Mount Taicang, Prince Peak.

At this hour, tourists were no longer allowed to stay on the mountain and had been escorted out of the mountain gate, leaving the Huangji Temple. Inside Xianle Palace, the chanting of scriptures resounded as over a thousand Daoists conducted their evening class, while the four National Teachers presided over the rituals near the feet of the towering five-zhang-tall golden statue.

Inside the Prince’s Hall, on both sides from the ground to the ceiling, there were rows of prayer lamps. Xie Lian descended from the sky and landed lightly on the divine platform, sitting right in front of his statue.

With a wave of his hand, a gentle breeze swept through, causing the countless lanterns to rotate slowly. The flickering lights mesmerized the Daoists, who raised their heads and murmured in astonishment, with whispers of conversation circulating among them. The National Teacher, who had been resting with closed eyes, suddenly opened them and said, “That will be all for today. Everyone, go back.”

The Daoists stood up and left. Although the three Vice National Teachers couldn’t see Xie Lian’s true form, they guessed that something extraordinary had occurred and followed suit, leaving the main hall and closing the temple doors. As soon as the tall doors closed, Xie Lian couldn’t wait any longer and spoke, “National Teacher, do you know about the severe drought in Yong’an? It seems that there hasn’t been any response from my father. Is something happening in the court, or is he unaware of the situation?”

Priests were not allowed to manifest in front of mortals without proper reasons, except for one situation. That was in front of the National Teacher, Head Disciple, and other high-ranking cultivators. These individuals possessed profound cultivation and acted as representatives of the priests in the mortal realm. Therefore, Xie Lian could directly converse with the National Teacher. The rule of “no kneeling in the Prince’s Hall” was conveyed by Xie Lian through the National Teacher.

He had thought that there must be some special circumstances preventing the Emperor from attending to the Yong’an disaster, or perhaps the Emperor was unaware of the severity that had reached the point of death. However, the National Teacher replied, “His Majesty the Emperor is still fine and nothing major has happened. He is well aware of the Yong’an disaster.”

Xie Lian was taken aback and asked, “Then why haven’t I heard him pray for Yong’an every time he comes to the Huangji Temple? Why doesn’t he even mention it?”

Although he had a long-standing conflict with his father, Xie Lian knew that the Emperor was not an incompetent ruler. Despite his arrogance as the Son of Heaven, he wouldn’t be indifferent to the plight of the disaster-stricken people. The National Teacher explained, “It’s not His Majesty’s concern. It was my suggestion to refrain from mentioning Yong’an during his prayers.”

“…”

Xie Lian asked, “Why?”

The National Teacher answered, “Because it’s useless.”

Xie Lian was bewildered. “What do you mean by useless?”

Pausing for a moment, he realized the point and said, “You mean, because I am the God of War and cannot control the drought, mentioning it to me is useless? But have you forgotten that I am not only the God of War, but also the Prince of Xianle? My people are currently suffering, so how can I sit idly by?” After contemplating for a moment, he continued, “The urgent task now is to rescue the disaster-stricken people in Yong’an. Please convey to my father on my behalf that there is no need to build any more temples and shrines. There are already too many Prince’s Halls throughout the country, and I don’t need them. As for those golden statues, they can all be melted down to provide relief funds. In the west, Yong’an suffers from drought and lacks water. We can dig a river and divert water from the east to irrigate the farmland and nurture the land…”

As he spoke, the National Teacher shook his head and murmured, “It’s too early. It’s too early.”

Xie Lian couldn’t understand. “What do you mean by ’too early’?”

The National Teacher explained, “Do you understand now why I said you shouldn’t ascend too early? Because your people haven’t perished yet.”

“…” Xie Lian widened his eyes and angrily said, “National Teacher! What are you saying? What do you mean… what do you mean my people haven’t perished yet?!”

The National Teacher replied, “You are already a god, but you can’t forget your identity as a mortal, entangled with the mortal realm and unable to cut ties cleanly. Yet, while you are immersed in it, you are powerless. In the end, everything will be a mess.”

