Liu Zhen's ancestral home was located in the Horizontal Mountain Mid Region's Vermilion Tang Empire. He hailed from one of the empire's middling families. After disaster struck, his parents passed away one after another. As their only child, Liu Zhen was left with a tidy inheritance.
His ensuing days within the empire's capital, the Scarlet Tang City, was relatively comfortable because of this. An ample estate and a childhood girlfriend made for a cozy life.
Alas, such days were not to last. A young man from a family ten times better than his, with wealth a hundred times his, suddenly appeared in Liu Zhen's life one day. His woman walked away without hesitation, despite her pregnancy at the time. She took all he had with her and pawned off everything he owned. Not a single copper had been left for him.
Liu Zhen was essentially left destitute overnight. His home, his fields, and all his businesses became others' property over the span of twenty-four hours. Driven to the edge of madness, Liu Zhen sought out the woman in a frenzy. But after finding the right place with quite some difficulty, he was beat senseless and tossed aside. If not for the sheer number of onlookers, he probably would've been outright killed.
The suffering he experienced pushed Liu Zhen away from this place into voluntary exile. He began to travel the world, becoming a wandering cultivator who lived on a knife's edge. His martial dao gift was rather average. In the Vermilion Tang Empire, people like him could be found in droves. Without any earthly possessions, he lacked the cultivation resources to proceed at a reasonable pace.
It had been many years since then, but his level within the origin realm almost hadn't risen at all. When he'd first made Jiang Feng's acquaintance, Liu Zhen had been considerably stronger than his sworn brother. But now, he was left behind in the dust. Jiang Feng was sixth level origin realm, bordering on seventh. Liu Zhen was still back on the third level.
For his part, Liu Zhen wasn't particularly jealous of Jiang Feng. He envied a bit that his sworn brother had a good son, sure. But more than that, he was mostly thankful that he'd been able to make the other man's acquaintance. It was quickly becoming evident that his son could be the catalyst of a change in Liu's life.
Liu Zhen had thought that his pain was in the process of being slowly washed away. But the closer he got to his homeland, the more searing his psychological scar became. Time hadn't healed his pain at all. It had only buried it deep within his heart. The proximity of home caused his memories to burst forth like a flood, utterly smashing his dam of feigned strength.
He realized that he could let go of everything else except this bit of agonizing history. He had to find out the truth no matter what. Not the truth about why she'd left him, but whether the child inside of her had been his or the other man's?
The Vermilion Tang Empire occupied similar status in the Horizontal Mountain Mid Region as the Great Scarlet Empire did within the Great Scarlet Mid Region. They were both the administrative cores of their region. In this city, Liu Zhen's family qualified as a middling one at most. He had very little to do with power. When pitched against a family or faction ten or a hundred times greater, his experiences were understandable.
It was a cruel, cruel world.
Since his departure from Scarlet Tang City, Liu Zhen had not set foot in his hometown for almost thirty years. Any dream that the city appeared in inevitably turned into a bad one. For an entire empire, thirty years passed in the blink of an eye. But for Liu Zhen, they signified countless sleepless nights filled with waking nightmares.
"Hold your head high, Liu Zhen. Remember, you're not the same man as you were before. Your sworn brother is the father of Sacred Peafowl Mountain's young lord!" Emperor Peerless commanded. He was exceptionally keen whenever it came to emotional matters. Helping Gu Xintang and Ah Li out, for example. Hearing about Liu Zhen's past bereavement was no different. The emperor was incensed while Madame Yun looked incredulous. Jiang Chen's reaction was obviously similar.
Scarlet Tang City was a passably bustling place. In the eyes of Jiang Chen and company, though, its busyness could not compare to many other places that their well-traveled feet had trodden in.
Liu Zhen looked increasingly conflicted after they entered the city, hence Emperor Peerless's incessant reminders for him to buck up. Deep down, he had some reservations about returning here. There was lingering resentment and fearfulness, albeit both well-hidden, about the son of a rich and powerful family stealing his woman. Even when he was newly armed with a prominent backer, he could not shake off the timidity in his bones. He was only able to adjust himself mentally after several admonishments from the emperor.
After about an hour, Liu Zhen and the rest came to a house's doorsteps. "This is my ancestral home," he commented sadly. "Someone else owns it now. My ancestors would shudder to see the sight of it, I'm sure."
He had been cluelessly deceived by that woman, all those years ago and rendered destitute overnight through surrogate sale of his possessions. This was already a depressing outcome. That he'd received no sympathy at the time was salt on the wound. Many had said that it was his blindness that was responsible for his fate. They gossiped that he'd picked the wrong kind of girl.
