"An invitation to a gathering in the city?" Lu Sheng stared in surprise at the invitation Jade Lotus had delivered in person.
The invitation was made of black embossed gold. Words danced across the page, and the ink carried a hint of the color of blood. Lu Sheng wondered what material it had been made of.
"Er Squire Xiao Sheng brought it in person to the branch," Jade Lotus whispered. "Your subordinate thought that it was rather urgent, so sent it here as soon as I can."
Jade Lotus knew that Squire Xiao was no trifling character. Hence, an invitation that Xiao Hongye had delivered in person naturally had to be treated with extraordinary importance.
Lu Sheng sat in his study and gently flipped open the invitation.
"To Sect Master Lu: Its been a long time. A senior from my house has come and hopes to meet Sect Master. Xiao Hongye."
The contents were simple and its meaning clear.
Lu Sheng folded the invitation.
"Alright, carry on with your duties. I got it."
"Yes, sir." Jade Lotus slowly retreated.
As he left, he unintentionally caught sight of a lady dressed entirely in black, standing behind Lu Sheng.
The lady was wrapped up in her pitch black long robes which hid her silhouette. The only signs that revealed her gender were her gloved hands and long hair, in which a hairpin nested.
Perhaps its a new expert recruited by Sect Master, he guessed.
Lu Sheng waited till Jade Lotus had gone out of the room, then put the invitation on the desk.
Ashoka Manors man is here and has even asked me over. Are they suspicious? Or do they simply wish to borrow the strength of my sect to investigate?
With two Officiators killed, there was no way Ashoka Manor could sweep it under the rug. Especially when Bai Jiang was a top expert at the peak of Seven-Vein Level. Such an expert would be a big shot and a prized asset no matter where you put him.
Lu Sheng glanced at the umbrella girl beside him. Yin Crane Web was sticking more roots into her incessantly, absorbing her strength like a parasite. It was growing thicker.
If, perhaps, it was previously possible to expel the Yin Crane Web by cutting off part of her body, it was now impossible to do so even if her entire body was blown up.
This process was Assimilation.
"When night falls, stay at home. Dont go running about."
The umbrella girl shrunk into herself in fear and hurriedly nodded.
Lu Sheng shook his head and shut his eyes to begin meditating. Ever since coming back, he had tried hasten the incubation of his bodyto no avail. Yin Qi could only be used to upgrade other martial arts, not help the incubation caused by the merging of Yin and Yang.
All he could do was wait.
After settling some more sect matters, he meditated till night fell.
Then, with Xu Chui and Ning San, he boarded a horse carriage and left the Crimson Whale for Mountain-Edge City quietly.
"Recently, Miss Yunxi would often tour the painting wall by the lake to admire the paintings. And she would ask for news about you from Old Hei at the painting wall," Xu Chui reported softly in the carriage.
Ning San drove the carriage along, pretending to be oblivious to all sounds. He might not have been learnt, yet he was very street-smart.
"Painting wall by the lake? Whos this Old Hei dude?" Lu Sheng asked.
Xu Chui glanced at Lu Sheng to confirm that his boss wasnt upset before he continued, "Old Hei is the father of a deceased Internal Affairs Emissary in the sect. Because he used to be an accountant of the sect, he still retains some influence even after retiring and is privy to many secret news."
"Since Yunxi wants to find out news about me, and I havent got anything to hide, then let her carry on," Lu Sheng said causally.
"Understood, sir. Ill instruct the brothers from Soaring Eagle Squad to take pains to ensure Young Miss Chen Yunxis safety," Xu Chui said respectfully.
The longer he spent serving this Sect Master, the more he felt that there were profound depths to him.
Not to mention that he was only on the verge of breaking through to Intent Proficiency. Even Spirit Focus experts, who were above Intent Proficiency experts, had long since ceased to be a match for the Sect Master.
At that thought, a trace of passion flashed across Xu Chuis eyes. He found it a great blessing to follow and serve such a powerful sect master.
Lu Sheng glanced at him and suddenly thought of Yin Crane Web. If he could test the effectiveness of the Yin Crane Web on Song Zhenguo, perhaps he could do it on this subordinate who had been following him for a while.
In the past few days, things had happened one after the other.
Li Shunxi had departed and he had obtained the map of Martial League and the location of precious herbs. He had killed the second Officiator and destroyed the headquarters of Scarlet District. He had been through more encounters in the past few days than he had in all the time before that combined.
In order to prevent the Noble Families from discovering that he was purely a mortal martial arts practitioner, he had no choice but to leave no one alive in Scarlet District. But Lu Sheng could not be sure how many were left who had witnessed him killing the Officiator back in Twin Eagle City.
Although Shangyang Family could deter others and did not fear Ashoka Manor, Lu Sheng hated trouble. If he could reduce or minimize it, then things were all the more better.
"My Lord, weve arrived at Xiao Manor." The carriage driver Ning Sans voice rang out.
Lu Sheng parted the curtain and alighted. Xu Chui alighted too and followed close behind him. Under the flattering welcome of the doorkeeper, the two of them strolled into Xiao Manor.
"Welcome, Sect Master Lu." Xiao Hongye walked out with a wide grin and cupped his fists. His red and gold squire robes made him look wealthy and materialistic rather than carrying the aura of a spokesman of Ashoka Manor.
"Lets cut to the chase, Old Xiao. Wheres the senior from your house? Ive got a lot of duties on hand, but I rushed over the moment I got your letter," Lu Sheng said with great familiarity.
"My seniors inside. Brother Lu, youll see him once you enter." Xiao Hongye grinned.
