When the moon climbed over the Directorate of Celestials in An Le County, Wu Qi stepped through the puddles of water on the stone-paved street and arrived before its front door.
The flames were still blazing in the fire bowls sitting atop the huge stone pillars, tens of feet tall green tongues of flame licking the night sky while smearing half of the An He City green. It represented the official rule of Great Yu Dynasty over An He City and the entire An Le County.
The front door was guarded by a few Oracles clad in long burlap robes, whose sleeves were embroidered with a different number of stars. A bright green light flickered on their pale faces and made them look like some wandering spirits who had just climbed out of hell, and the cold aura emanating from them could make one uncomfortable. A pale green gleam flashed across their eyes when they saw Wu Qi approach. Silently, they made way for him and gestured him to enter straight into the hall.
Wu Qi could not help but shudder when he glanced at these Oracles who assumed a ghostly air. He could not figure out how these Oracles cultivated or what kind of strange mystic arts were they practicing. Fortunately, the Primordial Dao of Divinity which Princess Zhang Le had inherited was completely different from them. He would rather ask her to discard all her cultivation base should she turn into something like them.
He greeted these Oracles with a cupped fist, striding through the front door with firm steps. He walked along a deep and dimly lit tunnel and arrived in the main hall of the Directorate of Celestials. The huge fire pillar was still burning ragingly, and a large chair carved out of white jade was placed before it. He saw Yu He sitting on the chair with a bowed head, staring at a string of black beads made of unknown bones, fiddling with them using both his hands.
Wu Qi gave the string of black beads a curious glance. It was emanating a powerful energy wave, and he could sense a very mysterious life force hiding in it. When he gave it a further study, he could vaguely see a wisp of bloody gleam flashing between the beads, throbbing like a human heart. Clearly, it was an extremely powerful magical item. He wondered where Yu He found it.
Yu He was stirred by the footsteps. He tucked the string of beads under his sleeve with a rather smooth motion, pushed himself to stand, and offered Wu Qi a half-bow. The large chair he was seated sunk into the ground like a puddle of water, leaving no trace behind.
Wu Qi returned the gesture and asked in a deep voice, "What is it you want from me, Great Oracle?"
Yu He's mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "I thought you are a Lieutenant... Where have you been in the past few days? I have not seen you in An He City."
Wu Qi waved his arm and thrust his fist. A loud boom rang out as he punched through the air. "I was practicing in the mountains. Mm, I am getting stronger, and even learned a pretty decent divine ability. Haha!"
Yu He's eyes brightened as he asked with a smile, "Oh? You have become stronger? How strong do you reckon? And what kind of divine ability have you learned?"
Wu Qi did not answer him, but the ground under his feet began to tremble. He had made a connection with the underground energy vein beneath them. Following the trembling of the energy vein, his body flickered and suddenly vanished before Yu He, then reappeared in a corner of the hall in just a flash. A loud rumble echoed out as he failed to stop, and his shoulder slammed straight into the wall. A large sheet of white light bloomed from the wall protected by nearly one hundred layers of defensive runes.
Amidst a rapid crackling, the white light where Wu Qi's shoulder had slammed cracked and shattered, and his shoulder went straight into the wall with an irresistible force, smashing out a few feet deep hole on the wall made of huge, thick stones. The impact made the entire main hall shake violently and nearly collapse.
A strange gleam flickered in Yu He's eyes as he cried out, "Amazing! Kuafu Chasing The Sun Step! You've actually learned such an incredible divine ability on your own? You are truly a born warrior! Since you are able to destroy the defensive mechanism in this hall, it means you are stronger than me now!"
Clatters of footsteps were heard as one Oracle and guard after another came rushing into the main hall. Wu Qi had created a huge commotion that not only stirred the entire Directorate of Celestials, but even the soldiers from Punishment Court and Military Court were alerted. Yu He waved at them and snapped, "Nothing to worry about! It is just Tan Lang practicing his skills here. Now, get out of here and never disturb us unless you are summoned!"
The Oracles and soldiers were stunned when they saw the deep hole Wu Qi had created on the wall. Afterward, they bowed to Yu He and took their leave.
While pacing around the fire pillar excitedly, Yu He clapped his hands and said smilingly, "Splendid! I did not expect you'd be able to learn the Kuafu Chasing The Sun Step! It proves that you have an incredible latent potential! I suppose you haven't consumed any of those medications which can aid your cultivation, have you? And look what you've achieved? I've not picked the wrong candidate!"
Taking a deep breath, Yu He came before Wu Qi and bowed solemnly.
Wu Qi helped him up and laughed, "Get straight to the point, Great Oracle. Tan Lang is a person of little education, and I don't like beating about the bush." said Wu Qi in a low, muffled voice, making him sound genuinely like a rough and straightforward warrior.
Yu He smiled with satisfaction. "There is indeed something to be discussed with General Tan Lang."
After a brief moment of pondering, Yu He asked, "The Military Court of An He City... Well, never mind."
A shake of his head cut off the words he thought of saying. "Those soldiers of Military Court are only newly recruited. How strong can they be? They are not as useful as General Tan Lang alone." He murmured with a cold grin.
His eyes sparkled when he stared at Wu Qi and said, "A great opportunity is at hand, my friend!"
