Yan Wanyou didn’t take that as criticism. He scoffed. “I know the value of discretion. We are lesser than House Xiahou. Do you think we should provoke them despite our inferiority? That’s not courage, but courting humiliation and trouble!”
Yan Wanjun sighed with resignation and didn’t continue the argument. He turned to the patriarch. “It seems I’m losing my physical and mental faculties in my old age, Patriarch. I can no longer contribute to the family. Please remove my title as a venerated elder. I will lead a secluded life from now on.”
Yan Wanchong hurriedly interjected, “Elder Wanjun, you mustn’t lose your drive. You’re still hale and hearty. Your age hasn’t affected you at all! Besides, the house is in a difficult position. We need someone dependable like you to shoulder our burden. If you abandon us now, we’ll be further weakened.”
Many elders echoed his sentiment. “Elder Wanjun, you can’t leave us yet. The family needs your stalwart support! You leaving would leave us crippled.”
“Patriarch, Elder Wanjun made a mistake, but it’s an understandable one. This subordinate believes that we should consider the issues separately. If we insist on punishing him, the family will become unstable, benefitting only our enemies.”
“Patriarch, we must keep Elder Wanjun. We need people of integrity like him in the family, or we’ll be in even more dire straits!”
The patriarch carefully considered his options before making a decision. He sighed. “Elder Wanjun, you went overboard in the Skymender Festival. However, considering your contributions over the years and our personal relationship, I forgive your transgressions. Still, you are to be punished to maintain order in the clan. You will be fined ten years of your stipend.”
Ten years worth of stipend was a considerable figure for a venerated elder. For someone at Yan Wanjun’s level however, it wasn’t that severe a punishment at all.
Yan Wanjun wasn’t grateful at all. In fact, he was disappointed in both the patriarch and House Yan. He truly wanted to resign and spend the remainder of his life in nature’s embrace. The only thing stopping him was his sense of duty as a venerated elder.
After a pause, he sighed. “The patriarch has been forgiving. It would be inappropriate of me to turn you away.”
The patriarch nodded. “I entrust Cloud Camel Mountain to you, Elder Wanjun. This is a difficult time. The family needs you.”
Yan Wanjun nodded. His mood lightened a little, his sense of duty taking precedence over his pessimism.
The meeting ended in the midst of arguments. The patriarch had handled the matter, but his thoughts were a tangled mess. He was conflicted and lost about the situation House Yan was in.
Things were getting out of hand.
Shao Yuan’s sudden proposal put House Yan in a difficult position, and House Xiahou clearly held House Yan responsible for everything. So should he choose House Xiahou or Shao Yuan?
Just how much support did the young man have from the Eternal Sacred Land?
Or rather, which faction would make for the worse enemy, House Xiahou or the Eternal Sacred Land?
If they got on the sacred land’s bad side, the sacred land may not care enough to strike back at House Yan. If they offended House Xiahou, on the other hand, House Xiahou would retaliate with the intention to destroy them.
Therefore, deep inside his heart, he’d rather face the sacred land’s ire. He was still conflicted when he returned to his residence.
Once inside, his brows furrowed and his heart pounded. There was a silhouette in a corner of the garden, a part of the world itself and giving off a mysterious energy.
“Patriarch Yan,” said the man without turning around.
“Who… who are you?” The patriarch frowned.
The man slowly turned around, his figure of moderate height and his features graceful and delicate, striking a stark contrast with his long beard. He imposed a domineering presence that was unique and inherent to one of high status.
“I am Xiahou Zhen, a venerated elder of House Xiahou,” the man introduced himself in a faint but highly intimidating tone.
A venerated elder from House Xiahou?
The patriarch’s heart sank. It defied logic that a venerated elder could pose a fatal threat to a patriarch, and yet he had a feeling that this elder could.
The patriarch wasn’t among the strongest of all faction leaders, but he was far from weak. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to lead a house. Yet, he had a deep sense of foreboding that his life hung in the balance in front of Xiahou Zhen.
A heavy weight settled in his heart.
