Surrounded by luxuriant green foliage, a stone tower rose a thousand feet into the sky like a spear. It stood on a small island in the middle of a lake, which was located inside the backyard of a mansion of ten thousand acres area within the city of Liangzhu. The topmost story of the tower had no walls, a few stone hassocks placed on the floor within; in front of each hassock was placed a small stone table.
A small stove was spitting tongues of bright red flame at the center of the wall-less chamber, heating up the water in a bronze kettle with white steam slowly escaping from its spout. Taken from a cold spring thirty-thousand feet underneath Liangzhu, the water was extremely heavy and cold, but smooth and pure at the same time, which made it a perfect ingredient for tea making. However, as it was much colder than ordinary water, although it had been cooked for nearly an hour with the spirit flame produced by energy stones of fire element, it was still not boiling.
Two beautiful maidservants in long black dresses knelt by the stove, carefully looking after the fire and checking the water in the kettle from time to time. Beside them lay a few green tea bricks of excellent quality, which were giving off a refreshing aroma.
Ji Ao was sitting cross-legged on a hassock, his eyelids drooping in meditation. With both hands placed atop his knees and his aura concealed, he slowly took each of his breath and held it for a quarter of an hour before exhaling. He had been sitting like this for a long while, so long that it was as if he had become a part of the stone tower.
Next to him were three other middle-aged men who looked much like him, but with more rigid and dull expressions. They also sat cross-legged on the hassocks like some wooden puppets, taking deep breaths. However, they were exchanging glances from time to time as if they were exchanging views, while it was clear that all three of them had their attention focused on Ji Ao.
The three middle-aged men were dressed in black clothes, with a gleam of jade on them. Although the clothes looked rather inconspicuous, they were actually made of the finest silk mixed with rare jade threads extracted from nephrite using a mystic art, a material that came with a defense not weaker than average Heaven Immortal artifacts. On top of that, as they were made by Great Yu's master craftsmen using a secret method, who covered them with countless magical runes, these clothes were extremely strong in defense and worth a fortune.
In Great Yu, those who could wear such clothes must be Kings of the imperial clan. By contrast, the black linen cloth Ji Ao wore throughout the year looked inferior. Nevertheless, he was sending forth an air that was several times more imposing than the three middle-aged men. Even sitting beside them in a linen cloth, he still seemed to have a higher status than them, as if they were only his attendants.
Four men and two maidservants sat silently in the wall-less chamber, surrounded by the scent of flowers and plants brought up the tower by gentle breezes blowing across the surface of the lake. Liangzhu was so rich in natural energy that all plants and flowers grew very well. If it were not for the fact that all these plants' sentience had been wiped out by the Oracles of Directorate of Celestials, there would be many demons born out of them. Even so, their scent had a powerful effect of thoroughly washing the internal organs like some elixir. If one could live here permanently, it would actually prolong one's life.
A gust of wind blew into the chamber and swirled around them, then a man appeared on the last empty hassock suddenly. Ji Ao and three other men stooped down at the same time and called out, "Father!"
The two maidservants dropped to their knees in a hurry and exclaimed in a charming voice, "Your Highness!"
The man, whom Ji Ao and the other three men called 'Father', was none other than King Yang Shan, whose real name was Ji Kui. As soon as he appeared, he gave a faint snort and lightly waved his hand. The two maidservants rose to their feet obediently, going back to take care of the stove and kettle with greater caution than before, not daring to make a single sound. Ji Ao and his three brothers also straightened up their backs, holding their heads up and sticking out their chests as they looked toward Ji Kui.
Ji Kui was nearly ten feet tall and slightly thin, his face almost fully veiled by a layer of purple mist that made it difficult for anyone to see his features clearly. In Great Yu's imperial court, he was famous for being the most inscrutable person. Very few people could figure out what he was thinking and wanted to do.
Sitting cross-legged on the hassock, Ji Kui cleared his throat and said, "Ji Ao has done very well this time. I can't believe you actually killed the Sovereign. Previously, even with the mighty army of a million soldiers and the traps laid out by the few Seniors whom I had begged for help, we had only severely wounded him. If truth be told, I was shocked when I first heard that you had killed that old evil Daoist."
Ji Ao bowed his head slightly and said in a deep voice, "I was just lucky to meet Tan Lang."
Before Ji Kui could speak, Ji Dai, Ji Ao's eldest brother who bore the title of King Qing Qiu, said, "As someone who can cultivate both fleshly body and magic at the same time, that Tan Lang is indeed a rare talent, and I'm sure he will gain a further improvement after visiting Yan Tian Palace. Father, I'm short of hands at the moment. Since you've assigned Master Yu to help Third Brother, why don't you transfer Tan Lang to me?"
Ji Dai, with a pair of thin lips that made him look somewhat ruthless, smiled at Ji Ao and said, "Third Brother, you've been promoted to King Yue Feng, which has made your status higher than us, your worthless brothers. I'm sure you wouldn't mind giving Tan Lang to me, would you?"
