It had been three days since Junior Leopard got out of the underground practice field.
The sight of him coming out the door bloodied and exhausted startled Wang Tianlei. Junior Leopard merely said something went wrong with his practice, though that was now solved. He only needed rest now. It was what Wang Tianlei had been expecting, so he told the servants to heat up bathwater for Junior Leopard and prepare fresh clothes for him.
Junior Leopard finally calmed his nerves after washing up. He had benefited greatly from his three-day experience in the underground practice field, but he was also more depressed because of it.
"Had I known I would make such gains, I'd have gone straight to Misty Mountain!"
If he had gone to Misty Mountain earlier, he would not have had to make a second visit. Once he returned, he could straightaway enter the underground fire vein to practice the Yin and Yang Heavenly Sword.
His body could not withstand the extreme cold Evil Qi in West Mountain Pass, but was it possible if he used External Elixirs to melt the extreme cold Evil Qi into the Fiery Eye between his eyebrows?
"I'll try it on the underground fire vein first. If it works, I'll find a way back to Misty Mountain to practice the Yin and Yang Heavenly Sword!" Junior Leopard mentally decided.
Having washed up, he examined his forehead carefully in the bronze mirror. In the point where the Fiery Eye entered his body, there was a faint red mark. It was not visible if not carefully looked at. This relieved him greatly. Though he had an additional eye now, he was fine with it as long as others did not know. But it would be troublesome if people begin to notice because he was not the kind of person who fancied inviting trouble.
His freshly washed hair was wet and scattered, but it dried almost immediately when he used the Nine Dragons Heavenly Fire Technique. He was about to knot his hair into his usual bun atop his head, but looking at the red mark between his eyebrows, a wicked idea came to him. He gathered his hair into the hairstyle of the first appearance of Chrollo, the head of the Phantom Troupe in the comic HUNTER×HUNTER which Junior Leopard had read in his previous life. When he looked in the mirror again, he felt a sudden shame. The hairstyle had seemed pretty cool in the comics, but it was mere slicked-back hair. Though he was clean-cut, the hairstyle was too old-fashioned for him. Junior Leopard roughed up his hair, cut it short, and fashioned it to mimic the head's easy high school student hairstyle. The outcome satisfied him.
"That's more like it. I'm now at the age of high school students. Should I also tie a piece of white cloth over my forehead to cover the red mark to avoid suspicion?" Junior Leopard thought with his head tilted. "Forget it! It might get in my way. Besides, it's just a red mark. People would think it's a birthmark. Who would pay attention to it? When I go running around with two hammers in the future, it'd interfere with my actions!"
No matter how he imagined a high school student with a pure, handsome appearance carrying a pair of hammers to smash people everywhere, he found it a little strange.
But there was no other way. If he looked strange, then so be it. Besides, he depended not on his face but his strength to survive.
After adding final touches, he opened his door and found Wang Tianlei was waiting outside. Seeing Junior Leopard's new hairstyle, Wang Tianlei was dumbfounded before he burst out into laughter. "Junior Leopard, you look handsome like this. You should consider your sister's suggestion to marry someone!"
"Brother-in-law, you don't have the talent to be a lobbyist!" Junior Leopard laughed, coming out of his room. "Did you hear any news?"
"There's a lot. Rumors are going all around, but there's some information that I can affirm. The Chief of Tian Long Taoism, Wang She's cultivation has reached Level Nine. He has also kidnaped White Blademaster Lu Shaoyou's wife and killed the Golden Lights Cave disciple, the new deacon of Mingyi School, Gao Yulou!"
"Gao Yulou? Wang She killed Gao Yulou?"
"The Mingyi School has confirmed his death. I heard it wasn't Wang She who killed him, but a mysterious figure named Xiao. But since he belonged to Wang She's bride-kidnapping entourage, the blame naturally fell onto Wang She. The Mingyi School and the Tian Long Mystic Mountain are now at loggerheads, the former wanting an explanation from the latter. The Golden Lights Cave has also responded to the incident. A large number of their disciples are now devoted to the Mingyi School, greatly enhancing their strength!"
"What's the use of going against Wang She? He's now a Level Nine expert. Whether it's position or strength-wise, the White Blademaster Lu Shaoyou and Gao Yulou are not his matches. Do you think the Mingyi School would really start a war against the Tian Long Mystic Mountain for Gao Yulou when their rival has a Level Nine expert?"
"It's not just a matter of Lu Shaoyou!" Wang Tianlei smirked. "Don't forget that it's the people from the Tian Long Mystic Mountain that snatched Lu Shaoyou's wife away in the full view of other people!"
