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Ren Xiaosu spent another three days with Midnight at Crescent Lake. For some reason, even though Midnight had already grown so large, it still felt like the little guy Ren Xiaosu remembered.
Midnight found a thermal river deep under the Crescent Lake and seemed to quite like it.
Actually, Ren Xiaosu also liked this place very much. The entirety of Crescent Lake was like an enormous hot spring. There were no complicated disputes here, nor did he need to rack his brains thinking about problems.
He could just spend his honeymoon here with Yang Xiaojin peacefully.
Although they were only going to stay here for three days, Yang Xiaojin and he constructed a small wooden house on the first day. The two of them were extremely capable at fighting, so building a wooden house would not trouble them at all.
Ren Xiaosu had brought a tent with him in his mind palace, but Yang Xiaojin insisted it would be more interesting to construct a wooden house. Moreover, they might be coming here often on vacation in the future.
When it was time to leave, Midnight watched the two of them depart reluctantly. Ren Xiaosu could feel its loneliness, but he still did not know how to resolve the matter of Dusk.
If only he could bring Dusk here to be with Midnight.
Just as Ren Xiaosu and Yang Xiaojin were setting off northwards back to Stronghold 144, Luo Lan arrived at Stronghold 91 in the north of the Qing Consortium.
After returning to the Qing Consortium's territory, Luo Lan had initially planned to go back to Stronghold 111 directly. But after he received news from Qing Zhen, he immediately changed his itinerary.
He was now going to take on the role of an official envoy and begin an inspection tour of all the northern strongholds of the Qing Consortium. He would be carrying out checks on the training, armaments, and food reserves of the strongholds.
Such an arrangement was as good as announcing to everyone that the Qing Consortium was preparing for war.
To ensure Luo Lan's safety, Qing Zhen even sent a special forces battalion to join up with him. The configuration of this special forces battalion was ridiculously overboard. Just the armored vehicles fitted with the "Mountain Obliterator" alone numbered four.
The Mountain Obliterator was a heavy machine gun developed by the Qing Consortium independently. It could unleash a metal storm that was the best in its class. Back then, just a few armored vehicles fitted with the Mountain Obliterator were enough to beat the Experimentals into submission.
At this moment, Luo Lan's convoy arrived at the gate of Stronghold 91. All of the stronghold officials and commanders of the troops stationed in the nearby military base had already mustered here.
They lined both sides of the street, and the stronghold's Public Order Division had even cleared away many of the refugees' shacks and organized a large-scale cleanup before Luo Lan's arrival.
The Public Order Division even set a standard for this cleanup operation: No blind spots, no cobwebs.
In order to make the refugees look cleaner, the town even issued additional clean water for them to wash their faces with.
All of this was standard procedure when it came to receiving higher-ups.
Although the policies Qing Zhen implemented after taking over were relatively open-minded and the living conditions of the refugees in the Qing Consortium's territory had also improved a little, a consortium was still a consortium. In essence, no matter what kind of people Qing Zhen and Luo Lan were, they would not be able to change the nature of the Qing Consortium.
Reformation had never been a simple process.
In the evening, when these officials saw Luo Lan's convoy approaching, they put on smiles.
They were all experts at faking smiles, so it was unlikely their facial muscles would stiffen from this short show of hospitality.
However, to everyone's surprise, Luo Lan's convoy did not stop when they got closer to the stronghold gate. Instead, they blew straight through the open gate, leaving the two rows of officials coughing up dust.
The officials looked at one another and wondered what was wrong with that envoy. Never mind that he did not get out of his vehicle, but shouldn't he greet and acknowledge everyone at least?
But when they saw the special forces battalion's vehicles entering the stronghold together, no one dared to say anything.
Luo Lan's status in the Qing Consortium was extraordinary. He had a lot of appointments to his name: Secretary General of the Qing Consortium's Board, Honorary Chairman of the Qing Consortium's Military Council, Executive Director of the Qing Consortium's Commerce Department…
In any case, he had an incredulous number of titles.
Everyone knew full well that if there were anyone in this world who Qing Zhen cared about, Luo Lan would definitely be the top priority.
Just by looking at the pompous arrival of this convoy, no one could be more important to Qing Zhen than Luo Lan.
When the officials standing outside the stronghold saw Luo Lan's convoy driving past them, they hurriedly called their secretaries and drivers over. "Quick, drive and catch up with the convoy!"
