Xiao Hongye shook his head as he added emphatically, "Sect Master, theres much youre not aware of. Both Xu Family and Shangyang Family are extremely powerful and evenly matched. But just by looking at Xu Feihong and Shangyang Jiuli alone, and by just assessing their individual capabilities, Young Miss Xu Feihong wont be able to accomplish even half of Shangyang Jiulis cultivation level regardless of how long it takes." He seemed to be baring his heart as he explained in a whisper.
"This old brother can tell that you have a kind heart beneath that cold appearance, much like my deceased younger brother, so Ill offer you another word of advice.
In the days ahead, strike a good relationship with that Young Miss Jiuli. Shes none other than the Number Two genius of the present-day Shangyang Family, and is fully deserving of that honor. Perhaps it wont be long before she can break through the level of Bind. If you get into her good graces, then you, Younger Brother, will have it going much better for you in the days ahead."
"Oh?" By the side, Taoist Bai Feng was shocked. "Could it be that Young Miss Jiuli is actually about to break through the Seven-Vein Level!?"
"Im also not sure how true that is. Ten years ago, Young Miss Shangyang Jiuli was already at Five-Vein Level, and could even be considered the Number One prodigy in Shangyang Family. If that person hadnt caught up, then Id expect no one else could have broken her record. Seven-Vein shouldnt be far from her reach now" Xiao Hongye added softly.
"This Seven-Vein and Five-Vein may I know what they refer to?" Lu Sheng heart skipped a beat as he realized that he was now, perhaps, making contact with the system of differentiated levels of strength among Noblemen.
"Hasnt Sect Master Lu already stepped into Three-Vein Level? How is it that youre not aware of this?" Xiao Hongye was astonished.
"I just happened to do so by chance" Lu Sheng shook his head.
"You stepped into Three-Vein Level by chance! Sect Master Lus background is truly exceptional indeed!" Taoist Bai Feng exclaimed.
"Haha, Chief Bai Feng, you humor me," Lu Sheng realized that they had mistaken him for an heir of some Noble Family, but made no effort to refute that. He understood that the strength he had displayed in achieving a draw in his battle against the umbrella girl was far beyond the realm of an ordinary mortal. It was only natural that this misunderstanding would occur.
"Brother Lu, you may be unaware of this, but Vein count is precisely how the realm of Bind is divided into different levels," Xiao Hongye explained. "What is Bind? It is the power of restraint. It is the innate talent produced to differing extent among Noblemen under the inheritance of the light of Divine Weapons according to how compatible they are with it."
"Squire Xiao is absolutely right. Someone with tremendous talent like Shangyang Jiuli is one in a million, a rare gem of the century," Taoist Bai Feng agreed. "Although Noblemen are naturally gifted with the power of Bind, through cultivation, they are able to increase their levels and also grasp more blood of the inheritance. Typically, its an accomplishment decent enough for them to attain Double-Vein Level by the time they come of age. Most Noblemen are merely at the basic Single-Vein Level."
"Which is to say that the realm of Bind can be divided into a total of seven Vein levels, with Three-Vein and above considered experts?" Lu Sheng pressed.
"Thats of course. Such as, the umbrella girl, Scarlet Districts Deputy District Mistress. Initially, I'd thought that she would at most be at Double-Vein Level, since shes but a ghost evolved from a mere Anomaly. Whod have guessed
If Sect Master Lu hadnt exchanged blows with her, then we would truly be at a major disadvantage if we were to fight her in the future!" Taoist Bai Feng exclaimed.
"Indeed," Xiao Hongye agreed.
As the two of them chatted, they regarded Lu Sheng purely as a Nobleman, making him privy to quite a bit of insider information on the Noble Families and giving him a greater understanding of them.
Bind was divided into seven Veins, which refer to the black vein patterns which surface on the body after one has achieved the level of Bind.
Moreover, unlike Zhen Family, the Noble Family of the Northern Lands, which numbered only slightly more than ten people in total, the nine great Noble Families of the Central Plains were naturally much more powerful and endowed to lord over the prosperous and affluent Central Plains.
Not to mention the rest, just the strength publicly displayed by Shangyang Family alone amounted to more than fifty family members. Of these, no less than eight were famed to be Three-Veins and above.
