Keeping the intricate book, Lu Sheng cast his glance towards the love knot.
On the surface, it looked like a coarsely made simple pink love knot. But for it to have survived intact in such raging fire and huge explosions, it had to be something special.
Picking up the love knot, Lu Sheng thought for a while and decided to keep it in the black pouch in the end.
At last, he surveyed his surroundings. The raging fire was still spreading and thick smoke billowed out of it. Before long, it would surely alert the attention of other powerful beings.
'Even the mere corpses of these Snake realm experts are no ordinary objects how do I bring them all back without leaving a trace?' He frowned.
Suddenly, from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a small covered boat, which had been washed to a nook.
There was no way for him to carry the corpses of the titans with him; they were too heavy and too huge to be hidden. But the other corpses were easy.
He stuffed Scarlet District Mistress, Yingying, and Ye Moling's remains into the covered boat.
The rain pelted down more and more heavily on the fire and then rose up again as a thick mist, as it evaporated into steam.
Lu Sheng stood on the bow of the boat, an oar appearing in his hand out of nowhere. Pushing and shoving, he set the boat on course upstream.
Duke Ashoka caressed the red jadeite thumb ring on his thumb as he stood in the garden. The gorgeous display of floral beauty all around him was lost to him, however.
"Still no news?"
"Yes, sir it's been two weeks without any reply," Deputy Manor Lord Zhao Rong replied politely on the side.
"What on earth is Ye Moling up to?! How about Red-Haired Ghost Zhou He?" Duke Ashoka growled.
"Zhou He's been out investigating without any word from him as well," Zhao Rong replied.
"Are the Northern Lands so jinxed?" Duke Ashoka frowned. "So many experts lost there. And now, even Ye Moling has gone off the grid? What's going on?"
He understood Ye Moling's habits. While this person had too many weaknesses and caused too many concerns, his greatest forte was his punctuality. Since he had promised to report once a week, there should not be any irregularities.
But now, it had been two whole weeks without a word from him.
"Contact Shangyang Jiuli and get her to gather the local forces to investigate. I doubt Shangyang Family would deny us such a small favor," Duke Ashoka said.
A look of discontent flashed across Zhao Rong's eyes. "Your Highness, Ye Moling was an outsider right from the beginning. Perhaps he's turned his back on"
"Shut your mouth!" She did not get to finish her sentence, for Duke Ashoka rebuked her. "Do you know why I'm using him? If only you had any skills other than those on the bed, would I need to appoint an outsider as Deputy Manor Lord? Did you think that I was unaware of his ambition?"
A wronged look immediately appeared on Zhao Rong's face.
Looking at her, Duke Ashoka's heart softened. He pulled her into his embrace and began rubbing and fondling her chest without any restraint.
"I understand it's been tough on you to collect so much good stuff for me all these years. But it's true you can't handle these things."
Zhao Rong leaned on Duke Ashoka. "If Ye Moling really isn't coming back, what do we do?"
"We can't afford to spread ourselves thin anymore. The Royal Family is adding pressure on us, we don't have much time left. Right now, they're just afraid that I'll go all out," Duke Ashoka said worriedly. "Our Ritual Offering in the other sector cannot be delayed any further."
"Zhao Rong understands."
Ye Moling's death did not cause many ripples. Perhaps everyone assumed that he had left secretly. After all, he had cast his lot with Ashoka Manor when he had been down in the dumps; he had not much loyalty to speak of. Apart from Red-Haired Ghost Zhou He who still went all over to search for his boss' whereabouts, only some Ashoka Manor's men searched for him.
But they did not put in much effort into the search. Xiao Hongye was placed in charge of the search. He, too, felt that Ye Moling's disappearance resembled the Officiator's disappearance closely and likely no search would bear any fruits.
Only Red-Haired Ghost Zhou He continued to search everywhere, much like Senior Black before him.
But this time, he was unable to find any leads at all. Unlike Senior Black who at least knew where his master had gone to, Zhou He had completely no idea at all where Ye Moling had gone. All he knew was that Ye Moling was tracking Scarlet District Mistress.
The region in which the valley was situated was a fair distance away from Mountain-Edge City; he had nowhere to start at all.
While Ashoka Manor's reactions were rather muted, Scarlet District Mistress' death caused a much greater hoo-hah.
After all, Scarlet District Mistress' fame and reputation had long since taken root in the hearts of those in the Northern Lands, like Taoist Bai Feng.
The mad woman represented the top band of strength in the Northern Lands. Even Shangyang Jiuli could claim to be her match only after her breakthrough.
Boasting such power, even the slightly weaker Noble Families would not dare to provoke her.
Precisely because of that, however, all factions finally truly understood that she had died when the large amount of wandering ghosts under her control dispersed from Scarlet District headquarters overnight. Her aura and mark had completely vanished.
These wandering ghosts had been controlled by her in person. Only in the event of her death, when they could no longer sense her control over them, would they disperse like that.
Some skeptics who refused to believe it secretly dispatched death squads into Scarlet District's old site, only to discover that it was truly thoroughly emptied.
Immediately, Intelligence Agency began casting its nets everywhere, even deploying the Winged Honor Guard under the pretext of patrolling, to investigate in all directions.
It was at such a time when Shangyang Jiuli finally emerged from solitary confinement.
The dense enormous stone rolled slowly aside, revealing the pitch-black mouth of the cave.
From the depths of the oval cave, a slender figure emerged slowly, her hair long and unkempt under her tall hat.
