Liu Dalang wanted to explode from anger. How could there be someone so stupid?! This wasn't just any old grudge! His younger brother had stolen someone's wife! And here he was, talking about it so casually! Did he think that it was something like having taken a piece of candy? That he could just return it, and everything would be fine? The killing of another's parents and the taking of another's love engendered history's deepest grudges.
It was obvious to him that the victim was here for vengeance. His actions so far had been only appetizers, a small taste of what was to come. A pre-emptive ringing of their funeral bells, so to speak. The worst was yet to arrive!
And Liu Feng, that despicable brute… he thought that it wasn't a big idea, even now? 'I'll just give her back if I have to'. Was that even feasible?!
Hatred at being left destitute wasn't something that one would give up so easily, at least in Liu Dafang's opinion. He certainly wouldn't, if he were in the victim's shoes. In that instant, he wanted very badly to cut his useless brother down on the spot.
The Liu family's old man had a habit of spoiling his youngest son. He rushed to intercept his oldest son's murderous expression. "My child, calm down! The sky hasn't fallen in yet."
Liu Dalang was thoroughly upset. He sat back down on his chair angrily. "Father, you need to stop shielding this useless brute. Has he not troubled our family enough? And every time he does, I'm the one that has to clean up after him. But this time, he's practically drowned himself in the latrine! How am I supposed to deal with that? The sky hasn't fallen yet, but it's about to, alright?" The eldest Liu son was beyond exasperated.
"Impossible! Dalang, you are a government official that works for the imperial crown. He's just a commoner with no scholarly honors whatsoever. He has no roots here in Scarlet Tang City. So what if he butters up some other officials? Do you think a few meals will be enough to turn them against us? It's not so easy as that." The old man was more astute than one would expect.
The man he spoke to, however, had a different opinion. "Father, those officials won't turn against us, but they can definitely indulge in inaction. It's hard to refuse requests after receiving all those presents. Liu Zhen is both generous and of means. Many among the court are singing his praises. They emphasize his benevolence and candor and that he's someone to befriend"
"So what? That doesn't matter. Like I said, he won't lay a hand on the family of a government official. Is he reckless enough to employ personal justice within the Vermilion Tang Empire?"
"Father, you don't know the half of it. He has a bunch of cultivation experts with him, probably exactly for dealing with us, I fear. He won't do anything in the open, but experts are all lawless men in private. If he really moves against us, we can't resist at all. The strongest cultivator that we have is only sky sage realm. He, on the other hand, seems to have brought a few emperor realms with him!" Liu Dalang really was worried.
He'd seen much violence in his time and knew that vengeance wasn't something to be trifled with. Anyone who thought further would realize that no sane man would tolerate Liu Feng's actions. Who could bear the pain of having his woman taken away from him?
"If things are as you say, Dalang, then what should we do?" The Liu family's old man was finally showing a hint of concern.
"There's no other way. We need to yield. This is as bad as being under another's roof. Let me prepare valuable presents and go visit him first. I'll give him a preliminary token of our apology."
"Will he accept it?" The old man asked.
"Of course not. This is only to test the waters. Liu Feng has to face this mess himself. Apologizing with utmost humility is the only possible solution. If he's lucky, the other guy won't kill him. If he's not…" Liu Dalang trailed off, but it was obvious what he meant.
"What're you saying?" Liu Zhen jumped up angrily. "Brother, are you going to give up your own brother for someone to vent their anger on?"
Liu Dalang was upset in his own right. "Even if I did that right now, you pig, I don't know if it'll be enough to save our family. I'll tell you straight that if sacrificing you keeps our family unscathed, I'll do so gladly."
He'd given up hope on Liu Feng quite a while ago. No matter how strong their brotherly bond, Liu Feng's constant troublemaking had severed it many times over.
There was a marked increase in the number of visitors Liu Zhen's residence had been receiving of late. People from several of the nearby districts, some total strangers, began to act much more intimately all of a sudden. They seemed to think they had a life or death friendship with Liu Zhen. They came with annoying frequency, pretending to be polite and affectionate, but mostly came across as ingratiating instead.
One day, Liu Dalang came as well.
The Liu family had finally been unsettled enough to come on their own. This what Liu Zhen wanted to see after all of his machinations. He'd done everything to strike fear and agitation into the family's hearts. He wanted them to spend their days in anxiety and unease.
"Oh? Who is this?" Liu Zhen looked at the Liu Dalang, feigning exaggerated surprise and bewilderment. "Excuse my poor eyesight. May I ask who you are? Not one of my neighbors, are you?"
The eldest Liu felt great shame, but trudged forward anyway. "Brother Liu, I am Liu Yue, the assistant military minister at court."
"The assistant military minister?" Liu Zhen blinked. "How quaint. I've invited many court officials to banquets recently, you know. I'm surprised I missed you. Did I? Or are you an imposter?"
