In the blink of an eye, two months passed. Snow fell and whipped about in the wind.
Crimson Whale Sect's rule over the Northern Lands has been firmly established. Be it Ashoka Manor or the court, none of them could prevent Lu Sheng's forces from expanding frenziedly.
The Saber King of the Northern Lands, Lu Shenghis name shone as bright as the noon sun. Everywhere on this land, one could often hear his name mentioned.
He was the Number One expert in the mortal world. The unparalleled martial artist, matched by none. He was also a grandmaster of the saber.
Naturally, the rapid spread of his name was partly by the people's own initiative; more so, however, was it a result of Crimson Whale Sect's massive recruitment drive everywhere after expanding its territory and forces.
More and more Sect disciples and members proclaimed his name and waved his banner. Consequently, Lu Sheng's fame increased.
As for the Noble Families, they restrained themselves because of Shangyang Jiuli. None of them would pick a fight with her.
As long as Shangyang Jiuli was still in the family, her strength guaranteed Lu Sheng's absolute rule over the Northern Lands.
Lu Sheng himself, in the meantime, spent every day practicing martial arts, especially his saber techniques and inner force skills. Moreover, he began recruiting Crimson Sun Sect disciples.
He had also publicly announced his identity as the Sect Master of Crimson Sun Sect. Openly, he organized selection matches in Mountain-Edge City.
Anyone was qualified to take part. As long as one passed the trial, one could enter Crimson Sun Sect and be imparted the sect's skills, regardless of one's age, cultivation, or character.
Of course, the selection matches were not overseen by Lu Sheng in person. Rather, it was his Senior Apprentice Brother Hong Mingzi who organized it personally with his approval.
Unexpectedly, many Divine Prime seniors from the Martial League volunteered to acts as judges. They, too, acknowledged Lu Sheng's power as the Number One expert.
In fact, many among them joined Crimson Whale Sect out of worship of Lu Sheng's personal power, becoming External Affairs Emissaries in the Sect. Hence, though he lost Zhao Jiaojiao, Lu Sheng gained several other Divine Prime experts under his command.
Moreover, after joining Crimson Whale Sect, these experts applied further to enter Crimson Sun Sect. Lu Sheng approved.
He conducted the entrance ceremony for them in person. A few days after that, their friends from Martial League discovered that these experts who had enlisted in Crimson Whale Sect all showed signs of an imminent breakthrough.
This discovery was quickly verified.
One of the Divine Primes was imparted a secret martial art after joining Lu Sheng's Crimson Sun Sect, enabling him to finally break through the bottleneck that had troubled him for years. Now, he was marching towards a new level.
Although it might have been a small step forward, and this Divine Prime expert was very advanced in age and already had accumulated much inner force to begin with, his example greatly excited the bunch of old-timers in Martial League.
Consequently, more and more mortal experts began leaving Martial League and joining Crimson Whale Sect in secret. Lu Sheng's covert forces were growing in ranks.
This was due to Crimson Sun Sect's selection matches and the flow of Martial League Divine Prime experts into the sect.
After Northern Lands regained peace and stability, liveliness returned there as well. The demons and ghosts who had been lurking in the shadows now hid even deeper. Because once Divine Prime experts made a breakthrough, they could pose a threat even to Bind realm experts. The average ghost was no match for them.
Bind realm beings, on the other hand, possessed their own intelligence. Knowing that Crimson Whale Sect's forces were expanding and increasing, they avoided them. After all, if they attacked one, two or even three others would come. Not to mention their terrifyingly powerful Sect Master and the Shangyang Family backing him up. Going up against them was courting death.
Thus, the people of the Northern Lands gradually began to feel that they were living in a peaceful and safe environment. Immediately, merchants could not even spot any bandits or thieves anymore. Nobody dared to look for trouble in front of a bunch of Divine Prime experts who had just joined Crimson Sun Sect, eager for an opportunity to make a contribution.
And even if there were such fools around, they were mopped up immediately.
In the second month after snow began to fall, the entire Northern Lands began regaining its prosperity, heading towards the state it was in before the famine.
"The snow's getting thicker."
In a Crimson Whale Sect-owned tower that sat on Red Cliff Peak, deep in the Eastern mountain range, Lu Sheng stood by the window and gazed reflectively at the world of white outside.
"This is no simple snow. It's a disaster. Bad reports are being sent to the court from all over. In many places, the snow fell so heavily that it caused many roofs to cave in and houses to collapse, resulting in many dead and wounded." Jade Lotus, accompanied by a middle-aged lanky senior, stood behind Lu Sheng and reported the situation.
The senior, with a face of solemnity, was dressed in green robes. Some green floral motifs were embroidered on his sleeves, resembling the leaves of wheat. An emerald hairpin fastened his hair together.
His name was Ouyang Qi, also known as the Headless Python in the pugilistic world. He was a legendary vicious, cold-blooded peak Divine Prime expert who killed without batting an eyelid. He had made quite the name for himself in the mortal world in the Central Plains. Subsequently, he was pursued by Bind realm experts dispatched by the court and was forced to flee here to the Northern Lands.
Presently, he was one of the strongest experts who had cast in their lot with Lu Sheng among the Martial League Divine Primes.
This man had never been much of a team player in the Martial League, having been ostracized by other Divine Prime experts for his vicious, cruel character and his pillaging and other bloodthirsty, notorious acts.
After hearing that Crimson Sun Sect recruited regardless of character, he was the first to apply. Little did he expect that Lu Sheng truly took him in without a care for his past and character.
"How about Senior Qi? How's it going on your side?" Lu Sheng looked at Ouyang Qi. He used him because he possessed strong management
Ouyang Qi replied with his head bowed. "The match is proceeding on schedule without being affected. The pre-selected contestants from all over the land are currently on their way being escorted to Mountain-Edge City. A preliminary estimate puts the figure of passing members at 262."
