The bell rang from some unknown spot.
Lu Sheng put down the book in his hand and listened hard. He recalled how Song Zi'an had mentioned that the ringing of the bell indicated the start of the morning lesson.
But he had only come in for several hours; it was unlikely to be the morning lesson.
'In that case, it should be the reminder to return to our caves' Lu Sheng put the book down and stood up.
'I haven't gotten a clear grasp of the situation in the sect yet. It's not too late to wait till after meeting the other disciples and finding out for certain what are the do's and don't's before coming back to continue reading.' He made up his mind and quickly returned the book to the shelf, walked out of the building and returned to the bridge.
He was about to cross the bridge when he suddenly heard the creaking of a door.
Turning around, he saw the originally ajar door of the library closing by itself.
The bar even fell into place after the door was shut.
Lu Sheng's eyes narrowed. Then, turning around, he leapt into the air and dashed across the bridge, vanishing into the darkness.
He headed straight back to his cave to rest. Early the next day,
Shafts of light beamed down from the top of the cavern, lighting up many spots in it.
Lu Sheng dressed himself and walked out of his cave, then immediately caught sight of a man and a lady waiting outside the Grand Elder's cave.
The man had handsome features and was dressed in white athletic robes, with a jade belt around his waist. At the sight of Lu Sheng, he arched his brows and sized Lu Sheng up.
"Another newbie who has just entered the sect," the man mumbled.
The lady behind him was of average figure and looked wooden. She, too, glanced at Lu Sheng without a word.
Lu Sheng considered for a moment, then approached and waited with them outside the door.
The handsome man frowned as he stared at Lu Sheng again.
He had not expected that there would still be newbies willing to join Prime Devil Sect when it was already in such dire straits. There were no resources supplied and one even had to do free labor and missions for the sect and face the bullying of their rival sect, Nine Bells Sect. Had it not been for that Prime Devil Secret Art which Grand Elder had been keeping to himself, he, Fei Huangzi would long since have deserted them.
'Maybe it's a disciple who made a mistake. And will leave before long when he's fed up.
But, if he's really come for the secret art, trying to score an easy kill, then he's got to ask if I, Fei Huangzi, would agree to it.' The handsome man put on a poker face, but a vicious thought flashed across his mind.
He gave the lady behind him a sidelong glance.
Presently, his greatest rival was He Xiangzi, who stood behind him. This lady might not have much in the talent department and was weak in cultivation, but she was extremely scheming. She loved to put on an earnest goody-two-shoes act an extremely deceptive front.
"Come in." Just then, the Grand Elder's composed voice rang out from within the cave.
The stone door opened gradually.
Grand Elder was seated on a praying mat on the ground in front of his desk.
A few other praying mats were laid out before him, clearly meant for Lu Sheng and company.
"Yes." They entered.
"Take a seat. You're early." At the sight of Fei Huangzi, a look of satisfaction and contentment appeared on the Grand Elder's face.
Although the sect was in decline, some loyal disciples had been willing to stay in support of him. Among them, Fei Huangzi and He Xiangzi were the most prominent.
Especially Fei Huangzi. His character was decent and he had pretty good talent. The future of the sect may very will lie with him.
He Xiangzi paled in comparison. While she was honest and down to earth, her bloodline and talent were seriously too mediocre. Despite all her hard work, she lagged behind Fei Huangzi.
The three of them bowed in respect to Grand Elderthis was the custom. Then, they each sat down on a praying mat and waited silently.
Time trickled by. Before long, more disciples streamed into the cave. After a joss stick's span, more than half of the twenty praying mats were still unoccupied.
As more time passed, Liu Shanzi's expression grew cold and disheartened as his gaze swept across the empty mats.
"Alright, let's begin this morning's lesson. Lu Sheng's a newly initiated disciple, so his progress is different. He can cultivate the foundational Three Yin Technique. He Xiangzi, you'll instruct him.
The rest of you, let's begin the morning lesson."
The dozen disciples replied in unison.
Then, they shut their eyes and streams of black smoke began gushing out from their mouths and travelling into their nostrils. On and on it circulated.
He Xiangzi walked to Lu Sheng's side and sat down on the mat next to his.
Lu Sheng remained emotionless outwardly, but he was starting to get anxious inside. He was no Nobleman. One look at that black smoke told him that it was somehow related to the black membrane. Being carriers of Nobleman blood, it was expected of these disciples to be able to activate the power in their black membrane. Although Lu Sheng far surpassed them in strength, there was no way he could produce black membrane.
"Junior Apprentice Brother Lu, let's talk softly so we don't distract the others from their morning lesson," He Xiangzi said in a hushed voice.
Immediately, He Xiangzi began imparting Three Yin Technique's steps to Lu Sheng.
As he listened, Lu Sheng roughly understood the method of cultivation used by these Noblemen.
In actual fact, Three Yin Technique operated on the same principle as the meditation diagrams in martial artsdeploying and developing the power and potential of the body through one's mental energies.
"Three Yin Technique's effects might not be powerfulin fact it's pretty weakbut it's suitable for most bloodlines, unlike other sects' skills which can be cultivated only be a select few bloodlines," He Xiangzi explained. "Our Prime Devil Sect has a total of ninety-nine secret arts like Three Yin Technique. They are to be trained in progression until one reaches the highest Prime Devil Secret Art.
Prime Devil Secret Art is our Prime Devil Sect's highest secret art. Once cultivated to full mastery, one can activate fifty percent of the power in one's bloodline. Although we can't attain eighty or ninety percent like other sects, the universality of our skill far surpasses theirs."
