Li Chengfeng privately cursed himself. His small tantrum had caused the prefecture chief to lose face publicly but he definitely did not want this to harm Madam Xiong.
His heart raced as he yelled from among the crowd, “Childish words are nothing, let the wind blow them away!”
Everyone quickly reacted and chanted, “Let the wind blow them away!”
Zhang Junheng forced a smile and walked up to the trembling Madam Xiong. He took the child gently from her trembling arms and smiled. “Why are you all so anxious? Do you really think I’ll fret over what a child said?”
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and praised, “You are a generous man, Sir!”
“As the saying goes, the officer’s belly can fit a boat*! You are a generous man, Sir!”
[Note: idiom - to have a wide stomach/chest/heart represents to forgive easily & generosity]
After neutralising the awkwardness, the prefecture chief passed the child back to Madam Xiong and then turned solemnly to his subordinate. “Don’t disturb them, alright?”
The soldier quickly nodded. Zhang Junheng took one look in Li Chengfeng’s direction, who quickly hid back in the crowd.
Zhang Junheng averted his gaze and turned to the crowd. “Today, I shall be sending Young Master Zhan off to the Decennial Spiritual Mountain Sect Great Ceremony, please keep celebration to moderation- let’s not delay Young Master Zhan’s journey to cultivation!”
Brother Bai took the opportunity to yell, “We wish you a bright future, Young Master Zhan! Come out and meet us!”
Zhang Qisheng pulled the curtains back and stepped out with a half-hearted smile, greeting them arrogantly.
All the gangsters started cheering and clapping while the people mostly replied with silence and hatred in their eyes.
Cheng’an city folk were not stupid, someone had recognised the Grim Stork to be a magical beast that belonged to the Great Northwest. Why would it pass through such a large stretch of land undetected to suddenly appear at Cheng’an City?
It was undeniable that Young Master Zhan was the culprit!
They could force themselves to cheer for Zhang Junheng, for he had been the chief for ten years. He had at least a little contribution to the city. While he charged high taxes, they still led acceptable lives.
However, could they betray their own conscience to cheer for this ruthless Sir Zhan? The fierce citizens of Cheng’an who were proficient in martial arts and street brawls could not do it!
The cheers were sparse and award.
Zhan Qisheng’s personal motto was: I can look down on you trash but you cannot look down on me! Hence, his face darkened immediately and was about to explode when he suddenly saw Li Chengfeng in the crowd and broke out into a grin. “Isn’t that Sir Li?”
Everyone turned to look. Li Chengfeng could hide no longer and was forced to straighten up and greet them. “Good day, sir!”
Zhang Junheng nodded slightly with a half-smile. “You’re here to send Sir Zhan off?”
Li Chengfeng’s eyes darted at Zhan Qisheng but he did not speak. Zhan Qisheng stepped forward and said, “Can’t believe you still had the guts to come! Not bad, I have underestimated you.”
Chengfeng squinted, forcing himself to not beat this man up and smiled. “There’s a path here, why can’t I use it?”
Zhan Qisheng let out a hearty laugh. “I’m going to Spiritual Mountain for cultivation. What about you?” His eyes were filled with arrogant contempt, as if looking at a struggling worm on the ground.
Li Chengfeng had planned to keep a low profile but at this point, he decided to face this head-on.
Chengfeng grinned. “Oh? That’s a coincidence, I’m entering the Spiritual Mountain Sect too!”
Zhan Qisheng’s face fell as he regarded him from head to toe. “You? What are you going there for? As a janitor? Hahahaha!”
“My purpose is the same as yours.”
Zhan Qisheng raged, “How dare you insult me?”
Chengfeng gasped, “Who would dare insult you? Do they have a death wish?”
“I’m the fourth son of the Zhan family, I will immediately be recruited into any sect in this world as an esteemed guest even without any offerings! But I will be going to cultivate!” Zhan Qisheng’s features contorted. “What do YOU have? Hmm?”
Li Chengfeng looked around and knew that since he could not keep a low profile, might as well cause a huge commotion so everyone would stay cautious of him. He reached into his clothing. Uncle Li pulled Zhan Qisheng next to himself, watching Chengfeng closely.
Chengfeng grinned and pulled out the golden invitation card. “I have this!”
“The Spiritual Mountain golden invitation?” gasped the crowd. Zhan Qisheng was astonished, eyeing Chengfeng as if this was the first time they met.
Zhang Junheng’s brows were tightly furrowed as he rubbed his beard.
The crowd erupted in discussion. “Since when did the Li family get that?”
“I heard the Li family has been making offerings for ten years now, this shouldn’t be a surprise, I think?”
“Ptui, do you think the Li family’s the only one? There are many families who have been paying longer than that, why would the Li family get the golden invitation?”
“What, are you jealous? Go ask the Spiritual Mountain Sect yourself then!”
“Why do they have it? Our family has been making offerings for more than twenty years and we don’t even have one! What right do they have to receive an invitation!”