"So what? For Lu Shaoyou to have his wife kidnapped, it can only show his uselessness! It's one thing if Wang She didn't enter Level Nine, but now that he's one, the Mingyi School would just disgrace themselves if they use this incident to fight the Tian Long Mystic Mountain. Besides, Ma Linglong was kidnaped before their wedding was completed, so she technically isn't Lu Shaoyou's wife yet. The one who should really respond is the Governor Mansion of Yunzhou, Governor Ma!"
"This is also the weirdest thing about the whole incident. If we go by Governor Ma's temper, he would have long harassed Wang She and the Tian Long Taoism about it. But he didn't do anything! That's completely out of everyone's expectations!" Wang Tianlei was once a soldier in Yunzhou, so he had a lot of admiration for Ma Tianchang.
"Hehe. Inaction is the best kind of action. Perhaps Governor Ma is making clear of his stance to someone!" Junior Leopard sneered. He was not clear about the relationship between Ma Tianchang and the imperial court, but while participating in the bride-kidnapping, he learned something from Wang She's words. Considering Ma Tianchang's status in Yunzhou as well as the anomalies in this marriage, he had quite a good guess of everything that was going on.
"Governor Ma is making clear of his stance to someone? What does that mean?" His words aroused Wang Tianlei's curiosity, but he did not want to explain himself.
"Brother-in-law, it's not something we can poke our nose into. Let's just focus on our business in this city and ignore other things!"
"Right, right. We should not poke our nose into these things!" Wang Tianlei nodded repeatedly.
Junior Leopard was a man of asset and he was confident about this. The truth was, he really did own many assets, whether it was the cultivation method of martial arts skills he knew or his heaven-sent bloodline. These assets, with the addition of time, were enough to help him reach the peak of this world.
But then again, he had plenty of assets, but not much time. He was now 14 to 15 years old. Even if he had many assets, he could not make the most out of them. Sometimes, he even had to come up with ways to hide his assets in case men more powerful than him would covet what he had and killed him mercilessly. That had always been the way Junior Leopard did things. Before taking a step, he would cautiously examine the three steps ahead. Sometimes, he would take one step forward, only to go two steps backward. This was the only way for him to keep himself and his family safe.
From reading between the lines of Snake King's words, as well as witnessing the string of consequences of the union of Ma Family and Lu Family, he came to understand the relationship between the Governor Mansion of Yunzhou and the whole Jin. But that was just mere understanding. He was not stupid enough to get involved. That was neither his field nor expertise. He would definitely not do this insane and obviously troublesome thing.
Now that he had gained his fame and received his benefits, the best thing to do was for him to keep a low-profile in Zhonghejun City and slowly digest his benefits. The key was to turn these benefits into his own, let them become part of his accumulation, and build up his strength step by step.
Snake King had told him the world will be thrown into chaos. Though he could not see any impending signs of that yet, it was never wrong to empower himself.
After changing his hairstyle and leaving his yard, Junior Leopard first visited his sister, Huer, and endured a round of her nagging. He then went to the Admiral Manor to cancel his leave, but he was stopped at the door by a couple of gossipy personal guards. They forced him to drink, prodding him to tell them what happened. After all, they were far away in Zhonghejun City and only heard rumors. First, those rumors may not be true. Second, it was not satisfying enough. Rumors were nowhere near as credible as Junior Leopard who was actually at the scene at that time.
Junior Leopard was helpless when he heard their questions. He was, in fact, there and was involved, but he could not possibly tell them that. With a bitter smile, he had to explain that he was not entitled to attend the banquet in Lu Mansion. He himself only heard rumors, but those came from first-hand sources, so they ought to be more credible than theirs.
"What did you say? Lu Shaoyou didn't make a move at all? Didn't they say he fought Wang She with his sword for dozens of rounds before getting defeated in the end?"
"Wang She didn't fight either? I heard he collapsed half of Lu Mansion!"
"Rumors had it that Wang She and Miss Ma have been in love for a long time. Now that Lu Shaoyou was going to snatch Miss Ma, of course, Wang She would be angered. Don't forget he fought Lu Shaoyou earlier when Lu Shaoyou went to ask for Miss Ma's hand in marriage. Who knew he's a Level Nine expert? This Lu Shaoyou is just bloody unlucky!"
Junior Leopard sweated profusely as he listened. The rumors even went as far as to say Wang She and Miss Ma had an affair.
"That's an exaggeration. Wang She is a Level Nine expert. Lu Shaoyou and the Mingyi School aren't idiots to openly go against a Level Nine expert. Even if they're killed, they would've deserved it. Do you think they're that stupid?"
