At the Prefectural Commandants manor in Mountain-Edge City.
Prefectural Commandant Cheng Xingba was previously a Fourth Grade high-level official who had retired from the present-day imperial court. His Cheng Family was considered among the most influential and powerful in Mountain-Edge City.
By the time Lu Sheng, Chen Ying, Ouyang Ningzhi, and Elder Wang had arrived at this Manor, it was already evening.
The Prefectural Commandants Manor had long since received news of their coming and lit up the entrance brilliantly. Various servants stood in formation outside its main doors to welcome the few guests.
Besides them, there was also a rotund, strapping military official with a bulging tummy by the entrance. He stood there waiting with his hands resting on the hilt of his saber that hung at his waist.
The moment Crimson Whale Sects horse carriage arrived, this potbellied military official rushed forward.
"Sect Master Chen, External Head Lu; Elder Wang and Internal Head Ouyang, youre here too," he plastered on a stiff smile, as if he actually had no wish to interact with these few. That was not far from the truthall who were in the know would have gathered by now that the present Crimson Whale Sect had landed itself in big trouble and was in dire straits.
"Prefectural Commandant Cheng, youre too kind. Have the other honored guests arrived?" Chen Ying asked in a whisper. "Also, External Head Lu has already succeeded as our sects official Sect Master, and is no longer an External Head."
Cheng Xingba startled, before hurriedly forcing out another smile. Carrying a hint of shock and bewilderment, he cupped his hands in apology to Lu Sheng.
"My apologies, my apologies; its my mistake. Sect Master Lu is a promising young man, and extraordinarily gifted in martial arts. A thousand men couldn't compare to your valor; it is most natural that you have succeeded as Sect Master," he quickly remedied the situation. "The other honored guests have all arrived and were just waiting for Crimson Whale Sects representatives."
"Mm, lets go in then," Lu Sheng had arranged for men to spread news among Mountain-Edge Citys intelligence networks ahead of time that Crimson Whale Sect wished to find itself a new backer. His message had largely been disseminated for the benefit of the Intelligence Agency.
Indeed, before long, the Intelligence Agency had convened a small gathering at the Prefectural Commandants Manor, and requested for the participation of representatives from Crimson Whale Sect.
Besides them, they had also invited a few highly honored guests who were the spokespeople for their respective factions.
The few of them entered the Manor one by one, with Chen Ying taking the lead. Lu Sheng was silent; this was what they had specified earlier. Chen Ying would communicate in the front while Lu Sheng stayed in the back to listen, which facilitated a sort of buffer.
After entering the Manor, they crossed a narrow corridor before finding the representatives of various factions gathered in a small pavilion by the side of the courtyard, presently chatting idly over tea.
The small octagonal pavilion was enclosed by black drapes, which were lifted in the direction of Lu Sheng and his men. Four people were seated inside.
Surprisingly, Taoist Bai Feng was among them. The other three comprised a man and two women.
Lu Sheng continued to walk behind Chen Ying and stopped outside the pavilion together.
"Sect Master Lu, please sit," Taoist Bai Fengs tone was significantly more gentle and polite than before. Presently, he smiled at Lu Sheng, "Sect Master Lu valiantly fought off a Scarlet District expert in a phenomenal battle. It was really a feast for our eyes."
Lu Shengs eyes flashed as he realized that his cover had been blown. He reached out to stop Chen Ying, who was just about to speak. He motioned for him and the rest to take their leave and waited till they were led away.
"Taoist Bai Feng, youre rather well-informed," he looked at the empty seat in the pavilion and understood its significance instantly. Without waiting for any welcome, he strode in and sat down like a boss.
"We, Crimson Whale Sect, are very sincere about this. Since all of you have come in person, you must have made up your minds?" He asked somberly.
Other than Taoist Bai Feng, the rest of those seated here were the respective representatives of different factions.
One of them was a fair and plump fatso who resembled a squire. He held a hundred-folds fan in his hand and wore a white hat on his head. Smack in the middle of his hat was the word Joy. He had a kind countenance that drew others towards him immediately.
As for the other two, one of them was a white-browed woman who wore a tall black hat and wore clothing resembling that of ancient Confucians.
The other was a beautiful woman with long hair which fell like waterfall, and who donned a green jade mask on her face.
The three individuals possessed uniquely different styles from each other, leaving a deep first impression.
"A round of introductions," Taoist Bai Feng said, then extended his arm to gesture towards that plump squire.
