The streets of Xia City were far grander than Southwind's. Straight rows of neatly paved stone, properly spaced. The roads were well connected and well planned, an efficient network linking up high-rise buildings that one could lose oneself in.
There was no end to the people. Noisy, bustling—the roar of the crowd was omnipresent.
This was Xia City, the heart of the Xia Kingdom.
While Li Luo was contemplating this intimidating city from his carriage window, Si Qiuying was on another street, stopping in front of an inn at a prime location by the road. She entered a posh room.
"Oh, you're back?"
A youth was sipping tea, lazily watching the street. He smiled when she walked in.
He cut a handsome, noble figure, his brow sharp and his eyes keen. However, he had the same hair as Si Qiuying, green and smooth. It was a family trait.
This was Si Qiuying's elder brother, Si Tianming.
"What's wrong? Met the Young Lord?" Si Tianming asked cheerfully.
"Yes! A little slime! He tattled at the first sign of trouble. A childish, little kid!" she burst out. "And Sister Qing'e is so biased. She actually hit me," Si Qiuying complained. She had always been on good terms with Jiang Qing'e, who had treated her like a little sister. Now it was clear that she favored Li Luo much more.
"You're the childish one... Do you know what her relationship with Li Luo is? You were asking for it, trying to compete with Li Luo," Si Tianming said impatiently.
"I'm not fighting with him... Big Brother, Sister Qing'e said she's not interested in you," Si Qiuying said.
Si Tianming just laughed it off. "Of course she’s not. Isn't that clear enough on the daily?
"Besides, someone as excellent as Jiang Qing'e definitely can say that."
Si Qiuying was still not happy. "Big Brother, maybe you can't compare to Sister Qing'e, but you're a hundred times better than Li Luo, right?
"You're a 4th-Star Hall student in the Astral Sage College. You're powerful, and even the mentors say that you have great potential to become a Duke!"
"And you think a Duke will impress Jiang Qing'e?"
Si Tianming sighed. "Qiuying, I told you before: the right to call off the engagement between Li Luo and Jiang Qing'e does not actually rest with Li Luo, but with Jiang Qing'e. If she isn't willing, no one can change a thing."
"Besides, I might like Jiang Qing'e, but that doesn't mean I have to pursue it."
Si Qiuying sulked. "Big Bro, you think you're a love saint? Let me ask you: if you were given the chance to woo Sister Qing'e, would you?"
Si Tianming gave her a sheepish smile.
Si Qiuying gave him a look. "Believe in yourself, Big Bro! Your talent, your strength, your reputation—you're one of the elites in the younger generation of the Xia Kingdom. Persevere and Sister Qing'e will definitely see the good in you!
"And you're definitely a better match compared to Li Luo!"
Si Tianming gave an exasperated smile. "Just keep your nose out of those matters. Also, don't go causing trouble for Li Luo either. There's no need. He's the Young Lord of House Luolan after all. If you cross him, I will not interfere when Jiang Qing'e comes for you."
"I couldn't care less about him," she said snootily.
"But he pissed me off today. The next time Duze Beixuan wants to cause trouble for him, I'm not going to help him."
Si Tianming shook his head. It was not like the young lord couldn't handle himself. He was the champion of the Tianshu Province—he must have earned it.
However, House Duze seemed to be on the move lately. Perhaps House Luolan was their target...
The carriage turned through the expansive streets, finally stopping outside a residence.
This was the House Luolan headquarters.
Li Luo and Jiang Qing'e stepped out. He whistled at the residence in appreciation. The old manor at Southwind was big, but it paled in comparison to this.
Bodyguards patrolled the perimeter in groups while keen eyes were scanning from the watchtower.
"I've already informed the management to gather at headquarters tonight. Since you're the young lord, you should be familiar with the backbone of House Luolan," Jiang Qing'e said.
She looked at Li Luo. "These managers are in charge of House Luolan's businesses in Xia City. You should know that 60% of our yearly income comes from outside of Xia City, while a full 40% depends on the businesses in Xia City."
Li Luo was surprised to hear this. House Luolan's Xia City revenue held a much higher percentage than he had expected.
Truly the capital of the Xia Kingdom.