Lu Sheng smiled and nodded and entered the main hall with Xiao Hongye, leaving Xu Chui to wait outside.
In the main hall was seated a middle-aged man, who rather resembled Xiao Hongye. He, too, was dressed in a merchants clothing and looked rather amicable. Unlike Xiao Hongye, however, he seemed like one with more profound depths to him.
At the first sight of him, Lu Shengs heart skipped a beat. He felt as if a faint stench was emanating in the entire main hallthe stench of fish. And he also felt a subtle pressure, as if every gesture and movement by the man before his eyes influenced the physical space in the hall.
"Im the Deputy Manor Lord of Ashoka Manor, Ye Moling." The middle-aged man looked peacefully at Lu Sheng who was entering through the doors.
The mans penetrating gaze fell on him like stabbing needles. Lu Shengs face lurched, but he quickly plastered on a smile and bowed towards Ye Moling.
"Shangyang Family, Crimson Whale Sect, Sect Master Lu Sheng. Greetings to Manor Lord Ye."
"Dont stand on ceremony. Ive asked you to come here because I wish to borrow Crimson Whale Sects power as the local hegemon to investigate a certain matter." Instead of beating around the bush, Ye Moling explained the disappearance of the first Officiator directly. "I hear that you were one of the eye-witnesses that night? What happened exactly? Reiterate it."
Lu Sheng quickly went over with him what he knew. Of course, half of it were lies.
"In other words, you only heard the sounds of their battle from afar, but did not see the fight itself? And you were injured by the aftershocks of the battle?" Ye Moling did not question how a Three-Vein Level expert would be injured by it. He clearly knew that Bai Jiang was a top-notch expert who was half a step into Seven-Vein Level. Even the force of a flippant palm strike would carry terrifying destructive power and lethal poison. It wasnt strange at all that a Three-Vein expert would be injured.
"Thats right." Lu Sheng bowed his head.
"And did you send anyone to investigate it afterwards?" Ye Moling did not carry high hopes but asked anyway.
"I did. Young Miss Jiuli also specially instructed us to investigate. Apart from marks of a great battle, we couldnt find any leads. Weve got no idea who is the murderer and whats his or her motive," Lu Sheng answered respectfully.
Ye Moling scrutinized him for a while, then frowned suddenly.
"Youre aura, why has it gotten weaker?" It was not the aura of a Three-Vein Level expert. In fact, it could barely even be considered that of a Single-Vein. His aura was too weak; it was nearly the same as an ordinary martial arts practitioner.
At that, Lu Sheng immediately put on a grimace of pain on his face. "My previous injuries havent recovered" he had not expected the effect of Yin Crane Web to be so potent that it could even hide his aura from the great expert before him.
"Is it an injury to your black membrane? I understand. Its been hard on you. Please send my greetings to Young Miss Jiuli." Ye Moling pressured Lu Sheng no further. Plainly put, the Sect Master of Crimson Whale Sect belonged to Shangyang Family. Moreover, he was a Three-Vein Level asset. And now he had been wounded out of the blue by their own Officiator; it was Ashoka Manors fault no matter how one looked at it.
It was already nice of Shangyang Family not to have pursued responsibility on account of the Officiators disappearance.
"I will certainly deliver your greetings, Manor Lord. Your subordinate will now take his leave," Lu Sheng said respectfully.
"Mm. Go ahead." Ye Moling had not carried high hopes right from the start. Lu Sheng was merely one source of information. He had also questioned many people in the Northern Lands before him, and many more were waiting to be questioned after Lu Sheng.
In the same manner as before, he exited the main hall.
Ye Moling sat up straight on his seat. Only when Lu Sheng had left completely did he glance to his right.
Xiao Hongye walked forward and whispered, "Its Yun Xiu Halls men. From another city."
"Mm." Ye Moling lifted his tea cup to his mouth and sipped on it. He did not like this job, but had no choice but to interrogate them personally.
Not only because he was the Deputy Manor Lord, but also because he had the ability to discern the cultivation level of others.
Just like Lu Sheng, for instance. Although he was the Sect Master of Crimson Whale Sect and was supposedly even a Three-Vein expert on par with the umbrella girl, one look at him earlier showed that his aura was impeded and his black membrane hardly visible. He was no different from a mortally wounded Nobleman.
But naturally, Ye Moling could also tell that this mans original strength must have been pretty decent too somewhere around the pinnacle of Three-Vein Level.
"Send the next one in. Lets take a look first," he sipped his tea again.
Coming out of the main hall with his head bowed, Lu Shengs eyes sparkled.
A Manor Lord from Ashoka Manor has come!
He might look calm and composed on the surface, but a sense of crisis was in actual fact arising in him.
Ye Moling seemed like an amicable person who would not exert pressure on others; but that was true only because Lu Sheng belonged to Shangyang Family.
Without this coverwithout Shangyang Jiulis backing behind himLu Sheng did not think that he would continue talking to him so politely.
I wonder if the present me is a match for this man? Without actually fighting him, Lu Sheng was uncertain. Judging based on aura alone, this man was absolutely stronger than Bai Jiang. And not by just a single level.
If the present me were to face Bai Jiang again Lu Shengs eyes narrowed as he compared. Id at most be slightly stronger than him. Doubly pressured, Lu Sheng strode out of Xiao Manor in big steps. That was when he met several extraordinary looking middle-aged men who were entering the manor.
The leader among them quickly cupped his fists at the sight of Lu Sheng.
"This lowly man, Huang Qiuyuan, greets Sect Master Lu."