On this repeat trip to the Martial Proclamation Court, Lu Sheng made his way around with familiarity and ease. He quickly presented his medallion and headed for the second story.
All the hard body skills in Crimson Whale Sect were located on the bookshelf he had seen previously. Dusk Dantian Inflating Skill, Golden Veil Skill, Soul Smashing Fist, Jewel Pillar Skill.
One after another, these previously seen hard body skills remained on the racks.
Using herbal tonics and the inner Qi of Yin-Yang Jade Crane Skill, these Strength Proficiency hard body skills should take just a jiffy to cultivate to their pinnacle. Yin Qi is necessary to extrapolate them, but its a piece of cake to cultivate these second-grade hard body skills using Yin-Yang Jade Crane Skill as foundation, Lu Sheng pulled out Jewel Pillar Skill. Flipping it open, he skimmed through the introductory information on the Jewel Pillar Skill.
To move like a pillar, to strike like a dragon.
That was the essential summary of this Strength Proficiency hard body skillJewel Pillar Skill. Its emphasis was on post-standing and had a total of three levels which corresponded to three different post-standing stances. 
After cultivating it to its peak, one would be sturdy as a wooden post, tenacious and very difficult to overthrow. Upon receiving a blow, it would diffuse the impact throughout the entire body to withstand it; it was an excellent hard body skill for dispersing the force of the blows.
Reckoning that he should have sufficient contribution points by now, Lu Sheng picked up Dusk Dantian Inflating Skill along with it.
With these two hard body skills in hand, he walked towards the third story. This third story was unlike what he had expected; there were only foundational martial arts skills here. Although there werent many of them, each of these were highly popular and powerful skills, such as Bear-Wrestling Arm. However, they all seemed to be modified copies of the original, which could be passed on to even ordinary people for cultivation.
Then, he proceeded upwards again, to the fourth story. The fourth story held only inner force mantras, as well as a couple of life-force skills. Still, most comprised all sorts of fearsome purely offensive inner force skills. Each of them bore just the name and a short description, as well as the "price tag" with required contribution points.
Lu Sheng scrutinized those skills. These were not the same sort of inner force skills as Black Fury Skill, which could be purchased on the market. Rather, they were all of high quality that could be naturally cultivated to the level of Intent Proficiency. Attached to each of these inner force skills mantras were also stacks of explanatory notes, which were helpful guides left behind by the earlier generations of cultivators.
Like before, he selected one of them, the Blood Jade Skill, which was capable of bringing both Qi and blood to a boil. He brought all of them along to the exchange counter below.
"Senior, Id like to exchange my contribution points for the manuals of these skills," Lu Sheng handed over the skills that he had selected.
The elder at the exchange counter swept his gaze across the secret manuals on the table. There were three in totalBlood Jade Skill, Dusk Dantian Inflating Skill, and Jewel Pillar Skill.
"Oh, its External Head Lu. According to the level of your contributions, of these three skills, you can only exchange for one mantra, or the other two hard body skills."
Lu Sheng jolted in surprise.
"My contribution points are actually not enough?"
"Of course. The prices for mantras are exorbitant because there are explanatory notes attached, which can be used to train underlings and subordinates. As for the hard body skills, you can only count on your own perseverance to train hard. Moreover, theyre of different levels, so naturally, their cost is different," the elder explained matter-of-factly.
He was of extremely high seniority, having joined the sect even before the old Sect Master Hong Mingzi. His identity was shrouded in mystery, and his power was likewise an unknown. He didnt show particular respect for External Heads like Lu Sheng, but rather treated them as equals.
"I can only exchange for one type? Hard body skill or inner force skill" Lu Sheng deliberated for a moment, "Inner force skill then."
Presently, it was of utmost importance for him to upgrade his inner Qi as quickly as possible, making himself even more powerful. A new inner force skilleven if it was merely of the Intent Proficiency levelshould provide great help when he extrapolated Ultimate Crimson Nine-Furies Skill to the next level.
Especially since there were only those few special effects till date even though the skill had been upgraded to the Eighth Level. He suspected that this was due to insufficient skills for cross-reference.