"This is Xiao Hongye, Squire Xiao."
He then pointed towards that white-browed woman with the tall hat.
"This is Shangyang Jiuli of the Shangyang Family."
Lastly, he pointed to that beautiful lady behind the green jade mask.
"This is Young Miss Xu Feihong, of the Xu Family."
Lu Shengs eyes narrowed into slits. Other than the fatso, the other two women were from the Shangyang Family and Xu Family respectively.
He wasn't clear about either family; however, since their household names had been included in their background introductions, then they were most definitely Noble Families. Moreover, for them to dare venture into such murky power dynamics in this period, they were bound to be incredibly strong.
"Greetings to the three of you," he clasped his hands together and greeted loudly.
"We have all witnessed the battle between Sect Master Lu and Scarlet Districts Deputy District Mistress; it was indeed impressive. We simply wonder which family were you from?" The fatso Xiao Hongye asked gently through his smiles.
"Im but a mere brute, with the most ordinary of backgrounds. Havent you all investigated that already?" Lu Shengs brows arched slightly.
"Sect Master Lu is straightforward indeed," Xiao Hongye laughed. "However, if you were merely an ordinary mortal without any foundation, how could you have risen to such heights in such a short time? Of course, if Sect Master is unwilling to reveal it, then we'll lay the matter to rest. Lets talk about the relegation of Crimson Whale Sect instead.
Since all of us are seated here, we have of course laid out our terms and conditions. We are all willing parties"
"We, Shangyang Family, only require a seventy-percent tribute per annum, and can station a representative here permanently," Shangyang Jiuli interrupted Xiao Hongye abruptly, her white brows giving her a cold and stern look.
"We, Xu Family, want a ninety-percent tribute, but we can guarantee the absolute safety of the two trade routes leading to the Central Plains. However, we cannot station anyone here permanently," Xu Feihong said delicately.
To station someone permanently meant that the Noble Family would dispatch a Nobleman to be posted to the sect permanently to handle any sort of trouble that may surface.
Xu Family asked for twenty percent more than Shangyang Family in tribute, but offered the safe passage of two trade routes to the Central Plains. The benefits involved were in reality considerably greater than what Shangyang Family offered.
The percentages in question referred to the portion of wealth and resources gathered from the territories under Crimson Whale Sects jurisdiction. The percentages indicated the portion of those spoils that had to be submitted to the Noble Family.
Finally, Lu Sheng turned to look at the fatso Xiao Hongye.
Xiao Hongye swiftly waved his hands, "We wouldn't dare to compete with the two great Noble Families. Don't look at me, don't look at me, this old brother is contented to sit here and chat with these two."
Lu Sheng narrowed his eyes. Somehow, he couldn't shake off the impression that this fatso wasn't as harmonious as he seemed on the surface. Lu Sheng surmised inwardly that he was probably the smiling-predator type.
Both the representatives of Shangyang Family and Xu Family were women, but Shangyang Jiuli and Xu Feihong were vastly different in their style. It was also difficult to fathom what attitudes they held.
"Speaking of which, Im still a stranger to both Families. Perhaps you could give me a brief introduction?" Lu Sheng pondered a moment before asking calmly.
"With pleasure, with pleasure! This Taoist has some knowledge on this," Taoist Bai Feng smiled. "Sect Master Lu is a promising young man; it is understandable that youre not aware."
He looked to the two women. Seeing that they didn't reactnor did they refusehe smiled and continued, "Shangyang Family is one of the nine Noble Families of the Central Plains. Their influence extends far and wide, and they are crowned with the title of Iron Stroke and Silver Brush. Their main dealings include medicinal herbs, shipping, as well as the banking industry."
Shangyang Jiuli didn't even look at him. She closed her eyes, as if she were meditating.
Taoist Bai Feng then pointed to Xu Feihong.
"As for the Xu Family, they are the royal house of Ju Rong Nation, dabbling mainly in the trade of precious stones. They are also termed the Noble Family of the Jade Talisman, and are similarly powerful.
In terms of fighting power, both families can hold their own against the Zhen Family, and are perhaps even stronger. So, Sect Master Lu need not worry about this aspect."
Lu Sheng nodded.
"Many thanks, Chief Bai Feng," his gazed fixed onto Shangyang Jiuli.
"May I be so bold to ask Young Miss Shangyang: If I were to choose Shangyang, how would the Scarlet District matter be resolved?"