Xie Lian sat on the divine platform, while the National Teacher stood beneath it. Although Xie Lian seemed to be looking down at him, the National Teacher’s words made it feel as if he were the one looking down from a high position. Xie Lian said, “How can I be powerless? As long as I take action, there will be results. Saving even a little is better than turning a blind eye. If I can save just one person, it’s better than ignoring everything. If you refuse to convey my message to my father, then I will go find him myself.”

Xie Lian suddenly stood up, but the National Teacher grabbed his sleeve and shouted, “Come back! Do you know why priests are not allowed to manifest in front of mortals at will? The rules established for thousands of years have their reasons. Don’t do anything foolish!”

Xie Lian abruptly turned around and said, “Then what can I do? If I can’t do this or that, National Teacher, many people in my territory are about to die! Isn’t it because gods can save the masses that they are called gods? If I can’t appear at a time like this, then when can I appear? What is the meaning of my ascension?!”

2 / 2

The National Teacher held onto him and sighed, “Your Highness, alas, Your Highness. Do you know what I have seen?”

Calmly and composedly, Xie Lian sat back down and said, “Please, go on.”

The National Teacher gazed at him and said, “I have seen your future, a pitch-black one.”

Xie Lian, looking straight ahead, responded, “You might have seen it wrong. I only wear white.”

The National Teacher said, “I’m afraid that you won’t be able to save your people and, instead, your people will drag you down from the divine altar.”

Xie Lian said, “My people are not like that. They can distinguish right from wrong. If I can’t save them, then there is no meaning for me to stay on the divine altar.”

After a moment, the National Teacher sighed and said, “Although what your father did cannot be called right, it is not necessarily wrong either. You mentioned allocating relief funds, and indeed your father has done so before. You can see the results for yourself. As for digging a river and diverting water, you can take a look at that river yourself and see if it’s feasible.”

Xie Lian nodded and said, “Understood. Thank you, National Teacher.”

After leaving Mount Taicang, he traveled westward and arrived at Yong’an City in the Xianle Kingdom.

For the past twenty years, Xie Lian had never felt the sun so scorching and deadly. As soon as he set foot on this land, he felt an unbearable dry heat, and everything in the air seemed distorted. Under the blazing sun, the earth cracked into broken pieces, aged and horrifying. There was a deep ditch by the roadside, which seemed to be a riverbed that had dried up, emitting a strange stench. After walking for a long time, he hadn’t seen a single piece of farmland. Perhaps there were some, but it was impossible to recognize them as farmland anymore.

Xie Lian walked while looking around, the hot and dry wind causing his long hair to be in disarray. However, he had no intention of tidying it up. At this moment, he heard someone calling out from behind, “Your Highness!”

Xie Lian turned around and saw two figures in black rushing towards him. It was Feng Xin and Mu Qing. Xie Lian straightforwardly asked, “Do you have any intelligence?”

Feng Xin shook his clothes to create a breeze and said, “Yes. The entire west has been experiencing a water shortage for the past year or two, and it has worsened this year. Yong’an is the most severely affected, with dried-up rivers and no rainfall, making it impossible to cultivate the land. Wealthier households are relatively better off; as long as they have money, they can import water and food from distant places. However, most of the wealthy families have already moved to the east. The remaining ones are either poor or unable to escape.”

Xie Lian furrowed his brows and asked, “The National Teacher said that my father has taken action and allocated relief funds, so why is the situation still so severe?”

Mu Qing coldly said, “Allocating ten units, taking away one layer, peeling layer after layer. In the end, not even a trace is left. Naturally, the situation remains severe. In my opinion, instead of wasting resources to feed the worms, it’s better not to allocate anything.”

Xie Lian suppressed his anger and said, “I want those worms to regurgitate everything they have consumed.”

Mu Qing reminded him, “Your Highness, you have forgotten. This is not something you should meddle in as a divine official. The priests cannot interfere with the affairs of mortals. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your father is specifically responsible for earthly matters, and even he can’t handle everything. You already carry the wishes of countless believers. How can you manage it all? You want to meddle in this and that, but in the end, you’ll only end up covered in filth. Moreover, this is just addressing the symptoms, not the root cause.”