Zhou Qi, who was sitting in an off-road vehicle at the front, muttered, "You're still as arrogant as before. You aren't respecting those people at all. If only you and Qing Zhen were a little more tactful back then, you wouldn't have been targeted by those old fogeys."
Luo Lan chuckled, "And where are those old fogeys now?"
Zhou Qi was rendered speechless.
Where else could they be? Those old fogeys were all killed by Zhou Qi's hand.
Luo Lan was sitting in the back seat and looking straight ahead. He casually explained, "I'm not here to make friends on this inspection tour. I'm on official business. If I don't carry out my duties properly, is there any point in being friends with them?"
"It's not a matter of making friends with them. It's whether you make enemies out of them." Zhou Qi sighed.
Luo Lan shook his head and said, "That's your biggest problem. You never want to offend anyone. You're not gold, so how can you be liked by everyone?"
"As long as I'm liked by most people, that's good enough," Zhou Qi said.
"Qing Zhen is the one leading our massive Qing Consortium. As his subordinate, of course I have to play the bad cop and let him be the good cop." Luo Lan said in seriousness, "If I go around being nice to everyone, how can Qing Zhen win over hearts and minds?"
Luo Lan continued, "Zhou Qi, someone has to be the bad guy in this contest for power and profit. I just need to do my job well and deal with these people. When Qing Zhen needs their help, they'll just need to be of service. As for whether they hate me or not, that's their business. In any case, it's not like there's anything they can do about me."
Actually, it was not that Zhou Qi did not understand these principles. He knew Luo Lan was a knife in Qing Zhen's hands. Moreover, it was not Qing Zhen who wanted him to be the knife, but Luo Lan himself.
All of this was so Qing Zhen's authority could be stable enough.
However, in Zhou Qi's opinion, how could a person only think for others and not for themselves?
Right now, Qing Zhen and Luo Lan seemed like they were very close. But what if Qing Zhen were to change one day?
If Qing Zhen no longer sided with Luo Lan, there would probably be countless enemies who would make things difficult for Luo Lan.
Zhou Qi looked at Luo Lan. "Have you ever considered your future—"
"You've underestimated me and Qing Zhen," interrupted Luo Lan.
The convoy headed straight for the administrative center in the stronghold. After Luo Lan got out of the vehicle, he took the lead and sat down in the lobby.
The staff in the building served him in fear and trepidation. Meanwhile, the officials who went to welcome him at the stronghold entrance were sweating profusely as they finally caught up to him.
Under normal circumstances, a plump person tended to always give people an extra sense of affinity.
However, Luo Lan, in his current form, exuded more of a strong and stocky feel. This indirectly made him look much more intimidating.
The row of officials stood obediently in front of Luo Lan and did not even dare to breathe too loudly. They were afraid they had done something wrong to make the boss behave so overbearingly.
Luo Lan sat on the sofa in the lobby and said with a grin, "C'mon all of you here are well-respected figures. There's no need to be so afraid of me."
Everyone lowered their heads and did not say anything. They thought to themselves that only a fool would follow up with his provocation.
"Alright, let's cut to the chase. After I'm done inspecting Stronghold 91, I'll be returning to Stronghold 111. Bring over all the necessary documents." Luo Lan said with a smile, "You guys have probably heard about someone in Stronghold 92 who tried to fool me about the amount of food reserves and assets that were in their books, so I had that person executed that same day. So before you bring over the documents for my vetting, think carefully about how you want to correct any fake entries first. I'm saying this for your own good."
When an official heard this, he wiped sweat away. "Sir, don't worry. We're already prepared here. Little Li, quickly bring over the inbound and outbound inventories for Boss Luo's inspection. Boss Luo, the work we're doing here is very solid indeed. After you've checked through our accounts, we can set off immediately to the warehouse for a physical inspection."
This official could not be blamed for panicking. Before Luo Lan came to Stronghold 91, he had indeed executed several people by firing squad.
When Stronghold 92 received Luo Lan a few days ago, Luo Lan also carried out a surprise inspection like he did today. He did not even attend the banquet prepared by the stronghold officials to welcome him.
When the officials heard that Luo Lan was a pervert, they even specially arranged several escorts for him.
In the end, Luo Lan instantly had the special forces set up a temporary military camp in the warehouse district and even placed the entire warehouse under lockdown.
