Calm was gradually restored in the small town at the foot of Jilei Mountain.
The large courtyard sitting at the end of that town also returned to tranquility after the commotion.
The backyard was completely destroyed, though front yard remained fairly intact.
Inside the West Hall in the front yard.
Junior Leopard and Wang She were seated leisurely as they chatted in a low voice. Jiang Xiao was waiting outside. He could hear their laughter from time to time and it made his heart itch.
Everything changed too quick for him to grasp. Wang She came here shortly after Junior Leopard badly injured the elder from the Tian Long Taoism but he talked and laughed with Junior Leopard, showing no sign of wanting to punish him.
As much as they found the change strange, they were finally relieved of their worries.
Junior Leopard might have some reputation, strength, and status, but he was no bigger than an act in the face of a huge sect like the Tian Long Taoism. For him to beat up one of their elders meant he held no respect for the sect. Life would become difficult for them all if Junior Leopard truly angered the sect.
But everything seemed to be fine now. Wang She had arrived and was laughing and chatting with Junior Leopard without any regard for the injured elder. It was obvious from their joyful interaction that they were much closer than regular friends. It seemed that it wasn't just hearsay that Junior Leopard brought Wang She back from the prairie. Wang She must be the reason behind Junior Leopard's confidence.
Wang She commanded real power in the Tian Long Taoism as one of its three Chiefs and enjoyed a higher status than elders like Lin Xiaoqing. With his backing, Junior Leopard would definitely be all right and they didn't need to worry at all.
"If that's the case, I'll first excuse myself and tell the Leader exactly what happened. I assure you no one from the Tian Long Taoism will come and bother you. If someone is ignorant enough to come to you, don't give me any face and just beat him to death!"
Inside the West Hall, Wang She had already got up to his feet as he spoke to Junior Leopard with a beaming smile.
Junior Leopard was also smiling. "I'll be counting on you, Chief."
"It's just a piece of cake. I'll try and find a way to warn those well-known families for you." Wang She waved his hand. "I still have work to do, so I have to leave. You don't have to see me out."
He waved at Junior Leopard and transformed into a cyan streamer before flying toward the sky.
"Remember to teach those brats a lesson for me!" Junior Leopard shouted at the cyan light. A burst of laughter answered him before gradually fading away.
"Your Excellency, is the problem settled?"
Jing Xiao came up to Junior Leopard after waiting for the cyan light to disappear to finally ask his question.
"Almost!" Junior Leopard said before turning toward Zhu Ba. "Didn't you say you're joining that World Hero Competition? Go and pack. We'll leave together."
"You're joining too?"
"How is it possible? I'm going there to watch the show and teach those brats a lesson." Junior Leopard answered. "Jiang Xiao, you haven't returned to the Central Plains for a long time. Get someone competent to temporarily take over your duty and go back with us."
"Thank you very much, Your Excellency!" Jiang Xiao's face beamed with delight at those words.
Only Wang Cheng seemed to be hesitating. "The competition seems far more complicated than it appears. Is it fine to send Zhu Ba there?"
"Why not?" Junior Leopard appeared unconcerned. "I won't be getting myself entangled in this troublesome matter. But nothing will happen to you guys if you do."
Seeing how Junior Leopard seemed to have a well-thought-out plan, the three said nothing more. They nodded and left.
"Damn it! So unlucky! I didn't go around looking for trouble but trouble found me! Someone actually targeted me! Be careful or I'll beat you brats to death!"
Wang She didn't bring him good news but it wasn't bad either. It helped him figure out the whole thing and explained why he was being inexplicably targeted.
What on earth was going on?
It was a really long story!
The imperial court enjoyed the great national prestige and gradually began to get drunk on their superiority after exterminating Northern Yuan. The emperor was also being complacent. On the surface, the whole Jin seemed brilliant and prosperous at the moment.
However, it was getting turbulent underneath its splendid surface and the struggle over profit among all parties was becoming increasingly intense.
There were three surface influences in Great Jin, namely the imperial court, well-known families, and the three original sects. The Mingyi School supported the imperial court, the Tian Long Taoism teamed up with the well-known families, and the Sect of Flame backed the rebels. Jin was locked in a three-way confrontation, though it was still in a relatively stable state.
After all, it was just like the saying that went 'Where there are people, there is Jianghu; where there is Jianghu, there is fighting!'.
The three influences were also rife with internal struggles with different sides of the family trying to gain profit. Never mind these large families, even ordinary middle-class families would be troubled with internal problems with several sons vying for the family property.
In the imperial court, the royalty and well-known families weren't the only factions vying for profit. There was also the bureaucratic group.
This was similar to the power struggle between the monarchical power and the premier power recorded in the medieval times. While the profit of the Royalty and the well-known families could both be inherited, the profit of the bureaucratic group rarely could.
