Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
There were three major aristocratic families in Beiluo City: the Chen family, the Liu family, and the Zhu family.
Aristocratic families were hugely influential in the Great Zhou Dynasty. They controlled an incredible amount of land and labor, which let them establish self-sufficient economic systems. All the aristocratic families in the country had deep-rooted relationships with each other, and they all possessed incredible resources and power.
Take the rebellious 12 counties, for example; most of their Mayors actually came from aristocratic families.
Since Beiluo City was one of the closest cities to the capital, the emperor kept a close eye on it. The aristocratic families didn't dare to get too far out of line. All three major families in Beiluo City were a lot weaker than those from other counties.
But as weak as they were, they were still aristocratic families.
Dark and quiet.
Inside Chen Manor, one of the aristocratic families.
The front gate of Chen Manor was shut. Fallen leaves knocked down by the storm covered the road in front of the entrance, giving it a sense of bleakness. The gate looked like an ostrich that had buried his head in the sand.
Tantai Xuan had led his forces to attack Beiluo City just as the three major aristocratic families betrayed Lu Changkong. He had hoped that with the collaboration of those families, he could take Beiluo City in one swoop. The three aristocratic families, on the other hand, had hoped to break themselves out of Lu Changkong's control and rule Beiluo City themselves.
However, changes kept outrunning their plans.
Somehow, Lu Changkong had managed to hide a Grandmaster martial arts practitioner. That powerful woman had taken out the leaders of the three major aristocratic families without even hesitating.
That terrified the three families.
Tantai Xuan hadn't even made it through the city gate, and the three families had been brought to heel in short order.
The echoing sound of wooden wheels rolled over the black bricks of the street, breaking the deep-night silence.
In the obscuring darkness, Lu Fan's group arrived at the shut gate of Chen Manor.
"Is this Chen Manor?" Lu Fan asked.
He resettled himself in the wheelchair, pulling the thin woolen blanket up a little. The post-rain air was wet and cold.
Ning Zhao slightly nodded as she pushed the wheelchair forward.
"Master would like to punish the three families, but considering their deep economic roots in Beiluo City, it would probably impact Beiluo City's economy. So the Master hasn't decided how to deal with them yet," Ning Zhao said. "Traditionally, in troubled times, warlords and heroes tend to come from aristocratic families."
Lu Fan smiled as he knitted his fingers together and stretched a bit.
"It's getting late. Your Young Master is getting tired. Let's do this fast," Lu Fan said.
Ning Zhao nodded. Her hands gripped the handles of the wheelchair as she lifted it slightly and carried it up the black-brick steps at the Chen Manor gate.
Ni Yu was standing next to Lu Fan, and he reached out and lightly touched her head.
"Ni, go knock at the door."
Ni Yu paused as she was surprised by her Young Master's order.
"What? Young Master, I'm scared," she murmured, looking at Lu Fan.
"What's there to be afraid of? To practice martial arts, you need to train yourself to be brave. Without courage, no one can become a top martial arts practitioner," Nie Changqing said, glancing at Ni Yu. He glanced down at his son. "Shuang'er, you go with her."
Nie Shuang was also a little scared, truth be told. Yet, seeing his father's stern look, he took a breath and puffed up his chest.
His father had never given him a stern look like that.
Although Nie Shuang was very young, he was a sensitive kid.
In the short time since they decided that Nie Shuang was going to begin martial arts training, Nie Changqing seemed to have become much stricter with him. Seeing his father's change in demeanor filled Nie Shuang with anticipation.
With Nie Shuang's company, Ni Yu became braver.
The two kids exchanged looks, collected their courage, and walked up to the front gate of Chen Manor.
They lifted the door knocker, which was designed to look like a beast's mouth, and let it fall loudly against the door.
"Hello! Anybody home?" Nie Shuang yelled in his little boy's voice. Ni Yu followed suit.
Sitting in the wheelchair with one hand holding his chin, Lu Fan smiled.
No one answered the door.
Ni Yu and Nie Shuang kept knocking and shouting.
Their childish voice broke the quiet night sky.
The bright moonlight lit up Ni Yu and Nie Shuang's faces as they grew more and more excited in yelling and knocking at the door.
"What are you yelling about? It's late and past midnight! You're too loud!" boomed a deep voice from behind the gate.
Bam! The bolt dropped.
