Chapter 57: ARC 1 – The Way to become an Empress Part 56 (End)
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As I became the Empress, it also became my job to manage the imperial harem. To think I'm going to say goodbye to my idle days just because of this... I want to quit!

Who managed the imperial harem before? It's Li Zhen Zhen. And unexpectedly, she actually did a good, no, a great job with it. It's definitely not easy to work like this with nothing in exchange, and she didn't even get a tiny recognition for her job well done in management. If only... her personality was not that twisted, she may have become one of the best people in this dynasty's history as she diligently did her job excellently despite getting nothing in return.

...There's no use thinking about that. Li Zhen Zhen's dead. Her soul has been collected and sent to somewhere the system designated, which, I have no idea about.

And now, I'm stuck to this job.

When I became Empress, Ji Zhen Tian never went to another concubine's palace again for years now. The ministers who were very against him favoring only one wife before was now unable to say anything when Ji Zhen Tian only favors me.  Because I’m the Empress now. Moreover, Ji Zhen Tian secured his seat as the Emperor tightly as he proved he's not someone one can underestimate, with the downfall of the then most powerful Li family. Everyone was afraid they would be next.

A few years passed, but there was still no news of pregnancy being announced, so the ministers found a reason to address claims and have suggestions. Ji Zhen Tian did say to them that I could not get pregnant because of Li Zhen Zhen's schemes, and this didn't only apply to me but also to everyone else who had drank the soup or used the incense Li Zhen Zhen ‘gifted’. Thus, the ministers pushed the suggestion of taking in new concubines, but this was immediately shut down by Ji Zhen Tian. He said that he was already aware from the start of this situation, so he already had a plan. Adopt. The ministers were once again riled up with that. But the emperor made them shut up with one glare. Ji Zhen Tian became even more formidable over the years. His brains led to war tactics that lead to conquests of lands, both near and far, making them part or this dynasty's territory. That made his ministers fear him too.

He did adopt. No, make that we. But who did we adopt? Of course, not just a nobody. We adopted Ming Yi Fei's son. It seems when Ji Zhen Tian set Ming Yi Fei free from his harem, he made one condition to do so. That is, her first born son will be adopted as crown prince. Ji Zhen Tian did his preparations for this event way back, it seems.

Ming Yi Fei and Qing Jing Tian are both happily married now. It took Ming Yi Fei quite awhile to woo that man, but once he let her into his heart, that person became very doting to her. As expected of the techniques I taught her. He really was made to dance in the palm of her hand and became wrapped up in her little finger.

When Ming Yi Fei became pregnant, I just couldn't exactly describe in words how that person acted. Whenever he's at work in the palace with Ji Zhen Tian, he just couldn't seem to calm down and stay put, or even entirely focus on his work for that matter. He always looks in a distance, as if when he looks in that direction, he could see his wife. Ji Zhen Tian couldn't take it anymore, and so he allowed Ming Yi Fei to stay in her old palace again. And whenever Qing Jing Tian goes to work, I make visits to Ming Yi Fei to make him calm down.

When Ming Yi Fei gave birth, it took quite awhile as it was difficult for the first-time mother. I heard from my inspector maid that at that time, whenever Qing Jing Tian heard his wife scream in pain, he would almost barge in the room, had not been held back by the servants.

When their son, named Ming Rui, was born, he became the apple of everyone's eye. I think, including mine too. Such a small and weak creature. But exactly because he's like that that it triggers the human instinct to protect. I guess instincts are not being shielded by the system.

Whenever Ming Yi Fei comes to visit my palace, he always brings along her little baby boy with her. It was during these visits that I came to know of Ji Zhen Tian's adoption plan, years prior before it was totally finalized. It was also then that I asked if Ming Yi Fei's totally alright with this.

"I am. It's not like the Emperor intended to do my son or my family wrong. Rather, it's the only way I could give back and thank His Majesty for the things he had done for me and for my husband. And, it's not like I'm not going to see my baby anymore. Moreover, to be the mother of the next Emperor, isn't it an honor?" She said sincerely while smiling.

We didn't immediately adopt Ming Yi Fei's son, instead, Ji Zhen Tian only did when the ministers couldn't wait to push their ideas to him. Though we did adopt and train Ming Rui as crown prince, Ji Zhen Tian still let him go home to his real parents every week as possible, if the crown prince's schedule allows it. Also, his real parents were also allowed to visit him whenever. There were no restrictions in this matter.

About the crown prince... I could proudly say that the crown prince is very cute. He also calls me imperial mother. He stays with me whenever he's free in between his studies, and he seems as attached to me as his mother. This attachment to me... is it inherited?

Ji Zhen Tian also comes to visit us even for a short time when he's free. Whenever Ji Zhen Tian looked at us behaving like mother and child, he always had this seemingly sad face. I wonder why? Therefore, I asked.

He said he's sorry I could not bear my own child. Sorry for not being able to protect me from such misfortune, no, from such a preventable event, he said.

...He didn't need to say sorry again, though. Rather, it's me who should be as I couldn't give him his blood son and heir. So, I suggested the same as his ministers... take some women in. Although honestly, I couldn't confidently say that I really want him to do that.

Then, he became angry. Again. He then ‘punished’  me all night, saying he already warned me before, saying I should never say that again. Never, ever.

And so, I never did. The 'punishment' was sweet, but I don't want to make Ji Zhen Tian angry anymore. We are getting old. Stress affects us even more, and so I don't want to add that to his.

We are getting old. Definitely.

Time passed, and Ming Rui already ascended the throne. Ji Zhen Tian abdicated when he thought Ming Rui was already capable of being Emperor. The person who became Ming Rui's right-hand man... was unexpectedly Xi Jiu. Xi Jiu quickly escalated in ranks over the years, and he became the head of security in the imperial palace. When Ming Rui was still the crown prince, the one Ji Zhen Tian put in-charge of guarding him was Xi Jiu. In the end, Xi Jiu became Ji Zhen Tian's most trusted imperial guard, and that even carried on to Ming Rui.

Both Ji Zhen Tian and I still live within the imperial palace, but in a different courtyard. We spent our lives there together, idle, entertaining guests when they come to greet.

And we became old.

In his deathbed, Ji Zhen Tian asked for everyone else to leave, making only the two of us there together. He then grabbed my hand gently, and suddenly asked if I ever loved him.

"...I...I...." To be honest, I don't know. To be honest, I think I didn't. But I couldn't answer him that. I’m not sure. He's dying, but strangely, I'm not feeling anything at all. I thought since I had different feelings towards him, I would feel devastated with his death, but... I feel empty. Hollow. Nothing.

Still, I want him to go peacefully. But, I just can't bring myself to lie about that even to a dying person.

He chuckled, but he seemed to have had difficulty doing so.

"T-that's… ugh… fine. Because... y...ou...'re... my...." he was unable to finish his statement. He drew his last breath, still holding my hand.

When he did, I only looked at him as he closed his eyes one last time.

I still don't feel any sadness.

Rather, I felt that... we were going to meet again.

I wonder why that is?

Another question I don't know the answer to.

I went up Ji Zhen Tian's bed and lied down next to him.

Closing my eyes, I also left this world.

A/N: For you to have reached this far, I salute you. However, I have bad news. 🥴 (Or perhaps maybe not too bad? 🤔) Next arc updates won't be daily anymore. Schedule would be every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For patrons, however, updates will still continue daily ;)