On the morning of the second day, the radiant sunlight interrupted the nightfall. The civilians of Xianyang City walked out of their houses only to see that the situation remained unchanged. It was the status quo—the streets remained bustling with life. The third son of the Zhang family went around collecting his protection fees from various households, the fourth son of the Li family on the opposite street wandered around with seven or eight concubines, and the bread stall belonging to the Wu family had long queues. Things had not changed, causing the civilians to realize that whatever happened last night was none of their business. They still had to live their lives as usual.
However, the observant people detected a few anomalies. The few ration shops outside the Liu family had been taken over by new shopkeepers. Other than a few child servants, the respective heads of accounts had disappeared.
Boss Jia's vault, containing his supply of salt, had seemed to have caught fire the previous night. Even if the fire had been extinguished in time, the stock of salt carried the scent of smoke.
The currency exchange, run by the Ouyang family, opened two hours late to the absence of the head shopkeeper. It was rumored that he had been taken sick...
As noon approached, Lord Feng received a letter from his subordinates. He took a quick look before walking to his study and penning down a few sentences. After he sealed the letter, he handed it to his most trustworthy subordinates. The young Lord Feng, with a rarely seen solemn expression, uttered, "Hand it to Master. There is no room for mistake."
The eastern winds blew across the town. The flowers blossomed, leaving a colorful sight. It was a good season. At this instant, thick smoke began to erupt from the silent valley. After the large-scale massacre, the strength of the entourage had diminished, dipping below 700 people. The rest had lost their lives overnight.
Zhuge Yue held a bowl of white porridge in his hand and walked over to Chu Qiao's side. His expression was troubled, but he had calmed down. The tent was small, so he was unable to stand upright. He squatted down and helped Chu Qiao up, saying in a low voice, "Eat up."
Chu Qiao's face was pale. She became increasingly weaker by the day. However, she still managed to ask, "How's the situation outside?"
"What else?" Zhuge Yue replied with disdain. "Those that were supposed to die have died. Those that were not supposed to die have died too. The Liu family has seized the assets of the other families with little effort."
Chu Qiao frowned slightly and said slowly, "This means that Liu Xi has seized the other merchants' assets? Isn't he afraid of the repercussions?"
Zhuge Yue shook his head and replied, "The other merchant leaders might have died already."
"You're saying that…"
"Yes," Zhuge Yue nodded in reply. "If it was me, I'd do it once and for all. Although the wealth of the Ouyang, Jia, and Wang families cannot compare to the Liu family, once they teamed up, it would be sufficient to cause trouble for the Liu family. Since Liu Xi decided to seize these assets and kill the people from these families, Xianyang City would not have had any peace yesterday night."
Chu Qiao frowned. "Would Liu Mingjun endorse Liu Xi's actions? In this case, their foothold in Xianyang City would be totally ruined."
"You still think that the instigator is Liu Mingjun?" Zhuge Yue laughed. "Xing'er, you're smart, able-bodied, and respond quickly. It's only that you don't know how to read people's minds. Liu Xi has rebelled. If I'm not wrong, the first person that died yesterday night was Liu Mingjun."
"Liu Xi has rebelled?" Chu Qiao was stunned, trying to recall the young man she saw back then at Xianyang City. He revealed a mouthful of white teeth when he smiled. His equestrianism was exquisite. Back then, when Liu Mingjun introduced his nephew to her, he laughed heartily and patted the young man on the shoulder, proudly proclaiming that he was considered half his son…
"Why would Liu Xi rebel? Perhaps, he was not satisfied with being a rich man. He had political ambitions. However, the Xia political system was exclusive, only catering to the noble families. He had no foothold in court, which meant it would be hard for him to climb up the ladder even after ten years. Hence, he went all in and gathered the wealth of the Xianyang merchants as a springboard for him to advance into the upper echelons of Tang. With such wealth, no one would look down on Liu Xi on his journey to Tang."
As Zhuge Yue provided his analysis, Chu Qiao did not agree with him as she knew the identities of the people who had died. At this instant, she was most worried about Liu Xi being allegiant to the Xia Empire, and deciding to eradicate the foundations of the Da Tong Guild in Xianyang by swallowing their assets. As for why they were headed to Tang territory, she was unable to think of a reason.
Zhuge Yue was a man of high intelligence. At this instant, the scouts from Tang provided the exact news to the officials, leading them to come to a similar consensus. By uprooting the other families, Liu Xi was heading to Tang territory with an ulterior motive. However, no one knew that Liu Xi, who was hated by the masses, had been thrown into a gunny sack and dumped in the river.
