As the saying goes, if you want to be rich, build the route first.
The reason why those lords who had been awarded territories were unwilling to come here could only be due to the harsh living conditions here—the northwest was very cold and remote, and the route leading to this place was a long and tough trail. These difficulties were subjective and could be overcome. After all, who didn't want to have his own kingdom and claim dominance across his land, and who didn't want to keep a route of retreat for himself?
The real barricade for the development of the northwest did not lie in its hard living conditions or its long distance from the Central Plains, but in the Blacktail Plain. As long as the Blacktail Plain was spanning across the northern Dragon-pressing River, existing on the front side of the northwest, the development of the northwest would remain a joke. Hence, no one wanted to come here, for not everyone could be ready to completely give up the colorful world in the Central Plains and come here to run the northwest, just like what Prince Ning did.
But Zhou Bao could sort this out. He was able to set up an absolutely safe route on the Blacktail Plain, or even more than one route, which would be intriguing enough for all the lords to cast their eyes in the northwest. Once those various lords in the northwest all came up, the water of the northwest would be stirred up to become thoroughly muddy.
However, in this way, Zhou Bao would downright offend Prince Ning till the end. But again, at the moment, Zhou Bao didn't think there was any leeway to turn things around with Prince Ning.
He didn't know Prince Ning at all, but Prince Ning initiated attacks one after another upon him, which was enough for him to loathe Prince Ning. Zhou Bao was never a yes-man, but he had always abided by the principle of never attacking unless being attacked. Once someone attacked him, there was no way that he would he stifle his explosive temper.
These days, it was all about Prince Ning making moves upon him, while he just passively made responses according to the situation. But now, he was going to change his strategy. He intended to take the initiative to do something and let Prince Ning learn a lesson. Opening up the passageway to the Blacktail Plain was one of these things, also the most fatal and the most effective one.
"I wonder what the expression on Prince Ning's face will be after I accomplish this thing?" Zhou Bao gave a cold laugh in his mind.
"Prince Ning, now I'm making a move, let's see how you take it!"
"What? Kunlun Mountain lost?"
In the barrack of Prince Ning beside the Dragon-pressing River, Prince Ning was staring at Yan Yunyan with an incredulous look and a numb face. At all events, never did he expect that Kunlun Mountain would lose the battle. Plus, they failed so suddenly, completely and glumly that even their Pure Yang Celestial Device Invisible Dragon Rod was lost to the other side.
"What the hell is this?"
"Yes, Kunlun Mountain lost. That Ning Bo walked right into Zhou Bao's trap, who used the Invisible Dragon Rod to constrain a puppet, and then fell to Zhou Bao's assassination effort and was subdued by him, causing their Pure Yang Celestial Device Invisible Dragon Rod to be snatched up by Wang She!" Standing next to Yan Yunyan, Shui Hongyan recounted the facts in an unperturbed tone. "Both of us were subdued by Wang She. When we came to our senses, Zhou Bao and Wang She were long gone, and the three men from Kunlun Mountain had also disappeared."
"Are you really sure that Wang She snatched up the Pure Yang Celestial Device of Kunlun Mountain?" Prince Ning was still a little unconvinced.
"Of course we're sure! We witnessed it with our own eyes!" Seeing that Prince Ning took a pinch of salt in her words, Yan Yunyan started feeling a bit upset. "Prince Ning, my brother, we risked a lot to see the whole thing. If Zhou Bao ever wanted to silence us using murder, we would have never made it back. You should suspect our words! Honestly!"
"Haha, haha, Sister Yan'er did go through lots of trouble this time. Your words are not suspicious to me, but unbelievable!" Prince Ning hastened to give an apologetic smile, though this smile was evidently forced.
"Please rest assured, Prince Ning. The failure of Kunlun Mountain is not necessarily a bad thing!" A man beside them suddenly opened his mouth and said.
"What do you mean?" asked Prince Ning, whose eyes flashed for a second.