For a few days, people were only allowed to enter the temporary lockdown zone but not leave. It wasn't until Luo Lan finished taking inventory of all the food provisions and armaments that the lockdown was lifted.
Several of the officials were hoping to get lucky and thought everything would be fine as long as they hosted Luo Lan well. However, Luo Lan did not even give them a chance to do so and just shot them dead.
Luo Lan's actions could be described as ruthless and vicious. As a result, when the news got out, everyone in the other strongholds started feeling insecure and scared that they would be the next unlucky ones to get executed.
Normally, no matter how serious the crime was, they would still have to be tried in a court of law first.
However, mobilizing the provisions and armaments without authorization would get one immediately court martialed. Meanwhile, Luo Lan also had another title to his name, and that was the presiding judge of the Qing Consortium's military court.
Wherever this guy went, a military court would follow. Based on Luo Lan's style, he would try any criminals right on the spot.
Although it sounded very childish, there was nothing one could do about it if Luo Lan really behaved that way.
As for the adjudication documents to be presented in court, Luo Lan would just have his subordinates do them up at a later time.
The cases handled by Luo Lan's touring court had one thing in common: None of the defendants pleaded guilty, but the death sentence rate was a 100%.
Basically, all of the defendants died before they could even present their defense.
Actually, Luo Lan also knew that handling it this way would make everyone scared and was not conducive to the stability of order.
But he had no other choice. The military readiness of the Qing Consortium had become more important than any other matter, so they had to resort to special measures during these special times.
Otherwise, Qing Zhen would not have asked him to come and inspect the provisions and armaments.
Usually, anything that required Luo Lan's help was already a very troublesome matter that needed to be dealt with.
At this moment, the inventory records were all placed in front of Luo Lan. But when Luo Lan saw the officials sweating profusely, he suddenly said with a smile, "Alright, I know you all have done your best for these past three days. It's not easy to fill up a standard warehouse in such a short period. I won't be inspecting the warehouse, so good luck to you all."
After that, Luo Lan directly got into the off-road vehicle outside the administrative center and left in a hurry.
This event dumbfounded everyone. The officials thought to themselves, 'What are you trying to achieve here? You came and left in such a hurry, and you didn't even bother checking the inventories?'
However, a few officials who were in the know broke out in cold sweat.
Zhou Qi said in the off-road vehicle, "Looks like the problem has been resolved?"
"Of course." Luo Lan said, "Actually, it was already settled before we arrived. But we still have to drop by regardless. At the very least, we should teach them a lesson and let them know there's no such thing as an absolute secret."
In fact, what Luo Lan had done in Stronghold 92 was just to stamp his authority. Regarding the execution, he was the one who spread the news through the intelligence agency. Now that the entire Qing Consortium's intelligence agency was controlled by Luo Lan, it was simply too easy for him to do something like that.
Before Luo Lan arrived in Stronghold 92 today, he had already found out through the stronghold's intelligence department that these stronghold officials, under the threat of facing execution, had bought a large amount of food supplies using money from their own pockets to fill up the granaries to the required standard.
Moreover, these people even bought the food supplies at high prices in secret and did not dare to let anyone know about it.
Some of them were linked to the sale of grains from the granary at low prices in the past. But now, they had to buy them back at high prices. All of a sudden, the blood-sucking aphids were emptied of their pockets. It was so painful for them they nearly vomited blood.
The way Luo Lan chose to leave was to send a message to them: "I know all about your little tricks. Don't think there's anything I don't know about in the Qing Consortium."
By doing so, he was also warning them not to resort to such tricks again in the future. Otherwise, they would end up getting shot dead.
Luo Lan told Zhou Qi, "There's so many strongholds in the entire Qing Consortium, so it would take too long to audit the warehouses one by one. We don't have that much time. So, rather than us carrying out the inspections, why don't we let those people self-inspect under the pressure of fear?"
There were three key points to this operation. The first was to execute someone to establish authority so others would get scared.
The second was to give the culprits a chance, to tell them that as long as they made up for the difference in food supplies this time, he could pretend that nothing had happened in the past.
Third, he wanted to make those people understand that he had spies all over the Qing Consortium, so they had better act more honestly in the future.
With a set of combo "punches," the entire resource storage system was immediately refreshed. As for the officials who still refused to replenish their food reserves, Luo Lan had a natural way to find out who they were.
As a matter of fact, even though Qing Zhen's reputation was at its peak after the Qing Consortium unified the Southwest, the Qing Consortium still lacked someone to act as the villain.