As the situation unfolded, some parties retreated hurriedly. Some were ignorant, some turned a cold eye to the events, and some were in control of the situation. Those who were ignorant thought that this was purely a robbery and an ongoing feud between families. Those who were smart, like Zhuge Yue and Li Ce, were able to delve deeper and unearth the reasons behind the situation. Only those who were in control was able to unmask the layers and networks behind to unravel the mystery, waiting for the truth to be revealed one day.
In the big tent, a man wearing a white robe sat on a warmed mat. Outside the tent stood his guards.
A young man, about 20-years-old, and wearing body armor, dashed into the tent and knelt on the floor, saying, "Your Royal Highness."
Yan Xun was wearing a white robe and sitting on the warmed mat. Sweat trickled down his forehead and he remained pale. He sat there and did not bat an eyelid, but acknowledged the man's presence with an Mmm sound.
"The assets have been seized. The heads of the other families, along with their servants, have been cleared. I've sent people to bury their corpses in the rear mountain."
Yan Xun remained silent, as if he had fallen asleep. The young man licked his lips and added, "It's only… it's only the little prince from the Ouyang family that has not been found."
Yan Xun frowned but did not blink. "Then go find him."
"Yes, yes!" The young servant added hurriedly, "That child is just four-years-old. There are trees everywhere. I don't think he has run far."
"Hold it." A low voice boomed out. The young man was shocked and obliged.
Yan Xun finally opened his eyes. With a look of wisdom, he asked calmly, "Do you know why the Xia empire is in this state today?"
The young servant was shocked. He opened his mouth twice, but no words came out of his mouth.
"It's because back then when they killed my family, they did not kill me along with them. Do you understand now?"
The young servant was flustered. "I understand now, I understand."
"Alright then, carry on." Yan Xun waved his hand to dismiss him.
The young servant stood up carefully. As he prepared to leave, Yan Xun added, "After you're done, go and serve your punishment according to military law. Looks like you need a deep impression to remember who I am now."
"Yes, Master. I remember what you said."
The tent turned silent. The young Yan Xun leaned on his mat, his cloak almost swallowing him up. Slowly, he frowned and cursed in frustration, "Those darned southern barbarians…"
The next day, there was no news that the camp intended to set off. Zhuge Yue went outside to scan the surroundings. Other than the servants of the Liu family, the servants of the other families had disappeared. He panicked, but given Chu Qiao's condition, he was unable to take her away from this place.
He walked to the side of the horse carriage to retrieve some dry rations. On his way back, he saw the girl named Xingxing hiding beside a small tent, her small head popping out. She looked as if she was sizing him up. She stared in all directions, appearing to look for the harmonious Chu Qiao.
Seeing that Zhuge Yue had spotted her, the young child squinted in joy and dashed towards him.
Zhuge Yue ignored the child and walked back towards the tent. After barely taking two steps, he heard hurried footsteps behind him. He turned around, seeing the child treading carefully behind him.
What does she want? More meat? Zhuge Yue frowned and uttered, "If you follow me again, I'll break your legs!"
"Waaaaa!" The child wailed loudly, scaring Zhuge Yue. She ran off in the opposite direction while wailing. The other people looked at Zhuge Yue with scorn in their eyes, seemingly saying: Look at him. Threatening a child like that.
Zhuge Yue felt frustrated. He had just intended to scare her.
When he got back to the tent, Chu Qiao was still sleeping. She had developed a tendency to drift off to sleep recently even while talking. Zhuge Yue was slightly worried, but upon seeing that she was able to walk while not asleep, he felt relieved. At the very least, after their ordeal, he had somewhat gained her trust. Presently, even if he sat beside her, she would no longer hold him at knifepoint.
The sky darkened slowly. Zhuge Yue sighed, feeling depressed. The times had changed. Now, he was unable to even leave this rundown place.
"Umm…" a lazy sound echoed out. Chu Qiao opened her eyes slowly. Seeing Zhuge Yue sitting beside her, she felt slightly awkward. She proceeded to tidy up her hair. With a nasal voice, she remarked, "What time is it? Oh, I've been asleep for so long."
Zhuge Yue remained silent, handing her a bottle of water.
Chu Qiao took the bottle and took a sip of water. Seeing that Zhuge Yue was still staring at her, she choked on the water. "Cough, cough…"
"How clumsy." Zhuge Yue rolled his eyes while patting her back.
After coughing for a long while, Chu Qiao was energized. Staring at Zhuge Yue ruthlessly in the eye, she snatched the bottle of water from him, taking two big gulps of water and declaring loudly, "I'm hungry."
Zhuge Yue had gone out earlier on to retrieve some food. However, seeing that she was being petty, he no longer wanted to give the food to her, sneering in retaliation, "Am I your slave?"
"Slave?" Chu Qiao looked at him from the corner of her eye. "You? What are you capable of? I bet that you wouldn't even be worth a tael of gold."
Zhuge Yue sneered. "You're worth money?"
"More than you."