The three of them stood before the door for a while. Before long, someone entered the courtyard from the entrance.
"Is Pharmacist Qingyang here?" An emaciated white-haired elder stumbled into the courtyard. Black eye-bags were clearly visible on his face, making him look haggard and unkempt. He tripped and fell before the door, then slapped the door with all his strength.
"Elder Yu!?" Dong Qi was alarmed. "How did you become like this?"
The old man seemed to notice Dong Qi only now. He craned his neck to look at Lu Sheng and Xu Chui, who were standing beside her.
"Oh, its niece Dong. Long time no see this old man has some matters to discuss with the pharmacist. Have you seen Pharmacist Qingyang?"
"No we havent. We just got here too" Dong Qi replied softly.
Disappointed, the old man sighed, then turned to leave without even bothering to ask who Lu Sheng was.
A while later, many more came looking for the pharmacist. Upon discovering that he was not present, they looked exceptionally disappointed. These were all the upper echelon of Tea Sect. But one trait was shared by all of themheavy eye bags and a look of not having slept for days.
Lu Sheng noticed that they were all unsettled, in panic, and dazed, as if they had seen something wrong.
The three of them waited in the courtyard for an hour. Finally, a white-haired, hump-backed old man slowly entered into the courtyard.
"Niece Dong youve come" the old mans expression was wooden, with a tinge of green. "Have you come to look at my precious mirror too? No problem, uncle will take you in for a look now," his words should clearly have been spoken with an intimate tone. Yet he spoke with a dazed and flat tone, making himself sound really strange and awkward.
"The thing is, Uncle Qingyang, my two friends would like to take a look at the mirror too. Is that alright?" Dong Qi squeezed a smile out on her face and whispered to the old man.
"Of course, why wouldnt it be?" Zhuo Qingyang plastered on an eccentric smile as he stared at Lu Sheng and Xu Chui.
"Come on, Ill let you take a good look at it," he fished out his key and unlocked the big lock hanging on his door. Then he pushed the door open and entered.
Dong Qi shrank into herself and looked at Lu Sheng.
Lu Sheng nodded at her. Slowly, she stepped inside, followed by the two of them.
It was a very ordinary bedroom. The only thing that set it apart from other rooms was a giant stained glass mirror, which was as tall as a man.
The mirror faced the door. The first thing one saw as one opened the door and entered was ones own reflection in the mirror.
It wasnt anything novel to Lu Sheng, but it was the first time Xu Chui had seen a stained glass mirror. Piqued by curiosity, he sized up his own reflection in the mirror, clearly intrigued.
"Look at it as you please this old man is tired. Im going to lie down for a while" Zhuo Qingyang sighed, shuffled to his bed, then lay down and slept without a care in the world.
Lu Sheng had intended to ask him some questions. However, one look at this man told him that something was amiss about him. His mannerism was more or less the same as that of othersdazed and weak (much weaker than Dong Qi). Since he was the one that had brought the mirror here, and had even spent day and night with the mirror, how could he be as ordinary as the rest of them?
Now, he was convinced by Dong Qis theory. There was truly something fishy going on with this Pharmacist Zhuo Qingyang.
"Lets take a look at the mirror first," Lu Sheng headed straight for the stained glass mirror.
The mirror comprised a rectangular frame and a large oval mirror within it. The frame was made of copper and carved with countless intricate patterns.
Lu Sheng walked to the front of the mirror and gently caressed the patterns with his finger.
Three types of animal patters had been carved on the frame: the phoenix, the fox, and the dog.
All three types of animals appeared strangely elongated and ancient, as if they were dancing and racing around the mirror.
Xu Chui, on the other hand, was staring at Zhuo Qingyang who was asleep on the bed.
"Hes not concerned in the least that we might damage his mirror. This is a stained glass mirror! Its a priceless rare gem."
"Perhaps he knows that we cannot possibly damage it," Lu Sheng replied emotionlessly. He flipped the mirror around with a light shove of his hand, his massive strength allowing him to ignore the fact that it weighted more than a hundred catties.
The copper frame behind the mirror was also carved with many animal motifs. Apart from that, the back of the mirror looked coarse and rough, as if someone had scratched it with a knife.
"On the back there seems to be words there."
Xu Chui leaned in to examine it.
"Ive seen such words. It looks like Tang wordsthe official language of the previous dynasty. It was in vogue for a while at that time. But, because it was impractical and problem-laden, it was abandoned gradually."
"Tang words? Can you understand what it means?" Lu Sheng had some impression of the orthography. He seemed to have come across it in some books he had read in the past.
"I cant your subordinate has heard it only from my father, who in turn heard it from a certain old man. Also, because the first line of my family motto was written in Tang words, Im familiar with how it looks. But I cant read it," Xu Chui shook his head. Clearly, he had come from a learned and erudite background.
Lu Sheng caressed the words on the back of the stained-glass mirror. There were three of them, each containing at least fifteen strokes and above.
"In that case, who might be able to read it?" Lu Shengs eyes glanced at Zhuo Qingyang subconsciously.
"Let let me go wake him up" Dong Qi sucked in a huge breath of air, knowing that she had to be the one to do it. However, while she remained afraid, her fears were being allayed by the presence of two others and the fact that it was broad daylight.