The power of the other eight Noble Families was likewise comparable.
After the three men chatted for a while in the pavilion, the conversation moved to the topic of mortal martial arts.
"Whats the point of us practicing mortal martial arts? We sweat blood and tears for decades, even a century, and yet we cant even break apart the black membrane of Bind at Single-Vein Level. What makes the most difference is cultivating life-force skills to prolong longevity," Taoist Bai Feng shook his head.
"Thats not entirely true. Apart from life force skills, the mortal world still possesses many combat skills thatre worth learning. For example, didnt Sect Master Lu mostly rely on mortal combat skills when he faced off against the umbrella girl?" Xiao Hongye countered. He had mistaken Lu Shengs impregnable defense, built up by inner force and a heap of hard body skills stacked together, for the black membrane of Bind. Likewise, he had mistaken Lu Shengs vigorous Ultimate Crimson Nine Furies inner Qi and his terrifyingly explosive strength as ordinary combat skills of the mortal realm.
Again, Lu Sheng did not break the charade. He merely sighed.
"Combat skills do indeed have a certain effect. But it still cant hold a candle to the innate power of Noblemen," he exclaimed, this time genuinely from his heart. Fighting just the lowest level of Bind had cost him so much effort and agony. If it were any other mortal, he would have been ripped to shreds by the umbrella girl in one second unless he had above two hundred years of cultivation.
Without sufficient cultivation base, one could not even penetrate the power of Bind.
"Thats true speaking of innate power, if Zhen Family is truly able to keep the Scarlet Dragon Tribulation this time, they might really grow leaps and bounds in power. With two Divine Weapons in their grasp heheh. Their Noblemen would be gifted with the power of Double-Vein right from birth. Thats terrifying," Xiao Hongye exclaimed.
"If Zhen Familys able to turn the tables this time, theyll be sure to avenge their exile from that year. Heheheh when that time comes, well be in for a show," Bai Feng chuckled.
"Indeed. Given Zhen Familys viciousness, thered be a big show," Xiao Hongye grinned in reply.
Lu Shengs heart jumped. Could the power of Noble Families originate from Divine Weapons? By seizing new Divine Weapons, they could increase the innate power that their Noblemen are born with?
He looked at Xiao Hongye. This man had been steering the conversation towards the direction he was interested in, whether intentionally or not.
A familiar, harmless expression filled his fair, plump face. He seemed truly friendly to Lu Sheng.
"Oh yes. Ive been wondering, whats Squire Xiaos background?" Lu Sheng could not hold back his question any further.
Right from the beginning, Taoist Bai Feng did not introduce Xiao Hongyes background. But judging from how much he knew of Noble Families, he was clearly from no ordinary background.
"Brother Lu, looks like youve reached the end of your patience after all, eh?" Xiao Hongye began laughing instantly, covering his mouth with his fan.
"Your brother here is nothing but a small supervisor in Ashoka Manor. Im not in the same league as those two, whore the pride of their Noble Families."
"Ashoka Manor?" Lu Sheng was stunned.
A name instantly came to his mindDuke Ashoka.
The Liu Family sisters and Li Shunxi had both been connected somehow to Duke Ashoka. The Liu sisters were being hunted, while Li Shengxis family had been massacred. They were both the works of none other than Duke Ashoka.
And now, this Duke Ashoka was connected even to the Noble Families. Lu Sheng now understood the kind of circles that Duke Ashoka was involved with.
Lu Sheng chatted further and dined with them. By the time Lu Sheng led his men out from the Prefectural Commandants Manor, it was already the Hai hour (i.e. between 10 11 p.m.).
The men from the Prefectural Commandants Manor prepared an ox carriage to send Lu Sheng and his men back to the Crimson Whale.
Without any conversation, the ox carriage soon arrived outside the Crimson Whale, where they were welcomed by Hong Mingzi.
Half of the upper echelon of the sect had lost their lives. But the ruins from the fire on the Crimson Whale had mostly been cleared. Some disciples were moving newly purchased items up the ships tower to replace those that had been damaged.
Cries and mourning from the families of the deceased sect members could be heard coming from the deck.
