Xu Chui glanced at Lu Sheng and got his nod of approval. He drove the carriage behind the man, walking along the street for a stretch further. Soon, a giant four-story vermilion tower entered their view.
The tower had white roofs and vermilion walls. A giant pair of copper scissors, looking extraordinarily sharp and with the height of a grown man, hung on the main doors. But upon closer inspection, one could tell that it was merely a decoration embedded into the door.
Behind the tower was a wide courtyard.
In front of the main doors stood a slender, long-haired lady wearing a light green gauze dress. A long sword was strapped to her back.
Seeing Lu Sheng and Xu Chuis arrival, her eyes lit up and she quickly stepped forward in welcome.
"May I know if you are the esteemed representatives from Crimson Whale Sect?"
"We are. You must be Young Miss Dong Qi of Tea Sect?" Xu Chui smiled in reply. "My Lord has come in person to handle the matter. Please show us the way."
Lu Sheng stepped out of the carriage slowly. His present body was much more normal-looking than his previous exaggerated, muscular physique. A layer of short, fine hair was growing out of his head. At the very least, he no longer looked as tyrannical and savage as before.
Even then, however, Dong Qi felt a murderous aura pouncing at her when she first lay her sight on Lu Sheng.
The two giant cleavers strapped behind Lu Shengs back already told her that this was the boss who was coming to settle the matter.
"May I know how I should address you, esteemed representative? This junior is Dong Qi, daughter of the current sect master of Tea Sect, handling all matters in the sect for now," she asked somberly.
"My last name is Lu. Miss Dong Qi, please introduce to us the situation in the sect," Lu Sheng did not introduce himself in detail. Naturally, it was better if news of his identity of sect master did not spread carelessly.
"So its esteemed representative Lu. Please follow me," color seemed to return to Dong Qis face. She had suffered a great deal during the recent nights, having had nightmares constantly every night. Now, their savior had finally arrived. Crimson Whale Sect was no newbie to handling such matters; previously, Tea Sect had also requested for Crimson Whale Sect experts, who had resolved the matters satisfactorily before. Thus, she had hope.
Presently, she led the duo including Lu Sheng into the Holy Fame Plaza behind her.
They crossed the central room to the side courtyard, where a sumptuous spread lay waiting, clearly prepared for hosting the two of them.
After inviting Lu Sheng and Xu Chui into their seats, she finally recounted in great detail all that had happened in Tea Sect till now.
"This is what happened," a trace of sorrow appeared on Dong Qis face as she recounted from memory, "more than a year ago, there was an incident that occurred in our sect in the beginning of spring. It was also because of this incident that led to my dad, my uncle, as well as many of the higher ranks, landing into trouble one by one."
"What incident? Young Miss Dong, please speak your mind," Lu Sheng occupied the space meant for two people. His lips pursed lightly as he lifted the wine cup.
Dong Qi nodded. After regaining her composure, she continued, "Then, my dad, who is also the Tea Sect's Sect Master Dong Shengping, met with the current Sect Pharmacist Zhuo Qingyang on one of his trips outside to examine the tea mountains.
My dad and Zhuo Qingyang hit it off really well, and would often stay up late into the night to converse by candlelight. They would do so for many nights without sleeping.
In the beginning, I and my uncles all believed that the two of them were really talking about anything and everything under the sun. However, once, I unintentionally awoke in the middle of the night and passed by daddys room, and that was when I noticed something strange."
"What was it?" Lu Sheng asked. Ever since entering this Holy Fame Plaza, he had felt as if something was off, as if it was somehow lacking that bit of liveliness.
"I peeped and saw that daddy and that Zhuo Qingyang were actually not chatting at all. Rather, they were in the room, kneeling down and kowtowing fervently to a stained glass mirror that was as tall as a man. I was really afraid, because I saw that daddy and Zhuo Qingyang were chanting something as they were bowing. Their faces were also somewhat pale, and I ran away as fast as I could.
