Rather than weave some casual lies, Yan Kai decided instead to speak the truth. After all, this wasn't a shameful matter.
Seeing that Lu Sheng seemed curious, he continued, "We chanced upon Young Master Sheng right after reaching this place, and wanted to warn Young Master as soon as possible that this individual is extremely fearsome and dangerous. If you were to meet him, be on your utmost caution, and do not clash with him at all costs."
"Oh?" Lu Sheng glanced at him, seemingly smiling yet unsmiling at the same time.
Although his words were intended to warn him of the danger the opponent posed, speaking thus before the sect master of the Number One Sect in the North and the King of Sabers in the North sounded less like a word of caution, but more like a word of provocation and taunt.
Yan Kai didn't care whether he discerned the deeper meaning, and continued, "That person is none other than the Deputy Society Chief of the Eastern power, Wandering Heart Society. He is widely known as Serpent of the Eastern Seas, Chao Long."
"Chao Long?" Lu Sheng stirred. Wandering Heart Society, Chao Long, Chao Hu; connecting the dots between these three names, Lu Sheng instantly deduced who he might be.
"Interesting." His lips curled upwards. He could see through the trio's intentions. Likely, they were hoping to seek his protection to deal with this Chao Long.
"In that case, why don't the three of you journey along with me? After all, my Crimson Whale Sect does command some face in these Northern lands." He didn't expose but went along with them instead.
Yan Kai instantly heaved a soft sigh of relief, knowing that their first step had succeeded.
The chance of them being exposed while tracking Chao Long, especially in such deserted areas, was simply too high. If they were to follow that foolish Taoist Wan Hezi into the mountains, like the blind leading the blind, they would no doubt be caught by Chao Long and destined to perish in this place.
But now that they were able to travel with the Crimson Whale Sect's entourage, their safety was assured a great deal more.
They set off once again, chit-chatting along the way. Lu Sheng gathered from the trio that Chao Long was actually here for the Unlaughing Master as well.
Now that was rather strange. Traversing such great distances just for a mere Unlaughing Master? Could there be more than meets the eye to it?
The entourage continued at a steady pace. All along the journey, the men slashed at the flora in their way to carve out a path for the sedan forcibly.
Not long after, the men in the lead suddenly halted in their tracks.
Surprisingly, another group of people appeared in the distance right ahead of the Crimson Whale Sect members.
These people were dressed in pale blue athletic robes with white handkerchiefs tied around their right arms. Each of them had a sharp, piercing gaze and was in the prime of their lives. Coincidentally, there was also a sedan within their entourage, though it was white in color and differed from Crimson Whale Sect's black sedan.
Xu Chui's arm slowly reached for the hilt of the saber at his waist as he stared silently at the other party.
Similarly, a hulking, bare-chested men in the other group also gazed at him impassively.
Neither party were weaklings; in that split second, they could both sense that the other party was not to be easily trifled with. Crimson Whale Sect may have had an advantage in terms of numbers, but each of the men on the other side had more robust auras.
Neither party was looking to stir up any trouble. Mutually restraining themselves, each side retreated upon the encounter and changed course.
"Society Chief, those are Crimson Whale Sect's men," that burly man reported in a hushed tone by the white sedan.
"Do not deviate from our objective and create unnecessary trouble. Let's find Unlaughing as soon as possible, then head back. We've got no time to spare to stay here for long." The deep, low voice of a man rang out from within the sedan.
"Yes, sir," the burly man replied as he bowed his head.
Lu Sheng looked through the gap in the sedan's veil at the passing white sedan. Although they were a few hundred meters' distance apart, that posed no challenge for an expert of his level. He could smell a familiar aura emanating from the sedan.
"Wandering Heart Society" Wandering Heart Society may have gotten in contact with him before as they were highly skilled in concealing techniques, but that was about it. Even the Deputy Society Chief, Chao Hu was killed by Hongfang Bai in broad daylight. What's more, that was with the assistance of others who had ganged up against her on all sides.
"They are also here to investigate the Unlaughing Master." Abruptly, Yan Kai walked to the side of the sedan and said in a whisper.
"Then let them be. If that's really the case, then we'll see them again," Lu Sheng replied plainly.
Very soon, both camps came to a stop in their tracks before they were to cross each other's paths.
They didn't stop for long. Both sides remained on high alert, keeping a watchful eye on the other party. Following the orders from behind them, both groups passed each other, neither willing to cause offense. Then, each group disappeared in the forest.
Time trickled by. The Crimson Whale Sect team made many rounds in the mountains before finally arriving in front of what seemed like abandoned village ruins.
"This is the place!!" the men in the lead shouted. "Reporting to Elder, this is where we saw Elder Xu and his men enter previously, and they have not come out since."
Xu Chui stared intently at that village, especially at the small stone house at the entrance. There was a faint aura emanating from it that caused him to feel discomfort.
Turning around, he looked at Lu Sheng, who was in the sedan.
Lu Sheng had already drawn his curtains, yet he didn't look at the former at all. Instead, he looked past the crowd and trained his gaze on the empty space to the right.
Xu Chui followed Lu Sheng's gaze and looked over. Indeed, he saw a few discarded torches lying on the ground.
One of the sect members walked over and picked up the torch to look at its handle; it was none other than the Crimson Whale Sect's symbol imprinted on it.
"This is the place," Xu Chui confirmed and turned to look at Lu Sheng.
Lu Sheng nodded lightly.
"Search!" Immediately, the Crimson Whale Sect men dispersed and quickly flooded into the village, beginning their search for clues in each and every one of those houses.