The villain had to do the dirty work the Qing Consortium's head could not. He would have to kill those Qing Zhen could not lay his finger on.
This was probably the reason why the Qing Consortium had always had a designated Shadow role. An organization would always have some shady dealings that required the Shadow to handle.
Qing Zhen used to be the Qing Consortium's Shadow, and now it was Luo Lan's turn.
Although no one had explicitly said Luo Lan was the Qing Consortium's Shadow, everyone knew this to be true.
With the existence of a ruthless executioner like Luo Lan, the officials of the various strongholds had better humble themselves and carry out their duties responsibly.
Luo Lan said to Zhou Qi, "Since Qing Zhen asked me to make this trip, it means the problem should be very serious and the danger is right before us. I have to make these people afraid of me so they'll do their jobs right. Sometimes, I'd also like to be more delicate in my ways, but the circumstances don't allow it."
"Alright, you two brothers have your own way of dealing with things, so I can't be bothered to say any more." Zhou Qi did not comment any further. "As the elder brother, you've chosen to play the villain and commit evil deeds on your younger brother's behalf. If even you aren't bothered by that, what can an outsider like me say? I just find it such a waste. They specially arranged for many beautiful ladies to entertain us. If you want to put on airs, go ahead and do that. But why the fuck did you have to make them take the ladies away? It's also very tiring for me to keep protecting you every day…"
Luo Lan said righteously, "Zhou Qi, I didn't expect you to be such a person!"
Zhou Qi nearly spat blood. "Don't think I don't know what you've done. Don't act innocent with me now!"
Luo Lan said seriously, "Zhou Qi, you aren't an outsider. Qing Zhen and I treat you as our best friend and a brother."
Zhou Qi sneered, "Don't get all sentimental on me. I only recognize money."
"We'll pay what's necessary, but I'm not telling you this to save ourselves money. I just hope you won't keep seeing yourself as a stranger," Luo Lan explained.
"Don't try to bluff me." Zhou Qi said disdainfully, "You say you treat me as a brother, but didn't you still hide Qing Zhen's schedule and plans from me?"
Luo Lan shook his head. "Those are two separate things. Qing Zhen has his own plan. He doesn't only keep his schedule and plans from you; he does that to me sometimes too. It's not that he can't meet people, but that he has a need to keep his whereabouts a secret. The enemy we'll face in the future is even more terrifying than what you and I can imagine."
Zhou Qi curled his lips. "You're just making excuses."
Luo Lan sighed and said, "You'll understand in the future."
At this moment, a Qing Consortium infantry brigade was guarding the entirety of Ginkgo Manor on Mt. Ginkgo in Stronghold 111.
This was a textbook example of a heavily guarded installation. The security was so tight it was outrageous.
Actually, it had been a long time since so many soldiers stood guard at the Qing Consortium's manor. However, today was a little special as Qing Zhen had returned to this huge palace.
The manor's security was tight on the outside but relaxed on the inside. From the outside, everyone felt that it was so heavily guarded that only an armored unit could fight their way in.
However, there were not many garrison troops inside the manor. There was not even one guard stationed in the main building. Only Qing Zhen's trusted aide, Xu Man, accompanied him.
No servants were around as the sound of a piano reverberated in the empty main building. Qing Zhen was dressed in a white suit as he sat at the piano in the main hall. His fingers were moving across the black and white keys with his eyes tightly shut.
He did not look at the music score. It was as though this particular, long piece of music was firmly engraved in his mind.
The tune was stirring, but Qing Zhen's expression remained at peace.
If it were anyone else, they would find it a little strange. However, Xu Man was used to it. He knew very well that it was not that Qing Zhen did not have any emotions, but that he was in a state of complete restraint.
It was just like how he had to restrain his current pastimes and emotions for the sake of the Qing Consortium's future.
In order to think more clearly, Qing Zhen had to be calmer than others.
At this moment, a soft mechanical sound interrupted the piano's music. A shelf filled with books behind Qing Zhen was pushed open, revealing a brick passageway.
Qing Zhen's clone, Qing Shen, walked out with a smile. "The Little Professor's Concerto No. 3. I enjoy this piece as well. From the Pyro Company's internal speculations, the Little Professor was the founder of the Qinghe Group, but that's just trivia, so not many people care about it. However, it's really fortunate that his score could get passed down through The Cataclysm until now."
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