Chapter 1001: An Unexpected Acquaintance
Over the following two days, Sang Hong visited the Governor Manor and King Yan Manor from time to time to express his concern and sympathy toward his colleagues.
But whenever they really did ask him to do anything, he would always refuse in an experienced manner.
On the third day, the imperial envoy fleet officially set off, continuing on their predetermined path.
Zu An would summon Daji as his model to train his drawing skills according to the ‘Face of a Thousand Identities’ technique whenever he had time.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t obtain any Rage points from her again.
It was to the extent where he even wondered if the few points he had gotten from her were just his imagination.
However, something that was worth being happy over was that his drawing skills were improving visibly.
He was a cultivator after all, so his grasp over his power and its use wasn’t something ordinary people could compare to.
Furthermore, his powerful mental strength made learning anything much faster.
From the Down’s syndrome patient he had initially drawn, his drawing was now seventy to eighty percent accurate.
But whenever Zu An looked at the real Daji and compared her to his drawing, he would always sigh and think that no matter how great his artistic skills became, it would still fail to truly reflect this woman’s beauty.
Their ship continued north for a while before the imperial envoy fleet went ashore, changing directions and heading west by horse.
Cloudcenter Commandery was in the northwest.
There was no waterway that could take them straight there.
Unlike other commanderies, Cloudcenter Commandery was vast, but sparsely populated.
Its size was vast; its area was several times larger than many of the southern commanderies added together.
The surrounding scenery was completely different from what they had seen along the way.
They first traveled through a large desert that was so desolate, there were only rocks there.
Forget about trees, it was difficult for them to even see a single stalk of grass.
Fortunately, they were all elites from the court, and the bodies of cultivators were tough.
They had guides sent by the local officials, so even though the trip was difficult, there wasn't any danger.
The only small episode they encountered was a group of ignorant bandits.
This place was so poor that the bandits were forced to take a risk out of desperation.
They attacked at night to try and steal some goods.
In the end, the bandits were no different from ordinary guards.
Zu An and Sang Hong didn’t need to lift a finger; Gao Ying and Pei You were able to easily wipe them out with the Armed Escort Army.
The two of them actually felt a bit disappointed that the bandits didn’t put up more of a fight.
After all, they had traveled with the fleet for so long, and it was finally their turn to do something.
All of this was military service they would accumulate!
Only Sang Hong alone picked up something strange from the bandits’ weapons.
Many of them were government army standard issue.
After chatting with Zu An for a bit, the conclusion they reached was that either the bandits had robbed a small troop and stolen the weapons, or some people had resold the weapons to them.
If it was the latter, there were huge problems with Cloudcenter Commandery.
But the two of them knew that it was useless even if they worried about such things now.
They could only slowly investigate things once they arrived at Cloudcenter Commandery.
Once they left the desert, the scenery was no longer as bleak.
They even passed by some scattered towns along the way.
As they continued west, grassland, mountains, and other such things appeared before them.
Of course, since it was winter, the grasslands were dried up and there was snow everywhere.
The imperial envoy was mostly composed of people from the capital who had never seen such scenery before.
They all found the area novel and interesting.
Even Sang Hong often voiced his praise toward the magnificence of the area.
He explained to the others the fact that several hundred years before, this place was still the domain of the fiend races.
Later on, as successive generations of human emperors expanded their territory, they seized the land from the fiend races bit by bit, turning it into the human race’s land.
Sang Hong sounded extremely proud when he spoke of that.
From time to time, Gao Ying and Pei You egged Zu An on to write something new.
They had already had a taste of glory, so they were trying to see if they could have their names added onto new works of poetry.
If they could, that would be fame throughout the ages!
Zu An refused without the slightest hesitation.
All the people traveling with them were already old acquaintances.
Who would he even be trying to show off to here All of his concentration was on improving his artistic skills.
When the others were setting up camp, he would take Daji some distance away to practice his sketching.
Perhaps it was because of the stunning scenery, or maybe it was just Daji’s devastatingly beautiful self, but he could sense that his artistic skills were advancing by leaps and bounds.
It seemed he was going to reach the standard of ‘Face of a Thousand Identities’ soon.
Just like that, half a month passed, and the group finally arrived at Cloudcenter Commandery.
What they had seen along the way were just some small towns, so when they saw towering city walls, they all found it a bit hard to get used to at first.
Cloudcenter City was quite a bit larger than even Yi Commandery!
But that was understandable.
Cloudcenter Commandery produced large amounts of ki stones, so it was extremely wealthy.
Furthermore, it was the political, economic, and military center of the vast northwest region; all of these factors naturally made it flourishing and majestic.
Cloudcenter Commandery’s officials had already received news of their arrival.
They greeted the imperial fleet outside the city.
“We respectfully welcome the imperial envoy!”
There were three people at the very front of the welcoming group.
The one in the center was Cloudcenter Magistrate Zuo Su.
One look at his big-bellied figure made Zu An immediately think he was the textbook definition of a corrupt official.
However, his attention quickly shifted to the man with a neatly trimmed mustache next to him.
He was tall, and he had long, sharp brows that gave him a strong and valiant air.
However, his meticulous mustache, his fingernails, and eyebrows had all been trimmed carefully.
Even though all of that could be considered scholarly and elegant, Zu An still felt he was trying too hard and a bit cringey.
The reason why Zu An was paying attention to him wasn’t because he was interested in the man, but rather because he had seen him before in the valley outside Brightmoon City in the past.
He had only known that this was Yu Yanluo’s brother-in-law.
Only now did he discover the person’s real identity.
