The main hall of Ye Castle.
By the time Ye Chen arrived, the width of the great hall seemed to have been shrunken as a spectator of a few hundred people had already gathered.
In the middle and attracting the spotlight were Yun Yixuan and his men. Every attention was successfully fixated on them the moment they posed four dead bodies, of Yun Laoliu and the other three Yun clansmen, next to their feet. For reasons that were easy to guess, Ye Moyang's body was not among the exhibition.
Ye Changxuan's eyes shifted steely from the corpses on the floor to Yun Yixuan before he boomed, "Explain yourself, House of Yun! Bringing dead bodies to someone else's abode — what's the meaning of this!?"
Ye Changxuan looked at the bodies more carefully and realized Yun Laoliu among them. However, as Yun Laoliu was a renowned Eighth Stage fighter, the Former Chief quietly mused on the possible cause of the man's death.
Yun Yixuan was visibly shaking. He pointed his finger at the old man, enraged that he had the audacity to fake innocent obliviousness. He snarled, "Don't you dare put up that f**king pretense, Ye Changxuan! I don't, for once, believe that this isn't either Ye Zhantian's or your doing!"
Confusion colored the crowd's expression, especially Ye Zhantian's. Even if this was a false flag operation carried out by the House of Yun, killing people like Yun Laoliu, who was a veteran Eighth Stage fighter and therefore an irreplaceable member of the Yun's combative force, would still be too extreme and counterintuitive.
Yet, it was right there for everyone's eyes to see — Yun Laoliu was dead!
More d.a.m.ningly, within a radius of a hundred miles, the only family who would possess both the animosity towards the Yuns and the temerity to attack would be the House of Ye.
Ye Zhantian and the others may quietly admit that the sight of Yun Laoliu's dead body was gladdening, but regardless of how they felt, it was simply not their deed. The only few suspects who could stand a chance to end someone like Yun Laoliu had been locking themselves up in the Patriarch Residency for a good few days, so much so that they were never sighted in the common areas of Ye Castle.
Of course, no one would reasonably include Ye Chen into the group of suspects.
"I did not kill him," Ye Changxuan contended. "I haven't stepped out of Ye Castle at all."
"Are you sh*tt*ng me?! How else would they die?!" Yun Yixuan snapped hotly.
"Are you deaf or daft? When I said it wasn't me, I meant it wasn't me. Do you really think I wouldn't be eagerly admitting to a feat such as killing an Eighth Stage fighter?!" Ye Changxuan retorted sharply.
Yun Yixuan sneered coldly before he turned to stare at Ye Zhantian with daggers in his eyes. "Do you know where we found our men's bodies? Nearby Ye Castle. And now peel your eyes open and take a look at Yun Laoliu's injuries. Is this not the work of a Ninth Stage fighter!? If this isn't the handiwork of that old geezer, then it could only be yours, Ye Zhantian."
"You're wrong. It wasn't me," Ye Zhantian rebuked. Despite being one of the only two Ninth Stage fighters among the House of Ye, killing Yu Laoliu would have been no less of a daunting challenge.
Suddenly, he remembered hearing the boom in the morning, and a sneaking suspicion quickly took form.
Nevertheless, that was not a suspicion he would ever discuss out loud and in public. Instead, Ye Zhantian immediately took to reb.u.t.ting Yun Yixuan. "Perhaps we should question you instead! After all, what were your men doing near my Castle? On the words of whom that led you to so firmly accuse this be our doing, other than the laughable excuse that our home was close to wherever you found your men? Seriously, you Yuns are always so ent.i.tled. It's as if you're asking me to send some chaperones to protect your men every time any of you happen to pa.s.s us by!"
Ye Chen was on pins and needles. He was their killer yet he could not possibly confess publicly to it right there; If he did, these men from the House of Yun would surely seize him!
The Yun's were likely to use this as a part of their wicked stratagem, which was precisely why Ye Chen feared for his family. He feared that the House of Yun would use this as an excuse to justify a war against his clan whom, as he was too painfully aware, was still too weak to survive an all-out conflict.
