In a peaceful location within the forest, a kilometre from Windgaze City, stood a remote courtyard. The four guards posted at the door were Bone Tempering experts.
Zhuo Fan and Luo Yunchang came along with Luo Yunhai and Captain Pang with the envoy as their guide.
“Steward Zhuo, Young miss Luo, please enter!”
The man was very polite. He opened the door, stood to the side and bowed for them to pass. The other guards frowned with doubt and a flicker of scorn in their eyes.
They were Imperial family’s guards, always welcomed with bows and courtesy everywhere.
But this guy went to invite some no-name Clan Heads and even bowed down before them. He was seen as a disgrace by his fellow guards.
The man picked up on scorn, but he just smirked.
[How can idiots know the importance these people hold?]
[Steward Zhuo is master’s friend, who even Senior Fang Qiubai has his eyes on. He needs to say just one word and he’d be Fang Qiubai’s disciple. Even the Emperor will have to show respect then.]
[As for the other three, they’re Steward Zhuo’s friends. We can’t show any disrespect even to them.]
Secretly snorting, the envoy still showed a flattering smile as he guided them inside.
They soon arrived at a garden.
A single pavilion laid in the middle with a stone table inside. Fatty sat in the seat of honor and behind him stood Jade Flute Divine Sword, Fang Qiubai.
On one side of the fatty was Lei Yuntian, with Lei Yuting and Xiao Cui behind him. On the other, it was Cai Rong and his son, Cai Xiaoting.
There were two additional empty stools around the table, for Zhuo Fan and Luo Yunchang.
“This must be a meeting of the three Clan Heads.” Zhuo Fan rubbed his nose and took a step back, letting Luo Yunhai take the lead.
Luo Yunhai didn’t understand, while Zhuo Fan smiled, “Show them the dignity of a Clan Head, and don’t let them look down on you.”
Luo Yunhai understood as Luo Yunchang showed a grateful look.
It was clear this meeting was between the three Clan Heads and the Imperial family. But after the events over the past few months, all of Windgaze City knew that Luo clan’s true Clan Head was Zhuo Fan.
Even the Imperial family might be considering Zhuo Fan as the master of the Luo clan.
Zhuo Fan did this now so that he did not exceed his authority, and was letting Luo clan come into the light. He wanted to state the fact Luo clan’s Clan Head was still named Luo.
“Please, come in.”
The envoy saw the 3rd prince and bowed ninety degrees towards Zhuo Fan in a show of respect he had for his master’s friend.
But this had a different effect on everyone. The fatty was stunned, [Since when were the Imperial family’s guards so humble?]
Cai clan and Lei clan were of the same opinion.
When this guard came to invite them, he was brazen, cocky and flaunting, not carrying in the least who he was talking to. But towards the Luo clan, he treated them like guests.
The two clans felt apprehensive in their hearts, they were even more envious. They were all clans of Windgaze City yet the treatment was worlds apart.
Only Fang Qiubai smiled, guessing Zhuo Fan might have twisted facts to scare the envoy. But this only worked to admire him more.
Under the envoy’s polite call, the Luo clan stepped into the pavilion. Luo Yunchang greeted the fatty, “I am Luo Yunchang, greetings, Your Highness!”
On the way here, the envoy told them of his master. The others followed Luo Yunchang in showing respect. But Zhuo Fan just shrugged.
The fatty only waved, not taking Zhuo Fan’s disrespect seriously, “Please sit.”
Luo Yunchang and her brother took a seat, while Zhuo Fan and Captain Pang stood behind them.
Fatty threw a long look towards Zhuo Fan, secretly nodding. [Great authority, but without any arrogance. He is a loyal subject!]
Fang Qiubai smiled with praise in his eyes.
Zhuo Fan’s conduct was etched in the two’s hearts. Wielding his martial prowess to protect his master, and courteous enough to defend his master’s honor. In the eyes of the Imperial family, he was a rare and valuable official.
The fatty began, “I have invited the three Clan Heads today per the Imperial edict to reveal to you the thousand-years-old relationship between the three clans.”
Everyone was focused on fatty’s next words.
“The three Clan Heads must have each received an instruction from the previous Clan Head, to not make an enemy out of each other. And perhaps even mentioned about helping one another.”
Fatty stood up, “Moreover, the three clan’s power must never leave Windgaze City until the pearls shine.”
Cai Rong and Lei Yuntian watched the fatty in puzzlement. Luo Yunchang got a nod from her brother and also looked puzzled.
