"Please have a seat, Brother Lu." In the private room in the restaurant, a handsome, tanned and muscular young man was seated.
The young man smiled at Lu Sheng who had just entered.
"I'm Chen Quansong, the host arranged by Lord Jiuli to receive you. I'm also one of the key people in charge of White Bell City. Feel free to contact me directly to mobilize the resources of the family here should you have any matter to deal with in the future."
"Oh, so it's Brother Chen! A pleasure!" Lu Sheng entered the room alone. A young lady pulled the chair back for him.
Since the moment he entered the White Bell City, he was immediately received by Shangyang Family's men who had been waiting for him here. They led him to this place.
"Is Lord Jiuli well?" Lu Sheng asked out of politeness. After all, he had heaped many deeds on to Shangyang Family back in the Northern Lands. Perhaps it might affect Shangyang Jiuli's standing in the family.
"All's well. She's now focused on tempering her body in solitary confinement. Probably, she won't be coming out anytime soon. And yet, even at such a juncture, she specifically instructed me to host you, Brother Lu. That's an incredible treatment! I'm envious!" Chen Quansong was one of Shangyang Jiuli's several key personnel in the Central Plains. Being stationed in the Central Plains himself, yet hearing that Lord Jiuli had established a significant force in the Northern Lands, Chen Quansong could not help but be concerned.
Originally, they were Shangyang Jiuli's arms and legs. Often, she had no choice but to give in to them. But now, with an additional force in the Northern Lands, Chen Quansong and company immediately felt threatened.
Lu Sheng, too, saw what was bothering the other party.
In Chen Quansong's eyes, his faction in the Northern Lands belonged entirely to Shangyang Jiuli. In other words, he now represented Shangyang Jiuli's forces in the Northern Lands in competition and rivalry with the men from Central Plains.
"Don't speak anymore Brother Chen. I've come solely for studies and will not pay heed to any other affairs," Lu Sheng explained with a smile.
He was genuinely uninterested in the politics behind Shangyang Jiuli's men.
"So, just arrange for my enrollment as soon as possible."
His words made his intention explicit and clear: he had not come to seize power, nor was he a pawn that Shangyang Jiuli had brought to Central Plains to keep Chen Quansong and company in line. All he had come for was for his studies.
Comprehending Lu Sheng's meaning, Chen Quansong gazed intently at him.
"Very well then. According to Lord Jiuli's arrangements, there's a list of sects here that Brother Lu may take his pick from. These are all sects that we can insert our people into." He took out a grey paper scroll from his sleeve.
Lu Sheng received it and unfurled it.
One by one, the names of many sects of various sizes in the Hundred Lineages were packed fastidiously on the scroll. Behind each of these names was a line of fine description, detailing what the sect specialized in.
"Although it's not yet the time for recruitment and assessment, this is still something within Lord Jiuli's means. Brother Lu, there's no hurry. Take your time to go through it when you're back," Chen Quansong advised.
"Alright." Lu Sheng nodded.
The two of them started chatting casually about the cultural differences between the Northern Lands and the Central Plains and some trivial topics.
Time passed quickly. Before leaving, Chen Quansong passed a bag of black coins to Lu Sheng discreetly.
This was a special currency used by the Noble Families. Typically, when they traded some rare precious items, they would use the black coins instead of silver or gold.
Thoughtfully, Chen Quansong had arranged a manor for Lu Sheng in the inner district of the White Bell City. Through his window, Lu Sheng could see the towering Thousand Spirits Tower.
The Thousand Spirits Tower was a thirty-two-story-high intricately designed tower. It was also the landmark of the White Bell City with countless white bells hung on the tower, like a Christmas tree. In the wind, the bells chimed like a chorus in unison, and functioned as a unique instrument used by the Astrological Department to observe and monitor the weather.
Lu Sheng stood by his window and scrutinized the scroll of paper in his hand.
"Heavenly Lotus Sect: among the top three grades of the Hundred Lineages. Majoring in poison- and wind-based secret arts. Can enroll as pupil. Assessment of talent required for becoming a disciple.'
"Mountain-Splitting Stars-Aligning Sect: among the top three grades of the Hundred Lineages. Majoring in earth- and speed-based secret arts. Can enroll as pupil. Conditions for becoming disciple same as above.
"Brocade Sect: among the middle three grades of the Hundred Lineages. No specialization; provides training in all areas. This is the sect with most members. Can enroll as elite pupil and study in the inner court."
Row by row, the names and distinguishing features of each sect were labeled clearly on the scroll, along with the identity they could enroll Lu Sheng as.
Having read through it from top to bottom, however, Lu Sheng was not particularly satisfied with them.
Out of all the sects, only two caught his eye: Brocade Sect and Prime Devil Sect.
The first among them was a sect that taught all regardless of background. As long as you had the cash, they would take you in.
The other was a sect in decline. Its specialized secret art was lost in inheritance. They used to be a large sect researching Devils. But a calamity in the past had destroyed more than ninety percent of their research, leaving behind only some useless miscellaneous arts.
Presently, Prime Devil Sect was hanging on by its nails. Probably, it would not take long before it dropped out of the Hundred Lineages altogether. When even the few old ones holding it together were gone, they would truly be left only with the sect grounds.
The only reason why Shangyang Jiuli had included it on her list was not because of anything that had to do with Lu Sheng, but because the Grand Elder of Prime Devil Sect had once done her a favor in the past. Now that Prime Devil Sect was struggling to continue their inheritance and was barely staying intact under pressure from rival sects, she included Prime Devil Sect in her list of recommendations.
