Next morning, Zhuo Fan took You Ming and Zhuge Changfeng to Prosperity Compound. With the emperor defeated, taking back its mansion in the imperial capital was easy for Luo clan.
The streets they passed were filled with white clothes and all the stores were closed. It was a nation-wide mourning for the emperor.
Stepping through the gates of the compound, the guards shouted his arrival and everyone came to meet Zhuo Fan.
It came as a shock to see the great Prime Minister behind him. Leng Wuchang took it the hardest, not liking where this was going.
“Allow me to clarify. Prime Minister Zhuge is now on our side.” Zhuo Fan smiled, “This is You Ming, the adviser of Hell Valley, also with us.”
[Steward Zhuo is back with more talents, and with none other than the head of the Four Pillars too. His recruiting style is invincible.]
They all greeted the newcomers with cupped hands.
Leng Wuchang opted for a snort.
Zhuo Fan was about to leave and Luo clan, as a great power, needed a wise adviser in the years to come. [But Zhuo Fan’s mind is so twisted that he got Zhuge Changfeng to join as well.]
[It’s to keep me in check!]
[There goes my promotion.] Leng Wuchang lamented.
With the pleasantries over and done with, he had all others leave, “Sir Leng, walk with us.”
He took the three tacticians to his room. Taking a chair, he eyed them, “We’re all smart people here and know by now, my intentions. Yes, you three will establish checks and balances in the Luo clan. Kudos, ha-ha-ha…”
Zhuo Fan put on a bright smile, but Leng Wuchang sighed his discontent, “Steward Zhuo, you had ruled the Luo clan all alone for so many years and since I learnt of your departure, I figured my time to shine has come at last; to show my skills. But you planned for two others to hold me back.”
“Ha-ha-ha, balancing power is a leader’s quality, especially now when the officials are stronger than the lord. Without Steward Zhuo holding the others in check with the worms, the Luo siblings would’ve long since fallen prey. Steward Zhuo’s actions are all within right.” Zhuge Changfeng understood as much from their talk last night.
You Ming nodded.
These three were all masterminds. The only reason Zhuo Fan could control them was through a nifty little trick, or he’d never let them see tomorrow. To say nothing about leaving them around the naive siblings.
[To grasp power, to establish an unshakable foothold, ha-ha-ha, any of these three can do it in days. But only with all of them will things keep growing.]
Leng Wuchang could see it, but the disillusion was too much to bear.
Zhuo Fan smiled, “You are all capable men. I may hold you back for safety reasons, but I will not stand in the way of your talents, instead help you unleash it to its full potential. By then you will be so busy that you won’t have the time to play tricks on each other.”
Zhuo Fan’s hand held three jade slips, “Here is the next phase of my plan. Each of your duties are included as well. Sir Leng noticed something, but this is the final policy.”
The three read it and all cried, “Luo Alliance?”
Zhuo Fan nodded, his eyes flashing as he revealed his master plan, “The Seven Noble Houses vied for power, for these lands. But even if they did grasp it, they’d be limited to Tianyu alone. We are now Tianyu’s shadow, free of the emperor’s shackles and can go beyond the boundaries of this nation to take in renowned clans. Grow and grow without limits to become a colossus that the likes of the upper sects have never seen!”
The trio were dumbstruck.
Zhuge Changfeng pointed out, “Steward Zhuo, this is huge. By breaking down the nation’s barriers, taking in outside clans, we’ll become an organization outside of this nation’s boundaries. We will have countless men and resources. We might even contend over the control of the western lands, becoming its supreme power in the shadows.”
“And only we can do it since we are this empire’s shadow, out of its control. By luring the other areas’ clans, it won’t come back to bite us and the other empires won’t even notice. We’ll grow so big no nation could hold us.”
Zhuo Fan snickered, “Will the three controllers have the mind for petty schemes when in control of such a behemoth?”
The trio looked at him filled with praise.
Zhuge Changfeng cupped his hands, “Steward Zhuo is amazing, just through his ambition alone. I see it now, why you told me that your sights are on a bigger prize. It’s all become clear now.”