“Ha-ha-ha, in fact, this is an agreement between the founding Imperial family a thousand years ago and the three Clan Heads of that time, known as Secret Pearl Order.” Fatty smiled and his eyes flashed, “Cai clan, Luo clan, Lei clan and the Seven Noble Houses are the same, they are all loyal officials, founders of the empire.”
Like a bomb was thrown on them, the three clan’s representatives were shell shocked. They never thought that their origins were the same as the seven houses. But why had they fallen so low that they could only stay in Windgaze City as mortal clans?
The fatty turned a bit bashful, guessing their thoughts, “Sorry, this is what our Yumen clan owes you.”
Sighing, fatty continued, “At that time, Tianyu Empire was just established and was shaky, with unrest among its people. The Great Ancestor and founder sent his seven ministers across the kingdom to employ autonomous administration and settle the land. This gave them enough power to make them equal to the Imperial family. They later became the Seven Noble Houses.”
“In just twenty years, the seven houses grew exponentially, and their greed ignited a war among them. The Imperial family could no longer keep them in check and had to employ schemes in weakening them. The seven houses were ultimately aware that there will be no winners in their war and ceased fire. But the aftermath was cruel. The people were suffering, the empire was mourning, and it was just one step away from collapsing.”
“But how is this connected to us?” Zhuo Fan frowned.
Taking a deep breath, fatty straightened his back, “Everyone, to be honest, your clans are founders of our empire. If your elders were still sitting in the Imperial court, they would be no less famous than the Four Pillars!”
Everyone sucked in a cold breath.
Four Pillars were the support of the Tianyu Empire, leading the military, economy, politics, external affairs… They were the only ones capable of resisting the seven houses.
There was a rumor, the Four Pillars’ power was so strong it struck fear in the Imperial family.
Imperial family, Four Pillars and the Seven Noble Houses represented the empire’s highest power, but also restricting each other in a delicate balance. If one side tips, the balance would crumble and the empire would fall.
No one could believe that their ancestors were so amazing and capable of becoming the empire’s Four Pillars of today.
The fatty lost his smile at this point, “The Great Ancestor at the time set up the Secret Pearl Order with your ancestors to prevent another war from breaking out among the seven houses. The Emperor used all kinds of excuses to demote your ancestors to Windgaze City and become common clans. But the Imperial family could, at any time, combine the three clans into a great clan equal to the rank of the seven houses. This would occur only when war broke out again between the seven houses. Then this new clan would add balance to the equation, to save as many lives as possible.”
“But, even if an eighth house were to appear, it cannot stop the seven houses.” Luo Yunchang voiced her doubts.
Zhuo Fan cut fatty off with a smile before he could speak, “Young miss, the eighth house’s purpose isn’t to stop them but to add balance. A war breaks out only when one side has absolute confidence in winning it. But a war in which winning was possible at a heavy cost won’t happen unless the two sides hated each other to the bone. Sometimes, when two power starts a conflict, it is very easily solved, since no one wants to suffer irreparable damages.”
Luo Yunchang nodded, and the fatty praised Zhuo Fan, “Steward Zhuo is amazing. Luo clan will rise for sure in your capable hands.”
Cai Rong’s lips twitched from the regret he felt.
If he hadn’t offended Zhuo Fan, he might’ve been able to rope him. This kid was a genius seen once in a thousand years.
“3rd Prince, we know of the relationship between the three clans. What I want to know is, how are you going to secure our rise to the eighth seat.” Zhuo Fan stared at the fatty.
Raising his brow, the fatty nodded in admiration, “That’s Steward Zhuo for you, hitting the nail on the head.”
“Of course, the Imperial family’s power is enough to make a clan rise in a short time. The hard part though is how to keep it hidden!” Zhuo Fan smiled, “You think the seven houses would just watch us rise up to their level?”
Cai Rong and Lei Yuntian’s backs went cold with sweat.
They were elated that their ancestors had been Imperial court officials. They were thinking, [My clan will receive the Imperial family’s support to rise above a common clan.]
But Zhuo Fan brought them down to earth.
Not to mention growing stronger, the seven houses wouldn’t even let the new clan grow to their level. They would be destroyed while they were at their weakest.
Cai Rong and Lei Yuntian were grateful for Zhuo Fan’s reminder.
The Imperial family wanted the seven houses’ power in balance, but the three of them wanted to survive.
Cai Rong had to admire Zhuo Fan’s prudent mind…