Others had chalked it up to failures of character. After all, what kind of useless man could lose everything his ancestors had like that? There was taunting and mockery, and all sorts of hearsay and slander. Very few people commiserated with him, or if they did, they didn't dare show it.
The man responsible for ruining Liu Zhen was a noble scion of one of the Scarlet Tang City's best families and a real local despot. Who would spare any meaningless compassion for someone as penniless as Liu Zhen? Standing in front of his home of yesteryear, Liu Zhen began to weep.
"Is that all you're good for?" Emperor Peerless muttered discontentedly. "I regret coming with you now. If you used to live here, just buy it for five or ten times its former price. Hello. You're worth a billion saint spirit stones now."
Liu Zhen blinked. That's right! He was now fabulously rich, at least comparatively speaking. The dandy who'd taken his girl away certainly didn't have this much money, and possibly not even his family did.
The Vermilion Tang Empire had its fair share of wealthy families, but it was only an empire within a middle region. The young noble back then was prominent in Scarlet Tang City, but not when the entire empire was put into perspective.
Put another way, more than a billion saint spirit stones was the equivalent of more than ten billion origin spirit stones. It was a princely sum, and not even the likes of a fourth rank sect could come up with it in a hurry. In the Vermilion Tang Empire, the only factions that could were second and third rank sects, a few of the leading families, and the imperial bloodline. Not many others who could easily take out so much money came to mind.
"Old Brother Mo is right, Liu Zhen," Jiang Chen encouraged. "You are a rich man, and you need to use your wealth like a club. Is a problem that you can solve with money really a problem at all? What's there to cry about?"
The emperor and his young friend's advice filled Liu Zhen with renewed confidence. Jiang Feng declined to offer his own, instead knocking on the door straight away. The door creaked open. Two house guards came out, glancing sidelong at him. "Who're you looking for?"
"Summon the master of your house," Jiang Feng said coolly.
"Who are you?" The guards of big families tended to be quite haughty. They were unwilling to listen to Jiang Chen's brusque request.
Chuckling, Jiang Chen stepped up to the pair of stone lions at the door. "Did these belong to your family?" He asked Liu Zhen.
The wandering cultivator shook his head. "Not mine. Probably put here by the person who bought the house."
"Okay then." Jiang Chen laughed.
He gave one of the statues a light pat. Despite its unique materials, the stone lion crumbled to dust instantly like a pile of sand.
"Summon the master of the house," he continued, equally coolly.
The house guard's face immediately paled. He fled desperately back inside. Not long after, a series of loud footsteps were heard from within. A group of fierce-looking guards swarmed out under the leadership of their master. The master of the house was a sky origin realm cultivator from the looks of it.
"Who's brave enough to trespass on private properly in broad daylight, hmm? You know you're in Scarlet Tang City, yes?" The man had a well-developed throat.
Smirking, Jiang Chen stepped forward once more. "You're the master of the house?"
"So what if I am? I'd like to know who you are. Were you the one that broke the stone lion beside my door?"
"How much did you buy this house for?" Jiang Chen said, his voice impassive as ever.
"What's it to you? I'd really like to know where you come from, breaking my stone lion like that, aren't you scared…" The man cut off mid-sentence. Jiang Chen had casually smashed the other lion to smithereens as well when he was speaking.
"Last chance. How much did you buy this house for?" Jiang Chen's voice was colder now.
The homeowner paled just as his guard had. Crushing an entire lion with a single pat… what incredible strength!
He knew better than anyone that the stone lions hadn't been made of just any kind of stone. Sculpted with special materials, they had been designed to bring him good fortune. Even a sage realm cultivator would have a hard time if they wanted to break that stone with their bare hands. Rendering it unto dust directly… was probably beyond even sky sage realm. Why… when and why had a fiend like this come to Scarlet Tang City without warning?
Seeing the temperature of Jiang Chen's expression fall lower and lower, the homeowner shivered in concern. "It c-cost m-me… six million saint spirit stones. My l-life savings."
Grinning, Jiang Chen snapped his fingers at Liu Zhen.
Noticing, the wandering cultivator walked up himself, handing the homeowner twenty million saint spirit stones. "I'm giving you this much to get out of here. Now. Scram."
"What?" The homeowner was stunned. He narrowed his eyes at Liu Zhen in apparent recognition. "You… you're the last person who lived here, right? What was your name again? Liu… Liu Zhen, is that you? You dare come back, boy?!"
He regretted his words as soon as they were out of his mouth. 'Boy'? 'Dare come back'? Wasn't he paying attention? With the backers he's got now, of course Liu Zhen dared come back. What remarkable backers they were to be able to shatter a stone lion with a single pat!