“Welcome, Elder Xiahou.” The patriarch forced himself to greet him. “What can I do for you?”
“What do you think?” Xiahou Zhen continued in a faint tone. “Though House Yan is weak, we’ve always commended you for knowing your place. Now though, it seems that you’ve lost your only strength.”
“Elder Xiahou, there are some things beyond our control,” the patriarch responded in a deferential tone.
“Beyond your control?” Xiahou Zhen snapped. “Everyone in the jianghu can say the same. Don’t you think that’s a crude excuse?”
The patriarch broke into cold sweat, at a loss of what to say.
“Before I came, our patriarch and venerated forefather granted me full authorization for any action. This means that I won’t be blamed even if I go on a killing spree in House Yan.”
Shock and fury charged into the patriarch’s heart.
House Xiahou had truly gotten out of control! Within Eternal Divine Nation, likely they were the only ones shameless enough to make such a despicable threat and follow it through.
“Are you threatening me, Elder Xiahou?” the patriarch asked in a low voice.
“You’re free to take it as such.” Xiahou Zhen didn’t deny it.
The patriarch frowned deeply. “Are you saying that House Xiahou can do whatever you want in the Eternal Divine Nation?”
“Not necessarily. However, I guarantee you that we’ll be able to get away with killing a few of your clan. I’ll make it clean and leave no evidence. You have three sons, seven grandsons, and a good number of descendants, don’t you?
“You’ve gone through a lot to make it to your current position. A large chunk of House Yan’s resources go to your descendants. Do you believe that I’ll be able to erase all your achievements in the blink of an eye?” Xiahou Zhen spoke in an unhurried tone, but his remarks were clearly a threat.
The patriarch broke out in cold sweat. Xiahou Zhen had obviously done his homework.
If it’d been a regular cultivator who threatened him, he’d have laughed in their face or even order the trespasser killed. However, this was a venerated elder from House Xiahou he was faced with. He didn’t dare make a move.
He knew the elder meant what he said, throwing the patriarch into quite a dilemma.
“Elder Xiahou, I’m confused,” the patriarch responded in a wry tone. “What exactly do we have to do to appease House Xiahou?”
“It’s simple. Anyone who challenges and offends House Xiahou must die!”
“Who exactly?” asked the patriarch.
“Yan Wanjun. Also, Yan Qinghuang must also become Xiahou Zong’s cultivation vessel. If that doesn’t happen, we can’t promise to spare House Yan.”
The patriarch interrupted gloomily, “Elder Xiahou, Yan Qinghuang’s fate is beyond our control. She’s kept in the sacred land under the pretense of a vacation, but it’s clear that the sacred land and Shao Yuan aren’t going to let her return to House Yan.”
“That’s for you to worry about. We only care that House Yan has promised us Yan Qinghuang. If you fail to deliver her to us, we’ll consider the promise broken and House Yan our enemy.” His logic was unreasonable to the point of shamelessness.
“We can’t possibly kidnap her, can we? We don’t even have the strength to do that.” The patriarch sighed. “There’s still the sword competition. If Xiahou Zong kills Shao Yuan then, won’t everything be resolved?”
“Nonsense!” snapped Xiahou Zhen. “It’s completely different for you to deliver her to us and for Xiahou Zong to take her.”
He wasn’t wrong.
If House Yan handed Huang’er to House Xiahou, that’d be a sign of their dread and submission to the latter.
If Xiahou Zong took her with his own power, House Yan would’ve done nothing in the process, signifying that they weren’t on House Xiahou’s side.
That made for a big difference.
The patriarch was silent for a long time. Eventually, he sighed. “I may be able to fulfill your first demand. As for Huang’er, I’ll need some time to come up with a solution. Please excuse the delay, Elder Xiahou.”
Xiahou Zhen huffed coldly. “Our patience is limited. We’ll wait and see what you’ll do.”
His form wavered and disappeared from the garden, leaving the patriarch lost and aimless. The world was vast, yet he felt as if he’d been forced to the edge of a cliff with nowhere to escape to.