The gate opened up, and a housekeeper wearing plain clothes glared down on them furiously.
Ni Yu and Nie Shuang looked up at the housekeeper with innocent expressions on their faces.
"Who's silly kids are you! How dare you come to Chen Manor and behave like this? Get out of here before I beat the crap out of you!" the housekeeper shouted.
Nie Shuang kept his head up, staring at the housekeeper stubbornly. He didn't move at all.
Ni Yu, though so scared that her legs were shaking, also managed to hold the housekeeper's gaze. She didn't back up even one step.
This man was so vicious!
Lu Fan raised his hand and slightly touched the bridge of his nose.
Nie Changqing had already moved.
He appeared out of the dark like a shadow, lifting the butcher knife and setting it against the cranky housekeeper's neck before the man had even realized what had happened.
As the housekeeper lifted his gaze to the moonlit street, he finally saw Lu Fan in the wheelchair and the others standing nearby.
"You… All of you..." The housekeeper's face went pale. Cold sweat trickled down his cheeks.
As shocked as he was, the housekeeper still summoned enough courage to yell, "Who are you? This is the home of the Chen Manor, not some market filled with screaming children!"
Ning Zhao pushed Lu Fan's wheelchair over the door sill. Slowly, the wooden wheels started rolling again, taking Lu Fan into Chen Manor.
The wheelchair slowly passed by the housekeeper. Lu Fan had one hand holding his chin and the other resting on the bridge of his nose. He didn't even look at the housekeeper as he said emotionlessly, "It's an order from the City Master. We're just collecting some rent."
The housekeeper's eyes widened, and his whole body went rigid.
His pulse throbbed in his throat.
City Master Manor?!
With what the Chen family had done, how could the housekeeper not know of their conspiracy?
When enemy forces surrounded the city, the three major aristocratic families had betrayed the City Master...
Now the manor of the City Master was still intact, and the three aristocratic families would have to face the consequences of their actions.
The housekeeper was as pale as death. The new person in charge of the Chen family had warned him not to open the gate no matter what.
But what did he do?
He opened the front gate and let in people from the City Master's manor.
The housekeeper suddenly wanted to cry.
They had sent little kids to knock on the door, so he let his guard down. He thought it was just some rowdy little troublemakers being noisy in the middle of the night.
Who would think that the mighty City Master would send little kids to knock on his door?
Had he known what was happening, he'd have let himself be killed before he opened the gate.
Ning Zhao pushed the wheelchair into Chen Manor. Lu Fan totally ignored the housekeeper.
The layout and decorations of Chen Manor were a little like those of Lu Manor. They both bore the classic Chinese garden style. Yet of the two households, Chen Manor was clearly the more luxurious. A delicate path connected the pavilion, the artificial hill, and the little pond in the garden. In the soft moonlight, the scene was quite stunning, like some elaborate painting.
Nie Changqing was still holding the butcher knife against the housekeeper's neck. His stony face made him utterly unpredictable.
The housekeeper's legs were shaking. The pungent odor of blood on the butcher knife made him want to retch.
As he felt it press against his skin, the housekeeper knew that this knife had done horrible things.
Sitting in the wheelchair, Lu Fan quite enjoyed the caress of the post-rain wind.
Ning Zhao was standing quietly behind Lu Fan. Her long black hair fell low on her back. The moonlight veiled her slightly, and she looked like a goddess who should only be worshiped, not flirted with.
Ni Yu, who was again holding an umbrella almost as tall as she was, stood next to Lu Fan.
"Nie, the night's a little too quiet."
Lu Fan's gaze traveled down to look at the fish in the pond. His fingers lightly touched the thin blanket.
Nie Changqing squinted his eyes. He took Lu Fan's hint.
The butcher knife quickly swept across the housekeeper's upper leg. Blood spurted out.
The housekeeper's nostrils flared as he screamed like a pig being slaughtered. Blood dripped onto the entryway of the manor.
The horrendous screaming tore apart the quiet night sky.
Inside Chen Manor, oil lamps began to light up, casting the garden into light and shadow.
Thumping footsteps hurried toward them as people splashed over the wet ground.
From deep in the garden, Lu Fan's group could hear the sound of bowstrings being pulled.
A group of archers wearing green Confucianist gowns turned their bows toward Lu Fan and his group. Their arrowheads glistened with cold silver light.
The situation was suddenly touch-and-go.
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