Feng Xin shielded his eyes from the sun and said, “To address the root cause, we need water. Otherwise, Your Highness, you could ask the National Teacher to convey to your father the suggestion of diverting water from the east to the west?”

Xie Lian shook his head and said, “I already mentioned this idea to the National Teacher.”

Feng Xin asked, “What did the National Teacher say?”

“…” Xie Lian hesitated for a moment and replied, “He probably said it’s not feasible. However, I now realize that it’s indeed not very practical. To divert water, we need to dig a river. But that would require the labor of the people, and who knows how many years it would take. It would also be a financial burden we can’t afford.”

Feng Xin nodded and said, “That’s true. Distant water cannot quench the present thirst.”

After contemplating for a moment, Xie Lian said, “However, if mortal methods cannot solve the problem, perhaps we can try celestial methods. I heard that a new Rain Master ascended a few years ago, and he is a reclusive person. I’ll see if I can visit him and inquire if it’s possible to bring rain and divert water in that way.”

Since Xie Lian’s ascension, besides meeting Jun Wu, he hadn’t actively visited any divine officials or developed close relationships with them. He treated everyone equally within the communication array. It would be quite unusual for him to visit a divine official. However, Mu Qing said, “No, it’s not possible.”

Xie Lian turned his head and asked, “Why not?”

Mu Qing replied, “Your Highness, I have thoroughly investigated it just now. In fact, it’s not only Yong’an or the west that is experiencing a water shortage these past two years; the entire Xianle Kingdom is suffering from a water shortage. It’s just that Xianle is located on the eastern side, close to the sea, near a lake, and traversed by rivers, so it’s not as obvious. However, the overall water volume and rainfall have significantly decreased compared to the past.”

Xie Lian widened his eyes, and Mu Qing continued, “If a river is truly dug or if rainwater is diverted from the east to the west, it might provide temporary relief to Yong’an, but it won’t completely save them. It would only give them a brief respite. However, at the same time, there is a high possibility of drought occurring in the prosperous areas of Xianle located in the east.”

Xie Lian’s heart tightened, and he said, “And the bustling regions and the majority of the population in Xianle are concentrated in the east, which is more than three times the size of the west, especially the imperial city. Once drought strikes there…”

Feng Xin also immediately grasped the situation and said, “The consequences will undoubtedly be more severe than in Yong’an, and more people will die!”

Mu Qing nodded with a solemn expression and said, “The resulting unrest will also be greater.”

Taking a deep breath, Xie Lian said, “So, this is why the National Teacher said that what my father did is neither definitively right nor definitively wrong. It’s just a matter of making a choice.”

Mu Qing said, “That’s why, Your Highness, no one has come to your temple to pray for Yong’an. It’s for the best. Let Emperor choose for himself.”

Xie Lian didn’t respond and turned his head.

Along the way, he saw that everyone he encountered had sun-darkened skin, men and children were shirtless, with their rib bones clearly visible in rows. Women had dead-looking skin on their faces, their eyes lifeless. No one wanted to move, nor had the energy to do so. Everything emitted a stench of impending death, making one want to scream and escape from this barely surviving land and immediately return to the splendid and prosperous capital city.

After a while, he said, “You two stay here and help me. Bring as much water as you can. I need to think.”

Feng Xin said, “Alright. Take your time to think. Let me know what needs to be done when you’ve made a decision.”

Xie Lian patted his shoulder and turned to leave. However, Mu Qing’s voice came from behind, saying softly, “Your Highness, you should think it through carefully. We can help for ten or twenty days, but we cannot help for a year or two. We can save a hundred people, but we cannot save hundreds of thousands. After all, you are the God of War, not the God of Water. Even if you were the God of Water, you cannot create water out of thin air. If the root problem cannot be solved, this approach won’t work. It would be a drop in the ocean.”