“Yeah, it’s not like they paid more than us!”
“That’s enough, just go rob him for the invitation then, it’s right there!”
“Are you mad? A person is considered a member of the sect once the invitation is extended! Are you sure you’d rob him? The sect will kill your entire family!”
Zhan Qisheng’s face changed as he suddenly laughed and clapped. “Alright, alright! So we are now sect brothers. We will be spending a lot of time together soon!”
Li Chengfeng laughed too. “I’m sure I have a great deal to learn from you, Fourth Young Master.”
Zhan Qisheng was smiling but his eyes were cold. He turned to Zhang Junheng with his frozen smile, “I have to congratulate you, prefecture chief! A man from your city has received the golden invitation! Such a rare opportunity!”
Everyone wished to attain success through cultivation but the sect’s great ceremony was far different from the academic examinations held once every three years. Many people could even attempt papers again if they failed the first time. However, the sect only recruited members once a decade! Plus the top three sects did not recruit more than a hundred members every time!
A recruited new member was also an achievement to the local officer. They would proudly write in broad ink strokes on a banner, “On the xx day of xx month, year xx, xxx from xx family has been successfully chosen to enter the xx sect to be a cultivator!”
If this person became a successful cultivator, the locals would publish a book about him, and he would be the pride of the town.
That was why it was customary for the local officer and citizens to send any cultivator candidates off.
Zhang Junheng knew that Zhan Qisheng was mocking him and forced a smile. “The credit goes to the Li family. Plus cultivation depends on the cultivator himself, Sir Li has a long, tough road ahead!
It sounded more like a threat and Chengfeng understood. Chengfeng gave a small smile. “One would rather torture the white-haired man but never the young and the poor. For when he attains success one day, he would destroy the heavens themselves for revenge!”
Zhang Junheng replied, “Such bold words. Sir Li, are you implying treason?”
Li Chengfeng said, “The Daqi empire is peaceful and the people live good lives. The emperor is wise while the economy is stable. Who would dare rebel? Who could rebel? Be careful with your words, prefecture chief!”
Daqi was a generally open-minded empire with freedom of speech. There were plenty of scholarly articles that criticised the palace and the world. Li Chengfeng had just recited a famous poem titled ‘Rebellion’ written by poet Liu Chengzhi while drunk.
“The knife of the universe in one hand, the sword of heaven and earth at his hip. His eyes looked out at the western mountains, his voice reaching the horizons. With praise from the emperor, he stood before the worshipping mountains. Upon uniting the world, his magnificence lives on for ten thousand years.”
This poem spread across the lands and someone had brought it to the emperor, criticising that Liu Chengzhi had an intention of treason. The emperor merely laughed and wrote another poem in reply: such bold words with dreams to rule the lands; come hither if you can!
His reply was so elegant it displayed his confidence. All the scholars of the empire were immediately loyal to him. In the end, Liu Chengzhi was defeated by the reply and lived a life of subservience to the emperor. He left nothing but praise for the emperor at the end of his life, setting the base for the culture of open discussion across the lands!
Zhang Junheng did not plan to retaliate with words. He huffed, knowing that ever since he planned to hurt the Li family together with Zhan Qisheng, he had already chosen a side. He cannot change his mind now just because Li Chengfeng had presented a golden invitation and might become a successful cultivator in the future. He was the chief, he must stand his ground.
“It’s a pity…” Zhang Junheng looked at Chengfeng pitifully. “If I had known you had such talent, Sir Li, I would have made preparations. It’s too bad me and the people here were only expecting to send Fourth Young Master Zhan off but not you!”
Zhang Junheng wanted to embarrass Li Chengfeng badly. Zhan Qisheng stepped in front of Chengfeng and smiled. “How pitiful! You’ve worked so hard to get the golden invitation, and becoming a cultivator is a thing you should be proud of! Yet no one's here to send you off. Tsk tsk, I wonder if this will be a lifelong regret of yours once you enter the sect.”
Everyone wanted the last word these days. If Li Chengfeng did not handle this well, he would be the butt of the joke every time he met an opponent.
Su Yuehan could not help but intervene, “Who said there isn’t anyone? My Young Master just refused for them to come!”
Zhan Qisheng laughed. “Who!” He looked around. “You. You. You. You. Are you all here to send Sir Li off?”
Everyone he pointed at looked down and dared not meet his eyes.
Zhan Qisheng gave him a look of seething hatred as if he had seen a worm in the toilet. He gestured, “Mud should just stay on the ground because it’ll… never be built into a wall!”
Li Chengfeng gritted his teeth, forcing himself to not bash this man’s head to pulp. His cheek twitched but he smiled. “Are you done? I’m leaving!”
He just finished when they heard a bright voice from one end of the road. “Wait, Sir Li! I’m willing to send you off!”
Zhan Qisheng felt his cheeks burn as he turned and raged! “Who is it!”
Everyone heard every single word of the reply: “Liu Sumei of Cailian Alley’s Falling Blossom House!”