A Senior Apprentice Sister like an insane killer.
That was Lu Sheng's first impression of White Face.
As he followed Song Zi'an forward into the cave, the cave began to slope downwards. Strangely, however, the water between the gaps in the stone still flowed towards the mouth of the cave.
"Don't touch the stream under our feet. It's lethal poison even we can't resist it," Song Zi'an reminded ominously.
"Mm." Lu Sheng nodded. Actually, without his reminder, Lu Sheng himself had already noticed the source of the stream.
On the right side in the cave, a giant single-horned black python lay in slumber, its huge mouth unconsciously wide agape. Massive volumes of thick, viscous saliva were dripping out of the corner of its mouth.
As the saliva flowed away from the black python, however, it inexplicably became diluted. What began with the width of an arm was a small river in the distance, multiplying in volume until it filled the gaps between the stones.
"This is the guardian of the SectMi. You can call her Miss Mi," Song Zi'an introduced. "But Miss Mi is deep in sleep most of the time, and flies into rage each time she wakes. Best not to be too near, lest you be eaten."
Lu Sheng nodded, at a loss for words.
They continued forward. After the time it took to brew a pot of tea, they finally caught sight of a glimmer of light ahead. The massive face of a rock wall soon emerged in Lu Sheng's view.
It was a gargantuan and brightly lit stone wall, riddled with caves carved into the face of the wall, packed densely together like a beehive. Each cave was sealed by a stone door and seemed to be inhabitable.
A rugged stone pillar stood before the rock wall, with a massive blood-colored symbol painted on it. In the darkness, the pillar released a gloomy, melancholic, and bloodthirsty glow.
"This is the central zone of our sect. All these caves are inhabitable. You will have to pick one and settle down in it. On top of that, the Sect is now governed by the Grand Elder. Let me lead you to him now," Song Zi'an explained.
Lu Sheng nodded. "I'll trouble you then."
Both of them followed the steps on the stairs to the right of the rock wall all the way up. Lu Sheng clearly sensed an immense power monitoring and scanning every inch of earth in the cave ever since he had entered, much like in White Bell City.
It was an immensely profound force, unfathomably deep. The moment he stepped on the flight of stone stairs, he felt as if he had walked into an extremely viscous sea of sludge; pressure weighed down on him all over his body and even the circulation of inner Qi within him was impeded.
"Oh, right. This place is under the protection and suppression of the sect's Divine Weapon shard. You may feel uncomfortable here, but it'll get better once you get used to it," Song Zi'an explained again.
Lu Sheng did not say a word; he merely nodded to indicate his comprehension.
The two of them continued up the stairs until they reached the topmost row of caves in the stone wall. They came to a halt before the most central cave.
"Dong Dong Dong."
Song Zi'an knocked on the stone door.
"Come in." The clear but deep voice of an elderly man rang out from within.
Slowly, the stone door shifted aside and Song Zi'an led Lu Sheng into the cave.
A warm yellow candle glow lit up the interior of the cave. The insides of the cave were lined with yellow candlesticks. Yellow wooden tables and chairs were scattered around the room. A soft white carpet lay under their feet and several clean white robes were hung on the wall.
An ancient man with a face wrinkled like bark was seated behind the table, slowly reading a paper book.
"I've brought him here, Grand Elder," Song Zi'an said loudly.
"You've worked hard, Zi'an." The old man lifted his head with a smile, his murky eyes landing on Lu Sheng.
"Welcome, young brother Lu. If you've made up your mind to stay, you can take your pick along the caves and settle down in it. Just stay for a night, and we'll take it that you've confirmed your decision."
"I've confirmed my decision to stay," Lu Sheng said placidly.
"Very well then. I'm the Grand Elder of the Prime Devil Sect, Liu Shanzi. Presently, there're a total of three Elders in the sect, two Deacons, and the number of disciples varies. Every morning the bell will sound twice. It indicates the start of my morning lesson. You may choose to either attend my lesson or confine yourself to your cave. Nobody will disturb you. When you go into solitary confinement, remember to hang the sign outside your cave."
Lu Sheng nodded in understanding.
"Should there be anything you need to seek clarification about, you can ask Zi'an. He's always stationed in the cemetery adjacent to the stone wall in the sect," Grand Elder Liu Shanzi explained.
"Alright, if there're no other questions, you can go back and rest. Tomorrow morning we begin lessons." He seemed rather disinterested. Although he was briefing Lu Sheng, the process felt rather mechanical and even the smile on his face felt forced. He felt distant.
Lu Sheng was led away by Song Zi'an.
Watching the stone door to his cave shut slowly, Grand Elder Liu Shanzi sighed by his table.
The sect was going downhill. Ever since their mining district was seized by the Nine Bells Sect, the sect disciples' basic cultivation resources were no longer guaranteed. As a result, many of them have left.
They were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new disciples in the first place, but now it was like rubbing salt onto wound.
Without resources, nobody would be willing to toil for the sect for nothing in return. The disciples were gone and so nobody was left to even maintain the patrols. The sect could not maintain even its basic vigilance.
And now, this new disciple from Shangyang Family would most probably leave in disappointment before long as well. After all, this was a sect that could not guarantee one even the most basic cultivation resources. What was the point in joining it?
Liu Shanzi sighed at length, walked to the side of his cave and peered out through his wooden window.
His gaze landed on the stone pillar erected beneath, dazed.
Outside the caves on the topmost level of the rock wall...