"If the Kunlun Mountain merely lost this battle, it's nothing. Moreover, maybe they will not make new moves on account of Zhou Bao's strength. But this time, since Zhou Bao and Wang She even robbed their Pure Yang Celestial Device, Kunlun Mountain will never let it go. Although this time, their First Elder lost. The next time, it will be Kunlun's Master, the Leader of Kunlun Mountain and one of the Three Grandmasters in the Northern Yuan that come out and strike. Regardless of how powerful Zhou Bao is, how can he ever take any advantage of the Kunlun Master?"
So long as Zhou Bao was there, the world would never be short of sensational news!
Merely within 10 days, the entire martial arts world registered the truth of this saying once again.
Now, Zhou Bao, who had been out of the spotlight of the Central Plains for a while, suddenly created a huge buzz in the northwest.
He collided with Tian Long Taoism's Wang She and nicked a Pure Yang Celestial Device of Kunlun Mountain!
A Pure Yang Celestial Device. A thing that was legendary and incomparably precious in the eye of numerous prestigious sects and schools, as well as well-known families, was now connected with Zhou Bao for the second time. The first time, Zhou Bao robbed Xining King's Eldest Son Yan Fei of the Octupole Exquisite Pagoda he had obtained from the World Hero Competition. The second time, it was the treasure of Kunlun Mountain, the Invisible Dragon Rod that was snatched away by the joint hands of Zhou Bao and Wang She.
If we counted it up, so far, a total of three Pure Yang Celestial Devices had passed through Zhou Bao's hands, one of which was owned by him.
This was truly unbelievable.
But the channel from which this news spread out was even more unbelievable—this was disclosed by the Tian Long Taoism in the first place.
This time, the Tian Long Taoism made a rare announcement to the world, warning Kunlun Mountain that they had unduly assaulted an outer core disciple of the Tian Long Taoism and attempted to murder a key official, the lord of the Great Jin, as well as to loot a Pure Yang Celestial Device of the Great Jin. This was something that the Tian Long Taoism and even the whole martial arts world of the Great Jin could not tolerate.
Zhou Bao was an outer core disciple of the Tian Long Taoism, which meant he was under the protection of the Tian Long Taoism. Kunlun Mountain should dare send a First Elder with the cultivation at Level Nine to attack Zhou Bao using a Pure Yang Celestial Device, but was beaten up by him in the end! How could they have the dignity to claim justice from Zhou Bao and strive to retrieve that Pure Yang Celestial Device? How silly was this, wasn't it?
For this purpose, the Leader of the Tian Long Taoism Yu Baimei even came forward to warn Kunlun Mountain in person, informing them that if they ever dispatched anyone to harass Zhou Bao, the Tian Long Taoism would have no problem to put up a fight with them. As to Wang She, one of the Chiefs of the Tian Long Taoism, he even went so far to declare that he would pull all the strength subordinate to him to the northwest and start a fierce battle against Kunlun Mountain.
Although this threat was not realized due to the persuasion of several significants from the Tian Long Mystic Mountain, it was a sufficient manifestation of Tian Long Taoism's care for Zhou Bao. Indeed, he was titled as an outer core disciple. But as a matter of fact, even if this had happened to Wu Yansheng, the Family Head of the Wu Family where Zhou Bao came from, he would have no way to make the Leader of the Tian Long Taoism Yu Baimei seek justice for him in person, would he?
Moreover, even though he didn't manage to redeploy all the strength in his hand, Wang She refused to stay on the spot after he returned to the Tian Long Mystic Mountain. Instead, he went straightforward to the northwest with a dozen of his subordinates. Every one of them was his trusted buddy, all of whom had a cultivation at the peak of Level Six, except for one that was about to break through Level Seven.
For Zhou Bao, who was temporarily short of helpful subordinates, these men were strong reinforcements. With the dozens of men, he would have adequate force to dominate his own territory. Zhu Ba would also have no need to lead those subordinate urban managers to patrol all over the place for day and night.