The trio including Yan Kai looked at each other, then walked to the mouth of the village. Stooping down, they started examining the walls and floors for traces of any activity.
Lu Sheng alighted from the sedan and suddenly lifted his gaze. Abruptly, the entourage that they had passed by earlier appeared by the left of the woods.
The white sedan in the middle of the group was slowly lowered to the ground.
"It's of no use. The Unlaughing Master never makes an appearance in the day; you can only meet him at night." A low voice sounded out from within the white sedan.
"Only appears at night? May I know who this is?" Lu Sheng arched his brow in question.
"We have no ill intentions," the voice from within the sedan continued. "Now that we've found the place, we will return at night."
The white sedan was slowly raised before heading off into the distance.
Wan Hezi, who was not far away, suddenly felt a chill down his body. Raising his head, he saw the burly man by the side of the white sedan staring intently at him with an icy cold gaze that was as sharp as a knife's blade.
Accompanying that gaze was an extremely massive, crushing pressure that bore down on him, not unlike a large hand that was viciously clutching at his heart.
Wan Hezi trembled uncontrollably and started to perspire profusely. His face turned white as sheet and his breathing quickened. Both his eyes were glazed over as his hands unconsciously reached for his throat and began to tighten.
A light sound rang out.
Xu Chui stepped in front of him, covering him and looking at that burly man expressionlessly. Ever so slightly, he pulled out the saber hilt from its scabbard to reveal a tiny crack.
Like a drowning man rescued in the nick of time, Wan Hezi suddenly gulped down huge mouthfuls of air. Only then did Yan Kai and Duan Rongrong realize that there was something amiss with him.
"Wan Hezi, are you alright!?"
A cold harrumph travelled from the distance. Wan Hezi knew that this was a warning that if he were to continue tailing them, they would kill him.
He was now extremely thankful for his junior apprentice brother's decision. Had they not joined the Crimson Whale Sect team, he would have been frightened to death by the other party's murderous intent in that moment earlier.
That feeling of not being able to evade or escape, and with a body that wouldn't obey his commands he couldn't run away even if he wanted to.
"A very powerful killing intent." Ning San approached with a grim expression on his face.
After receiving eighty years' worth of inner Qi from Lu Sheng, his present strength was sufficient to go up against a Spirit Focus expert. Although he was still in the realm of Intent Proficiency, his strength was already greater than Xu Chui's.
After all, Xu Chui was merely at the pinnacle of Strength Proficiency.
Of course, this was only the duo's strength in their normal states. If they were to give it their all, their real trump card in battle was their semi-demonic mode. That was their final trump that they would only reveal when they had no other options left.
Lu Sheng glanced at Wan Hezi. This man was actually Yan Kai's senior apprentice brother? Compared to his junior apprentice brother, he was just too weak.
The white sedan travelled further and further into the forest before disappearing.
Retracting his gaze, Lu Sheng gestured to Xu Chui and Ning San, who entered the village ruins along with the rest of the Crimson Whale Sect members to search for clues.
Lu Sheng strolled unhurriedly into the village and casually entered a stone house whose door had been broken down. The interior was thick with spider webs, with damp moss and translucent, molten insect skin covering every nook and cranny. In front of the broken window was a heap of withered leaves that had flown in. Some of the leaves were already rotten and spotty with mould, possibly the result of being wet by the rainwater.
Lu Sheng walked casually to the bed in the stone house and pressed gently.
Shockingly, a corner of the bed collapsed in that instant.
"The wood in here has rotten; there are no signs of the living here." Ning San was close behind and said in a hushed tone, "Your subordinate is quite well studied in this area: usually, the material for making the legs of the bed-frame is Fengxian wood.
This type of wood can effectively withstand humidity and rot. Yet for it to rot to such a degree, it must have lasted a decade or more."
"You're sure about that?" Lu Sheng touched the head of the bed. Indeed, the wood was very sturdy.
"Your subordinate has enquired many master carpenters, all of whom said roughly the same thing," Ning San replied.
"Let's get out," Lu Sheng said impassively. Now, he somewhat believed the words of that white sedan.
After searching the entire place, the Crimson Whale Sect party had nothing to show for it. All of the stone houses were dilapidated beyond repair and didn't look like anyone had come and gone from them.
No traces of Elder Xu and the rest could be found either.
Standing at the entrance of the village, Lu Sheng narrowed his eyes and took in the mountain village in all its entirety.
"Sect Master, there are words here!" Suddenly, a sect member's cries rang out.
Lu Sheng hurried over. Under the direction of a sect member, he discovered a stone tablet half-buried in the mud near the mouth of the village. Only its lower half could be seen.
The men swiftly dug out the stone tablet, on which were clearly written a few lines of words.
'Happiness Village. Everyone can find his own hap' The words at the end had been ground away by something and couldn't be deciphered.
Lu Sheng stooped down and caressed the words.
"Ancient Song script," he said softly.
"Sect Master, what's that written on it?" Xu Chui asked.
Likewise, Ning San also looked at Lu Sheng curiously. He knew that Sect Master was a true academic previously. Moreover, from his expression earlier, he had most likely recognized these words.
"This is the ancient Song script used in the Song Dynasty of the golden age a thousand years ago." Lu Sheng rose and continued, "However, this Song text is in the traditional script, which was reserved for use only during sacrificial ceremonies. Ordinarily, they shouldn't be using these characters" There was a look of puzzlement on his face.
It seemed like there was more to this Happiness Village than merely Unlaughing Masterthe Anomaly.
"Could it be that this entire village wasn't meant for humans to stay in the first place?" Ning San whispered.
Hearing that, a suspicion immediately flashed across Lu Sheng's mind.