Besides, there were two bureaucrat systems of the imperial court. One was composed of scions of different well-known families who possessed no real power despite their high status. The other consisted of intellectuals who gained power through the imperial examination and were the ones who actually ran the country. Most scions were good-for-nothings, yielding no real power even though their families had so much influence over their administrative regions that even local officials were afraid of them. It was the court-appointed officials who were in charge of the people.They were given the responsibility of collecting taxes, defining the budget, leading the army, and suppressing bandits. In the whole Jin, from small counties to large states, the real power was always held by local officials. Put it this way, the bureaucratic group could be said to hold the real power.
The more power one had, the more thinking he would do and the less willing he would be to relinquish his power. But the problem was that it was the emperor who entrusted the power. He had the right to take it back whenever he wanted. Thus there laid the conflict.
But things didn't always go according to the theory. Take Chen Yizhi as an example. He had been an official for decades, garnering many disciples and followers who were indebted to him. In the past 20 years, he was responsible for the development of nearly half of the government decrees. It was him who came up with most governance ideas. If someone took over his position, carrying different governance ideas, the decrees would be in a mess and the people might not be convinced.
Therefore, even the emperor was forced to be cautious of Chen Yizhi who had been the premier for decades.
But here was the emperor's chance!
The destruction of Northern Yuan boosted the national prestige of Jin and the emperor to a new high. The imperial court had also undergone huge changes due to enfeoffing of the Northern Yuan land, so there was no better time than now to abolish the premier.
Therefore, the current state of the imperial court was somewhat strange. On top of that, the grown-up princes including Prince Ning were itching for action. It made the everything felt unpredictable and left all those involved at a loss.
The imperial court was now in troubled times. What about those well-known families and prestigious sects and schools?
They were also in a similar situation. Take, for example, the Tian Long Taoism. The sect was internally divided into several factions. One faction was composed of direct disciples like Wang She and Nian Wushuang. Another faction was the influence of well-known families inside the sect. In fact, the Tian Long Taoism had long enjoyed close relations with different well-known families and often took in the sons of those families as disciples. Lin Xiaoqing was the offspring of the Lins while Wu Yulong was the offspring of a small branch family. As the tightest bonds between the Tian Long Taoism and their families, they not only represented the interest of their sect but sometimes of their families. Therefore, they were usually not close to the direct disciples. And the last faction was made up of those from the ancient tribes that had long existed in the sect. Their ancestors were all founders of the sect, with the successors passing down power from generation to generation, allowing them to retain strong power. Take the Lei Family for an example. Though it didn't govern the sect, its will must be taken into consideration by the two other influences.
Everyone fought for their own profit in this area, plunging the world into chaos.
The World Hero Competition was designed to balance the interests of all these different parties.
Precious as Pure Yang Celestial Device was, it was no more than a stunt.
Everyone wanted it, but no one would dare steal it now that it was in the hands of the royalty. No one expected the royalty to offer it as a prize for the competition. No one knew what the royalty was up to.
But every influence had its own think tank and formed their own guesses. The answers they got were all the same — the emperor wanted to use the Pure Yang Celestial Device to test their strength.
No one could resist the temptation of such a weapon.
There was only one such weapon even in the Yan Family, the royalty of Jin. As for the millennium families and powerful family, only the most distinguished ones would have a Pure Yang Celestial Device. There were less than five who possessed one.
Now the Jin royalty was even generous enough to give one away. Besides testing the strength of the different parties, they were probably planning to tempt those experts into killing each other and causing grievances.
This was an open conspiracy!
Though all the families knew that, they had no choice but take action under the lure of the Pure Yang Celestial Device.
The emperor had his own wishful thinking, but no one was willing to follow his plans. Therefore, they all dealt with the temptation in their own way. For example, someone from the Tian Long Taoism wanted to make sure of another person's strength to gain what he wanted, so he thought of Junior Leopard.
Junior Leopard originated from the Wu Sect, a tributary of the Tian Long Taoism. Therefore, there was no problem having Junior Leopard represent the sect to fight in the competition. Since Junior Leopard had established his reputation, making him their agent wouldn't reveal the true strength of the sect or even the well-known families. Besides, it wouldn't be difficult for him to win the weapon with his strength and a little help from the families.
Surprisingly to them, Junior Leopard refused them.
"I didn't quite believe Jiang Xiao when he told me the scions of those families are unbearable but it seems to be true judging from what Lin Xiaoqing and Wu Yulong did."