Liu Dalang's face stung with phantom pain. He didn't know how to respond to a comment like that.
"Brother Liu, actually, the reason I came here today… is to express my sincere apology. That animal Liu Feng…" The eldest Liu gnashed his teeth, looking like he wanted to smack his younger brother to death.
"Hold on." Liu Zhen waved a hand. "Who's Liu Feng? I thought your name was Liu Yue. Can you represent him?"
Liu Dalang nodded. "I will apprehend him and bring him here straight away. You can do as you like with him, Brother Liu. Our family will not shed a single tear on his behalf!"
Liu Zhen's only reaction was a faint smile. It was obvious that he wasn't interested in Liu Dalang's empty words. He wanted more concrete action.
Liu Yue grit his teeth, then saluted with cupped fist. "Kindly wait a moment. I will return shortly."
As a man of resolve, Liu Yue had commanded his subordinates to watch over Liu Feng before his departure. He wanted to ensure his brother didn't run off. As he expected, Liu Feng pulled the stunt when he realized the danger he was in. The precaution was put to good use.
In about an hour's time, Liu Yue brought a restrained Liu Feng and Xiao Qian over to Liu Zhen's. Upon trying to go in, however, he was stopped cold.
"Hold on. I won't let these disgusting people dirty my home." Liu Zhen's tone was cold. He tossed the villainous couple a sidelong glance.
When enemies met in the street, it was normal for them to see red.
Liu Yue left Liu Feng and Xiao Qian kneeling in the street. Liu Zhen was free to let out his pent-up anger on them. It was a little shameful, but necessary for his family's survival. Liu Yue felt that he'd done enough for his brother, anyway.
He couldn't count the number of times that he had fixed his younger brother's emergencies, making innumerable enemies along the way. But no matter how much effort he put in, he could not change Liu Feng's nature. His younger brother never changed his behavior in the slightest. It slowly drove the elder Liu to despair.
This time, Liu Feng had brought down calamity upon their entire family. This wasn't an exaggeration. Liu Yue was not the same kind of brainless dullard as his younger brother. He knew full well that Liu Feng's victim had returned with full confidence about the success of their revenge. Why else would they have come back?
Liu Feng's entire body was tied up. "Liu Zhen, you can't blame me for this. Xiao Qian voluntarily came with me. I know you're not happy about it, but do you think it's my fault? Should I not accept a woman who comes to my doorstep?"
Liu Zhen? Xiao Qian had been somewhat confused before now. She'd had no idea why she'd been brought here. Her betrayal of Liu Zhen all those years ago had only been because of Liu Feng's family's wealth and superiority. She wanted more glory and grandeur than Liu Zhen could give her.
In Liu Feng's home, she was only his sixth concubine, but she still stood by her prior choice. However, this new revelation stunned her. Liu Zhen? How could it be him? Hadn't the house here been sold long ago? Why was Liu Zhen living inside it once more?
What was going on? Her eyes followed the direction that Liu Feng spoke in, to find Liu Zhen, looking coldly back at her. His expression was an indecipherable mix. There was contempt, scorn, and a sliver of pity.
"Xiao Qian, is this the man that you sold me out for?" Liu Zhen's voice was bland, but his heart was bitter.
Xiao Qian clearly didn't understand the situation still. "You have the face to come back, Liu Zhen?!" She yelled. "A man like you should just lie down and die!"
"Hahaha," Liu Zhen erupted in dismal laughter. "Well, sorry to say that I've let you down. I've not only come back, but I've made your man kneel before me and beg for mercy."
"So what?" Xiao Qian shouted back loudly. "Do you think I regret anything? I regret giving you a chance in the first place. I know what kind of guy you are. What kind of airs are you putting on, huh?"
"Watch how you're speaking to brother Liu, you tramp!" the eldest Liu scolded. "You're the reason for all this trouble!"
Being berated was bewildering for Xiao Qian. In her heart, the Liu family's eldest son was also their pillar. Why is he… why was he being so polite to someone as poor as Liu Zhen?
Has the world turned upside down?
Xiao Qian's mind was full of questions.
The neighbors, meanwhile, began to gossip amongst themselves.
"Stupidity, your name is woman! Truly, they're all witless creatures. A strapping young lad like Liu Zhen… why did she toss him to the wayside like that all those years ago? Pushing herself into the arms of some noble's family didn't work out for her, did it? She gained a little but lost much."
"Isn't that right? How can Liu Feng compare to Liu Zhen?"
"Did you hear? These past four days, Liu Zhen has been holding feasts at the Drunken Immortals Garden. All his guests are prominent members of court. Even Liu Feng's brother, Liu Yue, wasn't important enough to go."
"Ah, young Liu Zhen has come into his fortune now. I knew long ago that he wasn't just some common man!"
The gossip summed up largely to meaningless flattery. On their lips, the once worthless Liu Zhen had become a model of success.