"You're right! They're not that stupid!" These personal guards were not fools either. Earlier they were confused by the explosive gossip, but they had regained a calmer mind after being reminded by Junior Leopard.
It was true. Forcibly challenging a Level Nine expert was akin to seeking death.
Level Nine experts had their own dignities. It was like when an ordinary master dared to challenge an expert at the Tendon-Changing Realm. Whoever dared to challenge the expert's dignity, he could strike back. Even killing the challenger was well within his right. There was no reason, also the unspoken rule of the world. Lu Shaoyou was the first genius of Mingyi School in hundreds of years, also the one most likely to achieve Level Nine in a hundred years. He was their treasure. It was precisely because of this that the Mingyi School would not let him fight Wang She. Who knew if Wang She would take this opportunity to stamp out their future star?
"No matter how you put it, the Mingyi School and Lu Shaoyou really disgraced themselves. Hehe, Lu Shaoyou really got cuckolded bad this time!"
"It's fine if he was just cuckolded. There are so many women in this world and Miss Ma isn't the only one. But more importantly, he couldn't directly challenge Wang She after what had happened. It may affect his mood in the future, perhaps making it difficult for him to take his cultivation any further!" said Qi Fei, the Captain of the personal guards. He was a Level Five master. Having achieved his current cultivation, it was very difficult for him to move forward. In his current situation, he had a certain understanding of the relationship between the mood and cultivation. That was why he said these words.
Junior Leopard fully agreed with Qi Fei. Adding insult to injury, he said, "I think that's possible. Though it's only because of a woman, it's not easy to think positive when such things happen!"
"Exactly! How can it be so easy to think this through?" Everyone agreed wholeheartedly.
This was the truth. Witnessing one's bride being kidnapped on their wedding day, yet being unable to challenge the kidnapper out of fear of his strength, would greatly affect those who cultivate. This was especially true for Lu Shaoyou, a Level Eight expert who had been put on a pedestal for many years. How could he feel positive after taking in such a harsh blow?
"Oh, right. Junior Leopard, we've sorted the work duties for this month. Since your leave ends in the middle of the month, I'm worried you'll be delayed so I put you on duty at the end of the month. Since you're just back, you must be tired. Take a few days off at home."
"Okay. Thank you, Camp Supervisor!"
"We're like brothers. You're too polite!" Qi Fei laughed. "You're young and promising. Who knows, you may need to take care of us in the future!"
"What kind of words are these!" said Junior Leopard in a hurry. "Camp Supervisor, if you say that again, I'll really have to punish you to drink three cups of wine!"
"Yeah! Drink wine, drink wine!" Several personal guards next to Junior Leopard echoed his words, turning the environment lively once again.
Amidst the happily drinking personal guards, one of them who sat by the window made a surprised noise.
"Dong Chen, what's wrong?"
The question came from Qi Fei.
"Camp Supervisor, look! Isn't that Teacher Hu of the Guard County Manor? It's already so late. What's he doing, sneaking around?"
"Teacher Hu?" Qi Fei paused and poked his head out the window. "It's Teacher Hu, no doubt. What is he doing?"
"Camp Supervisor, Brother Dong, what happened?" Junior Leopard came up to them, breath full of the smell of alcohol.
"It's the Teacher of Guard County Manor. Look at him!"
Looking at the direction Dong Chen pointed, Junior Leopard saw a thin man in his fifties, like a weak scholar. Carrying a green parcel in his hand, the man scurried into a back alley not far from the restaurant.
It was already late into the night. Though this was a regional city, it was not as brightly lit as the gleaming modern city in Junior Leopard's previous life. In fact, every corner of the regional city except brothels and taverns would be basked in darkness when evening came. There were the occasional patrolling soldiers who would arrest anyone who looked suspicious. Under such circumstances, most people would not leave home at night. This naturally excluded those looking for fun and those like Junior Leopard and the guards who came out to drink and chat. Those who came out for fun or drinks were almost always congregated in an area. For Teacher Hu to hold a green parcel and go sneaking into the back alley, something must be up. Something was truly fishy here.
If it was someone else, the personal guards would just turn a blind eye. They were not going to lower themselves to do the garrison's work. But that man was the Grand-master of the mayor, making it a completely different scenario.
For a long time after Zhonghejun City was recovered, the city was under the control of Li Yuan's army. The power was only shifted when the imperial court sent a new mayor. It was also their present mayor, Wan An.
Li Yuan and his control over the city was not altogether inexcusable. After all, Zhonghejun City was the hinterland of Jin. Li Yuan had no choice but to govern the city and he and his soldiers had zero intention of becoming warlords. Therefore, when Wan An arrived in the city, Li Yuan readily handed over all the government affairs.
