“You’re Zhuo Fengru?”
Zhuo Fengru touched his few strands of white hair, then lifted his chin. “Hohoho, 100% authentic version.”
Before Ming Feizhen could speak or Hua Qing could slap himself and then cling to Zhuo Fengru’s leg, Xu Yanran exclaimed, “Uncle Zhuo, it’s me! Me!”
Zhuo Fengru fixed his gaze on Xu Yanran. “… Yan…”
Zhuo Fengru, unlike his savvy father, hollered, “Yanran, what are you doing in Yichang?! We have been searching for you high and l-”
“Silence, fool!” Zhuo Fengru, using his veteran eyes that had seen plenty in his lifetime, surveyed the people around. Anyone who met eyes with him showed a clean pair of heels. Noticing Ming Feizhen intend to go in pursuit of them, he said, “Don’t give chase. They are local underground members. It’s useless to capture a few of them. Word has already spread.”
Zhuo Fengru headed over to Xu Yanran. Though she was thinner compared to when he last saw her, she appeared to be in good wealth. In a soft voice, he opined, “I can’t ask for any more than your wellbeing. Follow me back to my place. This is not the place to talk.” He saluted Ming Feizhen. “Please come along, young hero.”
Ming Feizhen politely reciprocated the salute.
The group didn’t bother hiding their presence as it was needless given Zhuo Fengru was already known around the area.
Although the estate in the rather quiet south of Yichang was somewhat messy in design, it occupied an enormous block of land. Immediately behind the entrance that four guards guarded were expensive flowers, followed by carved and painted pillars. In contrast to Zhuo Fengru’s dishevelled appearance, the main hall was decorated with high-quality of paintings of no less than fifteen famous people.
Zhuo Fengru had his guests seated and treated to tea while he went to change into more presentable clothing. Upon returning, he introduced, “This is my son, Yupin, courtesy name Yi Ren.”
Zhuo Yupin, Xu Yanran’s fiancé, brightly asked, “Yanran, it’s been ages. Do you still remember me?”
“Where are you manners?” chided Zhuo Fengru. “Please pardon us. I have spoilt him rotten. I apologise on his behalf.”
Zhuo Fengru respected all the formal salutes between himself, Ming Feizhen, Su Li and Hua Qing, but he discarded them when interacting with Xu Yanran because of his seniority and status as her future father-in-law.
Resuming the main topic, Zhuo Fengru inquired, “Yanran, I visited your home five times after the tragedy but found very little. There was no news of you whatsoever. Rumours of Lord Wu kidnapping you were abound. What exactly happened?”
Xu Yanran turned to Hua Qing for approval before she shared her story.
Zhuo Fengru: “I thought it was bizarre. Predators have patterns to their behaviours, such as brutal murders or being meticulous, yet Hua Feihua’s style was never consistent. It was so prone to variation that it seemed as though it was a different culprit every time, and my guess was right.
“Young Master Hua, our families owe you. If anything befell my brother’s daughter, I would live with regret forever. Without you, we would have never met. Please accept three kowtows from this old one as a small token.”
Zhuo Fengru went down to kowtow before Hua Qing could react, reminiscent of when he took his own two fingers in his younger years.
“Hero Zhuo, I have admired you since I was a child. I cannot possibly have you bowing to me.” Hua Qing kowtowed three times back.
Until Lady Zhuo came in, the two of them kept going back and forth. “You all must be hungry. Let us talk over a meal. My lord, what are you doing?”
For some reason, Lady Zhuo left once everyone was seated and food was served up.
Zhuo Fengru expressed, “Had it not been for Young Master Hua’s help, it never would’ve dawned on this old one that Western Region’s cult is involved. Yanran, now that I know who the culprit is, I will make him pay.”
Xu Yanran lowered her head forlornly. “Thank you.”
Hua Qing smugly said to Ming Feizhen, “He’s nothing like what you said. What did you say he’d do again? Rob me? Harm me? I told he’s a hero, you ignorant brat.”
Ming Feizhen neither ate much nor argued.
Zhuo Fengru continued, “Due to Yupin’s lack of self-awareness, those thugs know Yanran’s whereabouts. I surmise they will soon come for her.”
Su Li queried, “What shall we do?”
“As you are this old one’s guests, he will not allow you to leave with a scratch.”
Hua Qing: “See? This is what you call a hero!”
Ming Feizhen still didn’t budge.
Zhuo Fengru: “Make yourself at home. This old one shall reach out to a few friends for help.”
Hua Qing: “Hear that? What did I say again?!”
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Ming Feizhen ruthlessly slammed Hua Qing’s head onto the table four times.
“What the hell?! My head, ah!”
“There was a mosquito on the table. I was worried it’d bite you.”
“… Do I have to thank you?! Ah, that hurts.”
“You’re welcome.” Ming Feizhen looked down to his two fists.