"Prime Devil Secret Art... is it related to the Devils in the legends?" Lu Sheng asked in curiosity.
He Xiangzi looked at him with a wooden expression. "Supposedly. But that happened a long time ago. Young ones like us don't know much about it.
Junior Apprentice Brother, you should focus on cultivating Three Yin Technique and hopefully achieve an early breakthrough. Don't let your bloodline down."
"Many thanks, Senior Apprentice Sister." Lu Sheng could sense the earnestness in her words. There was no attempt to hide anything; she was just advising Lu Sheng as a senior apprentice sister would a junior apprentice brother.
In Lu Sheng's eyes, He Xiangzi's power was at best at the Three-Vein Level. And that was the outcome of her many years of hard work.
Lu Sheng did not know if Shangyang Family had notified Prime Devil Sect of his strength. Given his Three-Vein Level cover, he was considered elite even among Noblemen.
But now it seemed that Shangyang Jiuli did not divulge much to the sect. All she had done was to insert him into the sect according to the standard procedure.
At that thought, Lu Sheng collected his thoughts and began studying Three Yin Technique's steps which He Xiangzi had imparted him.
When one examined Three Yin Technique in detail, one would discover some unique aspects to the skill. It involved one visualizing three balls of Yin Fire burning in one's heart and tempering one's own body using some Yoga-like moves which pitted one's body against itself.
These disciples might seemed to have been seated without moving. In reality, however, they were all trembling subtly as the muscles in their body pushed and pulled against each other.
Lu Sheng continued examining the skill and realized that the reason why Three Yin Technique was suited to all was because it did not involve any mysterious, nebulous elements. It was a down-to-earth skill focused on developing the physical body.
Because Noblemen carried the power of Divine Weapons and Devil Blades in their bodies, the strength of their bodies far surpassed that of mortals'. Hence, ordinary external stimuli had no tempering effect on their bodies.
The only way for them to temper their bodies was to pit their own bodies against themselves.
And that was how Three Yin Technique worked. The meditation diagram was designed to aid one in focusing and coordinating the muscles to maximise the effect of the training.
Lu Sheng studied it carefully and found that as long as the body was tough enough, this technique could work on anybody!
This discovery immediately filled him with joy. Originally, he had not expected to learn much from the sect. His decision to join the sect was merely a pretext for him to understand the Noble Families and Central Plains better and be exposed to existences of a higher level.
Little did he expect that the secret art in the sect designed to develop one's Nobleman bloodline could work on him as well.
The morning lesson lasted four hours (i.e. the whole morning).
Very soon, He Xiangzi was done imparting the technique to Lu Sheng as well, leaving him to practice on his own after telling him a series of mantras and briefing him on the characteristics of each stage of cultivation.
After the morning lesson ended, the Grand Elder rose and left as well. The dozen or so disciples stood up and some among them struck up a conversation in sighs.
"Quite a few left today again. Even Brother Wang Zhen has left... Little Mei, Brother Shangguan, Brother Xue... they've all left..."
"If this goes on, how long more can the sect last?"
"Who knows? It's been two months since we've gone without training resources... a few days ago, somebody said he saw Wang Zhen in contact with Nine Bell Sect... is that true?"
"I saw it too. It's true indeed. With things coming to this stage, having lost even the mining district, you can't blame everyone for finding their own ways out. Even Grand Elder himself..."
In the midst of the whispers going on around him, Lu Sheng roughly understood the circumstances that faced Prime Devil Sect.
With the mining district seized and Nine Bell Sect continually poaching its members, Prime Devil Sect was truly in dire straits.
Every few days, some disciples would leave silently. In the beginning, Grand Elder would chase after them, arrest them and bring them back for disciplinary punishment. But as it went on, he grew disheartened.
From a scale of seventy or eighty strong, Prime Devil Sect was now left with a dozen disciples in merely two months.
Occasionally, new disciples would enter the sect. But because no cultivation resources were supplied, they would leave silently too.
To begin with, Prime Devil Sect's techniques were not as targeted in developing Noblemen bloodlines as those of other sects'. Now, without any supply of resources, progress of cultivation was further impeded, wasting the precious time of many disciples.
Grand Elder understood this as well. That was why he grew disheartened and stopped bothering about the disciples leaving. Fortunately, he had only imparted them part of the ninety-nine foundational skills in the sect. Apart from Three Yin Technique and two other foundational skills, Grand Elder kept the sect's skills to himself.
While other sects might not even value those skills, they were Prime Devil Sect's root and had to be guarded closely.
Even among foundational skills, only a few were taught. Needless to say, no subsequent higher-tiered skills were released, not to mention the sect's highest Prime Devil Secret Art. Now, the Grand Elder's only wish was to pick one out of the remaining disciples who was loyal enough for him to impart the sole surviving Prime Devil Secret Art.
Standing in front of the stone pillar, the Grand Elder lifted his head and gazed at the blood-red symbol.
His thoughts went back to Prime Devil Sect a thousand years ago, when multiple profound Prime Devil Secret Arts existed in the sect which was filled with prodigies and talents. Every Prime Devil Secret Art was cultivated by at least a hundred disciples.
Back then, not as many targeted secret arts existed. Due to their numbers, Prime Devil Sect ranked among the top three grades in the Hundred Lineages. But now...
Since that calamity, ninety percent of the Prime Devil Secret Arts were lost with the deaths of those Elders. Only the version that was passed down his line of tutelage survived intact.
The elite disciples, Deacons, and Elders who used to prop the sect up had either died in battle or passed away gradually due to age.
In the end, he who had been mediocre in talent was now the strongest expert in Prime Devil Sect today.