"Hilarious. The old man and his junior proved to be naturals at deflecting charges while putting their most convincing indignant expression!" Yun Yixuan laughed bitterly before he snarled, "Now listen, you crooks. If none of you can get your acts together and hand in the murderer to us, don't dream of seeing the end of this matter!"
"Oh, I see what this is now. This is a cry for havoc from the House of Yun, isn't it?" Ye Changxuan narrowed his eyes and scanned all five Lords in the presence. "How about the rest of you, hmm? Am I correct to suggest that the Lord of Yan, Lord of Qin, Lord of Lin, and Lord of Wei are only present here today in a concerted effort to defame and smear the House of Ye?"
Yan Yin, Qin Yu, and the other two lords could only stay silent despite Ye Changxuan's accusation. They had not the slightest desire to be seen as the Ye's enemies, but they were even less inclined to be on the House of Yun's bad side. This was especially true when one remembered that the Yuns had always been backed by the highest authority of the Donglin county, the Second-rank Prince himself. If the House of Yun demanded them to join the war against the House of Ye, these Lords could not have disobeyed the Yuns at all. The most retaliation they could put up would be holding their best men back from joining the war so that they would not be used as the Yuns' fodders.
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There were currently nine Houses of Lianyun that were loyal to the House of Yun, and these were four of them!
Watching Yan Yin and the other Lords tongue-tied, Ye Changxuan threw a bitter guffaw before he coldly continued, "If the House of Yun has been itching to remove us from existence, you should just skip bringing the four dead bodies into our hall and just declare a war! Laying corpses in someone's home, the optics are hilarious and humiliating on you! You want a fight so much, Yun Yixuan? Then bring it on, because the House of Ye isn't going to back down from a fight."
He turned his address to the other Lords. "Now, for the rest of you, I'll lay this out clearly. I have no intention to see any of you as enemies. But should you dare harm a single hair of my family members, blood and destruction shall be upon you as well, I promise you."
At the end of that threat, a frightening pressure exploded out from the Former Chief.
Yan Yin and the others were positively petrified as they recognized that as the Pressure of a mid-Ninth Stage fighter. Their mind cried in unison, 'The old man is now on par as Yun Yiyang!'
Colors quickly drained from their faces. The berth between early Ninth Stage and mid Ninth Stage was too great to be neglected. To make a more concrete comparison, it would take all three early-Ninth Stage fighters to coordinate their attacks perfectly just to take down a single mid-Ninth Stage. Moreover, this didn't preclude the almost-certain, painful toll the whole fight would impose on them!
'Who knew that Ye Changxuan had reached the mid-Ninth Stage! In fact, when did that happen?!'
"Oh, Ye Changxuan, you and your clan think that you can now look down on everyone else just because your family now boasts two Ninth Stage pugilists. You had forgotten that we House of Yuns could always request for backup from the Donglin County itself, and without hesitation, the Second-rank Prince would easily send one or two peak-Ninth Stage masters from his men to grind all of you into insignificant dust!"
Yun Yixuan made it clear that he was unperturbed by Ye Changxuan's words, but more importantly, his bravado and reb.u.t.tal were obviously levied at the shaken Lords.
Indeed, as soon as they were reminded of the Second-rank Prince of Donglin, Yan Yin and the rest were swayed once again. Was there even a way to prove the opposite of what Yun Yixuan had claimed? Regardless of the veracity of his statement, the fact that there was a strong tie between the Second-rank Prince and the House of Yun had always held true. Ergo, any self-preserving person would know that if they were to choose between a rock and a hard place, they would rather side with the one who had the entire County's backing!
"Yun Yixuan, your blatant attempt to sow fear is amusing. If the County would be so generous as to spare any of these aforementioned Ninth Stage fighters, we would have already seen them for a while. Now, I heard that the Master Apothecary, Xuanyi, has been scouting for an apprentice from the Donglin County. That was the impetus behind the Grand Martial Tournament of the Eighteen Houses of Lianyun, isn't it? Hence, your little scuffle will only happen after the Grand Martial Tournament itself, isn't it?" Ye Changxuan reb.u.t.ted caustically. "Fine by us. We, House of Ye wouldn't mind playing with you either. Now that everything's settled, why don't you act a little more self-aware and get out of my Castle?"