Lin Xiaoqing was a talented person from a well-known family. He was used to bossing others around after a lifetime of high status in the Tian Long Taoism and his family, having joined the sect and reaching Level Eight. To him, Junior Leopard was no more than a lucky fellow hailing from a small family. No matter how powerful Junior Leopard was, the families considered him no more than someone who should obey whatever they ordered him to do. More importantly, Junior Leopard might not act alone but his backing was merely a small family and an estate.
Anyuan Store wasn't by any means small but was considered a small business in the eyes of those like Lin Xiaoqing. It would take them only a wink or a word to destroy it. However, before Lin Xiaoqing could say anything threatening, Junior Leopard fought back. Fortunately for him, those words never left his mouth. If they did, then the question remained whether he could walk away alive. Junior Leopard's temper, though sometimes mild, could explode under another's threat.
"You'll pay for that! You definitely will!" Riding on his horse, Wu Yulong cursed angrily as he covered his severely swollen cheek. "How dare a mountain villager's son to treat me like this! If we're in the olden times, he'd just be a servant of my family. Who gave him the guts to beat me! How dare him!"
Lyu Yiyue's face twitched in anger, but he soon calmed down.
The word 'servant' irritated him.
He didn't expect him to be considered a mere servant after all the things he had done for the Wu family.
Inside, he was laughing at himself but his expression became more relaxed instead.
More than a thousand years ago, there was no such thing as an elder in both the Wu and Wang families. External disciples like Lyu Yiyue and Zhou Bao were considered family servants no matter how powerful they were or how much they contributed to the family. The family could do anything with their lives. They were also not given the chance to learn any profound martial arts or inherit any estate. There were, however, always exceptions for those with great talent. After all, these families wouldn't choose some idiot to be their servant and the smart ones would end up learning by themselves and accidentally gain some insight by chance. They would then rebel to escape the control of the families or perhaps escape their fate of being a slave forever. As such, conflicts began to surface.
In the beginning, the families tried to suppress their servants and increasingly kept their guard up. Thought it worked, they soon realized it didn't solve the problem. This was particularly true for small and medium-sized families. If they were unlucky enough to crack down on a talented servant, the revenge they might suffer would be fatal. For thousands of years, many such families disappeared precisely for this reason. After all, they were much weaker than the millennium families, though those families would also suffer a heavy setback if they ran across such a talent by chance. Therefore, after learning dozens of painful lessons, families big or small began loosening their control over external disciples. They would also regard those outstanding disciples with special respect rather than treating them as servants. Thus the Outside Elder System gradually emerged.
Though the outside elders couldn't become the head of the family, they still enjoyed high status in the family and yielded strong power. This system had two advantages. First, by winning over these powerful external disciples, the family's strength could be greatly enhanced and internal conflicts would also decline. Second, these external disciples could make more achievements with the family as their backing. This way, the Outside Elder System became a win-win policy and was thus widely accepted.
But the nature of those well-known families never changed. Direct disciples still looked down on the external disciples and elders, despite their status and strength. The difference was that they would usually hide their scorn, only occasionally showing it. It was precisely what happened with Wu Yulong.
Wu Yulong was still feeling dazed after getting slapped by Junior Leopard and couldn't restrain himself from swearing wildly. He forgot that the one standing beside him was Lyu Yiyue, who was also an outside elder and the second most powerful member of the family after Junior Leopard.
But Lyu Yiyue was now old and shrewd. He hid his expression and said in the tone of a benign elder, "Yulong, the times are different now. You saw with your eyes how not even Elder Lin from the Tian Long Taoism was a match for him. He alone can destroy our Wu Family, so you'd better watch your mouth."
"What's there to fear? So what if he's strong? Even if he's strong, I don't believe he's more powerful than the Tian Long Taoism. I think he really swallowed the courage of a lifetime to dare beat up Elder Lin! Wait and see, our sect definitely won't leave this matter alone. Just wait till I get back to the sect!"
"What can you do when you get back to the sect?"
A delicate yet somewhat hoarse voice suddenly drifted next to their ears, shocking them both.
"Who's there?" Lyu Yiyue roared. He raised his hand and immediately threw his fist toward the source of voice but his punch only hit the air.
He heard a terrified voice. "T-Teacher!"
"So you still remember I'm your teacher!"
The voice carried even more mockery and discontentment.
"I-I dare not forget!"
Wu Yulong's face turned completely pale as he got off the horseback. He fell on his hands and knees, pressing his head fiercely against the ground. He trembled all over.
"That's enough acting. I won't do anything to you." Wang She came close to him and gave him a light kick. "Now that you've established relations with the four families, I can no longer control you as a lowly chief. Do whatever you want but don't go pissing off Junior Leopard, understand?"
"Yes! I understand!"
"That's good. At least when you die, you can become a ghost who understands why he's dead!" Wang She chuckled.
Trembling, Wu Yulong dared not to say another word and kept his head lowered.