The day had finally arrived, the day of the duel between Wu Qi and Yue Xu. Early in the morning, a thick and heavy, gray cloud had blanketed the entire Ji City. Snowflakes the size of a toddler's palm were falling and sprinkling down from the cloud ceaselessly, smearing the city with an awful atmosphere. Amidst such a dreadful weather, apart from those who had important businesses to attend, all the other people would rather spend the day with their wife and children near the warm fireplace in their homes. Who would want to leave the comfort and suffer the extreme coldness outside?
On the drill ground inside the Imperial Palace, flags and banners were waving violently in the strong wind, as loud battle cries shook the heaven like the fiercest thunderstorm.
Clad in heavy armors and carrying fifteen feet long sabers in their hands, the Imperial Army consisting of ten thousand Imperial Eunuchs was having a drill on the drill ground. Drums could be heard beating and trumpets squawking, as ten thousand Imperial Soldiers were charging backward and forward in the drill ground that measured a few miles in both width and length. They were sending forth an intense killing intent that shook and shattered the falling snowflakes. Most of the snow accumulated on the ground had already melted by the heat emitted from the bodies of these soldiers.
Including Yan Dan, all the influential and powerful men were already sitting on the platform that surrounded the drill ground. They were quietly watching the drill of the Imperial Army.
After a full two hours of drilling, all the Imperial Soldiers had their bodies drenched in sweat, dripping through the opening of their armors. Only then did Yan Dan, who sat solemnly and loftily on his throne, raise his right arm up slowly. From beside him, Ma Yi immediately gave out a loud and stern shout, "By the order of His Majesty, the drill will now stop!"
Following Ma Yi's shout, the army of ten thousand soldiers halted their tread instantly, then quickly ran and formed into a neat square formation right in the center of the drill ground. They then dropped to one of their knees towards Yan Dan's direction. When the knees of these heavy-armor-clad soldiers knocked onto the ground, a loud, unified boom rang out and shook all the surrounding palaces and pavilions, causing the snow on their roof to slide down.
Yan Dan nodded his head satisfyingly. In an indifferent voice, he said, "Not bad, I can tell you all have put in a lot of efforts practicing. Each of you will be rewarded with twenty gold coins. Dismiss!"
Ma Yi stuck his chest out and cried out loudly, "By the kind order of His Majesty, all the Imperial Soldiers who participated in the drill will be rewarded with twenty gold coins! Show your gratitude!"
All the Imperial Soldiers bowed their heads and cheered out 'Long live Your Majesty!'. After that, they rose uniformly and trod out from the drill ground.
A loud and sonorous beast cry rang out, as the impatient Yue Xu was seen charging into the drill ground, with his hand carrying the golden spear and riding on the Golden-eyed Qilin Horse. He exultingly rode three full rounds on the drill ground, then while sitting on his horse, clasped hands at Yan Dan as he said, "Your Majesty, please order Duke of Tianyun to come on the field!"
Yan Dan let out a light cough and turned to look westward, where there was a tent erected using purple brocade under a platform. From his height, he could clearly see everything inside the tent. Wu Qi was clad in a light-green shirt, and with the help from Meng Xiaobai and a few other men, he was slowly putting on an inner soft armor made from gold thread. Then, he put on another layer of ring armor, and lastly, a green steel-plated heavy armor which was also the uniform of Great Yan Army.
This set of three-layered heavy armor weighed over 180kg, and it took a series of very complicated steps to wear it properly. Meng Xiaobai and those people around him did not have the experience of helping others put on such armor. As a result, even after a full fifteen minutes, Wu Qi had yet to finish putting on the armor. Princess Zhang Le was sitting on the platform right next to the tent. From the railing of the platform, she poked half of her upper body out, and kept waving her hands in the air while shouting at Meng Xiaobai, "Stupid Xiaobai, you had buckled the clasp on a wrong place! Aye, that is a jockstrap, why are you putting it on his chest? Aye, don't buckle the breastplate on his buttock! Are there anything else in your head beside muscles? Do you know how to put on a heavy armor?!"
Yan Dan narrowed his eyes and chuckled, shook his head at Yue Xu and said, "Yue Xu, Duke of Tianyun is still putting on his armor. Do wait for a little longer."
Yue Xu's face turned blue with anger. He turned his horse and fixed his gaze straight at the tent, then roared out furiously, "Wu Qi, how dare you hurt my Xiao'er for no reason? I, Yue Xu, will make you pay the bloody debt with your own blood!"
