"A little. I came here from the Northern Lands immediately after getting married." Lu Sheng smiled.
"Oh, has Junior Apprentice Brother started a family?" He Xiangzi asked casually.
"Mm, I'm married." Lu Sheng nodded.
"That's wonderful... when I got married, I was only slightly over ten years old. After giving birth to two children, I made a mistake because of my clumsiness and got kicked out of the family... had it not been for teacher who took me in, I really have no idea where I'd go." He Xiangzi stared blankly at the pouring rain.
"Didn't Senior Apprentice Sister grow up in the sect?" Lu Sheng asked.
"Yes, I did. But later, I got duped by a Nobleman... and left the sect to get married to him. Back then, I even had a spite with teacher for the sake of that man. Now, thinking back..." He Xiangzi sighed.
Lu Sheng had not expected He Xiangzi to have such a past behind her. Not knowing what to say in reply, he remained silent.
Momentarily, both of them fell into silence.
After some unknown length of time, a series of hurried hoofbeats could be heard in the gale, which drove the rain towards the left.
Lu Sheng straightened himself and looked towards the steps leading to the surface of the ground.
In the distance, a rider wearing a mino [ED/N: Straw cape protecting from rain] was standing on the surface of the ground. He seemed to have just alighted from the horse.
The rider was holding a box in his hand and had a saber strapped to his back. He descended the flight of stairs.
"The person I've been waiting for is here," Lu Sheng said placidly.
"Mm." He Xiangzi saw the rider in mino too.
The man quickly descended the steps and came to the mouth of the cave. Respectfully, he handed Lu Sheng the box in his hand.
"You've worked hard." Lu Sheng nodded and patted the back of the rider. Instantly, a thread of Aquarius Qi was injected into his body, removing the fatigue caused by the cold.
"This is only your subordinate's duty," the rider replied in a low voice and bowed before Lu Sheng. Swiftly, he spun round and left.
Lu Sheng watched as he returned to the surface of the ground, flipped himself onto his horse, and then vanished in the curtain of rain. Only then did he turn around to face He Xiangzi.
"Oh yes, Senior Apprentice Sister, why haven't I seen Senior Apprentice Brother Fei Huangzi in the past two days?"
"Fei Huangzi?" He Xiangzi paused with a complicated look on her face. "He... a few days ago, he snuck into the ancestral hall in an attempt to find the Prime Devil Secret Art, but was caught by teacher... In a fit of anger, he was severely wounded and sent away."
"What?" Lu Sheng had not expected that something like that had happened to Fei Huangzi. No wonder he had not seen him in the past two days.
"In other words, the two of us are all that's left of the sect?" Lu Sheng exclaimed in shock after some thought.
"Yeah..." He Xiangzi fell into silence again.
The two of them stood at the mouth of the cave for a while longer without anything to say. Lu Sheng finally left and returned to his cave.
On the way back, he caught sight of Grand Elder standing silently, all alone, in front of the stone pillar with red symbols. Only god knows what he was thinking about.
"Teacher." He approached and greeted him.
Grand Elder turned his head and saw Lu Sheng. "Oh, it's Little Sheng..." He seemed exhausted and his eyes were murky.
"Are you about to go read books again?"
"Mm. Yesterday I found a historical record. I haven't finished reading it." Lu Sheng nodded.
Grand Elder gazed at this disciple standing before him. A few months ago, he still had the will to select an heir to inherit the sect's lineage. But now, he was truly left with no alternatives.
For the sake of Prime Devil Secret Art, Fei Huangzi had been willing to commit something as blasphemous as intruding into the ancestral hall and disturbing the peace of the ancestors. Moreover, he tried to seize the Prime Devil Secret Art without his consent. Such character was truly undeserving and unbecoming.
As for He Xiangzi, while she was completely devoted to the sect, her talent was truly wanting... One had to understand that if the manual ever got lost, the heir had to draw many meditation diagrams in the manual from memory and meditation.
If the heir lacked talent or cultivation, it meant that once the manual was lost, the inheritance would be broken and lost forever.
That was why the Grand Elder suddenly realized that he was left with no alternatives after eliminating He Xiangzi.
"You... you're not having any problems with Karmaless Skill, are you...?" Grand Elder asked, almost in a whisper.
Lu Sheng nodded.
"I'm fine. No problems."
Grand Elder focused his stare at this disciple before him and fell into a momentary silence.
"That's good... From tomorrow onwards, come to my cave two hours earlier."
Lu Sheng was surprised, but immediately nodded.
Grand Elder scrutinized Lu Sheng again until Lu Sheng started feeling uncomfortable. Only then did he leave slowly.
Lu Sheng gazed at Grand Elder as he left, unable to grasp what was on the other party's mind.
Back in his cave, he tidied up slightly before heading to the library. Besides reading books, he had to enter the Devil's Pool for a new round of stimulation today as well.
Early next morning, Lu Sheng came to Grand Elder's cave two hours earlier than usual.
"Thump thump thump."
He knocked lightly.
The stone door rolled away slowly without a sound. Lu Sheng entered, only to see the Grand Elder sitting on a praying mat with a goat's skin scroll in his hand. Clearly, he had been waiting for him for a while and was presently reading something.
At the sight of Lu Sheng entering the cave, Grand Elder spoke, "From today onwards, apart from Karmaless Skill, you have to memorize some other foundational data I'm going to give you. Any problems with that?"
Realization dawned on Lu Sheng, and he nodded earnestly.
"Good. Then sit down like me." Grand Elder pointed at another praying mat in front of him.
