The scorching sun traveled across the sky, leaving behind a mere half that peeked across the horizon.
In a decrepit building situated on a mountain peak.
Zhen Xun pushed open the large doors unhurriedly. With uneven steps, he stepped onto the muddy, stony ground as he entered the buildings main hall. He looked towards the window to his right.
The blood-red rays of the sun shone in through the round-rimmed windows, illuminating a lithe, long-haired silhouette that stood by the window.
Zhen Xuns eyes narrowed as he surveyed his surroundings.
The large hall was entirely bare, without any furniture or pillars; there wasn't even a staircase that led to the lower and higher floors. All he could see around him was level ground. The ground beneath him was consistently muddied and littered with small stones as well as the remnant fragments of run-down wooden furniture. From where he was standing at the doorway, he could clearly see the round windows that were on all four sides.
The round windows that were as tall as the height of two men were mostly shattered and destroyed, with their broken wooden frames hanging by the side. Random wooden bars sprung up in odd array like wooden spikes in the middle of the windows, forgotten by all.
The entire main hall was painted red from the setting sun, lending it a thick atmosphere of dejection and defeat.
That long-haired silhouette stood by one of the windows, her hand clutching onto the window frame as she gazed outwards. Cold wind rustled the skirt at her back, and it floated behind her.
Zhen Xun frowned. From his angle, he could only see the figures pitch-black silhouette; he couldn't even see clearly the color of her dress. The rays of the sun were so intense that the dark shadow seemed even blacker in contrast.
The pitch-black shadow against the blood red rays of the sun.
"I dont like meeting you at such a place, at such a time, and under such circumstances. My dear Sister," Zhen Xun frowned as he spoke in low tone.
"If it werent absolutely necessary, I wouldn't want to see you either," the female black shadow continued to look out beyond the window without turning around as she replied.
Her voice was extremely soft and gentle, giving others the dominant impression that she was an utterly meek and harmless woman, melting all sorts of defenses one might have against her.
Upon hearing the voice, Zhen Xuns frown deepened.
"Speak. Just what does the family have in mind? They got me here to settle the matter, but Ive been requesting for backup for so long, yet till now, there hasn't been any response. Don't tell me they intend for you to help me settle the matter?"
"Of course not," the woman replied with a laugh. "Of course, if you were to personally plead with me, then I could consider lending a hand to my favorite younger brother," though she said this, the mockery in her tone was obvious.
"I don't have much time," Zhen Xuns expression was grave.
"What a bore of a younger brother," the woman turned around slowly. Her long hair danced around in the wind, concealing more than half of her countenance. Under the shadow, her face was also mainly cast in pitch-blackness. Only a pair of bloodshot eyes, so red that they shone, stared silently at Zhen Xun over the suns rays.
"Each time I see you, I feel an impulse to kill you"
"What a coincidence... me too," Zhen Xun was not to be outdone as he faced that womans bloodshot gaze head-on.
The two of them stared fixedly at each other in silence for a long while.
"The family is almost done with the preparations and will be ready to retreat at any time. You should make the adequate preparations," the woman finally revealed the news that she had come to relay.
Zhen Xun gave a start. He closed his eyes to think for a moment.
"Why so soon?"
"Because the Shangyang Family is here too. The other smaller factions are negligible. But now, another Noble Family has made a move. Not to mention theyre heading obviously for the resource-poor North. Their intentions are as plain as day. Therefore, our dearest Grandpa has decided to pull out prematurely," the woman replied levelly.
Zhen Xun sucked in a deep breath, feeling somewhat unwilling.
"How about the foundations that we've established here, the influence that weve gathered, the entire situation"
"With the Devil Blade in our hands, its the same wherever we re-establish ourselvesTHAT is our foundation. Whats the big deal about this slum? As for the factions weve cultivated, theyre but mere mortals. Like wild grass, theyll soon grow back after dying. Need we give a hoot?"
Zhen Xun grew silent. He knew very clearly that as soon as they withdrew, those factions would lose their backing and roots and be doomed for destruction. Under Scarlet District and other forces assault, they would instantly crumble like a house made of straw.
A foundation that they have painstakingly built for centuries would soon be reduced to ashes.
After a while, he gradually regained his composure from hearing this unexpected news.
"When do we leave?"
"Not sure, but it wont be too long. News that we have obtained the Demon Blade Scarlet Dragon Tribulation has spread like wildfire. The forces that we were able to lure away from this place are beginning to rush back here. So, it wont be too long," the lady replied.
"I understand Ill make the preparations when I get back," Zhen Xun sighed.
At the Song Manor.
The sky had just brightened as grayish white rays shone onto the charred ruins of the Song Manor.
There were three pieces of green stone, each the size of a foot, that were placed under a withered tree. It seemed like the stones had been randomly placed there, but actually, together they formed a slanted triangular shape.
The branches of the withered tree extended out far and wide. Its entire body was pitch-black, as if it were filled with soot. A few crows perched on the branches, preoccupied with preening their feathers and letting out an awkward caw from time to time.
"Ka-Cha Ka-Cha Ka-Cha "
Out of the blue, rhythmic footsteps sounded out from afar. As the shoes crossed over the ash and sand, it produced the same crisp sounds as if stepping on snow.
A tall, burly man with a massive physique and a shiny, bald head was walking slowly in the direction of the withered tree.
On his back were two gigantic choppers. Dressed in black overalls, he was also wearing wrist guards and a half-body leather armor at his arms and chest. What was even stranger was that not only was he bald, he also didn't have any eyebrows or mustache, or even eyelashes.
His utter baldness gave off an ineffable sense of danger and threatening ferocity.
