The sound of horses at full gallop rang out from afar, and the townspeople and the merchants scrambled out of the way with their carts to make room for the riders.
A group of men and women in black athletic robes dashed frenziedly down the street. Taking the lead were two elders with heads full of white, but armed with fierce and extraordinary weapons on their backs.
Each of these people had a varied number of red fish prints embroidered on their robes; the least among them were double-fish, while the highest among them were even five-fish.
As for the two elders in the lead, their robes bore the embroidery of a white whale.
These more than ten riders disappeared from the streets in a flash, as suddenly as they had arrived. Only then did the merchants and townspeople regain their senses, chatting amongst themselves and trying to identify the people who had zoomed past.
Among them was a well-informed uncle who manned the tea stall. He gazed into the direction of the riders and let out a long sigh.
"Another season of trouble." He shook his head.
"Uncle Zhou, why do you say so? Aren't those people earlier from the Crimson Whale Sect? Crimson Whale Sect is the Number One sect in all the North, and has been responsible for maintaining peace and order. What could go wrong?" one of his customers seated there asked quizzically.
"Of course this old man recognizes those officials from Crimson Whale Sect. However, you may not have realized that those two in the lead were big shots of the White Whale rank," the tea stall uncle said gravely. "I have been in this Tea Town for a full three decades, and this is only the second time that I have seen experts bearing the White Whale symbol here."
"Oh? Then when was it that you first saw them, uncle? As for the White Whale symbolhow does it differ from the rest? I know that the greater the number of fishes, the higher their position is in Crimson Whale Sect," another strong-built man asked as he approached.
The tea stall Uncle shook his head.
"The White Whale symbol is only worthy to be used by the Elders and the Internal and External Affairs Emissaries, which is one level higher than the branch leader. They are big shots near the level of the Deputy Sect Master.
We are nothing but a small town, yet such big shots have visited us. If there hasn't been a calamity, what else could have drawn them here?"
Hearing his words, the bustle among the many customers instantly died down, their faces changing.
They looked at one another. After some time had passed, someone finally said, "Could it be due to the spate of disappearances that has happened recently?"
"The matter that wasn't resolved even after it had been reported to the authorities?"
"The Crimson Whale Sect's big shots would definitely not be here for no rhyme or reason, or have come looking for trouble. Although our Tea Town is great, it cannot be compared to the prosperous Ring Pendant City or Mountain-Edge City."
As the crowd continued chatting, they were soon able to make some deductions.
"This is really a troubled time" The tea stall uncle sighed again, before continuing to wait on his customers.
At night, in the deep of the mountains.
Numerous torches bobbed up and down in the mountains, searching in all directions for the target.
The blazing red flames were exceptionally glaring under the pale, cool moonlight.
Xu Chuanzhou's face was grim. He held onto a pair of triple-edged swords as his piercing gaze scanned the surrounding forest.
"Found it! There's light ahead; it seems to be the light from a white lantern," a sect member shouted abruptly.
"Where!?" Xu Chuanzhou dashed towards the position of the sect member.
Along with another Elder, he had received the Sect Master's order to come and investigate this case. The original plan was to stay put and receive Zhao Jiaojiao who had set off. But unable to sit still, he led his men here towards the deep mountains, where the incident was rumored to have begun.
Hence, he had brought along with him over ten experts. They were all his trusted men under the command of his Hong Rong Manor.
Had it not been for the sake of displaying his strength before the Sect Master, he would never deploy his private forces.
Xu Chuanzhou was clear that the present Crimson Whale Sect commanded unchallenged hegemony in the Northern Lands. Its Sect Master was termed the King of Sabers in the Northern Lands, with skills as high as heavens and strength as deep as the seas. If he was able to be noticed now when Crimson Whale Sect was at its peak strength and enter the Sect Master's view, it would do wonders for his Xu Family's career.
Hence, after weighing the pros and cons, he decided to deploy his private army and settle the incident at the fastest speed.
The faster he could deal with it, the higher were his chances of winning the Sect Master's attention.
They leapt into the air and quickly rallied around the sect disciple who had called out.
"Right over there!" The disciple's finger extended into the depths of the forest.
Xu Chuanzhou's gaze fell into the distance and, true enough, he saw a flash of white light.
"Everyone, come with me!" he shouted immediately.
The weakest in the team of experts was at least at Double-Fish rank. Out of the sect, he was an expert who could control and govern a street by himself. Now was the best opportunity for him to build a career.
Now that most of the supernatural cases were swept clean in the Northern Lands, opportunities like these were hard to come by. That was why each of these disciples were so eager.
Forming a snake of torches, they soon arrived in front of a village.
The village was built on a plot of black stone ground, as coarse as old tree back. The stone houses sat haphazardly, dispersed on the uneven ground.
The white light had been emitted by a large stone house which sat on a slope.
Xu Chuanzhou gazed at it. The stone house had a flight of stone steps leading diagonally downwards. Under the illumination of the white light and their torches, he could tell that the stone steps were worn with age and covered with moss.
"Let's go. Take a look," he instructed. "Half of you will stand guard outside. Red, Number One, Little Chen, bring your men and follow me!"
"Yes, sir!" his trusted men acknowledged.
They were Crimson Whale Sect experts. Elder Xu possessed deep inner force and was trained in Swift Swallow Skill. Especially after receiving the Sect Master's secret training, he had returned with an even more unfathomable cultivation base.
