The gaunt man who had appeared behind the boy was enough to send a chill down Duze Beixuan's spine. He could sense that this grip was deadly. The man was like a viper poised to strike, his entire body's resonant power lurking right under his palm on Duze Beixuan's wrist.
This was definitely an incredibly strong opponent.
At least a Heavenly Dipper General.
Could this be the boy's bodyguard? What on earth was his status?
Any Heavenly Dipper General expert would be highly esteemed even within House Duze. They would serve his father directly and were beyond even Duze Beixuan's own protection. And this little boy had such a mighty protector?
While he was still shaking in fear, the pale man let go of him. "If my young master has bid for something, of course it will be paid for," he said calmly.
Li Luo was a little wide-eyed himself. There were really many crouching tigers and hidden dragons here in Xia City. A casual stroll, and already he had snarled up one.
The pale man seemed to possess an uncanny ability to make himself unremarkable, but Li Luo remembered him. This man had been sitting nearby for a while. He had been with them from the start...
Clearly, those bodyguards from before were just for show. This was the real protector—an ever-present shadow. He had not appeared before to avoid hindering the boy's fun.
Perhaps the entire Water Shadow Art exchange had also been witnessed by this man.
Li Luo coughed in embarrassment.
Duze Beixuan hastily stepped back, an uneasy look on his face. Beside him, Ning Zhao had sensed danger from this man as well.
From behind, a Golden Dragon Bank staff member rushed out breathlessly. "I'm sorry for interrupting you, your eminences. President Yu has just said that these ingredients will not be charged. She just hopes that everyone can have a good time."
A staff member respectfully offered the four materials to the kid.
He blinked twice and then shook his head disinterestedly. "But Sis said we can't take others' things for free."
"I don't want them anymore. You can have them," he said to Li Luo before dissolving into another fit of coughing. His face grew even paler.
"Young Master, let us return." The pale man bowed.
The boy could only nod regretfully, turning to follow him out.
After they left, the tension in the atmosphere eased. Li Luo looked at the rare materials and turned to Lu Qing'er. "What should we do with these?"
"My mom said they're free." Lu Qing'er smiled.
Li Luo shook his head. He did not like handouts.
"Go with the base price, then." She nodded, understanding.
"Well then, I won't stand on ceremony." Li Luo nodded after a moment's pause. These rare materials were too important to him to pass up.
Duze Beixuan watched all this with a grim face. "Li Luo, we will meet again, many times, in the Astral Sage College. I hope you are as lucky each time," he said casually.
He turned and left.
Li Luo sighed. Another troublemaker in his way.
The last person that forced his hand was having trouble even getting into the Astral Sage College now.
Oblivious to those below, there were two people watching them from behind a glass screen on a higher level of the Golden Dragon Bank.
They were two richly dressed women.
One was a matron in a red skirt, her long hair neatly arranged and held together with a fish-shaped hairpin. She was a strong, beautiful woman with a charismatic air about her.
She resembled Lu Qing'er in many ways, although with a more mature depth to her beauty.
She was Lu Qing'er's mother, the president of the Xia Kingdom Golden Dragon Bank, Yu Hongxi.
"A messy squabble. We've embarrassed ourselves before the First Princess," Yu Hongxi said with an apologetic smile.
Beside her was a world-class beauty. She was dressed in white, her long hair intricately dressed into a phoenix-shaped knot. She had a regal look about her that extended to her piercing eyes. Her stunning allure exuded from her every feature, from her elegant nose bridge to her lush, dark lashes and sexy lips.
A woman on the tall side, her swan-like neckline could captivate one for ages, if one was not already distracted by her ample chest. If Li Luo were present, he would admit that he had finally found someone who could compare to Cai Wei.
However, while Cai Wei had a more friendly presence, this woman had an air of icy authority about her that demanded respect.
This woman was no common person either. Her name was Gong Luanyu, and she was the eldest princess of the Xia Kingdom’s royal court, and also sister by kin to the current king.
The old king had been on the decline for the last few years, while the new king was still too young to ascend to the throne. Kingdom matters were being attended to by the regent prince, and the eldest princess held responsibilities too. She was perhaps the most powerful woman in Xia Kingdom at the moment.
Besides that, she was also a Four Star Hall student at the Astral Sage College, a level higher than Jiang Qing'e.
"It was my younger brother being a nuisance. We've inconvenienced President Yu." The First Princess smiled back apologetically as well.
"His Majesty is at that boisterous age. Playfulness is to be expected," Yu Hongxi replied lightly.
The two continued chatting for a while. After some time, the First Princess decided it was time to take her leave.
Yu Hongxi saw her off and then looked down through the glass panel to see Li Luo and Lu Qing'er standing close together, shoulder to shoulder. She frowned a little.
"That kid... he looks eerily like that bastard Li Taixuan."
At the back door of the Golden Dragon Bank, bodyguards had already cordoned off the entire area. A golden carriage rolled to a stop, thronged by a platoon of bodyguards.
The First Princess stepped in to see the little boy, who was tugging away at his cheek. He pulled off an entire layer of plaster, and his face changed dramatically.
Underneath, his skin was even paler, making his jet black eyes shine even more brightly than before.
"Sis!" he exclaimed happily when she entered.
The First Princess regarded him sternly. "You're the emperor of the Xia Kingdom, but you’re still so playful. There are bodyguards around, but what if something happens to you?"
This little kid was the current emperor of the Xia Kingdom, Gong Jingyao.
He swallowed nervously, tugging at his ear. "Sis, I'm sorry."
Only then did her expression soften. "What happened today?"
His bright smile returned, and he happily told her everything.
"Haha, that Li Luo is fun. He purposely goaded me into bidding against Duze Beixuan. I pretended to be fooled and played along."
The First Princess laughed gaily at that as well. "Duze Beixuan is a chip off the old block. A small mind that houses little else besides revenge...
"That Li Luo is quite the surprise. I thought he was direct and overbearing like Jiang Qing'e, but now it seems that he was born into intrigue and cunning."
"Sneaky fellow. He even swindled me out of 5,000 skygold," the little emperor grumbled.
The First Princess was about to reply when she saw the boy's face suddenly turn a shade paler, his breathing becoming ragged. Bloody lines started to surface on his cheeks.
Her heart raced, knowing that his old illness had triggered again. She hurriedly pulled out a bottle stowed in the carriage, looking for his medicine. It was empty.
"All used up?" A flicker of despair arose in her phoenix-like eyes. She recalled ordering her servants to always have the medicine on hand. How useless were they?!
"Back to the palace. Immediately!" she cried out.
The carriage picked up speed.
She desperately held on to his hand, sending pulses of resonant power into his body to help him ease the pain.
The little emperor's illness had struck him when young. Each episode was a painful and miserable experience. With no medicine on hand, he could only take the fit in full force.
The bloody lines on his face began to thicken. Finally, he pulled out a bottle from his pocket in his pain. The First Princess was not looking, and he started to gulp desperately.
She noticed quickly and snatched the bottle out of his hands. "What is this!?" she cried. "How can you be drinking some unknown liquid!?"
But her anger quickly evaporated. She could see that the bloody lines were already subsiding.
More importantly, the little emperor's face had been scrunched tight from the pain, but it was now much more relaxed.
Even the well-seasoned princess was stunned by the transformation before her.
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