Lu Sheng understood that Grand Elder was making him a genuine core disciple from now on. Now that the sect had fallen on such pathetic times and had only himself and He Xiangzi left, Grand Elder probably had no other recourse.
"Today, I'm going to explain the details of Level Six of Karmaless Skill. Remember it well..." Grand Elder began explaining every single subsequent level in Karmaless Skill to Lu Sheng. At the same time, he took out the meditation diagrams he had prepared and presented them to Lu Sheng one by one.
After Grand Elder's meticulous explanation with nothing held back, Lu Sheng finally understood the main system of skill that was the Prime Devil Sect's lineage.
From the most basic Three Yin Technique, to the Karmaless Skill, to the subsequent Ghost Face Mantra, the Phantom Mantra, and then the final Dao of the Devil's Heart.
It was a complete, comprehensive inheritance.
And this entire inheritance relied completely on the Devil's Poolin other words, Devil Qi.
"The Devil Qi we talk about, in actual fact, originated from a subterranean river formed entirely of lethal, poisonous liquid," Grand Elder said calmly. "We call this river the River of Poisoned Fog. All Devil Qi is the unique gaseous matter that rises out of the River of Poisoned Fog.
And Devil's Pools are simply holes formed by the corrosion of the stone wall caused by this gaseous matter. Some holes are large because they contain high-density Devil Qi, while some are small because they contain low-density Devil Qi."
Lu Sheng immediately understood. He asked, "In other words, the root of our Prime Devil Sect consists of this River of Poisoned Fog?"
Grand Elder nodded. "That's the way it is. That's why we've built our headquarters in such a deserted area. When you reach the stage when you're able to cultivate the Phantom Mantra, I'll tell you more secrets about our sect.
Alright. Next is a mantra that you must commit to memory. It's good for you."
Without waiting for a response from Lu Sheng, Grand Elder began reciting the mantra.
As Lu Sheng listened on, he was rather puzzled at the same time.
Even though the sect was in decline now, it was still one of the Hundred Lineages. There was nothing stopping it from recruiting more disciples and pupils. Lu Sheng wondered why Grand Elder was in such a hurry that he could not wait to groom more disciples. Normally, it was highly unlikely that he would be accepted as a core disciple so soon and receive special training in private.
But since the other party was willing to do it, Lu Sheng did not mind. After all, it worked out well for him.
Two hours quickly ended and it was soon the official time for the morning lesson. He Xiangzi slowly entered the cave, only to see Lu Sheng who had long since been sitting there. She paused in surprise, but seemed to make a certain connection in her mind. Her glance remained on Lu Sheng for a moment longer than usual.
"Alright. It's just the two of you left now. If you've got any questions, just ask them." Grand Elder sat still without moving, closing his eyes in calmness.
He Xiangzi did not speak a single word. And Lu Sheng had nothing to ask. Whatever he wanted to ask, he had done so earlier.
And so both of them sat down to cultivate until time was finally up. Then, they stood up and left.
From that day onwards, Grand Elder would make Lu Sheng memorize some strange mantra every morning. Every now and then, Grand Elder would even perform spot checks on him to see if he had remembered them accurately.
Although Lu Sheng found Grand Elder's behavior rather peculiar, he did not reject him. After all, who would complain that they knew too much?
In such a mundane and repetitive routine, Lu Sheng soon achieved another breakthrough and stepped into Level Five in Karmaless Skill.
At Level Five, just the sheer Devil Intent alone exuded naturally by Lu Sheng would affect one's mind if Lu Sheng did not contain his aura with Yin Extreme Mode.
And the Grade Five Body Strengthening special effect of Karmaless Skill at Level Five was gradually able to beef up Lu Sheng's body further.
As time passed, Grand Elder began telling Lu Sheng about certain secret news and extraordinary affairs during their time together instead of discussing cultivation with him.
Time trickled by. During this period of time, Lu Sheng had acquired much in-depth knowledge of the things around him and the various sects through books.
Especially when he read a book titled "The Origins of the Sects", he immediately understood why Grand Elder so urgently wanted to stuff all that random bits of information in him.
It turned out that a Hundred Lineages Meeting would be held at every fixed interval among the sects.
Rather than calling it an exchange, the Hundred Lineages Meeting was more of a contest to fight for the power rankings within the Hundred Lineages.
Otherwise, how did the differentiation between the upper three grades, middle three grades, and lower three grades come about? They were all decided during the Hundred Lineages Meeting.
From He Xiangzi, Lu Sheng also learnt that the Prime Devil Sect had already failed to meet the lowest minimum requirement of the Hundred Lineages for three consecutive years.
The supposed lowest minimum requirement of the Hundred Lineages was for each sect to produce an heir representative of the sect who could impart the sect's ideology completely even when the sect master was absent. And he or she had to at least be of a certain caliber in terms of cultivation.
The war of ideologies was the most chilling of all.
Hence, competition between sects within the Hundred Lineages was similarly cruel. Once a certain sect's development was threatened or questioned, it needed to send a representative who could defend it.
And the format of the defense was to use one's fists to explain to the questioner the truth that knowledge was power.
So you claim that your ideology is the most advanced? You're the right one? Then send someone out for us to challenge. Let's see how strong your disciple, trained under your "correct" ideology, can be.
After all, we've all set up our sects to be free of the shadow cast by Divine Weapons and Devil Blades. All outmoded systems of knowledge must be eliminated. Only by keeping our knowledge on the leading edge can we preserve the vitality of the Hundred Lineages and avoid the fate of being dragged into the coffin by outdated, corrupted systems.
That was the idea behind the Hundred Lineages Meeting. To produce the strongest ideology through constant elimination. Whatever is old or useless, let them become extinct so that they do not waste our resources.