“My skill is indispensable in accomplishing such a great undertaking and I would accept it without hesitation, ha-ha-ha…” Leng Wuchang was pleased.
Zhuo Fan continued, “The Luo Alliance project is only known to the four of us for now. It will do more harm than good letting the houses, bent on rebuilding their legacy, in on it. I never want to see the same chaos like the time of the seven houses again. You three are all men of wisdom. Your first task will be to turn these houses into abandoning their plans of rebuilding and become our first supporters of the Luo Alliance!”
The trio had the same patronizing smile, “Reverse psychology can’t be simpler.”
Zhuo Fan nodded with a wide smile.
[With these three at the heart of things, Luo clan’s future is assured…]
“I’ll be going now. You can handle each other’s scope.” Zhuo Fan left.
Leng Wuchang asked, “Steward Zhuo, your mind is a true mystery. How did you come up with this project?”
“I saw it happen.” Zhuo Fan grinned.
The trio were mystified.
[Saw it? Which clan on this continent did it? How come we’ve never heard of it?]
No one knew that the great Sacred Domain had the Sheng clan at its core, with all other clans in its alliance, a mountain driving fear even into sects…
Zhuo Fan entered another room, where two sages awaited.
Though with their sealed cultivations, they couldn’t move and could only sit there with ashen faces.
“It’s been ages, friends. How has life been treating you? Ha-ha-ha…”
Zhuo Fan made a sign and the two could move, “It’s just that I’ve been a little busy and couldn’t attend to you. Do pardon my lack of manners.”
“Stop with the theatrics. As the true winner, what are you going to do, torture us? Bring it!” Heaven Sage spoke with resolve.
Zhuo Fan sneered, “You’ve got me all wrong. Have you ever seen a torture like this, letting you live at ease for two months?”
“What do you call those three days of ghastly pain right when you caught us? It felt more like three years in hell!” Earth Sage spat.
Zhuo Fan sighed, “Oh, come on, I was doing you a favor. With torture as an excuse, I kept your lives from ending up splattered under young Sanzi’s hoofs. Once I got him to leave, the pain stopped and I even had you dine in style. Did you forget so soon?”
The two exchanged a glance, [We did, didn’t we?]
Ever since Gu Santong’s job was over, he left Luo clan and their torture ended.
“What do you want? Spit it out!” Zhuo Fan wasn’t one who believed in charity so Heaven Sage shouted.
Zhuo Fan smiled, “I hope that you’ll join me.”
The two mocked, “No way!”
“And why not?” Zhuo Fan asked, “The imperial family is finished, the emperor is dead and the fatty is just about to sit on the throne as my future puppet. What’s so great about following him? Don’t tell me you are undying loyalists too.”
Heaven Sage mocked, “We’re not Dugu Zhantian or Human Sage. We are simply on the imperial family’s payroll so we deal with their matters. But if there’s one side we’ll never join, it’s the Luo clan. All because you’re with that little freak.”
“What did my son do to you, for you to hate him so much?” Zhuo Fan frowned.
Earth Sage snorted, “That freak broke our body’s core three hundred years ago, cutting any prospects of ever reaching Ethereal Stage. You tell me if hatred isn’t warranted.”
Zhuo Fan presented a vial, “That’s it? See here, this is Luo clan’s Heaven Reaching Pill, 10th grade. It mends meridians and knits bones. The broken Elder Li took one of these and was up and running within seconds. He even became Ethereal. You only need to let go of the hatred with my son and join the Luo clan to have it.”
The two were shell-shocked. [Luo clan has such a panacea?]
Though fear of being fooled again had the sages hesitant, “There’s no way Steward Zhuo will take thanks as payback for this ‘little’ favor. We’ll be your errand boys. We can overlook the matter with your son, but if you play with us…”
“Are you dumb or what? Your lives are in my hands. What good will it do to lie? And from how long you’ve stayed at peak Radiant Stage, the instant you heal you’ll advance. You will know it once you take the pill.”
The sages stared at the vial and gulped.
The desire was too much for them to ignore and they swallowed it instantly.
A gentle energy entered their very fiber, getting a moan out of them…