"Over 2000 participated, who have already been pre-selected. And that's all that will make the cut?" Jade Lotus was surprised.
"It's already pretty good. According to my estimates, this figure is in fact too high. Selecting experts who can nab and kill ghosts requires more than looking at the ordinary mental state and talent," Ouyang Qi replied coldly.
Jade Lotus hesitated, but did not speak any further. He was far too much behind Ouyang Qi in strength. Had they not both been the Sect Master's key assets, this old man could dispatch him with a single finger if they were to go up against each other one-to-one.
"Alright. With Senior Apprentice Brother hosting the match, there won't be any problem. What we need is a sufficient number of disciples with powerful will, regardless of their disposition," Lu Sheng said placidly.
"But Sect Master, perhaps we can ignore their disposition in the name of impartiality and objectivity from external evaluation. But what about respecting their elders and masters? What if we land up taking in traitors who, instead of appreciating the grace given to them, bite the hand that feeds them in the future?" Ouyang Qi could not fathom Lu Sheng's intent either.
"No matter the dispositionwhether kind or evil, loyal or treacherousthe day one enters my Crimson Sun Sect, they no longer belong to themselves..." Lu Sheng said emotionlessly.
Upon hearing those words, the two of them shuddered and dared to ask no further.
To these ordinary disciples, Yin Crane Web's control was basically without remedy. The setting up of the Yin Crane Web largely relied on Yin Yang Jade Crane Aquarius Qi.
And the quality of Aquarius Qi determined the possibility of them discovering and expelling the Yin Crane Web. Given Lu Sheng's millennium-worth of inner force fuelling the Yin Crane Web, the possibility of them discovering it was virtually nil.
Lu Sheng intended to have them cultivate inner force with the help of Yin Crane Web right from the start after being selected. This way, the deeper their inner force cultivation, the more tightly knit Yin Crane Web was to them. Over the accumulation of days and months, Yin Crane Web would become more integrally fused with them.
And because of the vast chasm between their inner force and Lu Sheng's, there was no possible way of them breaking the Yin Crane Web left behind in their bodies by Lu Sheng.
After all, it was a terrifying network formed by Lu Sheng's thousand-year inner force. Unless they, too, attained a thousand years' worth of inner force, they could not break it. But that, too, was impossible, since they could not reach up to a thousand years in lifespan.
Hence, Lu Sheng had total confidence.
He would convert the entire Northern Lands legitimately into his giant warehouse for absorbing inner force.
Even if their inner force was at varying degrees of purity and sucking a years' worth of inner force might only convert into a month's worth for him, that was just one person.
If twelve people cultivated inner force for a year, it meant sucking a whole year's worth of inner force for Lu Sheng.
If there were 120 people, that would mean ten years' worth of inner force.
And if 1200, then a century's worth!
Sand accumulated could form a tower.
As for whether such an act was orthodox or not, Lu Sheng could not be bothered with it in the slightest.
'I'm saving them. So many people don't have what it takes to practice martial arts at all. But I'm giving them the opportunity to rewrite their destinies.'
He saw his plan as merely collecting rent.
He was building a house (Yin Crane Web) for others using his own inner Qi. In exchange for enjoying the privileges of the house, they had to pay him rent at a fixed interval. It was as simple as that.
"Alright. Everything is to proceed as planned. Unless there're big changes, there's no need to come see me. Just execute it." Lu Sheng's thoughts returned to the present.
Jade Lotus and Ouyang Qi retreated. As they left, they lightly closed the door.
Lu Sheng stood by the window alone for a long time.
Suddenly, he lifted up his hand and reached out through the window.
"Flap flap flap."
An inky black, strange-looking bird which looked like a crow with a snake's head was shooting at him from the distance.
The weird bird landed lightly in Lu Sheng's palm.
A copper tube was tied to its leg. Lu Sheng gently removed it and unplugged it.
A small rolled note was in the tube.
Lu Sheng glanced at the bird before putting it aside. Then, with both hands, he unfurled the note.
'The Hundred Lineages Symposium is going to be held at Skywatch City in the Central Plains. Being in control of the family's resources, I have the right to recommend a few names. You may consider if you want to participate.
The Hundred Lineages claim to consist of over a hundred sects and factions. In reality, there're only sixty-four lineages. Shangyang Family's mantra is incompatible with you and cannot be imparted to you. But you can choose to cultivate the general mantra studied by the Hundred Lineages.
I can put your name forward to pick a sect.'
Shangyang Jiuli's words were few on the note, perhaps due to the limited space. Lu Sheng stared in confusion.
Keeping the note, Lu Sheng asked softly, "Yingying, do you know about the Hundred Lineages?"
The closet door slid open slowly. Little umbrella girl was kneeling inside, pressing Lu Sheng's clothes as best as she could. Beside her lay a heap of messy unfolded clothes.
"I... know..." Yingying heard the voice and lifted her head to glance at Lu Sheng. But her hands continued pressing his clothes without stopping.
These clothes were thicker than usual. Her figure was petite and she did not have enough strength. Hence, she had to press with her entire weight on it. Her face had turned red with the effort.
After being reborn, her strength was as weak as that of a little child's. Moreover, she had absorbed too little bitterness and had to give most of it to her sister. The remainder she had spent on growing her body. Right now, she was like an ordinary mortal. At the very most, she was lighter on her feet and could run faster. But that was about it.
Lu Sheng looked as little umbrella girl huffed and panted, trying to press his clothes. Lu Sheng had no intention to torture her like that. But now his secrets were growing in number and the ordinary servant girls could no longer satisfy his needs. So he let little umbrella girl take on that role. Anyway, he would never let umbrella girl leave.