Before this, they too had easily investigated several cases of supernatural events. Hence, they were presently filled with confidence.
Xu Chuanzhou led his gang of men slowly up the stone steps and came to the front of the stone house. Gently, he knocked.
The wooden door was not closed and opened by itself, revealing a broad courtyard within.
Xu Chuanzhou's eyes narrowed. He pulled out his triple-edged sword and strode into it.
Behind him, the gang of men raised their torches and likewise unsheathed the long sabers strapped to their backs and walked into the courtyard on high alert.
"There's someone in the house!" A sharp-eyed disciple immediately caught sight of the silhouette seated in the main hall.
Xu Chuanzhou slowly walked to the center of the courtyard and surveyed his surroundings. He noticed that no footprints could be found on the ground, not even on the ground in front of the door. Everywhere was covered in a thick layer of moss, as if no one had stepped on the ground for years.
All around him was deathly silence, broken only by the crackling flames on their torches.
Xu Chuanzhou thought for a moment.
"I'm Elder Xu Chuanzhou of the Crimson Whale Sect in the Northern Lands. No matter which faction or sect you belong to, aren't you being too disrespectful towards our Crimson Whale Sect to commit murder in the vicinity of Ring Pendant City?" he suddenly called out.
The main hall remained quiet like a cemetery. The silhouette in the hall, with its shadow cast against the window, did not budge a single inch, as if he had never heard at all.
At that sight, Xu Chuanzhou was riled.
"Knock the door down!" He waved his hand.
Immediately a subordinate dashed to the front of the door.
With a loud yell, he smashed himself into the wooden door. Little did he expect, however, that the door was not shut in the first place.
Caught by his momentum, the man slammed the door open easily and nearly fell into the hall.
Strangely, after the door was opened, not a single soul could be found in the hall, as if the figure whose shadow had been cast against the window had vanished without a trace.
"Search this place!!" Xu Chuanzhou shouted with a wave of his hand.
Ever since all the troubles were smoothed out, Crimson Whale Sect acted without fear or restraint in the Northern Lands. In the past, they had to be concerned with other factions like Scarlet District. But now, it seemed like all other factions were hiding from them.
Many troubles diffused by themselves before they had to do anything about them. That was what happened to the supernatural event they had encountered previously.
'Maybe it's like that this time too,' Xu Chuanzhou thought to himself. Holding his sword, he strode into the main hall as his subordinates began combing through it.
The hall was brightly lit. White lanterns were hung everywhere and all sorts of decorative items in all shapes and sizes embellished the wall.
A giant old mirror faced the door.
"This is...?" Xu Chuanzhou frowned and drew close to scrutinize the mirror.
The glass of the mirror was made of extremely rare stained glass and was worth a hefty sum. A large stained glass mirror like this was a priceless gem and worth a handsome fortune.
"Reporting to Elder, there's nobody in this house at all." His subordinates quickly gathered around him and reported.
Xu Chuanzhou turned around and swept his gaze across the gang of men standing in front of him.
Suddenly, his brows furrowed.
"Where's Little Chen?"
They stared at each other blankly.
"I didn't see him? He said he was going out of the house to the courtyard to take a look," a female disciple said softly.
"Out of the house?" Xu Chuanzhou's brows were locked in furrow tighter than before.
"Let's take a look outside first." A foreboding apprehension gripped him. Since the moment they had stepped into this place till now, he felt as if something was lurking in the dark, watching them silently.
The gang of men was about to retreat out of the hall, when suddenly...
"BAM BAM BAM BAM!!"
Without warning, all the doors and windows in the hall shut tight, as if someone had slammed them shut forcefully from the outside.
The latch fell against the main doors, locking them up in the house.
"Retreat!" Xu Chuanzhou shouted, dashing for the main door.
The lights went out, as if someone had extinguished them.
All the torches, all the lanternsall light went dark in a single moment.
A deathly silence descended on the house, as if everyone had disappeared.
Time trickled by... the courtyard was a scene of quiet. Elder Xu and the men he had led into this place fell silent.
Abruptly, the wooden door was knocked open. A figure covered in blood dashed out. But only half of his body had made it past the doors when something seemed to have caught hold of him and dragged him back into the house.
"YOU WAIT AND SEE! CRIMSON WHALE SECT WON'T LET YOU OFF!! NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE!! NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE!!" the figure howled pathetically. It was Xu Chuanzhou, covered in blood all over, his arms leaving two long trails of blood on the ground. In the blink of an eye, he had been dragged back into the house.
The doors shut tight. Silence descended on the house again.
"Many people have gone missing consecutively?" Watching his Senior Apprentice Brother's disciples spar in the arena, Lu Sheng listened to the hushed report by his guard.
"Both Elder Xu and External Affairs Emissary Chen have set off in that direction. But there's been no news from them yet," the guard whispered.
Lu Sheng's eyes narrowed.
Both External Affairs Emissary Chen and Elder Xu were the new batch of the upper echelon that he had only just promoted. When trouble broke out in Ring Pendant City previously, he had dispatched both of them to investigate it.
Little did he expect that it had been more than ten days and yet not a single word was heard from them.
"News!" Another guard ran to him and delivered a letter to him with both hands. "Urgent memo from Ring Pendant City!"
Lu Sheng took the letter, unfolded it and read. Immediately after reading its contents, his face turned ugly.