bade farewell to this brother of hers who chanted day in and day out. Opening the door, she walked through the snowstorm that swept the Imperial City, clutching her fur coat as she quickly disappeared into the distance.
Xia Ji closed his eyes, letting out a sigh of relief.
It had been a full seventeen years since he had come to this ancient dynasty of another world. However, what had he obtained?
Why did the talent he waited and waited for trigger only when he turned fifteen?
If it were not for that, perhaps his mother would not have died?
Moreover, perhaps he would not be imprisoned here?
In his mind's eye, the scene that had taken place at the emperor's palace two years ago resurfaced.
The emperor, filled with disgust, roared, "Xia Ji, you—an imperial prince of my Dashang Dynasty—dare have sexual relations with a wench?! You have sullied the reputation of our royal family. How will you bear your transgression?"
"I am willing to be confined to the archive chambers for three years."
"We shall allow it."
At that moment, the emperor's steward soberly reminded him, "Your Highness, the royal archive chamber houses many divine skills and otherworldly techniques…"
The emperor coldly remarked, "They've all been moved. All that's left are the sutras. Give them to this unfilial son of mine!"
"As you wish."
His thoughts returned to the present.
Xia Ji raised his left arm, over which the dense image of a hundred parading Buddhas suddenly appeared. When this happened, his hand grew to several times its size, making it look unnaturally terrifying. With the flick of a finger, the apparition disappeared.
This was the Eighteen Levels of Hell Suppression Energy at its ninth level. He had obtained it from the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's great aspiration—he swore not to become Buddha before hell was made empty. This ability allowed him to raise the earth, conjure a halo, and granted him unmatched strength.
"It's still not enough. My understanding of this world remains too shallow. I'll wait for the Present Shakyamuni Sutra for now."
Xia Ji muttered to himself, then sat under the candlelight. He continued reciting the sutra he had not finished.
The talent he had awoken—"Golden Finger"—was very simple. It allowed him to obtain skill beads from any form of written material, and attain the ninth level in those skills.
From the Buried Sutra he had acquired the Eighteen Levels of Hell Suppression Energy.
The Buried Sutra was an ordinary Buddhist scripture.