The next day, I went to ask my daddy about it, but he actually actually" Dong Qi lowered her head as she paused. "He actually couldn't remember a single thing, and even said that I was spouting nonsense."
"Couldnt remember? Really couldn't remember, or pretended not to remember?" Lu Sheng asked through narrowed eyes.
"I am very, very close to daddy. I lost my mother when I was young, and it was daddy who had singlehandedly raised me. Therefore, I am intimately familiar with all of his habits and mannerisms," Dong Qi explained. "I can tell very clearly that he had really forgotten that those things had ever happened."
"He really couldn't remember?" Lu Sheng narrowed his eyes and slowed his breathing. From the corner of his eyes, his gaze swept past the willow trees that were growing in the courtyard.
Willow trees were of the Yin nature. To grow willow trees at home, and more than one at that, was out of the ordinary for the common family.
"Please continue," he motioned to Dong Qi.
Dong Qi nodded, before adding, "From that day onward, I would sneak to daddys room and peek in. Sometimes, I would also call others along. Each time, however, daddy was sound asleep as per normal and there were no strange occurrences. As time passed, this matter also landed on a backseat.
Until, one day" Dong Qis expression suddenly distorted into intense pain. She lowered her head, her hands clenched tightly into fists. Her body began to tremble uncontrollably. "I really really do not wish to remember the scene from that day" she began to cry softly as she continued.
Lu Sheng didn't respond. As he gave a sign to Xu Chui who stood by the side, the latter immediately came forward to console Dong Qi.
Meanwhile, Lu Sheng took this opportunity to assess the layout of the house.
There were six willow trees growing in the middle of the courtyard. Their branches hung low as their leaves swayed in the wind.
The roof and the walls of the house were rather old and mottled in many areas with age. Fine green moss had also grown in many places on the stone-brick ground.
The entire plaza courtyard was very quiet. The servant-maids that waited by the side all seemed extremely dispirited and lifeless, their eyes rimmed by dark circles. They seemed to be in an absent-minded trance as a result of severe lack of rest.
There was also a corridor that led from the courtyard to the sleeping quarters in the inner yard.
Lu Shengs gaze followed that stretch of corridor and scanned along its length, but could only detect dismal pitch-blackness within. Gusts of cold wind blew faintly from it, carrying with it a bone-chilling Yin coolness.
After Xu Chui consoled Dong Qi for a while, she seemed to recover and continued, "My daddy went out to patrol, but what returned... was a corpse even the corpse was damaged beyond recognition after crying my heart out for many days, I vowed to find the culprit, and then went to find that Pharmacist Zhuo Qingyang.
But that person seemed very strange. Although he said many consoling words on the surface, they sounded very awkward.
I then became somewhat suspicious. Subsequently, I asked my uncles to keep an eye on him, but no one could have expected that not long after, my uncles also disappeared" at this point, Dong Qi could no longer rein in her tears, which fell like a waterfall down her face.
"What about that pharmacist?" Lu Sheng interrupted to ask.
"Still in the sect he didn't leave, and no one dared to make him leave. There are a few other higher ranks in the sect leftthey would visit his room every night, doing god-knows-what.
In the day, everyone behaves normally, but in the night" traces of fear and worry could be seen on Dong Qis face. "What I fear now is that the entire Tea Sect would end up like my daddy, and be utterly destroyed. That's why I had no other choice but to invite you esteemed representatives to come forth to investigate into the matter"
Lu Sheng clarified a few other details again and got a rough understanding of what had happened.
"Oh, yes. Have you seen that stained glass mirror that your dad and that pharmacist knelt in front of?" He asked somberly.
"Yes I have, its placed precisely in that Pharmacist Zhuo Qingyangs room. Other than when he needs to relieve himself, that mirror never leaves his side, not even if he was eating, sleeping, or doing any other thing. I snuck in to take a look once when he was out at the latrine. It didn't seem any different from an ordinary stained glass mirror, except that it seemed to reflect everything rather clearly," Dong Qi replied hastily.
