Yuan Jianzhe’s acting was perfect. If Cheng Yang hadn’t known they were enemies, he wouldn’t even know the man was hostile to him. Outsiders might even think they were old friends reuniting after years apart. However, the act only put Cheng Yang on guard.
“Commander Yuan, by the looks of things, you’ve worked out the issues from earlier.”
“It was only natural for me to do so. After all, it wasn’t just you affected by the incident. It also hurt my credibility and reputation, so I had someone look into it the moment you left. Care to join me inside for a chat?”
Cheng Yang nodded. Neither he nor the commander was in danger right now, so he was confident there wasn’t a trap. Whatever persona he’d put on for this was just so he could go through the motions.
The villa was a luxurious building made from beautiful hardwoods and marble floors trimmed with gold. It was three stories tall and ha a parlor on the ground floor.
It was in this parlor that five corpses were laid out on the ground. Judging by the lack of decay, they’d only been dead for a day at most.
Cheng Yang frowned slightly. Of the reactions he thought Yuan Jianzhe might have, this was one of the most annoying and effective.
“Commander Yuan, what is this?”
“These mercenary bastards were the ones who attack you, Mr. Cheng.” Yuan Jianzhe said in a voice filled with righteous hatred. “As you know, capturing someone alive these days is far too hard, so when he caught them trying to attack you again, they fought to the death to avoid capture.”
Cheng Yang didn’t respond and appeared to be deep in thought.
The crowd around him anxiously awaited his reply. They were worried Cheng Yang would see through their lie and then slaughter the whole group.
It was indeed an impulse Cheng Yang had but only a short one. If he were to execute the safe zone leaders, the resulting pandemonium would ruin his plans to monopolize the people the gods would save.
His plan needed there to be some semblance of control to work, and even if he exhausted all his efforts to somehow forcefully control the safe zone, the gods would find a way to remove him from power.
“Seeing you work so hard for my sake makes me think I was wrong about you, Commander Yuan.”
After hearing those words, the room let out a collective sigh of relief.
“Commander Yuan, over the next few days, some of my people will be visiting the safe zone. Since your people are visiting my area, I hope we can each turn a blind eye to the other’s presence.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Cheng, I agreed to let you recruit in the safe zone, and I can stretch that to include a few helpers. In fact, I will welcome them. There are still too many people without a supporter in this world, so I hope you can alleviate some of their burdens.”
“Commander Yuan thinks too highly of me. My operation is a small one, and I cannot afford to support too many people. I am just trying to fill some vacancies in my team.”
“When your subordinates arrive, would you like me to send someone to help them?”
“That’s not necessary. My subordinates are competent, so I won’t trouble you.”
Yuan Jianzhe didn’t believe what Cheng Yang said about being a small force, but he was happy with the situation’s conclusion. He had snatched up anyone with even a little talent for service in the military, and there were only a few thousand normal people left, so Cheng Yang would only get scraps.
If Cheng Yang wanted to win over existing forces, he would be similarly stifled. Over a third of the militia and mercenary groups were taking orders from the army. The others were either trash or too arrogant to submit to another group.
Looking at it from his position, Yuan Jianzhe couldn’t see a way to profit off of recruiting in the safe zone. In his eyes, this was a waste of a political opportunity.
After Cheng Yang left, there was a brief silence in the villa.
“Someone make sure these bodies are disposed of.” Yuan Jianzhe’s nice guy act disappeared. “And clean up the bloodstains.”
“Commander, don’t you think he let us off too easily?” Lao Wu asked. “He must have some goal we can’t see.”
“I was worried about that too, but I can’t see any hidden ploy. The only cards he has are that absurd power and a few hidden villages.” Ding Ming interjected, “I almost feel like we’ve been overestimating his intellect. He’s nothing but a college student without the wisdom to use what he’s been given and was probably was too arrogant to think we lied to him and was just happy to see the commander licking his feet.”
“What you’ve said is true, but don’t put too much faith in that judgment.” Yuan Jianzhe responded. “Whatever the reason, he’s been satiated for now. We need to take advantage of the time this bought us.”
“Is it possible Cheng Yang knows something we don’t?” Lao Wu asked. “Maybe he found the equivalent of a game guide? How else could he have grown so powerful so quickly?”
“You’re just paranoid.” Ding Ming said. “There’s no greater intent behind Cheng Yang’s actions; he just got lucky. Once the commander’s plan is finished, we’ll be able to crush him directly. The villages he has aren’t well-staffed, and once we get our hands on them, we’ll obtain everything he has.”
No matter if it was what happened when they first clashed in front of the Forgotten Grave or when Cheng Yang rushed into the safe zone on a white tiger, nothing pointed to Cheng Yang being very clever. He acted with bravado and relied on his strength to accomplish his goals.
If any of them were in his position, they would have eliminated the threat posed by the safe zone when it was still possible to kill people inside it, but Cheng Yang hadn’t done that, and the opportunity passed for good. Even Yuan Jianzhe found it hard to believe that Cheng Yang’s actions held any forethought.
“For now, we can ignore the source of his strength and focus on what he does during his recruitment campaign. Send someone to watch what his subordinates do. If they try and recruit someone, take the opportunity to either bring them to our side, or arrest them.”
“This…” Lao Wu couldn’t understand Yuan Jianzhe’s intentions.
“Do you remember that girl, Liu Wei? When we first clashed with Cheng Yang, a group of elite soldiers chased after her, but none returned. At that time, she had only been with Cheng Yang for a few days. How was that possible?” Yuan Jianzhe asked. “The only solution is if it was her Innate Abilities. My guess is that somehow, Cheng Yang can identify people with powerful Innate Abilities. Maybe its a game guide like you thought or some kind of precognitive ability, but the result is the same. There aren’t many talented people left in the city, so if we can obstruct Cheng Yang, his talent will be useless.”