After all, the list was not prepared for Lu Sheng alone.
Lu Sheng examined Prime Devil Sect's row. The description of the direction of their research piqued his curiosity. Till date, he had seen ghosts, demons, Anomalies, and Noblemen. But he had never seen a Devil.
Moreover, the identity in which they could enroll him as was rather attractive.
'The Sect Master's personal direct disciple
My purpose for coming here is to better understand the Noble Families and the Central Plains. Not really to learn their secret arts. This Prime Devil Sect suits me to a tee.
Because of the weakness of the sect and given my strength and background, I'll enjoy a high status and high degree of freedom upon entering. Anyway, those miscellaneous arts are what I'm interested in.
And the object of their research, Devils, can supplement my lack of knowledge In this area,' he thought, tapping a finger on Prime Devil Sect.
"It is it then."
Lu Sheng turned around and looked at Yingying.
"From now on, you should refrain from going out. This is the base camp of the Noble Families; powerful experts are aplenty. Even the one we met in the day was a Bind realm expert. Even I've got no idea how powerful the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains are. If you get into trouble, not even I can save you for sure."
Little umbrella girl nodded obediently.
Satisfied with her attitude, Lu Sheng's gaze shifted silently to the Thousand Spirits Tower, rising up into the air.
Ever since he had entered the city, he had felt a faint but powerful gaze from the bell-decked gray tower land on him.
That gaze was extremely powerful and far-reaching, sweeping across the city from the tower. It easily covered a radius of several dozen meters. Rather than to monitor every spot, however, it swept across the city from zone to zone.
He had no idea what on earth it was, but that aura was immense. In fact, it was more inscrutable and profound than even the Ten Spears of the Evil Jade Crystal which he had seen previously, not to mention Shangyang Jiuli and himself.
Lu Sheng could not even probe the depth of its aura.
"Let's rest. First thing tomorrow morning, we head for Prime Devil Sect." Lu Sheng retracted his gaze and shut the window.
Umbrella girl walked to the corner of the room obediently, where her bed lay.
Before dawn the next day, Lu Sheng led umbrella girl out, leaving Ning San and Xu Chui behind to rent an apartment and settle down in it.
He came to Flying Inn, found Chen Quansong's subordinates, and began heading for Prime Devil Sect following their lead.
In Black Smoke Canyon, several hundred meters outside White Bell City, the yellow ground had cracked up out of dryness. Everything wilted and vegetation was extinct.
Like a giant black scar, Black Smoke Canyon lay stretched across the yellow plain, an unending stream of cold air gushing out of it continuously.
A giant black hole opened up in the face of the cliff wall right in the middle of the canyon.
Lu Sheng stood behind his female guide. Presently, he was standing right in front of the hole, gazing up at the signboard hung above it.
"Prime Devil Cave."
These three words were etched squarely and neatly into the inky black signboard, looking rather imposing.
The entire cave was several dozen meters tall. Standing at its mouth was like standing before the jaws of a mysterious mammoth beast, as if he could be swallowed by it instantly any time.
"This is Prime Devil Sect." The female guide reached for a wheel in the wall beside the mouth of the cave and turned it.
Instantly, the tremors under their feet spread into the depths of the cave.
"This place is very deserted. If you want to buy anything, you've got to travel to the White Bell City several hundred lis away. There're no other cities around. Remember.
On top of that, the people in Prime Devil Sect..." Before she finished, she shut her mouth abruptly.
A gust of chilly air blew out from the cave. A pale-faced young man with blood-red eyes emerged from the right side of the cave and looked at Lu Sheng.
"Teacher... has sent me to receive our new Junior Apprentice Brother." The young man reeked of a ghostly air; nothing about him looked human. "Which one among you is Lu Sheng..."
His voice was low and slow, and sounded as if it might break into a cry at any time.
"I am." Lu Sheng stepped forward.
"I'm Song Zi'an... please follow me." The man turned around and slowly disappeared into the darkness of the cave.
Lu Sheng let umbrella girl return with the female guide. Alone, he followed Song Zi'an into the large cave.
The interior of the cave was pitch black. Only the faint green hue radiating from Song Zi'an's body lit up the ground slightly.
Lu Sheng followed closely behind him, stepping over large uneven pieces of rock. In the darkness, a stream flowed in the gaps between the rocks, producing the sound of gentle flowing water.
After walking for an unknown length of timeperhaps a joss stick's span, or maybe an hourthey had covered at least several hundred or even a thousand meters.
Suddenly, Lu Sheng seemed to hear something.
He spun his head to look in the direction of the sound, only to see a pit set into the wall on the right.
In the pit, he saw a lady dressed in white, standing and facing him squarely. Her hands held onto an ax with its head pointing down.
The lady's head was wrapped in white cloth, such that her facial features and hair were not visible. There she stood in the pit, silent. However, she seemed to be able to see Lu Sheng as her face shifted slowly, following him as he passed.
Lu Sheng noticed that a basin with blood on its edges was placed beside the lady.
"That's... White-Face... according to seniority, she should be your Senior Apprentice Sister..." Song Zi'an whispered.
Lu Sheng averted his gaze placidly. After walking on for a while, he turned around suddenly to look at that lady again.
In the distance, he could still make out the lady staring at him without a budge.
Plainly, her head had been wrapped in white cloth; it looked difficult for her to even breathe. Yet somehow, Lu Sheng still felt that she was staring at him.
"She likes it very much when there're newcomers... you'll get used to it," Song Zi'an said.
"Is that so?" Lu Sheng spoke no further. This Prime Devil Sect... it seemed different from what he had imagined.