"Giving Tan Lang to you?" Ji Ao's eyebrows pricked up as he said sharply, "My brother, do you have any idea how much efforts had I put into recruiting Tan Lang? Do you know that his Dong Hai Province is already as large as a few ordinary provinces even before the extra land given to him by His Majesty? Do you have any idea how much favor I owe Bo Zhongfu for getting so much land from his Zhong Province, so that I can reward them to Tan Lang and win him over?"
Before Wu Qi was conferred the Marquis of Dong Hai Province, Ji Ao, the then King Yang Qiu, had helped him expand Dong Hai County several times in an effort to win him over. But at that time, Dong Hai County was governed not only by Hai Province, but also surrounded by lower-grade provinces that were governed by the Zhong Province. Therefore, Ji Ao had to make a lot of deals with Bo Zhongfu to get enough land from these provinces for Wu Qi.
Ji Ao had spent a great deal of efforts and expenses to win Wu Qi over, so how could he possibly agree to Ji Dai's request?
He grunted coldly and said, "If you are really short of hands, my brother, you can have that Yu Qingcheng. But, whoever dares to take Tan Lang away from me, don't blame me for not cherishing our kinship!"
Ji Kui sat still like a stone statue on his hassock as if he had not heard his eldest son arguing with his third son. It was only when Ji Ao spoke of Yu Qingcheng in a tone of utter disgust that his eyes narrowed slightly and flashed with a cold gleam, as though he had suddenly thought of something.
Ji Dai darted a look at Ji Ao and said with a cold grin, "Oh, I didn't know Third Brother thought so highly of Tan Lang. Although he has an aptitude for cultivating both fleshly body and magic at the same time, that doesn't mean he will have a safe and smooth journey ahead. If something bad happened to him, wouldn't that be a waste of what you gave him?"
Ji Dai's words were full of blatant threats. Ji Ao grunted as a cold air suddenly emanated out of his body and he said, "If something bad happened to Tan Lang, then I'm sure eldest brother's nine Divine Generals will encounter the same fate!"
With his face turned unsightly, Ji Dai glared at Ji Ao and gave a sneer from his nose.
Ji Yue, who was Ji Ao's second brother, bearing the title of King Chuan Qiu, and Ji Lan, Ji Ao's youngest brother who bore the title of King Dong Qiu, exchanged a look. "Third brother, you are now promoted to King Yue Feng with that great merit of yours, and yet I am still one grade lower than you," said Ji Yue, a man with a stature so large that one could not help but suspect that he had the bloodline of Long Bo men. "Why don't you lend me that Tan Lang for some time, and once I…"
Before Ji Yue could finish his words, Ji Ao brusquely turned him down. "Second Brother, please say no more. It will hurt our bond of brotherhood if you continue."
Right after Ji Ao had turned Ji Yue down, Ji Lan, who clearly was a son of King Yang Shan and some woman from the Featherman clan—judging from the pair of wings behind his back—blinked and said with a smile on his face, "Third Brother, we all know both our elder brothers' subordinates are strong and well-trained, but I'm the only one..."
"Just drop it, Fourth Brother," Ji Ao waved his hand and said sharply. "Our relationship is not as good as you thought. Do you still remember who took the girl I liked by force when I was out for a mission? And who was it that slandered me in front of our father so that he nearly ordered me to be beaten ten thousand times with war clubs? Now you want me to lend you Tan Lang? Fat chance!"
Ji Lan smiled, his expression staying unchanged.
In front of Ji Kui, the four brothers vividly put up a show of 'brotherly love', but he did not seem to hear what his four sons had said. With a mild cough and a wave of his hand, the four brothers immediately shut their mouths, bowing their heads and not daring to move even a little.
Ji Kui gave his four sons a glance and said coldly, "Stop harboring your plans around your third brother. It's his luck to have recruited Tan Lang. With the boundlessness of Pangu Continent, there is an endless supply of talented people. Why don't you find them yourself?
"King Bai Shan and his son, King Zhang Qiu, are doing quite a lot of little tricks recently," he said with a grunt. "The conflicts between you brothers are just trifles. However, the conflict between them and us is a matter of life and death. You have to understand what's more important!"
He turned to Ji Ao and said in a deep voice, "Since you can't get along with Yu Qingcheng, let him help your eldest brother. Because of your great contribution, His Majesty has rewarded you many fiefs. Do you have enough men to take care of them?"
Ji Ao bowed slightly and said, "I have many people who can do battles for me, but very few men to deal with government affairs."
Nodding slowly, Ji Kui clapped his hands and said, "If that's the case, I'll let Feng Lingling help you! After all, he used to be the Prefecture Overseer of Zhong Province, so he's more than capable of managing your fiefs. Just remember, don't let those from the other side discover him, as we all know he is still wanted by many people."
A gust of wind blew by, and in just the blink of an eye, Feng Lingling, the once Prefecture Overseer of Zhong Province, silently emerged in the chamber.
Ji Ao was overjoyed and burst into laughter, but Ji Dai, Ji Yue, and Ji Lan's expressions turned extremely unsightly.