Lu Sheng and Xu Chui nodded at her, giving her the go-ahead to wake him up.
Dogn Qi hesitated and was about to approach the bed when Zhuo Qingyang rose stiffly from the bed without warning. He stared blankly at the three of them, "Is anything the matter?"
Dong Qi quickly stepped forward and introduced Lu Sheng and Xu Chui. Seeing lack of expression on Zhuo Qingyangs face, she mentioned the matter about the words on the back of the mirror.
"Oh, that this old man is also unsure what they mean. When I got the mirror, they were carved on it. At first, I thought they were merely carved patterns. Only later did I realize that someone else had etched them on the mirror with a knife."
"You really dont know?" Lu Sheng walked to the side of the bed, staring at Zhuo Qingyang from above.
The bulging muscles on him made him look thrice as large as the old man. He seemed like he could pinch Zhuo Qingyang to his death with one hand.
"This old man really doesnt but if esteemed representative wants to know what they mean, you can look them up in the dictionary. Sect master has collected a series of official Song language dictionaries commissioned by the Royal Family. Its priceless in value and can be found in the study."
"In that case, Ill bring this mirror along with me. After checking it up, Ill return it to you. Would that be a problem?" Lu Sheng gazed intently at Zhuo Qingyang.
Upon hearing, however, Zhuo Qingyang merely laughed.
"Of course it isnt. Please do as you like, esteemed representative," he seemed unconcerned at all about the mirror he had once prized above his life.
This man behaved strangely indeed. Even after knowing that Lu Sheng was the esteemed representative from Crimson Whale Sect, he still dared to speak to him on the bed, chucking all manners and customs to the wind. Yet, when he spoke, it was with a tone of respect.
Lu Sheng sized up Zhuo Qingyang once more. No matter how he looked at him, he could detect nothing out of the ordinary about him. Whether it was his breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, etc., he was at best an ordinary old man who had once practiced martial arts but was presently in a weak physical state.
"Alright then. Xu Chui, carry the mirror out. Were going to the study," Lu Sheng instructed.
"Yes, My Lord."
Xu Chui spoke a few words with Dong Qi. Before long, two guards on sentry outside were summoned. Together, the three of them lifted the stained-glass mirror and quickly left for the study.
Lu Sheng noticed that Zhuo Qingyang remained seated on the bed from beginning to end, watching them impassively as they lifted the mirror.
After the trio including Xu Chui left, Dong Qi followed behind them in the direction of the study, leaving behind Lu Sheng in the room alone with Zhuo Qingyang.
"Pharmacist Qingyang, Im sure you know my purpose for coming on this trip?" Lu Sheng growled. "Its to investigate the mysterious disappearances of so many people some time back, as well as the cause of Sect Master Dong Shengpings death. Regarding this matter, have you got any leads to provide me with?"
Without batting an eyelid, Zhuo Qingyangs neck turned stiffly towards Lu Sheng.
"What lead does esteemed representative seek? Sect Master Dong Shengping was not killed by me. His disappearance has got nothing to do with this old man either. Its pointless asking me."
"Im questioning you because youre the biggest suspect," Lu Sheng replied. "If you cant wash yourself clean of suspicion, then Im left with no choice but to arrest you. In our eyes, whichever method solves the case fastest is the correct method," a threatening look flashed across his face as he stared at Zhuo Qingyang.
"I dont know anything" Zhuo Qingyang said dazedly. "Arrest me if you must. Do whatever you want."
Lu Sheng was thrown off. He had not expected such a reply.
After staring at Zhuo Qingyang for a few seconds, he humphed coldly and turned to leave.
When the stained-glass mirror was moved to the study, Lu Sheng made Xu Chui and Dong Qi check the official Song language dictionaries to figure out the meaning behind the words on the back of the mirror.
Before long, they figured it out.
"My Lord, weve figured it out. The three words are count, to, and ten."
Xu Chui reported to Lu Sheng, who was sipping on some tea in the main hall. Behind him, Dong Qis face turned as white as a sheet of paper.
"Count to ten?"
Lu Sheng stared at her, confused. What did it mean? The three words came out of the blue and he could make neither head nor tail out of it.
"Esteemed representative theres something you should know. In the past few days, Ive been having a recurring dream. It's a nightmare about a little girl playing hide-and-seek, abandoned by her playmates in a field of hay.
The little girl in my nightmare was called Ling Ling. And, she was playing a game called Count to Ten" Dong Qis face was drained of all color.
"Oh?" Lu Shengs eyes narrowed at Dong Qi. "Describe the dream to me in detail."
Dong Qi bit her lower lip, her heart racing madly.
"The dream goes like this" she described the dream in vivid detail.
"What happened to the little girl, Ling Ling, in the end? Where did she go?" Xu Chui could not help but ask.
"Ive no idea probably, nothing good" Dong Qi panted. Her breathing became constricted even from simply recalling the dream.
"Lets go take a look at the mirror again," Lu Sheng stood up and emptied the cup of tea down to its dregs.
The three of them headed towards the study together.
Two men had been stationed to stand guard outside the study by Dong Qi so that no one else could come near. Seeing that the three of them had come, both of them bowed in greeting.
"Esteemed representative, Young Miss, youve come. The stuffs inside. Absolutely no one has been inside."