"Stained glass mirrors are much more fragile than copper mirrors, but its surface can reflect extremely clearly. Usually, one can only lay his hands on a mirror such as this in Ju Rong Nation, and at an exorbitant price at that. Have you ever asked that pharmacist how he was able to acquire it?" Xu Chui couldn't help but interrupt.
Dong Qi shook her head.
"That pharmacist is extremely eccentric. Youll know what I mean when you see him. I don't dare to see him alone at all."
Lu Sheng nodded and rose. "Alright. Bring me to see that Pharmacist Zhuo Qingyang now. Theres no time for delay."
"Right now?" Dong Qi hadnt expected that Lu Sheng would be so swift and decisive. He had only just finished hearing the situation, and already wanted to look into the matter.
"Yes, right now."
Dong Qi hesitated for a long while before rising slowly.
"Ill bring you there the pharmacists room is in the most remote corner of the inner yard. Please follow me," she rose unhurriedly and led the duo including Lu Sheng towards the corridor that led to the inner yard.
As Lu Sheng followed after her, he turned back to glance at the servant-maids who had approached to clear the dishes.
These servant-maids eyes were dazed and lifeless, and they moved as if they didn't have an ounce of strength left in them. They seemed to be extremely deprived of sleep as they moved around like puppets with a dazed expression on their faces.
The trio walked along the pitch-black corridor to quickly arrive at another spacious little courtyard, from where they passed through a pair of arched doors on the left. After passing through three such arched doors consecutively, they finally arrived at a cold, desolate courtyard.
Two strapping men in athletic robes stood watch by the entrance to the courtyard, yawning to the high heavens. As soon as they saw Dong Qi approaching, they scurried over in greeting.
After Dong Qi conversed for a moment with the two guards, she turned around to speak to Lu Sheng, "This is the courtyard of where the pharmacist stays. The both of you"
"Lets enter directly," Lu Sheng strode into the courtyard like a boss.
Leaves were strewn all over the ground of the courtyard, which flew about in the wind and produced rustling sounds.
There was even a puppet that hung from the roof of the house that appeared to be made of gauze. Two small arms and two sticks for its legs dangled from the palm-sized puppet, which was entirely gray in color. There was even jet-black hair that fell unruly from its head, covering more than half of its face.
Lu Sheng walked over and looked at that puppet.
Looking past the strands of black hair, he could make out a face withinsomeone had used red paint to mark out a pair of eyes and a mouth. The eyes were extremely lifelike and seemed to be smiling.
The mouth, however, curved down at its corners, as if it was very unhappy.
Lu Sheng looked at the puppet, but didn't pay it any more attention. He headed straight for the door to the sleeping quarters.
"My Lord, let me," Xu Chui hurried forward to hold him back.
Lu Sheng shook his head, "Its fine, Ill do it. You pay attention to the surroundings."
Xu Chui nodded and walked to the side, paying rapt attention to all four directions.
"Dong dong dong."
Lu Sheng reached out to knock onto the door. There was no response.
"Dong dong dong."
He knocked again. Still, there wasn't any response.
"Perhaps hes gone to do his business?" Dong Qi spoke up softly from behind.
"Do you have keys?" Lu Sheng turned around and asked.
"No I don't," Dong Qi shook her head. She was scared to death right now. Most of the people in the sect were presently under the sole command of the pharmacist, and the situation had turned extremely eerie. It was with great trouble that she had used her power to send someone to deliver a letter to Crimson Whale Sect.
Under such circumstances, there was of course no way that she could have the keys to the pharmacists room.
"Then well wait for that person to arrive," of course, Lu Sheng wouldn't just listen to Dong Qis one-sided account of the incident. Investigations of this sort naturally had to take into consideration the other parties accounts as well. Otherwise, if Dong Qi was the one with the problem and wished to frame and harm the pharmacist or others in the sect, and he made his move without checking first, then he would have barked up the wrong tree.