Chapter 262: Sky Cliff City
After talking to the lords of the northern region and spending a night at the provincial lord’s mansion, Zhang and his wives quickly departed and began heading toward the northern frontier where most of the recent events have been transpiring. Feeling that they had come upon a possible lead, Zhang and the beauties took to the sky, soaring about at full speed.
“If my guess is right, our destination should be the next place to be struck.” Zhang said as he exited from a large puffy cloud.
“Judging by the locations of the villages and cities affected, we should be headed the right way.” Ling said in agreement as she stared at an animal hide map being held in her hands while flying beside Zhang.
Marked on this map being held in Ling’s hands were a series of circular marks that indicated the various villages and cities within the northern region that had been attacked, upon closer inspection one would notice that these villages were all within the general vicinity of a small mountain range that the locals referred to as the Misty Mountains.
Situated within both the borders of the Aurora Empire and a neighboring kingdom referred to as the Blue Moon Kingdom, the Misty Mountains had been a highly active military zone until recent years.
Before the Aurora Empire was established, the Blue Moon Kingdom had tried numerous times to gain complete control of the Mist Mountains in order to use it to establish a solid foothold within the Warring States Region.
When the geographical features of the Misty Mountain Range were combined with curtain of mist that constantly shrouded its tall peaks and countless valleys, it made an ideal location not only to erect a hidden fortress that could be used in both defensive and offensive operations, but it would also be a great place to secretly maneuver vast armies without alerting one’s enemies.
Thus, for decades, the lords of the Northern Region and the rulers of the Blue Moon Kingdom had fought for complete control of the mountain range, only to be stuck in a constant deadlock with one another. When the northern lords felt that defeat against the Blue Moon Kingdom was imminent they would plead for aid from the lords of the central region on top of sending secret envoys to kingdoms that shared their borders with the Blue Moon Kingdom.
Although the lords within the Warring States Region had been at odds with each other and had constantly fought amongst themselves, the thought of allowing outsiders the opportunity to steal what they felt was theirs had allowed the various lords to settle their differences and work together to keep the armies of the Blue Moon Kingdom at bay.
Vice versa, if l the northern lords were to ever gain even the slightest of advantages over the Blue Moon Kingdom, the other Lords of the Warring States Region would rally against them.
As a result of the numerous skirmishes that occurred within the mountain range, the Misty Mountains were filled with the stench of death and countless beasts that had gathered to feast on the remains of the countless soldiers that had lost their lives in the thick mist.
Of course, once the Aurora Empire was established, the Blue Moon Kingdom no longer dared to bare their fangs and with an empire to manage Jian Wei did not yet have the time to go about conquering other lands. So, the Misty Mountain Range had been left in peace until recent events.
Since most of the recent occurrences had happened within the general vicinity of the Misty Mountains, Zhang and the beauties felt that the next city most likely to be struck by this strange calamity was one a city many called Sky Cliff City.
With a general population of roughly forty thousand people on top of being situated fairly close to a number of villages that been struck a few days prior, Zhang believed that Sky Cliff City would most likely be the next place to become a dead city. That is of course if Zhang and the beauties were not to arrive.
“From what I can tell, it seems like the populace in the surrounding area had all congregated within this city.” Zhang said after his divine sense swept across Sky Cliff City and discovering a total of roughly seventy thousand inhabitants.
“Should we pay the city lord a visit?” Lingqi asked as her gaze swept across Sky Cliff City’s ramparts where teams of soldiers could be seen performing various tasks.
“First, I think we should land, retract all of our power and try to conceal ourselves as best we can.” Yuying suggested as she began to slowly descended.
Since Zhang had enveloped the group within his divine sense, as long as there weren't any half-deities in the area, no one would have been alarmed by the group’s presence. However, maintaining use of his divine sense for extended periods of time would still take a strain on him and if the beauties did not conceal their powers, others may be alert to their presence.
Quickly following after Yuying, the remainder of the group landed on their feet moments later before heading toward the nearest city gate on foot.
Covering their faces behind veils, the four beauties stuck closely beside Zhang as the group approached the city gates where hundreds of people could be seen standing in long lines.
Due to their luxurious looking clothing, Zhang and his wives had initially drawn the attention of many of the people standing at the very back of the line leading into Sky Cliff City, however as time went on and as the line continued forward everyone’s gazes slowly focused elsewhere.
Although Zhang was standing patiently in line, his mind and his eyes continued to wonder about, scanning the surrounding area for oddities that may point him toward what he was seeking.
While neither Zhang nor his wives noticed anything out of the ordinary, as they inched ever closer to the city gates they did notice that the city guards were actually charging everyone fifty gold coins to enter the city.
Even though the citizens of the Aurora Empire had been graced with a period of peace and prosperity that had allowed them to achieve higher standards of living and were no longer to live in utter poverty, fifty gold coins were still considered a hefty sum for most commoners.