"Junior Apprentice Brother Lu, take your pick. Remember, you must not leave our cave after night falls. Now that there're no patrol teams in the sect, should you meet with danger, you've got to hold it out on your own till dawn... before anyone will come to your aid." Song Zi'an smiled at Lu Sheng.
"I got it." Lu Sheng nodded. "On top of that, I'd like to ask Senior Apprentice Brother: where is the sect's library? I'm personally extremely interested in miscellaneous studies."
"The library's at the back of the rock wall. You'll see it if you walk around it. You may peruse any of the books at will, as long as you don't damage them." After the basic orientation, Song Zi'an slowly descended down the stairs.
The manner in which he walked was bizarre; instead of walking step by step, he seemed to float horizontally, without the ups and downs that accompanied usual walking.
Lu Sheng watched as he left. Only when he disappeared at the edge of the stairs did he turn around to look at the caves before him.
Some of the caves were open, while some were sealed. Those that were open emanated a gloomy, ominous air and looked devoid of life. As for those that were sealed, chilly gusts of air would blow out through their windows, sending chills that pierced to the bones.
"This sect..." Lu Sheng was at a loss for words to describe it. He walked past the caves on the topmost level. Finally, at the extreme left of the stone wall near its end, he picked a cave as his place of dwelling.
The cave was wide open, and furniture like tables, chairs, shelves, and cupboards was complete, albeit all made of stone. A heavy musky odor permeated the air in the cave.
Lu Sheng placed his luggage in the cupboard and found the locking mechanism on the stone door. It was half of a sphere adhered to the door, which required a key to open.
The key, a piece of intricately shaped metal, was placed on the tabletop in the cave.
Lu Sheng picked up the piece of metal and hung it on himself. Without further ado, he left his cave and descended down the stairs.
Before long, he was standing before the stone wall once again, gazing at the hundreds of caves staring at him on the wall. His gaze swept from left to right. On both sides of the wall, he could see paths that led to the back.
Lu Sheng chose the path on the left and slowly walked along it.
In the darkness, the stone wall released a faint white hue which mixed with the red glow from the stone pillar, creating a pale blood color which permeated the cavern and split it into two zonesone black and one red.
The red zone was the area lit up by the glow. The black zone was the area shrouded in pitch black darkness.
Lu Sheng quickly walked to the edge of the red glow and paused for a short moment. Before long, he continued and stepped into the inky blackness.
Even without light, however, he could still discern the objects and lay of the land before him through the extremely faint refracted light with his extremely acute senses.
Lu Sheng sped up along the path until he reached a bridge which spanned a crevice that dropped into thick grey fog, which churned as if alive. Many wooden planks on the tattered and worn bridge were already rotten. A careless misstep, and one would fall straight down into the abyss.
Lu Sheng stood at the head of the bridge and gazed into the opposite end of the bridge.
Across the bridge, a series of black towers rose up from the ground. Apparently, those were the library that Song Zi'an had mentioned.
Gusts of bone-piercingly chilly wind blew up from the abyss underneath the bridge. Even Lu Sheng's hair stood on ends.
This sensation seemed to originate more from a coldness which he felt in his heart than in his body.
He regulated his breathing, then took a step forward and planted it firmly on the bridge.
Without warning, he shot forward like a bolt of lightning, the tip of his toes tapping several times on the metal chains linking both sides of the bridge. In the blink of an eye, he was across the hundred meter long bridge.
Lu Sheng landed lightly on the other side of the crevice and turned around to look at the bridge, which swung from left to right in the wind. He relaxed and let out a breath of air.
"This Prime Devil Sect... no wonder not many are willing to come during their recruitment..." He shook his head and continued forward.
A group of towers faced him, standing cold and aloof. The entire group of buildings was surrounded by a tall black wall. Its entrance was right ahead of Lu Sheng, with a giant signboard hung above it.
'Earth Prime Tower'.
The words on the board were written neatly in ancient Song script with red ink.
Lu Sheng glanced at the ajar door. Through it, he could see that the courtyard was completely empty, without a soul within.
He strode in unceremoniously and was greeted immediately with a thick musky odour.
Pushing open the doors of a building right in front of him, rows after rows of bookshelves emerged in his view.
Casually, he picked a shelf at random and saw that it was packed with books.
"A Medical History of Song Dynasty", "The Beginnings of Divine Weapons", "Myths and Reality", "On the Heavenly Signs", "Ice and Fire: The Mutual Counteracting of the Elements"...
This myriad of books looked like they had been kept uncared for. Lu Sheng pulled out "The Beginnings of Divine Weapons". A fine layer of mould had grown on its cover, and it felt coarse and cold to the touch.
He scanned from left to right and discovered a wall lamp, which he lit up with his flint stone.
Immediately, a pale yellow glow lit up in the room. Lu Sheng carried the book to a table and sat down on a chair. After lighting up the desk lamp as well, he began flipping the book open and reading it, ignoring the green mold.
The book narrated how the Noble Families had fought the great terrors of the world in the beginning, gradually forming an equilibrium against the demons and ghosts, winning a place for humans in the world.
Casting aside the parts of the book that lauded the Noble Families, the records of several major historical events in the book greatly helped Lu Sheng to better understand the history of the Noble Families in the Song Dynasty. But the supposed "great terrors" in the book were not described in detail. From the vague mentions, they did not seem to belong to the category of demons or ghosts.
He continued reading in his seat. Unbeknownst to him, several hours flew by.