Right on the same platform where Princess Zhang Le sat, Lu Chengfeng was seen wearing a gloomy face, with his hands clasped behind his back, fixing his glance right at Yue Xu's face. At last, he snorted coldly and spewed out words from his tightly clenched jaws, "I swear, if he hurt even a single hair of Wu Qi, I'll use the Three-lives Torturing Formation sooner or later to kill every single member of Yue Clan!"
Although Lu Chengfeng had lowered his voice, a group of over twenty youths dressed like scholars had heard him loud and clear. They exchanged a glance, and nodded their heads at the same time. This group of youths was the sons of concubines from the Lu Kingdom, who had received the letters from Lu Chengfeng and came to help him. At present, all of them had been assigned various tasks under Lu Chengfeng's office, and had greatly relaxed the situation of lacking manpower in Duke Yan Le's Mansion.
Now, Lu Chengfeng was their master, and when the master was put to shame, his subordinates would have to face death. Their life and honor had been tightly tied together with Lu Chengfeng. Thus naturally, they had to work as one team.
Lu Quyuan, who had lost one of his arms, was seen standing carefully beside Lu Chengfeng, gnashing his teeth and throwing a look over at Yue Xu. In a low voice he murmured, "Elder brother, why don't we hire a killer and kill this Yue Xu today?"
Back in the days when they were in Little Meng City, Wu Qi had forced Lu Quyuan to pledge his loyalty to Lu Chengfeng, and the latter had also accepted him as his subordinate. Thus, Lu Quyuan had followed all those sons of concubines and came to Ji City with the army of fifteen thousand soldiers. Lu Chengfeng had assigned Lu Quyuan as his assistant, helping him manage all minor issues. For the one month when Wu Qi was in a secluded cultivation, Lu Quyuan had been showing a pretty good performance. And because of his excellent service, Lu Quyuan's father, the second uncle of Lu Chengfeng, was the only person from Lu Clan of Liyang that could keep his life and all his official posts, along with the title of nobility.
Lu Chengfeng gave Lu Quyuan a look, snorted coldly and said, "Put this down in the record… If something bad really happens to Wu Qi, no matter how much we have to spend, we will hire an expert and kill that Yue Xu!" He paused, frowned and continued saying, "One does not allow benefits created by one's own work to accrue to others. We will hire my Master as the killer."
Lu Quyuan answered, glaring at Yue Xu with his bloodshot eyes.
Yue Xu was cursing wantonly in the drill ground. He could hardly control the impatience and frustration brewing in his mind, and began riding madly about. The flame of anger in his mind had been brewing for one whole month, as not only Wu Qi had hurt his beloved son, the Acquired Pearl of Gold Element had also stolen by someone. And that was the matter which annoyed him the most. For the one whole month, Yue Xu could not eat and sleep well, and his mind was at the brim of breaking down.
He could not imagine what would the reaction of Yue Yi be once he realized the Acquired Pearl of Gold Element which he purchased using thirty cities was stolen. Yue Xu only knew that he had to vent the anger in the most violent manner, and he had to vent it onto Wu Qi. Only by killing Wu Qi with the cruelest and most brutal method could he bring everything back to order.
The Prince of Ren, Yan Xianchen, had already promised Yue Xu that if he could defeat and kill Wu Qi, Yan Xianchen would give him an Acquired Pearl of Gold Element which he collected three hundred years ago. Thus, no matter it was because of the grudge between him and Wu Qi or for the sake of the Acquired Spirit Peal, Yue Xu had to kill Wu Qi no matter what.
He kept riding the horse madly for a few rounds, then once again threw his head back and roared out wildly, "Wu Qi, come out and fight me! What are you doing now? Are you scared?"
Sitting on his throne, Yan Dan knitted his brows in a tight frown. Shaking his head and sighing, he said, "Yue Xu is not worthy of a great task. If the army of Qin comes attacking us, let him be the vanguard!"
Ma Yi looked at Yan Dan, bowed slightly and answered. He hesitated for a brief moment, then asked in a low voice, "Your Majesty, why don't you stop them from fighting each other? This is not a fight for the grudge between Yue Xu and Wu Qi, but obviously, it is between two Chief Generals... They..."
Yan Dan gazed at Ma Yi from the corner of his eyes, sneered and said, "Stop them? Why should I?"