"When I first took over House Luolan a few years ago, the Xia City businesses had been decimated by Pei Hao. But after a few years of rectification, I've managed to cut away a lot of his meddling. Things here should be quite stable," she continued.
"You must have gone through a lot."
The proportion of House Luolan's businesses in Xia City was major. If Pei Hao was allowed to rot their assets here, House Luolan's headquarters would be doomed. Luckily, Jiang Qing'e had stepped in to save House Luolan in time.
As the two spoke, they had already walked through the main doors. Suddenly, a huge, burly figure cannonballed right at Li Luo, a loud voice booming out. "Oh, my Young Lord! You're finally here in Xia City! This old ox has missed you so much!"
Li Luo felt like he was being attacked by a bowling ball. He was seized up in a hug that felt like a steel vice, squeezing all the air out of him.
The person before him reeked of oil, a pungent odor that assailed Li Luo's nostrils.
"Uncle Biao, you're strangling him." Jiang Qing'e laughed, rescuing Li Luo.
The burly man let go of him, and finally Li Luo could get a good look at him. He was a bald middle-aged man bulging with muscles. He was covered in a sheen of oil and had an almost barbaric look to him. At his waist, a pig cleaver gleamed.
"And you are..." Li Luo stared at him. He had a vague impression, but he could not recall this man’s name.
"Young Lord, it's me, Ox Biaobiao. Don't you remember me? I even made your meals when you were young," the bald strongman anxiously said.
It lit up Li Luo's memory. Indeed, there was once a baldie accompanying him when he was young. But after a shift in the headquarters' manpower, that memory had come to an end.
"Uncle Biao has spent the longest time in House Luolan. Back when the Master and Mistress founded House Luolan, he was there. His cooking skills are famous in Xia City, and even now he oversees the food matters here," Jiang Qing'e told him brightly.
Li Luo clapped his hands. "I remember!
"Uncle Biao! You look like a real hulk, but you're so gentle that you won't even kill a chicken. I remember you lured me into the kitchen when I was young, to get me to help you kill the chicken!"
Ox Biaobiao's face froze. "Young Lord, your memory is very good," he said sheepishly. "You remember well indeed."
Li Luo burst into laughter. Despite his ferocious appearance, his personality was the complete opposite. His looks alone could probably bring children to tears, and yet he wouldn't dare kill a chicken.
Everyone said that the pig cleaver on Ox Biaobiao's waist had probably never touched blood in its life. It was pure decoration.
The moment of hilarity over, Li Luo confirmed that this was indeed an old hand of House Luolan. He was deserving of trust.
"Uncle Biao, I'll be in your care again from now on." Li Luo reached out a hand to clap his meaty shoulder.
Ox Biaobiao took his hand, moved. "I had long wanted to go to the City of Southwind to take care of the Young Lord, but Little Jiang here didn't let me. Now that you're in Xia City, I will feed you until you pop."
He measured Li Luo's arm. "Young Lord, you're scrawny. I'll whip up a huge pot of nourishment!"
He turned and rushed away.
"Uncle Biao is as high-strung as ever." Li Luo smiled at the muscular figure hurrying off.
"Uncle Biao can be trusteed. I intended for him to take control of some of House Luolan's assets, but he refused. He just wants to be in the kitchen," Jiang Qing'e said.
"Whatever he's willing to do. No need to force the issue."
Jiang Qing'e nodded. "Let's go, then. I'll take you around. We'll eat later. The management should be here soon. Today might be a little more tiring."
Li Luo smiled at her. "What's this compared to how much you've suffered these few years, Sister Qing'e? You're so amazing."
"Your words have become sweeter. You must have had a lot of practice with the girls in school," Jiang Qing'e said with a curious smile.
"Are you jealous?"
She made a small, vague noise and strode off. Her lofty voice called back to him.
"Jealous? Nothing to be jealous of yet. Work hard, and maybe one day I'll know what that is."
Li Luo stared at her elegant figure and hurried after, irritated.
How was he supposed to reply? Jiang Qing'e, you're too much. We've drifted... No...
You've been so aloof today... This didn't fit the mood.
Oh forget it.
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