He was Cloudcenter Commandery’s acting Commander-in-Chief Jian Taiding!
Due to Cloudcenter Commandery’s location in the northwest, they would encounter invasions from the fiend races from time to time.
It was usually the Martial Supervisor who was in charge of military affairs in other commanderies—for example, Yi Commandery’s Yang Sheng—but Cloudcenter Commandery had a higher Military Governor Manor.
Cloudcenter Commandery’s Martial Supervisor position was held by Jian Yanyou.
Normally, he was in charge of ensuring the safety of Cloudcenter Commandery, while also fending off the invasions of the fiend races and others in the border.
After Cloudcenter Duke’s disappearance, his younger brother, the former chief historian of the Military Governor Manor, had temporarily taken his place.
Zu An thought to himself, Someone like this actually came all the way to Brightmoon City without alerting anyone.
Not even Brightmoon City’s local officials or Brightmoon Duke Chu Zhongtian noticed anything.
The first time they had met, Zu An’s cultivation was so low that he couldn't see a thing about the other man.
But upon closer examination, the other party’s aura was reserved, and there was a divine glow within his eyes.
The other person seemed to already be at the master rank.
The emperor really thinks way too highly of me… He actually sent me all the way here to deal with the Jian clan! Even though Sang Hong is the imperial envoy, he only has eight ranks of cultivation.
The imperial envoy’s biggest asset in strength is Golden Token Eleven, and Golden Token Eleven is me!
Zu An couldn't help but look down on Chu Zhongtian when he thought of that.
He was also a duke, yet look at how impressive this Cloudcenter Dukedom was! Just a little brother was already at the master rank.
But Chu Chuyan seemed to have told him before that Chu Zhongtian was injured severely in the past, causing his cultivation to drop.
Otherwise, there was no way the court would have been able to treat him the way they did.
With Sang Hong present to take care of all the formalities, there was no need for him to do such tiresome things.
He only had to nod and smile.
But as they introduced themselves to each other, Zu An’s attention shifted to a square-faced, upright-looking middle-aged man.
He was Cloudcenter City’s City Lord Pei Shao.
His official rank was one thing.
More importantly, his surname was Pei.
Paired with how Pei You was cheerfully chatting with the man, this was probably Pei Mianman’s father, whom Pei You had mentioned before.
“Big Manman, I can finally see you again.” Zu An’s gaze became passionate when he looked at the distant Cloudcenter City.
After they had separated the last time, it had already been a long time since he had received any messages from her.
The imperial envoy fleet was welcomed inside the city by many officials.
They were led in and settled down by people who specialized in that role.
As for the other officials, they went their own way.
They had to prepare a welcome party at the magistrate manor in the evening.
Soon afterward, Sang Hong called over Zu An in private.
He said, “You’ve just met Jian Taiding.
What’s your impression of him”
Zu An replied, “He doesn’t seem to be the type to show off his abilities.
He’s clearly a master rank, yet he yields to the magistrate.
If he doesn’t truly have absolute loyalty and devotion to the court and doesn’t dare to step out of line in the slightest, he’s someone who is harboring a huge disaster.”
“Sigh, that was what I was thinking too.” Sang Hong was full of worry.
“I wonder if that Golden Token Eleven can deal with him.
I just consulted with Xiao Jianren, but he replied to everything with ‘I don’t know’.
He doesn’t even know if Golden Token Eleven has arrived in Cloudcenter Commandery.”
“I think he’s probably arrived,” Zu An said with an embarrassed chuckle.
He asked, “By the way, can you contact the local golden token envoy I believe it’ll be much easier to deal with him if we have more people to help us.”
Sang Hong shook his head and replied, “I already asked Xiao Jianren.
Cloudcenter Commandery doesn’t have any other Golden Token Envoys.
Only kingdoms have golden token envoys overseeing them.
Cloudcenter Commandery’s situation is special and it doesn’t have any golden token envoys here.”
Zu An thought to himself, Looks like the emperor is more worried about the royal family rebelling.
The two of them chatted for a bit longer.
Then, Zu An told Sang Hong that he wanted to take the chance to look around Cloudcenter Commandery and familiarize himself with his environment.
Sang Hong nodded, saying, “My objective is too great.
We’ll work separately in tanden, one overt and one covert.
I’ll draw the attention of the major clans over here from our temporary residence, while you’ll investigate in private.”
Zu An had a strange look on his face.
He had actually just been planning to meet with Pei Mianman.
But because of Sang Qien, he couldn't just tell Sang Hong that.
He could only vaguely agree.
After leaving the temporary residence, Zu An walked through a remote alley.
His appearance quickly became entirely different.
After training the entire time on the way, even though he couldn't change his appearance to become like a specific person, it wasn’t too difficult to use ‘Face of a Thousand Identities' to change his appearance a bit.
That way, he didn’t have to always wear disguise masks in the future.
The City Lord Manor was easy to find.
Zu An felt a bit moved when he saw the words ‘Pei Manor’ on the entrance.
Of course, with his current identity, he couldn't enter through the front entrance.
He took a detour and snuck inside through a place with relatively weaker security.
With the jade badge to observe his surroundings, Mirror Mirage hiding his aura, and Grandgale’s instantaneous movement, even though the security there was tight, it wasn’t too difficult for him to deal with.
Zu An was looking for Pei Mianman’s room when Pei Shao’s voice suddenly came from a distant corridor.
“Young heir has come from afar.
I must apologize for not heading out to greet you earlier.”
“Young heir” Zu An’s eyes narrowed.
Was this an old acquaintance