"Alright then. Inner force Blood Jade Skill includes the skill and experience secret manuals that would cost one significant service to the Sect," the elder noted down unhurriedly.
With that, Lu Shengs previous contributions to the sect were thoroughly expended.
The Blood Jade Skill secret manual in hand, he left the Crimson Whale and headed back to his living quarters at the first available opportunity to begin cultivation.
Yet what puzzled Lu Sheng was that this Intent Proficiency level mantra, Blood Jade Skill, was just like the Nine Lakes Steel Chains Skill that he had trained previouslyhe wasn't able to succeed in initiation.
Logically speaking, Blood Jade Skill was one of those skills he had picked that were easy to be initiated into. Given his current experience with inner force circulation, it should be very simple to produce a temporary Qi sense.
Yet, in reality, Lu Sheng cooped up in his room for two whole days and still could not detect the least bit of Qi sense.
Instead, he was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable as he felt a dull bloated sensation.
In the night.
Lu Sheng walked out from his room to stand in the middle of the courtyard, admiring the night sky above.
The sickle of a moon hung silently in the sky, seemingly veiled with a layer of gauze that caused it to appear hazy and unfocused. The surroundings were pitch-dark without any light from the stars.
Condense Qi to form a star; dissolve Qi to form a pill. Any vessel would have a limit for how much it can hold. The body is one such large vessel that can contain boundless inner Qi.
Could it be that my body has reached its limit for inner Qi build-up, explaining why Im unable to produce anything new and the resultant sense of "bloatedness"? Lu Sheng inwardly pondered the matter.
The human bodys meridians were akin to long and small water pipes and all had their limits. Inner Qi was extremely fine and intricate, so naturally, a large quantity could be accommodated in the body. However, water pipes would still have a limited capacity at the end of the day.
Lu Sheng knew that using the Modifier to constantly upgrade his inner Qi would result in such a bottleneck sooner or later, but he hadnt expected that it would be so soon.
This is yet another major hurdle that ordinary mortals would have to cross in order to achieve a breakthrough he sighed deeply.
He extended his right arm as the inner Qi all over his body began to circulate. Instantly, the skin at his arm began to swell and grew tautto the extent that his muscles and meridians would produce a distinct pain in the area.
Indeed, Ive reached the limit. The inner force that I have accumulated has reached the limits of this body of mine, Lu Sheng sighed again.
Next up, if I want to break through this barrier, I would need to expand my bodys meridians. However, to do so would require getting either some miracle elixirs and precious treasures, or Id need to cultivate some special body-tempering skills, Lu Shengs knowledge of martial arts had progressed much from his initial superficial understanding. He had also gained much of such foundational knowledge from Hong Mingzi.
A body-tempering skill although Lu Sheng had gathered some general information from Hong Mingzi previously, he also knew that such a body-and-meridian tempering skills were perhaps nothing but the stuff of legends.
According to folklore, there were many such stories indeed of deities enlightening mortals by imparting them with some immortal techniques and reforming the innate constitution of their bodies.
He exhaled deeply and looked around at the pitch-black courtyard surrounding him.
Yet another one
Lu Sheng stood there unmoving as he swiftly activated his bodys inner Qi. A wave of boiling heat, shapeless and formless, raged like a furnace to roll outwards into the surrounding air, baking it.
Very soon, the inner Qi heated an area of a few square meters to boiling point.
He lifted his arm to launch a ferocious palm strike to the right.
It was clearly an empty clearing in the courtyard with nothing in sight, yet when this palm strike landed, a low thud rang out, like impact of a fist on wood.
A flash of jet-black shadow was struck into existence from thin air. It let out a miserable shriek before burning up in flames with a whoosh.
Crimson-red flame licked its body for a couple of breaths of time before it soon disappeared without a trace.
The black shadow fell to the ground, melting and shrinking. An unsuspecting passerby might have mistaken it for a puddle of polluted water.
Lu Sheng was somewhat surprised when he searched the ground to find that there wasn't any remnant object left behind.
Theres actually no Yin Qi this time round he felt that it was quite a pity. Inwardly, he surmised that this was probably not some ghost, but rather a demon of sorts.