Unexpectedly, Wan An must be missing a screw in his head. After taking over the government affairs, he even tried to intervene in the military affairs and criticize Li Yuan's every behavior. This was pure nonsense. The mayor and the Admiral managed government affairs and military affairs respectively, which were two completely separate systems. If there was an occasional mishap in the government, the army would help keep the peace. They would be considered to have done their jobs. But what Wan An wanted was not just the surface work, but also the essence of the army itself.
Zhonghejun City was the hinterland of Jin and bordered not only Qianzhou, but also Haozhou. It was a city that sat at the junction of these three states and was surrounded by many lawless, unclaimed places. Prior to the Sect of Flame capturing the city, it was a dangerous place crawling with bandits. After it was recaptured by Jin, the city stabilized for a period of time. That was because the famous bandits like Black Three Lady and Beard Ma were involved in the Sect of Flame's rebellion. When the sect was defeated, the bandits they led naturally disappeared with them. But peace did not last long. Bandits were an ancient profession existing since the beginning of human society, much like prostitutes. In recent times, several bandits had appeared in the city. Not only did they pose a great threat to small towns and villages, but they also harassed people on the trade route to the city. This had seriously affected the economic recovery and prosperity of the city. Mayor Wan often used this as a reason for Li Yuan to send his troops to kill the bandits. After he was turned down several times, he changed his tactic. This time, he would ask to borrow Li Yuan's soldiers.
His mentality was this: if Li Yuan would not go, then he would. But since he did not have enough troops, Li Yuan had to lend him some!
In the beginning, Li Yuan tried to save his face and lent Wan An a thousand soldiers, including many officers led by a lieutenant-colonel. Three days later, only 700 returned. Of those survivors, more than 100 were wounded and 300 were left in those lawless, unclaimed areas. Li Yuan almost fainted with anger. He flared up at once after questioning the lieutenant-colonel in charge of the troops.
It turned out that the mayor hijacked the lieutenant-colonel's military command from the start, scattering Li Yuan's soldiers into his own ranks. The lieutenant-colonel tried to oppose, but due to his lower status, he was not qualified to speak to the mayor at all. After the troops were scattered, the mayor took them for granted and positioned them in the front, middle, and back lines. When he commanded the army to march to the bandits' place, they were ambushed by the cunning bandits. Dozens of soldiers were killed or wounded, forced to retreat with tails between their legs.
Li Yuan was naturally furious to hear this. He took four personal guards with him to the Guard County Manor to question the mayor. The mayor himself was also infuriated by the defeat and turned around to question Li Yuan's capability to lead his army. Li Yuan was so angry that he did not have the mood to argue with him. He slapped the mayor twice and kicked him to the ground, before leaving with his personal guards.
Wan An was truly offended this time. Not even Wang Tianlei's grain store was safe from his ire. In the beginning, it was thanks to Junior Leopard that the grain store was well cared for. Following the insulting incident with Li Yuan, Wan disliked the grain store related to Li Yuan's personal guard. However, it was not easy to deal with Wang Tianlei now. Firstly, Wang Tianlei's business had expanded to become popular among the public. Secondly, even when Junior Leopard was not around, there were his fellow officers of the personal guard camp paying attention to the grain store. These people were the epitome of unreasonable old soldiers. The people of Guard County Manor dared not offend them. A few attempts later, Wan An had no choice but let the grain store be. After all, if he had to resort to tactics to deal with the grain store, he would truly be a failure of a mayor.
Though Guard County Manor and Admiral Manor could not be considered as mortal enemies following this incident, they had the tendency to keep away from one another. The troops of both parties did not like each other and wanted to trouble each other every now and then. However, those from Admiral Manor were all soldiers and Li Yuan hailed from the Li family in Pingzhou. Thus, they had the upper hand in several of their civil disputes.
Of course, Li Yuan was a smart person and abided by his duty scrupulously. Though he had the upper hand, he never overstepped the line or initiated any dispute. So Zhonghejun City was considered peaceful.
Though it was peaceful and the superiors were also restraining themselves, what about the people below them?
The small arguments and fights had never stopped. Now that they saw the Grandmaster of Guard County Manor sneaking around in the middle of the night, these personal guards were naturally excited. Teacher Hu was Wan An's trusted subordinate. From the looks of it, he seemed to be doing something evil in secret. If they could catch his Achilles' heel and hand it over to Li Yuan, then the Admiral would be able to strike down Wan An. Everyone would also be better off in Zhonghejun City.
Thinking of this, Qi Fei squinted his eyes and exchanged a glance with Junior Leopard and Dong Chen. He quietly went down the stairs, sneaked into the back alley, and closely followed Teacher Hu.