Not to mention that there was another Level Nine expert there to help him—Wang She!
Having a Level Nine expert at the place who also owned a Pure Yang Celestial Device, meant that nobody would be stupid enough to cause trouble for them. Even with the current strength of Prince Ning, provoking Zhou Bao was still something too dangerous to perform, because two Pure Yang Celestial Devices coupled with two experts, would be more than enough to completely wipe out the strongest force of Prince Ning.
As might have been expected, owing to the pressure imposed by the Tian Long Taoism, no force of Kunlun Mountain ever dared to show up within Zhou Bao's territory, as if they had acquiesced that this was the ending of the issue.
Among all schools in the world, Kunlun Mountain was known for its endurance and cowardice. Last time when the Northern Yuan fell down, didn't the Kunlun Master run back to Kunlun Mountain on his own? That was why he was the only Grandmaster out of the Three who had managed to escape unscathed. Though he had to put up with some mockery and derision for this, he did keep the foundation of the Kunlun Mountain intact. Those guys who laughed at him or scolded him in the dark would never dare to provoke Kunlun Mountain. Yet, after the Northern Yuan was destroyed, Kunlun Mountain was still enjoying the same treatment as the Palace of Destruction Demon, and didn't differ much from the Three Great Sects of the Great Jin. How could they achieve this?
This was simply attributed to the Kunlun Master and their Pure Yang Celestial Device!
The Kunlun Mountain did lose a Pure Yang Celestial Device, which significantly weakened their strength, but their root was not damaged. They still had at least two Level Nine experts and one Pure Yang Celestial Device. This kind of strength was sufficient to make everyone scared of them.
This was precisely why Wang She had personally assumed command over the northwest after the event.
It was due to concerns about the Tian Long Taoism that Kunlun Mountain didn't adopt any further action. However, their current inaction did not guarantee an uneventful future. After all, robbing a Pure Yang Celestial Device was no laughing matter. Although the Invisible Dragon Rod was now in Wang She's hand, Zhou Bao still had another one with him, right?
For this, Wang She wasn't assured either. Thus, he simply moved to the northwest, displaying that he might have a long-term stay there. The top of the Tian Long Taoism also tacitly consented to it.
While all these dazzling actions dazed many people's eyes, they also put many observant men into overthinking.
This was not about protecting Zhou Bao! Apparently, the Tian Long Taoism was using this matter to openly expand their strength. Good heavens, with a single move, they could deploy their force to the northwest.
The Mingyi School, the Sect of Flame, and all sorts of other schools in Jianghu had all interpreted something unique from this action of the Tian Long Taoism.
With Zhou Bao's strength and the secret support from the Tian Long Taoism, he would soon take firm control over the northwest region. Though at present, the future region was cold and remote, barren and deserted, what would happen to it in the future?
The northwest was vast and abundant in resources. If provided with time, patience and sufficient labor, this region would certainly thrive and prosper. It was even possible to build up a large kingdom with a strength no less than that of the Great Jin. This time, the Tian Long Taoism truly got a head start. Zhou Bao and Wang She were actually the northwest agents of the Tian Long Taoism. Perhaps, one day, the Tian Long Taoism could really develop and shine in the northwest region!
Thinking of this, everyone's mind began to run wild, maybe too wild.
For a while, various schools, influences, and well-known family in the martial arts world started making moves in secret. Batches and batches of forces were dispatched to the northwest. Those lords who had obtained fiefs in the northwest but due to the martial environment, chose to remain in the Jin and never went there, also became popular figures, starting to engage with assorted influences every single day.
For a moment, undercurrents were surging and the storm was rising!
"Bastard! Zhou Bao, you bastard! Not to mention Wang She, and the Tian Long Taoism! Why don't you stay put in the Central Plains? What did you come to the northwest for?"