Suddenly, Yan Dan rose to his feet, let out a loud laugh and said, "My loyal ministers and people, today, we are going to witness the death duel between General Yue Xu and Duke of Tianyun, Wu Qi. We are all men of Great Yan, the bravest and most courageous people under the heaven. When there is a grudge between men, we will fight with blades and swords, determining who is the final winner. I will not allow anybody to plot schemes secretly and do all kinds of dirty works in the dark! Since it is a grand event, I'll be the banker today. Anybody who is interested, place your bet!"
He continued laughing, then narrowed his eyes and said, "No matter how much you are going to bet, I'll help to dun the bet for you! Hahaha, as we're betting for fun, I'll not take out any commission from your bet, so you can win the full amount of money you bet! Now, who is interested?" Ma Yi waved his hand, and a few little Imperial Eunuchs quickly brought over a small table, together with a writing brush, ink and paper. Then, Ma Yi sat on his knees behind the table, getting ready to record down the bet placed by the people.
Almost immediately after Yan Dan finished his words, Jing Ke's voice was heard coming. "Jing Ke will bet on Duke Wu Qi. My bet will be one hundred cities, ten energy stone veins, fifty mineral ore veins of various types, ten gold, silver, copper, and iron mountains each… Fisheries, salt fields, pearls fisheries, wood farms, sandalwood farms, nanmu tree farms, gold cypress farms, and ten thousand years old bodhi tree farms… ten for each of them as well!"
He coughed lightly, smiled and said, "My wife is very strict on my financials. Thus, Jing Ke only has some private money that I can spend. Who wants to bet with me?"
Right after Jing Ke finished his words, Gao Jianli's voice rang out, "I, Gao Jianli, will bet on Duke of Tianyun as well. My bet will be exactly the same as Jing Ke. Hmm, I'll top up a little bit more then. In my manor located outside of the city there are three one-thousand-years old wine cellars, I'll bet them as well."
Suddenly, Jing Ke roared out angrily, "Rascal! Gao Jianli, how could you bet those wine cellars?"
Gao Jianli snorted coldly, but did not respond to Jing Ke.
Yan Dan clapped his hands and laughed. "Excellent! Both Jing Ke and Gao Jianli have placed their bet. Anybody else?"
A powerful and deep voice suddenly echoed out, "I brave myself for betting with Chief General and Central-Prime-Counselors. I'll counter bet all the things that both of them said just now."
Yan Xianchen narrowed his eyes and smiled, nodded and said, "Alright, Xianchen has taken the bet placed by two of them. Are there anybody else with to place their bet?"
Suddenly, Qin Wuyang cried out, "Elder brother Jing Ke, Wuyang will bet with you today! I bet Yue Xu will defeat Wu Qi! But as Wuyang is not a wealthy man, I'll bet with thirty cities, seven energy stone veins, thirty mineral veins of rare metals, and sixty percent of your stake. Do you wish to top up anything else?"
An old but strong voice then came by, "Little Wuyang, since you are betting, I'll accept your bet. Tian Guang will take out my private money which was supposed to be given to my concubines, using them to bet with Qin Wuyang! On top of that, I'll top up with twenty cities, ten mineral veins, and thirty gold and silver mines!"
The sudden participation of Qin Wuyang and Tian Guang had turned the atmosphere in the drill ground extremely bizarre.
Not long after that, a voice rang out, "Haoying Zhengfeng will brave myself and accept old mister's bet, and I'll top up another thirty percent. Is there anyone who wishes to accept the balance bet?"
Very soon, several hundred influential members of Great Yan Dynasty had participated in this gamble. About seventy percent of them were betting on Yue Xu, while thirty percent of them seconded with Jing Ke and Gao Jianli, betting on Wu Qi's victory. The rest of several thousand people were either insufficient in their status, or not wealthy enough, or did not have the courage to bet with these top men. Thus, they chose to remain neutral, sitting where they were while watching both sides place their bets.
Nevertheless, in term of the bet, the group represented by Jing Ke and Gao Jianli had stood on the absolute inferiority. The opposite camp had outnumbered them in terms of people, and the amount of bet was double their amount. If Jing Ke and Gao Jianli were forced to come out with an equal amount of stake, it was highly possible that would cause harm to the root of their own clans.
Jing Ke gnashed his teeth and was about to come out with an equal amount of bet, but suddenly, Mo Di and Su Qin were seen arriving and standing on a platform behind Yan Dan.
Mo Di said gracefully, "Mo Sect will take up all the remaining bet that Jing Ke and Gao Jianli are short of."
Su Qin giggled and said, "On top of that, Su Qin will bet thirty percent of the total stake, betting that Wu Qi will win the duel. Anyone wishes to accept my stake?"