In the more rural areas of the empire, such as the area around Sky Cliff City, a few hundred gold coins would be used a dowry for most families. Meaning if an entire family of commoners was to now enter Sky Cliff City, they would basically have to give up all of their savings and be left nearly penniless.
“To think they are charging people money to enter the city at a time like this.” Ling said while shaking her head.
“Let's have a closer look, if anything it seems like we will need to pay the city Lord a visit.” Zhang said with creased brows.
Although Zhang was a person who placed fairly high value in material possessions, he was also one who strongly believed in treating one’s subjects and subordinates well. Unlike many who lived in the same day and age as him, Zhang was one of the few who saw value in a person’s life rather than viewing everyone beneath him as insects or pests.
Unhappy with the way the city Lord was making use of the current situation to fill his own pockets, Zhang decided he would personally visit the city lord’s mansion after he entered the city.
“How many in your group?” A city guard asked Zhang in a stern voice that would frighten most regular people.
“Five.” Zhang replied in an emotionless tone.
“It will cost you five hundred gold coins to enter the city.” The city guard speaking to Zhang said before signaling for a few of his comrades standing not too far away to come over.
“Five hundred gold coins? That's a hundred gold coins a person!” Zhang said with a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Five hundred gold coins or scram! If you think you five could survive outside the city gates after sunset amidst all that is going on, then you are dreaming. Judging from your clothes, a few hundred gold coins shouldn't be worth a damn to you at all.” The city guard said as a greedy glint surfaced in his eye.
“If you don't have five hundred gold coins, even if I can't see their faces, I’m sure a night with these four would be worth some coin.” Another guard said with a snicker causing a scowl to appear on Zhang’s face.
“Let me handle this.” Lingqi’s voice echoed in Zhang’s mind as her delicate hand tapped him on the shoulder.
“Sir, please forgive my husband. Here are five hundred gold coins and a little extra for you and your friends to go have a drink with.” Lingqi said in a gentle tone as she pulled out a jiggling leather bag.
“Hah, that’s more like it.” The city guard said as he held up the leather bag Lingqi handed him and peeked inside. With a wide grin, the city guard dipped his hand into the bag of gold coins, picking one up and biting into it to check its authenticity, causing a glint to flicker in Lingqi’s eyes.
“Please check if there’s enough in the bag to pay our entry fee, we would like to enter the city as soon as possible.” Yuying said to the city guard, prompting him to toss the leather bag to a group of his comrades who crowded around each other like a hungry pack of wolves.
“You may enter the city, I hope you enjoy your stay.” The city guard said to Zhang and the beauties as he rubbed his hands together after finding out there was in fact five hundred and fifty gold coins inside the leather bag.
With the contents of the leather bag confirmed, Zhang and the beauties entered the city without bothering to look back at the commotion that soon followed.
Roughly a quarter of an hour after Zhang’s group had departed, as the city guards were busy extorting money from the common folk who wished to enter the city, in a sudden turn of events, every single man who had laid hands on the leather bag that had been in Lingqi’s possession, fell over face first onto the ground. In a matter of seconds, the group of guards who had demanded five hundred gold coins from Zhang had all met their untimely demise and laid lifelessly on the ground as streams of blood seeped out from their eye socks.
At first, the people waiting in line to get into the city were at an uproar and panic-stricken, however this soon changed when someone took the initiative and ran through the city gates. Before the guards station on the city walls could react, a sea of people flooded through the city gates, hoping to avoid the toll fee.
At first the deaths of the five or so guards had caused quite a stir throughout the city, however things quickly calmed as the deaths of a few measly guards couldn't hold interest for long in a city of tens of thousands of people.
“Serves them right.” Ai said in an uncaring tone as she and the others walked onto a bustling street, brimming with life and filled with people selling their wares.
One could say where there are people there is commerce regardless of the circumstances, even though everyone was charged a hefty fee to enter the city, a lot of transactions were still occurring within Sky Cliff City.
At first everything seemed fine, however as Zhang and the beauties proceeded down the busy street toward the center of the city where the city lord’s mansion was, they noticed groups of city guards walking up toward various stalls and business where they would demand dozens of silver or gold coins before leaving.
From a single glance, it was obvious that onto of charging an extravagant fee to enter the city, the city Lord was allowing his underlings to extort money from the people conducting business within the city.
“Lord Tian Xuan is marrying his ninth concubine today; don't you think everyone in the city should show our great lord some sincerity?” Zhang overheard one of the city guards saying.
“Hmm, it seems there are festivities at the city lord’s mansion. Seems like fun.” Lingqi said with a mischievous grin under her veil.
“It bet the city lord will be very happy that the empire’s prince and princesses are personally attending his wedding.” Ling said with an equally mischievous smile under her veil.
“Should we prepare a gift?” Yuying said with a glint in her eye.
“Nothing too extravagant, we wouldn't want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves before we uncover the culprit behind the dead villages and cities.” Zhang said despite having a mischievous grin of his own.