The man walked to the withered tree, where he looked down to glance at the three pieces of green stone. With a flip of his hand, he retrieved a long object in the shape of a stick, which was covered in black cloth. He gently lifted a flint-stone to it, igniting it without much difficulty.
The yellow and red flames danced about, accompanied by rolling black smoke. An indescribably pungent stench gradually diffused outwards.
Time passed by in minutes and seconds.
Very soon, the crows on the withered tree were startled and flew off into the distance, cawing as they did.
That man turned around and noticed a dark figure in the opposite direction, not too far away. It was a woman with a veiled conical hat, and she was currently hastening over.
"Is that External Head Lu?" The woman asked in a low voice.
"Zhuo?" Lu Sheng merely responded in question with the last name.
"Yes. Ive brought some of that stuff. These are all that Ive gathered in this periodeight of them. I need more time for the rest."
Lu Shengs face cracked into a smile.
"Show them to me first for me to browse. Its fine if we don't make a deal this time round, but Id like to see if the goods are what I need."
Zhuo Wenyu hesitated for a beat before nodding.
She retrieved a piece of inner wear woven in golden thread from the little pouch on her back, which she gently flung over to Lu Sheng.
He grabbed onto it with one hand; he could still smell a faint fragrance from it.
"Is something like this what you want? This is someone elses beloved clothing item, made of golden thread. This dates back to many centuries."
The moment Lu Sheng laid hands on it, he could instantly feel threads of Yin Qi that spread out from the piece of inner wear. For items of such low levels of Yin Qi, he was practically able to absorb from it directly without a drop of his blood. It was just like how it was with that piece of green cobblestone in the beginning.
He continued to grasp onto the inner wear, his expression the same as always. He pretended to take a detailed look at it, allowing the threads of Yin Qi to flow unceasingly into his body.
"Alright. This will count as one item," he smiled, before explaining, "What Im looking for should, firstly, be preferably dug out from the graves. The year itself doesn't matter, although it cant be too recent.
Secondly, it must be the original owners beloved item while he was still alive."
"Thats easy," Zhuo Wenyu nodded. "I can help you find as many of such objects as possible. However, I also hope that you can help me search for some stuff in exchange."
"What sort of stuff?" Lu Sheng asked.
"A hundred portions of human-blood wine. It must be the combination of blood from different people. The blood need not be much; just one drop from each person would suffice," Zhuo Wenyu indicated her rather strange request.
Lu Sheng thought it over.
"Deal," in his current position, it was an easy feat to acquire such blood wine. His only worry was that she would use this wine to do something untoward to the human hosts whose blood was in it.
Yet even as Lu Sheng fretted over that, he knew that this thought was highly laughable. If she truly had such terrifying powers, then she wouldn't have lost to someone like him, a mortal who hadnt even reached the power of Bind.
"Also, please take good care of that small cauldron," Zhuo Wenyu was extremely miserable when she thought of that small cauldron.
"Don't worry about it," Lu Sheng kept the gold-threaded inner wear in the black pouch that he had prepared earlier. "What else?" He continued to look towards Zhuo Wenyu.
"Can you let me see that small cauldron first?" Zhuo Wenyu asked gently in hushed tones.
"Of course," Lu Sheng retrieved from his bosom a small black cauldron the size of a palm. "Once youve given me fifteen objects, Ill give this to you."
Zhuo Wenyu clenched her teeth as she stared fixedly at the small cauldron.
"Fine!" Promptly, she took out from her backpack item after item: a cosmetic box, a copper mirror, a wooden comb, a small pillow
She passed these items one after the other to Lu Sheng, who looked them over in great detail. Of the seven objects, only two of them contained Yin Qi, and in small quantities at that. He was somewhat disappointed.
"Just these? From here, only these two items suffice. Including the first item, thats a total count of three," he frowned.
"Only THREE?!" Zhuo Wenyu felt exasperated. She had no idea why Lu Sheng had to pick and choose. As for these items, there wasn't much difference between them; they were all pre-loved items that had been buried together with their previous owners.
Yet, Lu Sheng had picked out only three from the bundle and didn't want the rest.
"Im not trying to frighten you, but there truly arent any that I want from these," Lu Sheng explained. "Besides, I also need to personally look through the item before knowing whether I want it or not."
Zhuo Wenyu could find no explanation for his behavior. However, she had had her fair share of experience with such eccentric requests. Many Anomalies, demons and devils, as well as Noble Families were the epitome of peculiarity. She no longer found that surprising.
However, given the situation, only Lu Sheng could call the shots about how many objects counted. She had no other choice.
"Alright in that case, lets count it as three objects this time. Do you still want these? Otherwise, Ill bring them back."
Lu Sheng shook his head.
"You bring them back," he could tell that Zhuo Wenyu wasn't able to detect the presence of Yin Qi. Or rather, till date, he had not encountered anyone else like him, who was able to sense the presence of Yin Qi.
If it were as Duanmu Wan said, that there werent any energy waves in the atmosphere of this world, them what exactly was Yin Qi? He needed to research into why this particular element could be used by him.
The so-called Yin Qi was but a name he had come up with for this thing in the beginning. As for what exactly this particular Qi was, he had no idea.
The two figures under the tree once again scheduled the time and place for their next deal. Then, Zhuo Wenyu left with haste. Likewise, Lu Sheng sped back in the same way that he had come.
He needed to make another trip to visit the Old Sect Master, Hong Mingzi, and ask in detail regarding the latest developments with Zhen Family.
Recently, the conflict between Scarlet District and Zhen Family had become more and more difficult to make sense of. Particularly, the Zhen Family seemed to have gotten too silent on their end, which was somewhat fishy.