In the camp of Prince Ning beside the Dragon-pressing River, Prince Ning was outraged. In the past dozen days, all sorts of messages had been swinging before his eyes like trotting horse lamps, all of which was disadvantageous to him. Thanks to the joint action of Zhou Bao and the Tian Long Taoism, the water in the northwest was stirred muddy, completely muddy. Myriads of people had eyed this place now. Originally, Prince Ning planned to quietly take up the northwest region. But now, the plan of taking as much advantage as possible fell through again.
"Your Royal Highness, please calm down. I think we'd better give the matter some further thought and discuss it later!"
At the sight of this furious Prince Ning, none of the experts in the camp dared to utter another sentence. Instead, several men dressed like intellectuals, seemed thoughtful regarding the matter.
"Calm down, how! I've toiled to manage this place for three years, and I've invested all my force in this tough northwest region, but for what? Simply, for occupying the northwest region before anyone realizes the whole situation. This was so as to gain some advantages. But today, what about today? Everything is too late, because everyone has shifted their focus to the northwest. Thus, how on earth can I calm down?"
As prince Ning was growling, his two fists violently dropped onto the low tea table in front of those intellectuals, shattering the newly built low tea table made of firm wood into pieces.
"My painstaking efforts. All my painstaking efforts were spent in the northwest. Now they're all wasted, all wasted!"
Being ferociously glared at by Prince Ning, that intellectual went ashen-faced, quivering in fear. For a while, he didn't know what to say. He recoiled to the back, as if about to slump into his chair.
The whole camp was enveloped by the fury of Prince Ning and fell into silence, like a volcano that might erupt at any time, which could generate a force of compelling stress, even though the quietness was not broken at all.
"Actually, it's not a bad thing!"
These words rang out, breaking the horrible silence.
All eyes in the camp darted toward the source of that sound. There stood the most inferior seat at the intellectuals' table. An intellectual in black was sitting there, who had a slight figure, a wretched face and a handlebar mustache.
It seemed that he had taken no notice of the uncanny atmosphere in the camp, but had been slowly sipping his liquor, appearing to be quite at ease. However, with so many people in the camp staring at him, he could not remain unresponsive. He slightly raised up his head, looked at the crowd, and began smiling. "Actually, from the beginning, I've disagreed with your plan. What rubbish it is saying that the northwest is cold and remote when it's vast and abundant in resources, which is good for development! No matter how tough and vast it is, how fit it is for development, it's impossible to keep this kind of thing away from the rest!" He heaved a soft sigh and continued, "Unfortunately, you just didn't listen to me, but insisted that this would be a great opportunity!"
"Jia Yuan, stop deliberately mystifying this issue. Just spit it out!" Among all the intellectuals, a middle-aged man in lead looked a little embarrassed, and he snapped in an undertone.
"I have nothing to spit out!" The intellectual named Jia Yuan shook his head, he slowly rose up from his chair, and gave a deep bow at Prince Ning. "It's just that, I reckon, right now is precisely the most advantageous timing for Prince Ning!"
"Oh?" Prince Ning's eyes flashed, and a trace of an odd smile was jerked out on his face. He then strode in front of Jia Yuan in merely one step. "Are you saying that right now is the most favorable opportunity for me? How come? If your words make sense, I'll promote you as my strategist. If you are deliberately mystifying things and try to deceive me, I'll toss you out of our camp and let the wild wolves feed on you!"