Yun Yixuan grimaced. He had not expected Ye Changxuan to be so well-informed.
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"I'll gladly take my leave, but not before I make an important announcement: From now on, the House of Ye will cede and yield control over the mining mountain to the House of Yun!" Yun Yixuan snapped spitefully. "After all, it is the very least compensation your pathetic family can cough up for murdering our people. If any of you are triggered by that, by all means, I implore you to try to reclaim it back!"
'Why you b.a.s.t.a.r.d—!'
The Ye clansmen were seething with lividity, their limbs itching to jump on him and tear every part of the man's body out. Yet, the Chief had not issued a consenting command and so, they could only watch as Yun Yixuan left the hall; their eyes hungered for vengeance while pangs of humiliation stung their chest.
"Brother Zhantian, we shall leave now!" Yan Yin and Lords were quick to take their leave following Yun Yixuan. They could not believe that Yun Yixuan still had the audacity to affront the House of Ye despite the crowd's mood!
Soon, their silhouettes vanished from sight.
Abruptly, a loud crash echoed through the hall as one of the Ye clansmen smacked his head onto the ground, kneeling. "Chief, please let us exact vengeance for that humiliation!!"
"Former Chief, Chief… Please let us kill Yun Yixuan and his people! We're not important after all, so our deaths would not be much of loss. But if I can make even a single dent on the House of Yun, then I'll strike with my life!"
"The mining mountain has belonged to the Ye for centuries, bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and should continue to be bequeathed to our grandchildren! We can't give up our children and grandchildren's birthright without a fight. So please, Former Chief, Chief, take us with you and reclaim what's rightfully ours!"
The hall was instantly filled with a sea of kneeling clansmen.
The Ye family had always been strict with rules. Without the Chief or the Former Chief's permission, none of the clansmen would dare to take matters into their own hands. Yet, at this very moment, they were filled with so much anger and grief that they became supplicants prostrating on the floor.
"I, Ye Zhankuang of the Ye clan, swear an oath with my blood that I'll fight the House of Yun with every breath, and die with no regrets!" One of the clansmen, Ye Zhankuang, gave out a loud cry before pulling out a sharp dagger and drawing a long cut on his arm. Blood gushed out of the wound in an instant.
Every soldier in the Xiwu Empire knew this ritual. It was usually performed before a major war against powerful hostile forces. Yet today, such a drastic ritual had occurred right in the hall of Ye Castle.
"I, Ye Zhanying, swear an oath with my blood that I'll fight and die with no regrets!"
"I, too, swear an oath with my blood that I'll fight and die with no regrets!"
Sixty or seventy clansmen followed suit. The hall was instantly drenched with saccharine liquid.
"Please, Chief, we beg you!" the crowd cried out in grief, kowtowing. Their tears were mingled with the pool of blood of their own making. Some even started to weep openly.
Ye Changxuan, Ye Zhantian and the rest of the upper-echelon were pained at the sight, as their tears rolled in their eyes. They, too, wanted to jump onto the House of Yun and let the Yuns know the pain they were feeling right now!
However, discretion was simply the better part of valor. It would always be harder to endure humiliation, even if it would ultimately serve their cause. Acting out in the heat of the moment, no matter how justified the sentiments, was simply detrimental or even d.a.m.ning to the survival of the clan! When everyone had perished and were meeting their ancestors, how would the upper-echelon even excuse themselves of their failure to protect the clan from extinction?
Ye Chen, who had been taking in the entire event at a side, was already bursting into quiet tears. His soul may have originated from another world, but it was only right here where he had learned about the epitome of kinship. The true meaning of blood being thicker than water and what it means to share his kins' burden and pain… as one!
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