Ever since he arranged for the Liu Family sisters to stay in the room adjacent to his, this was his second time encountering such an attack. This time round, its strength was significantly greater. Even so, one palm strike was all it took for him to take care of it. It didn't even expend thirty percent of his total strength.
The newly-extrapolated Ultimate Crimson Nine-Furies Skill displayed indomitable power when suppressing the supernatural.
Since theres no way around inner force skills, then I have to first try to solve the issue of the meridians limited capacity, Lu Sheng thought back to the idea he had developed earlier. Perhaps cultivating a large quantity of hard body skills to temper and toughen up his physical body may result in altering the quality of his body.
Lu Sheng wanted to take immediate action. His contribution points had been wiped clean by Blood Jade Skill; if he wanted to exchange for more, then he would need to do something more for the sect. Only then could he make the exchangethat was the rule.
Early the next morning, he summoned Jade Lotus to ask about the latest developments.
"What? Jade Lotus has gone out for two days and hasn't returned since?" Lu Sheng looked at Ning San before him in surprise.
Ning Sans face was stricken with guilt as he replied softly, "Your subordinate has also gone around to enquire about it. Lord Jade Lotus said that he went out to investigate into the some missing persons cases that happened earlier at Cypress Pine Lake, and coordinated with the yamen constables to keep watch overnight. After that, he seemed to have discovered something and went off in pursuit, and hasn't returned since."
"Is there any way to get in touch with him?" Lu Sheng asked with a frown.
"We can try to send a smoke signal, but we cant be sure that he will see it," Ning San replied.
"What about those constables then?"
"Theres one highly skilled martial arts practitioner who followed him in the chase. He has also not returned," Ning San had looked into the matter thoroughly and was able to give a swift reply.
Lu Sheng sat on the bench, deep in thought.
"Has anything strange happened recently? In the vicinity of Mountain-Edge City," he asked again.
Ning San thought carefully before answering, "Its just that bizarre incident at Cypress Pine Lake. Besides that, it's been quiet and uneventful both within the city and beyond."
"Everythings alright? Youre certain?" Lu Sheng was startled. Even in peaceful times, there would be occasional instances of drowning, missing servants or odd-job laborers, or officials seizing wanted convicts in this colossal Mountain-Edge City.
If nothing came up, that would instead be far more surprising.
"Im certain. These few days, Ive been following Lord Jade Lotus around to investigate into the case together. Im privy to the details," Ning San replied simply.
"Why didn't Jade Lotus inform me about investigating into this matter?" Lu Sheng was rather annoyed. For a strange occurrence such as this, it should be managed by him personally, after all. Jade Lotus, at the end of the day, was just a deputy.
"Err Lord Jade Lotus wanted to attempt to solve the matter alone first, and if that didn't work out, then invite you to take action," Ning San replied with a grimace.
"Share with me the details of this incident," Lu Sheng happened to be lacking contribution points to the sect. Thus, he decided to help settle this matter to exchange for a few hard body skills.
Under his command, Ning San reported the details of this so-called night ghost incident at Cypress Pine Lake.
As it turns out, it happened way backabout half a month agoat the riverbank of Songpo Rift near Mountain-Edge City.
Some fishermen had gotten up in the middle of the night to relieve themselves. Accidentally, they saw some people carrying a sedan chair and travelling leisurely along the side of Cypress Pine Lake in the dead of the night.
As they couldn't see clearly from a distance, these fishermens curiosity was piqued and they approached closer to check it out. As a result, seven to eight people went missing, one after another. This attracted the attention of the local village official, who looked into the matter, but to no avail. The village official promptly reported the matter to the higher-ups, and as the number of those missing increased, the matter escalated and eventually reached Mountain-Edge City.
"Usually, news of missing persons cases such as these will only escalate to Mountain-Edge City if the situation is extremely dire. Otherwise, those in the lower rungs will handle average cases by themselves. Only when the situation has spiraled out of their depth will they report to the higher-ups," Ning San said in a hushed tone.
 ED/N: Post-standing? Just think of those martial artists who train by standing on some thick but tall pole.