Jia Yuan cracked a smile and replied, "Why so serious, Your Royal Highness? The position of strategist is something I am not up to. Well, the issue here is not complex. It's just because of the sudden appearance of Zhou Bao that Your Royal Highness and other associates lost your usual peace of mind and ignored this point. If we think it over, this event actually didn't cost a thing for Your Royal Highness. At most, it is merely Kunlun Mountain that lost a Pure Yang Celestial Device. The reason why they lost it is utterly due to their incompetence, which has nothing to do with Your Royal Highness, and also didn't incur any damage upon the alliance treaty between Your Royal Highness and the other Royal Highness!" Speaking of this, Jia Yuan started laughing. "Even if the northwest region has attracted others' attention, so what? Your Royal Highness's influence is still the No.1 in the northwest. In addition, with the secret help provided by Kunlun Mountain, no matter who comes to the northwest, they still have to act in line with your attitude. If Your Royal Highness wants to, you can make them disappear at any time. What's more, since others have noticed the northwest, many people will be willing to move here. Then, Your Royal Highness will never be short of work hands. Goals that are planned to be realized in five or 10 years can also get started right now. As long as the situation is properly handled, those new-comers will not become an impediment for Your Royal Highness. Instead, they will become your helpers, and as for Zhou Bao..."
Speaking of Zhou Bao, Jia Yuan paused for a moment. "Though Your Royal Highness may find it weird, I still want to say the mountains. In fact, you don't need to provoke him. Zhou Bao does have some strength, but he is not very mountainous. The reason why he has devoted himself to managing the northwest region is simply that he is just a wild boy from the mountains, who has no foundation for building an enterprise. Accordingly, he merely aims to set up one foundation of his own, and that's it. As long as Your Royal Highness gradually takes control over the northwest, why do you need to fear for his potential rebellion?"
"So you're saying that I should just ignore this Zhou Bao, right?''
"Yes, just ignore him, and don't get into conflict with him. Your Royal Highness only needs to concentrate on building up your own influence. Considering the major influence of Zhou Bao is in the west, it won't have any serious impact on Your Royal Highness!"
"No serious impact? How can you allow others to sleep soundly just on the other side of your own bed? This is really simple, how could you not understand?" The middle-aged intellectual sitting in the primary seat sneered. "Jia Yuan, it seems that you are drunk talking! Maybe we need those wild wolves to sober you up!"
"Jia Yuan is not confused by liquor!" Jia Yuan grinned, not caring a crap about the threat made by the opponent. "Your Royal Highness, does it ever occur to you that even if there was no Zhou Bao, could you really bring the entire northwest under your rule so smoothly? As I've mentioned, it's impossible to keep this kind of thing from those perceptive men, no matter how confidentially you get it done. Princess Heyang is a living example. The greatest advantage of Your Royal Highness, is that you have acted one step ahead than the rest, also more resolutely than the others. That's why you've established such a huge superiority in the northwest. On the count of this superiority, even if other Royal Highnesses have noticed the benefits in this matter, they will not take action simply because they shall have many scruples about you and give up their hopes. Your Royal Highness, at present, you're possessing the absolute advantage in the northwest! How can you say that your effort is all wasted?"
"Advantage? Do I have any advantage? Yeah, I do. I do have the absolute advantage! No matter how many people they are going to send here, it's none of my business. Even if it's true that, as the rumors have it, Zhou Bao has truly opened up the passageway to the Blacktail Plain, that will only do good to me instead of harm. In this case, the northwest shall be able to prosper at the highest speed. Right, right, that does make sense!" Hearing the remarks of Jia Yuan, Prince Ning's indignant look suddenly brightened, and the suffocating sense of ferocity that had permeated the tent also faded away. Prince Ning narrowed his originally wide-open eyes, and started pacing up and down in the tent.
After about the time for a meal, Prince Ning finally stopped pacing. He stood there, staring at Jia Yuan while saying, "You do make a fair point. But now, undercurrents are all surging up in the northwest region. How to do it? Which is the better way? These are things that you need to delicately scheme for me, please! "
"That's a matter within my duties!" Jia Yuan smiled, and took a bow down to the deepest level.
Just at this time, a fit of hurried horse clops fluttered into the tent. The horse halted right in front of Prince Ning's tent. Then, a junior captain hustled in, panting.
"Your Royal Highness, Your Royal Highness, the rumor, the rumor is true! Zhou Bao, Zhou Bao does has opened up a route to the Blacktail Plain!"
To be continued.