When Lu Sheng alighted, he was greeted by wisps of white smoke rising from the deck. Those were the smoke produced by the burning of incense paper for the deceased.
"How did it go, Junior Apprentice Brother?" Hong Mingzi stepped forward.
"We chose the Shangyang Family. Its confirmed. Their representative, Shangyang Jiuli, has already headed for Scarlet District in person. All we need to do is to wait for news," Lu Sheng replied swiftly.
"Thats great thats great!!" Hong Mingzi heaved a sigh of relief. Beside him, many Elders visibly relaxed. Clearly, they were a bundle of nerves right before that.
"Sect Master, Im afraid we cant relax yet. Too many sect disciples died earlier. We suffered at least a hundred casualties. The condolence money" an Elder stepped forward.
"Give a hundred taels of silver to each family as condolence. For those thatre really in dire straits, note them down so that we can take care of them in the future," Lu Sheng replied.
"Alright!" the Elder nodded.
Lu Sheng added, "Be sure not to let down our brothers who fought for the sect with their lives."
Under the present context, his arrangements were considered generous.
In most sects, if a member had passed on, a dozen taels of silver was already considered a generous amount of condolence money. Who would throw away tens of thousands of silver away in one breath like him?
"Alright, Senior Apprentice Brother, lets get back on the ship before discussing further," Lu Sheng suggested.
The rest of them followed suit, entering a study on the fourth story of the Crimson Whale.
Quickly, Lu Sheng recounted the fruits of his trip to Hong Mingzi.
"Right now, were in a bad position. Given that we once worked for another Noble Family, its only a matter of time before were kicked out of our positions by their people to secure their grasp over the sect. Even if Shangyang Jiuli doesnt yet have that intention," Hong Mingzi frowned.
"Theres no need to worry about that for the time being. I surmise that Shangyang Family has come to the Northern Lands just to occupy a bridgehead. They probably wont send much of their force here," Lu Sheng responded. He chose Shangyang Family mainly because Shangyang Jiuli seemed stronger and would be able to hold her ground quickly. Otherwise, he really had no means of defense if Scarlet District began striking at ordinary sect disciples immediately before any settlement could be achieved with them. Apart from that, there was no real practical difference between choosing either Noble Family.
"In that case, a power vacuum might emerge in the Northern Lands in the near future?" Hong Mingzi replied worriedly.
"Perhaps. Zhen Family has fled with the treasure. Our future depends on Shangyang Familys attitude. Now that weve changed sides, weve got to act with caution lest we commit some taboo," Lu Sheng said calmly.
"That ought to be," Hong Mingzi nodded. He bent down in another fit of coughs. "Im just worried that Scarlet District would not let matters rest so easily."
"Thats a matter for Shangyang Family to handle," Lu Sheng responded, hoisting up Shangyang Familys stone medallion for Hong Mingzi to see.
The two of them continued analyzing the situation. After that, they headed to the hall and announced the news to the rest of the sects upper echelon.
"Is that to say that our feud with Scarlet District has come to an end? Just like that?" Chen Ying was first to ask.
"After this fight, Crimson Whale Sect has suffered grave losses. We need to go into hibernation to rebuild our strength now. By dawn, everything should have been settled," Lu Sheng sat on his seat and sighed in relief.
"What Shangyang Family can do is to neutralize the threat of Scarlet District. Weve still got to rely on ourselves for the rest. As for their management, itd probably be even more lax than when Zhen Family was around."
"Lets first settle the funeral for our fallen comrades before talking about the rest," Hong Mingzi sighed. Although he was no longer the Sect Master, he remained Lu Shengs senior apprentice brother, an expert of Crimson Sun Sect. His words still carried great weight.
"Senior Apprentice Brother is right. We should first take stock of the situation in the sect," Lu Sheng nodded.
Once he received confirmation from Shangyang Jiuli about the situation with Scarlet District, he intended to consolidate his control over Crimson Whale Sect and manage the funeral matters of deceased disciples. His being mistaken for being of Nobleman lineage had given him access to much secret intelligence, which needed proper digesting.
Most valuably, he finally ascertained where he stood in the Noblemens system of levels.