Puzzled, Wu Qi stared at Yu He with his brows frowned. "What great opportunity? What can I get out of it?"
Yu He clapped his hands excitedly, pulled out the string of black beads from under his sleeve, and played with them quickly as he told Wu Qi everything. In fact, the matter was very simple - Zhong Province had changed its owner. As a first-grade province which ruled over the nearby three hundred provinces, with a different person now taking up the position of Prefecture Overseer, the officers of all three hundred provinces had to be replaced as well.
According to the official account of Great Yu, the previous Prefecture Overseer of Zhong Province, Feng Lingling, had been slaughtered by the Heavenly Army of Great Yu, and his entire clan was executed for his crime of falsely accusing the King of the Imperial Clan and attempting to destroy the friendly relationship between Great Yu and the Heaven. Feng Lingling was a man of the past now, and the person who replaced him was Bo Zhogfu, who had taken office seven days ago.
Bo Zhogfu was born in the Bo Clan, a clan who was the loyal servant to the Human Emperor for generations. It was the first time that one of their clan members left You Xiong Plain to take the position of Prefecture Overseer. And, since it was one of the top clans in Great Yu with numerous subordinate clans under it, Bo Zhogfu had a strong demand for power in the three hundred provinces after taking over the office.
After Feng Lingling was 'slaughtered' and his entire clan was 'executed', nearly half of the Prefecture Overseers of the three hundred provinces had either committed suicide, surrendered themselves, or fled with their entire clans, just like the Prefecture Overseer of An Yi County. The change in power had also thrown the officers and local wealthy clans into confusion, and many of them had voluntarily surrendered their rights.
Wu Qi finally understood what Yu He was trying to tell him. In the official account of Great Yu, Feng Lingling and his entire clan were executed, and even if he were still alive, he was a man of the past. Zhong Province was bound to go through a complete shift of power. Many positions that would bring one great wealth and power, such as Prefecture Overseer, County Governor, and City Lord, were waiting for their new masters.
"So, the Great Oracle is tempted?" Wu Qi assumed an astonished expression as he looked at Yu He, "Do you want to be a City Lord or a County Governor?"
A strange gleam flashed across Yu He's eyes. With his teeth gnashing, he stared at Wu Qi and cried out, "Is it worth my diligence just to be a City Lord or County Governor? No! I want the power of a Prefecture Overseer, I want to be a Prefecture Overseer myself! Three hundred provinces... Apart from those who are backed by someone in You Xiong Plain, over two hundred Prefecture Overseers will be replaced! How can I let this rare opportunity slip through my fingers?"
He raised his hand and showed Wu Qi three fingers, "Yu Clan of Zhong Province had made a great contribution in suppressing Feng Lingling's rebellion, so the new Marquis of Zhong has promises that we will have the share of thirty provinces. Among them are a second-grade province, one third-grade province, one fourth-grade province, two fifth-grade provinces, two sixth-grade provinces, three seventh-grade provinces, four eighth-grade provinces, and the rest all ninth-grade provinces!"
Yu He growled with a twisted face, "The Prefecture Overseers of eighth-grade provinces and above are the targets of those Elders in my clan, yet we still have sixteen ninth-grade provinces! I, Yu He, am not weaker than any of my brothers, so why can't I fight one for myself?"
Wu Qi blinked as he slowly brought his thumb up and waved before his nose. "Then how does the Great Oracle plan to achieve that?"
Yu He took a deep breath and said in a low voice, "Of my generation, there are two hundred and seventy brothers who will compete for the positions of Prefecture Overseer in these sixteen ninth-grade provinces. Among them, there are seven whom I can never defeat, and whom I will never offend. But, there are still nineteen brothers who are even with me in every aspect! If I can defeat them, I will be able to control the land of a province!"
'The land of a province is very attractive indeed!' thought Wu Qi with his eyes narrowed.
Then, he thought of Zhang Yi and Bai Qi, who were still working hard to run a small city. If he could have the land of a province as his base, perhaps he might be able to bring Yan Dan and the others to Pangu Continent sooner than he had planned. And, if he was assisted by those veteran civil and military officers of Great Yu... Wu Qi couldn't imagine what those people would do after they arrived on Pangu Continent, and had the land of a province as their base.
After a long pause, Wu Qi smiled and asked, "How does the Great Oracle plan to beat them?"
Yu He gazed deeply at Wu Qi and said solemnly, "My father has just sent me a message. He said if I can prove that I am better than my brothers, there will be a province for me! First, my cultivation base has to be stronger than them! Second, the people I've recruited have to be better than theirs!"
Wu Qi pondered for a moment before nodded and said, "Well, when will this be decided?"
Yu He showed him one finger, "A month later. The ownership of sixteen ninth-grade provinces will be decided during the Grand Counsel of Yu Clan that is held in Zhong Ning City."
Wu Qi looked at Yu He and said with a smile, "So what can I get out of this?"
Yu He raised his right palm and swore, "Let the Ghosts and Deities of the heaven and earth bear witness that if Tan Lang can help me acquire the power of a province, the power of the army shall be in the sole hand of Tan Lang, and thirty percent of the land of that province shall be made the hereditary property of Tan Lang."
Thirty percent of the land of a province? Wu Qi nodded satisfyingly and gave Yu He's shoulder a slap.
"Well, it is a deal then!"