Without even opening her eyes, Shangyang Juili replied simply, "Scarlet Districts District Mistress is away, so theres no need to bother with it for the moment. When she returns, Ill make a visit in person."
Lu Shengs heart jumped upon hearing her words.
Then, he looked at Xu Feihong on the other side.
Just by looking at her eyes alone, it was obvious that Xu Feihong was a great beauty. She sat in the pavilion in her long pink robes, making her body seem buried in the massive bundle of exquisite robes. Her jadeite arms peeked out from beneath like lotus roots.
Seeing Lu Sheng look in her direction, she smiled.
"Peace is the most esteemed quality under the heavens. Regarding Scarlet District, I can pay them a visit to make peace with them."
Lu Sheng lowered his head in thought for a moment. In the end, he turned towards Shangyang Jiuli,
"Seems like Ill have to trouble Young Miss Jiuli for this matter."
His words demonstrated that he had chosen Shangyang Family.
Xu Feihongs expression remained the same as always. She nodded to the rest and smiled at Lu Sheng before rising to leave.
Only now did Shangyang Jiuli open her eyes and look at Lu Sheng with a look of surprise.
Her attitude wasn't exactly positive, and she was in fact rather indifferent in regard to this trip to recruit Crimson Whale Sect. Moreover, the benefits they offered were truly lackluster when compared to what Xu Family had offered. Xu Family had even laid down the condition that they wouldnt station anyone permanently, which implied that the Sect was free to govern itself without external interference.
Yet even so, Lu Sheng had picked her.
She had initially thought that this would be a pointless trip.
"Hohohoho! Congratulations, both of you. Crimson Whale Sect is the Number One Sect in all the North; Shangyang Family is one of the nine great Noble Families of the Central Plains, wielding immense power. Such a union would definitely preserve the stability of the Northern lands," Xiao Hongye laughed eccentrically and spoke with his fan covering his mouth.
"Yes, youre not too bad," Shangyang Jiuli looked at Lu Sheng with approval in her eyes. She had merely intended to relieve boredom on this trip, and had not expected in the least that she would accomplish any sort of mission. Unexpectedly, she had succeeded without much effort on her part.
"May I know when Young Miss Jiuli will settle the Scarlet District matter?" Lu Sheng didnt beat about the bush as he asked straightforwardly. He had clearly proven his capabilities, and had thus earned the right to take his pick between the Noble Families. Otherwise, based on what he had heard earlier from his senior apprentice brother, Hong Mingzi, Crimson Whale Sect would have had no say in the matter. All it could do was to wait for Shangyang Family and Xu Family to compete amongst themselves to determine the victor, and then be forced to accept whatever outcome of their competition.
"Thats simple, tonight will do fine," Shangyang Jiuli acted speedily and decisively. She had a really good impression of Lu Sheng, and was already annoyed by these mundane matters to begin with, so she hoped to resolve the matter as swiftly as she could.
"Many thanks, Young Miss Jiuli!" Lu Sheng cupped his fists sincerely.
"Since you have both reached a decision, why dont we have a round of drinks here at the Prefectural Commandants Manor?" Xiao Hongye suggested. "Coincidentally, the key players of the Northern Lands are all present today; its an opportunity not to be missed," his plump face was full of smiles.
"Im not free," Shangyang Jiuli rejected him curtly without skipping a beat. As she stood up, she casually threw a stone medallion to Lu Sheng, "This is our Shangyang Familys communication medallion, which is activated by fire. Ill able to sense its signal as long as Im within a thousand li of it."
Lu Sheng received the stone medallion and took a close look.
A paragraph of words in a foreign script was written distinctly onto the white trapezoid stone medallion. The words were extremely lifelike as they danced across the surface like soaring dragons and phoenixesclearly, it was the work of a master calligrapher.
"Im heading to the Scarlet District first!" Without waiting for a response from the rest, Shangyang Jiuli spun around and leapt off. In the blink of an eye, she had disappeared from the pavilion.
Lu Sheng had only just withdrawn his gaze from the stone medallion when Shangyang Jiulis figure disappeared without a trace.
"Sect Master Lu is indeed extraordinary," as soon as Shangyang Jiuli left, Xiao Hongye smiled and said to Lu Sheng. "You made the best choice for Crimson Whale Sect without any insider knowledge."
"Oh? Why does Squire Xiao say so?" Lu Sheng arched his brow questioningly.