On a bleak and lonely mountain laid a hidden courtyard. Leng Wuchang sat under a graceful pavilion in the backyard, free to sip at his wine in relaxation.
A black figure popped out of the blue.
Facing the old frenemy, Zhuo Fan cupped his hands, “Ha-ha-ha, sorry, hounded by Gu Santong, only now did I manage to shake him off. “
“Ha-ha-ha, Gu Santong is all brawn, but it’s not easy getting away from him. I reckon Steward Zhuo is the only one in Tianyu who can do it. I’m impressed.” Leng Wuchang saluted back.
Zhuo Fan looked at the scene of paradise around him and sighed, “Such is Regent Estate. You are even hiding such a refined place on a lone mountain only ten miles from the imperial capital no one knows about. A true rarity.”
“Of course, with the imperial capital saturated in conflicts and people from all walks of life, intelligence is still of foremost importance. The Regent Estate wants the world and to do that it has built a secret network. And Steward Zhuo can relax. Not even the emperor’s spies can reach us here. We can talk at leisure.”
Zhuo Fan nodded, getting down to business, “Sir Leng, thank you for your assistance. I presume you have my clan in custody. Where, may I ask, are they now?”
Zhuo Fan faked curiosity by looking around, “How come I don’t see them?”
Leng Wuchang’s eyes flashed, “Steward Zhuo, you came to me for help to get the Luo clan in Regent Estate’s hands by all means and I’ve done it. That won’t make me your enemy, will it?”
“Of course not.”
Zhuo Fan said, “I told you. Help me in this and you’ll be on my side.”
“But wasn’t it something more afterwards?”
Leng Wuchang smiled, “I help you with this but I am still Regent Estate’s steward, working out in Regent Estate’s best interests. So even if you don’t take me for an enemy, Steward Zhuo, I can’t help but do it to you!”
Raising an eyebrow, Zhuo Fan nodded, “Quite right. Then, Sir Leng, are you going to do it like the imperial family, and use the Luo clan as a hostage to deal with me?”
“Would I? I know Steward Zhuo’s style all too well. The lesson at the Esoteric Debate was more than enough for me, thank you. With our strength, being testy with someone of Steward Zhuo’s caliber would be ill-advised. It would only make the imperial family happy watching both of us suffer, doing all the work for them. How could I do something so monumentally idiotic?”
“Then…” Zhuo Fan said.
Leng Wuchang was blunt, “Steward Zhuo wanted me to have the Luo clan thinking it would be far easier to rescue them from the Regent Estate than from the imperial family. The reality is indeed so. We would’ve never touched such a hot commodity in our lives, even more so keeping them perfectly safe to present them to Steward Zhuo. But giving them just like that is bad for business. I ask that Steward Zhuo give us something in return.”
Zhuo Fan searched himself puzzled, then spun around, “Take your pick? Be it integrity, conscience, or even chastity, you can take anything.”
“Did you even have them to begin with?” Rolling his eyes, Leng Wuchang chuckled.
Zhuo Fan’s brow rose in rebuttal, “Who says I don’t? I can vouch for my chastity that I have kept safe for dozens of years.”
Leng Wuchang turned serious, “Steward Zhuo, please don’t crack jokes. You only need to give us what we want and Luo clan will be safely returned. If you don’t, I guess we’re at an impasse. Your people can be anywhere by now too. And we will just have to fight one another, waiting for the imperial family to swoop in, ending with both of us dying.”
“Do I even have something so important on me?” Zhuo Fan frowned.
He got it from Leng Wuchang that this item was crucial to them, willing to get it even if it meant falling in a trap. It was either get it or die trying.
But what could he have that was of such value?
Leng Wuchang stared as he emphasized each word, “Bodhi Root!”
“What?” Zhuo Fan cried.
Leng Wuchang said, “Have you forgotten already? The 8th-grade ingredient you swiped from Drifting Flowers Edifices eight years ago. Please give it to me and I will release them.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have it. Will you take another 8th-grade ingredient instead?” Zhuo Fan blinked and probed.
Shaking his head, Leng Wuchang stressed, “We need the Bodhi Root. We do not care for 9th or even 10th grade ingredients.”
Zhuo Fan saw his stance unmoving and felt it odd, “What is it about this Bodhi Root that makes it so unique that it can’t be replaced with another 8th-grade ingredient?”
“Of course it can’t!”
Leng Wuchang sighed, “There’s no point in keeping this from you now that all the houses are in a final struggle. Why were we so fixed on Drifting Flowers Edifices? Because it was a house of women, for one, and mostly because their heirloom was Bodhi Root. Otherwise we would’ve just started our expansion with other houses first rather than insist on dealing with some broads and earn ourselves the bad name of picking on defenseless women.”
Zhuo Fan found him honest and nodded, “Sir Leng, I shall be frank as well. I can give you anything but the Bodhi Root. It isn’t with me. When I took that bauble, it was only to divert Regent Estate’s attention from Drifting Flowers Edifices when in fact the item was returned right after. How else could we become allies? Would you become an ally with someone who stole from you?”
Leng Wuchang nodded, “I see. I had considered this as well. Steward Zhuo’s answer today has confirmed my guess. Be that as it may, I still need it from you, Steward Zhuo.”
“What are you asking me for? Go take it out of Drifting Flowers Edifices!” Zhuo Fan opened his eyes wide.
Leng Wuchang mocked, “We’ve been watching them for years but they treasure the Bodhi Root more than their lives. Even if we swallow Drifting Flowers Edifices, we still won’t find it. But Steward Zhuo, you, as their ally, can…”
“You want me to swindle them?” Zhuo Fan snorted, “You just called them my allies. Doing such a thing will ruin the Luo clan’s name, casted out by our allies, standing alone and helplessly surrounded by you. Sir Leng, you never do things half-measure.”
“Ha-ha-ha, it’s not my intention at all. All I want is the Bodhi Root.” Leng Wuchang spoke happily, “This is my condition, all that’s left is to see if you will fulfill it. Your men are in our hands, so you can come anytime for the exchange. It ought to be easier than saving them from the imperial family’s hands.
“Take your time to think over carefully. I’ll be leaving now. Come find me when you have it.” Leng Wuchang flicked his sleeve and left.
Zhuo Fan clenched his fists and was gone as well.
The silence returned to the desolate mountain…
Zhuo Fan reappeared a mile away among the trees. Gu Santong was bored to death waiting on a branch and perked up at his arrival, “Dad, you’re back. Didn’t you say you’ll bring those guys too? Why are you alone?”
“God damn it! That old fox has demands!”
Cursing, Zhuo Fan said, “Young Sanzi, you’ve met young Miss and everyone. Can’t your nose point the way?”
Gu Santong wiggled his button nose and breathed in. He closed his eyes in focus.
He shook his head in the end, “Dad, there’s no sign of them in a thousand miles.”
“The old fox sure is cautious. He thought I’d steal the hostages so he had them moved. He never intended to show them to me.”
Zhuo Fan spat, his mind spinning.
After a deep breath, he came to a decision, “I’ll just have to go to Drifting Flowers Edifices and take the item. But I won’t soon forget this.”
Snorting, Zhuo Fan flew away. Gu Santong flashed red on his tail.
Two monsters were zeroing in on Drifting Flowers Edifices at top speed, to take away their heirloom, the Bodhi Root.
Drifting Flowers Edifices, a clique of women, was in for some hard times.