The private guards felt their chests tighten when Zhang Junheng yelled, pouring into the building. However, they flipped the entire place upside down and still could not find anyone.
“Report, no one in the bedroom!”
“Report, no one in the main hall!”
“Report, no one in the backyard!”
“Report, we found Zhixi under the bed, and she is dead!”
“Report, we found a male’s footprints in the room!”
“Report, we found everyone else in the building, they’re all dead in the firewood room!”
“Repot, someone opened a hole in the roof of the bedroom!”
As reports poured in continuously, Zhang Junheng’s face darkened. He eyed Qiu Liansheng next to him with hatred and anger deep in his bones. With a low voice, he forced the words out of his mouth. “Search harder! Find out exactly what happened!”
The guards felt their chests tightened again as the leader of the officials at the restaurant from before, who was also a policeman, said, “Don’t worry, Sir! I will find the truth!”
Zhang Junheng left in a huff. Chengan’s own city guards finally stepped forward to disperse the crowd.
Li Chengfeng was already two streets away by now. After turning a corner, he took off the cloth around his face and panted heavily.
He was about to leave when he heard a low call, “Young master?”
He was startled and turned around, only to see a timid face peeking out from the corner. It was Xiaobao!
Li Chengfeng was so furious he rushed forward to kick him. Zhao Xiaobao, already anticipating this, leapt aside. Chengfeng grabbed him harshly and hit his head. “Did you want to kill me?! You must’ve been waiting for this day to come!”
Zhao Xiaobao cried and whined, “Young master, I didn’t want that to happen either… But I panicked… I had no choice! Don’t you always say pick the better option when both options are bad?” His eyes reddened and welled up.
Li Chengfeng yelled, “Stop that!”
Zhao Xiaobao wiped his tears away frantically and said, “But, Young master, no one saw you, right?”
He raged, “Do you think I’m as stupid as you? Of course not!”
Zhao Xiaobao sobbed. “What do we do now?”
Li Chengfeng’s face darkened. “Ugh, all along, I am always the bully, not the other way round! I better not find out who cheated me, I’ll punch him!”
Xiaobao nodded vigorously. “Yes, punch him!”
“Yes, you do it!”
Xiaobao was startled. “Huh? Me?”
Li Chengfeng kicked his butt. “Yep! Let’s go, we don’t want anyone to see us!”
Like a wronged daughter-in-law, Zhao Xiaobao sighed and followed behind. He asked carefully, “Where are we going?”
“Nonsense, home of course! Such a big thing happened, where else could we go?!”
Xiaobao followed hurriedly as they nervously blended into the crowd. After a while, they finally arrived at the Li family residence in the western region of the city. They had just entered the alley when they coincidentally ran into one young and one old servant of the Li family and rushed anxiously out.
The older servant lit up when she saw Li Chengfeng. “Young master, you’re back! That’s great, Madam’s waiting for you at home!”
After such a large commotion, Li Chengfeng was already emotionally unstable. When he heard her, his stomach was in knots!
His scalp tightened and grabbed the older servant. “Auntie Mei, what happened? That’s too soon, that’s impossible…”
Auntie Mei said, “Yeah, it happened very soon!”
Li Chengfeng’s eyes widened and he gave Zhao Xiaobao a look. Both of them saw fear in each other’s eyes. Xiaobao said in a low, shaky voice, “Young master… Should we run as soon as possible? The world is big, I’m sure we’ll find a good place to hide!”
Chengfeng’s voice shook too. “But where will we go?”
Auntie Mei was displeased. “Run? Where are y’all going now? Let me tell you, Madam has already told me to bring you home the moment I see you! We have an important guest!”
Li Chengfeng was stunned. “Important guest?”
“Yep!” She then lowered her voice mysteriously. “This one’s a really important person! It’s true!”
He heaved a sigh of relief. This definitely wasn’t the people from Zhixi’s place coming to catch the harasser. He calmed himself down. “Who is it?”
She gave a teasing look. “You’ll know when you get home! This is important for you, young master! Perhaps you’ll have a bright future after meeting this person!”
The younger handmaiden next to her giggled. “Yeah! Congratulations, sir!”
Li Chengfeng felt a wave of annoyance again. “What? Well whatever, move along now1”
Auntie Mei did not mind him at all. She curtsied and then left with the handmaiden. The handmaiden kept eyeing him secretly and when she passed Xiabao she winked teasingly, making him blush and lower his head. She then laughed to herself.
His family lived deep down the alley of the Li family estate. Although the family was far from its glory days, it was definitely not a dead one yet. This run-down aristocratic family still gritted its teeth and lived on.
There were two stone lions at the entrance. One bared its teeth and claws, looking ferocious; one sat and looked down regally on the world.
Li Chengfeng came to the door and knocked the bronze ring on the great door bearing the head of a beast. After a while, the door opened with a creak. It was the butler, Uncle Kun. He lit up when he saw that it was Li Chengfeng, his wrinkled face brightening up with a smile. He greeted Chengfeng, “Congratulations, young master! Congratulations!”
Li Chengfeng grunted in response and thought in annoyance, ‘Are y’all congratulating me for getting framed as the culprit who harassed the prefecture chief’s mistress? Hmmph, I wonder what you’d all think if you knew about that, would you still be smiling?’
Uncle Kun grinned. “Madam and Master are in the great hall, the guest is there too! You’d better hurry!”
Chengfeng asked carefully, “Who is it?”
He smiled mysteriously, “You’ll know when you meet them.”
He gasped, “Uncle Kun! I watched you grow old, why are you doing this to me?”
“I am not doing anything, I… Eh?” He paused for a moment and then feigned anger, “Not bad, kid! How dare you trick me!”
Li Chengfeng grinned. “My bad, my bad! Don’t mind me, children like me talk nonsense all the time!”
Uncle Kun pretended to hit him and scolded while laughing, “You’re supposed to respect your elders! Run along now!”
Li Chengfeng was growing more curious now. He went into the front yard. This place was a vast, empty space designated for martial arts training, with many cracks filled with weeds in the stone tiles on the ground. A stand filled with various types of axes, spears and other weapons stood by the yard, though the stand was already very old. The chips in the paint, revealing the wood underneath, could be seen from afar. Next to the yard was a flagpole with a blood-coloured flag. A large ‘Li (李)’ character flew stubbornly in the wind.
It was the last shred of dignity a declining clan could have.
After passing through the corridor into the great hall, before he entered he saw several servants kneeling at the door. He peered inside only to see his parents also kneeling within!
Li Chengfeng was startled!
Daqi’s citizens were divided into four classes: Priests (first class), Scholars (second class), Warriors (third class) and Commoners (fourth class). The Li family was at the Warrior class now but they used to be first-class priests. They were at the top of the aristocrats. After centuries of decline, nothing was left other than their stubbornness.
Who was important enough for his own parents to kneel?