Stepping into the sunlight, her eyes narrowed to slits. It had been far too long since she had last seen light; her eyes needed time to adjust to the brightness.
"Congratulations, Young Miss, for successfully breaking into a new realm!" A voice rang out beside the mouth of the cave.
"How long has passed?" the figure asked.
"In reply to Young Miss Jiuli, it's been two months." Lu Sheng strolled out of the shadow and stood beside her respectfully.
Dressed in scholarly robes and pale-faced, he reverted back to his original erudite and gentlemanly look again.
"Oh, you've come at the perfect timing." Shangyang Jiuli looked at Lu Sheng in surprise.
This little Sect Master of the Northern Lands was astute indeed. He was both bold and careful at the same time and had a good sense of when to advance and when to retreat. He was a good subordinate.
"Young Miss Jiuli has successfully emerged from solitary confinement. As your subordinate, how can I not be present to be the first to greet you?" Lu Sheng smiled.
"Not bad, not bad. You're very sensible... worth all the effort I put in to shield you from all that pressure." Shangyang Jiuli nodded in satisfaction. "Come to think of it, I need to thank you for that tiny cauldron previously. The good stuff in it proved to be a great help. This breakthrough was rather perilous."
"As long as Young Miss Jiuli is satisfied." Lu Sheng bowed his head. "But Lu Sheng is confused: what differences are there between the realm of Bind and the realm of Snake which lies beyond Seven-Vein Level? Even for such a talented one like Young Miss, it took so long to achieve the breakthrough. Hence, I wonder if Miss Jiuli can help to clear up my doubts."
He really did not know if his level of power after his transformation could kill all Black Snake experts. In the face of absolute violence, everything looked as fragile as paper.
Therefore, he really did not understand the difference between the realm of Bind and the realm of Snake.
Since she had just achieved a breakthrough and was in high spirits, Shangyang Jiuli happily explained, "Both the realm of Snake and the realm of Bind are descriptions for the black membrane. The process of condensing black membrane into black snake is very complicated. But let me explain it to you ahead of time. Who knows? Perhaps you, too, can reach this step within your lifetime."
Lu Sheng appeared all ears.
Shangyang Jiuli walked out of the cave with her unkempt hair flowing down her shoulders. Although her white brows still gave her a ferocious look, she now seemed a shade gentler and milder.
Her features were considered neutral rather than beautiful; without a close look, it was hard for one to tell her gender.
She walked to the stone table outside the cave and sat on a stone stool.
"It's only natural that you would be curious. The realm of Snake has often been called the Manor Lord level. That's because one who attains this realm is now capable of establishing one's own faction.
He or she possesses the power to hold his or her own, and not even the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains would choose to offend that person lightly. Instead, they would pull out all stops to recruit such an expert."
"Oh, why's that?" Lu Sheng was surprised and asked immediately.
"You seem very interested in knowledge on this" Shangyang Jiuli glanced at him strangely. "The reason for that well, just in case they fail to kill the Snake expert, they'd end up with a feud with him or her. All Black Snakes have the potential to step into the top three grades. Once one enters the top three grades, one becomes a formidable foe. An expert in the top three grades of the Snake realm is already an absolute powerhouse in a Noble Family."
Lu Sheng's eyes lit up. The moment he had received news that Shangyang Jiuli was about to emerge from her solitary confinement, he had immediately rushed over to act the part of the good and faithful servant. All his act was in order to discern Shangyang Family's stance and response.
After all, two Snake realm experts had died in a row. The danger in the Northern Lands had just escalated drastically. Perhaps whether or not Shangyang Jiuli could continue to be stationed here was in question.
Hence, he had hurried over to test the waters. As he expected, Shangyang Jiuli was completely oblivious to the latest developments.
"And what might this 'top three grades' be about, Young Miss Jiuli?" Lu Sheng asked again.
"The nine grades refer to nine heads." Shangyang Jiuli glanced at Lu Sheng with an ambiguous smile. "Divided into top, middle and lower, there're nine grades in total, representing the nine heads of the Nine-Headed Snake. Each additional grade gives one an additional portion of the Nine-Headed Snake's power, until one reaches the highest gradegrade nine. That's equivalent to the manifestation of a complete Nine-Headed Snake in the world. This system of division was created by a certain Weapon Master a long time ago and has continued to be in usage till this day."
She stretched her neck, cracking it.
"Alright, let's cut the chatter. During my solitary confinement, you worked hard to supply all the materials I needed. I will remember your contribution.
Now that I've attained this breakthrough, someone should be coming from the family to invite me back soon. You must continue running the Northern Lands well. If you run into any trouble, just light this up." Shangyang Jiuli took out a rectangular incense box from her sleeve.
"Many thanks, Young Miss Jiuli."
"When I return this time, I may be entering Mutant Blood Cliff to temper my body. If anyone comes with my token, you must submit to his authority." She took out half of a chimera jade pendant and passed it to Lu Sheng.
Lu Sheng received the items and nodded in acknowledgement.
"I certainly will." His face was filled with respect.
Shangyang Jiuli, however, would not be taken in by him so easily. She knew that this man had the guts to loot even the corpse of Ashoka Manor's Six-Vein Officiator. Moreover, had he truly been as obedient as he was pretending to be, she would not be at ease leaving the Northern Lands in his hands.
Having stayed in the Northern Lands for so long, she had truly begun seeing this place as her own territory. It was free from external disturbances and had as much resources as she needed. It was even far away from the politics and power struggles in her family to boot. Truly, this was a haven for her.